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officers to be able to examine their own biases, predisposition, and emotions, not just the community member’s behavior. In the end, organizations that maintain a culture of wellness improve officer safety and increase the likelihood of nonviolent police encounters with the community.” But the authors note, “However, despite growing atten- tion to this important topic, it remains, in many organizations, shrouded in stigma, because of the mistaken belief that it has, historically, represented weakness.” Policing is one of the most mentally taxing professions there is. Tragically, this manifests as higher rates of alcohol abuse, divorce and suicide. These mutually degenerative factors can also lead to excessive use of force incidents. To complete the holistic view of an officer, data related to the mental strain of the job should be included. Data on counseling, traumatic incidents and, where appropriate and allowed, mental health information are valuable. Of course, this is sensitive infor- mation that must be handled according to appropriate and rigor- ous privacy regulations. The goal of this data, first and foremost, is to help an officer in danger of harming themselves or others. A MORE SPOHISTICATED AND INFORMED APPROACH THAT FOSTERS TRANSPARANCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY The public is demanding reform, and such transparency is necessary in reinforcing legitimacy and maintaining trust and public safety. A holistic systemmakes it easier to publicly report on trends in both negative and positive police interactions. All data, deci- sions and action can be appropriately shared with the public to demonstrate transparency. These factors will help drive policies, programs, legislation while enhancing police training, tactics and recruitment. Current early intervention systems take a too narrow of a view of officer behavior. An officer is far more than what’s in his disciplinary record. An approach rooted in officer readiness and wellness considers the physical and mental toll of policework, along with the training, evaluations and other information that law enforcement leaders can use to recognize great perfor- mance, get officers needed support, and minimize adverse incidents and risk of litigation. Micro changes at the officer level can ultimately lead to not just police reform, but a positive cultural change. Let’s build something strong, sustainable and meaningful that police, poli- cymakers and the public can all be proud of.
an officer going above and beyond with his or her community in- teractions? While on patrol, are they proactively checking in with business owners, community leaders, and engaging in mentor- ing programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America? These are signs of dedication to protecting and serving the community that help create a complete view of an officer. It would also include assignment history, which could show what supervisors, units or locations are producing higher performing officers. A holistic system reveals high performing officers with low rates of adverse behavior so that officers can be held up as ex- amples to be emulated. Additionally, if an officer receives a use of force complaint, their supervisor can see whether such a com- plaint is consistent with the officer’s overall conduct, providing the officer’s score as a mitigating factor in the investigation. The ability to capture the patterns associated with excellent policework cre- ates opportunities for new training and policies that ingrain these positive traits. A holistic system has the flexibility to evolve over time and assess the positive or negative outcomes of new initia- tives. But how does it know what’s “positive” or “negative”? HOLISTIC BUT LOCAL APPROACH TO EVIDENCE-BASED SYSTEMS A holistic system integrates all relevant and permitted data to create a complete view of an officer. But how can you know if an of- ficer is at risk of a violation? The key to that is establishing baselines based on data from across a precinct, district, state and beyond. Policing is a naturally tense job, which at times involves heated interactions with the public. Complaints are natural. But at what point do complaints about an officer exceed those of his peer group to the point of being an outlier? Racism is at the heart of the national debate currently raging. What if an officer is ar- resting young, black males at a much higher rate than his peers? That could be an indicator of racial bias. However, the peer groups from which you establish the baselines must make sense. State-level data is not very help- ful, much less national. A cop in Los Angeles has a different job experience than one in suburban Kansas. It doesn’t make sense to compare them to the same baselines when one is more likely to deal with violent crimes and a populace that has a higher level of distrust of the police. It’s critical that, for meaningful com- parisons, members of a peer group are truly peers in every way possible. OFFICER WELLNESS COMPLETES THE PICTURE The thoughts, decisions and actions that precede a police officer’s wrongful use of force are not confined to the tense mo- ments leading up to the incident. There can be years of patterns and evidence that indicate the likelihood of that officer going beyond an acceptable response, to one with tragic consequenc- es. While a holistic system provides a much better chance at prevention, the truth often lies in an area officers are frequently reluctant to confront: mental wellness. In a report from the Police Executive Resource Forum , Guid- ing Principles on Use of Force, researchers Sarah Creighton, Asst. Chief (Ret.), San Diego Police Department and Daniel Blumberg, Associate Professor, California School of Professional Psychol- ogy, Alliant International University write: “Law enforcement agencies that intend to bring about changes in the way officers approach residents need to equip their
About the Author: Major Juan Colon is the National Director for Opioids and Illegal Drugs Solutions for analytics company, SAS. He spent 25 years with the New Jersey State Police where he applied his belief in the importance of data to launching the state’s Drug Monitoring Initiative. He also served in an undercover capacity, helped implement New Jersey’s fusion center and served as a drug policy advisor at the Attorney General’s Office.
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