Early Intervention Systems: The State of the Art

The first phase of the project involved a national survey of agencies that operate EI systems. The agency survey was designed to provide data on the structural characteristics of EI systems, including practices related to identification (performance metrics examined as potential indicators of misconduct and thresholds applied), selection, intervention, and post-intervention monitoring.  In the summer and early fall of 2014 we administered a survey to all agencies that participated in the 2007 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) survey and reported that they utilized an EI system. In the 2007 LEMAS survey, 344 of 883 agencies (39 percent) reported that they had an EI system.  Of these 344 agencies, 80 percent (N=274) responded to our survey, and among those 274 agencies, 243 reported they had an EI system in 2014. In October of 2015, we presented findings from this survey at the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.  A summary of the findings reported there can be found here.  We describe EI system indicators, examine post-identification review and selection processes, review intervention options available for selected officers, and describe practices in place for post-intervention monitoring. We conclude with a summary of project findings to date, and a brief discussion of next steps.

The Institute’s study builds on our previous research on one agency’s EIS, in which we found that while the distribution of each indicator, such as personnel complaints, resembles that reported in previous research – that is, a small number of officers accounted for a disproportionately large fraction of the events – it was not, for the most part, the same officers year after year. Problem officers, the primary target of early warning systems, are very few in number. A larger number of officers display symptoms of problem behavior for limited periods of time – a year or two – and then not again, or only once again. Thus problem behavior that is captured by the indicators on which early warning system selection criteria rely is to a large degree evanescent and hence unpredictable. We tested various selection mechanisms; none performs very well. All of them yield fairly large numbers of false negatives; many of them also yield large numbers of false positives. Some perform better than others, however. A very simple time-and-numbers system, based only on complaints, with a threshold of 4 in 12 months, is arguably the best of those we examined. It is simple, it is straightforward to implement, it selects a small and thus manageable number of officers for intervention, a large fraction of which (albeit less than half) were by the definition adopted for this inquiry true positives. The need for systematic selection criteria of some kind is clear. Our evaluation of the EWS intervention – training in police-citizen interaction – suggests that it has not had the intended impacts in classes since the second or third, and the reason may be the composition of the trainees, whose selection is not based on explicit criteria. We find no reason to believe that the content of the training is deficient in any way, but rather that the needs of trainees have not been properly matched with the objectives of the training.


Reports and Publications

Robert E. Worden, MoonSun Kim, Christopher J. Harris, Mary Ann Pratte, Shelagh E. Dorn & Shelley S. Hyland, 2013. “Intervention with Problem Officers: An Outcome Evaluation of an EIS Intervention,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 40 (April): 410-438.  (Published on-line October 2, 2012; doi 10.1177/0093854812458095.)

Robert E. Worden, Christopher J. Harris & Sarah J. McLean, 2014. “Risk Assessment and Risk Management in Policing,” Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 37 (2): 239-258. (doi 10.1108/PIJPSM-12-2012-0088.)

Robert E. Worden, 2015. “Early Intervention Systems: What We Know and What We Need to Learn,” presented at the Executive Session on Early Warning Systems, CNA, Arlington, VA.

Robert E. Worden, Sarah J. McLean, Eugene A. Paoline, III, and Julie Krupa, 2015. “Features of Contemporary Early Intervention Systems,” presented at the Annual Conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Chicago.