Early Intervention Systems: The State of the Art

Based on the premise that a small set of “problem officers” account for a disproportionate fraction of police misconduct, an early intervention system (EI) is a management tool used to monitor indicators of misconduct, identify officers who display symptoms of problem behavior, and intervene with counseling or retraining.  EI systems are widely considered to be promising mechanisms for enhancing police integrity, but social science provides little evidence on their effectiveness in reducing misconduct or their unintended – inhibiting – effects on appropriate uses of police authority.  Our study will add to the empirical evidence on the structure, operation, and effectiveness of EI systems, based on a survey of agencies that operate such systems and especially an in-depth and rigorous process and outcome evaluation in each of several police agencies, selected to obtain variation in key structural characteristics.  The agency survey was completed in 2014; we are now conducting the case studies.

Supported by the National Institute of Justice [January, 2014 – September, 2018]


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. 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.