Introduction

Policing culture must improve. It can improve. It’s our mission.

In this guide, we focus on early intervention and early warning systems and their potential impact. One of our primary goals is to promote excellence by recognizing positive officer behavior and reinforcing that behavior. We know it’s an essential part of improving policing culture.

We are the benchmark for police early intervention systems (EIS) or early warning systems (EWS). That is why more than 11,000 public safety agencies rely on our solutions to improve their training, culture, and transparency.

Let the following sections help you adapt to today’s law enforcement challenges and guide you through the successful implementation of an EWS/EIS for any size organization.

Part 1: Adapting to the Challenges Ahead

Law enforcement agencies around the country are facing an urgent dilemma. Constant scrutiny and cries for increased accountability are creating shockwaves throughout the country. Without trust and legitimacy, both internal and external, police agencies cannot function effectively.

While most officers are honorable and embody professionalism, courage, and service, some do not. Mounting pressure, public mistrust, and constant exposure to human hardship can take a toll on even the most resilient officers. If left unchecked, the resulting behavior changes could destroy lives, communities, agencies, and careers. Your officers and community deserve better.

Transparency is vital to creating positive change in the law enforcement profession. For the safety and well-being of our officers and our communities, leaders must take measures to ensure they are assuming an active role in the day-to-day workings of their departments. Early intervention systems (EIS) (also known as early warning systems) identify unsatisfactory job performance markers that don’t warrant formal disciplinary action—yet indicate that an officer is having problems dealing with personal or job-related stressors. If left unaddressed, such issues could impact interactions with coworkers or citizens.

A major contribution of an early intervention system is its ability to identify a wide range of problems and not just problem officers. By identifying patterns of performance, an EIS provides the opportunity for leaders to intervene before problems lead to a serious incident such as a lawsuit, a citizen complaint of excessive force, or another crisis involving the department. An EIS warns an officer by sending a pre-disciplinary and informal but clear message that his or her performance needs improvement.

Though never a substitute for engaged leadership, an EIS can help leaders identify and monitor officers in need of course correction and additional support. At the same time, these tools can also defend an officer’s actions by portraying a realistic picture of their character and highlighting their performance history with the department.

No Early Warning or Early Intervention process will be effective without engaged leadership! Are you engaged? Is the leadership within the organization engaged? You need to be asking these questions.

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Part 2: Empowering Holistic Improvement—The First Step in Early Warning / Intervention Systems

Seizing opportunities to motivate employees helps agencies improve communication and develop stronger teams from the top down. The most impactful early intervention systems include pre-disciplinary performance indicators and are part of ongoing performance management processes. The ability of any EWS/EIS to create a climate of accountability within a law enforcement agency begins with a strong commitment from the agency’s leadership to implement and constantly monitor the program.

First-line supervisors play a vital role in early intervention, because no one knows an employee better than their immediate supervisor. These leaders must be able to see, analyze, and address EIS-related data. With the proper insight, first-line supervisors can proactively engage officers about potential personal or professional problems affecting job performance. Furthermore, because every officer is different, supervisors need flexible intervention options to meet a wide range of needs.

As Deputy Chief of the Buffalo Grove Police, Roy Bethge (Ret.) explains, “First-line supervisors have the essential role of caring for their employees. In today’s ever-changing and dynamic law enforcement agencies, we have an obligation to make sure officers get home safe and healthy each day, month, and year until the end of their careers. Early intervention systems play a key role in ensuring the wellness of our officers as they change shifts, work special details, attend court, and are managed by different supervisors.

“At the highest levels in police organizations, we often become aware of problems or challenges that employees face only to learn that there were signs and symptoms where early intervention could have dramatically improved the outcome for the officer and the agency. We have an obligation to care for our people so that they can serve and protect the public, upholding their oath,” says Bethge.

With that in mind, it is essential to remember that although flags can signify the start of behavioral problems, early intervention systems are designed to evaluate data—not people. In some cases, the system will flag events that warrant no action beyond analysis, monitoring, or affirmation. Therefore, supervisors must also consider the situational factors leading to this behavior while weighing any other circumstances that may explain the officer’s actions. In this sense, every flag presents an opportunity for a leader to engage officers in conversation and offer strategies for growth.

It is important to note that early intervention systems should never replace the human element of leadership and do not change the critical responsibility of leadership to directly monitor their officers. For example, engaged leaders do not need a trigger or threshold alert to take action following a critical incident, regardless of whether it is included in preset early intervention triggers. Noticing and documenting the critical incidents officers are involved in can serve as a marker-in-time to help identify what might have contributed to an officer struggling.

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Part 3: Utilizing an Early Intervention System to Enhance a Holistic Environment

Enhancing a holistic environment by cultivating awareness

Developing a department-wide culture of personal accountability is essential. Detecting, mitigating, and monitoring problematic behavior provides an opportunity for deeper reflection and creates learning opportunities for both officers and supervisors. If officers are struggling with their roles or having difficulties adjusting to new assignments, early intervention paves the way for supervisors to tackle the issue from a supportive angle, thereby reducing conflict and eliminating discomfort on both sides.

Sometimes an officer will be aware of the problem but reluctant to ask for help. Other times the officer may not realize that the problem exists. In both instances, early intervention opens the door for healthy conversations and self-reflection. By centering discussions on the need for positive change, early intervention sends clear, compelling messages of deterrence, accountability, and empowerment from the beginning.

Examining practical use of an early intervention system

Supervisors dealing with frequently transferred personnel and alternating rosters will find an EIS especially beneficial. In conjunction with traditional performance management tools, early intervention systems can supply insight into which areas a new subordinate has mastered and where they still struggle. This is essential for gauging employees who are performing new roles or operating in high-stress assignments.

Without a clear understanding of an employee’s history, supervisors may not recognize which behaviors are inherent to the officer’s personality and which result from a new task or stressor. Excessive overtime, absences, irritability, or carelessness may signify hidden personal issues, including compassion fatigue. Illness, sleep deprivation, financial stress, and marital problems can alter an officer’s performance, signaling the need for added support instead of a reprimand.

As DOJ studies have shown, targeted and specialized interventions are most effective in helping an officer achieve needed improvements. Because early intervention advocates a hands-on approach, supervisors will be better equipped to account for outside factors and view situations from the officer’s perspective if an officer is involved in an incident. Not only does this process improve the quality of supervision, but it also cements the importance of comprehensive and consistent performance analysis. The supportive nature of the organization is a key factor in facilitating recovery from stress, adversity, and trauma and provides sustainability throughout a career in public safety.

Enhancing a holistic environment by spotlighting high performers

While early intervention systems have traditionally been used to highlight pre-disciplinary actions, these programs can also call attention to exemplary behavior. Not only does this practice encourage officers to go beyond their regular duties, but it also fosters constructive interactions between members and supervisors. When leaders affirm good behavior, they demonstrate an investment in their officer’s professional development and well-being. In turn, positive reinforcement can have a powerful impact on the entire agency—creating a ripple effect of value and validation and a stronger, healthier organizational culture.

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Part 4: Dispelling Early Intervention Myths

The purpose of an early intervention system is not to impart discipline or replace healthy and honest conversations. Instead, early intervention systems provide leaders with actionable insights by centering discussions on the need for positive change. We believe early intervention sends compelling messages of deterrence, accountability, and empowerment from the beginning. Nevertheless, it’s important to address some of the common misconceptions.

Myth: Early intervention systems replace proactive supervision.

Fact: An EIS should never be viewed as a means to replace engaged, effective leaders who cultivate positive relationships with those they lead. Relying solely on data diminishes effectiveness and damages morale—essentially reducing people to statistics and contradicting the principles of successful leadership. Leaders must examine each incident individually, viewing early intervention as a tool to initiate constructive conversations, provide meaningful feedback, and incorporate proactive discussions.

Myth: Early intervention systems create cultures of accountability.

Fact: While an early intervention system can reaffirm accountability standards, it cannot enforce them. Therefore, holding members accountable for their actions will always depend on leadership engagement and commitment. While no one wants to be responsible for pointing out a member’s shortcomings, being forced to continually compensate for a poor performer can wear on an entire squad. Regardless of an agency’s use of an EIS, all supervisors must play an active part in ensuring all officers remain productive and professional.

Myth: Early intervention systems single out engaged officers

Fact: When setting up an early intervention program, leaders must account for the variety of posts and positions within their department. It’s reasonable to assume certain assignments will generate more complaints or lead to a higher degree of resistance. And while it’s true that active officers may receive more flags, it’s important to remember that a system alert does not automatically mean there is an issue with an officer. In contrast, EIS flags can point to a more significant problem within the department or division. If multiple officers receive flags within a specific category, this may signify the need for safer practices, increased resources, better training, higher situational awareness, or department policy changes.

Myth: Early Intervention systems hurt morale.

Fact: Organizational conflict, poor performance, and negative public discourse hurt morale. So do risky behaviors, unfounded allegations, and civil lawsuits. Early intervention systems may call attention to underlying issues; however, they do not cause them. Data alone cannot create problems where they do not exist. On the contrary, early intervention systems provide officers with the ability to address internal concerns and justify their actions before being faced with a formal complaint.

Myth: Early intervention systems ruin reputations.

Fact: Early intervention systems protect careers and the integrity of your organization. A major contribution of an EIS is its ability to identify a wide range of problems, not just officer misconduct. By identifying patterns, an EWS or EIS allows leaders to intervene before problems lead to a serious incident such as a lawsuit, a citizen complaint of excessive force, or another crisis involving the department. An EIS warns officers by sending an informal and pre-disciplinary message that their performance needs improvement.

Myth: Early intervention systems are too expensive and not suited for smaller agencies.

Fact: The need for early intervention has nothing to do with an agency’s size. While it’s true that larger organizations may incorporate early intervention as part of a larger performance management system, all agencies can benefit from these programs. Ninety-five percent of the police agencies in the country operate with fewer than 100 officers. However, that doesn’t mean these officers are any less effective.

Complaints, litigation, and staff attrition can cost an agency more than its reputation—regardless of the agency’s size or location. As an alternative to expensive and exhaustive legal ramifications, a versatile EIS is a cost-effective tool that helps agencies ensure all members are supported.

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Part 5: Reframing Early Intervention

Employee participation and leader commitment are critical to the success of any organizational improvement initiative. While EIS and EWS alerts warn, each flag is fact-sensitive and provides a learning opportunity for both the employee and departmental leadership. It’s the responsibility of leaders to appropriately act on the information and use it to help support the employee.

Like any element of ongoing performance management, early intervention systems are not “set it and forget it” programs. Early intervention systems require continuous commitment to ensure that supervisors follow through by responding to EWS alerts and conducting meaningful interventions.

In today’s environment, law enforcement leaders must work to establish an organizational climate of accountability and empowerment while at the same time committing to significant and sustainable change. While this is a considerable challenge, the cumulative effect of changes made in supervisor roles and policy can change the organizational culture of a department by establishing new standards of accountability and employee support.

Ensuring successful implementation

Before deploying an early intervention system, agencies should have written directives outlining which events require data capture, monitoring, and analysis, along with specific thresholds and time parameters for each qualifying category. In addition to these policies, it’s also essential to establish directives that clearly define the agency’s reporting practices, documentation, review, and meaningful intervention strategies. Supervisors should also be briefed on the breadth of resources available to officers and the procedure to request and obtain these services.

For EIS to be successful, the program must apply to all members of the department. Supervisors should not be exempted from the system, as they are subject to performance assessment and have the power to affect officer behavior under their watch. Finally, self-reflection is vital for individual growth. As such, officers should have the ability to view their files. When talking to department members about the early intervention system, leaders should stress that all information will be handled discreetly and that certain documentation is kept confidential.

Integrating early intervention into everyday practice

Employee participation and leadership commitment are critical to the success of any organizational improvement initiative. Therefore, departments should begin planting the seeds of early intervention well ahead of the program’s rollout. Disseminating literature to employee unions and associations is a legitimate first step; however, it’s paramount to provide staff members with the chance to learn more about the program and ask questions in an informal environment.

Many officers will wonder how this program will affect their day-to-day and future opportunities for advancement. Approaching the subject from a role-neutral perspective will assist leaders in presenting this tool as an organization-wide improvement strategy.

In keeping with best practice, leaders should explain what type of information is evaluated by the EWS while always framing the conversation around pre-disciplinary objectives. First and foremost, officers should know that early intervention systems are for their benefit as well as the department’s. Explaining the need for a tighter focus on improving officer safety, internal culture, and community relations will steer the conversation away from micromanagement thoughts.

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About Our EIS

Unlike other systems, our early intervention solution emphasizes both the art and science of leadership to inspire engaged leadership throughout the organization. Our early intervention feature promotes transparency, guidance, and growth, allowing officers to view how their behavior is perceived and reflected. If the officer doesn’t like the image, they will adjust their behavior for real change. When the reflection is positive, it is shared with their peers and celebrated by the organization. With our EIS, officers and other public safety professionals can perform their duties with confidence and clarity, knowing that their supervisors and their agency are actively involved in the positive progression of their careers.

The people behind our EIS are committed to bringing positive change to the world of policing. Law enforcement professionals have guided its development: We have stood in your shoes, and we know what it means to walk out the door, not knowing what the day will bring. We’ve experienced the challenges and benefits that come with implementing real change. In fact, it was these very issues that led us to build the EIS.

We understand that the work you do daily has tremendous meaning and impact on your communities. Our system is there to amplify that work and make it easier for you to manage, so you can focus on inspiring your team and guiding them to greater success.

Our EIS creates a clear path for empowered and engaged leadership to facilitate both individual and organizational success. To date, the system helps over 1100 organizations ensure higher performance, accountability, trust, employee engagement, and morale at every level of their organization.