With the increased focus on departmental tracking of incidents such as misconduct and use-of-force claims, there is a natural inclination to try to put a solution in place as quickly as possible. While such urgency is understandable, it is equally important to select the right solution and think through the other aspects of personnel management that should be integrated.

Based upon our experience helping agencies improve their documentation and tracking processes, here are some common missteps—and ways organizations can avoid them to make the most of their chosen tracking system.

Don’t treat it as “just an algorithm.”

Tracking misconduct can be an eye-opener for the organization and its high-level stakeholders.

That said, treating an early warning system as the end-all-be-all of prediction and planning can set you up for failure. “Setting and forgetting” can cause more issues than it solves.

Automated alerts, preset thresholds, and other automated tools within the warning system certainly have their place, but they must be backed up by your entire organization’s knowledge and effort.

Do this instead.

Treat your algorithm as part of an important system that includes technology, techniques, and—most importantly—leadership.

Don’t underestimate the human factor.

In order to make a tracking system work, leadership must be vested, invested, and onboard—knowledgeable about the platform and its strengths as well as the vital role humans play in making the system effective.

Depending on your organization’s needs, this could mean obtaining buy-in from resistant users who prefer a more old-school way of monitoring behavior, assigning specific roles to specific people within high-level management, or something else entirely.

Do this instead.

Ensure people across the organization (especially those in high-level leading roles) understand the reason for the change and expectations the organization has of their individual role in performance management.

Don’t treat bodycam footage as the only tracking tool.

Surefire footage of misconduct can be a disaster for the organization on the one hand (public outcry) and a saving grace on the other (clear path for discipline or separation for the individuals).

Even so, bodycam footage is not the only type of misconduct tracking an agency can employ.  

Treating other pieces of information—citizen complaints or internal behavior issues—as separate problems is a sign of institutional information silos, which often lead to negative consequences.

Do this instead.

Embrace a system that comprehensively tracks all the meaningful artifacts of police misconduct—and puts them in a centralized place for easy viewing and dissemination (for those with proper permissions).

Don’t ignore the importance of legally defensible records.

Agencies under fire over employee misconduct are best served by strong recordkeeping.

Without it, the agency opens itself to numerous threats, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Inability to discipline officers
  • Inability to prove that training was provided to counter the misconduct before it occurred
  • Inability to defend against inaccurate claims about workplace culture

Do this instead.

Make sure your data management systems and practices hold up to legal scrutiny. Keeping detailed records of all kinds—including bodycam footage and other elements—isn’t just a good idea. It’s essential.

Don’t neglect the National Decertification Index.

Simply put, the National Decertification Index (NDI) is there to help agencies concerned about misconduct and the damage it has done to the public trust.

Making use of the NDI is another baseline practice that is essential for evolving law enforcement agencies of all kinds.

Do this instead.

Use the index for the valuable resource it is—both when hiring and when terminating—and make sure your other information-gathering and reporting practices are just as sharp.

Posted on Jun 10, 2021