Early Intervention Systems

Early Intervention Systems (EIS), are algorithms used to identify problematic behavior by police officers. (They are also sometimes called Early Warning Systems for police departments.) These may include things like using more force than necessary, having more civilian complaints, or even just showing up late to work more frequently than expected.

It is important for police departments to be familiar with EIS. A small number of police officers generate the most complaints (and civil litigation). Several states are now even mandating that police departments implement EIS (Utah, North Carolina).

Effective EIS is good for everyone. It can reduce a police departments risk, improve legitimacy of the departments interactions with citizens, and help officers whose behavior should change.

How does EIS work?

Different systems use different criteria to identify problematic officers. A good, statistically sound system will take in rates of behavior, and then identify officers that are outliers compared to other officers.

Many on the market EIS use a three strikes and you are flagged system, e.g. get three civilian complaints and you are flagged. These systems are bad and should be avoided. They are not fair to officers who are more proactive and generate more arrests. EIS should be based on rates of negative interactions conditional on the number civilian contacts officers have. An officer that generates 2 complaints in only 5 civilian contacts has demonstrated much higher risk than an officer that has generated 10 complaints in 1000 civilian contacts.

Some systems also claim to measure 100’s of variables, often based on analyzing body worn camera footage. This may be true, but does not establish that the vendors EIS is accurate in identifying problematic officers. It is more important to make clear what behaviors you define as problematic, and then identify officers who show outlier rates on those defined metrics. You likely do not need to collect new data to implement a EIS, you can probably use data you already collect to create a high quality EIS.

What EIS does not do

Many police departments are hesitant about applying EIS, as they believe it will result in automated firing of police officers. This is not what any algorithm does – it simply identifies potentially problematic behavior by officers. The police department needs to actively decide what to do with that information. Like any good crime analyst will tell you, even if you use numerical analysis to identify a particular trend, a human needs to dig further into the data to identify what is really going on and formulate a strategy in response.

When an officer is flagged by an EIS, the police department should have a well defined process to investigate that officers behavior that is fair and reasonable to everyone involved. It may be the officer needs additional training to better de-escalate certain situations, or it may be the EIS algorithm is not properly calibrated. A human needs to look in more detail at the officers record to make that determination.

EIS can be helpful, as they can scan many officers, and identify potentially anomalous behavior. If someone has a rate of taser usage in 15% of arrests, but the average use in the rest of the force is 5% of arrests, this is not likely to go noticed in a system where senior staff are expected to simply “keep an eye on officers”. But this is a hypothetical example where using data analytics can clearly show an officer having anomalous behavior.

How much does an EIS cost?

Costs for EIS systems vary dramatically. At least one of the software vendors charge mid six digits for yearly subscriptions. Because many of these systems are closed and opaque, I cannot give a typical range. However, the majority of police departments should not spend six digits on any data analytics software license. (At that price range, you may be better off hiring a full time, experienced, data scientist to build software internally to use.)

If you are interested in implementing an EIS in your department, get in touch with CRIME De-Coder today. I can help your department build a rigorous, effective, and cost efficient EIS. I cannot give a single quote, because I build custom software for your department. This will involve a one time fee to develop the software specific for your system (likely less than $20,000). If you already have an internal crime analysis unit, they can then take over future development of the software (and I will provide training necessary to do so as part of my quote). If you need additional support, I can likely provide that for a very small fee over time (low 4 digits per year after the initial investment).