Building trust in law enforcement through data and analytics

Building trust in law enforcement through data and analytics

by Chris Jacoby, Justice & Public Safety Practice Lead

From the moment they enter the police academy, cadets receive intensive training on how to handle a variety of tense, combustible situations. The goal for every service call is to resolve the scenario with empathetic professionalism and without the need for use-of-force or arrest. But that is not always possible, even for the most skilled officers.

In most instances that officers use force, it is done in a manner consistent with agency policy, training, and the best interests of the community. But humans are fallible, and officers are required to make split-second decisions during tumultuous engagements. There are times that officers use force in situations that, with the clarity of calculated hindsight, it was not fully warranted. It is often these instances that the public remembers most, particularly given the proliferation of cell phones and social media.

While most law enforcement agencies have well-defined internal policies dictating the reporting, evaluation, and resolution of use-of-force incidents, they vary dramatically. This variance further undermines public trust in police. With that in mind, let’s look at three ways improvements in data and analytics can help state and local police departments improve transparency and rebuild trust within their communities.

Implement and use national standards

Historically, unless under a consent decree from the Department of Justice, police agencies have established their own use-of-force investigation policies and procedures, including varying levels of public transparency. Having well-defined policies is positive but fails to provide the comfort of regionally or nationally consistent expectations and results.

Eliminating subjective variability through standardization is an important step toward rebuilding trust. To start, agencies must concisely define and identify the characteristics associated with use-of-force incidents. To that end, the FBI launched the voluntary National Use-of-Force Data Collection program in 2019, which established the following parameters for qualifying incidents:

  • Fatality occurs to a person in connection with use-of-force by a law enforcement officer.
  • Serious bodily injury to a person in connection with the use-of-force by a law enforcement officer.
  • Discharge of a firearm by a law enforcement officer at or in the direction of a person, where no death or serious bodily injury occurred.

Data on the incident, subject, and the officer is collected monthly. The program also allows for the submission of a “Zero Report,” indicating there were no use-of-force incidents in the reporting period.

This standardization for qualifying incidents took place in response to growing scrutiny over law enforcement’s use-of-force. To establish this methodology, the FBI collaborated with leaders from a cross-section of state and local law enforcement agencies. The National Use-of-Force Data Collection system also provides a consistent transparency mechanism, releasing data to the public no less than twice per year.

Ensure data sharing systems are in place across state and local governments

To make the most of this program, the right data-sharing systems must be in place. Police departments should deploy technology that allows state crime reporting organizations to receive and validate FBI-compliant use-of-force submissions from local law enforcement agencies in real-time. The system should be able to receive compliant data in numerous modern and legacy formats, minimizing implementation efforts.

GCOM’s Use-of-Force Reporting system is a COTS product that does just that. In addition to enforcing all National Use-of-Force business rules as defined by FBI specifications, it also can send real-time use-of-force submissions in XML format to the agency, providing immediate success or failure confirmation.

Analyze aggregated data to improve outcomes

 With the right standardization and data sharing, law enforcement agencies can improve community outcomes. In addition to data sharing, GCOM’s Use-of-Force Reporting system also offers advanced reporting capabilities that allow organizations to aggregate data. Aggregating data enables multi-dimensional analysis of events. These insights can inform the evolution of processes and procedures to better serve citizens.

The aggregation of data across geographies, agencies, and populations also enables macro-level historical analysis as well as the training of predictive and prescriptive analysis models. For police departments, having fewer incidents and escalations will always be the best way to build and maintain trust.

The National Use-of-Force Data Collection program is not the ultimate solution, but it is an important step for law enforcement agencies looking to rebuild trust. Law enforcement agencies must have the right data and analytics in place to ensure accurate reporting. Put simply, trust is not tenured. But just as it can be broken, it can also be repaired.