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Early Warning Systems: Responding to the Problem Police Officer, Research in Brief

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2001
8 pages
Publication Series
A study of early warning systems designed to identify police officers who may be having problems on the job, and to provide those officers with appropriate counseling or training. Findings were based on collected information by means of a survey of 832 police agencies and site visits to 3 agencies with established early warning systems.
A growing array of data indicate that a small percentage of police officers in any police department are responsible for a disproportionate share of citizen complaints. The study sought to determine the prevalence and effectiveness of early warning programs. The survey reached agencies serving populations of at least 50,000. The case-study agencies were in Miami, Minneapolis, and New Orleans. Results revealed that 27 percent of the agencies had an early warning system in 1999. Another 12 percent were planning to establish such a program. Larger agencies were more likely than smaller agencies to use an early warning system. No standards existed for identifying which officers should take part in early warning programs. However, general agreement existed that factors that can help identify problem officers included citizen complaints, firearm-discharge reports, civil litigation, resisting-arrest incidents, and pursuits and vehicular accidents. Data from the case-study cities indicated that the programs appeared to reduce problem behaviors significantly and to change behavior of both supervisors and identified officers. Findings also indicated that early warning systems are high-maintenance programs that require ongoing administrative attention. However, it is impossible to disentangle the effect of the department’s culture of accountability from that of the early warning program. The analysis concluded that early warning systems can be effective management tools but are only one of many tools needed to raise standards and improve the quality of police services. Figures and reference notes

Date Published: July 1, 2001