How biometric monitoring will save law enforcement lives

The technology to monitor the correlation between stress and an officer’s duties already exists in many of the systems currently used in law enforcement


This article is reprinted with permission from IACP's Police Chief online.

By Lt. Grant Bedford

In the not-so-distant law enforcement future, a watch commander will receive a call from the dispatch center:

The technology created for body-worn cameras to collect, transfer and store videos could work perfectly to monitor or collect biometric data. (Photo/PoliceOne)
The technology created for body-worn cameras to collect, transfer and store videos could work perfectly to monitor or collect biometric data. (Photo/PoliceOne)

“Watch commander.”

“Hi, sir. This is Amy in dispatch. I am receiving a bio-monitor alarm from 3-BAKER-46. He went on scene at a disturbance call when, suddenly, his vitals all shot up and his stress reading is peaked. I’ve requested a nested UAS respond. It should be overhead in one minute. I have another unit en route, but they are five minutes off. I’m requesting permission to bump them up to Code 3 and turn on the officer’s body camera.”

“Approved. Please route me the feed from the body camera and the drone when it comes online. Also, let’s get a medic en route and have them stage nearby.”

“Sir, I just got a second alarm. 3-BAKER-46 is now prone.”

“Yep, I can see nothing but sky and trees from his body camera feed. And here comes the drone feed now. Okay, it looks like he didn’t make it too far from his car. There is no one around and no blood to be seen; I’m going to say he’s having a medical event. Let’s send that medic directly in.”

“10-4, sir. Looks like there was a medic close. They will arrive at about the same time as our unit.”

“Good work, Amy. Let me know when you hear how he’s doing.”

When seconds count, the real-time biometric monitoring of officers can save lives. Most of the time, it won’t be as dramatic as an officer experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest while walking up to a front door. More often, it will look something like this potential conversation between a young officer and his medical professional:

“Well, officer, because you volunteered for the biometric monitoring program, you know the goal is to help you live longer and healthier. It can do that in three ways. First, it can warn us immediately if you are having a medical episode. Second, biometric data allow me to identify precursors to illness and either prevent it or prescribe an early interdiction to increases the probability of survival. [1] Third, and probably most important, data will identify your causes of stress and develop ways to reduce it. Stress is a killer. It can cause cancer, hypertension, heart disease, depression and even suicide, just to name a few adverse health issues.”

The doctor would be able to go on and explain to the officer how often the officer’s stress levels had been tracked as high and, through collaboration with the department, help to pinpoint what all those episodes have in common (for instance, encounters with irate community members or certain types of calls) and encourage the officer to take part in additional training to help the officer better manage his or her stress response in such scenarios.

This potential exchange between doctor and officer demonstrates another way that biometric monitoring can save officers’ lives. By examining the data with their medical and psychological professionals, officers can develop processes to effectively reduce their job-related stress. The science behind this shows that by doing so, officers can enjoy longer, healthier and happier lives.

How It Works

Stress in law enforcement causes accidents, suicides and stress-related diseases, including some cancers. [2] In addition to improving officers’ health, stress reduction can also save officers’ careers by decreasing the incidence of career-ending accidents and injuries.

The technology to measure and monitor the correlation between stress and a police officer’s duties already exists in many of the systems currently used in law enforcement. For instance, James Hillary, a strategic account manager for a leading body-worn camera company, advises that the technology created for the current body-worn cameras to collect, transfer and store videos could work perfectly to monitor or collect biometric data. [3] What is needed, however, is the deep commitment to save officers’ lives through biometric monitoring.

The two steps to reducing stress in law enforcement officers are to identify the cause of the stress and then determine an effective treatment plan for it. [4] Biometric monitoring helps with both.

First, daily biometric readouts from each officer could be synchronized with the activities the officer engaged in throughout his or her workday. This can be accomplished by technology already developed for body-worn cameras. [5] Body-worn camera software is able to communicate with computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software to automatically place all of a call’s data onto the video from the officer’s body-worn camera.

In the same way, this CAD-sync software can match up the call the officer was on with the officer’s biometric readouts. An episode of high stress could be matched with a particular call. However, it is important to note, as explained by police psychologist Jocelyn Roland, that these data would prove only a correlation between the activity and the stress, not causation. [6] A deeper analysis between a psychologist and the officer may be able to determine what about this correlation is causing the stress.

To better grasp the possibilities and implications of biometric monitoring to lower stress, a panel of law enforcement managers was convened. [7] The panel determined, in part, that one of the greatest hurdles to launching a biometric monitoring program would be privacy concerns. The panel felt that officers would not want to participate in a program like this because they would be worried about what their private medical information would be used for and who would have access to it. For privacy reasons, the board said that data stored in a program of this type should be secure and released only to the individual officer and the officer’s health care professional to determine what is causing the officer stress and how to treat it. The biometric monitoring data could also assist in developing treatment plans for the officer.

While the data of individual officers would be kept private, the aggregate data for a department (or several departments in a region) could be compiled to determine the top 10 causes of stress in that specific department. A psychologist interviewed for this article advised that these aggregate data should be looked at by individual departments or regionally, as the correlations for officers in different areas and types of jurisdictions may be different. [8] This list could be produced automatically from the compilation of all officers’ data. The panel of law enforcement professionals assisting with this research created the following list as an example of what those top stress causes might be:

Once the causal data have been analyzed, the department’s training unit could design and incorporate additional training to offer officers extra instruction and support in the stress-causing areas. Instead of sending an officer to additional or remedial driving training after a collision, this program could identify the stress officers feel while driving and provide appropriate training before a collision, thus preventing crashes and reducing stress. Officers and their physicians could also choose needed training to help build confidence and lower stress in their identified, individual stress-causing areas. In this way, the biometric monitoring would identify the cause of an officer’s stress and help with the officer’s treatment as well.

Dr. Jocelyn Roland, who has been a police psychologist for over 23 years, noted that there could be an additional benefit to a biometric monitoring program. [10] By identifying the times that officers feel stress and experience increased adrenaline, officers may be able to learn to recognize the onset of increasing adrenaline and manage it to enhance their performance. She advised that many elite athletes have done this very thing and are able to manage the levels of adrenaline in their bodies to perform better. These athletes are also able to identify the signs of their adrenaline levels becoming too high, which can cause them to have cognition problems. When this happens, the athletes can use calming techniques to reduce their adrenaline levels and keep their bodies within the optimal range. Dr. Roland advises that officers working with a psychologist would be able to learn these same techniques and optimize their performance.

Existing Technology

All the elements of a law enforcement biometric monitoring program already exist.

The mining industry already has developed a monitoring system that advises when engineers inside a mine are having health issues. [11] In addition, the military has developed a small disposable patch that is able to sense and monitor stress levels. [12] 

Monitoring components have become even smaller, thus allowing them to be worn comfortably. [13] In fact, many of the needed technologies are already in use in law enforcement. [14] The authors of the article Wearable Sensors for Remote Health Monitoring, advise that the three things needed for a successful system are a small high-strength battery, a method for data transfer and secure storage, and some type of charging dock for the units. These necessities have all been worked out through the development and proliferation of body-worn cameras. [15]

Why Is No One Doing This?

If the technology exists and it will save lives, why isn’t it already being used? The truth is that most of the technological advances that make this possible appeared only in the last five years.

One of the professional panels convened to research this program looked at the evolution of biometric monitoring, including the recent advancements in miniaturization bringing wearables like the Fitbit and Apple Watch onto the market. [16] The panel, however, did not know of any company developing these products specifically for law enforcement. The reason for this may lie in the fact that it has not been seen as necessary until now, especially in states where officers have the ability to retire with a full pension at the age of 50. The number of officers dying or retiring due to health or injury, although tragic, has been manageable to this point. Departments have been able to keep their employment numbers steady and have not been overburdened by the costs associated with the loss of officers due to death or early retirement.

However, as states reevaluate or modify pensions and benefit plans, new officers might find themselves retiring later in life, and departments will need to be prepared to help officers increase their health and longevity. (See, for example, California’s Public Employee Pension Reform Act, which will require officers to work until age 57 to receive full pension benefits. [17])

Moving Forward

To effectively use biometric data that record stress levels through monitors linked to body-worn cameras, law enforcement must develop a model of new training to reduce officers’ psychological and physical stress levels.

The ideal plan would be to form a comprehensive group of highly qualified experts in the area of stress-reduction techniques for high-stress occupations. Dr. Roland pointed out the need for psychologists in this group as well as medical doctors. [18] She explained that often, where stress is involved, physicians might treat only the symptom and not the cause. For instance, medication can be prescribed for hypertension. This medication will help the physical effects, but it will not identify or address the underlying issue of stress and its root cause.

This working group would also include law enforcement subject matter experts in each “stress-identified” activity (e.g., felony stops, domestic violence and use of force) as well as mental health clinicians and training managers. Finally, there should be software engineers and information technology experts in the group.

A project such as this could have all of the needed policies and procedures built in to ensure privacy for the individual officers, which would help officers to feel comfortable with their initial enrollment in the program by showing them that privacy and security were of paramount importance. Dr. Roland also pointed out that many national and international organizations are interested in officer wellness and may offer their support in this endeavor. [19]

Conclusion

Even now, it may be beneficial to start with smaller or less complex programs through the use of existing wearables. These devices could be placed on officers for their use both on and off duty to track their health and sleep patterns. This type of introduction could pave the way for a more complete program by creating officer buy-in and showing the benefits of a biometric monitoring program to other departments.

As systemic solutions emerge, the path will have been paved for police officers to work with their agencies and medical professionals to manage stress and improve performance. The eventual winners in this future are the agencies that retain healthy officers longer; the officers who will live longer and experience less stress doing their job; and, most importantly, the communities they serve, which will receive better, more consistent policing. 

References

1. Arneric SP, et al., “Biometric Monitoring Devices for Assessing Endpoints in Clinical Trials: Developing an Ecosystem,” Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, September 2017: 736–739.

2. Beshears M, “How Police Can Reduce and Manage Stress,” Police1.com, March 30, 2017; Ice GH, James GD, Measuring Stress in Humans, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007); O’Hara A, “2017 Police Suicides—A Continuing Crisis,” Law Officer, January 1, 2018; National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, “Preliminary 2017 Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities Report”; Stelter S, “Teaching Officers about Stress Management,” Police1.com, March 27, 2017.

3. James Hillary (strategic account manager, Axon), personal communication, December 24, 2018.

4. Beshears, “How Police Can Reduce and Manage Stress.”

5. Hillary, personal communication.

6. Jocelyn Roland (police psychologist), interview, December 28, 2018.

7. Antonio Sajor, Eric Kane, Joshua Doberneck, and Travis DiGiulio (law enforcement professionals), personal communication, July 20, 2018.

9. Roland, interview.

10. Sajor, Kane, Doberneck, and DiGiulio, personal communication, February 28, 2018.

11. Roland, interview.

12. Enose N, Kumar R. Is Your Workplace Safety a Differentiator? The Power of Environmental Health and Safety (Bengaluru, India: Infosys Ltd., 2018).

12. Kirk P. Cheap, Disposable Biometric Patch to Monitor Stress and Fatigue in Military Personnel May Be Adapted to Monitor Biomarkers Used by Clinical Pathology Laboratories. Dark DailyDecember 10, 2014.

13. Darwish A, Hassanien AE. Wearable and Implantable Wireless Sensor Network Solutions for Healthcare Monitoring,” Sensors 11, no. 6 (2011): 5561–5595.

14. Majumder S, Mondal T, Deen MJ. Wearable Sensors for Remote Health Monitoring, Sensors 17, no. 1 (January 2017).

15. Hillary, personal communication.

16. Sajor, Kane, Doberneck, and DiGiulio, personal communication.

17. Horseman J. Riverside County: Sheriff Concerned about Higher Retirement Age, The Press-Enterprise, September 1, 2012.

18. Roland, interview.

19. Roland, interview.


About the author

Grant Bedford is a lieutenant with the Stockton Police Department in California.

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