May 20, 2020 | View as webpage

As our nation begins the complicated process of reopening, it is critical for law enforcement agencies to assess the effectiveness of pandemic response policies before facing the upcoming challenges associated with our “new normal.”

In this Leadership Briefing, Chief Joel Shults reviews the steps agencies should take to conduct an after-action review on the pandemic, as well as six mistakes to avoid during the process. Using data to make informed decisions about staffing and resource allocation has been key for the Baltimore Police Department. Find out how the agency’s Data Driven Strategies Division developed a series of near real-time dashboards for command staff to assess the impact of COVID-19.

P.S. Sharing resources and best practices is critical for public safety during this national emergency. Forward this newsletter to your professional contacts to ensure they stay informed and encourage them to sign up here. And bookmark Lexipol’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Learning & Policy Center to access free policies, courses and training tools for both individual officers and agencies.

Stay safe.

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1.com

Life after COVID: 6 ways to fail to learn
By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

Law enforcement may not be able to declare that the COVID-19 crisis is over, but it’s not likely they’ll face anything in the near future that they haven’t already faced regarding the coronavirus. That means it is probably time to schedule the after-action review on the pandemic. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

1. Not doing an AAR

Rationalizing overlooking an AAR is easy. The COVID crisis won’t likely happen again. It takes too much time and it is hard to schedule all the players to be present. AARs are always so negative. We did fine, so what’s to review?

The fact that the pandemic was so unusual is all the more reason for taking the time to conduct an AAR. What was unexpected? What supply sources and other logistical challenges occurred that might provide lessons learned for future emergency operations?

Although COVID-19 created “Zoom fatigue,” it did teach us that holding meetings doesn’t require everyone to share the same physical space and location. Inviting supervisors and representatives of other agencies is easier with remote meeting technology.

2. Not structuring an effective AAR

The idea that an AAR is all about finger-pointing and faultfinding could not be further from the truth. AARs should be structured to offer learning opportunities for avoiding future inefficiencies, celebrating the success of policies and innovations, and enhancing patterns of thinking.

A tight agenda that includes issues gleaned from participants ahead of time can keep an AAR meeting positive and efficient. Several formats are available with a web search for “lessons learned template,” “after-action report template” or “debrief template” to assist police leaders in developing their agenda. 

3. Not inviting the right people

Determining who will be around the table (or the rows of video faces) can begin by brainstorming. Once you make a potential guest list, ask for suggestions from your core participants whom they might suggest as stakeholders. If the list gets too large, consider having subgroups with members of the agency leadership team attending those smaller sessions. Potential voices include public health workers, EMS representatives, line officers and supervisors, journalists, government policymakers, attorneys and business leaders. The brainstorming list should imagine every sector in contact with law enforcement before paring the list. This particular crisis crossed a lot of groups and processes.

4. Overlooking officer wellness as a component of the COVID mission

While critical incident debriefings are common after intense events, a lengthy ordeal such as the current pandemic might not be followed with reviews of responder wellness. Your AAR should address the unique stresses of operating in a COVID threat environment, to include the projected impact of the pandemic on police recruitment and retention, as well as productivity, in the months to come.

5. Ignoring the controversy

Agency morale and sufficiency of policies are subjects for essential review. In addition to operating under the threat of exposure to the virus, there were unique challenges to officers’ sense of duty and conscience that played upon their psyche and sense of identity in relating to a public divided on public health measures. The huge response to Police1 articles regarding officers’ making enforcement decisions regarding public health orders is a significant indicator of the controversial nature of how the pandemic has been managed. The clarity, consistency and credibility of internal messaging was particularly important during this event.

6. Failing to identify assumptions

One of the most challenging disciplines of reflection, whether personal or corporate, is determining whether our foundational ways of thinking are congruent with our true mission. For example, many agencies devoted time and energy to educating the public about COVID-19. Is that a law enforcement role? Would a simple web link to the health department or medical site be the simplest means of avoiding message conflict and overload? Did your agency monitor the right metrics to determine if staffing and scheduling needed major adjustments? Was it of value to continue the same level of personal service during the pandemic as before?

AARs are reflective to enlighten the future. Whether all of your agency’s policies, procedures and processes worked perfectly during the COVID mission or some adjustments are in order, your organization will not only improve but will convey to all participants that you value learning and growth.

Additional resources:
Police data behind the pandemic response
By National Police Foundation

According to the National Police Foundation’s (NPF’s) Law Enforcement Impact Dashboard, thousands of officers across the country have been exposed to COVID-19. As members continue to respond to the call to serve and protect, data collection and analysis is helping the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) make informed decisions about staffing and resource allocation that ultimately affects the safety of our members and the level of service we provide to our community.

At the same time, our agency has an eye on ways that this data could help us and our federal, state and local partners plan and prepare for the next wave of COVID-19 or the next pandemic we are faced with.

Baltimore Police Department’s COVID-19 data collection and analysis

Since its creation in August 2019, the BPD’s Data Driven Strategies Division (DDSD) has improved data collection and analysis processes throughout the department to better inform day-to-day decision-making. In addition, we have focused on providing tools that ease the consumption and use of data at the operational level.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact Baltimore City, the DDSD recognized the need to monitor the impact on the department and the communities we serve. In conjunction with other revised operating procedures, the DDSD created a form in Microsoft Access – a common database management system – for BPD call takers to begin tracking the personnel reporting exposure to COVID-19. To date, the BPD also continues to monitor staffing levels, medical callouts, workload and crime trends.

Based on these data sources, the DDSD developed a series of near real-time dashboards for command staff using embedded Tableau dashboards housed internally within the BPD’s network, which provide tools for analytics and data visualizations. These dashboards display the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on BPD member health, staffing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and calls-for-service, informing executive decisions on the best allocations of resources based on real-time data and the changes that occur daily with this pandemic.

The DDSD developed a similar dashboard for situational awareness of crime trends in Baltimore City. The chart presents early indicators of the types of crimes being influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. While most crimes have decreased, monitoring increases in crimes such as residential robberies help inform the allocation of department resources toward addressing these crimes.

The BPD created each of these dashboards internally using tools that were easily accessible. The DDSD pushed the tools out to executive commanders and other department decision-makers with the intent of providing data that helps them to be nimble and stay informed through the pandemic. Staff are also in the process of developing a public website that will enable community members to view these dashboards, supporting ongoing efforts to promote community-police relations through enhanced transparency.

Beyond the BPD’s day-to-day operations: The national picture

While law enforcement agencies like the BPD are focusing on using data to make operational decisions in a COVID-19 environment, the collection of this data is also important on a national level. It is critical that law enforcement not only analyze immediate local impacts but also examine national trends that can inform agency decisions in the long term or get ahead of potential challenges by improving situational awareness.

As more agencies collect information on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the health, safety and well-being of their officers, and the ability of agencies to carry out their mission, we can better monitor these impacts on a wider scale. For example, greater data collection has the potential to tell us which calls-for-service place officers at greater risk for contacting COVID-19, or how the pandemic is affecting employee mental health and family dynamics. Answers to these and other questions can help agencies make informed decisions on how to best protect their officers and their families from COVID-19 and other similar threats now and in the future.

We encourage other law enforcement agencies to join Baltimore in collecting data on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. Data can be collected in many ways, from simple spreadsheets to more sophisticated databases. Given the nature of police work, law enforcement agencies already document staffing and crime information. Making sure the data is updated, collected in a centralized and standardized manner, and is able to address relevant research questions is critical for future analysis.

About the authors

Andrew Vaught is the managing director of the Baltimore Police Department’s Data Driven Strategies Division. Director Vaught oversees all of the crime and intelligence analysts, the ComStat Unit, the Baltimore Crime Intelligence Centers, and the CitiWatch Program.

Joyce Iwashita is a project associate with the National Police Foundation. She supports the management of projects across various research projects and programs. 

Additional resources:
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