Building an early intervention system: Lessons learned from the Yonkers Police Department

Early intervention systems take time and work to develop and implement and there is no “one size fits all” solution


By Lieutenant Jared Singer

Early intervention systems sound like intimidating tools, however, many departments across the country have been using them for quite some time.  These tools for accountability can identify at-risk officers and provide appropriate non-disciplinary intervention. This sounds simple enough, but the development and implementation of early intervention systems is a complex process. 

This article reviews the research on early intervention and how the Yonkers (New York) Police Department implemented an early intervention system, with the goal of providing some guidance regarding the development and maintenance of such systems. 

In 2016, the Yonkers Police Department entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice that prompted the agency to develop and implement an early intervention system.
In 2016, the Yonkers Police Department entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice that prompted the agency to develop and implement an early intervention system. (Photo/Yonkers PD)

A 2003 COPS Office report stated that there is no “one size fits all” system for law enforcement and that each department should consider its own needs. [1] Researchers Christi Gullion and William King conducted a literature review of empirical studies [2] that have examined early intervention systems in policing, and determined the following:

  • While there have been mostly positive results of early intervention systems, scholars should continue evaluating how departments use them and whether they are successful. 
  • Scholars should continue to conduct future research into early intervention systems to provide an overall picture of their capabilities. 
  • Limitations exist regarding early intervention system studies, including agencies with different performance indicators, thresholds and interventions.    

What does this mean for a law enforcement agency trying to implement an early intervention system or improve upon one they already have? The answer is that there needs to be more research. 

Building a system from the ground up: A look at thresholds

In 2016, the Yonkers Police Department entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice that prompted the agency to develop and implement an early intervention system. 

The first step in developing this system was to determine how best to capture and store data. We chose the IAPro database and Blue Team platform, which allows us to store officer and subject demographics, and track performance indicators. Supervisors complete their investigative reports in Blue Team and submit them through the chain of command for review. The Inspections Unit records these reports in the IAPro database. IAPro tracks the indicators and will trigger an early intervention alert when an officer reaches a threshold for a performance indicator. 

We chose the following performance indicators for tracking purposes:

  • All reportable uses of force
  • Oleoresin capsicum applications
  • Electronic control device applications
  • In-custody injuries of suspects/subjects
  • Firearm discharges that are not uses of force
  • Foot pursuits
  • Discretionary arrest charges
  • Unexcused absences, lateness, or use of unauthorized sick leave
  • Civilian complaint investigations
  • Administrative investigations
  • Civil litigation proceedings
  • Criminal proceedings
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Vehicle pursuits 

With these indicators in mind, we determined what thresholds would trigger the performance indicators.  To accomplish this, we reviewed every performance indicator in every command, division, unit and tour. 

Our initial approach was to determine who the top officers were for each indicator; however, we found a significant number of false positives using this method. We attempted to mitigate this issue by conducting a review of current early intervention literature and methodology. Unfortunately, we found exactly what researchers [1,3] contended: there is no one size fits all method, and there was no universal model for early intervention systems. To solve this problem, we had to create our thresholds from the bottom up. 

The 2003 COPS Office report did provide potential options in the development of early intervention system thresholds:

  • Peer-Officer averages
  • Performance ratios
  • Weighting. [1]

At first, performance ratios seemed appropriate for our needs. We found, however, that some flaws existed in this approach. One method was to look at the ratio or percentage of force used for arrests, but this did not account for force being used in non-arrest situations such as controlling a violent emotionally disturbed person. Additionally, while this could provide some insight as a threshold, it could not be consistently applied to all the performance indicators. 

We then reviewed the weighting method. The problem with this method was that the lesser of the force options had a higher weight than more serious force options. 

The peer-officer averages method of threshold analysis was next on our list of potential solutions. We essentially compared officers’ performance with one another within each command. We calculated the average number of times an officer used force, and then looked to see how far the outliers were from these averages by determining the standard deviation. In some cases, uses of force for some officers were two or three standard deviations higher, or lower, than the average.  We considered these variances by calculating the average of this spread. Using these numbers, we were able to determine what our thresholds would be by combining the averages and the averages of the standard deviation spread. We were confident that this method would allow us to lower the number of false positives while also maintaining the integrity of the system. Is this a perfect method? Not at all, but it allowed us to use our early intervention system with a less arbitrary approach.    

Building a better system

The mechanics of early intervention systems are complex and involve the following variables:

  • Performance indicators
  • Thresholds
  • Interventions
  • Review and accountability of interventions. [2]

While this article discussed the nuanced points of threshold analysis, departments must be judicious when considering all variables when developing their early intervention systems. Departments deliberating the adoption of early intervention systems, or merely looking to update existing ones should consider the following for threshold development:

  • The size of your agency
  • The performance indicators you want to look at
  • The data you have and how to analyze it
  • Dedicated staff to continuously review the data and administrate the early intervention system.

Early intervention systems take time and work to develop and implement, but departments should not be discouraged by the amount of work they need to put into these systems. Remember: not all departments are the same.  It is okay to have a unique EI system tailored to your department’s needs.

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References

1. Walker S. (2003). Early intervention systems for law enforcement agencies: a planning and management guide. Community Oriented Policing Services. Washington, D.C.: Department of Justice. 

2. Gullion C, King W. (2020). Early intervention systems for police: a state-of-the-art review. Policing: An International Journal, 643-658. 

3. Bazley T, Mieczkowski T, Lersche K. (2009). Early intervention program criteria: evaluating officer use of force. Justice Quarterly, 107-124. 


About the author

Lieutenant Jared Singer has been with the Yonkers Police Department for 16 years and has worked in the Field Services Bureau, Communications Division, Detention Services Division, Office of the Police Commissioner, and is currently the Commanding Officer of the Inspections Unit. Lt. Singer is a graduate of the FBI National Academy Session 282. 

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