How digital field notes can help officers de-escalate situations
Record management systems can support de-escalation tactics and provide agencies with analytics to maximize the use of technology in their investigations
Content provided by CivicEye
De-escalation is undoubtedly a current buzzword within the public safety space. As civilians insist on increasing transparency from police, many law enforcement agencies have continued to pursue de-escalation tactics and strategies.
Lexipol recently defined de-escalation by describing “When circumstances reasonably permit, officers should use non-violent strategies and techniques to decrease the intensity of a situation, improve decision-making, improve communication, reduce the need for force, and increase voluntary compliance (e.g., summoning additional resources, formulating a plan, attempting verbal persuasion).” 
Ideally, de-escalation techniques are designed to protect potential suspects or offenders from use of force, while also protecting law enforcement officials from liability.
In response, officers have turned to new technology to increase evidence quality and improve trust with the general public, such as the use of body cameras. But how can they continue to implement technology to support de-escalation?
Read on as we examine how record management systems (RMS) can support de-escalation tactics and provide departments with effective analytics to maximize the use of technology in their investigations.
Your RMS: Not Just for Incident Reports
Law enforcement officials typically use records management systems for storing criminal justice records, retrieving information, archiving files and streamlining their law enforcement operations digitally. 
Different RMS models have different features and/or modules to add on to the software’s basic functions, including syncing with CAD and JMS systems, alerts on BOLOs, data analytics for crime mapping and field reporting. These enhanced features can make a difference in how officers approach a scene or specific individual. CivicRMS, CivicEye’s public safety platform, includes tools to flag individuals and leave digital notes that follow an individual’s profile. This additional commentary allows officers to be more aware of situations before entering into an interaction with a person with specific needs and/or triggers.
By utilizing effective communication techniques, officers can diffuse a potentially dangerous situation and minimize the use of force. This not only ensures the safety of all parties involved, but also helps to build trust and positive relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
For example, Nick Dunn from Sparta Police Department in White County, Tennessee, uses digital field notes to track specific de-escalation tactics catered to persons he’s interacted with before, while also reviewing notes left by other officers.
“It allows us to be able to deal with certain individuals appropriately, whether they have some kind of past trauma, medical handicap, hearing impairment, autism – it just gives us a head’s up if this person needs to be dealt with in a different manner,” he explained.
Typically, many officers do not have access to notes on what happened in previous shifts unless they verbally exchange information with officers during shift change.
Captain Nate Theiss, from White County Sheriff’s Department, stressed that writing digital notes has kept the agency’s officers safer. Particularly, Theiss explained that users can see what the previous shift was doing at a specific address earlier.
“Before [implementing digital notes], we had no idea [what previous shifts were doing]. So you’d have to [rely on] word-of-mouth or shift changes ... Now we can click it and see the previous incidents,” Theiss explained.
Users can add these notes within the RMS by attaching an alert to an individual’s profile within the master persons’ index. This index is highly searchable, which allows officers to find information quickly and easily.
For example, when Captain Theiss or another law enforcement official scans a person’s driver’s license, they can see any attached alerts that other LEOs have added. An alert could inform an LEO of an individual’s tendencies toward combative behavior or suggestions on how to effectively de-escalate a situation with a specific individual.
Theiss described a situation in which a person had autism, and in the Individual Alert, an officer had left a phone number and described that calling that phone number and speaking with the person’s mom or sister helped calm him down.
“Moving forward, [this feature] is going to keep the community a whole lot safer. We can now see these little notes that officers are putting in, whenever we’ve dealt with somebody before that can de-escalate that situation when, before, they didn’t have that information,” Theiss stated.
Overall, it’s vital that officers can share their personal experiences in the field with their fellow officers. Here are three other reasons why officers should use a digital RMS to share their field notes.
- Easier access to accurate information: By sharing their field notes through a records management system, law enforcement officers will have a centralized source of information that can be easily accessed by other officers and investigators. This will help ensure that all cases are handled with accurate and up-to-date information.
- Increased efficiency and accuracy: By having all relevant information stored in one place, officers can quickly find the information they need, which will help to streamline investigations and increase efficiency. This will also help to reduce errors and ensure that the investigation is conducted in the most accurate way possible.
- Improved accountability: By having access to all field notes, supervisors and other officers will be able to review the notes and ensure that the officers are conducting their investigations properly. Steps, such as these, will help agencies build greater trust with the general public, as officers are held accountable for sharing their notes.
Digital field notes can keep officers safer and promote de-escalation tactics. By recording their field notes directly within an RMS, officers can streamline their notes with existing information and potentially create Individual Alerts to protect law enforcement officials, while simultaneously supporting officers and civilians with individualized de-escalation tactics.
Alongside training and research, modern tools can equip officers to better de-escalate situations. Click here to learn more about how CivicRMS can revolutionize your law enforcement agency.
Police Use of Force. Lexipol. (2023). Retrieved March 2, 2023, from https://useofforce.lexipol.com/
Law Enforcement Records Management Systems (RMSs) as They Pertain to FBI Programs and Systems. Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Justice Information Services Division. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2023, from https://ucr.fbi.gov/law-enforcement-records-management-system
Oliva, J. R., Morgan, R., & Compton, M. T. (2010). A Practical Overview of De-Escalation Skills in Law Enforcement: Helping Individuals in Crisis While Reducing Police Liability and Injury. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, 15-29. https://doi.org/10.1080/15332581003785421
International Association of Chiefs of Police (n.d.). De-Escalation: Guidelines for how to begin evaluating your agency’s de-escalation practices. The IACP. https://www.theiacp.org/resources/de-escalation-use-of-force
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