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Does your department rate 5 stars?

A new program can help agencies gather real-time feedback about individual officer interactions with the citizenry

Officer Johnna Sylvester.jpg

In Warrenton, Virginia, the police department has implemented a program where citizens are asked to provide an immediate (anonymous) rating for every single police encounter. Here Officer Johnna Sylvester provides the “report card” to a citizen she stopped.

We do it for tacos, dentists and hotels, why not for the police? A new service called Guardian Score can help agencies gather real-time feedback on police interactions with the citizenry. The program lets citizens anonymously rate police interactions immediately after each police encounter. I reached out to Burke Brownfeld, co-founder of the service and former LEO, to learn more.

What was the inspiration for this program?

I attended college with one of the co-founders and we had our first police job together at the William and Mary Campus Police Department. From that point on, we became friends, both became police officers in Virginia after college, and for years, have brainstormed about the future of policing. I was already teaching courses to the police department about empathetic policing, and then, after the death of George Floyd, we sat down and thought hard about what could we do to positively impact the future of policing.

I started to think back to when I was a police officer and I was asked to fill out a “productivity worksheet” every month. We would receive points in exchange for specific, quantifiable things like, how many arrests you made, or how many tickets you wrote. Even at the age of 21, as a rookie cop, I felt like this approach to performance evaluation wasn’t really capturing all of the work I was doing in a given shift. So, we started asking ourselves, what else should we be measuring when we are trying to define what it means to be a “productive” or “good” police officer.

In the context of this idea that we manage what we measure, we realized that perhaps we needed to add to the list of activities or qualities that are measured to offer a more holistic view of police performance. As we developed this thought process we studied research about procedural justice and it was apparent that the ideal police officer is not only measured on “what” they do during a shift but also on “how” they treat community members.

We wanted that data to be provided to police leaders so they could understand how officers and community members are interacting, and what the feedback is saying, with easy-to-use data analytics tools. We also wanted to open up a new way for community members to provide feedback, while turning it into actual and actionable data. And as we have found out in real-life use of the tool, because we designed these questions around procedural justice, the feedback from community members is usually quite positive and highly focused on the individual traits that we ask about.

How does this differ from other types of community surveys?

Our product is unique for a few reasons.

The typical community surveys that police departments used to rely on were often sent out by mail to city or town residents of that jurisdiction. Those surveys could be filled out by someone who may have never had a police encounter but could be very opinionated about policing in general. Ultimately, the reliability of the data was questionable and not always clearly actionable for a police leader. Rarely did these surveys focus on individual officer performance, and usually relied on broad feelings or sentiments about a police department.

While there is utility in those types of sentiments, we wanted to take this to the next level, and receive feedback about individual performance, because ultimately, at 3 in the morning, individual police officers are interacting with individual community members. Knowing how those interactions are going is extremely valuable.

Our product is also unique in the current climate of community engagement because of the way it is built. We very intentionally chose not to integrate our product with other police IT systems. If our product were to be tied to an RMS system for example, and the survey was sent out by text message, think of all the people who do not receive that survey. What about traffic stops where no ticket was written? What about investigative detentions on the street, or even some arrests, where there may be no contact information for the person?

Those of us who have served in the profession know that the overwhelming number of interactions with the community are not even documented formally. If a police officer helps a lost tourist find a restaurant, that may have been a really positive police interaction, but who hears about it?

How does it work?

Each officer receives cards that have the Guardian Score QR code with instructions on one side. At the end of an encounter, the officer hands the card to the community member. They can either scan the QR code or visit the link that is provided on the card. This will take them to a 60-second survey.

We take the concept of data integrity seriously, and want police departments to feel confident that the feedback they are receiving is coming from real community members who really interacted with police officers. As a result, we very intentionally built the QR codes to be unique QR codes, tied to the individual officer, on every single card, and also, the moment a survey is submitted, that QR code can never be re-used.


Citizens can either scan the QR code or visit the link on the card.

The anonymous survey asks several demographic questions, and also asks about what type of encounter occurred (e.g., traffic stop, arrest, victim), and then asks the community member to provide ratings on five specific behavioral questions.

The ratings are very easy, as we ask them to use a 1-5 star system. Some of the traits they are providing ratings on include topics like listening skills, professionalism and the ability to explain “why.” Once that community member presses submit, the data immediately populates in the police department’s Guardian Score dashboard, and supervisors can see what the scores look like, what comments are coming in, and how different officers or squads are doing as compared to others within the department. The rating numbers add up to what we call the Guardian Score itself. Each officer has an overall Guardian Score, each squad can have an overall Guardian Score, and even the department has a total tabulated Guardian Score.

How are departments using the data?

We are delighted to see our current customers use the product and the data primarily as a positive reinforcement tool. The data itself is designed to be used as part of a holistic performance evaluation program. This means supervisors can go into the dashboard and track how well an officer is doing over time, in key traits and overall. The supervisor is able to see how that officer is doing in comparison to fellow squad members and the department on the whole. This easy-to-use system allows supervisors to quickly digest and identify the all-stars on their teams, and also can help identify if there are certain areas where an officer may need some coaching or mentoring.

We have found that chiefs of police are collecting survey comments and sharing them with the entire department as a way of congratulating officers on a job well done or highlighting some of the really positive moments that are occurring on a daily basis. We are also finding that officers enjoy logging into their profile to check on their individual scores and comments.

Additionally, because we have auto-generated reports, supervisors can run individual officer and team reports, and bring this into department-wide, Compstat-type meetings, as a new accountability feature. Not only are supervisors now able to say how well they are combating crime in a particular area, but they can also report on how well their teams are treating community members, based on real data.

Of course, the more data and survey responses that pour in, the more creative ways the data can be used. For example, Guardian Score ratings could become quite useful in the context of promotional processes or specialized unit processes. For example, if folks are applying to be on the hostage negotiations team, one quickly can see the utility of looking at Guardian Score data to help understand the holistic skillset of each applicant.

How are departments funding the program?

We are active with several police departments in Virginia and Pennsylvania and in current discussions with other departments in California, Texas, Maryland and New York, including both municipal and university departments. As a result, the ways in which folks are paying for this is dependent on their situation.

As has been noted in media coverage, the Warrenton Police Department in Virginia received funding support from a foundation. Other departments are leveraging their budget to pay for this because they have agreed that it solves multiple problems with one single product. Because of the connectivity to community feedback and procedural justice, we are finding that departments are getting strong support from their communities, town/city councils, and even the media when they announce their intention to use our product.

Guardian Score Overview from Sig Global on Vimeo.

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Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy. He retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.

His latest book The Badge and the Brain is available at