Dispelling Early Intervention Myths

As we have discussed in previous blog posts, the purpose of an Early Intervention System is not to impart discipline or replace healthy and honest conversations. Instead, Early Intervention Systems provide leaders with actionable insights by centering discussions on the need for positive change. We believe Early Intervention sends clear, compelling messages of deterrence, accountability, and empowerment from the beginning. Nevertheless, it’s important to address some of the common misconceptions.

Myth: Early Intervention Systems replace proactive supervision.

Fact: EIS should never be viewed as a means to replace engaged, effective leaders who cultivate positive relationships with the men and women they lead. Relying solely on data diminishes effectiveness and negatively impacts morale; essentially reducing people to statistics and contradicting the principles of successful leadership. Leaders must examine each incident individually, viewing Early Intervention as a tool to initiate constructive conversations, provide meaningful feedback, and incorporate proactive discussions.

Myth: Early Intervention Systems create cultures of accountability.

Fact: While an Early Intervention System can reaffirm accountability standards; it cannot enforce them. Therefore, holding members accountable for their actions will always rely on leadership engagement and commitment. While no one wants to be responsible for pointing out a member’s shortcomings, being forced to continually compensate for a poor performer can wear on an entire squad. Regardless of an agency’s use of an EIS, all supervisors must play an active part in ensuring all officers remain productive and professional.

Myth: Early Intervention Systems single out engaged officers

Fact: When setting up an Early Intervention program, leaders must take into account the varying degree of posts and positions within their department. It’s reasonable to assume certain assignments will generate more complaints or lead to a higher degree of resistance. And while it’s true proactive officers may receive more flags, it’s important to remember a system alert does not automatically mean there is an issue with the officer. In contrast, EIS flags can point to a more significant problem within the department or division. If multiple officers receive flags within a specific category, this may signify the need for safer practices, increased resources, better training, higher situational awareness, or department policy changes.

Myth: Early Intervention Systems hurt morale.

Fact: Organizational conflict, poor performance, and negative public discourse hurt morale. So do risky behaviors, unfounded allegations, and civil lawsuits. Yes, Early
Intervention Systems may call attention to underlying issues; however, they do not cause them. Data alone cannot create problems where they do not exist. On the contrary, Early Intervention Systems provide officers with the ability to address internal concerns and justify their actions before being faced with a formal complaint.

Myth: Early Intervention Systems ruin reputations.

Fact: Early Intervention Systems protect careers and the integrity of your organization. A major contribution of an EI system is its ability to identify a wide range of problems and not just a system to focus on problem officers. By identifying patterns of performance problems, EWS and EIS provide the opportunity for leaders to intervene before problems lead to a serious incident such as a lawsuit, a citizen complaint over excessive force, or some other crises involving the department. An EI system warns an officer to the extent that it sends a pre-disciplinary and informal but clear message that his or her performance needs improvement.

Myth: Early Intervention Systems are too expensive and not suited for smaller agencies.

Fact: The need for early intervention has nothing to do with an agency’s size. While it’s true larger organizations may incorporate early intervention as part of a larger performance management system, all agencies can benefit from these programs. In fact, ninety-five percent of the police agencies in the country operate with fewer than 100 officers. However, that doesn’t mean these officers are any less effective.

Regardless of location, complaints, litigation, and staff attrition can cost an agency more than its reputation. As an alternative to expensive and exhaustive legal ramifications, a versatile EIS is a cost-effective tool that helps agencies ensure all members are proactively supported.

In our final blog post in this series, we will focus on reframing the concept of Early Intervention.

Part 5: Reframing Early Intervention