Dallas police briefed City Council members Tuesday about a plan to warn supervisors about officers whose actions strayed from typical personnel patterns.
Top police officials said the new early warning system, which could launch next month, is meant to help officers become more productive without punishing them, and to restore community trust by identifying officers who may need leadership supervision before they become a cause for concern in the future.
Some council members and police union officials, however, voiced worries that the new system may improperly label officers and could be used against them instead of as a means to provide services and resources.
Dallas police Chief Eddie García stressed to the city’s public safety committee that the goal is to intervene in a nonpunitive way and to “get them the help they need” to have a successful career. Police officials said the system targets areas of improvement in officers’ interpersonal skills, such as in time management, respectfulness, leadership, community engagement and conflict resolution.
“Regardless (of) the caliber of officer on day one, sometimes that caliber of officer in year five, year six, year seven is a different individual based on things that occurred in his or her career,” García said.
The system evaluates an officer’s use-of-force background, external and internal complaints, traffic stops, arrests and other data and compares that information with the officer’s peers of a similar rank, position and level of experience.
The system offers a risk assessment for each officer based off that data. Those whose activity patterns are outliers and determined to be at risk will be flagged — which means that information “goes up for advisory or actionable intervention.”
Supervisors will review the data and meet with flagged officers to talk about the context of their behavior and actions, evaluate their well-being and determine areas of improvement and steps forward.
Deputy police Chief William Griffith said Phoenix and other metropolitan cities use the system. He said it’s a research-based approach that’s meant to help prioritize outreach for law enforcement personnel who need supervision, and could prevent adverse incidents in the future.
Nick Montgomery, chief research officer with Benchmark Analytics, the management system, said he expects 4 to 6% of the department’s officers to be flagged over the course of a year. The department has about 3,150 officers, so about 126 to 189 officers could be flagged in a year.
Council member Cara Mendelsohn raised concerns that the new system sounds punitive by using terms such as “flagging” an officer. She pressed police on if those “flags” will be marked in an officer’s personnel file, even if the supervisor met with the officer and determined there wasn’t a problem.
“What I’m concerned about is that officers are going to be identified by an algorithm that we don’t even know what’s part of it, sounds a little like Facebook to me, and we’re going to have no input on,” Mendelsohn said.
“A little bit concerned when we have words like flagging officers as opposed to having a supportive outreach list,” she added.
Police officials said the information will be on benchmark analytics reports in the management system, but not on an officer’s résumé.
“This is not necessarily going towards a disciplinary action, this is to save our officers and to save their careers and to save the integrity and professionalism of the Dallas Police Department,” García said. “And to try to find ways to intervene sooner rather than later.”
García said he’d spoken with police unions about the system, and they had a mixed response.
“I know there’s been issues with regards to the systems and the flags and things of that nature, but a lot of that at the end of the day it’s something that we’re going to accomplish,” García told council members.
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, said in an interview that he was concerned with the new system since it “keeps a record of officers and circumvents any type of due process,” including by labeling officers without “properly looking at the situation.”
“They need to be a little bit more transparent with the rank and file on how this is exactly going to be implemented before anything goes into actual use,” Mata said.
He said an officer who was investigated in the past may have been cleared of any wrongdoing. However, he said, the new system may use that data against those officers and unfairly label them and affect their futures.
“All officers within the department want to help those officers that are maybe stressed out or maybe in need of some form of counseling or more training,” Mata said. “But I am concerned with how this is going to be implemented, who’s going to keep that record and how it will affect those officers who, although, may have a complaint, but are cleared through internal affairs.”
Police officials said at the council meeting that visibility is built into the system. Supervisors must send their course of action, or decision not to pursue a course of action, up the chain of command for approval.
Mata said he plans to closely watch the system’s reports to ensure they’re being carried out fairly.
“We’re going to keep very close eyes on it and if there’s any abuse or improper labeling of officers we will take whatever needs necessary to address it,” he said.