The image of the tarnished badge is sometimes used to describe a law enforcement officer who no longer shines as bright as he or she should. Something that's tarnished doesn't represent a professional law enforcement agency as it should. But like a badge that's well taken care of, a responsible officer can represent the nation's finest.
In the early 1990s, some of the badges at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) were not shining. Four controversial shootings, which took place after the Rodney King incident in 1991, led the LASD to develop a database of officer performance. Judge James Kolts, appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to assess the LASD, said the department was exposing itself and the county to excessive risk by not keeping track of statistics to help determine which deputies are likely to use more force than necessary. In 1992, Kolts recommended and the county board mandated that the department construct a system to identify these officers. Once trends in potential performance problems were identified, the department would intervene with training or counseling, and in a sense, prevent a badge from tarnishing. The hope was that officers would avoid formal discipline, and the department would avoid lawsuits and damage to its reputation.
According to the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC), in 1992 the LASD became the first U.S. law enforcement agency to develop a computerized, highly sophisticated relational database to serve as an early identification or tracking system to discover problem officers and those who might potentially become problem officers. The system became operational department-wide in 1997.
PARC has free access to the Personnel Performance Index (PPI). Merrick Bobb, president and founding director of PARC, was appointed by the board of supervisors as a police monitor.
The PPI works
One of the things PARC looked at was whether a computer can accurately identify possible problem officers and help prevent police misconduct.
An in-depth study by the PARC says yes, it can. In its 27th semiannual report, PARC uses statistical analysis and research to conclude that the LASD's PPI works.
Lt. Judy Gerhardt, LASD Discovery Unit supervisor and PPI administrator, says, "PPI was designed as an early warning system to identify trends in employee performance." The PPI catalogs employee administrative investigations, operational vehicle investigations, civil claims, lawsuits, use of force, use of lethal force (officer-involved shootings), public commendations and complaints, and internal commendations. Managers (commanders and above) have access to different parts of the system at different security levels. They can look at use of force, citizen complaints and lawsuits relating to one officer, or across an entire unit. Looking at trends individually or collectively, Gerhardt says the LASD can then use the data to address specific needs in training and redirect resources, if necessary.
The Performance Mentoring Committee, which considers officers for inclusion in a sustained behavioral intervention program, queries the PPI monthly to identify potential officers of interest.
Bobb has monitored the LASD for 16 years and describes the PPI as a vital tool. A lawyer, Bobb was the first to occupy the role of police monitor. He served as deputy legal counsel on the Christopher Commission to reform the LAPD after the Rodney King incident and as general counsel of the Kolts investigation of the LASD.
"An early warning system is at the core of a series of recommendations about how to deal with possible problem officers' use of force," he says. "It helps agencies deal with problems before they really fester and become serious problems."
Clear strides in risk management