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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

August 2022 | Volume 15 | Issue 8

In 2017, when Rahway (New Jersey) Police Director Jonathan Parham was Chief of Police in Linden, another town in Union County, New Jersey, a sergeant asked him to review Body-Worn Camera (BWC) footage of a motor vehicle pursuit in which the police officers’ actions appeared to be inconsistent with the agency’s policy and training.

After reviewing the video and observing what he considered to be risky behavior, Parham called a meeting with the officers asking them, “What were you thinking?” The officers told Parham that they “always did it that way”—that the tactics used were common practice at the agency.

As a result of this discussion, Parham realized that these officers had never received formal training in pursuit procedures and that their errors were a direct result of that. More importantly, he also realized that the agency had not been aware of this because they hadn’t been regularly looking at BWC footage.

After reviewing several of the Linden Police Department’s videos, Parham began systematically viewing BWC videos with the department’s Training Unit, comparing officer performance to agency best practices. If the performance didn’t match agency standards, the group looked inward to assess the agency’s policy and training in the area under review.

As a result of this performance management audit, multiple policies were updated, and new training programs created.

When he became Director of County-Wide Police Policy, Planning and Training in the Union County Prosecutors Office in December 2019, a position he held until July 2021, Parham worked with Acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo to launch a pilot program designed to determine if BWC footage review could be used by agencies throughout the county to identify training gaps and improve police performance.

The Body-Worn Camera Performance Review Pilot

Key performance indicators included, but were not limited to:

Motor Vehicle Stops

  • Notify dispatcher of the number of occupants in the vehicle
  • Stop the vehicle in a well-lighted location
  • Wait for backup if available

Driving While Intoxicated

  • Handcuff subject and search them prior to placing them in a police vehicle
  • Impound vehicle according to “John’s Law” — Potential Liability Warning and Mandatory 12-Hour Impoundment of Motor Vehicles
  • Activate vehicle’s interior camera during transport

Mental Health Assist

  • Request a CIT Officer
  • Request a Screener
  • Provide caregivers with mental health resources

Called the Body-Worn Camera Performance Review Pilot, the program also aimed to establish best practices that agencies could use to formulate their own, customized, review programs.

Three Union County municipal law enforcement agencies volunteered to participate in the pilot: the Cranford Police Department, the Plainfield Police Division, and the Roselle Police Department.

To ensure uniformity and consistency in the review process, the project group, consisting of a supervisor from each police department and directors from several state agencies, worked together to formulate clear, easily understood rating criteria—key performance indicators (KPI)—which would be used to measure officer performance.

Agency supervisors informed their officers of these criteria ahead of time and explained the goal of the program to those who volunteered to participate.

“We told them exactly how we were going to use the review, that this is a performance management program developed to correct training deficiencies, not a disciplinary program,” said Parham.

Making this clear not only earned the trust and cooperation of the participating officers but was found to have improved communication between supervisors and subordinates.

Criteria, Procedures, and Scope Agreed Upon

The project team also limited the scope of review to three specific incident types: motor vehicle stops; investigations of driving while intoxicated; and mental health response/assist calls for service.

These incidents were chosen because of the frequency of their occurrence, the existence of clear guidelines and best practices, their significance in maintaining and improving public safety, and the degree of risk they pose to the public and the police.

Each agency selected 40 videos chosen at random from footage recorded during the normal course of agency operation over a 90-day period. The footage was then imported into a video analysis software program developed by Parham.

This program provided a platform for supervisors to examine and evaluate officer activities according to the agreed upon incident-based KPIs, record their observations, and log corrective actions for managing officer performance.

Eighty Percent of Officers Made Similar Errors

To their surprise, reviewers immediately recognized that their officers were making the same mistakes as officers in the other agencies, leading to the realization that the problem extended beyond a single agency’s practices or culture.

“We found a lot of consistency in officer performance,” said Parham, “And with eighty percent of them making similar errors, we realized that if eight out of 10 of the officers were making the same mistakes, they themselves were not necessarily ‘the problem’—their actions were the result of another, bigger problem.”

Instead of seeing the error negatively, the study recognized that trending officer errors pinpointed where the agency’s policy, training, and supervisory gaps existed.

“We also recognized that we needed to include performance review as a part of the feedback loop to ensure that officers do what they were trained to do, in the way they were trained to do it,” Parham added.

The second pilot, which was finished at the beginning of June 2022, under the direction of Prosecutor William Daniel, showed the same patterns.

Training Deficiencies Identified

“What we’re seeing in both pilots is that when there is clarity in instruction, officers do what they are supposed to,” said Parham. “When there is ambiguity, they just do what they believe is best to resolve the issue at hand, to get the report done, solve the problem, and be prepared for another job. Oftentimes, we mistakenly believe that just providing training means officers will understand it; we were training to content, not comprehension.”

Reviewers saw another clear pattern when filtering officer performance data by officers’ level of experience. Parham noted that those with five years or less on the job performed well when responding to mental health incidents and de-escalating, but were weak in tactics.

“For instance, when responding to a situation, we observed officers sitting in their car and speaking to the subject of the investigation while that individual is standing near the patrol vehicle. We also observed officers conducting domestic violence interviews in kitchens, where utensils could easily be accessed and used as weapons,” he said.

“These errors are due not just to a lack of on-the-job experience, but also to not having the benefit of learning from the experiences of older, more experienced officers who would act as informal training officers and mentors. And in many cases, supervisors don’t know how their officers are performing, because they aren’t out there to see it, and BWC footage isn’t often reviewed unless there is an incident or complaint reported.”

A Significant Improvement in Performance and Training

“BWCs are worthwhile because we don’t have enough managers to monitor what’s going, and we now have lesser trained officers with less supervision,” Parham said. “The easiest way to fix this is to use the cameras as a force multiplier—systematically look at the videos to see what needs to be improved.”

Since employing this program and using it as a training tool, each of the pilot agencies has shown a 25 percent reduction in officer errors. The county prosecutor’s office, which saw things done on the street that were taught years ago and need to be updated, has also made changes in Union County’s Police Academy training curriculum.

Police departments outside New Jersey can use Parham’s Body Worn Camera video review software to customize their own performance reviews, focusing on the procedures they want to assess, limiting the scope, or otherwise modifying it to fit their needs.

Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
COPS Office

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