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Predictive Policing

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”   ~ Henry Ford

 

Within the P-R-I-D-E Adaptive Decision-Making Model, the first step to making sound decisions, especially in moments of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, chaos, and anxiety), is to Predict. Continuously predicting potential outcomes, solutions, reactions, perceptions, importance, and viability of decisions is how a person starts down one decision-making path or another. Because of this, predicting is a vital cog in the machine that is the human brain and it’s processing of stimulus when trying to make decisions. Unfortunately, the overall importance of predictive policing, in these terms, is rarely recognized properly in law enforcement discussions, debriefs, or trainings.

Below are 5 points to consider regarding the power and significance of predicting in law enforcement decision-making along with specific law enforcement examples . . .

  1. As mentioned earlier, predicting starts the decision-maker down a path based upon the goal the decision-maker wishes to accomplish. How an officer believes their initial decision will work out in relation to the goal guides them through their next several decisions until something in the situation changes. Take the act of deciding what to eat for breakfast. That one decision begins an entire path of decisions and corresponding actions that all started with a simple prediction about what would taste good for breakfast.

LE EXAMPLE: When an officer gets in their patrol car and drives away from the station, there are predictions made by the officer to decide where to patrol when not assigned to a specific call. Does the officer choose the busiest area where they are most likely to locate criminal activity or do they choose the slowest area where they are least likely to locate criminal activity? The officer is predicting criminal activity and that prediction starts them down a path for the entire shift. Make enough of these types of predictions one way or the other and suddenly the officer has started down a path for their entire career. They have created a reputation. Are they a go-getter or a member of the R.O.D. (Retired on Duty) Squad? Law enforcement leaders must assist officers in seeing beyond just what is in front of them and learn to think 2, 3, or even 4 steps down the road of their careers.

  1. Accurate predicting of possible outcomes shortens reaction time. When entering into any situation, predicting narrows the list of possibilities that may be faced which decreases an officer’s reaction time to whatever comes next. When a quarterback walks up behind his offensive line and surveys the defense, he is narrowing down the type of defense he is about to face once the ball is hiked. He will put receivers into motion, locate the middle linebacker, and look for any sign that may give away a possible blitz. If the quarterback’s prediction is correct, then his reaction time will be reduced which increases the likelihood of completing the play successfully. Hence the reason the best quarterbacks in the NFL practically live in the film room when they are not on the field. More experience equals better predictions.

LE EXAMPLE: Predicting  possible outcomes that could occur when conducting a traffic stop reduces an officer’s reaction time to how the situation actually plays out once the emergency lights are activated. Based upon how humans respond to high levels of stress, there are three options that can manifest themselves to varying degrees – freeze, fight, or flight. Based on this, an officer should predict that the driver could pull over normally to submit to the stop, pull over to commence an attack, or flee in the vehicle. Once all of those options are considered, then the officer’s reaction time to respond to the driver’s actions will be quicker. Accurate predicting greatly increases officer safety in any situation because law enforcement is always reacting to the actions of others. If action is always faster than reaction, then law enforcement officers must do everything possible to reduce their reaction times. It starts with predicting. Law enforcement leaders can support this type of predictive thinking by playing the “what if” game with their officers and table-topping scenarios with varying circumstances to cover a broad spectrum of predictions.

  1. Predicting and weighing both sides of an issue is another form of predicting that occurs before nearly every decision. The greater the decision, the more time that should be spent predicting possible pro’s and con’s for comparison. The key is to recognize that pro’s and con’s are just predictions and not reality; at least not yet. They must be weighted based upon their reasonableness of occurring which leads to more predicting.

LE EXAMPLE: Predicting and weighing both sides of an issue can be exemplified in making the decision to go for a promotion or not. This is a huge decision that undoubtedly requires great consideration of all the possible good and bad that could come with it. A thorough comparison of possible outcomes, leads to making a better overall decision. Law enforcement leaders can help their officers with making predictions about major decisions like this by being accessible to their officers as a person, not just a boss. Be the kind of leader that is available as a mentor and willing to share thoughts on the topic at hand. When going into the unknown, everyone values the experience of someone who has been there and done that because it assists with making their predictions more accurate.

  1. Predicting what other people will think about a decision also greatly influences our decisions. Humans have a tribe mentality because, back in the day, tribes were a way to keep us safe from danger. Therefore, humans are greatly concerned with what others may think of their decisions. The underlying fear is that if other members of the group do not agree with my decision, then I may be shunned by the group which inherently makes me isolated and unsafe. As kids, everyone remembers being told that their decisions should not be based upon what others think, but let’s be realistic. Every decision ever made, at least to some degree, includes predicting what someone else will think about it – boss, fellow officers, friends, mother, wife, etc. As kids it was called peer pressure and it still exists as adults.

LE EXAMPLE: This type of predicting can best be exemplified through a squad culture example. If a new officer gets assigned to a squad where the entire squad always talks in briefing about misdemeanor crimes being a waste of time and that felony crimes are the only “real” crime, then that officer is going to be influenced into minimizing or ignoring misdemeanor crimes and only look for felonies. While felonies encompass the most serious crimes, there are important aspects to the job of a patrol officer that require investigating and arresting for misdemeanor crimes. But because this new officer does not want to be risk being shunned by those in his “tribe,” he may neglect misdemeanors even if he personally does not believe the same thing. This is the power of predicting and why law enforcement leaders must be extremely careful with the culture they create and/or condone within their squads. Everyone reading this should be able to recall any number of bad law enforcement cultures that have made it into the news at one time or another. Predicting social isolation by the “tribe” is what allowed those bad cultures to continue to exist as long as they did instead of someone stepping up to stop them.

  1. Predicting sets a tone. If after receiving the initial information regarding a situation an officer’s first thought is “this is going to suck,” then a negative tone has been set. The reverse is also true. If after receiving the initial information regarding a situation an officer’s first thought is “this is going to be awesome” or “I can handle this” then a positive tone has been set. This is such a powerful example of predicting because tone casts a shadow over everything that follows it. This is the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy and it is all based on predictions.

LE EXAMPLE: When an officer goes to training there will be immediate predictions made. Either this training is going to suck or this training is going to be awesome. How do you think it ends up? The vast majority of the time it will end exactly as it was initially predicted no matter how good or bad the training really was. If the officer’s mind was changed from one way to the other, how much work did that take to overcome the prediction? A lot. This is the power of the Predict Phase and how it can set a tone. This is the primary reason law enforcement leaders must be aware of the tone they set in briefing because soon afterwards their officers will be hitting the road making situational predictions that originate from either the positive or negative tone set by the leader. Leaders must also help officers recognize that having control of their actions, attitude, and effort empowers them and alleviates negative victim thinking which gets replaced by a powerful sense of positive self-control. This line of thinking sets a positive tone for even the most challenging of circumstances.

To support and develop sound decision-making, law enforcement leaders must get into the habit of having conversations with their officers regarding decision-making that goes all the way back at the Predict Phase. This can be done by asking questions such as . . .

“What did you think this incident was on your way there?”

“How did you think they would respond to that action?”

“What was your intent before you did that?”

“How did you prioritize your response?”

By asking these types of questions, law enforcement leaders can ascertain who is predicting and who is not. What they will discover is that officers that get the most complaints, violate policies/procedures routinely, and negatively impact the team usually do little, if any, predicting. On the other hand, officers that are great beat cops, effective communicators, tactically sound, and positively impact the team in multiple ways do an excellent job of predicting.

If a law enforcement leader want good decision-makers, then they must teach, share, and discuss predictive policing. Every decision starts with Predict.

The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement supervisors to be the best leaders they can be by providing positive leadership tactics and ideas. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time. Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have ideas to share or suggestions for improvement. Your thoughts or comments on this blog are always appreciated either below or on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Twitter at @tbl_leadership.

Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!

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