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Police Monitor calls for better officer analysis

Thursday, March 31, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier thinks that the Austin Police Department could do a better job of identifying problematic behavior in its officers. The head of the police officers’ union agrees.


In the closing section of her department’s most recent update, Frasier’s team calls for the implementation of a systematic analysis broadly termed by the law enforcement community as Early Intervention Systems. The tool would be designed, according to the update, to “identify and address problems before an officer gets into trouble.”


“This is not discipline,” Frasier told In Fact Daily. “We want to catch (this) early … (and) get them back on the right path.”


The head of Austin’s police union notes that the current program is not adequate. Sergeant Wayne Vincent told In Fact Daily that his organization has “no confidence” in the department’s current efforts to identify problematic police behaviors.


He says that those attempts have “pretty much put a red flag on half of the department.”


A 2006 U.S. Justice Department study notes that Early Intervention Systems “have been used in some agencies for more than 25 years.” It adds that recent advances in their use have brought departments “away from merely ‘warning’ supervisors about ‘problem officers.’”


“One of the things that police departments have figured out over the years … is the idea that you should have some sort of early warning system,” Frasier said, adding that a new program would be better for both the citizens of Austin and the officers themselves. She repeatedly emphasized that it shouldn’t be viewed as a tool for punishment.


Frasier also noted that the program could examine factors ranging from an officer’s rudeness to any use of force – justified or not. She cited an incident from her time as Travis County Sheriff in which an officer aided in a jail escape. Frasier says that comments made by that officer while they were still in an academy class should have resulted in a red flag.


In the past two years, the shooting of Nathaniel Sanders and the fallout from that incident raised tensions at the department and in East Austin. Frasier noted that since taking on the role of police monitor in January she hasn’t gone back over any element of the Sanders case but that she’s been involved in five other serious incidents since her arrival.


She said that she has challenged her staff, and herself, to go back over such events and ask, “How did we get here? What did we miss?”

Vincent told In Fact Daily that one of the data sets used by the current system focuses on number of sick days. Too many, he said, and an officer can be flagged. That happened to Vincent himself when he took a chunk of time off to return home to Kentucky to help his mother after a surgery.


Vincent said that he has a “major problem” with the way the current early warning system works and that his group “would applaud any vehicle that would (help).” He then called for a renewed look at what criteria should go into evaluating officer behavior.

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