Shining a Light on the Beautiful Blind Spot in Policing
In 2005, I was a patrol officer, assigned to the midnight shift in Alexandria, Virginia, driving around dark streets, night after night. I can remember a time I saw a man, by himself, pushing his broken down car, trying to get it home. I pulled over and asked the man if he needed help. He told me that he lived a few blocks away and didn’t have enough money for a tow truck. So we pushed the car together until it reached his house. He shook my hand and I went back to patrolling. This is one of the 61.5 million police/community member interactions that occur every year in the United States. The vast majority of those community interactions are not arrests of traffic tickets. They are ordinary, human, sometimes even boring interactions that usually have a happy ending. However, we call this the beautiful blindspot in policing, because we don’t see the results of these interactions. They aren’t captured in arrest reports, or calls for service data, or arrest records. And yet, I believe, the vast majority (not all) of those 61.5 million interactions are positive.
It made me think back to my police productivity worksheet. Each month I would fill out that worksheet and this is where I would earn points for things like arrests and traffic tickets. I still have my very first worksheet. When I examine it, I realize now how many interactions I was having with community members that really weren’t accounted for, or recorded. I was being evaluated on things like arrests and tickets, but the truth was, I spent much more time having ordinary interactions with business owners or tourists, who did not have an urgent police matter, but maybe just needed help finding a restaurant, or solving a problem. I spent all that time on those interactions and no one ever heard about it, because it wasn’t measured, and as a result wasn’t managed.
When we came up with the idea for Guardian Score, we were motivated to shine a light on that beautiful blindspot. We fundamentally believe that the majority of police/community interactions are positive and leave most people with a positive impression of police officers. Do some go badly? Absolutely. And we want to know about those too.
However, because policing historically has not focused on tracking, recording, or asking for feedback on the vast majority of those encounters, we have never been able to tell this story. We wanted to create a tool that would be easy to use for police officers, easy to use for community members, and help to fill in that blind spot on the wide variety of interactions that police have with community members every day. We do that by providing an easy-to-use QR code survey, that community members can fill out, right after a police interaction. That survey is directly tied to the individual police officer they interacted with, and asks questions related to procedural justice skills and abilities of the officer.
Now that we have been in use since November, 2021, we can confidently say, the Guardian Score community survey data is in fact filling in the beautiful blindspot. Our customer police departments are receiving data about interactions they never had before. They are learning about how individual police officers are performing with community members. And the results are exciting. While I can’t share our customer’s specific scores, I can say, most police officers are receiving extremely positive feedback from the Guardian Score surveys. These results further reinforce this idea that police officers as a whole are having beautiful interactions everyday with community members. Finally, with Guardian Score, there is a way for us to document and celebrate these insights, even when the results are less than perfect. Guardian Score is successfully shining a light on that beautiful blindspot, allowing police leaders to digest community feedback in new ways, and evaluate police officer performance in a much more holistic way.
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