UChicago Alums, Researchers Develop Evidence-Based Police Force Management and Early Intervention System


The University of Chicago in 2018 announced a partnership with Benchmark Analytics to commercialize an early intervention system for police officers developed at the Center for Data Science and Public Policy. (Image credit: iStock/TheaDesign)

Benchmark Analytics working with research partners led by the University of Chicago has created an evidence-based police force management and early intervention system.

The proprietary solution captures and aggregates police officer performance data, analyses this information for early, preventative intervention, and provides customized officer support with specific case action plans.

Ron Huberman

Benchmark Analytics (Benchmark) was cofounded by Ron Huberman, MBA ‘00, CEO, who with other cofounders including fellow alum Sarah Kremsner, MPP ’03, began looking at the landscape of police accountability and reform and found that there were three aspects of this work that were fundamentally missing in order to affect positive change. “We said, this is really solvable so we should go out and start a company with the expressed purpose of solving meaningful police reform issues,” explained Huberman.

The first part of this was helping police departments manage and collect critical data they should know about their workforce – information which the researchers found to be widely fragmented. On average, police departments were using between four and 17 different systems, said Huberman, which made it all but impossible to understand performance. To solve for this, the company developed an enterprise approach to people data management in public safety and policing, the Benchmark Management System®.

The First Signs

With centralized data management, Benchmark could then take a research-based approach to analyzing that data in a systematic way to understand if an officer was off track. “There needed to be a way that every police department didn’t need to create their own insight into that data,” explained Huberman.

This insight is possible due to the company’s solution, First Sign® Early Intervention, which was developed based on years of longitudinal studies and analyses of officer conduct at the University of Chicago and its Center for Data Science and Public Policy, with support from the Joyce Foundation. The University developed a series of predictive models and algorithms that identify patterns of police officer conduct that lead to problematic behavior in policing.

The work was led largely by Rayid Ghani, who is the former chief scientist of the Obama for America data analytics team and joined the University in 2013 working with the Computation Institute and the Harris School of Public Policy and as the director of the Center for Data Science & Public Policy and Data Science for Social Good, which today has moved to Carnegie Mellon University.

This wealth of research for Benchmark meant they didn’t need to start from scratch, noted Huberman, who reached out to the University – with a team of several alumni and the confidence that they could leverage this work and make a difference.

“It was thoughtful research, but it lived in the four walls of the university,” said Huberman, who quickly saw the opportunity to have “broad impact by translating the research in way that is easily consumable by police firms.”

Ghani worked with the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to license this technology to Benchmark.

What to Do?

The next big question, however, was the so what: If an officer is flagged as problematic, what do you do next? According to Huberman, there was almost no body of evidence to suggest what intervention would get an officer back on track.

John Rappaport

To try and understand this question, the team launched the National Police Early Intervention and Outcomes Research Consortium, which is chaired by University of Chicago Law School Professor and Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar John Rappaport, who studies criminal procedure and the criminal justice system.

“The relationship between the University and Benchmark has come full circle. The University’s intellectual property helped support Benchmark’s launch and, now that the company is thriving, the data it’s collecting will support research by members of a consortium the University leads,” explained Rappaport, who studies criminal procedure and the criminal justice system. “What makes that data so unique is its breadth and granularity—in some cases, we’ll see everything the police departments see, including organizational structure, training, dispatch, arrests, use of force, complaints, and discipline. This will allow researchers to make connections across disparate aspects of police operations.”

“Ultimately, we want to understand why different officers behave differently and whether and how agencies can intervene to get wayward officers back on track.”

– John Rappaport

The result of all this work was the creation of a proactive, targeted support program called CARE, short for Case Action Response Engine®. The program takes behavior identified in First Sign to create officer-specific interventions and provides best practices that have been proven to be most effective.

“[CARE is] a way to identify and measure inventions so that we could inform the field of policing,” said Huberman. While the approach is not novel from a data science perspective, Benchmark is the first company to bring this unique disciple to the world of policing. “We are uniquely positioned in the marketplace as the only provider who can help police departments with the performance and accountability of their workforce,” Huberman added.

Expanding Impact

Benchmark currently serves four state-wide organizations and more than 150 police departments of all sizes. Huberman describes the company as “fair brokers,” in that it’s an agenda is one everyone can rally behind – using data and analytics to help police departments improve the performance of their workforce.

“You have to understand what’s going on and use that to actually know what the implications of reform are,” said Huberman.

The goal of Benchmark is to provide those answers: Are officers using more force or less force? Are there more or fewer citizen complaints? What’s happening with trends on arrest? Are there any changes to bias patterns in traffic stops?

As for the next steps, the aim is continual growth. “We have impact when we get into a police department. The goal is to expand this impact by expanding to more departments,” Huberman said. Additionally, as Benchmark on boards more departments, many also are allowing the company to use their data for ongoing research, which will ultimately help improve the analysis that they can provide.

To date, the company has collected what Huberman said they believe to be the world’s largest multi-jurisdictional database on officer performance with over 20 million records.

Article by Melissa Fassbender, assistant director of external relations and science communications at the Polsky Center. Melissa is a former journalist and has held the role of editor at various global publications in the drug development, clinical trials, and design engineering space. Reach Melissa via email or on Twitter at @melfass.


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