A New Approach To Early Intervention

In August of 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ), Civil Rights Division, issued a report[1] on their investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, hereinafter referred to as BPD.  The report focused on several areas of the police department, and the Justice Department summarized the investigation by indicating BPD engaged in a “pattern and practice driven by systemic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, training, supervision and accountability structures that fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively and within the bounds of the federal law.”  Within the DOJ’s report, the Civil Rights Division’s investigators indicated that BPD’s Early Intervention Program was not effective.  The report indicated, “The BPD does not use an effective Early Intervention System to detect officers who may benefit from additional training or guidance to ensure that they do not commit constitutional and statutory violations.”  The DOJ’s report attributed the ineffective Early Intervention System as a nexus that may have contributed to Police Officer’s misconduct and the failure to identify when Officers needed additional training.  Also of concern, the report indicated, “Related to BPD’s failure to supervise its officers and collect data on their activities, the Department lacks an adequate Early Intervention System, or EIS, to identify officers based on patterns in their enforcement activities, complaints and other criteria.

An effective Early Intervention System allows Sergeants, Lieutenants and Commanders to proactively supervise the officers under their command and to continually assess officers’ risk of engaging in problematic behavior.  The EIS is a forward-looking tool that helps supervisors interrupt negative patterns before they manifest as misconduct or unconstitutional activity.  Likewise, Early Intervention Systems help supervisors recognize positive patterns that should be encouraged.  BPD’s EIS does not achieve these goals.  Despite BPD’s longstanding notice of concerns about its policing activities and problems with its internal accountability systems, the Department has failed to implement an adequate EIS or other system for tracking or auditing information about officer conduct.  Rather, BPD has an Early Intervention System in name only; indeed, BPD Commanders admitted to us that the Department’s Early Intervention System is effectively nonfunctional.  The system has several key deficiencies.  First, BPD sets thresholds of activity that trigger “alerts” to supervisors about potentially problematic conduct that are too high.  Because of these high thresholds, BPD supervisors often are not made aware of troubling behavioral patterns until after officers commit egregious misconduct.  Second, even where alerts are triggered, we found that BPD supervisors do not consistently take appropriate action to counsel the officer, consider additional training or otherwise intervene in a way that will correct the behavior before an adverse event occurs.”

The BPD is the eighth largest police department in the country.  Like most large police departments, the BPD has faced challenges with regard to police misconduct.  The in-custody death of Freddie Gray was the catalyst for civil unrest in Baltimore, which resulted in dozens of Police Officers being injured and numerous businesses being damaged and destroyed as a result of the violence.  Six Baltimore Police Officers were arrested but exonerated for the in-custody death of Freddie Gray.  After an “After Action Report” with regard to the civil unrest was released by the police department’s Fraternal Order of Police[2], Baltimore’s Police Commissioner, Anthony Batts, was fired by Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Newly-appointed Police Commissioner, Kevin Davis, identified the deficiencies within the BPD’s Early Intervention System long before the DOJ’s report was finalized.  Police Commissioner Davis appointed the first Director, of the Early Intervention Unit, and requested the current Early Intervention Process be completely overhauled.  Police Commissioner Davis wanted Early Intervention to be transformed to an effective tool to improve the performance of Police Officers through appropriate training and discipline.  Furthermore, the Police Commissioner wanted to assure that Officers’ supervisors were involved early on in the initial stages of the process and played a critical role in providing guidance to their subordinates.  Early Intervention Alerts were reduced from six complaints to trigger an alert to three.  Reducing the number of complaints to three allowed managers to identify negative behavior patterns early, and subsequently, develop strategies to assure the Police Officers were conducting themselves within the BPD’s policies and procedures.

In addition to appointing a Director, of the Early Intervention Unit, Police Commissioner Davis also increased the number of personnel assigned to the Early Intervention Unit by adding three experienced Police Officers, who now have direct report to the Sergeant of the Unit. Presentations and training occurred with all of the Baltimore Police Department’s Command Staff on the new process and application of the Early Intervention System.

Today, the Early Intervention System has been transformed to an effective tool, and strict adherence to the below steps are mandated by policy:

•After a Police Officer receives three complaints within a 12-month period, a Phase One notice is generated to the Officer’s  commanders.  Commanders were instructed to assure the Officer’s Sergeant meets with the Officer-in-question, examine their alerts, and develop strategies to help them improve their performance.  Furthermore, the Sergeant was required to monitor the Officer’s performance for a period of at least 30 days, and submit a written report back to the Early Intervention Unit, as soon as the monitoring period was completed.  If the required report has not been submitted to the Early Intervention Unit, a notice is disseminated to the Officer’s commander requiring them to have the report submitted immediately.

•Subsequent alerts on the same Officer would require a Phase Two Intervention (a critical phase), which now included not only the Officer’s Sergeant, but the Director and Sergeant, of the Early Intervention Unit.  During this session, written strategies are discussed and agreed upon by all participants.  The Officer’s Sergeant is required to, again, monitor the activities of the Officer, determine if the strategies are effective, and provide a written report to the Early Intervention Unit.

•A Phase Three Intervention would not only include the Officer’s Sergeant, but his Lieutenant, Captain, Major and Chief.  A separate set of strategies are discussed and agreed upon, but in this phase, the senior supervisors, of the Officer, are intimately involved in the process.  During this phase, in addition to strategies, the possibility of detailing the Officer to a new assignment is considered.  Like Phase One and Phase Two Sessions, a 30-day monitoring and reporting system is required. 

In 2015, prior to the appointment of Police Commissioner Davis, there were more than one thousand alerts triggered for complaints received on Baltimore’s Police Officers.  One Officer, who amassed more than 100 complaints during his career, received six alerts in 2015, but only had one Phase Two Intervention session for the entire year.  The Phase Two Session did not include the Officer’s commander, only his Sergeant.  The Officer-in-question had so many complaints, that a local news reporter highlighted the Officer in a special news report.  The Officer was subsequently terminated by Police Commissioner Davis. 

Since the beginning of 2016, there has been 136 Early Intervention Alerts in the BPD, and within these alerts, there have been 20 Phase Two Sessions conducted and two Phase Three Sessions.  As indicated earlier in this article, both Phase Two and Three Intervention Sessions are the most critical, because it is an indicator that the initial strategies recommended to the Officers are not working, and the Officers’ Senior Police managers are required to be included in Intervention Sessions.  It should also be noted that Officers required to participate in Phase Two or Three Intervention Sessions consistently had a propensity to generate both internal and citizens’ complaints throughout their careers as Police Officers.

As a result of the new approach to the Baltimore Police Department’s Early Intervention Process, not one Officer, who has gone through Phase Two or Three, of the Intervention Process, has generated a complaint.  In fact, one of the Officers, who was notorious for the accumulation of citizens’ complaints, was one of the first Police Officers to be outfitted with a body-worn camera.  During a recent audit of body-worn camera footage, this Officer’s footage was reviewed.  During the review, it was discovered that not only was this Officer’s conduct completely in compliance when he was approached by an irate citizen, but based on his admirable conduct, the footage will be used in training on how to use excellent de-escalation techniques.

The goal of Early Intervention is to have the Officers’ first-line supervisors identify and correct inappropriate conduct at the initial stages of observation.  However, in those cases where the BPD’s Early Intervention Unit is involved, the current Intervention Process has proven to be an effective tool in not only moving the BPD forward, but enhancing the relationship between the community and the police.  Although the BPD adopted an Early Intervention System in 2010, the majority of the Police Officers in the Department either did not understand what it was or felt that it was a “paper tiger” that had no impact on modifying behavior of Officers.

Today, the Early Intervention Process is assisting Baltimore’s Police supervisors in recognizing behavior early and developing problem-solving solutions to assist Police Officers in improving their performance.  The Early Intervention Unit is housed in the Office of Professional Responsibility, of the Baltimore Police Department.  Having the Unit housed in the same building of Internal Affairs, allows the Unit to implement an Intervention Session as soon as serious complaints, such as use of force, alcohol-related violations and domestic violence allegations are reported.  The Unit has access to several outside professional agencies that can be referred to the Officer for immediate assistance.  The referral process is confidential and voluntary.  To date, all Officers referred to outside support agencies have accepted and participated.

The success of the Unit can be attributed to the hard work of the Police Officers assigned to the Unit.  The Sergeant, and three Detectives assigned to the Unit, spend countless hours querying “BlueTeam” (BlueTeam is a data base where complaints against Police Officers are maintained) for new complaints that are received on Police Officers.  Additionally, the Detectives currently assigned to the Early Intervention Unit, have worked with or are familiar with the Officers who are selected to participate in the Early Intervention Process.  Many times, these Detectives can provide an historic perspective on the Officers that is not always captured in “Blue Team.”  For instance, several of the Officers who have been identified to have an intervention, have been involved in traumatic events during their career, such as police-involved shootings, serious injuries in the line-of-duty and being injured during the civil unrest.  Some of these Officers had not received “post-traumatic stress” counseling as a result of these events, so the intervention process may include referral to an outside professional agency. 

In conclusion, it should be noted that as a result of the enhanced Early Intervention System instituted by Police Commissioner Davis, more commanders are referring their Officers to the Unit for sessions, prior to a complaint being lodged.  Additionally, several Officers have requested to receive counseling sessions without being directed to do so by their supervisors.  Ultimately, the goal is not only to enhance the performance of Police Officers, but to provide Police Officers with the necessary support, training and tools to be successful in their careers. The new approach to Early Intervention, adapted by the Baltimore Police Department, is a critical component that will enable the Police Commissioner to not only comply with the Department of Justice’s Consent Decree, but enhance the image and productivity of the Baltimore Police Department.



[1] U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2016). Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department, 134. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/883366/download

[2] Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #3. (2015). A Review of the Management of the 2015 Baltimore Riots. Baltimore, MD: Author.

About The Author:

Director Vernon Herron joined the Baltimore Police Department in January, 2016.  Currently, Director Herron is the Commander of Command Investigations, Early Intervention and the Court Liaison Unit.
Prior to joining the Baltimore City Police, he served as the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety and Director of Homeland in Prince George’s County.  Assigned to the Office of the County Executive, Director Herron was the Public Safety Director for the Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Corrections, and the Citizen Complaint Oversight Panel. Also appointed as Director of Homeland Security which included Public Safety Communications, Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Director Herron also served in the Maryland State Police for more than 27 years rising through the ranks from Trooper to Major. While in the Maryland State Police he served in various capacities which included Western Region Commander, Commander of Support Services, Commander of the Administrative Services Bureau and Commander of the Violent Crime Strike Force. He received the highest award presented to a Maryland State Trooper, when he was awarded the Governor’s Citation of Valor when he prevented an armed individual from shooting several citizens and other police officers in the parking lot of a crowded restaurant in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Director Herron also served as a Subject Matter Expert in Crisis Management for the U.S. Department of State. He trained Police Executives in several countries including, Amman Jordan, Turkey, Tanzania Africa, Cyprus and India. Director Herron holds a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in Management, a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland, University College and is a graduate of the F.B.I. National Academy Session #187.