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Law Enforcement Policies: Early Warning System

Act 218 took effect in 2023, requiring all law enforcement agencies to adopt and implement a set of minimum operating standards. The law allows departments to establish additional standards that are more restrictive.

The Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services drafted model policies for each of the standards, available for use by all cities and towns. Departments that are not SC Municipal Insurance Trust or SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund members should reach out to the SC Criminal Justice Academy for policy questions.

The ninth and final model policy in this series addresses a police department’s personnel early warning system. The policy describes such systems as a way to identify those “employees exhibiting symptoms of stress or other behavior that could pose a liability to the community, the Department or the officer.” 

These systems aim to identify “at-risk behavior” that could create the risk of injury or a civil rights violation. It could be anything from repeated violations of department policy to at-fault traffic accidents, improper vehicle pursuits or domestic misconduct incidents, among other issues. 

The policy requires each police department to use either an internal affairs department, human resources officials or someone designated as an internal affairs officer to manage the early warning system. In cases where the system has identified at-risk behavior in need of a response, the supervising chain of command must produce a written report recommending remedial action. 

The actions taken by an employee’s superiors could be one of several identified in the policy:

  • The process may find that no action is needed. After superiors thoroughly review an officer’s actions that triggered the early warning system, they may find that the evidence points toward no needed corrective action.
  • Supervisors may assign either supervisory counseling or peer counseling for the employee. They might also assign a period of observation in the field by the first-line supervisor to determine whether the at-risk behavior is habitual or ongoing.
  • They may refer the office for remedial training, anger management training or stress reduction training. They might also refer the employee to psychological services. 
  • Supervisors might reassign the officer to duties that would not involve the at-risk behavior.

Once the early warning system is in use and has led to an appropriate remedial action, the policy requires follow-up steps. Supervisors must provide a written report of the outcome to the person or department managing the system, helping to ensure that the behavior that led to the intervention is no longer a concern. 

The policy also requires that the person designated as the police department’s internal affairs officer meet annually with the chief of police to evaluate the early warning system, and all data produced on those officers who met the thresholds for triggering the system.