Warrenton Police Department officer Johnna Sylvester provides the “report card” to the citizen stopped.
The grant, awarded by the PATH Foundation, will help fund the department’s new Guardian Score program. Guardian Score works by allowing citizens to scan a QR code on the back of an officer’s business card that redirects them to an anonymous digital survey.
According to PATH, a philanthropy group that invests in government and nonprofit organizations in Fauquier, Rappahannock and Culpeper counties, the program is designed to improve community member’s interactions with law enforcement by forcing officers to take extra time to explain their actions and be kinder to the public.
“We are delighted to help fund this worthwhile program,” Christy Connolly, PATH Foundation president and CEO, said in a news release. “Not only is this helpful to the police department, but also to the residents in the Warrenton community. I believe this program has real potential to further positive police and resident relationships.”
Guardian Score was created under the premise that police department leaders do not have access to immediate data they can use to evaluate an officer’s conduct over the course of months or years.
The program goes like this: Whenever a citizen has an interaction with police, an officer will hand out a business card with a unique QR code. The code is linked to that specific officer, and citizens are able to immediately rate following an interaction with law enforcement. The survey takes about 60 seconds to complete. Once it is finalized, the code cannot be used again.
Mike Kochis, the Warrenton Police Department chief, told FauquierNow his department recently finished Guardian Score’s free, 90-day pilot program, from Jan. 1 until April 1. He said it was helpful for him to see the real-time impact his agency is having in the community.
He noted the department used to conduct a biennial survey to gauge public opinion about their interactions with law enforcement, but it was frustrating because they had no idea who was doing the surveys.
“We would get people from the county, we would get people who may not have had an interaction, we’d get all kinds of things either venting about something in the county or that we didn’t have jurisdiction over … ,” he said.
After rolling out the pilot program, Kochis said his department now has access to better data that tells them who officers are interacting with.
“We know that the surveys that are coming in are confirmed interactions between one of our police officers and someone in town. And to me, that’s a benefit,” he said.
Data provided by FauquierNow from the Warrenton Police Department reports that since Jan 1, 141 people used the Guardian Score QR code to fill out a survey. On average the department received a rating of 4.97 out of 5.
“Compared to how many cards you were given, we’re getting somewhere between a 15% return, which is pretty high,” Kochis said.
According to Kochis, his officers are required to give out their business cards with the QR codes whenever there is an interaction with the public that generates an incident number. Service calls that generate incident numbers range from traffic stops to someone getting locked out of their car to arrests.
“If there’s an arrest that is made, and they’re taken, say to the detention center, typically their property is given to booking and they’ll put a … business card in there with their property,” Kochis said.
Warrenton police officers will have some discretion to make a judgment call about when not to give out a QR code, but instances those would be rare, according to the chief. For example, if police helped someone who was unconscious and brought them to the hospital following an accident.
“I mean, we could still put a card in there with their stuff, but they’re probably not gonna remember the interaction,” Kochis said. “So it just depends.”
Department supervisors are still required to review body camera footage weekly, which will tell them whether the officers are handing out the QR codes. If an officer is not handing out cards or they receive poor ratings, their conduct may come under review, Kochis said.
“I’m able to see, and everyone in the police department is able to see ratings,” he said.
The public is not able to directly view officer ratings online, though Kochis said that if someone from the public wanted data about a specific officer and their rating, he would have no problem providing the data.
“[Guardian Score] is a private company, but technically it’s our data,” Kochis said. “Either way … I would release it.”
Thanks to the grant, the Guardian Score program has moved from its pilot phase to being fully implemented until at least the end of the year.