How might we make the experience officers have after responding to a stressful call-for-service one that helps them decompress so that they do not carry that stress to the next call they respond to?
Problem to Address
Police officers in the US sometimes respond to calls for service involving incidents that may elicit high stress (e.g., calls involving family violence). Research has documented numerous adverse effects of officers experiencing that stress. These effects include psychological outcomes such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and burnout, physical outcomes such as heart disease and chronic back pain, and also make officers more susceptible to adverse events such as injury or excessive use of force.
User Pain Points
Officers can be assigned to additional high-stress calls directly after responding to a high-stress call, producing a cycle of repeated exposure and cumulative stress. In one study, an officer referred to this experience as a “rollercoaster from hell”, and another participant stated, “once you have the high-risk stress you don’t go back to like step one. It’s cumulative…What do you do after a high stress call? Go to the next one”.
Supporting Data and Feedback
To validate the problem space, user interviews were conducted with three former law enforcement officers. One participant served in a mid-size law enforcement agency in the south, another participant served in a mid-size agency in the midwest, and the last participant served in three agencies in the south, including a university, state police, and a gang task force. The key insights were:
- There is no time or space reserved for officers to decompress after a stressful call;
- The only resource officers typically have for managing stress is to talk to their peers; and
- There is a need for officers to be able to take time to decompress after a call.
Thus, the problem statement appears to be validated by the user interviews– officers currently do not have the opportunity or resources to decompress after responding to a stressful call. One user stated:
“There is no decompression time between events or calls… the expectation is that you are supposed to be able to compartmentalize and put those things behind you and show up fully refreshed at the next situation, even though that’s not what happens.”
All users indicated there is a need to decompress after responding to a stressful call, and that it would also be helpful to be able to express that they would want to avoid that call type for the remainder of their shift. One user stated, “Time is the biggest thing you can have, in addition to someone to talk to on shift- a senior officer or mental health professional.”
Landing on the Solution
Based on the target users’ pain points and feedback, I want to work on the following features:
- A plugin to Computer-Aided- Dispatch (CAD) software systems
- Officers can indicate their needs after responding to a stressful call
- Officers can select from a range of options for their needs after responding to a stressful call.
Explanation of Solution
Fortify is a plugin to Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) software systems that enables officers to indicate their needs after responding to a stressful call. The features of the MVP will include the following:
Following a call for service, officers are prompted to select from the following menu of options:
- Take a 15-20 minute break to decompress
- Avoid a certain call type for remainder of shift
- Be connected with a peer
- Be connected with a menu of resources for managing stress
- Be connected with mental health professional
- No action needed
Once the MVP has been tested, the goal is for later iterations of the product to include coding for certain types of calls that are typically regarded as stressful to automatically offer support.
Below is an example of a high-level user text flow to explain how an officer uses Fortify:
User closes incident on CAD system > Menu of support options appears > User views menu of options > User decides which option corresponds to their current need > User selects appropriate option
- If 15-20 minute break is selected > User takes break > Code is sent to dispatch
- If avoid a certain call type for remainder of shift is selected > User is notified that they will not be assigned this call type for remainder of shift > Code is sent to dispatch
- If be connected with a peer is selected > User is provided contact information of peer
- If be connected with a menu of resources for managing stress is selected > User is prompted to go to website with resources for managing stress
- If be connected with mental health professional is selected > User is provided contact information of mental health professional
I plan to continue investigating the feasibility of developing this product. Specifically, one goal is to expand the participant pool of users interviewed to include current officers and a more diverse range of experiences and regions to provide a broader perspective. From there, I plan to develop a quantitative survey to validate the qualitative findings collected during user interviews. I will then collaborate with colleagues who work in engineering to scope out a prototype of the plugin to test as an MVP. Depending on the results of the MVP process, I ultimately wish to build out a successful version of the product that can be tested with an actual police department.
Product Manager Learnings:
I am extremely grateful for the learnings I am taking from my Co.Lab experience. One of my favorite takeaways was that focusing on the problem is just as important, if not more important, than focusing on the solution. In the social justice space, we tend to prioritize coming up with solutions, and sometimes this comes at the expense of fully understanding a problem first. But this training underscored how taking the time to understand a problem space leads to a deeper understanding of user needs. Importantly, a greater understanding of user needs can actually clarify what solutions are best.