The program, called Guardian Score, is intended to “transform” how police “operate from community feedback.”
Tech-based police reform in the United States is a booming business. In one small town, The Washington Post reports that residents are testing out what some pose as the solution to structural racism in policing: rating individual police officers. Because why can we rate Uber drivers but not police officers?
I’m not being facetious with that last sentence, by the way. That’s literally the question Guardian Score poses on its homepage.
Per its website, Guardian Score “empowers” communities to “transform” how police “collect, interpret, and operate from community feedback.” In other words, Guardian Score is a customer service survey (again, not being facetious). People access the survey through a QR code on business cards that should be handed out by officers from participating departments every time they interact with someone. It uses a star-based system to rate officers on their communication, listening skills, and fairness.
Founder Burke Brownfield, a former police officer in Alexandria, Virginia, described Guardian Score as “shining a light on the beautiful blind spot in policing.” He wrote in a blog post, “We fundamentally believe that the majority of police/community interactions are positive and leave most people with a positive impression of police officers.”
“Do some go badly? Absolutely. And we want to know about those too,” Brownfield continued. “However, because policing historically has not focused on tracking, recording, or asking for feedback on the vast majority of those encounters, we have never been able to tell this story.”
There are, of course, so many things wrong with Guardian Score. First of all, framing police as “guardians” is nonsense. Even if you ignored the series of uprisings within the past two years alone, after the inaction of law enforcement at the Uvalde shooting, we’re past the point where police can try maintaining that facade.
But Brownfield’s assertion that community feedback has historically been lost to police is absurd. Civilian review boards exist and have been touted as a key part of police reform for decades. The problem is that they’re toothless and don’t make any substantial change. Is a star-rating app really going to fix that?
Looking beyond civilian review boards, police have always heard from the communities most impacted by their violence. It just hasn’t gone through channels like Guardian Score that were founded by former police. For the Minneapolis Police Department’s 150th anniversary, a coalition of activists released their own performance review. Spoiler: It wasn’t favorable.
And that’s the problem. Notice how Brownfield writes that “we” (as in, police) haven’t been able to tell stories of other people’s discontent with their “services”. Guardian Score isn’t about highlighting “blind” spots in policing. It’s about crafting narratives and manipulating information.
It’s unclear if Guardian Score will expand nationally. Right now, Guardian Score is only being tested in Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and in the small town of Warrenton, Virginia. The Washington Post reported that while incoming reviews on Guardian Score are mostly positive, response rates are low. In Warrenton, it’s only about 10%, and just 20% at Bucknell and VCU.
Even if this specific company doesn’t grow, though, the techno solutionism driving it will remain. And if something like Guardian Score makes it into big cities, I’ll say now: Why would residents waste their time trying to give an officer a one-star review after the next high-profile killing when full-scale riots will say more than a survey ever will?