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From the Senior Advisor: Systems, Errors, and Ethics

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 82 Dated: December 2015 Pages: 18-19
Date Published
December 2015
2 pages
This paper develops the argument that systemic failures, not individual actors, are the root causes of events in which the criminal justice system fails to prevent, or actually causes, victimizations; and it promotes the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) "Sentinel Events" (SE) Initiative.
Harmful events in the context of criminal justice operations include wrongful convictions, a Brady Law violation, or a police-involved shooting. Although these events involve particular criminal justice professionals, their actions flow from flawed or the absence of system policies and practices that set the context for the injurious behaviors or outcomes. Based on this perspective of systemic failures in criminal justice, this paper promotes the concept of a "sentinel event," which consists of an unintended or unacceptable outcome, such as a wrongful conviction or the unwarranted use of police force against a citizen. A sentinel event is viewed as the product of a complex array of systemic policies and practices, or the failure of the system to train and supervise practitioners to ensure they are complying with existing policies and practices. NIJ's Sentinel Events Initiative focuses on providing technical assistance and funding that will develop the practice of conducting comprehensive and system-wide reviews of any sentinel event that occurs in a jurisdiction, so as to identify and remedy systemic causes and implement remedies designed to prevent a recurrence of the particular sentinel event. 3 notes

Date Published: December 1, 2015