Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts > Blog > 2016 > January > 29 > Measuring Police Performance

Measuring Police Performance

When I first started working at my Department our Crime Analysis Unit ran a regular report called Unit Measures, which was intended to measure the performance of each Operations shift. It had been a report staple for some time before I began working there, but as years passed it eventually faded away into the black hole of report oblivion.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why. It provided basic stats on how many incidents took place on each shift, how many arrests were made on each shift, etc. Like many other reports it was probably really well-received when it was new, and then Crime Analysis dutifully continued to run it on some agreed upon schedule for years, not realizing until long after the fact that interest in it had faded if not disappeared entirely, and people had long stopped looking at it. It had become nothing more than a time-wasting perfunctory task.

The report, despite good intentions, had problems from the start. Its content had a very narrow focus. Aggregate incident and arrest numbers do very little to measure performance or showcase the actual work and successes of a police organization. Moreover, normal human activity patterns (work, play, sleep, repeat) caused natural fluctuations in incident and arrest volumes across the three shifts which had the effect of pitting each Operations shift against one another. The busiest shift would boast that they handled the lion’s share of the work, tacitly implying that the other shifts had it easy and didn’t work as hard.

Years later I now find myself asking the important question of how performance should be measured. Shortly after the New Year our Operations Captains were asked to develop a report on what they had done in the 2015 calendar year. There was no real discussion or consensus about what the report should include so each shift Captain began forging their own path based on what they thought was important. Some of them came to me asking for specific information. Namely they wanted to know the number of incidents and the number of arrests made by each shift. Then during a conversation with one official, the old Unit Measures report came up, and he asked me a question that got me thinking critically about how we measure things. Regarding the old Unit Measures report, he simply asked, “Yeah, but what did that actually tell us?”. The answer was even simpler. Nothing. That old report told us absolutely nothing. 

I’d like to use this as an opportunity to re-invent the Unit Measures report from the ground up. To create a new report which serves as a canvas or platform from which to truly showcase our Agency’s achievements and accomplishments and reflect the wide-ranging activities that our Officers engage in. I started doing research and quickly realized that the rich data I need for such a report is not the type of data that I’m personally in a position to provide. What I found and learned is that all of the usual indicators used by Police Departments to measure performance (reductions in crime, number of cases investigated/cleared, response times, arrests made, etc.) reveal absolutely nothing about whether or not an agency is policing intelligently, using proper methods, or having a positive impact.

So if traditional indicators are wholly insufficient at measuring performance, then which indicators would tell the story and do it justice? An NIJ paper on the topic cites a work by Herman Goldstein in which he explores assessing performance in seven dimensions:

  1. Reducing criminal victimization
  2. Calling offenders to account
  3. Reducing fear and enhancing personal security
  4. Guaranteeing safety in public places (including traffic safety)
  5. Using financial resources fairly, efficiently, and effectively
  6. Using force and authority fairly, efficiently, and effectively
  7. Satisfying customer demands/achieving legitimacy with those policed

Whether these are dimensions you happen to agree on or not, I think most would agree that these serve as far better indicators of performance than aggregate crime statistics. But what metrics can we, and should we, use to measure along these dimensions? This is the question that needs to be answered if we’re to develop a valuable performance-based analysis of police work. I encourage you to think about this and comment below with your thoughts on the topic.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Posted in Blog Tagged with: , ,