Evaluation and Recognition Systems

By Means, Randy | Law & Order, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Evaluation and Recognition Systems


Means, Randy, Law & Order


Evaluation and improvement of officer performance are obviously critical aspects of risk management and liability prevention. Assuring core competencies and adherence to professional standards is as important as anything we do internally. But police work is sufficiently different from other types of governmental endeavor as to require a separate and different system of employee evaluation.

Last month's column discussed why law enforcement evaluation systems have failed historically. This article describes an evaluation system that is more relevant and less subjective than those used in the past. The system can be used as a tool of employee recognition even if it is not used as a system of official evaluation.

Evaluating the Lifeguard

A useful analogy can be drawn between the work of a law enforcement officer and that of a lifeguard. A vast difference exists between what a good lifeguard does most of the time and what one has to be able to do. An evaluation that only considered actual performance during a rating period would often completely ignore the matter of preparedness, which is, of course, a primary professional requirement of a high functioning lifeguard.

In fact, one can sensibly argue that preparedness to do things that a lifeguard rarely (or never) does is the most important aspect of the professionalism of a lifeguard. Because this is also true in police work, professional evaluation in law enforcement must also take major account of the matter of preparedness. So, the officer is properly evaluated by measurement of his ability to do certain things, even if those particular things did not actually play out in real-life performance during a particular rating period.

For example, even if an officer didn't have to do anything particularly physical during a given evaluation period, the officer would nonetheless be evaluated partly on his ability to perform physical tasks. Though they are rarely (or maybe never) used, these are still critically important in certain defining (sometimes life and death) moments in law enforcement.

The 'Ten Star' System

In the "Ten Star" system of evaluation and/or recognition, "stars" would be awarded for each of 10 rating categories, provided the officer met certain high standards during the rating period. A gold star would be given for an "excellent" rating; a silver star would be given for a "good" rating. An officer who was rated good or excellent in all 10 rating categories would be recognized as a "Ten Star Officer." Good or excellent ratings in nine categories would be recognized with nine stars, and so on. The officer's "stars" would be worn on service ribbons on the uniform as visible symbols of excellence.

The Preparedness Ribbon

The first star in the "Ten Star" system would represent knowledge. There are, of course, certain things that an officer must know in order to make proper decisions and to take appropriate actions. At a minimum, this would include knowledge of law, policy, and other critical professional information. So even if an officer did not have to use a particular point or area of professional knowledge during the evaluation period, the officer would nonetheless be evaluated partly on the basis of professional knowledge. The measuring stick would be performance on a test administered during the rating period. A good score would earn a silver star, an excellent score a gold star.

The second star would represent the presence of good human relations skills. Interpersonal communication skills are part of the most important skill set in law enforcement, and proper evaluation of a professional law enforcement office requires measurement of those skills. Assessment of this skill set would involve graded role play performance analogous to firearms proficiency tests. One's score on a series of role play performances would determine the officer's rating in this critical area of preparedness, even if the officer didn't have to actually do those particular things during the evaluation period.

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