Performance Assessment and Review System

By Dees, Tim | Law & Order, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Performance Assessment and Review System


Dees, Tim, Law & Order


No matter how carefully a law enforcement agency screens its officers through background checks and psychological exams, officers prone to engage in misconduct still slip through. This can be caused by back recruit selection, or because of internal or external forces that act on an otherwise good officer to cause him to stray from doing the job that he knows how to do. The public tends to remember these officers and their misconduct. Even though a police department might do 99.9% of its tasks correctly, they will be reminded repeatedly of an act of misconduct by even one bad apple.

Most of the time, in the aftermath of a regrettable incident, inspection of the problem officer's record shows that his supervisors should have noticed some pattern that detractors will claim should have tipped them off. This can bring added liability on the department for "failure to supervise" and "negligent retention" claims, in addition to whatever damage was done by the act of misconduct itself. The supervisor who tries to be proactive in this area can become unpopular and the target of complaints.

Officers become suspicious of supervisors who are constantly reminding them of their past transgressions, and can usually point to the record of another officer who is not so rigidly supervised to support their claim of disparate treatment. Being proactive and even-handed at the same time is a difficult road to walk, and it becomes more difficult as the size of the agency increases.

The Performance Assessment and Review System (PARS) from Liekar Strategic Solutions, offers a tool for tracking officer performance and detection of officers who are likely to engage in misconduct. The system has been implemented in the Pittsburgh, PA, Police Department, which is one of the agencies presently under a consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice. The consent decree resulted from civil rights complaints made against the department, alleging widespread misconduct, racial discrimination and acts of excessive force by officers.

PARS tracks nearly every aspect of officer performance, including many that would be overlooked in a typical annual assessment or review. Areas that are monitored include the officer's record of assignments, both in geographical area and job function, personnel complaints (broken down into categories of nature of the complaint), commendation notices, disciplinary record, training completed, use of sick and vacation time, and shifts worked. If needed, the software can also track the pattern of an officer's performance in discretionary decision-making. For instance, the number of vehicle stops and the disposition of stops (warning, field interview card, arrest, etc.) of non-white citizens can be tracked with the software.

This data is not analyzed in a vacuum. An officer's performance is compared against that of his peers who work under similar conditions. For instance, it might look bad if 85% of Officer Green's traffic stops are of non-white violators. However, when Officer Green's statistics are compared against other officers working the same duty tour and area of town, which happens to be populated by 95% non-whites, the results might indicate that Officer Green actually stops fewer non-whites than his peers.

The same sort of analysis can be applied to other areas of performance. Officers on the night shift are prone to use more sick time than officers on other shifts, as they get less sleep and are more prone to fatigue and minor illnesses. Comparing a night shift officer's sick time usage against that of an entire division might be unfair, as most of the standard group isn't on the night shift. With PARS, the comparison can be made more evenly. However, one "red flag" in sick time usage is when an officer routinely calls in sick on the first day following his regular days off. This is sometimes indicative of a substance abuse problem, when the officer is too hung over to report to work at the beginning of his normal workweek. …

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