Developing a Police Performance Measurement System

Article excerpt

Virtually everything in policing is subject to measurement and, as such, should be measured. As the political era of 19th century policing gave way to the 20th century's professional model, reform leaders, such as O.W. Wilson and William H. Parker, began to experiment with performance measurement, primarily through the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Another early professional-era assessment approach involved rapid response to calls for service, seen as the hallmark of professional policing. Part of these leaders' relentless analytical management style included using the data law enforcement agencies routinely capture to demonstrate how they could effectively and efficiently reduce crime. After all, they understood that what gets measured could be improved.


Yet, measurement in the early years was not tactical or strategic nor linked to the priorities or mission of the agency. Initial efforts to assess police performance, however, constituted the impetus for a new generation of police leaders who emerged in the 1970s to take a fresh look at how departments gauged success and affixed accountability. Policing was about to undergo another paradigm shift--this time into the community era where great emphasis was placed on police legitimacy, as well as crime control, which would be measured by the level of respect and compassion as perceived by the community.

One of the lessons learned from the distant, professional model of policing was that law enforcement agencies are rich in data that could be used to reorient them for success. Crime is not the only bottom-line measure of performance in policing today nor the only standard police leaders can use to determine success. In an era of increasing demands and limited resources, law enforcement managers throughout the country struggle to improve their capacity to prevent terrorist attacks; to serve their communities; and to control crime constitutionally, compassionately, and consistently. (1) The fundamental question that arises from earlier efforts at performance management is, What are the prospects for improving efficiency and effectiveness in law enforcement agencies by increasing their emphasis on performance measurement?

A new era of police performance management has begun to emerge. Top administrators pay closer attention to the logic behind measuring success, particularly connecting lowerlevel activities with higherlevel goals to clarify employee expectations and define departmental obligations. Most law enforcement agencies routinely capture the necessary data elements, so implementation proves less costly. Moreover, advanced knowledge of statistics and research methodology is not necessary, thereby making analysis easier.

To help law enforcement leaders institutionalize performance management and analysis, the author focuses on developing a systematic structure.(2) By applying such concepts, top administrators can say with confidence how well their agencies perform and what individual employees and organizational elements contribute. In the words of scholar Peter Drucker, "What is the bottom line when there is no bottom line? Performance."


When implementing performance management, law enforcement leaders face difficulties similar to those surrounding other innovations requiring organizational change, particularly personnel resistance. Employees oppose change because they must learn something new. While not necessarily disagreeing with the anticipated benefits of the new process, they fear an unfamiliar future and often doubt their ability to adapt to it. "Most people are reluctant to leave the familiar behind. We are all suspicious about the unfamiliar; we are naturally concerned about how we will get from the old to the new, especially if it involves learning something new and risking failure."(3) In the case of performance management, several factors can come into play. …