The Measurement of Police Force Efficiency: An Assessment of U.K. Home Office Policy

Article excerpt


Since the 1960s and the introduction of efficiency measurement techniques of police forces, successive U.K. governments have tried to ensure that public funds were used in an "economic, efficient and effective" manner. This initial experiment in measuring the performance of police forces during the 1960s and 1970s led to many revisions, from input-output operations management techniques to scorecards, and to the Spottiswoode (2000) report (for a discussion of early performance reforms see, for example, Drake and Simper 2001; Stephens 1994; Sullivan 1998). (1) The Spottiswoode report advocated the use of data envelopment analysis (DEA) and stochastic frontier analysis (SFA) because this allows an interaction between inputs and outputs in the policing function, thereby bypassing many of the failings in the initial 1960-1970s performance measurement program (which was mainly output based). These procedures allow for multiple input-output configurations in a cost or production model to obtain efficiency scores.

However, the U.K. government has elected not to follow the recommendations of Spottiswoode (2000) and promoted the use of the alternative performance radar approach (during 2001-2003) and more recently a table of best value performance indicators (BVPIs) (see, for example, National Policing Plans 2003/04 and 2004/05, Home Office 2002, 2003). These two techniques are wholly output (outcome) based measurement programs to allow the public to determine whether their local police force can satisfy six domain criteria promoted on certain policing functions as specified by the Home Office. (2) The five domains in the performance radar approach are: reducing crime, investigating crime, promoting public safety; citizen focus, and resource usage (discussed in detail in section II). It is the aim of the performance radar approach, therefore, that these domains should show whether individual police forces are below a specified Home Office target or below an average performance level obtained from a set of reference forces (known as most similar forces, MSFs). Hence, in line with the Police Reform Act of 2002, police forces will now be assessed on their performance with respect to these domains, although it is important to note that this performance assessment takes no account of the costs incurred or resources deployed in the attainment of these targets. (3)

Although these performance radar targets are consistent with the methodology introduced by the new Labour government in connection with BVPIs (see DETR 1999), they do not follow the stated public policy aim of value for money. In the Home Office report "What Price Policing?", for example, it was stated that "police managers need to work harder to ensure that value for money is achieved, for competitive pressure has to be created internally. The costing of activity with subsequent measurement and comparison of performance provide the means by which such encouragement is given" (HMIC Report 1998, para. 10). Furthermore, by not linking outcomes to resource utilization and costs, the Home Office is also not following the recommendation made in Spottiswoode (2000) that states, "Best Value is the central plank in the drive to improve police performance. A systematic measure of police efficiency--where efficiency is a measure of the polices' performance in meeting their overarching aims and objectives for the money spent--is crucial if Best Value is to work effectively" (p. 4) (for further discussion see Drake and Simper 2002). As alluded to previously, the report further advocated the use of techniques such as nonparametric and parametric efficiency analysis, stating that "this approach would also mean that 'efficiency' is about finding ways of improving the performance delivered for the money that each authority and force has" (p. 5).

Within this context, therefore, the aim of this article is to demonstrate that the current government's analysis of police force performance could result in policy and resourcing decisions based on inconsistent rankings of forces, especially when resource usage or costs and environmental factors are excluded from the analysis. …


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