Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

A Framework for Measuring the Performance of Drug Law Enforcement

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

A Framework for Measuring the Performance of Drug Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

It has been estimated that Australia expends between $1.3 and $2 billion annually on drug law enforcement activity. Such a high level of effort and commitment means that it is vitally important to have good systems in place to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement action to reduce drug problems in the Australian community. However, Australia's drug law enforcement activities are undertaken in conjunction with efforts to reduce demand and levels of drug related harm, coordinated through the National Drug Strategy. Accordingly, identifying the specific contribution of drug law enforcement to the achievement of Australia's goals of reducing drug related harm, demand and supply is not a simple task. As part of an attempt to answer this question, the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund commissioned the Australian Institute of Criminology to develop a model performance measurement framework for drug law enforcement (DLE) in Australia. The model that was developed encompassed both a core performance measurement framework built around four high level outcomes and a process for adapting the framework to accommodate the specific needs of the range of DLE agencies operating in different settings around Australia. The project has also demonstrated the value of applying modern performance measurement processes to complex multi-agency collaborative activities to help clarify and explain how shared goals and outcomes can be achieved and assessed.

Toni Makkai


Drug law enforcement (DLE) agencies in Australia and overseas have used drug seizure and arrest data to measure the effectiveness of their work performance for many years. Such measures are simple, visible and well-understood measures of law enforcement effort. However, they are frequently ambiguous measures of law enforcement performance as they essentially demonstrate the extent to which law enforcement agencies engage in certain types of activities rather than demonstrating the broader impacts of law enforcement work. For example, they reveal little about the impact of DLE activity in contributing to the achievement of important broad outcomes, such as making communities feel safer and more secure. Nevertheless, it is these broader impacts that are often described by DLE personnel as being important drivers and rewards for persisting with the DLE effort.

This paper provides a description of a model performance measurement framework for DLE in Australia that was developed in an attempt to redress some of the evident limitations of the current systems available in Australia. The framework's development formed a major component of a research project undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) on behalf of Australia's National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund to provide better, appropriate and meaningful information that could inform the most effective interventions within DLE in Australia.

DLE agencies around the world have long grappled with the limitations of traditional DLE performance measurement systems. In a review of drug data and research available in the United States of America, Manski, Pepper and Petrie (2001) found that existing sources of information and performance measurement systems built around this information were inadequate to assess the extent of the illicit drug trade in that country. Similar difficulties have arisen in the United Kingdom (Newburn & Elliott 1998). Perhaps the most significant Australian research to date on this subject was conducted by Sutton and James (1996). They found that no DLE agency was satisfied with the performance measures available to them, but that there had been little (if any) attempt to tackle the problem internally. The past decade has seen only a few Australian attempts to develop more robust DLE performance measurement systems (NSW Police 2002; Weatherburn 2000).

Management of drug law enforcement in Australia

The enforcement of laws relating to the production, importation and distribution of illicit drugs is a major investment for the Australian community. …

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