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Research Questions

  1. What needs do police performance assessments fill for policymakers, police officials, local government administrators, and the general public?
  2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of relying on outputs (measures of internal performance correlated with desirable policing outcomes) versus outcomes (societal advantages provided by the police) to gauge performance? What are the best tools to collect these various types of information?
  3. How should a police department's performance data be interpreted and benchmarked (e.g., relative to other departments, relative to strategic goals)?
  4. Which law enforcement agencies internationally have incorporated best practices in data collection and interpretation in developing their performance measurement systems?

Historically, police agencies have measured their performance against a very restricted set of crime-focused indicators, such as crime rates, arrests, and response times. However, modern police officers must be prepared to take on a wide variety of roles, from problem-solver to counselor and provider of first aid, among many others. Therefore, performance measures should be multidimensional to capture the complexity inherent in modern policing. In this era of tight budgets and deep cuts in municipal services, local officials have prioritized police performance improvement and the collection of measurable evidence to justify budget requests. Police departments also benefit from measuring performance; the results can help officials monitor department operations, promote adherence to policies and strategic plans, and detect patterns of bias or misconduct. By defining what is measured, executives send a signal to their command about what activities are valued and what results are considered important. Performance measures can also help track the progress of individual officers, the efficient use of funds, and many other indicators of organizational health. This report describes some of the key considerations involved in designing measures to evaluate law enforcement agencies. It also includes a framework for measuring performance and a detailed review of some international best practices.

Key Findings

Well-Developed Performance Measurement Approaches Capture the Complexity of Modern Policing

  • Policing experts have suggested that the best measurement approaches use a mix of outputs (measures of internal performance correlated with desirable policing outcomes) and outcomes (societal advantages provided by the police).
  • Surveys are a useful tool and produce results that can be interpreted more clearly than administrative records and statistics.
  • Comparing performance across police agencies shows how well local agencies are performing relative to similar agencies. An even better approach is to employ "synthetic controls" to draw a virtual comparison agency based on the performance of several agencies.
  • Tying performance to incentives has proved to be an effective way of getting results, but it could also lead officers to "game the system."

A Basic Framework for Measuring Police Performance Can Serve as a Basis for Identifying Best Practices

  • A RAND study identified police agencies that incorporated best practices along 18 dimensions of police activity, including performance measurement.
  • Four locales, in particular, can serve as models for other agencies that are seeking to develop or reexamine their own performance measurement systems: England and Wales, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Recommendations

  • Police departments can learn from what has been successful in other municipalities and countries, but it will be important that performance measurement systems reflect the unique local context.
  • National police performance standards should be flexible and relatively few in number. Local police forces should be able to set their own performance goals in response to the needs of local residents.

This research was conducted under the auspices of the RAND Center on Quality Policing (CQP) within the Safety and Justice Program of RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment (ISE).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation technical report series. RAND technical reports may include research findings on a specific topic that is limited in scope or intended for a narrow audience; present discussions of the methodology employed in research; provide literature reviews, survey instruments, modeling exercises, guidelines for practitioners and research professionals, and supporting documentation; or deliver preliminary findings. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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