International approaches to measuring police performance

Polizei in Amsterdam, photo by Benshot/Adobe Stock

Photo by Benshot/Adobe Stock

What is the issue?

Measuring the performance of the police can contribute to accountability, transparency, community trust, and the ongoing improvement of law enforcement practices. It enables police departments to adapt to changing circumstances, allocate resources wisely, and maintain public confidence in their ability to serve and protect the community.

This study follows from a broader desire, articulated by the Dutch Ministry for Justice and Security, to improve the way police performance is measured in the Netherlands. Indeed, approaches to performance measurement adopted by police forces abroad may offer valid examples for the Netherlands and provide opportunities for general learning.

How did we help?

In 2022, RAND Europe was commissioned by the Dutch government’s Research and Documentation Centre, at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, to conduct a review of international approaches to police performance measurement.

The study had two main goals:

  1. To gather insights into the ways in which different police jurisdictions have approached performance measurement; and
  2. To assess what lessons these approaches can offer for improving police performance measurement in the Netherlands.

A series of research questions were developed to meet these goals, which focused on the methods and indicators used to measure performance in a selection of ten policing jurisdictions (Australia, Canada, England & Wales, Finland, Israel, New Zealand, North Rhine-Westphalia, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States); the stated purposes of this performance measurement; the reliability of their approaches; identified or potential adverse side effects of measuring performance; and examples of good or innovative practice in these areas. In addition, several research questions focused on the methods and indicators that are used to gain insight into the performance of the Dutch police; the aspects of policing that are not currently captured in this framework; the lessons about approaches to performance measurement that other jurisdictions may offer the Netherlands; and the transferability of these approaches in the Netherlands.

To address these research questions, the study team conducted a targeted literature review and expert and stakeholder interviews in each of these jurisdictions, including the Netherlands. The team then selected five case study jurisdictions for more in-depth data collection and analysis: England and Wales, Israel, North Rhine-Westphalia, Seattle and Sweden. Using the resulting findings, the study team focused on extracting current practices from the case study jurisdictions that may offer starting points for improving police performance measurement in the Netherlands.

What did we find?

1. Developing, implementing and maintaining performance measurement frameworks

Findings from the study highlight that developing framework for performance measurement that stakeholders at both the policy and the practitioner level buy into can be challenging. As such, a key initial consideration in developing a police performance measurement framework is to establish a shared understanding of its purpose. This links to the need for a coordinated approach to police performance measurement in which the functions and tasks of different organisations are clearly defined and delineated. Across all jurisdictions, a range of national and local police performance stakeholders were involved in the process of developing, implementing and maintaining measurement frameworks. In some cases, this appears to have caused misalignments between national and local policies.

2. Indicators and data sources used to measure police performance

Police performance is typically measured against a set of performance indicators and targets. The choice to use certain indicators over others tends to reflect the broader strategic priorities of law enforcement and/or government bodies. As such, police performance indicators can be context and jurisdiction specific. In all study forces, including the Netherlands, the indicators used to look at performance were primarily quantitative or quantitatively measured qualitative constructs.

3. Challenges associated with police performance measurement

Interviewees identified police recorded crime data as carrying the most risk in terms of validity, reliability and representativeness. The drivers of poor-quality data were also relatively consistent across the jurisdictions and tended to spring from the reliance on police staff to manually input crime data. Drivers included complex data-input processes increasing human error, a lack of resources to ensure that data inputters are appropriately trained and have sufficient time to enter correct and complete information, and under-reporting by members of the public about their crime victimisation.

4. Innovative and promising practices in police performance measurement

Interviewees positively highlighted processes of continuous engagement, creating a feedback loop that was reported to enhance understanding of the force and its performance. Furthermore, some forces reported having integrated equity measures and/or indicators that consider the quality of interactions between the community and the police. It was proposed that including a broad range of indicators that cover additional dimensions of police work have can provide a more holistic understanding of performance and enable authorities to allocate resources more effectively. Finally, some jurisdictions noted their use of innovative data sources, such as automatic vehicle locator (AVL) data, which detects an officer’s location every few seconds, to track whether demand for police services in a particular area is being met and monitor possible instances of ‘over-policing’.

What can be done?

The purpose of measuring police performance

An organisation’s objectives and the indicators, as well as the targets associated with them and data sources used, will be determined by what it is seeking to achieve by measuring performance. However, the study found that there is currently no agreement among Dutch stakeholders on why performance should be measured. Careful consideration therefore needs to be given to the purpose for tracking performance before any of the practices identified in the case study jurisdictions can be applied in the Netherlands. Consensus on this issue may be reached through consultation among key stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Justice and Security and national and regional police units.

The level(s) at which the framework for performance measurement should be set

Furthermore, the level at which performance objectives, indicators, measures and/or targets should be set and by whom needs to be agreed. Currently, the strategic direction from the Ministry of Justice and Security is supplemented by both regional and local agreements on what should be measured, and against which targets. The study found that key national stakeholders in the Netherlands consequently do not have a clear picture of the performance indicators and targets currently used across the country, as the design of these metrics is partly left to regional and local stakeholders.

Some of the case study countries have chosen a different approach in this regard. This means that certain practices adopted in other jurisdiction may not be transferable to the Netherlands. Indeed, before any of these practices can be adopted, careful consideration should be given as to whether the current structure for stakeholder involvement is the preferred approach.

The decisions on these two areas for agreement, the purpose of performance measurement and the level(s) at which the framework should be set, will give greater coherence to the Dutch strategy for police performance measurement and determine what practices for measuring performance from the case study jurisdictions might be transferable to the Netherlands.