High-Performance Policing: Getting the Metrics Right

The latest analytics tools can help police and community leaders see the larger public-safety picture.
June 25, 2015
By Randall H. Reid  |  Contributor
Randall H. Reid is director of performance initiatives for the International City/County Management Association.

Local-government leaders need to strategically balance and utilize the metrics of performance management to create sustainable and resilient communities. Nowhere is that more true than in policing, since it cuts across so many aspects of community life.

If police, public managers or elected officials focus on crime reduction and other aspects of public safety solely through arrest statistics, for example, they ignore the social fabric of their communities and the perceptions of those in high-crime areas who are affected by policing strategies. Crime will go down (and revenues from fines will increase) in targeted areas, but residents in those enforcement zones may feel that they are being treated as potential criminals and become alienated.

If, however, measurements that encompass civic health, social cohesion and resident satisfaction are viewed as equal in value to more-traditional crime statistics, police departments and elected officials will be more likely to understand the risk of greater alienation in parts of the community where the most rigorous crime-deterrence strategies are employed.

Any effort to manage with data should focus not on a single performance measure but on a suite of measures. Through next-generation analytics tools, jurisdictions can consider the prevalence of crimes as one indicator of how their jurisdictions are performing while comparing their performance to other jurisdictions, either by population size or by more customized criteria.

Perhaps the greatest value of these analytics tools is in helping to see the broader picture, beyond simple measurements of incidents, citations or clearances. If, for example, a department has never set up any DUI checkpoints, it could rightly claim to have issued no DUI citations. Would that mean that drunk driving was not a problem in that jurisdiction? To avoid falling into this kind of trap, next-generation analytics tools, such as our own ICMA Insights, take into account not only the number of DUI citations issued but also the number of traffic accidents involving fatalities and the subset of those that involve alcohol. If a police department is truly achieving its goals, it would not only issue fewer citations -- the streets within the community it serves would be safer.

In policing, another key factor is resident satisfaction, a rating that can ensure that what you think you are accomplishing is actually being perceived that way. To the extent possible, jurisdictions should (and often do) conduct such surveys in a manner that allows them to identify pockets of dissatisfaction or alienation within specific areas of the community so that such trends are not masked in a larger, community-wide average. This additional data makes police forces better managed, not worse.

Because police-community relations might be one driver of satisfaction, performance measures should collect information on the types of community policing programs a jurisdiction implements. For the victims of crimes, the most significant factor may be response time, and a jurisdiction that sees performance slipping in that area can reallocate its staffing resources accordingly.

The bottom line for police and community leaders is that metric selection matters. The proper metrics, when geographically displayed through visual analytics using modern performance-management tools, provide a better understanding of the larger public-safety picture.

Randall H. Reid | Contributor | rreid@icma.org  |  @ICMA