Changing Police Performance Objectives

– Executive Summary

In the last decade, law enforcement has come under increased scrutiny from the public as a result of the deaths of Michael Brown, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, amongst others. As a result, many politicians and civil organizations have called for law enforcement reforms across the country. Some of these reforms included civilian oversight boards to review the use of force and evaluate the agencies providing service to their communities. This proposed reform process raises the issue of how police supervisors evaluate their officers and how communities consider the agencies that provide the service.

This thesis examines different methods for evaluating officer performance to determine which metrics and criteria should be considered and how they should be weighted to encourage and reward effective policing in the broadest sense. This thesis examines two agencies, the Virginia State Police and Idaho State Police, as case studies. In addition to analyzing the departments respective methods, the research included interviews with executive leadership of both agencies to gain a better understanding of their processes. The research found that these two agencies conduct their evaluation processes differently. The Virginia State Police agency uses predominantly quantitative metrics while the Idaho State Police agency uses predominantly qualitative data. The research also analyzes scholarly articles and previous theses to define what “effective” means related to police work, specifically at the patrol officer level.

The research indicates that agencies must be flexible in how they evaluate their officers. When determining performance outcomes, the communities’ needs’ must be incorporated into the evaluation process. Based on the two case studies, this research finds that professionalism is a key component and, therefore, can be incorporated as its own category; in reality, professionalism should be included in every performance outcome. Having effective and accurate evaluations are important for agencies to maintain credibility with the communities in which they serve. It is important that the agencies’ goals evolve to meet the community’s needs. Both agencies examined for this research have instituted strategic plans prioritizing customer service and community engagement. The two case studies also show there are multiple methods by which to conduct successful evaluations from the agency and officer perspective. In both agencies, communication is essential so that supervisors can stay apprised of their officers’ activities.

The analysis shows that to make the evaluations meaningful, leadership must ensure that first line supervisors are well-trained and provided detailed documentation to give accurate evaluations as well as provide guidance for future performance. In addition, for an agency to be effective, leadership must identify what must be evaluated, what the community needs, and how the agencies can meet the community’s needs, with confidence and trust from those served.

Quantitative metrics do have value, as they can be used to analyze crime, crash rates, etc., and then apply resources to those areas. These metrics do not necessarily have to be evaluated at the officer level and can be used more at the agency or divisional level. For evaluation purposes, at the officer level, importance should be placed on professionalism, community interaction, and determining if their agency is having a positive impact generally.

All police agencies are unique and one size does not fit all when it comes to performance measures and evaluations systems.[1] Officer evaluations should have components that allow the officers an opportunity to set their own goals. The goals should align with the mission of the agencies and communities they serve. Agencies should closely monitor the number of officers assigned to each first line supervisor as this has a direct impact on the supervisor’s ability to accurately evaluate them.

When determining what makes an officer effective, supervisors should consider qualitative and quantitative components. Such components may include community engagement, which specifies examples of not only what the officer did but also how successful and professional they in the process. The goals should align with the mission of the agencies and communities they serve.

Finally, the evaluation process must be constantly reviewed and modified for effectiveness. Community needs evolve and so should police response. For officers to be effective, they must have a positive impact on their community. Performance objectives will vary in jurisdictions and can even vary within departments. Leadership must stay abreast of changing climates and ensure first line supervisors are trained to correctly manage their officers.

[1] Shannon Branly et al., Implementing a Comprehensive Performance Management Approach in Community Policing Organizations: An Executive Guidebook (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, 2015), 4,​Clearinghouse/​299/​Implementing-a-Comprehensive-Performance-Management-Approach-in-Community-Policing-Organizations–An-Executive-Guidebook.

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