Police performance measures divert attention from anti-social behaviour

10/17/05

Emphasis on national performance measures for crime and detection rates causes police resources to be diverted from dealing with anti-social behaviour, according to new research sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

This could help explain why when crime levels are generally falling, fear among the public is not, says a study led by Dr Paul Collier of the Aston Business School in Birmingham. This study forms one of the Public Service research projects funded by the ESRC through the Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM) programme.

Dr Collier examined management processes in a large metropolitan force, one of the smallest in the country, and two medium-sized local police forces. He said: "In only one of the four forces studied was anti-social behaviour evident as a factor in local decision-making about use of resources.

"Processes are unduly dominated by 'top-down' performance measures because anti-social behaviour is difficult to measure and improvement targets have not been specified."

The study argues that police forces and the Government need to balance how performance is assessed by bringing anti-social behaviour into the equation both nationally and in local decisions on how and where to focus attention.

For more than a decade, governments have been trying to improve the performance of police forces and remove apparent differences.

According to Dr. Collier, many senior police officers admit that even five years ago they believed they were largely unable to make an impact on crime due to its socio-economic causes and the actions or inactions of agencies responsible for education, health and social services.

However, experience from the United States and locally has taught senior police that they can have an affect, and these lessons are being applied more and more in forces in this country.

Chief police officers are increasingly held accountable for performance. For example, the Home Office's Police Standards Unit can intervene when results are poor by comparison with similar forces, and getting worse.

The system of performance management used has been largely linked to levels of crime and detection rates, and determined by issues of national, rather than local concern.

Dr Collier said: "Much of what is written about performance management emphasises its unintended and detrimental consequences. However, there was a very real focus on improving performance in each force investigated, and this was generally assumed to have been effective."

But he points out that much of the improvement is due to a process called the national intelligence model - a more 'grass roots' approach that takes local data from calls from the public, crime reports and police intelligence. Data is analysed into usable information about patterns of crime, geographic 'hot spots' and prolific offenders.

The results are fed into a 'tasking' process in each force, which allocates resources to where they are seen to be needed.

The study says that tasking is strongly supported by senior officers as it matches their professional view of what policing is about.

However, it found also that in order to tackle crime and improve detections, resources have been moved away from more visible elements of policing, such as dealing with anti-social behaviour. In three of the four forces studied, anti-social behaviour did not feature in the tasking process.

Dr Collier said: "The traditional response by police officers to calls from the public has been reduced in order to invest in proactive units to fight crime and engage in problem-solving activity, some of which is in relation to anti-social behaviour.

"These are likely to have important and longer lasting effects, but the reduced visibility of police appears to have hit public confidence, despite the success experienced in reducing crime."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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