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CALEA Update Magazine | Issue 83

Measuring the Performance of Law Enforcement Agencies - Part 1 of a 2-Part article

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Part 1 of a 2-part article appearing in the CALEA Update (Published September 2003)


This is the first segment of a two-part article on measuring the performance of law enforcement agencies. It is written for a policing audience, and draws in part on my discussions with members of CALEA’s Performance Measurement Subcommittee and those who have attended my training workshops at the last two CALEA Conferences. In this first segment, I introduce the general concepts, terminology, and history of comparative performance measurement in policing. The second segment, which will appear in the next edition of the CALEA Update, will show you how to develop, pilot-test, and implement comparative performance measurement in your agency. This article is one small part of a larger effort by CALEA to explore the feasibility and utility of agency-level performance measurement in policing. That journey is just beginning, and will proceed slowly, but it is expected to be a worthwhile one.

From corporate boardrooms to elementary school classrooms, performance measurement is everywhere. Our children are required to take standardized tests designed to ensure that school performance is up to snuff.[1]  When a patient dies, physicians must now wonder whether the event will inflate the hospital’s “risk adjusted mortality rates”[2] beyond established performance benchmarks. Even the Internal Revenue Service has not escaped the movement toward performance measurement.[3]  With performance measurement appearing in such a diverse array of organizational settings, it is not surprising that it is now becoming a hot topic in policing.

Performance measurement is at the heart of nearly every innovative management fad or organizational development strategy in the past two decades. It is an essential component of zero-based budgeting and management by objectives,[4] reinventing government,[5] re-engineering the corporation,[6] total quality management,[7] benchmarking,[8] balanced scorecards,[9] and organizational learning.[10]  Despite its popularity, performance measurement is an inherently ambiguous term. It is used in various ways to refer to the performance of individuals, of products and services, of subunits, of projects, and of organizations. Yet the methods and data used to measure performance at these different levels can vary significantly. This report discusses some options for measuring the performance of police organizations. Moreover, it focuses on comparative performance measures: those that can be used to compare units over space or time. Comparative performance measures can be used to compare the performance of two or more organizations, or they can be used to compare a single organization’s performance at multiple points in time.

This article provides a brief review of comparative performance measurement in policing. It is written with practical application in mind, alerting readers to the many issues that arise in performance measurement, and suggesting some concrete steps that CALEA and its members can follow if they choose to implement a performance measurement system. Section II provides a brief history of police performance measurement. Section III describes what I have called a “Golden Thread,” a theme that is woven throughout a story, linking together its disparate parts. In this case, that theme is very simple, yet very powerful: police performance is multidimensional. This idea, as simplistic as it might seem, is the foundation of effective performance measurement. Section IV reviews some of the dimensions of police performance that have been examined in the past, offering some practical suggestions for those who are thinking about generating their own lists. The next segment of this article will feature a number of additional sections that explore how to implement performance measurement, both nationally, and within your agency.


In this section, I provide a brief overview of comparative performance measurement in policing. The review is brief in spite of a large and growing body of academic and professional literature on the topic. I begin by discussing the role of performance measurement in the early part of the twentieth century, with particular focus on the 1930s. I then skip ahead to the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond, assessing the level of progress that has been made in the development and implementation of comparative performance measurement. I finish by discussing briefly the influence of the community policing movement on police performance measurement.

Police organizations have been collecting data about their performance since the birth of modern policing in the mid-nineteenth century.[11]  Most of these efforts were primarily local, intended to demonstrate the inputs, activities, and outputs of individual police agencies. The idea of comparative performance measurement began to take root in the early twentieth century, shortly after the birth of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in 1894. In 1927, the IACP created a Committee on Uniform Crime Records to develop a standardized system for collecting crime data from police agencies throughout the nation. The Committee created the architecture for the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and in 1930, Congress authorized the Attorney General to begin collecting UCR data, a task he assigned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. During its first year, the UCR program collected data from 400 police agencies in 43 states. By 1998, it was routinely collecting data from more than 17,000 police departments in all 50 states.[12]  As demonstrated later, the UCR has become the primary foundation for comparative performance measurement of police agencies in the United States.

The 1930s saw several significant milestones in the history of police performance measurement. In 1930, Donald Stone, Director of Research for the International City Managers’ Association, proposed two measures of police effectiveness: “the number of cases cleared and the value of stolen property recovered.”[13]  Both proposed measures were later criticized, though in practice they continue to be used by both police and academics. In 1935, Arthur Bellman, a protégé of August Vollmer, created an extensive instrument designed to measure the quality of police service.[14]  Containing 685 specific items, the instrument was designed to be completed by expert police analysts asked to render a professional judgment on each item. With its vast array of standards, Bellman’s scale looked curiously like an accreditation checklist. Bellman’s approach to police performance measurement was criticized on three primary grounds. First, it was based on “conformity to current notions of good administrative practice” and, therefore, was poorly equipped to accommodate innovations and improvements in policing.[15]  Second, echoing a theme to which we will return at the end of this article when we discuss “weighting,” Bellman’s rating system treated each of the indicators equally. According to critics, the additive nature of Bellman’s system “resulted in mixing significant and petty issues indiscriminately.”[16]  Finally, Bellman’s approach focused exclusively on internal measures relating to policies, practices, and equipment. It neglected completely the processes, outputs, and outcomes of police agencies.[17]

In 1938, responding to problems with Bellman’s system, Spencer Parrat proposed an alternative performance measurement system involving the use of citizen surveys to measure public confidence in the police. Parrat’s recommendation has been adopted in many jurisdictions throughout the nation, though there is little research to demonstrate how much time elapsed before the idea took root. Citizen surveys were a crucial component of the research done by the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice in the late 1960s in response to the disorder and civil unrest of that rebellious period.[18]  The 1970s saw the blossoming of citizen surveys as a standard research tool for police researchers. By the late 1990s, nearly a third of police agencies reported having conducted citizen surveys within the past year.[19]  Nonetheless, the proliferation of citizen surveys has done little to move the policing field closer to the use of comparative performance measures since such surveys are usually designed and administered locally. The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Community Oriented Policing Services Office recently completed a study of victimization experiences and satisfaction with the police among citizens in 12 cities. The results demonstrated important intercity variation in citizen experiences and perspectives; results that are valuable for police managers in these cities to know about.[20] 

Starting in 1939, the International City Managers’ Association (now called the International City/County Management Association or ICMA) began collecting data from police organizations as part of its Municipal Yearbook series.[21]  The Municipal Yearbooks include data on a variety of city government features, with police data only one small part of a much larger data collection effort that inquires about form of government, salaries of local officials, personnel practices, technology, economic development, and other related topics.[22]  It is unknown to what extent this data collection series was used as a platform for comparing the performance of police organizations in the 1930s. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it continues to be used today in spite of two limitations. First, it is one of the only databases on police performance that must be purchased; nearly all others are available for free in various archives. Second, a recent review of surveys of police organizations found that response rates in the ICMA surveys were among the lowest of all the surveys examined in the review.[23]  Low response rates lead social scientists to wonder whether a sample is biased - whether those agencies represented in the ICMA databases are representative of all police agencies, especially those that refused or otherwise failed to complete the ICMA surveys.

In summary, the 1930s saw a mix of ambitious activities and proposals for measuring the performance of police agencies. A national system, the Uniform Crime Reports, was developed to collect “official” statistics on crime and arrests. This was followed almost immediately by proposals about how the data ought to be used for comparative performance measures. The ICMA instituted its Municipal Yearbook series containing data that continues to be collected today. Bellman created an exhaustive list of performance standards containing mostly internal features and inputs. Parrat criticized Bellman’s approach, recommending instead subjective indicators of public confidence and satisfaction derived from surveys of citizens. As I will show throughout this article, although many people now recognize the need for alternative performance measures, many of the issues that warranted discussion and debate in the 1930s are still with us today.

Throughout the next three decades, “traditional” measures of police agency performance became entrenched within the policing profession with little debate and little fanfare. Crime rates, arrests and citations, clearances, and response times all played a key role in measuring police performance at multiple levels, from the individual police officer to the organization as a whole. According to Geoff Alpert and Mark Moore, these “generally accepted accounting practices became enshrined as the key measures to evaluate police performance.”[24]

During the 1960s, several themes converged to cast light upon these traditional performance measures. Passionate discontent about the military action in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and other social forces led a generation of youth to rebel against the conventions of mainstream society.[25]  Since police are the gatekeepers of mainstream society, much of the civil unrest of this period brought the police face-to-face with citizens expressing various forms of protest, from peaceful civil disobedience to violent rebellion and rioting.[26]  Police use of force and mistreatment of minority citizens became a prominent theme during the 1960s. Research conducted during that period showed that many police officers held racist attitudes toward minorities.[27]  Several of the riots that engulfed American cities occurred in the aftermath of police actions such as shootings, traffic stops, or raids occurring in minority neighborhoods.[28]  The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968) found that “deep hostility between police and ghetto communities” was a primary determinant of the urban riots that it studied. The U.S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, began to scrutinize closely the activities of the police. In several “landmark” cases, the Court restricted the powers of the police to conduct searches, obtain confessions, or prevent detainees from consulting with an attorney. While civil libertarians praised this “due process revolution,” others complained loudly that these new rules interfered with the ability of the police to fight crime.[29]  All of these factors combined to produce an epidemic crisis of legitimacy for the American police. From 1968 to 1971, three national commissions recommended sweeping reforms intended to improve the relationships between police and communities, reduce the levels of racism, limit the use of force, and encourage lawful behavior by the police. All of these themes pointed rather forcefully to the need for alternative measures of police performance.

With these themes in mind, many critics pointed out that police departments which excelled at controlling crime, generating arrests, citations, and clearances, and responding quickly to calls-for-service might still perform poorly in many other ways. They might have low morale, poor relationships with communities, problems with corruption or brutality, or an undeveloped capacity to deal with large-scale civil disturbances. Furthermore, numerous observers began to note that a substantial proportion of police work is unrelated to crime:

“No longer can we group police noncriminally related public services into a ‘miscellaneous’ category which composes 70 percent of recorded police activities, but must refine our measurement of this group of activities and develop performance measurements and criteria relating to the adequacy and quantity of these services...”[30]

Therefore, a comprehensive suite of performance measures needs to account for a broader spectrum of the work that police do, not just that part of their work related to issuing citations and arresting offenders. If police are supposed to prevent crime and motor vehicle accidents, solve community problems, reduce disorder, and build lasting community relationships, then performance measures should reflect their success in producing these and other valuable outcomes.[31]

Research in the 1960s and 1970s revealed not only that police performance measures needed to be broader and more inclusive; it also pointed out severe flaws in existing traditional measures. Below I highlight some of the criticisms that have been leveled at four traditional measures of police performance: crime rates, arrests and citations, clearances, and response time.

1. Crime Rates
Most policing scholars argue that there is no single “bottom line” in policing.[32]  Like other public agencies, police departments have multiple, perhaps even competing goals. Therefore, to focus exclusively on one goal at the expense of the others is to invite poor performance on alternative goals. William Bratton, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Commissioner of the New York Police Department, disagrees vehemently with this notion. Under his administration of the NYPD, “crime statistics [became] the Department’s bottom line, the best indicator of how police are doing, precinct by precinct and citywide.”[33]  Elsewhere, he wrote that “crime reduction is to a police department what profit is to a private company--the bottom line.”[34]  Critics were quick to illuminate the dangers inherent in this perspective. For instance, as Mark Moore, Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, pointed out, “We have learned through the efforts of pioneering police chiefs that there are ways of operating police departments that reduce crime and enhance security without harming civil liberties or community satisfaction.”[35]  Criminologist George Kelling has argued that “measuring police performance solely by crime statistics simply ignores consequential values...[such as] justice, integrity, fear reduction, citizen satisfaction, protection and help for those who cannot protect or help themselves, and many others.”[36]

Regardless of one’s perspective on the relative importance of crime rates as measures of police success, there are two primary problems with using “unadjusted” crime rates as performance measures for police.[37]  First, police are not the only factor that influences crime rates. Crime is the product of a complex array of social, economic, and political forces. Research demonstrates clearly that police departments can have a substantial impact on some types of crime.[38]  Some crimes, like open-air drug markets, are more visible, more preventable, and more suppressible than others. Others may be more difficult for police to reduce. Sometimes crime is reduced through the efforts of police, while other times it is reduced through factors having nothing to do with the police. Similarly, sometimes when a variety of social factors coalesce to increase crime, it is inappropriate to blame the police for factors beyond their control. Police can have an effect on crime, but so can many other factors. Before using crime rates as measures of police performance, it is necessary to “adjust” them statistically to account for these other factors. Later in this report, I will describe some methods for performing these adjustments.

Second, reported crime rates often have as much to do with how local police departments process the information they receive as they do with the “true” level of crime. Crime rates derived from police data have been referred to as “organizational outcomes.”  In other words, they are as much a product of the police department that produced them as they are of the community or situation in which the alleged offenses took place.[39]  Police departments can influence crime rates any number of ways: departmental policies or structures that inhibit or encourage reporting, the behavior of a call-taker or police officer toward an alleged victim, or outright manipulation of crime statistics.[40]

 Finally, not all crime is reported to the police, therefore it makes sense to supplement “official” crime data with victimization surveys that indicate the extent of unreported crime. Through such surveys, police agencies might be able to identify high-risk populations who do not routinely ask for police assistance when they need it. For instance, when immigrants fear deportation, domestic abuse victims fear retaliation from their attackers, or teens fear that reporting a crime will hurt their reputation among their peers, there will exist unknown pockets of crime. Knowing they exist will enable police to design potentially effective responses. Some research has combined “official” crime data with victimization data to compute composite performance measures.[41]

2. Arrests and Citations

Arrest represents one of the most visible measures of police output. Furthermore, it is one of the few output measures collected from most police agencies in the country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been collecting arrest data from American police departments since 1930 as part of its Uniform Crime Reports program.[42]  Data are available for 29 general offense categories. Although this measure might appear on its face to be clear, research has shown that the legal definition of arrest varies widely across agencies.[43]  One study concluded that “differing arrest definitions make productivity comparisons between agencies impossible.”[44]  Research findings suggested that state Uniform Crime Reporting agencies failed to ensure quality control of arrest data, and that in some cases they failed to understand the rules themselves. The study concluded that “the regulation of arrest statistics is inadequate and that UCR arrest statistics cannot be used to evaluate police performance.”[45]

In addition to these measurement problems, arrests are also conceptually ambiguous. As George Kelling has suggested, arrests are not effective measures of police performance because sometimes they represent a failure by police to adopt other, more useful solutions.[46]  Herman Goldstein, the architect of problem-oriented policing, views arrests as just one tool in the police officer’s toolkit.[47]  Many times it is the right tool to use, but sometimes other solutions may be more effective. Therefore, simply counting arrests produces a figure of unknown value.

Unlike arrests, there are no national data on citations issued by police agencies. Police departments traditionally maintain their own records on citations and have historically paid close attention to citation productivity. Citations are one of the basic outputs of police agencies, used much more numerously than arrests. Of the estimated 19.3 million drivers who were pulled over by police at least one time in 1999, about 54% received a traffic citation, about 26% received a warning, and only about 3% were arrested.[48]  Research has shown that there is substantial interagency variation in traffic citations for moving violations.[49]  Traffic tickets are not the only kind of citation used by police agencies. Many jurisdictions now rely on citations in lieu of arrest for certain misdemeanors. For instance, many states authorize the use of citations for possession of small amounts of marijuana.[50]  The use of field citations played a role in the well-publicized changes instituted in the New York Police Department in the 1990s. William Bratton, former Commissioner of the New York Police Department, derided the use of “Desk Appearance Tickets” (D.A.T.s), a form of field citation used in lieu of arrest, in which people accused of minor offenses were given a court date and released. Bratton directed his agency to curtail its use of D.A.T.s in favor of making more arrests: “No more D.A.T.s. If you peed in the street, you were going to jail.”[51]  Implicit in Bratton’s statement is a judgment that citations are a less effective pretrial strategy than arrest. Little is known about whether this assumption is valid. We do know, however, that the number of arrests under Bratton’s tenure rose dramatically, suggesting that he was able to mobilize his officers to reduce their use of citations in favor of arrests. Citation data may be useful for individual police organizations to keep track of how officers are spending their time, or as in the example with regard to former Commissioner Bratton, to ensure that the organization is producing outputs in the manner prescribed by the chief executive. But, because they are not available nationally, they cannot be used to compare police departments nationally.

Furthermore, arrests and citations are “output” measures. They demonstrate the extent to which organizations engage in certain activities, but they say nothing about whether these activities were effective in producing something of value for communities. In other words, they are not “outcomes.”  When police departments cite the number of arrests they make or citations they issue, it is the equivalent of a carpenter boasting about how many board feet of lumber he cut, or how many nails he sank. Certainly these are some of the activities we expect of our police officers and our carpenters. These measures show clearly that the police officer and the carpenter were busy, but they do not demonstrate that the community is safer or happier, or that the home has been well built. This is not to say that arrest and citation data should not play any role in performance measurement. Rather, it is a challenge to police executives to think creatively about what these measures represent and how they might contribute to a more comprehensive performance measurement scheme.

3. Clearances

Like the arrest rate, the clearance rate, which is the proportion of reported crimes solved by the police, is another measure of police output that is collected widely and frequently by police agencies around the nation.[52]  Despite numerous conceptual and technical problems with clearance rates, they are “the most common measure of investigative effectiveness” used by police.[53]  Some critics have argued that clearance rates are beset with measurement problems.[54]   For example, in his classic 1966 book, Justice Without Trial, Jerome Skolnick demonstrated how clearance rates are sometimes manipulated by detectives who deem certain offenses as “unfounded” due to suspicious circumstances. According to one supervisor Skolnick interviewed, “... we’re an honest department. All these other departments that have fancy clearance rates- we know damned well they’re stacking the cards. It’s easy to show a low crime rate when you have a category like suspicious circumstances to use as a waste basket...” Another study described how detectives manipulated clearance rates to inflate their performance measures. If they arrested a suspect, sometimes they would use the arrest to clear other similar offenses, even when the evidence that the cases were related was slim. Furthermore, the detectives demonstrated a profound disinterest in whether the “cleared” cases resulted in court convictions; they viewed their job as generating the clearance regardless of the consequences.[55]

Similarly, Gary Cordner has argued that both the numerator (cases cleared) and denominator (total reported offenses) used in computing the clearance rate are “susceptible to manipulation and measurement error.”[56]  A 1985 report on the future of the Uniform Crime Reporting program listed a number of problems with clearance rates that reduce their utility for measuring police performance.[57]  Despite these problems with the measurement of clearance rates, they are reported routinely by police departments, and they are used routinely by researchers.[58]  Nationally, clearance rates for homicide have been falling almost linearly over the past four decades, dropping from 92% in 1960 to 66% in 1997.[59]  If clearance rates do represent investigative effectiveness, then this trend illustrates a substantial decline.

Clearance rates can be very useful measures. As with arrest and citation measures, important concerns have been raised about the quality of the data, particularly when they are used to compare different agencies. In a later section, I will discuss some methods for ensuring data quality in clearance rate data.

4. Response Times

The standard response to calls for service in most police departments has historically been to dispatch a sworn police officer, who responds quickly. Yet, research and experience have shown that not everybody who calls the police requires, or even necessarily expects, a rapid response. Police agencies facing resource shortages have often been able to streamline their existing resources and improve both efficiency and effectiveness by implementing some form of alternative response strategy. Collectively, these alternative responses have come to be known as “differential police response” (DPR) strategies. The development and diffusion of DPR strategies in American police agencies was informed by several influential research findings. First, several studies showed that rapid response to reports of serious crimes led to an arrest less than 5% of the time.[60]  Second, for offenses in which there are no witnesses and no evidence, citizens are often willing to file a police report over the telephone.[61]  Third, a series of studies showed that the single most important factor in citizen satisfaction with police response was whether the response time matched citizen expectations, even if the response time was lengthy. In other words, providing citizens with an accurate estimate of the response time is often more important than providing a rapid response.[62]

What challenges do response rates raise as comparative performance measures?  First, community standards vary widely. Some communities demand a different police response than others. Second, communities differ in geography, topography, traffic patterns, and other features that make it difficult to compare response rates. As we will show later, it may be possible to adjust for these factors, but the scientific foundation for generating accurate adjustment procedures is still incomplete. Third, rapid response can sometimes be a less efficient, less effective response strategy than alternative approaches. Rapid response to nuisance calls is sometimes wasteful and may detract from more important police priorities. It is possible to compute a comparative performance measure that is based on response times, but it would require careful thought. It would mean developing a uniform definition of calls requiring a rapid response, and measuring the response times for only those calls. Furthermore, even these measures would require statistical adjustments (which I describe later in this report) to render them meaningful across communities of different sizes and types. Response time is important, but using it as a comparative performance measure invites several challenges. One more feasible alternative to using actual response times is to use customer satisfaction with response times as a performance measure.[63]

Toward a New Conception of Police Performance


With the evolution of community policing, police reformers have recommended an entirely new way of viewing police performance measurement.[64]  The community policing reform literature suggests important changes in the way we measure police performance. First, police departments and communities are urged to engage in the philosophical and conceptual work of identifying the goals that they expect the police to produce. This exercise will help the police in any community clarify their mission and expand beyond the traditional performance measures that I just reviewed. Certainly maintaining safe communities with a good quality of life will play a role in any thoughtful analysis of the goals of policing. But, as I demonstrate in the next section, there are many more goals worth pursuing. Second, these goals need to provide an accurate reflection of the work that police actually do. If police spend a large amount of time on traffic safety functions, for instance, or maintaining community order, then those functions should play some role in the list of the goals of policing. Evaluating police departments only on their prowess in apprehending offenders ignores the vital importance of all the other work that they do. Furthermore, it relieves them of accountability for performing equally well in all of their other work. In the next section, I explore the multidimensional nature of police performance in much more detail and provide some ideas about how to specify the appropriate dimensions.

Finally, the community policing reform literature suggests that police agencies need to adopt outside-the-box thinking when generating performance measures. Police are accustomed to thinking about performance measures that exist already within the many data sets available to them. Yet, many alternatives exist. Once those interested in developing performance measurement have established a list of general goals, they must then initiate the work of turning these into performance measures. Implicit in any goal is a series of more specific outcomes that reflect the general goal, and which can be translated into specific performance measurements. For instance, suppose one of the goals is “citizen satisfaction with police.”  A number of more specific performance measurements might issue from this single goal. For instance, police agencies might determine the proportions of victims, witnesses, and drivers who are satisfied with the police. Perhaps citizen complaints could be used as a proxy for citizen satisfaction (though this measure is often problematic).[65]  Perhaps different kinds of satisfaction might be parsed out: for instance, satisfaction with the call-taker, the response time, and the effort provided by the patrol officer or detective on the scene. These specific measures should extend beyond the traditional measures I outlined earlier. Furthermore, the methods used to collect them should vary widely: general surveys of residents, “contact” surveys with those who have had recent contact with the police, employee surveys, direct observation of community conditions or police-citizen encounters, administrative data collected by the police department, or data collected by other agencies are all permissible and can be mixed in a variety of ways. The goal is to assemble information from a wide variety of data sources that can be used to generate knowledge useful for organizational learning.


Police agencies provide a variety of public services to their communities. The nature of these services varies widely, from educating citizens about crime prevention and responding to automobile accidents, to investigating crimes and apprehending offenders. It is this variety in the day-to-day tasks that police perform that makes measuring their performance so difficult. Some agencies might do a terrific job at maintaining positive and interactive relationships with their communities, but fail to be adequately prepared for critical incidents. Others may take advantage of the newest investigative and information-processing technologies while still relying on outmoded or inefficient patrol deployment strategies. In other words, police agency performance is multidimensional. Those police agencies that concentrate only on one or a handful of performance dimensions to the exclusion of others, do so at their peril. 

The idea that police agencies might be very successful in some ways but less successful in others is not unique to the police. It is an axiom among public organizations that performance is multidimensional. Fire departments need to excel at responding quickly to emergency situations, yet they must do so without getting into an automobile accident en route or running over a pedestrian along the way. They must rescue citizens in danger, while at the same time not incurring serious injury or deaths among the firefighters. They must manage the scene, often in concert with other agencies. They must excel in the various technical aspects of their duties, from putting out fires to administering emergency medical aid. It is not difficult to imagine a fire department that excels in one of these dimensions but performs less adequately on others. A fire department that excels at the technical aspects of putting out fires, without paying much attention to the safety of pedestrians, drivers, and its personnel will eventually find itself in a crisis.

Think long enough about an organization and what its various constituencies expect of it, and it becomes rapidly apparent that performance is multidimensional in virtually every organizational setting. Even among corporations, who have a readily available measure of performance –the bottom line, or corporate profits– performance can still be thought of as multidimensional. Corporations can be rated on a variety of measures outside of the profits they generate. For instance, they are rated on their “greenness”: the extent to which they engage in environmentally responsible practices.[66]  Each year, Business Ethics selects the 100 Best Corporate Citizens, a distinction that is measured based on corporate service to seven primary stakeholders: “stockholders, employees, the community, the environment, overseas stakeholders, minorities and women, and customers.”[67]  They are also rated on consumer confidence, responsiveness to customers, and customer satisfaction using the American Customer Satisfaction Index.[68]  Consumer Reports and other outlets routinely rate the quality of products and services offered by companies. As recent events in corporate America have demonstrated so aptly, a corporation that puts profits ahead of all other dimensions of performance, such as maintaining fair and accurate accounting and employment practices, places itself and its investors at significant risk. These risks range from poor profits to civil and criminal penalties leveled at both the organization and its leaders. Clearly there are crucial differences between corporations and local government agencies like the police. Yet even the famed bottom line is often not the only important measure of corporate performance.

One way of thinking about the dimensions of performance in organizations of any type is to consider the three E’s: equity, effectiveness, and efficiency.[69]  Equity, also referred to as rectitude, refers to the fairness, or the ethical standards by which the organization operates.[70]  It is one generic dimension of performance. Effectiveness refers to how well the organization meets its goals. This dimension can sometimes be broken down into multiple sub-dimensions since organizations often have multiple goals which may even conflict with one another. Efficiency is a ratio of outputs or outcomes to inputs. If one firm is able to build the same bridge as another firm for half the cost, the former is twice as efficient as the latter.

These three generic dimensions are helpful for beginning to think about some of the ways that organizations might vary in terms of their performance. It is not difficult to think of departments that might score highly on some dimensions but not others. An agency might embrace fair practices throughout and produce an optimal level of public safety, but require a substantial level of funding that is out of range when compared to its peer agencies. In this case it would score highly on equity and effectiveness, but lower on efficiency. These dimensions are also useful for thinking about the normative decisions a community must make about public safety. As David Bayley has pointed out in his book Police for the Future, hiring a cop to stand on every corner would probably reduce crime substantially, but at what cost?[71]

While the three E’s have some value as a thought exercise, it is often more useful in practice to measure performance using dimensions that conform closely to the specific industry in question. One reason for this is that effectiveness is itself typically multidimensional. Effective police agencies might be those that produce low crime rates, low rates of re-victimization, high quality of life, feelings of safety, and high clearance rates. Equity too might refer to various kinds of fairness and rectitude: to officers and other employees within the organization, to victims, to arrestees, and to those they encounter on the street. Efficiency, as a ratio in which the denominator is measure of resources, can be expressed in different ways: per dollar, per officer, per employee, or per hour.

Rather than relying on a set of generic dimensions for measuring performance in any kind of organization, it makes a lot of sense to focus on the dimensions of performance within a particular industry. The purpose of this report is NOT to suggest the dimensions on which performance might be measured. Instead, the idea is to demonstrate clearly that whatever performance measurement scheme is selected must, first and foremost, recognize that performance is multidimensional. That sets up the rather daunting task of deciding upon the relevant dimensions for policing. CALEA, with its ready access to forward-thinking police executives from around the nation, is situated ideally to engage in this process.

The next section reviews some of the measures contained in previous research and writing on performance measurement in policing. Some of these dimensions relate to conditions internal to the police organization, such as structure, management, and policy. Others relate to the way the organization interacts with its environment.



Dimensions are independent categories or domains of a characteristic or property. I have found that a useful example or metaphor for thinking about the dimensions of police performance worth measuring is the idea of intelligence testing. Researchers who study human intelligence have debated for many years the dimensions of intelligence. Some theorists argue that intelligence is comprised of a single dimension known as “g” or general intelligence, a unitary phenomenon.[72]  This reasoning is what led to the development of standardized IQ tests, which result in a single overall score that measures intelligence. Others believe that intelligence is multidimensional phenomenon; that there are really multiple kinds of intelligence. For instance, psychologist Howard Gardner argues that there are seven dimensions: linguistic, logical, spatial, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.[73]  Furthermore, these seven dimensions are independent of one another, therefore it is possible for a person to exhibit high intelligence in one area (such as logical), but low or moderate performance in another (such as musical). Other “multiple-intelligence” theorists eschew the idea of an overall general intelligence, but disagree with Gardner on the number or nature of the dimensions.

The debate over the dimensions of human intelligence is a helpful metaphor for thinking about the performance of police departments. Treating performance as a unidimensional phenomenon means that “good” departments are good at all aspects of policing, while poor departments are poor in all aspects. As I proposed in the previous section, one of the most useful methods for thinking about police performance is to avoid the tendency to view it as unidimensional. Police performance is multidimensional; the number and nature of those dimensions is a matter for speculation and debate. In this section, I review a handful of methods outlined in the past for categorizing the dimensions of police performance.

In 1980, Michael O’Neill and his colleagues developed the Police Program Performance Measurement system. It was a modular performance measurement system “into which each locally based organization could plug its own goals and objectives.”  As part of this exercise, the authors prepared a “model structure of police objectives” containing 5 dimensions.[74]

***See EXHIBIT 1 Below***

Within these five dimensions were 46 specific outcomes that were operationalized into 65 performance measures. This effort, like all of the others presented here, has not been institutionalized widely. It is now part of the historical record of police performance measurement.

Another system, devised by Harry Hatry and his colleagues at the Urban Institute and ICMA contains five dimensions of police performance.[75]  This proposed system, like the one before it, has not yet led to a widespread, systematic suite of performance measures institutionalized across the nation. One important area for reflection among police executives is why such measures get so much lip service but so little action.

***See EXHIBIT 2 Below***

The most recent framework for measuring police performance was developed by Professor Mark Moore and several colleagues at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Their work appears in a book, entitled Recognizing Value in Policing: The Challenge of Measuring Police Performance, published in 2002 by the Police Executive Research Forum. Moore’s framework lays a solid intellectual foundation for measuring seven dimensions of police performance.

***See EXHIBIT 3 Below***

One element of policing that often gets overlooked in performance measurement is the nature of the policing process. Stephen Mastrofski has outlined a spectrum of humanistic concerns that he terms “Policing for People.”[76]  According to Mastrofski, traditional police performance measures ignore a fundamental element of the relationship between police and communities: the nature of police-citizen encounters. He highlights six features of these encounters that should be measured. Like other variables we have discussed, these are characteristics of individual encounters and officers, but in the aggregate they can be used to characterize and compare police agencies over time and place. One option is to think of these as full dimensions, but a more likely solution is to think of them as subdimensions of a single broader dimension that focuses on the nature of the policing process (such as Mark Moore’s 7th dimension).

***See EXHIBIT 4 Below***

Research has shown that current data on policing are insufficient for either measuring performance or doing good comparative research on police organizations because they fail to capture the full range of work that police do.[77]  Whatever dimensions one chooses, they should reflect a full and realistic range of police functions and goals. It may be that some of these functions are more important than others; I take on that and other technical issues later. 

Part II of this article will appear in the next issue of the CALEA Update (Issue number 84). The next segment will show how to use the principles and concepts introduced in this first segment to create comparative performance measures. It will show how such measures can be developed nationally in the policing industry, as well as how you can begin to implement them in your agency.


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Maguire, E.R. (2002). Multiwave Establishment Surveys of Police Organizations. Justice Research and Policy, 4 (Fall Issue): 39-60.

Maguire, E.R. and C.D. Uchida (2000). Measurement and Explanation in the Comparative Study of American Police Organizations.  In David Duffee (ed.),  Criminal Justice 2000: Vol 4. Measurement and Analysis of Crime and Justice. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

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Exhibit 1:
O’Neill’s 5 Dimensions-
* Crime prevention

    * Crime control

    * Conflict resolution

    * General service                                                 

    * Police administration

Exhibit 2:
Hatry’s 5 Dimensions

    * Prevention of crime

    * Apprehension of offenders

    * Responsiveness of police

    * Feeling of security

    * Fairness, courtesy, helpfulness/cooperativeness, honesty

Exhibit 3:
Moore’s 7 Dimensions

    * Reduce criminal victimization

    * Call offenders to account

    * Reduce fear and enhance personal security

    * Guarantee safety in public spaces

    * Use financial resources fairly, efficiently, and effectively

    * Use force and authority fairly, efficiently, and effectively

    * Satisfy customer demands / achieve legitimacy with those policed

Exhibit 4:

Mastrofski’s 6 Dimensions: “Policing for People” 

* Attentiveness

* Reliability

* Responsiveness

* Competence

* Manners

* Fairness


[1]               Pasi, 2000.

[2]               Thomas and Hofer, 1999.

[4]               Hoover, 1984.

[5]               Osborne and Gaebler, 1992.

[6]               Hammer and Champy, 1993.

[7]               Cohen and Brand, 1993.

[8]               Ammons, 1996.

[9]               Kaplan and Norton, 1996.

[10]             Geller, 1997.

[11]             Maguire and Uchida, 2000.

[12]             The material in this paragraph was drawn from Maguire and Uchida, 2000; and Uchida, Bridgeforth, and Wellford, 1986.

[13]             Parks, 1971, p. 9;  Stone, 1930.

[14]             Bellman, 1935.

[15]             O’Neill, Needle, and Galvin, 1980, p. 254.

[16]             O’Neill, Needle, and Galvin, 1980, p. 254. Also see Parrat, 1937.

[17]             O’Neill, Needle, and Galvin, 1980.

[18]             President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, 1967.

[19]             According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 30% of local police conducted citizen surveys in 1997 and 27% conducted such surveys in 1999. See Hickman and Reaves, 2001.

[20]             Smith, Steadman, Minton, and Townsend, 1999.

[21]             Uchida, Bridgeforth, and Wellford, 1986.

[22]             Maguire, 2002; Uchida, Bridgeforth, and Wellford, 1986.

[23]             Maguire, 2002.

[24]             Alpert and Moore, 1993, p. 110.

[25]             Barlow and Barlow, 2000; Walker, 1980.

[26]             Walker, 1980.

[27]             Bayley and Mendelsohn, 1969; Reiss, 1971, p. 147; Westley, 1970, p. 99-104. To be fair, research in the 1960s also showed that police were not substantially more racist than others in the communities they served (Bayley and Mendelsohn, 1969).

[28]             Walker 1980.

[29]             Cassell and Fowles, 1998; Leo, 1996.

[30]             Hoffman, 1971,  pp. 172-173.

[31]             Maguire and Uchida, 2000.

[32]             Alpert and Moore, 1993; Kelling, 1996; Maguire and Uchida, 2000; Moore, 1999, 2002.

[33]             Bratton, 1999, p. 15.

[34]             Bratton, 1998; Also see Moore, 1999.

[35]             Moore, 1999.

[36]             Kelling, 1996, p. 32.

[37]             Unadjusted crime rates are simply those that are provided by the FBI without any transformations. Later in this essay, we contrast these unadjusted measures with “risk-adjusted” crime rates. These are crime rates that have been adjusted statistically to account for differences between communities (like income inequality or population density) that might be expected to affect crime rates.

[38]             Sherman, 1998.

[39]             McLeary, Nienstedt, and Erven, 1982.

[40]             Black, 1970; McLeary, Nienstedt, and Erven, 1982; Seidman and Couzens, 1974.

[41]             Decker, 1980, 1981.

[42]             Maguire and Uchida, 2000; Maltz, 1999.

[43]             Sherman, 1980a, 1980b.

[44]             Sherman, 1980b, p. 468.

[45]             Sherman and Glick, 1984.

[46]             Kelling, 1992.

[47]             Goldstein, 1990.

[48]             Langan, Greenfeld, Smith, Durose, and Levin, 2001.

[49]             Gardiner, 1969.

[50]             Feeney, 1982, p. 38

[51]             Bratton, 1998, p. 229

[52]             Once a reported offense is designated as founded, it may be cleared in two ways: by arrest or by exception (FBI, 1980; Martin and Besharov, 1991). A crime is cleared by arrest when at least one person is: “arrested; charged with the commission of the offense; and turned over to the court for prosecution (whether following arrest, court summons, or police notice)” (FBI, 1980, p. 394). An offense is cleared by exception when: (1) the investigation has clearly identified the offender; (2) there is sufficient information on which to make an arrest; (3) the offender’s location is known; and (4) extenuating circumstances outside the control of the police make it difficult to make an arrest (FBI, 1980, p. 395). One of the most common reasons for clearing an offense by exception is the unwillingness of victims and/or witnesses to testify in court. Another instance is when the offender is dead (Cordner, 1989).

[53]             Cordner, 1989,  p. 146.

[54]             Alpert and Moore, 1993; Hoffman, 1971; Riedel and Jarvis, 1999.

[55]             Nadel, 1978.

[56]             Cordner, 1989, p. 146.

[57]             Poggio, Kennedy, Chaiken, and Carlson, 1985; Also see Schneider and Wiersema, 1990.

[58]             Davenport, 1996.

[59]             Riedel and Jarvis, 1999, p. 279 and p. 301.

[60]             Caron, 1980; Eck and Spelman, 1987; Spelman and Brown, 1981; Sumrall, Roberts, and Farmer, 1981; Also see Bracey, 1996 for an overview.

[61]             Eck, 1983.

[62]             Pate, et al, 1976; Percy, 1980; Tien, et al., 1979.

[63]             Hatry, 1999, p. 23.

[64]             Alpert, Flynn, and Piquero, 2001; Alpert and Moore, 1993; Horne, 1992; Langworthy, 1999.

[65]             Walker, 1998, 2001.

[66]             National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy, 2001.

[67]             Miller, 2002.

[68]             Anderson and Fornell, 2000; Fornell, 2001.

[69]             Bayley, 1994. Eck and Rosenbaum, 1994.

[70]             Bayley, 1994.

[71]             Bayley, 1994.

[72]             Spearman, 1927.

[73]             Gardner, 1983.

[74]             O’Neill, Needle, and Galvin, 1980, p. 257.

[75]             Hatry, Blair, Fisk, Greiner, Hall, and Schaenman, 1992.

[76]             Mastrofski, 1999; Also see Eck and Maguire, 2000, and Moore and Poethig, 1999.

[77]             Maguire, 2002; Maguire and Uchida, 2000.

Edward R. Maguire, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Administration of Justice Program, George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia
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