In establishing the London Metropolitan Police in 1829, Sir Robert Peel provided nine principles of policing which he believed would properly guide the new force. His ninth principle was particularly interesting because he believed that a measurement of performance was needed to guide the Bobbies in their duties. Since then, law enforcement agencies have used many ways to measure police performance. One of these is efficiency, as suggested by Peel. Is efficiency the best measure of police performance and success?
What is Performance Measuring?
Performance measurements are everywhere. Businesses measure performance based on profits; voters measure the performance of prosecutors by conviction rates; athletes measure performance on victories; schools measure performance by grades…nearly every organization has some way to measure performance.
A performance measurement is a means by which anyone can quickly and easily know if they are on track to stated goals. Sales reps use performance measurements such as dollars, percentages, and new accounts acquired. Businesses measure new customers, customer satisfaction, total sales, profit margins, and more. Athletes measure distance, speed, strength, endurance, or any other means by which they can know they are reaching their performance goals. Any time goals are set, some way to measure how well those goals are being reached is used.
CriminalJusticeLaw.org, for instance, measures visitors to this site, how long each visitor remains on the site, how many pages each reads, and what percentage of traffic is derived from search engines. This allows us to know to some extent how well we are serving our readers. Because our goal is to become the biggest, most trusted source for useful information for students of criminal justice and law, these metrics provide us with tools to know if we are on target. We also rely on surveys, such as the one at the bottom of this page.
In relation to the measurement of police and law enforcement operations, Sir Robert Peel said,
“The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”
Can Police be Held Responsible for “Crime and Disorder” as Peels Suggests?
If you have read any other articles about Sir Robert Peel on this website, you already know what the editors hold the father of modern policing in high esteem. However, we must note that his suggestion that the measurement “of police efficiency is the absence of crime” does not hold muster. Why?
Although research shows that Peel was correct in stating that the “visible evidence” is not an accurate measure of police performance, suggesting that the lack of criminal activity could be tied to police is only partially true.
Whereas police can to some degree impact crime by how they conduct themselves, they cannot be viewed as the sole determinants in impacting crime. To suggest that there is a direct correlation between police actions and crime is to ignore several fundamental elements which drive crime such as socio-economic inequalities, law, and human nature. Consider each of these briefly:
- Socio-economic inequality: Few today argue that poverty has an impact on driving crime. Because police can do nothing to eradicate poverty, this is a factor which is completely out of their control.
- Law: Because police do not make law, they cannot control the impact of legislative changes to social order. For instance, one of the biggest forces driving crime today is the drug war. Police must enforce laws related to the Drug War but have no direct control over changes. For instance, marijuana arrests have naturally declined in Colorado and Washington state since legalization in 2013. Police clearly had nothing to do with this change.
- Human nature: Which brings us to another key element which drives crime, human nature. When politicians/legislators pass laws which are antithical to human nature, crime results. This happened most notably after alcohol prohibition in the early part of the 20th Century and is happening today with the Drug War, prohibitions on prostitution, and others. The simple fact is that vice cannot be legislated away. Vice is part of human nature. Rulers have tried for thousands of years to control human nature by law and the result is always the same: Failure. Police simply cannot be held responsible for failures in stemming the tide of crimes against human nature.
What is the Best Way to Measure Police Performance?
The best way to measure police performance is a tricky one to answer. Various tools which have been tried are:
- Crime rates
- Clearance rates
- Response times
None of these have been found to adequately measure the success of law enforcement agencies in their missions. As already noted, crime rates cannot be a measure because to a large extent, police have no control over laws.
Think of it like this: A person has a job generating leads for a sales organization. What if his pay is based on the sales closed, though the job of closing sales is left to another person? Does he have any control over how well the other person closes sales? No, so measuring his performance on sales would not suffice. Instead, his performance should be based on leads generated or better still, on qualified leads generated.
In like manner, police departments should only measure officer performance on what the individual police office CAN control. The department should only be measured on elements within its control.
An excellent and extensive article by CALEA titled Measuring the Performance of Law Enforcement Agencies is highly recommended. In this article, the writers noted that
“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.”
In other words, the biggest problem with the suggestion by Sir Robert Peel’s ninth principle is that it only considers a single factor in measuring performance. Although the absence of “crime and disorder” can be part of the measure of “police efficiency,” it cannot be “The [only] test.” There must be more.
Just as an athlete measures multiple variables impacting performance including body weight, muscle mass, speed, agility, strength, and more, the measure of police performance and success must incorporate a multitude of elements, the least of which may be the absence of “crime and disorder” over which, few police have direct control.
Although Sir Rober Peel’s principles are largely valuable for law enforcement even today, the ninth should be abandoned.