How do you rate the quality of service provided by your local law enforcement agency? Is the measure of quality service simply a result of the number of police officers per 1,000 population, or the average response time to all citizen calls for service, or the per capita cost of police services to the residents of a community? While these measures are frequently used throughout the country to evaluate police service, they do not accurately assess the quality or effectiveness of a police agency.
This is the conclusion outlined by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in a publication titled, "How to Rate Your Local Police"
written by David C. Couper. PERF is a national professional association of chief executives of large law enforcement agencies. The mission of PERF is to improve the delivery of police services and the effectiveness of crime control through:
- the exercise of strong leadership;
- public debate of police and criminal justice issues;
- research and policy development;
- the provision of vital management leadership services to police agencies.
PERF identifies several myths commonly held concerning what makes a good police department. These myths include, for example, "A higher ratio of police officers to citizens means higher quality police service." PERF states succinctly, "Nothing could be farther from the truth." The number of police officers per 1,000 population "ignores the diversity among communities' socioeconomic structures, their use of public services, the nature of their crime problems and the expectations that a community has of its police agency."
Another myth is: "Responding quickly to citizens calls for service shows that a police agency is efficient." Although some calls received by the police are of an emergency nature and an immediate response should be provided, most calls for service do not require an emergency response.
Many times a citizen returning home to discover a theft or vandalism will wait to call police until they have spoken to family members or neighbors. In these cases, a rapid response rarely results in an arrest. And in those situations when an immediate emergency response is provided, national studies have shown only a small percentage of the time will a suspect be apprehended at the scene of the crime.
If these myths are not accurate measures of the quality of police service, then why are they so frequently used?
They are used because they are easily obtained and can be reduced to a numerical base and thereby compared to another police department or some computed average.
In lieu of using myths to evaluate the quality of police service, PERF has identified three factors which must be considered in any evaluation of quality police service.
These factors are:
- organization and
- policy characteristics
Only by closely evaluating these issues can we get an idea of the true quality of the police service we receive.