Aligning Performance Measures and Motivation

Cops come on the job because they want to make a difference.  They want to make their community’s safer.  They want to be viewed as a force for good.  Our Mission statements support these initial beliefs.  In one of my Departments, the tag line on the patch was ‘Serving with Pride.’  Most would view these initial expectations as incredibly naive, yet few would deny this truth in their heart of hearts.

It generally doesn’t take long for a new officer to be take on a new mindset – usually no longer than their first rotation with a seasoned field training officer who lets them know how things are in the ‘real’ world.  In a short time few believe that they will truly make a difference.  To make matters worse, these beliefs are commonly reinforced by the Department’s choice of performance measures.


We are familiar with the compstat paradigm, first employed by the NYPD and subsequently adopted in some form or fashion by Departments across the country.  Compstat represented a revolutionary idea in policing where performance measures were counted and personnel were held accountable for crime and enforcement numbers.  Initially the biggest challenge to be overcome was gathering the information quickly enough to make it useful.  Measures were drawn from statistics already being gathered.  If there is an opportunity for improvement in this model it would be to more carefully consider the performance measures that are gathered and tracked.  Are they congruent with the Mission and do they positively motivate?

Effective Implementation

In my experience, the implementation took the form of quantifying available numbers that included part 1 crimes, response times,  and enforcement numbers that included parkers, movers and field stops. We went so far as to post everyone’s enforcement numbers on the wall so that personnel could be motivated by peer pressure to perform.  The question that went unasked was how did these enforcement numbers equate to ‘Serving with Pride?’  How were these performance measures viewed by the public?  At the end of the year were people more concerned with how safe they felt in the neighborhood or were they more impressed by an 18% increase in the number of moving violations cited? Depending on the implementation, the measurement of any of these numbers as the be all, do all,  measure of performance could lead to aberrant behavior and losing sight of the stated Mission.  If performance means the reduction of part 1 crime then the aberrant response is to not  take the report or classify it as something else.  Needing more field stops becomes the motivation for the stop rather than supporting the Mission.  Stopping people unnecessarily or without justification creates performance contrary to the Department’s stated goals but can look good to the number crunchers.

What to do?

The key is the implementation.  What is the crime in the area?  What information do you have and what information do you need to address it?  What types of activity or enforcement would support your effort to address the problem you are having?  If street robberies are the issue with suspects reportedly on foot does a t-stop fit your needs?  When performance measures are used in the context of accomplishing the Mission they can be powerful and motivating.

At the line level, do you know what your crime problems are and do you have a plan for addressing them?  Are you conducting discretionary enforcement that supports your goal of addressing crime?  Are you identifying additional resources that you need to address your problems and bringing them to your supervisor’s attention?  As a supervisor are you being supportive of the needs that your folks identify and mentoring them to proactively develop strategies to address problems in their area.  Are you promoting a feeling of ownership in your personnel so they will understand that they do make a ‘difference’?

At the organizational level, are you thinking of performance measures as a means of positively motivating your personnel and are you measuring the things that truly contribute to Mission?  As Eric Clapton famously sang, ‘It’s in the way that you do it.’   You depend on motivated folks at the line level to get the job done.  Don’t shoot your organization in the foot by measuring the wrong things the wrong way.

As always, THANK YOU for what you do and BE SAFE!

Please comment on what you have found to be effective and motivating performance measures.


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