Police performance

30 May 2020


POLICE performance, not just in Pakistan but across the world, is rightly scrutinised by the public and other relevant stakeholders. The recent steps being taken by the inspector general, Punjab Police, reflect a new mechanism to assess field officers’ performance as reported by this paper on April 29. Any steps to improve performance must be lauded but the evaluation regime recently introduced appears to be an innovation to tackle a complex issue. Performance will be used to decide future postings etc of senior officers through awarding positive and negative points. Whilst at first sight, and in principle, this seems appropriate, there is a fundamental problem with using such a narrow set of metrics and over such a short period. Crime is rarely impacted so quickly by police actions.

The debate, even arguments, about what and how performance should be assessed is an ongoing one. For example, should it be about attaching priority to assessing property crimes, eg vehicle, residential and commercial property crime, or crimes against the person, eg murder/attempted murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, or white collar crime, or a combination of offences? Who should decide? What criteria should be used? Further, there needs to be a delineation between assessment of an individual district/city police officer’s personal performance and the overall performance of their district or city.

Meaningful and effective performance management should have its focus on outcomes.

In order to tackle crime effectively, there should be an effective response to reported crime but also proactive actions by police to investigate crimes that are occurring but are usually not reported, eg drug trafficking and money laundering. The latter usually lie in the domain of organised crime syndicates. In order to paint a picture and understand what is going on with organised crime there has to be good intelligence available. This requires proper structures, information security, analysis and then action. In essence, police action is much more effective when you tackle the criminal rather than the crime as criminals are extremely adaptive. They look at opportunities to make money and are not too bound by crime types but rather view them as commodities. For example, crime syndicates will collaborate where it is in their interest to do so — they may ordinarily be competitors but under certain circumstances, collaboration serves their mutual interest.

Further, if individual officers are to be held accountable they need to be given the tools and freedom to adapt policing in their areas under a corporate framework set by the IGP from the central police office. This can only be done if there is security of tenure for officers from top to bottom. That is not to say poor performance is tolerated through security of tenure but rather interventions are put in place to support and challenge the district police to improve their performance. Ultimately poor performance has to have sanctions but these need to be set out at the outset in the interest of transparency.

There is temptation to focus on performance that is easy to measure, eg the number of stolen vehicles. Just as important are qualitative measures, eg data needs to be collected about both the public’s perception and the reality of interactions with police. A district with a good detection rate for acquisitive crime might be totally failing in its interactions with the public. So how is this reflected in performance assessment?

Meaningful and effective performance management should have its focus on outcomes and not simply be a measure of police activity. Two examples illustrate this point: One, the simplistic metric around the submission of DNA samples could provide perverse incentives without adding any value to police performance. If samples are taken where they will not add value to the investigation they will simply be a waste of resources, but, superficially, a district’s performance will look good because samples would have been submitted in a higher proportion of cases. Instead, the measures should be about positive outcomes achieved from the submission of samples.

Two, the number of challans submitted is, rightly, an important measure but what is the quality of the evidence on which the indictment is based? Police themselves decide when there is sufficient evidence to submit a challan but there is no independent evaluation of that evidence to determine whether the case justifies a trial. This can lead to police performance looking more positive than it really is if cases going to court are weak and therefore not able to be successfully prosecuted. One only has to look at verdicts from the higher courts where cases from the lower courts have been appealed to find that the conviction was based on weak, sometimes flimsy evidence. This state of affairs serves the interests of neither the victims nor the defendants nor criminal justice as a whole.

It is also important to look at the ‘health’ of the organisation itself, ie the number of complaints against police officers in the district, especially police stations — officers suspended and awarded minor or major punishments. Moreover, public perception survey data needs to be collected regarding the performance of officers themselves and their organisation. This can be done at various levels.

All this is not something that can be done overnight as it needs resources, and a change in culture and structures. The IGP Punjab has taken important first steps but if meaningful performance management is to become part of how the Punjab Police (or others) do business then a lot more changes are required. These changes will not be easy and can only be delivered if the majority of the organisation, at least, buys into delivering that change. For that to happen, staff across all ranks need to be remunerated properly and have terms and conditions of service that deal with their well-being. Above all, they must have self-esteem. The latter will only happen if they are treated with dignity both by their own organisation and the public at large.

This is a tall order but would anyone of us accept anything less for ourselves?

The writer is former deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire Police UK.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020