As we hurtle towards the end of the ‘performance year’ and next years Police and Crime Plans are being topped and tailed by PCCs it seems timely to reflect on the ongoing debate about police performance and target setting.
The broader issue of the police approach to performance has been brought under the glare of public scrutiny and comment by the recent media coverage following the IPCC report into the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences in Southwark.
This report prompted an avalanche of comment much of it focusing on the apparent inevitability of perverse outcomes from target setting and the supposedly inherent weak leadership within policing that allowed such practises to operate. Many have sought to make links to the scandal at Mid Staffordshire hospital where the results of achieving targets at all costs appears to have reached a zenith.
However, I am not going to comment on the specifics of these most recent high profile cases.
I’ve had the privilege to lead a range of different teams, including those investigating rape, as well as three years as a BCU Commander steeped in a culture of performance management. I’ve worked within organisations that have grappled to achieve a balance in measuring performance and have got it right and wrong. I am now responsible for the performance of local policing in two forces. So, I feel qualified to discuss the general themes emerging!
As a police officer I find it hard to reconcile that colleagues would set out to treat victims poorly so as to deliver a performance target, which itself can often be chosen with little or no regard for the needs of individual victims. Given that many forces also measure victim satisfaction the motivation to treat people badly would seem contradictory.
I also believe the role of senior leaders in these scenarios is less to do with alleged bullying of officers into 'delivering' targets at all costs and more to do with leaders failing to grasp the implications of an overall plan and the impact on the individual victims within it.
Losing sight of the victim and witnesses in this mix also follows when people manage performance as a set of metrics rather than the messages, activities and behaviours which sit behind them. Managing performance is about culture not calculators.
I find it more likely that officers, possibly confronted by reluctant victims/witnesses and all too familiar with the perceived hurdles ahead in the race for a conviction, seek to stop at the first opportunity and persuade themselves that it is in the best interests of the victim. The managers, seeing the improving picture of detections versus recorded crimes satisfy themselves that they too are on track. Meanwhile behind the spreadsheet a tale of missed opportunities and personal trauma can sit undetected.
Now there may be individuals who choose to behave like this but I believe they are a rare exception.
However I do believe that some police forces and other public service organisations continue to frame performance in a manner that may invite ‘corrupt’ behaviour that is neither in a good cause or noble. The debate about who is responsible veers between the organisation and the individual and it is clear to me that both can and have been culpable.
So the solution?
This is not an exhaustive list but I would start with the following.
Organisations need to have a performance framework to judge effectiveness and to enable them to be held accountable. Talk of allowing people just to do the right thing without some kind of measurement is naive.
Targets need to be grounded in priorities determined with communities. Engagement and consultation on target setting therefore needs to be meaningful and genuine.
Targets need to be specific. The more general and all encompassing the more likely they are to produce perverse outcomes.
The plan needs to be simple, focused and understood by communities and staff. All colleagues should be able to recognise where they make a contribution.
Avoid at all costs the attempt to compare organisations with each other. They just invite detractors and well constructed arguments as to why the data is flawed, normally when it is heading in the ‘wrong’ direction.
Data should be the start of the discussion not the sole purpose. I have every expectation that leaders and staff should know what is going on behind the graphs and trends, so that we can focus on solutions rather than debating the relative merits of the percentages.
Don’t be seduced by systems and processes. People deliver service and they transform lives. This is more likely when they are well led and understand what the issues are and what their role and contribution is to solving the problem.
‘Play the long game’. Be confident in your staff to achieve and don’t get distracted by short termism. Whatever change you are a part of needs to be sustainable and reducing crime should not been seen as a snap shot where current activity is driven by the relative performance of the previous month or year.
Finally start from the position ascribed to Albert Einstein, "Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”