How Would You Rate Your Local Police? And By What Criteria?

Well, it’s been almost thirty years since the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) published my first book, “How to Rate Your Local Police.” Why not do a re-visiting? After all, I put an outline of the book in my newest book, “Arrested Development.”

What did I say then and what should I (after some years of reflection) add or continue to say?

First, let’s look at the outline:

The book is organized into three areas of characteristics: leadership, policy and organizational and includes some key questions from each area.


 Leadership Characteristics:  What kind of person is the chief? Does he or she have:

  •  A clear vision?
  •  The willingness to challenge the status quo?
  •  The ability to take risks, be innovative, build a coalition of support for change?
  •  Self confidence?
  •  Personal integrity?
  •  Respect of community and elected officials?
  •  The ability to inspire and motivate?

What tone does the chief set for the agency? Does he or she have:

  •  A coherent crime control strategy?
  •  A concrete crime prevention strategy?
  •  A willingness to defend rights of unpopular groups?
  •  Belief in the equal delivery of community police services to each and every member of the community?
  •  Does the chief articulate the policies of the agency clearly and understandably? Will he or she:
  •  Speak out and take a stand?
  •  Be a spokesperson on crime control and public safety?
  •  Be a community adviser on personal security?
  •  Preserve and protect our guarantees of freedom and due process?
  •  Defend the rights of minorities in the community?
  •  Protect the weak and injured?
  •  Be able to manage a complex bureaucracy?
  •  Be the community’s “guardian of the rule of law?

Policy Characteristics. Does the police organization:

  •  Have a clear sense of its objectives?   (See especially the American Bar Association’s  “Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function” and   Robert Peel’s “Principles of  Policing”)
  •  Have written policies for all operational practices?
  •  Select the finest individuals to be police officers?
  •  Provide high quality training for its officers and other employees?
  •  Reinforce the minimum requirements for a good police officer in the community?
  •  Specifically: Be able to clearly describe what does an effective police officer does; also, what an effective police leader does; that integrity is expected, not optional; that civility and courtesy must be practiced in all dealings with both colleagues and community members; and that police officers be able to perform emergency functions, use force reasonably, and be a model of health and physical fitness.
  •  Guide, train, and supervise and monitor police officers in the restraint of the use of force?
  •  Willing to investigate and discipline officers engaging in misconduct?

Organizational Characteristics: Describing the police agency itself:

  •  Do police officers overwhelmingly as a group respect individual rights?
  •  Does the police agency address crime and order problems by using all community resources and collaboratively work with citizens?
  •  Does the police agency cooperate and coordinate with neighboring law enforcement agencies and with other agencies in the criminal justice system?
  •  Does the police agency communicate well with the public?
  •  How does the police agency approach and work with the media and citizen groups?
  •  Does the community respect and trust its police and view them as fair and effective?


For the most part, there would little that I would add today. My “seven steps to improve our nation’s police,” in effect, address what I first said three decades ago.

So what is missing? Commitment and implementation! We need police and community leaders who will do the right thing; that is, they will work to continuously improve the police function in their community so that they can truly and confidently answer each one of the above questions with a feeling assurance and confidence.

Good policing is, of course, in the eye of the beholder! How do you “behold” your police department?

David C. Couper. How to Rate Your Local Police. Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 1983. For copies, contact the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, DC or click here.


  1. Very helpful criteria and pertinent questions that help one look at our police service from a different perspective and try to measure the extent to which it is effective and how it can be improved in its service to the community.


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