How Do Your Police Measure Up?

imagesCACSYLG2I BELIEVE THE MAJORITY of people in America are not concerned about their police. After all, if they are white and middle to upper-class  the only contact they will ever have with police is if they get a speeding ticket or report something stolen from them. Other than that, its other people who seem to have problems with and complain about their police.

But I will tell you right now, if you care about maintaining a free society you will keep on eye on your local police — speak out and support them when they are trying to improve and demand better performance and accountability when they’re not.

A number of years ago, I developed this list of questions that citizens could think about to intelligently rate their local police chief and his or her department.

I think they are worth repeating on a periodic basis. They will, nevertheless, help you be a better citizen and member of your community.



1. What kind of person is your chief?

2. How does your chief measure up on the following?

  • Clear vision?
  • Willingness to challenge the status quo?
  • Take risks, be innovative, and build a coalition of support for change?
  • Self-confidence?
  • Personal integrity?
  • Respect of community and elected officials?
  • Ability to inspire and motivate?

3. What tone does your chief set for the agency?

4. How does your chief measure up on the following?

  •  Coherent crime control strategy?
  •  Concrete crime prevention strategy?
  • Defend rights of unpopular groups?
  • Equal delivery of community police services?

5. Does your chief articulate the policies of the agency clearly and understandably?

6. How does your chief rate in the following categories?

  • Speaking out and taking a stand?
  • Spokesperson on crime control and public safety?
  • Advisor on personal security?
  • Preserver of due process guarantees?
  • Defender of minority rights?
  • Protector of the weak and injured?
  • Manager of a complex bureaucracy?
  • Guardian of the rule of law?


 1. Does your department have a clear sense of its objectives?

 2. How does your department measure up to the American Bar Associations Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function?[i]

       Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function

  • Identify criminal offenders and criminal activity, apprehend, participate in court proceedings;
  • Reduce the opportunities for the commission of crime.
  • Aid individuals who are in danger;
  • Protect constitutional guarantees;
  • Help with the flow of traffic;
  • Assist those in need of care;
  • Resolve conflict;
  • Identify problems;
  • Maintain a feeling of security;
  • Promote and preserve civil order;
  • Provide emergency services.

 3. Are there written policies for all operational practices?

4. Does your department select the finest individuals to be police officers?

5. Does your department provide high quality training for its officers?

6. Does your department reinforce the minimum requirements for a good police officer?

  • As to effectiveness?
  • As to integrity?
  • As to civility and courtesy?
  • As to an officer’s health and physical fitness?

 7. Does your department guide, train, and supervise police officers in the restraint of the use of force?

8. Is your department willing to investigate and discipline officers engaging in misconduct?


1. Do police officers in your department respect individual rights?

2. Does your department address crime and order problems by using all community resources?

3. Does your department cooperate and coordinate with neighboring law enforcement agencies and with other agencies in the criminal justice system?

4. Does your department communicate well with the public?

5. How does your department approach the media? [ii]

[i] Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function, American Bar Association, 1971.

[ii] David C. Couper, How to Rate Your Local Police, Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 1983.


  1. good morning David, just a few qucik observations. Relating to #1. along with a clear mission there must be a well defined mission that the organization understands and follows. Relating to #5- it’s not good enough for the chief to clearly articluate policies and expecations but he/she must have the unwavering support of his/her command staff and supervisors in spreading the word as well. A chief cannot do it alone and must develop a “coalition of support” to spread the word, which includes discussing and emphasizing organizational values at briefings and how models in their personal actions. I like crime control strategies but simply stated like that could include the types of overbearing annd tyrannical behcavior we’ve seen by some police leaders across the country. I’d like to see a greater emphasis on problem solving. THanks or sharing these characteristics


  2. Hi David — I have always liked your approach to this, and BTW it has been highlighted in the last several editions of my Police Administration textbook, in the chapter on “Evaluating Police Performance.” I think your items mainly go toward making sure that a police agency is at least trying to do the right things in the right way. Mainly process criteria, in my way of thinking. Personally, I like to combine these with an array of outcome measures, because I think it’s also important that the results be as good as possible (not just the effort). I like Moore & Braga’s seven “Bottom Line” measures, which are not unlike your items under B2 above: Reduce Serious Crime, Hold Offenders to Account, Make Public Spaces Safe, Make People Feel Safe, Satisfy Customers, Use Force & Authority Fairly/Effectively/Efficiently, and Use Financial Resources Fairly/Effectively/Efficiently.

    Happy holidays to you and yours.


  3. Reblogged this on Wobbly Warrior's Blog and commented:
    My, oh my. The question isn’t “How does your department measure up to the American Bar Associations Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function?” The question is when is the American Bar Association going to live up to any of its published tenets, including prosecuting officers for patently obvious excessive use of force that has been “cleared” by internal investigations? [i.e.; dementia-suffering, minority business owner Albert Flowers’ beating in Brevard County, FL]


  4. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I would like to say, optimistically, that 2014 is going to be a GREAT year for Pottstown. However, I can’t say that with conviction. For the past year I’ve watched, helplessly, while drug dealers operate from three different rental houses on our block and some sell to kids as they make their way home after school. Most recently, a man was arrested at one of them for robbing Redner’s on Christmas Eve. I’ve called police a zillion times, I’ve called the landlords who have a million and one excuses for not evicting their nuisance tenants and frankly, they play their cards well with the assumption that nobody in authority will force their hand in this community or make them clean up their properties and their tenants or face losing their rentals businesses.
    I am beyond disappointed with the lack of communication from the Police Department in Pottstown. The new Chief who, like his predecessor has shown no propensity for engaging with the community or speaking with the press to engage people here.
    I enjoy reading the blog posts of retired Police Chief Couper and this one struck a chord. I realized as I attempted to find answers to these questions that we in Pottstown know so little about who our Police Chief is and what this department stands for. I don’t understand the secrecy and rare interviews with the local newspaper. All that we believe we know about the Pottstown Police is rumor and innuendo and it’s not working for this borough.


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