How Do You Know?

images-4As a disciple of the late quality expert and statistician Dr. W. Edwards Deming I know he would be very interested in our efforts to improve police. While he advised our automobile industry on how they could get back in the game and compete against the preferred high-quality Japanese automobiles that were sweeping America, he was also interested in what we were doing in Madison bringing his improvement ideas into city government and the police.

His book, “Out of the Crisis” was what America needed to hear and do. Collectively, during those years we, as a nation, became interested in raising the quality of both our goods and services. We, once again, became competitive on the world market, In the police field, we began to think of witnesses, victims, citizens who contact us, and even those whom we arrested as “customers” and stressed the importance of data-based decision making. And as our primary customers, they needed to be heard and asked as to how we could improve that which we do, meet and even exceed their expectations of us.

As the implementation guide from the President’s 21st Century Task Force on Policing is released, I can already hear Dr. Deming’s booming voice in response to any effort we make to improve things: “How do you know?” How do we know that which we have done are are doing is actually an improvement?

Thankfully, the Task Force has this important recommendation as one of their five recommended strategies for local government: “Conduct community surveys on attitudes toward policing, and publish the results.”

This is important because the sole metric we seem to use (as false and unsuitable as it is) is the Uniform Crime Rate (UCR). Which, as we all should know, are offenses that are reported to police and police, in turn, report to the federal government. The UCR does not tell us about fear of crime, neighborhood safety or confidence in police services.

I could go on and on about the unreliability of this reporting system. Suffice it to say that we will never know if our police services are being improved if we use the UCR as the measure. A short example, when we hear that crime is up or down in a particular city we are only knowing; that because of what we do crime is up or down. All we will ever know is about crimes police have chosen to report; not just those which citizens choose to report, but which police report and there, of course, lies the rub. See the problem?

But today we are not concerned about crime per se but rather police use force and whether or not they are trusted and those they serve have confidence in them. The UCR will never be able to tell us how we are doing in those categories.

Instead, new measures of surveying these metrics are needed — who uses deadly force against whom and in what circumstances and how people “feel” about police with regard to trusting them and having confidence in their actions.

Any city or police chief that is about to begin an improvement program — whether it be body cameras, increased community-oriented policing operations, or new control measures in use of deadly force, had better start talking with academicians who do this kind of statistically sound surveying.

On an almost daily basis we know a variety of economic indicators in our nation, the unemployment rate, new jobs, and so forth. No so for crime or other measures of social disorder. The only thing close to this is the National Crime Victimization Survey which provides overall rates of victimization — but not city by city.

It is simply foolish to begin to spend time and money on a new police improvement measure without knowing where you stand in the first place; where your baseline is. Otherwise, you will never be able to honestly answer the critical question that will surely come from your community members, “How do you know what you have just made a major expenditure of time and money is effective?” In short, “How do you know?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.