How Should Effectiveness Be Measured?

“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones” ― Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom*

unknownDear Citizen: I noticed that you recently were arrested by a member of our department.

In order to continuously improve our services, I would like you to tell me how we did; how you were treated.

Please rate us on a scale of 1 to 5 (one being the lowest and five being the very highest) on the following characteristics and return it to me in the enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope.

  • Concern
  • Helpfulness
  • Knowledge
  • Quality of service
  • Solving the problem
  • Putting you at ease
  • Professional conduct

Thank you for helping us do a better job in serving you,

Your Chief of Police**

When it comes to policing a nation, those that do it should be judged on how they treat those who are the most vulnerable in society.  Within America today that would most definitely be those persons who are poor, racial minorities, and those experiencing mental illness.

That is why the American Bar Association in their seminal work, “Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function” (1969) stated that three of the thirteen standards for policing should do just that:

  • Aid individuals who were in danger of physical harm.
  • Assist those who cannot care for themselves.
  • Create and maintain a feeling of security within the community.

My argument as to why this is important goes something like this: While recent polls rank respect for our police quite high among all occupations, it does not hold for poor people and those of color. While whites rate police quite highly, that is too often not the opinion of blacks, Latinos, and loved ones of those who are mentally ill.

In my policing days, I remember reading a report on the state of policing in the U.K. They reported high marks for their police; however, in a side note, the report mentioned that those high opinions were not held by those who had actual contact with police.

In the past, some city governments have asked residents to rate their municipal services, including those of police. The ratings were always quite high — but the important question is how those who have had personal contact with police rate them — even those who have been arrested! (See “customer surveying” on this site.)

Any modern organization, especially police, should always be in the process of continuous improvement. For to stand still, to maintain the status quo, is to fall behind.

Police in most of our nation’s cities report that about 40% of their arrests are people of color. Police chiefs need to know the quality of those arrests; amount of force used and respect shown.

If a great share of the business of American policing, what police do, is arresting people of color, then it is important for all of us as to how those stops and arrests are carried out. Specifically, how those persons rate their interaction with police.

It’s simply good “business” to do so — improving the quality of police interactions (and arrests) is the only way trust and support is going to be built and the only way police will ever get to know if they are improving that which they do.

* Forms and variations of this quotation have been attributed Mahatma Ghandi, Hubert Humphrey, Pearl Buck and Bernie Sanders.

* This was a seven-year project I conducted when I was Chief of Police in Madison, Wisc.


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