IN NORTHUMBRIA in north-east England, police used to post ‘league tables’ in station hallways charting the number of points each officer had been awarded for arrests and fines issued. Last year, an experienced officer blew the whistle on the system, saying it was causing police to focus on repressing crime rather than on preventing it, and was leading to the bullying of officers who favoured a softer approach. After the story hit the newspapers, Northumbria Deputy Chief Constable David Warcup cancelled the points system.
“Numerical targets weren’t seen to be an effective means of measuring performance,” he said.
In Sydney, Australia, Police Minister Michael Costa scrapped a points system developed by senior highway patrol officers in 2001 because it was found that patrolmen were being urged to meet daily quotas. He told them to find another way to measure work performance.
And in Cleveland, Ohio, Police Chief Wes Snyder is facing a grand jury trial after city officers used excessive force and a stun gun on a woman who never should have been arrested in the first place. The incident was blamed on the points system used by Cleveland police, who are graded according to the offences they charge people with.
Wherever they have been introduced, arrest quotas and points systems for police have generated controversy and negative public reactions. Critics argue that they lead to people being arrested or fined unnecessarily, that they discourage police from using their discretion, and that they hand arguments to lawyers to use to clear their clients in court.
But police backers of the points system argue that it motivates officers to perform better, and helps supervisors and civilian overseers monitor the effectiveness of police forces.
Some forces have tweaked the system to remove its most objectionable elements. In Springdale, Arkansas, since January this year patrol officers have had to complete an average of one positive law enforcement activity per hour. However, they don’t get points just for issuing tickets – they are also awarded for non-punitive actions like performing backups, making traffic stops, answering calls, checking on a person or a vehicle, or issuing a warning.
In North Wales, which has used the points system as of July 2005, Deputy Chief Constable Clive Wolfendale had this to say about the policy: “All successful public sector organisations use some performance management system or other and it’s very easy to spot the unsuccessful ones that don’t.”
9. Jun 2008 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson