May 20, 2003

Performance contracts for police forces

Prestatiecontracten voor politiekorpsen moeilijk effectief vorm te geven

Press release
Het van te voren vastleggen van prestatieafspraken in een contract is moeilijk te verenigen met de aard van politiewerk en de beleidsvrijheid van de korpsen. De tekortkomingen van prestatiecontracten verdwijnen niet met het beschikbaar komen van betere gegevens of betere prestatie-indicatoren.

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The performance contracts establish a direct link between meeting a number of quantitative performance targets and financial incentives. A major improvement in police performance is necessary to meet the objective of 20 to 25 percent less criminal and disorderly behavior by 2006.

A closer look at the performance contracts learns that they may not be the most appropriate policy instrument to achieve this objective. The nature of police work does not allow for advance planning of outputs. The police consist of professionals who need a high degree of discretion to do their work. The targets invite adverse behavioral effects. Management could become focused on 'meeting the numbers' rather than on delivering results. Because of the wide variety in police tasks and the low measurability of quality, there is a wide gap between performance measures and results. The financial incentives make it worse, by forcing a yes/no decision based on weighing multiple, non discrete performance measures. Moreover, the targets are likely to be off since the government does not have the information to set them at the right level. Less financial resources for poorly performing forces also adversely affect citizens. They cannot choose between providers of police services as in the case of hospitals or schools.

Experiences in Australia and the United Kingdom suggest an alternative approach. They focus on benchmarking of police forces without direct financial incentives. Both countries have invested many years in improving the quality and comparability of police data as well as methods for fair comparisons between forces. Based on these comparisons, police forces are hold accountable. Consequently, the police are being forced to develop a clear picture of the effects of their approach in terms of the region's specific problems. The Dutch government could follow a similar approach. A system of peer review and customer satisfaction surveys can be instrumental in assessing a force's performance and in providing ideas for improvement. Critical assessment of performance data by knowledgeable people is a necessary ingredient to a policy of holding the police accountable to results. It stimulates a culture of experimenting, data collection and analysis, and singling out and sharing best practices. Such a change is necessary to bring about the desired improvement in police performance.



Ben Vollaard