A review into the use of targets in policing commissioned by Home Secretary Theresa May has found that the police service “needs to go further” in order to tackle “a culture of narrow target-chasing and box-ticking” which has seemingly prevented serving officers from doing their jobs.
The review, led by Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis (President of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales) gathered feedback from all 43 forces in England and Wales and included a Focus Group involving Police and Crime Commissioners, a review of Police and Crime Plans and an online survey (which received more than 6,000 responses from police officers and support staff).
The study finds that, while forces have generally moved away from the use of hard numeric targets, there are still some individuals in policing who believe targets for call handling or response times exist even though Home Office performance targets were abolished back in 2010.
Recommendations are made within the 80-page document (entitled ‘The Use of Targets for Policing’) for chief constables, Police and Crime Commissioners, the College of Policing, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and the Home Office. They include the following:
*Chief constables should improve their performance measurement, monitoring and reporting processes and ensure managers are trained to manage performance effectively, holding their officers to account while at the same time empowering them to use their professional judgement
*Police and Crime Commissioners should develop a more sophisticated dialogue with the public on what they consider “success” to look like, and to think about the potentially negative impact of setting numerical targets in their Police and Crime Plans
*The College of Policing should develop a set of principles for measuring performance, identify good practice for calculating the success of safeguarding and welfare and incorporate the skills required for performance management into the implementation of its Leadership Review
*HMIC should improve the way in which it presents performance data and communicates its monitoring processes
*The Home Office should review the requirement for forces to submit victim satisfaction data as part of its annual data return and think about taking back ownership of the National Standard for Incident Recording
Skewing of priorities
Commenting on the review, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “This Government has abolished all national police targets, but as Irene Curtis’ review of targets in policing shows, local targets still exist. Her study sheds light on current practice among forces and confirms the problems I have long noted with numerical targets. They skew priorities, cause dysfunctional behaviours and reduce officer discretion. It also confirms the problems I have highlighted before, specifically that targets don’t fight crime. Rather, they hinder the fight against crime. They distort operational reality, while undue focus on one target can lead to some other crimes being neglected altogether.”
May continued: “The review highlights that the police service needs to go further in order to tackle the culture of narrow target-chasing and bureaucracy that has hampered and limited officers, preventing them from exercising their professional judgement. Quite rightly, the public expects to see forces serving their communities, not chasing arbitrary targets.”
In conclusion, the Home Secretary stated: “I’m grateful to Irene for her thorough investigation and analysis of the use of targets in policing. I hope the police service will take her recommendations seriously and, importantly, ensure that they’re implemented.”
Measuring and managing force performance
Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis responded: “It’s clear the issue is wider than just the use of targets. Rather, it goes to the very heart of how performance is both measured and managed within a police force. Most forces have moved away from crime-related performance targets, but many are finding it hard to identify effective ways of measuring how they’re performing, particularly in very complex areas of policing such as safeguarding.”
Curtis added: “It’s clear forces are willing to learn how to develop a more effective performance management framework, and I was pleased to see some good practice that can be shared. I hope that my report and its recommendations will help forces review and improve how they manage performance. I would like to see a national approach to the principles that underpin effective performance measurement and management. I would also urge an end to the use of crime data as a measure of police performance. It’s no more a measure of this than the number of people with heart disease is a measure of the performance of the NHS.”
In conclusion, Curtis explained: “Policing is a complex service that cannot be reduced to just a comparison of numbers. To assist them in assessing how their force is really performing, members of the public deserve to be given a better understanding of the wider and more difficult issues that the police service is facing and having to manage.”