The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 10 | October 2008

The Role of Performance Appraisal Systems
in Community Policing

The primary goals of performance appraisal systems are twofold: to ensure that employees are aware of the expectations the organization has of them, and to assess their activities and performance accordingly. For community policing to be implemented and sustained effectively, it is important that law enforcement agencies adapt their performance appraisal systems to reflect community policing measures, as well as the traditional measures that currently are used. By doing so, agencies will be in a much better position to assess their community policing activities at the individual, unit, and organizational levels.

Adapting existing performance appraisal systems so that they reflect community policing priorities can be complicated. Fully assessing performance in a community policing agency requires a performance appraisal system that includes measures that are easily quantifiable, but also reflects activities and strategies that are employed to achieve the desired results that are more difficult to quantify. In describing the fundamentals of effective police performance management, the United Kingdom Home Office, which has developed a comprehensive set of materials to support its move toward updating police performance reporting and tracking within the U.K., has defined good performance as “doing the right things (‘priorities’), doing them well (‘quality’) and doing the right amount (‘quantity’).”1 Nevertheless, while difficult, developing community policing standards and measures and including them in the performance appraisal system can serve as a linchpin for putting the community policing philosophy in place and institutionalizing the concept.

Performance Appraisals for Officers

Under community policing, line-level officers are encouraged to become intimately familiar with the geographic areas they serve, as well as the people who live and work in that community. Officers are also encouraged to develop ownership for community issues and priorities; and to identify and address specific crime problems within that area. Performance appraisal systems that evaluate community policing activities can serve as a valuable tool for these officers by creating the expectations for their work. Moreover, by evaluating officers on their community policing efforts, they are provided with an opportunity to be recognized for the true impact they are making on the community.

The results of performance appraisals may also allow an agency to tailor and focus its training efforts on areas demonstrated of greatest need. Existing reward and promotion systems, which may already reflect community policing and that are used to endorse the desired work of officers, are reinforced when accompanied by a performance appraisal system reflecting consistent values. Moreover, including community policing measures in officer performance appraisals serves as a form of agreement between the agency and officer about not just what is required of him or her while on the job, but also the support, flexibility, and resources the agency needs to invest so that officers can be fully successful.

The Supervisors’ Role in Managing the Performance Appraisal System

Supervisors play a fundamental part in helping officers understand their role in community policing. It is their responsibility to translate the philosophy of community policing into expectations for practical activity and then evaluate the officer’s performance in meeting these expectations. To accomplish this, supervisors must articulate and demonstrate what is expected, then reinforce the expectations through the performance appraisal process, among other things. Reinforcing successful performance and addressing activities and behavior that are neither desired nor a priority should be addressed not only daily, but also through the formal performance appraisal process.

Whenever possible, supervisors need to remove barriers to the effective implementation of community policing and support the development of skills and knowledge within officers they oversee. Supervisors can identify training needs of their officers by evaluating community policing successes and using performance appraisals to identify areas that need improvement. Ultimately, by encouraging and holding officers responsible for activities such as analyzing crime trends in a service area, mobilizing the community, collecting citizen input on priorities and concerns, and developing problem-oriented policing projects, supervisors become accountable for community policing.

Conclusion

Communities hold their law enforcement agencies to very high standards. A comprehensive performance appraisal system that reflects community policing values can help to determine if the level of service of individual officers, units, and the department as a whole is at the desired level. It can inform strategic planning, performance benchmarking and reporting, and training initiatives and, ultimately, improve the department’s level of problem-solving and partnerships with the community.

Performance appraisal systems are perhaps the clearest enunciation of what employees should do and achieve and, in that sense, represent the very essence of an agency. Tracking and evaluating community policing through performance appraisal systems recognizes that the police role is broad and complex, and that working in partnership with the community and engaging in problem-solving are priorities. Performance appraisal systems that do not capture the breadth and depth of activity under community policing may actually discourage community policing activities. Agencies that have maximized the important role that their performance appraisal system plays in ensuring that officers both understand and are held responsible for meeting community policing responsibilities are likely to see more widespread and effective use of community policing by their employees.

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