How Do Your Police Measure Up?

imagesCACSYLG2I BELIEVE THE MAJORITY of people in America are not concerned about their police. After all, if they are white and middle to upper-class  the only contact they will ever have with police is if they get a speeding ticket or report something stolen from them. Other than that, its other people who seem to have problems with and complain about their police.

But I will tell you right now, if you care about maintaining a free society you will keep on eye on your local police — speak out and support them when they are trying to improve and demand better performance and accountability when they’re not.

A number of years ago, I developed this list of questions that citizens could think about to intelligently rate their local police chief and his or her department.

I think they are worth repeating on a periodic basis. They will, nevertheless, help you be a better citizen and member of your community.

RATING YOUR POLICE DEPARTMENT: An Outline and Key Questions

A. LEADERSHIP CHARACTERISTICS

1. What kind of person is your chief?

2. How does your chief measure up on the following?

  • Clear vision?
  • Willingness to challenge the status quo?
  • Take risks, be innovative, and build a coalition of support for change?
  • Self-confidence?
  • Personal integrity?
  • Respect of community and elected officials?
  • Ability to inspire and motivate?

3. What tone does your chief set for the agency?

4. How does your chief measure up on the following?

  •  Coherent crime control strategy?
  •  Concrete crime prevention strategy?
  • Defend rights of unpopular groups?
  • Equal delivery of community police services?

5. Does your chief articulate the policies of the agency clearly and understandably?

6. How does your chief rate in the following categories?

  • Speaking out and taking a stand?
  • Spokesperson on crime control and public safety?
  • Advisor on personal security?
  • Preserver of due process guarantees?
  • Defender of minority rights?
  • Protector of the weak and injured?
  • Manager of a complex bureaucracy?
  • Guardian of the rule of law?

B. POLICY CHARACTERISTICS

 1. Does your department have a clear sense of its objectives?

 2. How does your department measure up to the American Bar Associations Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function?[i]

       Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function

  • Identify criminal offenders and criminal activity, apprehend, participate in court proceedings;
  • Reduce the opportunities for the commission of crime.
  • Aid individuals who are in danger;
  • Protect constitutional guarantees;
  • Help with the flow of traffic;
  • Assist those in need of care;
  • Resolve conflict;
  • Identify problems;
  • Maintain a feeling of security;
  • Promote and preserve civil order;
  • Provide emergency services.

 3. Are there written policies for all operational practices?

4. Does your department select the finest individuals to be police officers?

5. Does your department provide high quality training for its officers?

6. Does your department reinforce the minimum requirements for a good police officer?

  • As to effectiveness?
  • As to integrity?
  • As to civility and courtesy?
  • As to an officer’s health and physical fitness?

 7. Does your department guide, train, and supervise police officers in the restraint of the use of force?

8. Is your department willing to investigate and discipline officers engaging in misconduct?

C.   ORGANIZATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS

1. Do police officers in your department respect individual rights?

2. Does your department address crime and order problems by using all community resources?

3. Does your department cooperate and coordinate with neighboring law enforcement agencies and with other agencies in the criminal justice system?

4. Does your department communicate well with the public?

5. How does your department approach the media? [ii]


[i] Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function, American Bar Association, 1971.

[ii] David C. Couper, How to Rate Your Local Police, Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 1983.