Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

In the past two decades, public sector performance (and by extension police performance) has become increasingly important, especially in the Western world. However, while there is extensive academic work being done on the generalist tasks undertaken by most policemen every day, there has been very little attention paid to specialist policing performance. This is of some concern, as specialist policing presents a number of interesting challenges to the observer, particularly in terms of clearly identifying the role played by specialist policing in achieving larger outcomes. This report examines the issue of performance reporting in the specialist policing field and describes the development of an innovative performance framework for specialist policing by the Auckland Metropolitan Crime and Operational Support (AMCOS), a specialist policing unit of the New Zealand Police.

There has been increasing attention paid to public sector performance management in recent years, and many Western police forces have correspondingly become increasingly performance-focused, despite the challenges they face in doing so. The benefits that can accrue from performance measurement include improving value for money, improving managerial competency and increasing accountability (Collier 2006). But difficulties that relate to so-called ‘perverse behaviours’ can also arise (Loveday 2005: 98), where for a variety of reasons, performance measures become more important than the valuable activities they seek to describe.

Adopting performance measures for specialist policing has introduced its own set of challenges. Specialist policing is most easily defined by specifying what it is not—it is not the general, reactive patrol and investigative capability that comprises the majority of most police forces. Rather, specialist policing comprises two main categories—technical units, such as forensics and specialist operational units (eg helicopter, dog), and niche units, which are often investigative units engaged in proactive operations against a particular subcategory of criminality (eg drugs). The general lack of performance measurement attention that has been paid to specialist policing activities is likely related to issues of responsibility. Technical units provide a small part of a greater outcome and identifying what part they played in that outcome can be almost impossible. Niche units face even greater challenges, as their work can be lost among a much larger quantity of generalist activity. As such, it seems most rewarding to focus specialist policing performance measurement on outputs, at least until there is sufficient theory to take the next step to an outcome focus.

The AMCOS performance framework was developed locally, to guard against the imposition of a more generic model as well as promote flexibility and an emphasis on improvement rather than accountability. The framework, while focused on specialist policing outputs, is clearly linked to outcomes at the strategic level. The four main categories of the framework fall within the broader concept of technical and niche units described previously and comprise:

  • forensic performance measures;
  • operations support performance measures;
  • intelligence performance measures; and
  • investigations performance measures.

Identifying and developing measures for these categories was affected by different considerations, for example, the general absence of agreed definitions and reliable data on which to frame investigations performance measures and the contributory rather than absolute effect that forensics units have on major police outputs and outcomes.

Five factors were identified as being either critical in the development or implementation of such a framework. These were:

  • the importance of managerial support;
  • the value of consulting previous work,
  • the necessity of consultation,
  • issues around identifying respective shares of specialist resources to other policing groups, and
  • recognition of ongoing difficulties with measuring the performance of niche units.

The next evolution of the AMCOS performance framework will focus on improving an understanding of the links between outputs and outcomes. AMCOS is currently working towards aligning and integrating performance measurement into its business planning, project management and risk management frameworks. The end goal is to have a centrally directed, but locally managed, performance management framework based on core strategic goals, which is integrated into planning and project management processes. This integration is operating on the principle that performance is only valuable if it serves as the basis for action.