Dangerous performance measures

A recent review of police performance in the UK found that Kent police has been chasing the cases that produced easy numbers which is by no means equal to cases that are actually high priority. The most surprising part of the story is the public disbelief that surrounds this announcement.
Performance measures in the public sector are still dominated by simplistic output targets (such as the number of cases intervened) instead of using impact as a key measure. Budgets of government bodies are decided depending on the number of intervened cases. This has some severe implications:
– if numbers are increasing it is hailed as a success of public policies – even though it may simply mean that fewer cases are deterred and even an increasingly incompetent public body can increase the number of cases on its record;
– if only output matters then easily solvable cases will always enjoy priority over hard to crack but potentially high impact cases;
– if long term effects are excluded from performance measures then law enforcement will have a likely bias to pursue cases that may boost numbers in the short run whilst ignoring those with impact that may only manifest in the long run.
As far as the objectives of law enforcement go, deterrence should be the key performance indicator or at least some measure of social impact (the impact assessment practice of the OFT provide a great working example for these). Until this is recognised by policymakers, the logical behaviour of any enforcement agency will be unsurprisingly misplaced and biased.


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