Evaulating Quality Police Services

How do you rate the quality of service provided by your local law enforcement agency? Is the measure of quality service simply a result of the number of police officers per 1,000 population, or the average response time to all citizen calls for service, or the per capita cost of police services to the residents of a community? While these measures are frequently used throughout the country to evaluate police service, they do not accurately assess the quality or effectiveness of a police agency.

This is the conclusion outlined by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in a publication titled, "How to Rate Your Local Police" written by David C. Couper. PERF is a national professional association of chief executives of large law enforcement agencies. The mission of PERF is to improve the delivery of police services and the effectiveness of crime control through:

  • the exercise of strong leadership;
  • public debate of police and criminal justice issues;
  • research and policy development;
  • the provision of vital management leadership services to police agencies.

PERF identifies several myths commonly held concerning what makes a good police department. These myths include, for example, "A higher ratio of police officers to citizens means higher quality police service." PERF states succinctly, "Nothing could be farther from the truth." The number of police officers per 1,000 population "ignores the diversity among communities' socio­economic structures, their use of public services, the nature of their crime problems and the expectations that a community has of its police agency."

Another myth is: "Responding quickly to citizens calls for service shows that a police agency is efficient." Although some calls received by the police are of an emergency nature and an immediate response should be provided, most calls for service do not require an emergency response.

Many times a citizen returning home to discover a theft or vandalism will wait to call police until they have spoken to family members or neighbors. In these cases, a rapid response rarely results in an arrest. And in those situations when an immediate emergency response is provided, national studies have shown only a small percentage of the time will a suspect be apprehended at the scene of the crime.

If these myths are not accurate measures of the quality of police service, then why are they so frequently used?

They are used because they are easily obtained and can be reduced to a numerical base and thereby compared to another police department or some computed average.

In lieu of using myths to evaluate the quality of police service, PERF has identified three factors which must be considered in any evaluation of quality police service. 

These factors are:

  • leadership,
  • organization and
  • policy characteristics

Only by closely evaluating these issues can we get an idea of the true quality of the police service we receive.


In order to evaluate the leadership characteristics of a police agency, you must ask, "What kind of person is the chief?"

The chief's leadership ability is the single most important factor in an agency's ability to provide quality police service. The chief must lead by example and display a level of personal integrity which inspires respect from the employees of the agency, the members of the community and the elected officials.

The chief must set the tone for the police department. He or she must be sensitive to the needs of the community and ensure that all citizens, regardless of sex, race, religion or national origin, receive equal protection under the law. If the chief does not display these qualities, it is a clear signal to the men and women of the police agency that they can act in a similar fashion.

The chief of police must also be able to clearly articulate the mission and policies of the police agency. The St. Louis County Police Department has adopted and distributed to the community a Statement of Values and a Mission Statement which serve as the foundation of everything for which we stand. These documents serve as examples of how a chief executive can provide leadership and set the tone for the overall operation of a police department.


The organizational characteristics of an agency also serve as an indicator of the quality of police service. Police officers must uphold our civil rights as guaranteed by the United States Constitution. In all dealings with the public, law enforcement officers must follow the legal \requirements for use of force, arrest and search and seizure.

PERF indicates this "is the hallmark of professional and competent officers." 

As part of its organizational characteristics, a quality law enforcement agency will adopt an approach which involves all community resources in an effort to address the crime problem. This is best accomplished through a community or neighborhood policing program which forms a partnership between police and citizens to create permanent solutions to problems that lead to crime. This approach enhances the quality of life within our neighborhoods.

A police agency, if it is to provide quality service, must also ensure it has well­trained personnel with access to the most advanced equipment and technology to assist in the effort to combat crime. Not all agencies, because of their small size or limited financial resources, have the ability to possess the most advanced technology. In these cases, it is necessary that cooperative agreements are coordinated with other agencies to provide these services.


Policy characteristics are the third measure PERF recommends be considered when evaluating the quality of police service. Policy characteristics include the agency's ability to: provide written policies for operational practices; recruit and employ the most qualified individuals; provide the highest quality training for its employees; ensure employees conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner and investigate and discipline officers that may engage in misconduct.

In an effort to improve the quality of police service in the area of policy characteristics, PERF has joined with other law enforcement associations in establishing the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). 

CALEA is the only national accreditation body which certifies that a law enforcement agency has met the highest level of professional policy standards. The St. Louis County Police Department has been accredited by CALEA since 1998 and is the largest local police agency in the State of Missouri to achieve this significant accomplishment. 

Evaluating the quality of police service is not as simple as comparing the number of police officers or response time averages. You can identify high quality police service ­ you just need to know what to look for.