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A new target
09 Dec 2015

Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis
Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis
Irene Curtis urges leaders to develop and share “fresh approaches” on performance management following the publication of her review of targets in policing.

When I started my review of targets in policing, the remit I was given was to explore how they are used and to improve the knowledge base about their effects – both intended and unintended.

However it quickly became clear that the use of numerical targets is actually part of a wider issue about how to effectively measure and manage the performance of police, both at individual and force level.

The limitations and, frankly, dangers, of using targets is well understood by many forces who get that they need to move performance management beyond simplistic numbers and targets.

Conscious efforts to do something different than target setting were widely visible, but I saw the continued use and presentation of information about performance in unhelpful formats –binary comparisons and up/down movement arrows, directions of travel and league tables…I believe it is well intentioned, but I know that it leads to reactions and responses that can cause as many problems as they solve.

So then - what does work? Is it even possible to agree on an answer to that when talking about something as complex as policing? Certainly, there wasn’t one single force that could be held up as having found the solution and operating a perfect performance management framework (either in their view or mine). But there are plenty of examples of good practice, which I was delighted to see and to report on.

What appears to work is where leaders focus on the right mix of performance measures which takes into account the difficult and changing nature of demands on policing. Where they have created an environment in which officers and staff can use their experience and knowledge to do what they think is right for victims. Where information is accurately recorded and then presented in a meaningful way that can genuinely inform decision-making.

Many forces are making great strides towards this, but it is clear that a lot of it is work in progress. This is understandable – it is as much about cultural change as about process, something that takes much more time and is highly dependent on the people at the top.

Some forces have achieved this cultural shift and now have a much more balanced approach to performance management, where officers and staff genuinely feel that if they ‘do the right thing’ they will be fully supported in doing so, irrespective of the impact on crime figures.

Some have invested in their leaders, helping them to better understand data, ask different questions about performance so they get the information they need that will make a difference to outcomes and victims, and use meaningful measures in the correct context to gain a truly accurate picture of performance.

What is clear, however, is that there is little consistency across forces to these approaches which means that much of the progress is happening in isolation. When I became President of the PSAEW, I spoke publicly about my strong belief that policing should not be a competition, but should be collaborative and in the best interests of those we serve This is as true now as it was three years ago and there are great gains to be made from better sharing of good practice and thinking about new or fresh approaches, rather than trying to do this alone. National guidance and training in effective performance management would also provide a big boost to confidence and skill levels.

However the drive for cultural change needs to come from leaders’ own desires to protect the public, keep people and communities safe and make a genuine difference to victims of crime and their families. I hope my review will go some way towards making sure these are the only “targets” policing has.

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