Incontrovertible Evidence

red hand1Today, on the 9th April 2014, the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) published their report into allegations of police mis-recording of crime statistics. (The report - Caught Red-Handed: Why We Can’t Count on Police Recorded Crime Statistics – can be viewed here).

During the course of several weeks, the PASC considered written and oral evidence from serving and former police officers, academics, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), statisticians, subject matter experts, and others. (My written submission can be viewed here).

I thought I’d highlight a few salient points from the report, which lays much of the blame for mis-recording of crime stats directly at the feet of performance targets. It highlights:

  • Performance pressures associated with targets acting as perverse incentives. (paragraph 21)
  • An entrenched target culture, which persists to this day. (paragraph 73)
  • A conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values. (paragraph 88)
  • The pernicious effects of target cultures. (paragraph 80)

It also cites a 2010 report by the UK Statistics Authority, which warned:

“The existence of a target may change the behaviour of service providers in ways that have unexpected and unwanted side effects. There may be scope for manipulation or gaming”. (paragraph 80)

But wait, there’s more…

Commenting on the impact upon police officers’ sense of vocation and desire to serve the public as ‘dedicated and courageous professionals’, the Committee concludes targets:

“…tend to affect attitudes, erode data quality and to distort individual and institutional behaviour and priorities”. (paragraph 86)

Finally, in the ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ section, the document concludes with this unequivocal statement:

“The Home Office… should make clear in its guidance to PCCs that they should not set performance targets based on Police Recorded Crime data as this tends to distort recording practices and to create perverse incentives to misrecord crime. The evidence for this is incontrovertible. In the meantime, we deprecate such target setting in the strongest possible terms. (paragraph 40)

Pretty strong stuff. And that isn’t coming from me, or #StickChild, or someone with an axe to grind or political points to score - they’re the words of a cross-party committee of MPs.

Just saying.

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About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I have a big problem with numerical targets, unnecessary bureaucracy, and anything else that stops police officers from providing the best possible service. I believe that by adopting a systems approach, policing can be transformed beyond the wildest expectations of many.
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12 Responses to Incontrovertible Evidence

  1. Charles Beauregard says:

    Great bit of ammunition – especially paragraph 40.

    Shame we don’t have something similar from cross party MPs on the NHS, local authorities, DWP, financial sector, etc, etc.

  2. steelriverboy says:

    So, what the committee is saying, is that arbitrary targets leads to dysfunctional behaviour. Now where have I heard that before?

  3. Dave Hasney says:

    Reblogged this on Dave's Bankside Babble and commented:
    Finally the politicians are starting to get the issues surrounding skewed crime statistics and targets. ..

  4. ScottySam123 says:

    It’s a shame human beings can’t be trusted not to cheat, they change figures to put themselves in a good light and hence the public suffers

    • therichdb says:

      Erm, no. Not in my view. It’s not about people being untrustworthy. It’s about being able to fully trust that in order to do the right thing, according to the targets set, people will behave accordingly. That may just not be the desired result. Trust people to be people and inherently ‘good’. Trust the system to return a duff result, if wonky targets are at the heart of the work. The public suffers because the systems are screwed, not workers.

  5. Pingback: Incontrovertible Evidence | Policing news | Sc...

  6. artboy1 says:

    Good to see what so many of us have suspected for years has been confirmed. Perhaps House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee should now turn their attention to other important areas such as education and health and examine what effect targets have had there……..

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  8. chriswdrew says:

    Sure, chasing targets distorts things, and that has to be addressed.

    But, in the absence of targets, what then?

    How do you decide whether an officer/station/division force is a good one or a bad one?
    Is it getting better/worse?
    Is it better/worse than its cohorts?

    How should we crack that nut?

  9. Pingback: performance target, friend or foe? | stefan norrvall

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