Metrics that Matter: Better Ways to Evaluate Public Safety

Patients don’t choose a heart surgeon based on the number of heart attacks that happen in their area. Instead, most turn to evidence of high-quality results: the number of successful surgeries, reviews on bedside manner, formal complaints raised against the doctor, etc.

Similarly, judging the effectiveness of public safety responders or a community police department by a metric like crime rate is illogical.

The problem with unaligned metrics

When judged by statistics that don’t reflect the quality of the services they provide, organizations are unfairly penalized for things outside of their control.

At best, stakeholders will have no idea whether their public safety services are having a positive impact. At worst, organizations may neglect what truly makes a difference in their communities in order to chase the wrong goals.

Why crime rate is a poor predictor of police effectiveness

Take law enforcement. Police departments are often judged by the crime rate in their jurisdictions, which is problematic for several reasons.

Crime rate metrics are methodologically faulty

Are crime rates up because more officers are patrolling and witnessing crime, or are crime rates down due to residents’ not reporting crimes because they don’t want to get involved or mistrust the police?

Traditional police metrics are too narrow

The available data tends to focus on specific types of crime (auto theft, burglaries, public intoxication, etc.) while failing to report on offenses like cybercrime, fraud, and white-collar crime.

Police officers do more than handle crime

Much of police work deals with social problems such as homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues. Many hours of officers’ time are spent working on administrative and operational tasks like writing reports, court appearances, directing traffic and investigating accidents—none of which are reflected in crime rate statistics.

The truth is: Policing involves a wide range of responsibilities other than arrests, criminal investigations, and crime prevention. 

As we’ve all been reminded, law enforcement also deals regularly with community conflict and social unrest, all while striving to maintain the trust of the communities they serve.

Four metrics that matter for law enforcement

A better assessment of police effectiveness should include important metrics not reflected in traditional crime rate statistics.

1. Community satisfaction

Safe, functional communities require a healthy give-and-take between the expectations of community leaders and the actions police can take to meet those expectations while fulfilling their primary role as guardians of public safety.

Goals must be identified and agreed upon in collaboration with community leaders. It is only when goals are identified that police can create a strategy to fulfill them—and metrics can be established toward achieving them.

Once the metrics are created, assessing police performance in coordination with community leaders can then be measured, discussed, and revised as needed.

When police and community leaders work together on law enforcement issues and expectations, community satisfaction with police performance can be fairly evaluated. 

When police work together with community leaders, everyone has a stake in keeping the peace.

2. Sense of safety

People of every community want and deserve to feel safe where they live and work.

Despite media reports about residents in large cities fearing the police, several polls show that most city residents oppose efforts to cut police funding and reduce law enforcement personnel.

Regardless of the number of police, what is most important is an efficient and effective way of assessing and improving police performance outside the limited perspective of conventional crime statistics.

While some use crime statistics as a stand-in for sense of safety, it is much better to go to the source and actually ask the populace how safe they feel through polls and surveys.  

The key is knowing what to look for and having accessible tools that help gather and analyze critical data needed to meet the crime prevention goals the community and police have mutually agreed upon.

3. Trust in police

A cornerstone in ensuring a community trust is transparency. This means enacting comprehensive training policies and sharing statistics and personnel information when requested.

It’s crucial to have centralized information for easy access and distribution.  

Today’s digital technology and data management systems make that easier than ever before.

Aside from being the right thing to do, transparency also includes a mutually inherent benefit.

The more open and transparent a department is with their community, the more likely it is that the community will give local officers the benefit of the doubt when conflicts occur.

In order for police to build trust in their communities, training and accountability must be front and center.  

It’s vital that hiring and training practices be transparent and legally justifiable and that they afford supervisors comprehensive oversight tools—particularly if discipline or dismissal of officers is required.

4. Job creation

One of the first things prospective employers look for in establishing a business is the neighborhood environment. Is the area safe? Are robberies and vandalism prevalent? How quickly can police respond when needed?

Crime data would help answer some of these questions, but as mentioned earlier, such statistics alone wouldn’t address concerns about local homelessness, drug use, sex work, truancy, etc.

Both direct and indirect metrics need to be included when evaluating police performance to provide a comprehensive and accurate picture.

Because of this, increased jobs creation in both the private and public sector of a community is another barometer of how well law enforcement may be doing.

A successful and healthy community environment benefits local law enforcement employment as well as residents by fostering internal job creation within the police ranks.

Quality policing helps law enforcement establish continuity by promoting from within its ranks and creating new administrative and field positions to meet goals they agreed upon with input from the community.


When properly collected and analyzed, data can do more than provide metrics to share with the public. It can enable departments to make well-informed, data-driven decisions that will improve community relations and help the police do their jobs more safely and effectively.

If you’re looking for data management tools to facilitate public safety reporting, consider the Acadis® Readiness Suite: an all-in-one readiness solution designed specifically for public safety organizations.

Discover how Acadis can streamline legally defensible recordkeeping and provide the analytical insights you need.

Posted on May 11, 2021