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Evaluating officers in respect to those proficiencies is integrally a part of assuring competencies and promoting professional standards. Simple as this is to say, difficulties abound.
Although there is a clear need for systems of employee evaluation and recognition, most such systems have been monumental failures historically. Subjectivity and irrelevance are high on the list of reasons. However, we can make an evaluation system work and identify the components of a properly functioning system. There are several preliminary considerations.
A properly functioning evaluation system should be tightly linked to a correlated band of professional standards. The first order of business in our training programs should be to assure that employees meet professional standards. Policy or other standing orders should put employees on notice of performance and behavioral expectations and how both will be evaluated. Evaluative criteria and professional standards should be interlaced with “carrots” and “sticks” into order to promote compliance with identified standards.
Negative incentives could include disciplinary actions—termination, suspension, reprimand, or other documentation of negative performance. They could also include ineligibility for promotion, specialized assignments, or even certain shifts. Positive incentives could include financial benefits, rewards involving additional vacation or other time off, access to assignments and promotions, little things like desirable parking spaces or equipment, and, of course, simple recognition.
Studies of hierarchical human needs and wants strongly suggest that simple recognition goes a long way toward motivating and satisfying people. This is especially important to law enforcement leaders in times of tight budgets and shrinking resources. That is, if we can’t or won’t do anything else toward promoting compliance with professional standards, we can at least recognize those who do meet or exceed our professional expectations.
A number of studies and experts suggest that giving people money for achieving certain standards tends to have a motivating effect, but the resulting motivation usually lasts only for a short period. Longer lasting motivational tools are found at those higher levels of the hierarchy involving self-esteem. Support for self-esteem comes from praise, respect, recognition, empowerment and a sense of belonging. Of course, more motivated employees tend to look for better ways to do a job, be more quality oriented, and are usually more productive—all highly desirable outcomes.
Dr. Abraham Maslow became well known in the last century for his theories of human needs and wants. Although his theories of self-actualization are frequently debated as to their merit, it is useful here to remember certain of his words. “What a man can be, he must be. This is the need we may call self-actualization…It refers to man’s desire for fulfillment, namely to the tendency for him to become actually in what he is potentially; to become everything that one is capable of becoming...”
A century and a half before Maslow was at work, the famous German poet-philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be.” Contemporary best-selling author and motivational guru Bob Nelson allows that, “Recognition is the No. 1 driver of human performance. You get what you reward. Be open and clear about what you want, and recognize and reward it when you get it. Consistent recognition helps you keep important ideas and goals in front of people. It leads to higher performance and morale, lower turnover and an enhanced ability to attract talent to your organization.”
It is axiomatic that the highest morale is normally found in organizations with highest standards and in which the rules and requirements are most consistently enforced. The lowest morale is usually found in organizations with the lowest standards and where rules and requirements are most slackly applied. Cutting people slack in the application of rules and standards leads to expectations that there will be more of the same and discontent when there isn’t.
Veterans of the “wars” between police department personnel administration functions and the functions of city or county human resource management have learned that oftentimes the “city” or “county” expects the police department to use the same evaluation system that is used by the other departments of that city or county. This is, of course, another reason that evaluation systems have been such abject failures. Police work is sufficiently different from other types of governmental endeavors as to require a separate and different system of employee evaluation. However, because so many governmental entities will not permit this variance, the following system can be used as a tool of employee recognition, even if it is not allowed to be a system of official evaluation.
The reason most evaluation systems fail is that they don’t take into account adequately the matter of preparedness. A useful analogy can be drawn between the work of a law enforcement officer and the work of a lifeguard at a busy pool or beach. There is a profound difference between what a good lifeguard does most of the time and what such a lifeguard has to be able to do. Consequently, in order to meaningfully evaluate whether a lifeguard is meeting professional standards and expectations, one must measure not only the performance of the lifeguard within a rating period, but also the preparedness of the lifeguard to do things that may not have occurred at all during that period.
Similarly, to be properly evaluated, a law enforcement officer must be evaluated partially on the basis of core competencies—abilities to do things that may not have played out at all in real-life events during the rating period—rather than simply actual performance during the period. More succinctly stated, actual performance during a rating period is not properly the sole determinant of an officer’s professionalism during that period.
The matters of preparedness that are very important to be part of an officer’s evaluation include, 1) knowledge of law and policy, 2) human relations and interpersonal communication skills, 3) physical fitness and ability and 4) tactical and driving proficiencies.
So, for example, the officer’s firearms qualification score (first attempt) during a rating period should be a partial determinant of an officer’s evaluation. The officer’s score on a driving qualification course should be an additional determinant. An officer’s grade on a test of critical knowledge should add to the evaluative mix. Compliance with physical fitness standards should be reflected in the evaluation, as should performance on a proficiency test of interpersonal competencies.
It defies logic that the only area of competency that requires proficiency testing at close periodic interval is firearms marksmanship. If “requalification” with firearms skills makes sense, and it does, then the principle clearly should be extended to those other areas of core competency that cry out for equal treatment. Using performance on proficiency and competency tests as part of professional evaluation makes as much sense in the case of law enforcement officers as it does with lifeguards. There is little that would go further toward risk management and liability prevention than verification of core competencies and systemic promotion of professional standards.
Randy Means is a partner in the Charlotte, NC law firm of Thomas and Means, LLP, and specializes entirely in police operations and administration. He formerly served as head of legal training for North Carolina’s state law enforcement training center and then police attorney for the city of Charlotte. He is the primary legal instructor for the IACP. He has conducted law enforcement training in 47 states and Canada and is the author of a “The Law of Policing.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Jun 2008
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