James F. Albrecht
NYPD Captain (ret.)
Professor, St. John’s University (NYC)
CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICY
DEVELOPMENT AND EVALUATION
James F. Albrecht
In order to best understand policy development, we must first digress and better grasp the term “policy.” Policy has been defined as addressing “the complex interrelationship between values, interests, needs, expectations and resources” with the ultimate goal being effective decision making and “equitable outcomes” (Behm et al, p. 163). Policy relies on the concept that key government administrators, particularly those in an executive-level decision-making position, are tasked with the responsibility of developing policy that will allow their sector of the administration to maintain and develop the “social and economic infrastructure of the community” (Behm et al, p. 163). Both through this definition and from a practical perspective, the community, the clientele served, should be the most important variable in the policy development and evaluation processes. Public servants should therefore be those who serve the public, and even more so those that serve their clientele best. However, in practice, this is not routinely the case.
All too often, the success of agency
policy and procedure is measured from an internal prospective. The quality of organizational policy is often
“internally driven and inwardly focused” (Behm et al,
p. 164). The evaluation of policy
services has been viewed “to be a self-indulgent and unreferenced attempt by
insiders to shore up their own self-importance and essentiality” (Behm et al, p. 164) in their sector of government. Leaving the design of a quality assurance
measure in the hand of the individual or agency being evaluated does not do
much for the credibility of that assessment.
The “key yardstick” to policy (and agency) effectiveness should be
customer satisfaction (Behm et al, p. 165). The recipients of government services are the
citizens who are affected by the agency’s actions, and ultimately they would make
the best judges of organizational performance.
However, the average citizen is not normally versed in the history and
practices of many government agencies. As
such, it has been recommended that agency and policy evaluation may best be
left to the “overhead” or “appointing” member of the respective government
The Need for Policy Development or Revision
Policy development or revision can be triggered by any number of events, many of which may be interrelated. The most likely causes from my own experience are:
· New Federal or Local Government Administration
· New Agency Leadership
· New Organizational Philosophy
· Sensational Event
· Media and Public Pressure
· Court Decree
· Budgetary Constraints
As an example of a potential mutual relationship between factors that may impact policy formulation, one can easily imagine a sensational event or scandal affecting one agency, that is repeatedly harped on by the media, which results in public disdain, ultimately resulting in the election of a new regional politician, who appoints his own panel of agency heads, each with their own twist on organizational philosophy. Eventually the original agency that created the crisis implements new policy as a result of these compounding events.
My experience has shown that often policy reform
occurs in a “stopgap” fashion to address or reduce the public outcry, rather
than seeking a long term solution to the issue.
This “piecemeal and short term
policy focus” results in “incremental change” rather than “new ideas that take
the long term view” and get to the “root of the problem” (Curtain Article 2.2,
p. 2). The ignorant politician at times believes that
making some type of policy revision as soon as possible will “cure” the
dilemma. In these situations, it is
sometimes the case that no effort is made to determine the best practices from
other comparable jurisdictions or to examine recent research findings on
similar policy undertakings. That is one
of the problems with the American government system. Many decisions are made, not to create the
most effective and efficient solution, but rather they rely on the potential
for the political survival of the upper level government participants. The question therefore becomes, “Does
government really serve the public or rather the public service agency?” The reality in
· Look beyond current activities and programs
· Improve and extend the capacity for contingency planning, and
· Learn lessons from other countries by integrating an international dimension
solution is to incorporate outside consultants into the policy development or
revision process (Curtain Article 2.2, p. 1). Selected experts could provide valuable input into
the decision making process, and since they are no longer loyal to a specific
agency or regime, their insight may be based on truthful and neutral analysis,
rather than on political survival.
However, consultants are often pressured to reduce their criticism of
the agency in order to promote their own financial endurance (and their future
rehiring). Transparency would therefore advocate sincere participation and
comment by the external consultant. However, the reality of the American
political mechanism often counters this needed ingredient for effective policy reform. Patronage rather than sincerity often is the
more likely outcome. Once again I am
left to highlight that the best judge of performance may be the intended
clientele of the agency. In the public
service realm, this would mean relying seriously on the feedback of the
citizenry served. The
Influences on Policy Reform and Development
Policy can be clarified by examining the basis for its development. Policy can be defined as a proclamation by “a high level of authority on how to handle commonly recurring sets of circumstances.” In public service agencies, “policies establish a framework for making decisions where discretion is to be exercised.” From a more realistic perspective, policies have been defined as those statements which are approved by the agency head as being consistent with the views of the reigning administration’s leader, i.e., the ruling politician in the respective jurisdiction, e.g., minister, governor, mayor, etc. (Edwards, p. 110). Government policy is therefore the “framework of ideas which an elected government articulates after gaining office” (Edwards, p. 109). In addition to the political influences, organizational policy “cannot override and must be consistent with current legislation” (Edwards, p. 110), so there are legal limitations to policy reform or development. Contemporary law and court interpretation therefore have to be considered by agency heads and advisors when recommending or implementing policy and procedure.
In addition to politics and legislation, another factor that may affect policy development and implementation is fiscal restraint placed on the agency by the reigning administration (Fleming, p. 70). It is no longer uncommon for the present political leadership to call for “smarter” management and for “doing more with less.” As resources and budget continue to become limited, the ability to accomplish policy goals may become more difficult. Financial constraints could therefore hamper the effectiveness of newly implemented organizational policy.
The government or the agency itself may also involve
sociologists and other professional experts that can or have conducted analyses
of prior relevant research studies. Many
public agency policy makers acknowledge that it is not necessary to “reinvent
the wheel.” Research on public criminal
justice agencies is continuously being conducted by such organizations as the
National Institute of Justice in the
Clearly the most valuable method of ensuring success in policy implementation is by employing evidence-based policymaking. The rational model of policy development relies on the evaluation of prior and ongoing research to determine the best practices available to base the new or revised agency philosophy or procedures. Since the randomized controlled model, as stated earlier, is not likely to be the basis for the prior policy models, the researcher and agency head will have to rely on an “operationalized” model to gain some empirical insight into similar prior trials (Marston & Watts, p. 151). This leads one to ask, “Are we really relying on true evidence to draw our conclusions?” By relying on benchmarking or by using best practice criteria, a public service agency could gain some insightful input into their decision making process. However, this would require the agency head, the practitioner, to rely on past research findings, and ultimately give credence to the work of sociological researchers. At times, this has been a difficult divide to amend.
The practitioner-academic divide is not secret in the world of public agencies. I have been both a spectator and a victim of this struggle. Stated in plainest English, researchers do not believe that practitioners possess the academic ability to comprehend sociological research fully, particularly when it comes to statistical analysis and correlation. On the other hand, practitioners assume that academic researchers do not fully comprehend the underlying causal factors that exist in public service agencies, and therefore incorrectly “operationalize” their variables for empirical analysis. I presently conduct consultant work as a practitioner reviewer for both the National Institute of Justice and the United States Department of Homeland Security, and I have noted that most of the research has been conducted by academic or professional research organizations, with little or no input from the practitioners or the agencies being studied. In addition, when the research findings and conclusions are documented, these institutions make no effort to disseminate this information to agencies in the criminal justice field affected. There is therefore no feedback to the policymakers that could best use this information. There clearly has to be more cooperation between these two factions, at the planning, operational and recommendation stages, for the research and findings to be of value to all parties. Some suggestions to improve this “limited interaction between the research and policy worlds” are to involve service users in the research process, to delineate a clear dissemination plan to policy makers in that field, to interpret the findings and recommendations in language easier for practitioners and the public to understand (Nutley, p. 12), and to have public service agency executives initiate contact with appropriate sociological researchers to provide input in the policy making process.
Policy Evaluation in Criminal Justice Agencies
In order to analyze the effectiveness
of criminal justice agencies, the first determination that has to be made would
be establish which evaluation mechanism is to be used for the assessment. Some possibilities include cost benefit
analysis, the utilization of performance indicators, and finally cost effectiveness
analysis, which is the evaluation method of choice for the
Before moving on to the evaluation of law enforcement agencies, let us quickly review the means for assessing the other aspects of the criminal justice system. In order to gauge the effectiveness of the prosecutor and the courts, we can use a number of variables to determine if their tasks are properly being attained. Some appropriate assessment measures for a state’s attorney/prosecutor would be: the number of convictions, the number of felony convictions, the number of cases overturned upon appeal, the number of cases processed, the number of cases settled by plea bargain, the conviction rate, the number of trials, the number of trials ending in conviction, the average length of sentence for felony and misdemeanor convictions, and the recidivism rates for convicted offenders. Many of these variables would also apply for determining the effectiveness of judges. In addition, judges could be evaluated on: the number of convictions ending in fine, the number of convictions ending in probation, and the number of cases determined not to be worthy of conviction.
When evaluating the correctional (jail, prison, probation and parole) system, a wide array of tools are available to evaluate agency effectiveness, namely: the number of prisoners incarcerated, the number in rehabilitation programs, the number in educational and training programs, the number of disciplinary infractions, the number of violent infractions, the recidivism rate of released convicts, the number/percentage of drug test failures, the number of prison guards, the administrative ratio within the corrections agency, the number of parolees violating stated restrictions, the average education level of staff, and the sick and absentee rate of agency personnel. This list and that for the court system are clearly not all inclusive, but these measures potentially could be used to determine if a present or revised policy is effective.
Measuring Effectiveness in Law Enforcement Agencies
Determining whether a law enforcement agency is effective can also be achieved by analyzing a variety of measurable phenomenon. My former graduate professor, David Bayley, categorized police performance measures into three major categories: hard, soft and indirect. Hard measures include: crime rate, the number of crime victimizations, real estate values, the problem solvability rate and the number of “quality of life” infractions handled by the law enforcement agency. Some soft variables include: fear of crime, citizen confidence or satisfaction in the police, integrity complaints, civilian complaints about improper police service, and police-community cooperation. Finally, there are some indirect measures for police effectiveness, specifically: the number of police officers, the number of officers assigned to enforcement functions, the ratio of enforcement to administrative assignments, the agency supervisor to subordinate ratio, response time to calls for service, the number of arrests, the clearance rate, the number of community watch groups, and the number of crime prevention programs (Bayley, p. 15).
Each of the above could be used to
determine whether the agency expectations have been achieved. In the
In 1990, when I worked as a supervisory
research analyst for the NYPD Police Commissioner, we attempted to develop two novel
measures to gauge organizational success. With the move to community policing,
it was determined that crime rate was no longer the best measuring device given
the department’s new philosophy. A
“Problem Solvability Report” was devised to measure the percentage of neighborhood
“quality of life” conditions that each precinct, borough and the agency was
able to correct. In addition, a
scientifically instituted Citizen Satisfaction Survey was developed to measure
the level of appreciation that members of the community who had had contact
with the NYPD had for the police service they had encountered. Both devices were originally implemented as
pilot projects, and were believed to be appropriate given the
institutionalization of community policing as the agency’s revised
ideology. While both indicators
originally revealed positive results, a startling (and truly unanticipated)
accomplishment had occurred in
In 1994, the dawn of the “zero tolerance” philosophy, corporate management concept, and crime analysis based resource deployment within the New York City Police Department, which coincided with stark reductions in violent and serious crime, resulted in the (re)designation of (index) crime rate as the appropriate tool to measure agency success and policy effectiveness. Later, as crime rates continued to plummet, other factors, many “negative” in nature, such as corruption complaints, agency vehicle accidents, employee sick rate, civilian complaints against police, were examined to determine whether the proactive enforcement practices were being (over)aggressively implemented. This evaluation of policy effectiveness was considered so crucial that these indicators were utilized as the basis for promotion and demotion within the agency.
An Example of Policy Revision in the NYPD
In 1994, I was assigned as supervisory
research analyst for the NYPD Chief of Personnel within the administration of
new Police Commissioner William Bratton.
In April 1994, a criminal suspect who had resisted arrest died while in
police custody. As is routinely the case
In order to provide balanced input into the task force’s findings and recommendations, a diverse panel was assembled, including: the NYPD Chief Medical Surgeon; the NYC Chief Medical Examiner; the former Director of the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board (responsible for investigating citizen complaints against the police); the Director of the New York City Civil Liberties Union; Professor James Fyfe (a noted expert in police use of force); and NYPD personnel responsible for self-defense training and noted for their tactical expertise. Front line personnel recognized for their professional demeanor were also included. Over 50 law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and state psychological institutions attended sessions and ultimately made recommendations to the Task Force. I was given the responsibility of conducting the research component and authoring the interim and final documents.
initial stage in this analysis revealed that in over one million arrests
occurring in New York City between 1990 and April 1994, three criminal suspects
died in police custody, all after violently resisting arrest and all from
positional asphyxia (attributable to long term drug and alcohol abuse and
chronic health problems). In addition, over 6,000 prisoners of more than
200,000 arrested in
A number of interagency training sessions were coordinated in which experts from correctional and medical organizations, who often must safely confine prisoners and patients without the benefit of lethal weapons, and from other law enforcement agencies were permitted to demonstrate and articulate their self-defense and restraint tactics.
After a five month evaluation, the Task Force made a number of recommendations, with the highlight being that verbal de-escalation techniques and non-lethal pepper spray should be promoted as the most appropriate options in situations where suspects and emotionally disturbed individuals offer resistance to police personnel. As a result, agency policy was revised and immediately disseminated. Additionally, both written and mandatory practical training was instituted for all members of the New York City Police Department.
It is clear that the City of
In 1996, I opted to conduct my own analysis of the effectiveness of the Task Force’s recommendations and the amendments to NYPD policies (Albrecht, 1996). What I discovered was quiet surprising. The policy revisions were overwhelmingly successful. The use of physical force by police officers in arrest scenarios decreased -11%, the utilization of the police baton decreased -24%, while the use of pepper spray as the preferable non-lethal option increased +297% in 1994. These trends continued in 1995 and 1996. No restraint related deaths occurred through the end of 1996. More importantly, the number of police officers injured in arrest confrontations declined -14%. This occurred as the complement of police officers on patrol increased exponentially, as the New York City Police Department merged with two other large policing agencies. One can undoubtedly conclude that this policy remained effective at least over the two year period of my study.
When considering policy revision, public service agencies should conduct an analysis of best practices before making an attempt to amend organizational procedure. Utilizing agency staff or independent consultants to undertake this research initiative will depend on financial ability. The agency should additionally evaluate legal precedent and political climate before making any permanent recommendations. Follow-up analysis of the policy’s effectiveness should me mandatory to permit prompt revision if necessary. It is strongly recommended that criminal justice agencies initiate contact with academic and research institutions to ensure (or entice) their participation in future planning endeavors. Public service executives and policy makers should acknowledge that they are not alone in their quest to improve the quality of their agencies. Optimal efficacy and efficiency should be the ultimate goal, and no effort (or cost) should be spared to accomplish this objective.
Albrecht, J. 1996. Avoiding Violence during the Police Arrest
Encounter. (Paper Presentation) The 4th Sino‑American Criminal
Justice Symposium at the
Bayley, D. 1993. “Back from Wonderland, or Toward Rational Use of Police Resources” in Thinking About Police Resources, N. Doob (ed.) University of Toronto Centre for Criminology.
Curtain, R. 2000. “Towards Greater Transparency in
Curtain, R. 2000. ““Good Public Policy Making: How
Difrancesco, M. 2000. An Evaluation Crucible: Evaluating Policy Advice in Australian Central Agencies,” Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 59 (1), 36 – 48.
Edwards, G. 2000. “Clarifying the Status of Policy,” Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 59 (2), 109 – 114.
Fleming, J. 2004. “Les Liaisons dangerous: Relations between Police Commissioners and their Political Masters,” Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 63 (3), 60 – 74.
Pawson, R. and Tilley, N. 1996. “How (and how not) to design research to inform
policy-making,” in The Social
Construction of Social Policy: Methodologies, Racism, Citizenship and the
Environment. Edited by C. Samson and N. South,
J.; Whitehead, C. and Graham, P. 1999. Applying Economic Evaluation to Policing Activity.
JAMES F. ALBRECHT
F. Albrecht is a 20-year veteran of the NYPD who retired as the Commanding
Officer of NYPD Transit Bureau District 20, responsible for the supervision and
deployment of over 300 police officers tasked with the prevention of crime in
the subway and rapid transit system in the borough of
James Albrecht received two Bachelor’s Degrees in Biology and German Language and Culture from New York University in 1983; a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the State University of New York at Albany in 1990; a Master’s Degree in Human Physiology from the City University of New York at Queens College in 1992; and is presently pursuing a PhD in History at Queens College (CUNY).
Albrecht is presently a Professor and Graduate Coordinator of the Criminal
Justice Leadership Masters Degree Program at