Data and Analysis to Measure the Efficacy of Policing Programs  June 3, 2024

By Dr. Walid Hejazi, Rotman School of Management
If you can’t measure it,
you can’t manage it!
Gut feelings or intuition should not be taken as evidence of the efficacy of policing strategies. Nothing substitutes for formal analysis.

Measurement beforehand, the identification and deployment of strategies, followed by measurement afterwards, are all necessary to determine if any given strategy is effective. This process also informs how strategies can be revised to achieve optimal outcomes. This describes an iterative process that results in the development and deployment of the most effective policies. This approach applies everywhere.
Testing and Measurement In healthcare, how can one identify and treat cholesterol levels, diabetes, cancers, and other illnesses without effective testing and measurement? Once an illness is identified through formal measurement, which takes the form of tests that are analyzed in labs, there is a need to identify effective treatments. Health care providers administer treatment and follow up with additional testing and measurement to determine if the treatment was effective. This iterative process identifies the medical procedures, medications, and dosages needed to optimize the efficacy of treatment.

This same logic applies in, for example, public relations. In deploying a campaign meant to enhance the reputation of a police service in the community it serves, it is necessary to measure public attitudes towards policing beforehand. With that “baseline measure”, it is then possible to identify the impact that results from any given public relations campaign. Formal analysis can then enable a better understanding of how a public relations campaign impacts public perceptions towards the policing service. Such an analysis is made more complex given that public attitudes are not unidimensional, and different demographic groups have different attitudes, but such complexities are easily addressed in a formal analysis.

In the realm of measuring the effectiveness of policing activities on crime rates, there are additional challenges that must be considered, and frankly make the analysis much more complex than is the case in other areas. And there are two broad reasons for this.

First, true crime rates are not directly observable. We know that many crimes go unreported or are undetected, and this discrepancy varies across crime categories and communities. When more resources are put towards addressing these crimes, then there is an impact on actual crime, but at the same time, more crimes that otherwise would have been undetected or unreported become detected or are reported. These are counteracting effects. Increased detection and reporting of crime increases crime rates, and the impact of the additional resources works to reduce crime rates. The net impact of these effects is uncertain but limits our ability to measure the true efficacy of policing practices.

Second, a major factor that makes the ability to measure the efficacy of policing far more difficult is the reactive nature of funding, or what we formally refer to as endogeneity. It is typically the case that more resources are allocated to address certain crimes only when those crime rates are getting worse. That is, crime rates are rising. When police resources are increased to address those rising crime rates, effective policing can reduce the rate at which crime rates are rising, but may not be able to bring crimes back to where they were before the increasing crime rate set in.

After the fact, many analyses demonstrate that crime rates are higher after the increased resources were made available to policing, thus leading to the common refrain in the media that there is little evidence that increased police resources reduce crime. This perception has been used to argue that allocating more resources to policing is not justified, and other approaches to reducing crime should be considered. The point here is that when an appropriate analysis is undertaken, a more precise understanding of the efficacy of policing can be documented. Not doing so would underestimate the efficacy of policing strategies and leads to less police resources than a fully informed analysis would imply.
There are many careful studies that have been undertaken to measure the efficacy in policing strategies. These studies demonstrate that increased police resources do result in reduced crime rates. These analyses can also inform how policing strategies can be revised to enhance their effectiveness, and thus achieve optimal outcomes.

In conclusion, the key ingredients needed to demonstrate the efficacy in policing strategies is accurate data, and formal methods that consider differences between true and measured crime rates, and that also address the reactive (or endogenous) nature of the allocation of police resources. Together, such an approach results in a much-enriched understanding of the efficacy of policing strategies, thus improving outcomes for police services, the communities they serve, and funding agencies.
Walid Hejazi is a Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at the Rotman School of Management, Fellow of the Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship, and member of the Board of Directors of the David & Sharon Johnston Centre for Corporate Governance Innovation. He teaches on the Police Leadership Program, a partnership between the OACP and the University of Toronto and can be reached at For information on the PLP, please click here.

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