By Siobhan Scott, Project Associate, Police Foundation and Joyce Iwashita, Project Assistant, Police Foundation
In 2014, the Tampa, Florida Police Department (TPD) sought to improve and expand the Quality Assurance (QA) program the department had recently put in place. In the years prior, the department had identified areas in need of improvement internally, and then developed and implemented the QA program to address those issues. Then Chief of Police, Jane Castor, requested assistance through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) to evaluate TPD’s QA program and make recommendations for expanding the program. As a result, the Police Foundation (PF), a BJA NTTAC consultant, joined with TPD to examine areas that could be strengthened in their current QA program and take a closer look at whether the TPD had successfully met goals and objectives. Based on the analysis, the PF developed findings, recommendations, and strategies for the expansion and improvement of the TPD QA program. The recommendations and strategies are designed to help equip TPD’s QA program with the tools to expand and improve their QA process, as well as assist other police departments across the United States through information-sharing to do the same or begin to implement their own QA programs, with the ultimate goal of improving quality in police service.
With the push for increased transparency in law enforcement and more scrutiny in system protocols, police departments nationwide find themselves challenged to address crime with fewer employees and less money, and to meet elevated standards of public accountability. Applying the concept of ‘quality assurance’ to the law enforcement profession can help police departments increase departmental efficiency and ensure consistent quality of services.
Police agencies in the 21st century are constantly challenged to be more innovative, consistently improving the quality of their services. Police departments may look to implement a QA program to enforce departmental accountability, create uniformity in processes across patrol districts, create standardized training programs that span the department, and advance a culture of accountability within the department. These elements of QA in law enforcement could serve as the foundation for improving officers’ response to citizens, crime reduction, response to resistance events, community policing, and the allocation of department resources.
To assess TPD’s QA process, the PF began by examining quality assurance theories, history, professions of application, and its application to best practices in other law enforcement agencies currently instituting QA programs. They then worked with TPD to conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of TPD’s Quality Assurance program. This included: exploring processes and areas of application; conducting interviews with TPD personnel; reviewing policies, procedural documents, and current practices of TPD’s QA units implementing the QA program; and open source data.
While the specific findings and recommendations are described in the TPD Quality Assurance Report, eight key lessons can be applicable to police departments nationwide:
- Clearly define the roles, goals, and objectives of each QA unit and its relationship to the entire department. By revisiting early plans from the development process and linking goals to the mission of the department, as well as to the mission of the QA program, TPD can determine if those goals have been attained. This recommendation is important to all police agencies in order to evaluate which strategies have been effective and which goals are in line with the agencies’ overall missions.
- Increase senior command and management’s QA knowledge and develop a strategy to include all levels of personnel in the planning and implementation of QA processes. By increasing department-wide QA implementation and maximizing existing staff resources, TPD can achieve a uniform QA standard for the whole organization. This can promote understanding of the QA program and reduce the number of officers who might not take ownership of its value. One idea is to provide awards and titles for officer performance measures as incentives when they are linked to QA visions, goals, and objectives.
- Develop a department-wide accountability process that links QA with other departmental measures. By linking accountability measures with departmental accountability processes such as Internal Affairs or Comprehensive Police Performance Effectiveness Report (COPPER) meetings, the TPD QA program could continue to develop. These interrelated systems help reduce individual agendas and focus on QA units of information. This recommendation translates to other police departments who may question the value of connecting their QA accountability measures with larger departmental units, but who also want to be more effective and efficient.
- Continue to collect, track, analyze, and report data to develop metrics that support goals and objectives of each QA measure. Formalizing the process to utilize all information found through QA processes will allow TPD to develop a framework that will support expansion of the program when necessary and enable adjustment where necessary. This recommendation translates to other police departments who want to improve response to resistance incidents, traffic stops, crime mapping, or intelligence sharing.
- Determine the most efficient distribution of personnel assignments and resources. Standardization of QA processes allows them to fit into a larger framework. Efficiency is created when there is effective use of resources. TPD originally lacked resource distribution uniformity among all districts, which inhibited their QA program from expanding. However, this was changed by TPD as they realized that uniform distribution of QA responsibilities was necessary. Further, this recommendation applies to police agencies who want to implement and/or expand QA programs to improve processes throughout their department.
- Continue to provide, and even increase, resources for the QA program. By providing resources such as advanced training to the QA Manager, the TPD QA program could continue to grow. This recommendation translates to other police departments interested in expanding or implementing a QA program in their department.
- Design and consistently provide formalized training that highlights the roles, goals, and objectives. Personnel involvement in QA can result in more motivated personnel who are willing to be active in the QA program process. They would also understand the goals and objectives of the QA program and support the change it creates. By ensuring participation in QA training among all ranks and units, the TPD QA program could continue its success and expansion. This recommendation translates to other police departments as they develop ways to include departmental personnel into the QA program.
- Develop a public communications strategy. By ensuring that the community is involved in the QA program – through educating them on its model and value to the department, as well as enabling a mechanism for inclusion of input from the community into the process – QA programs can send the message that the TPD is constantly reviewing and improving services. For example, using existing crime analysis data and cross referencing with citizens’ surveys and complaints can allow the TPD QA program to develop a public communications strategy component, consistently communicating TPD’s vision and goals. This recommendation is beneficial to all police agencies, as it incorporates the feedback of the community into the QA program. Finding an effective balance between providing public safety and departmental performance is important; public communication is the key.
Law enforcement agencies nationwide can learn from TPD’s implementation and expansion of their QA program. Instituting a system of checks and balances is important to ensure that all personnel are following procedures, so that each department can achieve high efficiency with the quality of the services they provide. Elements of a QA program, combined with evidence-based strategies to expand it department-wide, could serve as the foundation for model policies and practices for police agencies across the United States.
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Points of view or opinions on BJA NTTAC’s TTA Today blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice, BJA, or BJA NTTAC.