Saturday’s newspapers sent shockwaves through all ranks of police officers who are waiting for Tom Winsor’s review of pay and conditions to be published.
The Telegraph announced:
While the Star went with:
It’s not sure how much credence we should give to these reports, but the Telegraph and Star do make substantially similar claims:
“cash incentives for high-performing police officers who can successfully fight crime”
“police are set to pocket bonuses for the number of arrests they make”.
We should know for certain soon since the Winsor report is scheduled for publication tomorrow morning.
I’m feeling slightly guilty about the whole situation since I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago in which I idly speculated that it would be theoretically possible to pay probation officers on an individual payment by results basis – never expecting that anyone would seriously propose a similar approach for probation, police or anyone else.
Until last Saturday.
Fortunately, we have good evidence that individual PbR schemes just don’t work.
Earlier this week I wrote about a Freakonomics case study in which a Washington Emergency Room Doctor, Craig Feied, turned around a failing ER by installing a super-efficient computerised information system.
The system generated so much data it was used for medical research and an assessment of how good individual ER doctors were.
What the case study made very clear was that attempting to judge doctors on a payment by results basis just didn’t work. PbR is all about outcomes – improved patient health for doctors and, at least in part, increased detection and arrest rates for police officers.
When researchers tried to evaluate the effectiveness of doctors by their patient outcomes, it quickly became clear that this was a pointless exercise.
An assessment of ER doctors’ performance on a patient outcome basis was rejected for a wide range of reasons, all of which would be relevant to paying police on their clear-up rates:
Selection bias – patients aren’t randomly assigned patients.
The profile of people attending ERs varies markedly throughout different times of the day and the days of the week. In the same way, we would expect officers on duty in town centres on Friday and Saturday nights to make more arrests than those on the same duty on a Tuesday afternoon.
Sometimes the better doctors have higher patient death rates.
The sicker you are, the more likely you are to seek out the best cardiologist. In the same way, a more experienced and skilled officer may defuse a confrontation, rather than nicking everyone in sight.
Once individuals know that they are being measured and paid on performance, they start adjusting the way their work to fit.
This is perhaps the most worrying aspect of performance-related pay. A doctor who knows he is being paid on patient outcomes may start “creaming” – selecting low risk patients and rejecting those with more serious complaints who are most in need of treatment but who are most likely to reduce his/her outcome rates.
What would be the equivalent for police officers? More arrests for possession of cannabis? Less stop and search? Forced deployment to jobs where performance related pay bonuses are not likely?
Payment by results is a great opportunity to focus public services on outcomes that make a difference. A chance to break free from a culture where work priorities are driven by targets, Key Performance Indicators etc., rather than the needs 0f the public.
A key component of successful PbR schemes is that they focus different teams, departments and organisations on how they can most effectively collaborate for the greater good.
Individual performance-related pay completely undermines this approach.
As any study of Bankers’ bonuses will show.