Police Productivity and Performance Over the Career Course: A Latent Class Growth Analysis of the First 10 Years of Law Enforcement

Published date01 September 2020
Date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Police Productivity and
Performance Over the
Career Course: A
Latent Class Growth
Analysis of the First
10 Years of Law
Jillian S. Desmond
Bradford W. Reyns
, James Frank
Charles F. Klahm IV
, and
Billy Henson
The present research investigates the productivity and performance of a large sample
of police officers, beginning in the police academy and through their first 10 years of
policing. Using longitudinal data and latent class growth analyses, we examine meas-
ures of productivity and performance over this time. Findings indicate that officers’
academy performance did not influence officer trajectories, but selected demograph-
ic variables were significantly related to performance across the career course.
Among these, female and non-White officers were consistently rated lower in
their performance evaluations. Overall, results suggest that factors predicting
School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
Department of Criminal Justice, Weber State University, Ogden, UT, USA
Department of Criminal Justice, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Mount St. Joseph University, Cincinnati, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jillian S. Desmond, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, PO Box 21002, Cincinnati, OH
45221, USA.
Email: jillian.shafer@uc.edu.
Police Quarterly
2020, Vol. 23(3) 333–367
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611120907555
productivity and performance are dynamic, and there is no single combination of
characteristics that predicts who will be a “good” officer.
policing, productivity, hiring, arrests, complaints
Hiring is one of the most consequential activities undertaken by police depart-
ments, and many police agencies are facing staff‌ing issues due to a number of
related factors. Retirements, turnover, problems recruiting qualif‌ied applicants,
the evolving demands of police work, and f‌iscal issues have all combined to limit
the number of available off‌icers in many jurisdictions (Wilson, 2012; Wilson &
Heinonen, 2012; Wilson & Weiss, 2009). In addition, it is important for agencies
to retain quality off‌icers, as success—or “good” policing—is believed to be a
function of experience and sound decision-making (e.g., Orrick, 2002; Wilson,
2012). Further, there are high costs associated with selecting and training new
off‌icers (Switzer, 2006). In an effort to improve the selection and retention
process, there is a need to identify and assess those selection and hiring criteria
that are most related to police off‌icer productivity.
Given the complexity, demands, evolving nature of the police role, and the
importance of police work, identifying applicants and recruits who will ultimate-
ly be successful as police off‌icers is a high priority for police administrators and
other policy makers. Although researchers have investigated this issue (e.g.,
Forero, Gallardo-Pujol, Maydeu-Olivares, & Andr
es-Pueyo, 2009; Henson,
Reyns, Klahm, & Frank, 2010; Reaves & Hickman, 2004; Sanders, 2008;
Sarchione, Cuttler, Muchinsky, & Nelson-Gray, 1998; White, 2008), there is
still no f‌irm answer to the hiring question. In part, this is because it is diff‌icult
to measure off‌icer success objectively, empirical data useful to this purpose are
generally not available to criminal justice scholars, prior methodologies have
inhibited a full understanding of the phenomenon, and the studies that have
been published use cross-sectional research designs or provide a limited/short-
term view of off‌icer careers (Sanders, 2008; White, 2008). In short, more
research is needed to better understand the factors associated with off‌icer pro-
ductivity and performance—particularly in the long-term. The present study
represents an effort to address this question in a developmental way by using
latent growth analyses.
The purpose of the present study, then, is to use latent class growth analysis
(LCGA) to assess how groupings of off‌icers may differ in their development
over time (e.g., McGloin, Sullivan, Piquero, & Bacon, 2008; Piquero, 2010;
334 Police Quarterly 23(3)
Weisburd, Bushway, Lum, & Yang, 2004). In particular, these growth analyses
allow us to consider the career course of recent police academy graduates as they
begin their careers as patrol off‌icers. To this end, off‌icer performance and pro-
ductivity are operationalized in four ways. That is, the analyses provide latent
class growth trajectories for misdemeanor and felony arrests—two dimensions
of productivity—as well as a latent growth curve model for performance eval-
uations and citizen complaints. Further, we identify factors that are associated
with these productivity and performance outcomes. Therefore, the primary
research questions guiding this study are (a) are there distinct trajectories for
off‌icers during the f‌irst 10 years of law enforcement related to productivity and
performance? and if so, (b) what factors are related to membership in these
groups? Of particular interest is the effect of police academy performance on
later performance as an off‌icer.
Police Hiring, Training, and Officer Performance
Hiring and training are not taken lightly by police agencies, as these early stages
in the police career course impact not only the path on which off‌icers begin a
career in law enforcement but also the success of the agency and the vitality of
the community. In the United States, there are thousands of law enforcement
agencies engaged in hiring and training of new off‌icers every day, with no uni-
form standards for how to do so. Despite differences in candidate selection and
training practices across these agencies, the typical approach to selecting a can-
didate who can be trained and ultimately become a productive off‌icer with a
successful career has been to screen out unqualif‌ied candidates (Alpert, 1991;
Gaines & Falkenberg, 1998; Malouff & Schutte, 1986; Metchik, 1999). Often,
there are multiple hurdles that candidates must clear in this process before
a positive hiring decision is made, including meeting given standards for
physical, psychological, and mental readiness for the job (Metchik, 1999;
Reaves & Hickman, 2004).
The inherent diff‌iculty in this process is that making a hiring decision based
on whether a candidate meets a baseline qualif‌ication standard does not guar-
antee that the candidate will be a quality off‌icer throughout his or her career,
especially when the training is not closely related to what off‌icers will experience
in the f‌ield (Bayley & Bittner, 1984; Burkhart, 1980; White, 2008). To overcome
the weaknesses in hiring approaches that “screen out” the unqualif‌ied rather
than “screen in” the best-qualif‌ied, law enforcement agencies send their new
recruits through training academies that teach off‌icers the essentials of the law
(e.g., state laws, liability), practical police skills (e.g., f‌irearms, driving), criminal
investigations, patrol work, and more. Following this, f‌ield training with a
senior off‌icer further prepares new off‌icers for the rigors of police work.
However, a lingering question for practitioners, policy makers, and researchers
Desmond et al. 335

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT