How police officers perform in encounters with the public

Bryan Vila (Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Washington State University, Spokane, Washington, USA)
Stephen James (Sleep & Performance Research Center, Washington State University, Spokane, Washington, USA)
Lois James (College of Nursing, Washington State University, Spokane, Washington, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Publication date: 9 April 2018



The purpose of this paper is to develop and describe the implementation of a novel method for creating interval-level metrics for objectively assessing police officer behaviors during an encounter with the public. These behaviors constitute officer performance and affect the probability of desirable encounter outcomes. The metrics measure concrete, micro-level performance in the common types of complex, dynamic, and low-information police-public encounters that often require immediate action using “naturalistic” decision making. Difficulty metrics also were developed to control for situational variability. The utility of measuring what officers do vs probabilistic outcomes is explored with regard to informing policymaking, field practice, and training.


Metric sets were developed separately for three types of police-public encounters: deadly force judgment and decision making, cross-cultural tactical social interaction, and crisis intervention. In each, “reverse concept mapping” was used with a different diverse focus group of “true experts” to authoritatively deconstruct implicit concepts and derive important variables. Variables then were scaled with Thurstone’s method using 198 diverse expert trainers to create interval-level metrics for performance and situational difficulty. Metric utility was explored during two experimental laboratory studies and in response to a problematic police encounter.


Objective, interval-level metric sets were developed for measuring micro-level police performance and encounter difficulty. Validation and further refinement are required.

Research limitations/implications

This novel method provides a practical way to rapidly develop metrics that measure micro-level performance during police-public encounters much more precisely than was previously possible.


The metrics developed provide a foundation for measuring officers’ performance as they exercise discretion, engage people, and affect perceptions of police legitimacy.



Bryan Vila, Stephen James and Lois James (2018) "How police officers perform in encounters with the public", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 41 No. 2, pp. 215-232

Download as .RIS





Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

Please note you might not have access to this content

You may be able to access this content by login via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
If you would like to contact us about accessing this content, click the button and fill out the form.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.