Police audit underscores need for way to track performance of department

Figuring out how to keep better track of the Lawrence Police Department’s performance is an issue city leaders may soon want to tackle, according to a long-awaited audit of police operations.

City Auditor Michael Eglinski on Friday released 10 topics related to the Lawrence Police Department that are worth investigating further. But he highlighted three as the highest priority:

• An examination of how city management measures and reports on the performance of the police department.

• A look at how the police department addresses complaints.

• A review of how city leaders manage the police department’s workload.

Of the three, Eglinski said the issue of measuring performance was the one where concerns were most evident.

“There are some weaknesses there,” Eglinski said. “We don’t have many comparisons to tell us how we’re doing compared to the whole or to other university cities or even national averages.”

Eglinski said other communities are doing more to measure their police department’s performance. He highlighted the efforts made in Overland Park. The police department there compares itself to 24 other communities in categories such as response times to calls, how often stolen property is recovered, Taser usage and dozens of other categories.

Lawrence in 2005 spent $60,000 to hire an outside consultant to develop a list of measurable goals for the police department. Among the suggested goals were:

• Responding to non-emergency police calls in 90 minutes or less.

• Reducing the number of chronic nuisance and party house locations.

• Seeing the number of residents reporting chronic problems hold steady or decline each year.

Eglinski said much of the 2005 report has not been implemented.

City Manager David Corliss said he supports the idea of Eglinski doing a further audit on how performance measures can be improved for the police department.

“I think some of it has to do with the department’s data collection ability, but some of it is that we just need to decide what the priorities should be,” Corliss said. “I think we need to have a City Commission and a community discussion about what are the important measurements we want to use for our police department.”

As for the other topics, Eglinski said he highlighted the need to study workload management because a frequent concern within the police department is whether the city has enough police officers. The 2008 city employee survey found that 89 percent of police employees questioned whether the department was adequately staffed. That was higher than the 49 percent average in other departments.

On the issue of how the department handles complaints, Eglinski said he didn’t have any reason to believe complaints were being mishandled currently. But he said the issue is a sensitive one that could benefit from an independent review.

“It is just one of those issues you should look at every so often,” Eglinski said.

City commissioners on Tuesday will review the report and determine whether to assign Eglinski to do a complete audit on any of the topics.

The other seven other topics that Eglinski said could merit more investigation were:

• How the department manages shared facilities and services.

• Whether the department has adequate facilities and equipment.

• A review of the department’s information technology back-up systems.

• A review of recruiting and training programs.

• How the department serves internal customers.

• How the department manages costs.

• Steps the department takes to safeguard evidence.

Eglinski started the police audit in 2008. He said the police department was cooperative with his office. He said the audit was slow to develop because of its broad nature and the need to complete several other audits. He said the audit was not designed to focus on any one subject in depth.

“The police department is a big, complex organization,” Eglinski said. “This was a way to look at several issues at once and determine what areas are most worthy of more study.”