Study: Cops Become Less Productive With Experience

Sage Journals published a study late last year which concludes that police officers become “less productive” as they gain experience. Here’s the abstract:

This study analyzes two decades of data from a municipal police agency and describes the average patrol officer career productivity trajectory. We find that declines in productivity begin immediately after the first year of service and worsen over the course of officers’ careers. After their 20th year, patrol officers generate 88% fewer directed patrols, 50% fewer traffic warnings, 58% fewer traffic citations, 41% fewer warrant arrests, and 57% fewer misdemeanor arrests compared to officers with 1 year of experience. Using a patrol officer productivity metric called Z-score per Productive Time (Z-PRO), we estimate that each additional year of service decreases an officer’s overall productivity by about 2%. Z-PRO also indicates that after 21 years of service, an average officer will be approximately 35% less productive overall than an officer with 1 year of service.

The study didn’t look at the quality of arrests throughout the career of the police officer and there is certainly much more to the story.

What do you think?

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  1. ELC

    Lol. They didn’t talk to me. Thirty three years and it was only 4 years ago that I started searching for a desk job. Like the article mentioned they are unaware of the quality of interactions as opposed to the quantity.

  2. Informed Discussion

    This is so true…but for a lot of reasons!
    1) Motivation: is often the product of the young. Of course the wide-eyed rookies are going to be the most productive. (but as stated in the post below, quantity isn’t necessarily a substitute for quality) Try getting in a patrol car for 20+ years driving the same streets and dealing with the same knuckleheads and keeping motivated.
    2) Wisdom: The more years you have on the more you pick and choose your battles. This includes dealing with the “Ferguson Effect”. Veteran cops evaluate whether it is worth it and sometimes it isn’t.
    3) Burned out on court: There are only so many lost days off in a courtroom before the veteran cop decides that they are ready for actual time off.
    4) Being disgruntled: Yes, if folks are honest they will tell you that if they are pissed off at management this is a common way to protest. Hopefully this isn’t all the time!
    5) Cuts into coffee time: If you are a veteran cop, you are silently shaking your head yes. If you aren’t, you are probably offended!
    And most important:
    6) Any veteran cop worth their salt knows to give the arrests they make to the rookie (who eagerly takes them) thus relieving veteran cop of their responsibility for booking evidence, writing reports, going to court, etc.. You see if you are a veteran cop, you don’t need the credit anymore. The rookie yearns for it. (once again if you are a veteran cop you are silently shaking your head yes; if you are not you are offended)
    So stats can only tell part of the story!


    Interesting study however like many studies with statistics it doesn’t tell the whole story. True that when we started we were looking towards locking folks up and a lot of arrests were made for all types of offenses and then there were our “project cases” who were known frequent flyers. Early on we did not mind going to court on our days off (my department leaders vehemently objected to removing us from the street for court and our municipal court scheduled accordingly and only after my service disabled retirement was this changed by contract). As our lives progressed we got married, had a family with it’s attendant obligations and realized that family/marriage came first. We also got better at reports so most arrestees pled out. We also were reassigned /promoted to positions where opportunities for arrests were minimized or eliminated( just think of all those MV stops that resulted in warrant arrests or arrests for other violations)

  4. ahaz

    This article actually raises an issue that doesn’t get enough attention. How do we measure the effectiveness of an officer. Is it strictly numbers driven policing? Should it be number of arrests, contacts, number of tickets issued, etc? Is an officer with more arrests that has a significant number of cases dropped better than one with fewer arrests but a higher conviction rate? Should numbers be the driver to measure effectiveness? One ca surmise that if an officer has a high “goal” instituted by the department, this could lead to questionable contacts, tickets and arrests and does this really reduce crime of create an environment where police and community can form effective partnerships. I can think of two immediate examples of this (NYPD – stop and frisk and Ferguson – policing for profit)

    How do we determine if the officer is really an effective officer?

    • LegalBeagle

      One of the things that I have been grumping about for years is that we don’t study that data internally, and know it well. I am not aware of any agency that studies the outcomes of motions to suppress and the like … but they should.

      As for NYPD’s silliness, I had thought for years that the litigation was frivolous and the ruling stupid, but it was not at all that way. A friend of mine was retired NYPD, and another of his friends, also retired, but after almost 40 years, told a few of us how that program was set up. It was completely FUBAR. The officers involved were not well trained, not well supervised, and given blatantly improper (unlawful) orders as a result of direction from the Mayor’s Office and no command officer had the spine to stand up to that crap. What they were doing had no more in common with legitimate Terry stop activity than I do with a gymnast.

      I do know that research shows that aggressive traffic enforcement is the single most effective means of contacting and arresting criminals and suppressing crime according to the Kansas City experiment about 40 years ago, and every time I try to find anything to the contrary, it simply does not exist. That does not mean that the outcome is still valid, but that it has never been repudiated. Where I live, the City does not do near enough traffic enforcement. Just walking the dog, I regularly see dangerous conduct and almost no enforcement. My estimate is that their patrol officers should be averaging about 5 tickets a shift (12 hours), and I am sure it is barely 1.

  5. mtarte

    So is it quantity or quality that is the touchstone of a good officer? I remember arresting anyone I could as a rookie, given the proper justification. Sometimes though, those arrests were ridiculous, but legal. I was in court a lot. Then I got my ass handed to me by a defense lawyer, and justifiably so. A good warrant arrest with drugs discovered on the arrestee, but I rushed the report and got both cross-exam barrels in court. Lost the case naturally. Then I took stock of what I was doing and as I matured into the job and became better at it, my arrests numbers dropped, but my cases pled out rather than go to trial because I became more informed, and better at my job. Of course a cop with 20 plus years experience is going to be less productive, but what would you rather have? 20 rookies with little experience handling tense calls or that old gray beard who has seen it all handling it?

  6. Todd

    Administrators are sometimes confused about what it is they want their people to do. Thank goodness for the new officers who are full of zeal to get after the bad guys and put them where they belong – in jail. Time passes and the new officers begin to lose esprit de corps, fighting spirit, morale! Morale cannot be bought with new computers, new squad cars, or raises. Authentic leaders have to move from fox hole to fox hole, shoring up morale (fighting spirit). If the media, the special interest groups, and the politicians all lament officers going out and doing their jobs through pro active police work, well we sort of expect that. What takes the wind out of your sails as it were, is when the politicians in blues and browns don’t know their left hand from the right hand, or they just don’t care whether you live or you die. At some point Officers begin to experience what we call burn out. Thank goodness for those new guys that have not yet been through this so they just go and consistently “put out,” doing the hard yet good and noble work that we do.
    Leadership has many characteristics that are probably best studied in the type of military leader people actually follow in battle. That is where the rubber meets the road. Anyone can sit in a position of leadership during peace time, when they are paying you well.
    I believe authentic leadership can sort of be condensed, distilled, and synthesized into just this:

    You do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason. You truly care whether your people live or die in small ways and in big ways! You are willing to suffer some sweat, tears, and pain to put out “for your people,” that they might live – in many and various small and big ways!

    In other words when they’re acting rightly and justly you are willing to go to the wall for them, and give up whatever little worldly power, pleasure, honors, and wealth you have ascended to.
    It’s not about you – it’s about your people! When your people are wrong authentic loyalty means not abandoning them like a rat from a sinking ship but demanding they do the next right thing, and be accountable for their mistakes.
    Develop leaders like this and men will follow them into any battle!
    Study Jesus the Christ if you want to understand authentic leadership.

    • ahaz

      Interesting that your comment is full of military references. Exactly who is the enemy you’re preparing for?

      • Katrina

        I believe Todd was referring to productivity and leadership, no enemy.

    • Deplorable S E Delenda

      Todd claims to have 26 years of experience. He defends the assault on Nurse Wubbels. He is an embarrassment.

  7. Arcing

    I’ve seen this with the agencies I worked for, some of it it the political climate that changes, a rookie officer is allowed to make some mistakes, and therefore get complaints, which they eventually learn comes from being more productive in traffic and misdemeanor arrests. As the administration looks for something to do, like riding herd on the officers, the more experienced officer will make better arrests, more felony arrests and “sell” the arrests, while slacking off on the numbers production. It also comes from an overloaded justice system where traffic tickets and misdemeanor arrests are quickly disposed of.. especially if a complaint is filled, formal or not, admin, rather than deal with it will dispose of the problem ticket. The experienced officer sees this and gives out fewer tickets, since admin will dispose of them anyway. We had a officer that averaged 5 DUI arrests a week, great stats, but the prosecutors would reduce or find fault with the sparse paperwork, so only 20-30 percent of his arrests were prosecuted.. I, on the other hand had 1 or 2 DUI arrests a week, and a felony arrest, EVERY one was prosecuted, my stats were not as good as the other officer from the departments point of view, but the prosecutors loved my detailed reports. Even defense attorneys found little to go after and my conviction rate was miles higher than that other officer. My agency could care less..

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