Drug law enforcement performance monitoring: The persistence of simplistic measures and barriers to moving forward

Project Supporters:

Colonial Foundation Trust

Drug Type:
image - Police
Project Members
Project Main Description

The aim of this project was to critically analyse the current state of drug law enforcement (DLE) performance monitoring in three nations (Australia, UK and USA), to identify how police agencies in such nations currently hold themselves to account and to put forward potential rationales for the longstanding lack of improvement in DLE performance monitoring.


Across the three nations a very similar picture emerged: namely that in spite of different relative emphases about performance monitoring, DLE is measured primarily in terms of activity. For example, within Australian 18 different indicators of DLE performance were in use, yet only 4 could conceivably be considered indicators of impact (eg %  of the community who think illicit drugs are a problem in their neighbourhood). Moreover, the measures of impact were only used in a minority of jurisdictions. Even the UK which had a strong government emphasis upon performance monitoring retained activity measures. Thus in spite of over 25 years of calls for improvements, DLE performance monitoring has remained poor. The lack of improvement has been attributed in part to five inter-related reasons including the financial and practical impediments to change, a disciplinary background and culture at odds with quality improvement, and uncertainties pervading DLE performance assessment.

Implications for policy: This helps to understand that inadequate performance measures of DLE are likely to be embedded deeply in organisational culture and in long-held popular and political assumptions about the inherent worth of law enforcement activities. They are thus not simply attributable to opposition or resistance by the DLE sector. This means that if improved DLE measures are to be valued then concerted action will be needed on multiple fronts to facilitate greater public debate about DLE performance, and reduce political valorisation of DLE as equating with arrests and seizures.

Implications for research: A core implication for researchers is the need to reach some agreement about the necessary elements which would constitute a sophisticated monitoring system for DLE. The current disagreement over DLE goals, indicators and ways and means of measurement is one reason for the absence of improvement.


Conference papers

  • Hughes, C., & James, S. (2009, October). Drug law enforcement performance monitoring: The persistence of simplistic measures and barriers to moving forward. DPMP Team Meeting, Sydney.
  • Hughes, C., & James, S. (2010, March).  The drug law enforcement performance monitoring impasse: Critical analysis and strategies to move forward. Paper presented at the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP) Conference. Santa Monica, CA, USA.
  • Hughes, C. (2007, September). How should Australia assess the outcomes from drug law enforcement? A critical review of the outcome measures, 20th Annual Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide.
Project Supporters

Colonial Foundation Trust

Project Collaborators: External

Steve James
University of Melbourne

Project Research Area
Drug Type
Project Status
Date Commenced

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