American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 236–244

Lessons for Policing from Moneyball: The Views of Police Managers – A Research Note

Authors

  • Anthony G. Vito
    • Department of Justice AdministrationUniversity of Louisville
    • Department of Justice AdministrationUniversity of Louisville
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12103-012-9171-5

Cite this article as:
Vito, A.G. & Vito, G.F. Am J Crim Just (2013) 38: 236. doi:10.1007/s12103-012-9171-5

Abstract

Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball demonstrates how Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane used research evidence to improve his team’s performance in a cost-effective manner. This presentation focuses upon the responses of police managers attending the Administrative Officer’s Course in the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville. The respondents identified three elements of Moneyball that could be applied to police management: 1) using statistical analysis to guide operations, 2) challenging the status quo, and 3) doing more with less.

Keywords

MoneyballPolice managementEvidence based policing

Introduction

In Moneyball, Michael Lewis (2003) reveals how Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane used statistical information to gain an advantage over his competitors in major league baseball. Now an Academy Award nominated movie, Moneyball illustrates the value of evidence based practices in the world of sport. Statistical information, rather than widely believed but unevaluated tenets, can provide rational, accurate and valid data to guide operations. Evidence based practices have been offered as a method to improve performance in the criminal justice system. For example, Cullen, Myer and Latessa (2009) point out eight lessons that Moneyball offers for corrections and conclude that evidence based correctional practices can improve rehabilitation efforts and outcomes. They recommend that criminologists concentrate on providing research evidence and constructing knowledge capable of reforming offenders. In policing, Sherman (1998) advocates the use of research evidence in policing in the same fashion that it is used in medicine – to apply empirically determined methods to combat crime. Here, we provide an analysis of Beane’s methods and assessment of police managers on how the ideas presented in Moneyball can be useful in the attempt to combat crime.

The Tenets of Moneyball

Beane used analyses performed by Bill James (Sabermetrics). James stressed the following formula as essential in the prediction of past baseball victories: Runs Created = (Hits + Walks) × Total Bases/ (At Bats + Walks). His methods went against “The Book” in major league baseball – supposedly fundamental methods that led to success. In fact, professional baseball operatives had a false view of offenses. They did not place enough value on walks and placed too much value on things like batting averages and stolen bases. He asserted that sacrifices made no sense whatsoever because the offense essentially gave up an out to advance a runner. Unlike baseball insiders, James viewed outs as precious - the most critical number in baseball is the three outs that define an inning. Until the third out, anything is possible: after it, nothing is. Therefore, anything that increases the offense’s chances of making an out is bad and anything that decreases it is good. This is why James’ stressed the significance of the on-base percentage as a measure of the probability that the batter will not make an out. As an offensive statistic, the on base percentage measures the probability that the batter will not be another step toward the end of the inning. Therefore, players with a high on base percentage (above .400) had premium offensive talents but may have lower priced contracts.

Hakes and Sauer (2006) provide empirical evidence that the sabermetric methods promoted by Beane (e.g. the contribution of on base percentage rather than batting average to victories) were effective. The ability to get on base was undervalued in the baseball labor market (Hakes & Sauer, 2006). Beane’s use of research evidence allowed him to effectively replace high priced sluggers (Jason Giambi) with lower priced players (Scott Hatteberg) who were able to duplicate the ability to get on base.

Beane was an “innovation champion” – an individual who provides the energy and momentum necessary to overcome inherent organizational resistance to change and implement a new idea (Wolfe, Wright & Smart, 2006, p. 117). Beane’s tactics improved the Oakland Athletics major league cost per win rank from 17.6 from 1991 to 1997 to 4.4 in 1998–2005 (Wolfe et al., 2006, p. 119). Beane’s effectiveness was due to his “fundamentally different and iconolastic view of the game, one that is actually built on a statistical foundation of what actually works” (Sarkett, 2004, p. 84)

Beane’s advantage was shortlasted as other teams became aware of his practices and methods and adopted them for their own. Beane’s front office appointees could not believe that he allowed Lewis to examine their system and make it the subject of a book and give away the secrets of their success (Verducci, 2011). Most notably, Theo Epstein, a Beane disciple, became general manager of the Red Sox and used Moneyball methods to build a roster that became Boston’s first World Champion since 1918. All 30 major league baseball clubs now make use of statistical information to operate and some 15 to 20 rely on it heavily (Verducci, 2011).

Methods

The Administrative Officer’s Course (AOC) at the Southern Police Institute (SPI)

The data in this study presents the views of officers attending the Administrative Officer’s Course at the Southern Police Institute. Created in 1951, the SPI is a division of the Department of Justice Administration at the University of Louisville. It is an advanced management program whose mission is to enhance the professional development of law enforcement practitioners. The AOC is a 12 week, accredited, college level, educational program. The curriculum consists of 15 credit hours of coursework that provides instruction in leadership, administrative management, personel issues, organizational behavior, current issues in law enforcement, problem solving and adminstrative law. The students are officers at the rank of sergeant and above from police departments across the U.S.

Data for this analysis came from the answers of AOC officers to a take home essay on Moneyball. These officers were asked to respond to the following question:

In your opinion, state whether or not Beane’s management methods could be applied to police management and administration.

Their answers were limited to five to ten, word processed pages. They were submitted electronicly to the Blackboard web site for the course.

Thirty four papers were submitted for analysis. The rank of these officers were: 17 sergeants, four captains, twelve lieutenants and one assistant chief. There were six female and 28 male respondents. The average department size was 740 sworn officers (range: 29–1813) from 21 police departments, eight sheriff offices, three state police and two federal organizations. The majority of the departments were located in southern states (21/34 = 62 %). Therefore, these respondents are a non-random, convenience sample and may not be representative of the population of police managers. These officers are selected by their departments to attend the AOC. Thus, they are interested in career development and their views may not be typical of the population of police managers.

The student responses were analyzed using methods suggested by Weber (1990). The responses were tabulated in accordance with the test question. The number of responses were compiled according to their similarity and a listing of categories for each idea was developed. Finally, quotations that best represented the views of the respondents were compiled and presented.

Findings

Table 1 presents the top three response categories identified by the respondents as grouped by our content analysis. The idea reflected the most by our police manager respondents as applicable to police management was “using statistical analysis to guide operations” (68 %), followed by “challenging the status quo” (35 %) and “doing more with less” (21 %).
Table 1

Top three Moneyball response categories

Category

Percent

Using Statistical Analysis to Guide Operations

68 % (23/34)

Challenging the Status Quo

35 % (12/34)

Doing More With Less

21 % (7/34)

Using Statistical Analysis to Guide Operations

The following quotations reflect the responses of the police managers to the first category – using statistical analysis to guide operations:
  • Compstat and Moneyball both rely on statistics to change the operations of their industries from “gut reactions” to measurable and accountability. Beane and Bratton used statistics to solve problems.

  • Beane used statistics to revolutionize the way he drafted much like how Chief Bratton has used statistics in New York and now in Los Angeles with Compstat which has revolutionized policing in its own right. We have to continue to learn new ways of doing things. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel but making it better and more efficient is what we, as leaders, must strive to accomplish.

The use of data to both determine methods of operation as well as to accurately assess performance was noted as potential ways to increase efficiency.
  • Statistics are used to determine locations of crimes, types of crimes and frequency of crimes, as well as determining the points at which most traffic accidents occur. Upon examining these statistics, the police manager can better allocate officers to the high crime and accident areas based on the data from these statistics, thus making the department a more efficient service provider.

  • Billy Beane challenged conventional wisdom by taking a chance on players that no one wanted, by changing the player evaluation standards he used, and by thinking outside of the box. Today, there are very few police departments who challenge conventional wisdom by creating new tactics for work or new processes for the evaluation of crime statistics. When one agency does something that is creative and successful, other agencies will copy their techniques. However, very few agencies will take the initiative to explore new things or give their employees the opportunity to try and fail.

  • The use of statistics has shown to be of increasing importance in the management of law enforcement. Statistics are used to determine locations of crimes, types of crimes and frequency of crimes, as well as determining the points at which most traffic accidents occur. Upon examining these statistics, the police manager can better allocate officers to the high crime and accident areas based on the data from these statistics, thus making the department a more efficient service provider.

Data analysis can identify “hot spots” of crime to better serve the community and protect citizens from crime.
  • If law enforcement agencies could examine the data they collect from some other point of view than from response times and Uniform Crime Report statistics, they might find factors that would assist them in their delivery of services and solving of crimes. Just as Bill James began looking at different factors involved in playing baseball, law enforcement agencies might find more effective ways to measure customer satisfaction or officer satisfaction.

Thus, other measures of police effectiveness could be added to crime analysis to provide a more complete assessment of performance.

Challenging the Status Quo

One of the prime features of Beane’s method was to question traditions in baseball in terms of their true relationship to performance. As a result, he frequently clashed with scouts, coaches and even his manager in terms of strategies and operations. Here, the police manager respondents offered similar views about standard thoughts on police management and operations.
  • The traditional mode of policing is not dependent upon the development of leadership or hiring officers that think outside of a procedural manual. Just like baseball, some police executives assume the basic purpose for police was set long ago and cannot be changed.

  • The law enforcement community has realized that the practices of the past are not successful today. Many law enforcement leaders continue to follow the path of the past instead of forging a new way for themselves. If law enforcement agencies want to prosper and succeed they must leave the old way of doing things and start a new era with new and innovative ideas.

  • Successful change in these areas will only occur if police leaders challenge the process, as Billy Beane did. Leaders must take objective views of their organizations and ask themselves if they are doing things in the best possible manner. Implementing these new processes may be risky. An idea may not work in one agency the same way it did in another. It is a chance that a true leader must be willing to take if he thinks it is important.

  • Billy went out and changed the principles on how to run an organization. He challenged the status quo by proving that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders over the past century was subjective and flawed. He developed a different approach by re-evaluating the strategies that produce wins on the field. His success made others stand up and take notice. Similarly, policing has undergone an evolution in the past few decades. Studies in the 1970s challenged the principle crime fighting strategies of rapid response and random patrol. As a result, a paradigm shift occurred to Community Policing in the 1980s. Today, we are seeing another shift towards Strategic Thinking. These changes occurred from people challenging the status quo, just like Billy did in baseball.

  • Challenging the process is where Beane excelled. Beane only cared about winning and the financial status of the A’s organization forced him to think outside the box to obtain competitive players. Beane had little care or respect for baseball tradition and even less for scouts and their fortune telling abilities.

As shown, these police managers have a marked preference for thinking “outstide the box” and promoting innovation. Risk taking in the pursuit of organizational goals is a notable attribute that should be developed and sponsored. The tradtions of the past should be re-examined in terms of their relevance to current realities and their ability to deal with them.

Doing More with Less

This development is the constant bane of government agencies in this age of declining public revenues and resources. Public agencies have faced several years of budget cuts throughout this country. Beane was faced with operating a professional baseball in a small market that did not generate the revenues of large market teams like the New York Yankees who obtain large sums from television contracts. In order to compete, he had to find new ways to win.
  • Police managers are usually able to successfully meet the demands of their communities and fulfill their goals and objectives on a limited budget. Capable department managers should have this ability to allocate the scarce resources effectively thereby creating a more goal-oriented police department.

  • Billy Beane did not have the finances to go out and buy a play-off team, yet his boss expected him to produce a winner. He made the best of his tight budget. Similarly, police and sheriff departments across the country are feeling the effects of budgetary constraints. They are forced to find new and innovative ways to provide services to their ever-demanding communities.

  • Billy Beane was very creative in his response to the problem of a low budget program. It appears that police managers seem to accept the failure if the agency does not have the money in the budget to support a new idea, than the new idea is dismissed. Police managers need to be as creative as Billy Beane and come up with alternative ways to continue to strive for success even if money is the problem in the organization.

  • In law enforcement, we are asked many times to reduce, prevent, and control crime with very little resources. I learned that Beane was able to do this by analyzing the data he obtained just as we have been taught to analyze our organizations strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for the betterment of the team.

  • Law enforcement could learn a great deal from Beane’s innovative concept of “doing more with less.” In today’s economic environment, the public expects the police to maintain a high level of service while providing fewer tax dollars. In essence, the public is asking the law enforcement community to “do more with less.”

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for police departments to develop new streams of revenue. Police managers can fully empathize with Beane’s dilemma. He was forced to find new ways to be competitive and effective and make better use of the resources that he had at hand. In this fashion, a threat can be turned into an opportunity by forcing managers to seek new methods to promote efficiency.

Conclusion

The ideas expressed in Moneyball have proven to be effective as evidence-based practices have been developed in policing. Police departments have been encouraged to adopt evidence based practices to guide their operations and increase the probability of effective performance. Evidence based decision making uses statistical data to set priorities, measure progress and establish methods to ensure accountability for performance. There are several advantages in the use of a “practice-based evidence approach” that examines the “processes and strategies implemented by the police of their own accord, not programs or strategies implemented haphazardly or temporarily for the sake of research” and based upon the premise that “the world in which the police operate does not stop and wait for them to evaluate it; it continues to change and adapt” (Boba, 2010, pp. 123–124).

Indeed, evidence based police practices have demonstrated effectiveness. Lum, Koper and Telep (2011) constructed the “Evidence-Based Policing Matrix” to determine the effectiveness of police practices. This matrix categorizes experimental and quasi-experimental research on police crime prevention strategy studies (97 conducted through 2009) on three common dimensions: 1) the nature of the target; 2) the extent to which the strategy is proactive or reactive and 3) the specificity or generality of the strategy (Lum et al., 2011). In sum, the studies of the highest methodological quality determined that “proactive, focused, placed-based interventions” were most likely to reduce crime than strategies that focused on individuals, or were reactive or general in nature (Lum et al., 2011).

Braga and Weisburd (2010, p. 4) assert and offer empirical evidence that “police can control crime hot spots without simply displacing crime problems to other places” by utilizing problem oriented policing and situational crime prevention techniques to address the “dynamics, situations and characteristics” of the location. To effectively implement and manage a hot spot policing program, they specifically recommend that police departments utilize a “Compstat-like accountability system that puts a premium on problem oriented policing and community policing” (Braga & Weisburd, 2010, p. 243). The NYPD’s Compstat program was implemented by Police Commissioner William Bratton. He sought to implement effective crime control policies by enforcing accountability, empowering precinct commanders and improving operations by utilizing crime information (geographic crime mapping to determine hot spots) to develop creative crime strategies (Silverman, 1999). An exhausive analysis of the effectiveness of the Compstat program in by Zimring (2012) reveals that New York City experienced a decline in seven major crime categories (Homicide, Rape, Robbery, Assault, Burglary, Larceny, Auto Theft) that was greater than the nine other largest U.S. cities during the period 1990–2009). For these crimes, the average decline in New York was 63 % during the 1990’s and 45 % after 2000 (Zimring, 2012). Specifically, Zimring (2012, p. 147) attributes this crime drop to the effective use of hot spots emphases and tactics – “the most important of these is a data driven crime mapping and control strategy management program with many of the elements of Compstat.”

Specifically, Braga and Weisburd (2010; see also Avdija, 2008; Braga, 2005) offer the following list of police programs that research has deemed effective:
  • Jersey City Drug Market Policing (Weisburd & Green, 1995).

  • Jersey City Problem-Oriented Policing at Violent Places (Weisburd & Green, 1995).

  • Kansas City Crack House Raids (Sherman & Rogan, 1995b).

  • Kansas City Gun Experiment (Sherman & Rogan, 1995a).

  • Lowell, MA: Reducing crime and disorder (Braga & Bond, 2008).

  • Minneapolis “Hot Spot” Policing (Sherman, 1995).

  • Philadelphia, PA: Foot patrol to prevent violent crime (Ratcliffe, et al., 2011).

  • St. Louis Problem-Oriented Policing in Three Drug Areas (Hope, 1994).

They also note that police crackdowns may produce results but mere police presence does nothing to reduce crime.

As Hoover (1998) has indicated, the revealed truth is that police operations can impact crime. Virtually every controlled experiment entailing crime specific policing has yielded positive results. When the police concentrate resources on a particular crime, the incidence of that crime drops. Focused police efforts can make a difference in reducing crime. When the police are merely present, but passive, crime continues. When the police suddenly and decisively change their approach to one of proactive intervention, crime starts dropping.

Clearly, the findings of this study are limited: the descriptive results are from one class in a single degree program from one university. However, the AOC police managers clearly identified three elements of Moneyball management that could be readily applied to police management:
  1. 1.

    Using Statistical Analysis to Guide Operations

     
  2. 2.

    Challenging the Status Quo

     
  3. 3.

    Doing More with Less

     

Overall, more efficient, strategic management concepts could be applied to improve service delivery in policing. The responses indicated that these police managers were open to new ways of doing business and managing police organizations. Surely, new ways of thinking will be required to deal with the unknown challenges of the future and these police managers expressed a willingness to consider Moneyball-based ideas in this process.

Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2012