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29,1 Assessing the quality of police
services using SERVQUAL
Mike Donnelly
92 Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh, UK
Neil J. Kerr and Russell Rimmer
University of Paisley, Paisley, UK, and
Edward M. Shiu
Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the application of the SERVQUAL approach to
assess the quality of service of Strathclyde Police in Scotland. Measuring service quality in public
services is fraught with difficulty – especially in public services where customers are vulnerable
citizens whose contact with the service may be limited.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper reports on a SERVQUAL survey of elected
representatives serving the area covered by Strathclyde Police Force. The survey captures
respondents’ expectations of an excellent police service and compares these with their perceptions of
the service delivered by Strathclyde Police. The paper also reports on a parallel SERVQUAL survey of
police officers in Strathclyde to examine how well the force understands its customers’ expectations
and how well its internal processes support the delivery of top quality policing services.
Findings – While there is a significant shortfall in meeting customer expectations, the police force
appears to have a good understanding of what these expectations actually are. There also appear to be
gaps in the formalisation of service quality standards, in the force’s ability to meet established
standards, and in its ability to deliver the level of service it promises to customers.
Research limitations/implications – A key technical result is that the primary SERVQUAL
instrument appears to be internally consistent but lacks discriminatory validity between the five
SERVQUAL dimensions in this service arena.
Practical implications – The paper will be of interest to strategic and operational police service
managers and to academics investigating the reliability and value of service quality assessment tools.
Originality/value – The paper reports an original application of the SERVQUAL approach to police
Keywords Scotland, Service levels, SERVQUAL, Police
Paper type Research paper

The aim of this paper is to report an exploratory study using the SERVQUAL
approach to assess the quality of Strathclyde Police services, one of the largest police
forces in the UK. The governance of Strathclyde Police is the responsibility of a Joint
Board reporting to the Scottish Executive through the Justice Minister. A key
Policing: An International Journal of responsibility of the Joint Board, and of the executive leadership of the force, is to
Police Strategies & Management reconcile the various partner and stakeholder interests and the different assessments of
Vol. 29 No. 1, 2006
pp. 92-105 the quality of service that they might make.
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The study uses the SERVQUAL approach which examines the gap between
DOI 10.1108/13639510610648502 customers’ general expectations of a service and their perceptions of the service
received by a specific service provider. The approach has been used extensively to Assessing the
assess the quality of private sector services but fewer applications of the approach
have been reported for public services. It has the specific potential to assist in
quality of police
evaluating the quality of service received by those people who come into direct contact services
with the police and it is this potential that is examined in detail.
A survey of local authority elected representatives (councillors) in the Strathclyde
area was conducted using a customised SERVQUAL instrument. These local 93
councillors, elected from the universal franchise of adults over the age of 18, represent
citizens in determining local service priorities and provision in areas such as school
education, public housing, social services, and opportunities for leisure and recreation.
As well as being individual customers of police services they are therefore also
representative (literally) of the population served by Strathclyde Police. However, these
representatives may have greater knowledge of police services than the constituents
they represent. Although the results of the survey indicate a significant gap in service
quality, a parallel survey of Strathclyde police officers shows that the police service has
a good understanding of customers’ expectations and perceptions of the quality of the
service and of the relative importance of each of the SERVQUAL dimensions. This
parallel survey also indicates room for improvement in establishing meaningful
service standards against which performance can be reported, benchmarked and
judged. Qualitative analysis of written comments from survey respondents indicate the
importance of:
(1) case mix and geography;
(2) the resources available to the service; and
(3) the visibility of the service to customers.

Further, analysis of the validity and reliability of the SERVQUAL approach indicates
that, in application to policing, the survey instrument could be refined.
Following a description of the background to Strathclyde Police, their approach to
service quality and the complexities involved in assessing public service quality, the
paper then goes on to describe the SERVQUAL approach and its use to elicit and evaluate
councillor and police officer assessments of the service offered by Strathclyde Police.

Police services across the UK have had to respond to change and adapt to a
comprehensive series of reform programmes over the past two decades. Some of these
have been in response to high profile incidents such as the London-Brixton and
Liverpool-Toxteth riots and the Stephen Lawrence murder and subsequent inquiry. In
addition, central government and the major opposition political parties in the UK have
consistently pursued reform agendas for law and order as central policy themes. The
reforms of successive Conservative governments and the adoption of the New Public
Management approach in the 1980s have been succeeded by the post-1997 Labour
governments’ modernising agenda and its intent on tackling crime and the fear of
crime in the UK.
Recent legislation through the UK Local Government Act (1999) and the Local
Government in Scotland Act (2003) has placed a new duty of Best Value on police
authorities. This duty, amongst other things, requires the police to demonstrate
continuous improvement in performance, to be effective and efficient in their
PIJPSM operations (whilst achieving an appropriate balance between quality and cost), and to
29,1 have in place an effective system of public performance reporting.
Most police authorities have been active in quality management programmes and so
the new duty of Best Value, though challenging, represents a logical step forward in
the drive to deliver top quality policing services. This is certainly the ethos in
Strathclyde Police force.
Strathclyde Police Force
Strathclyde Police is one of the largest police forces in the United Kingdom. It was
formed in May 1975 as a consequence of the Local Government (Scotland) Act (1973)
through the amalgamation of the seven police forces contained within the boundary of
the newly created Strathclyde Regional Council. Local government reorganisation
twenty one years later in 1996 created 12 new unitary local authorities also,
collectively, covering the area served by Strathclyde Police. Extending to 5371 square
miles, the force provides a police service to nearly 2.2 million people.
The force headquarters are located in urban Glasgow but it also serves its rural
communities from the highland districts of Glencoe in the north to the lowland farming
areas of Ayrshire in the south; from the Inner Hebridean islands in the west to the old
Lanarkshire mining towns in the east (Figure 1).
As in other Scottish police forces, the Chief Constable retains operational control of
staff and other resources, while accountability is achieved through a tripartite
governance arrangement between the Chief Constable, The Scottish Executive, and the
Strathclyde Joint Police Board. The Chief Constable is responsible for the efficiency,
internal administration and operational policies of the force, accountable to the Joint
Board and to the Minister for Justice in the Scottish Executive. The Strathclyde Joint
Police Board consists of 34 representatives from the 12 local authorities. The 12 local
authorities collectively provide the resources which fund the force’s operation and,
through the Board, monitor spending and value for money.
With an annual budget of around £400 million, the force has an establishment of
around 7,300 police officers and 2,200 civilian support staff and is organised in nine

Figure 1.
The west of Scotland area
covered by Strathclyde
territorial Divisions, each headed by a Divisional Commander, with sub-Divisions Assessing the
serving the public at a local level. quality of police
The force also has a number of specialist units – responding to the geography,
demography and crime patterns of its area – such as mounted police officers, trained services
police dogs, underwater search and rescue, and helicopter support which all
compliment more traditional policing methods.
Performance and quality management in Strathclyde Police
Strathclyde Police force’s adoption of the key principles and concepts of total quality
management began in the late 1980s when it engaged in strategic discussions with
senior representatives of business organisations that had just undergone major
cultural change. Over the following years this engagement, subsequent early training
interventions and quality improvement led to the force launching its “Quality of
Service” policy and practice document. This committed the force to total quality
management principles (Oakland and Porter, 1995). Subsequent policy statements and
annual reports regularly reported on the force’s strategic goals, performance criteria,
targets and information, with accompanying narratives to inform citizens and other
stakeholders of the progress the force was making in tackling crime in Strathclyde.
The force also directed its attention to external quality management approaches
during this period. It first achieved Investors in People in January 1995, a status it
continues to hold today. During 1994 it undertook its first self-assessment against the
European Foundation for Quality Management’s (EFQM) Business Excellence Model
and this continues to provide the framework for quality management development in
the force. More recently a more balanced approach to the design and delivery of
strategies and plans has been advocated to take greater account of the varying, and
sometimes conflicting, needs of its different stakeholders. The Balanced Scorecard
(Kaplan and Norton, 1996) has been adopted to try to help provide a framework for the
force’s targets across the perspectives of the customer, the business processes, the
resources, and the development of the organisation.
Strathclyde Police has therefore been an active and engaged member of the
community of Scottish public services committed to quality management.

Assessing public service quality

Assessing the quality of public services is made difficult by the nature of the
customers, the decision makers and the complexities of the environments that most
public services inhabit.
In relation to the customers, the nature of many public services is such that there is
collective, or community, payment for services which are not always enjoyed
personally or directly by every paying citizen. Conversely, there are some services
where the individual receiving the service does not pay directly, or at all, for the
service. Early research (Donnelly and Dalrymple, 1996) indicates that the ability of
commercial sector instruments to assess public service quality might be compromised
as the service under scrutiny moves away from any close commercial sector analogue
in terms of extent of direct payment for, and personal receipt of, the service. The
detachment of the customer from the service delivery arena in terms of direct payment
reinforces the need to recognise the variety of “stakeholders” in public sector services.
These include the service users and consumers; future or potential users; excluded
PIJPSM people and non-users; citizens; local communities; elected representatives;
29,1 decision-makers; employees; other public agencies; commercial and voluntary sector
partners; professional associations; central government; and society as a whole.
Other complexities involving the public service customer rarely experienced in
commercial sector environments include:
(1) the ignorance of actual service receipt by the “customer” and their limited
96 associated knowledge of the service;
(2) the ambiguity of the customer;
(3) customers with directly conflicting interests; and
(4) the existence of unwilling customers for the service.

In the specific context of police services these four situations are reflected in:
(1) those people who are neither the victim, witness, juror nor perpetrator of a crime
and so never come into direct contact with the police;
(2) the victim of a crime and the person accused of this crime who are both
“customers” of the same service provider;
(3) situations where the rights of all, perhaps opposing, parties have to be
protected; and
(4) those citizens who are placed under arrest or confinement against their will and
are constitutionally regarded as innocent until proven guilty of their accused

These complexities provide real challenges and dilemmas for police service managers
and for researchers trying to assess the quality of services provided by the police.
Another key difference between the commercial sector and the public sector is that
while the commercial sector may choose to analyse its external environments at a
distance, public services are often required by statute or by necessity to consult,
collaborate and negotiate directly with their many stakeholders. The consultation
processes and contexts for the synthesis of strategic service objectives can range from
direct representation on formal committees through participation in joint boards to
customer feedback mechanisms and advisory and consultative forums.
This mosaic of service delivery environments, demand management, executive
profiles, accountability arrangements, stakeholder involvement and contexts for
strategy formation, service definition and conflict resolution is arguably far richer than
that experienced in the commercial sector and may impact on the assessment of the
quality of services provided. Research effort is therefore important to drive forward
quality assessment approaches for services where receipt and payment are not
matched and for these other special customer/provider complexities.

The SERVQUAL approach

The SERVQUAL approach (Parasuraman et al., 1988) to the measurement of service
quality has attracted considerable attention in recent years. The approach starts from
the assumption that the level of service quality experienced by customers is critically
determined by the gap between their expectations of the service generally and their
perceptions of what they actually receive from a specific service provider. Ongoing
research (Zeithaml et al., 1990) yielded five dimensions by which customers evaluate Assessing the
service quality. These service quality dimensions are: quality of police
(1) Tangibles. The appearance of the physical facilities, equipment, personnel and services
communication materials.
(2) Reliability. The ability to perform the promised service dependably and
(3) Responsiveness. The willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.
(4) Assurance. The knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to
convey trust and confidence.
(5) Empathy. The caring, individualised attention the organisation provides its

The original quantitative research (Parasuraman et al., 1988) involved customer

surveys and focus groups in five different service industries (appliance repairs and
maintenance, retail banking, telephones, credit cards, and securities brokerage). This
resulted in the construction of a 22-item survey instrument which measures, on a
seven-point Likert scale, the general expectations of customers and a corresponding
22-item instrument measuring their perceptions of the service quality of a particular
organisation in the service category (Figure 2). Analysis of survey responses allows the
assessment of the extent of the service quality gaps between expectations and
perceptions both overall (Gap 5) and in each of the five service quality dimensions
shown above. Of course, the five service quality dimensions might not be equally
important and so respondents are invited to indicate, on a scale which sums to 100, the
relative importance they attach to each.

Figure 2.
Conceptual model of
service quality
PIJPSM The survey responses allow investigation of service quality in a number of ways. First,
29,1 the dimensions of service quality can be ranked in order of importance from the
customers’ viewpoint. Second, an assessment is obtained of how customers rate each
service quality dimension on the basis of their actual experience of the service
organisation. Conclusions can then be drawn about the focus of the organisation. That
is, how well it is performing in those factors regarded as most important by its
98 customers. Third, disentangling customers’ general expectations from their
perceptions of a particular organisation allows tracking of both features over time.
The impact of management action on service quality can therefore be monitored and
assessed. Further, understanding shifts in customer expectations may yield important
information influencing the design, specification and development of the service under
scrutiny along with other, perhaps related, services of the organisation. Finally,
identifying and quantifying the gaps in meeting customer expectations by service
dimension will support better prioritisation by the organisation in developing future
service improvements.
Research was also conducted (Parasuraman et al., 1988) into the potential for service
shortfalls as a result of the behaviour of the service provider. This revealed four gaps
(Gaps 1-4 in Figure 2). These are:
(1) Gap 1: the gap between customer’s expectations and management perceptions
of these expectations.
(2) Gap 2: the gap between management perceptions of customer expectations and
the service quality specifications.
(3) Gap 3: the gap between the service quality specifications and the actual delivery
of these.
(4) Gap 4: the gap between the perceptions/expectations of customers of the service
and what is communicated by the organisation.

Again, survey instruments were developed (Zeithaml et al., 1990, pp. 187-205) which
allow the extent of these gaps to be assessed and the possible causes to be identified.
The SERVQUAL approach to examining service quality has been criticised on three
main grounds.
First, “disconfirmation” or the comparison of customer perceptions and
expectations has been questioned (Cronin and Taylor, 1992; Babakus and Mangold,
1992). Here critics argue that there is little theoretical or practical support for making
comparisons between customers’ perceptions of a service with some ideal service about
which they might have expectations. Further, there is a dynamic between perceptions
and expectations of a service which some critics argue, the SERVQUAL approach does
not accommodate satisfactorily. This can also result in a blurring between the concepts
of service satisfaction and service quality. Second, studies have cast doubt on the
number and stability of the five SERVQUAL dimensions (Buttle, 1996; Carman, 1990;
Babakus and Boller, 1992). Here critics question the claim of Parasuraman et al. (1988)
that the five SERVQUAL dimensions are universal and generic. Early work (Donnelly
and Dalrymple, 1996) led to the suggestion that these criticisms might be justified in
the public sector where there are no close commercial sector analogues. And thirdly,
the use of differences in Likert scores (Teas, 1993; Buttle, 1996) has the potential to
confuse. The main criticism here is that the scoring mechanism can result in different
assessments of expectations and perceptions by different respondents resulting in the Assessing the
same overall SERVQUAL score. quality of police
Although the approach has attracted much criticism it continues to be cited (Donnelly
et al., 1995; Buttle, 1996; Brysland and Curry, 2001) as a highly valuable, reliable and services
valid method of measuring customer expectations and perceptions. A key purpose of this
research study was to investigate the applicability of the SERVQUAL approach in the
context of police services, taking into account the limitations noted above. 99

The service quality study in Strathclyde Police

The aims of the study were two-fold:
(1) to investigate the applicability of the SERVQUAL approach to the assessment
of police service quality; and
(2) to identify service quality gaps in Strathclyde Police Force and how these might
be addressed.
The customers’ viewpoint
As noted earlier, capturing the customers’ perspective accurately can be problematic in
public services where not all “customers” come into contact with the service (Donnelly
and Dalrymple, 1996). The approach taken to understanding how people served by
Strathclyde Police view the quality of its service was to conduct a postal survey of all 471
elected representatives (councillors) in the 12 local authorities in the force’s area.
Although these people literally “represent” the constituents who make up the population
served by Strathclyde Police, they perhaps have additional knowledge, understanding,
and experiences of police services which are not shared by their constituents.
The standard SERVQUAL instrument was adapted to suit the particular context of
the police service and administered during September and October 2004. In total, 142
responses were received although ten of these were incomplete and so unusable in the
final analysis. This represents a usable response rate of around 28 per cent.
We see from Table I that there is an overall service quality shortfall of 22:05 (on a
scale of 26 to þ6). This masks relatively poorer scores (22:60 and 22:53) in the most
important dimensions of Reliability and Responsiveness. These overall SERVQUAL
scores and dimension importance weightings are broadly comparable in size with
studies reported in other public service studies (Donnelly and Shiu, 1999; Brysland and
Curry, 2001, Donnelly et al., 1995).
Analysis of the items which contribute most to these poorer scores indicates
(Table II) that the ability of the force to make promises and meet them and its
performance in responding in good time are the biggest sources of customer concern.

Factor Expectations Perceptions Gap Weight Rank

Tangibles 5.31 4.93 2 0.39 12.4 5

Reliability 6.46 3.86 2 2.60 32.1 1
Responsiveness 6.32 3.78 2 2.53 22.7 2
Assurance 6.40 4.81 2 1.59 18.4 3
Empathy 6.17 4.57 2 1.61 14.5 4 Table I.
Summary of customer
Notes: n ¼ 132; weighted SERVQUAL score ¼ 22:05 Gap 5 SERVQUAL scores
PIJPSM A view can also be given of the “satisfaction” with police services by examining the
29,1 perceptions scores independently of customer expectations (Table III). Making the
judgement that “satisfaction” is reflected in a score between three and five on the Likert
scale we see that an overall average of around 15 per cent of those surveyed indicated
that they were dissatisfied with the service overall. Again this masks relatively high
levels of dissatisfaction with the Reliability (22 per cent) and the Responsiveness (30
100 per cent) features of the service.
This analysis is reflected in the comments offered by some respondents:
Response time is the key area that needs to be improved (Respondent 1).
A lot of people say police don’t attend. What’s the point of calling the police? (Respondent 5).
As a councillor I find local Strathclyde police officers to be very professional and reliable.
Senior staff are particularly responsive. However, this is not the experience of many of my
constituents who feel that the police are unresponsive (Respondent 35).
Blue light calls are rarely answered on time. Pledges to report back to members of the
community are not met. Follow-up calls are not made (Respondent 52).
These comments on the responsiveness of the force were often accompanied by
respondent observations on the limited resources available to the police to meet the
demands being placed on them. Specifically, many respondents noted the perceived need
for more police officers and that they should be better utilised in policing communities.

The force’s viewpoint

The standard SERVQUAL instruments to assess the extent of Gaps 1-4 (in Figure 2)
were also adapted to suit the context of police services and administered to a
representative, convenience sample of 200 police officers using the force’s email

Item Score Description

5 22:98 When the force promises to do something by a certain time, it does so

Table II. 8 22:97 The force will provide its services at the time it promises to do so
Survey items 11 22:95 Officers and staff give prompt service
contributing most to 10 22:59 Customers informed as to exactly when services will be performed
negative Gap 5 score 13 22:54 Officers and staff never too busy to respond to customers’ requests
(scale: 26 to þ6) 7 22:53 The force performs service right the first time

Poor Satisfactory Good

(% who scored 1, 2) (% who scored 3, 4, 5) (% who scored 6, 7)

Tangibles 04 65 31
Table III. Reliability 22 61 17
Customer “satisfaction” Responsiveness 30 48 22
ratings obtained by Assurance 09 54 38
grouping perceptions Empathy 11 58 31
scores Average 15 57 28
system. 79 officers agreed to participate and returned usable, completed survey forms Assessing the
(a response rate of around 40 per cent). quality of police
Police officers were asked what they thought the expectations of their customers
would be; what their own perceptions of the quality of police services are; and services
relatively how important are each of the five SERVQUAL dimensions. The results are
summarised in Table IV.
We see from Table I and Table IV that there is a remarkable agreement in the 101
expectations customers have and the police officers’ estimate of these expectations
(SERVQUAL Gap 1). Across all of the service quality dimensions the police officers
appear to have a good understanding of what customers expect of the service. The largest
difference (0.21) is in the Responsiveness dimension where police officers’ expectations
(score of 6.11) marginally underestimate customer expectations (score of 6.32). This degree
of understanding of customers’ views of the service by the police is reinforced in that they
both have the same rank ordering of the importance attributed to each dimension. The
closeness of these scores has not been reported for any other public service. Anecdotal
evidence suggests that generally service providers have higher expectations of the service
than those who actually receive the service. The shared views and rankings of service
expectation levels are to a lesser degree replicated in the perceptions of service
performance. However, the overall SERVQUAL Gap 5 scores are still quite close: a score
of 22:05 by Councillors compared with a score of 21:98 by Police Officers.
Police officers were also asked about the sizes of SERVQUAL gaps 2, 3 and 4.
Table V provides a summary of these results along with the Gap 1 score, the difference
between customer expectations and officers’ perceptions of these expectations
(Figure 2). The Gap 1 score is measured on a scale of 26 through to þ6. So the
weighted score of 20:1 confirms that there is only a small difference between customer
expectations and police officers’ perceptions of these expectations. That is, police
officers have a good understanding of customer expectations.
Gaps 2, 3 and 4 are measured on a scale from 0 to 6 where a score of zero denotes no
gap at all and where a score of þ6 represents the largest gap possible.

Factor Expectations Perceptions Gap Weight Rank

Tangibles 5.36 4.28 21:08 10.8 (5)

Reliability 6.37 3.97 22:40 28.1 (1)
Responsiveness 6.11 3.80 22:31 24.7 (2)
Assurance 6.29 4.63 21:66 21.2 (3) Table IV.
Empathy 6.09 4.83 21:26 15.1 (4) Summary of police
officers’ Gap 5
Notes: n ¼ 79; weighted SERVQUAL score ¼ 21:98 SERVQUAL scores

Weighted score

Extent to which expectations are understood by the force (Gap 1) 20:1 Table V.
Extent to which performance standards are formalised (Gap 2) þ2:8 Summary of police
Degree to which force is able to meet established standards (Gap 3) þ3:0 officers scores on
Extent to which force delivers level of service promised (Gap 4) þ3:0 SERVQUAL Gaps 1-4
PIJPSM Thus, the score of þ2:8 for Gap 2 indicates a considerable shortfall in the police force
29,1 having formalised service quality performance standards. This might result from an
inadequate commitment to service quality; a perception of infeasibility in being able to
meet well-defined service quality standards; an absence of goal setting; or inadequate
task standardisation that would allow standards to be meaningfully defined. Detailed
analysis shows that the largest contribution (þ3:2) to this gap is made by the Empathy
102 dimension – perhaps the most difficult dimension for which service standards might
be defined, set, and met.
The score of þ3:0 for Gap 3 and for Gap 4 results from substantial shortfalls in the
Reliability and the Empathy dimensions. This indicates that police officers feel that they
are consistently unable to meet the level of established standards which are promised.
This combination of having a good understanding of customer expectations along
with a feeling of being unable either to define the necessary service quality standards
or to meet those which have been set must result in considerable officer frustration and
might have implications for officer morale.

Model validity and reliability

Taking up the points of criticism of SERVQUAL raised earlier, the customer responses
were subjected to validity and reliability checks. First, consider internal consistency
which, for each of the five SERVQUAL dimensions, assesses dimension reliability in
that all of the items included in that dimension actually relate to the same phenomena.
This is measured using the correlation statistic Cronbach-a on a 0 to 1 scale where 1
denotes perfect correlation between item scores and zero no correlation between item
scores. Values greater than 0.7 are regarded as acceptable evidence of dimension
reliability (George and Mallery, 1995, p. 226). Within all five dimensions for
expectations, perceptions and in all but the Tangibles dimension (where a ¼ 0:692) for
the Gap scores this benchmark was attained. Thus the internal consistency of each of
the five dimensions is satisfactory although the Tangibles gap scores were only
marginally consistent. The analysis showed that three of the 22 individual items might
not fit well within their respective dimensions.
Confirmatory factor analysis indicated an issue with construct discriminant validity
with exploratory factor analysis failing to identify separate dimensions beyond the
Tangibles dimension. That is, the instrument may be capturing and collapsing additional
factors compared with those for which it was initially designed. This is not surprising in
the application of an approach designed for the private sector, but applied to a public
service. Another possibility is that other factors or dimensions, not orthogonal to those
employed conventionally (and used here) should be assessed in relation to policing. The
discovery of a single non-Tangibles dimension echos the findings of Babakus and Boller
(1992) and Cronin and Taylor (1992) who went on to argue that service quality is a
one-dimensional construct and that the five-dimensional model is unstable.
These intriguing possibilities do not detract from the strength of the findings above,
but do point to the need for further research into the structure of service quality
assessment models (e.g. Dietz and Watson, 1994) used in the police service arena. For
example, is the use of exceptionally knowledgeable customers, the councillors,
revealing deeper insights than might be expected from other customers of these public
services? Consequently, are there unsuspected dimensions, interactions or complexities
being expressed by councillors in their assessments of police services? Or is police Assessing the
service quality genuinely uni-dimensional? quality of police
The group of elected Councillors surveyed is one of the key stakeholder groups for
Strathclyde Police Force. As a group of “customers” they may be more critical of the
police services in their area than citizens generally. This could be because the 103
interaction Councillors experience most often with police officers is probably when
they receive and are dealing with a constituent complaint about poor service:
Constituents regularly complain to me about the time taken to reply to questions, calls, etc.
(Respondent 11).
My response to the questions is not quite so positive as they were made with the
comments/complaints received from some of my constituents in mind (Respondent 67).
The overall “dissatisfaction” rate of around 15 per cent (Table III, column 1) compares
with reported figures for Strathclyde Police of 10.5 per cent (Accounts Commission,
2001) but is consistent with more recent internal reports from Divisions in 2003.
Some Councillors also sit on the Joint Police Board and so are directly aware of the
resources constraints within which the force operates. Many respondents reflected this
awareness more generally in their comments about the availability of resources and the
occasional inappropriate use of scarce police officer time:
I do not think that police forces throughout the UK and certainly in Scotland are provided
with sufficient resources to perform their duties (Respondent 125).
I feel the police force is over-stretched with too much time spent writing reports and attending
court and waiting for hours/days (Respondent 71).
Too much time is spent on paperwork, recording crime and statistics (Respondent 15).
Indeed, many respondents made the connection between lack of available resources
and poor performance in service quality dimensions, especially in relation to service
reliability and responsiveness which tend to be demanding of officer time.
Analysing the comments and suggestions made by respondents yielded important
issues requiring further consideration by the force. It is clear that there is a widespread
belief that beat policing is the most effective method of delivering local police services.
Service effectiveness was identified by many with police visibility, and visibility can
only be maintained with sufficient police officers being seen in communities. This has
obvious implications for officer staffing and availability levels. Currently, services are
perceived to be compromised because highly trained and desperately needed police
officers are diverted away from the front line to perform routine administrative, court
and other back office duties. Available officer time also appeared to be adversely
affected by the turnover and frequent movement of officers between geographic areas
– often with a loss of local knowledge that takes significant time and effort to acquire.
Whatever the level of service quality as measured by the SERVQUAL scale, it is
clear that police officers have a good understanding of both the expectations customers
have (Gap 1) and of their views of service quality as a whole (Gap 5). This knowledge is
essential if the gap in service quality is to be effectively closed. The surveys of police
officers indicate that there is room both for establishing meaningful quality
PIJPSM performance standards (Gap 2) across the service quality dimensions as well as for
29,1 improving performance in meeting existing standards (Gap 3) and the promised
service commitments (Gap 4).
Some respondents raised the issue of what is meant by an “excellent” police service.
Indeed one questioned the validity of the concept itself:
I’m afraid I don’t believe in an “excellent” police force (Respondent 112).
And some others expressed the view that the force cannot be excellent in everything,
all of the time. This raises two issues. First, even if there is such a thing as excellence,
then what might be excellent for councillors might not be excellent for ordinary citizens
or for other stakeholder groups. In other words, the judgements different stakeholders
make of the service offered by Strathclyde Police will depend on the nature of the stake
they have in the service. And this might be reflected in different dimensions by which
excellence and performance should be measured and assessed. There is a need,
therefore, to test the validity of the SERVQUAL dimensions for each of the different
stakeholder groups separately and independently. Second, the less than definitive
conclusion regarding the discriminant validity of the SERVQUAL model leads us to
question which items in the survey instrument critically underpin the service quality
judgement made by the group of Councillors surveyed. On this point, as discussed
above, new dimensions should be considered to permit exploration of the potentially
complex and interconnected views of some stakeholders.

Strathclyde Police appears to have a good understanding of the service quality
expectations of their customers as represented by the responses of elected Councillors
in the area covered by the force. There is room for improvement in service quality
performance both from the viewpoint of the customer and through police force
attention to the definition of, and compliance with, service quality standards. The
views of local people in communities are an important but not the only voice that needs
to be heard when assessing service performance of the police force. Some effort might
be directed towards identifying and understanding the various stakeholder groups
with a view to testing the SERVQUAL approach, and other approaches, to the
assessment of service quality performance from these different viewpoints.
The SERVQUAL model has limited discriminant validity in this service context,
although the SERVQUAL dimensions themselves appear to be internally reliable.
Further research into the key drivers of the service quality assessments made by
customers might therefore prove useful. The study reported here is the first phase in a
programme of research which tested the SERVQUAL approach with elected
representatives. The next phase will extend to surveying citizens served by
Strathclyde Police who have been victims or witnesses of reported crimes using
instruments that will be developed to take account of the findings reported above.

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Further reading
Committee on Standards in Public Life (1997), 3rd Report of the Committee on Standards in
Public Life: Standards of Conduct in Local Government in England, Scotland and Wales,
Cm. 3702-I, The Stationery Office, London.
Great Britain Commission for Local Authority Accounts in Scotland (1973), Local Government
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