This week, the Home Secretary announced a “consultation” on Direct Entry into the Police Service.
The concept of Direct Entry has been in circulation for some time but until recently has had little traction.
The Government now suggests that policing is too “insular”, a “closed shop” – something of an irony coming from the Houses of Parliament – and that parachuting people from other fields directly into senior policing posts will “enrich” the pool of talent and help forge a service “fit for the 21st Century.”
Under the new proposal you will be able to become an Inspector within 3 years or a Superintendent with just 15 months training or, providing you have served in another common law, English speaking country, be teleported straight into a Chief Constable’s reclining chair.
The service’s reaction to this proposal has been almost universally negative. For once, we present a united front. The Fed is opposed to it, the Supers Association is against it and many members of ACPO appear to have reservations.
Oddly, the Met Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, seems to be largely in favour of the idea – for Inspectors and Superintendents, but not for Chief Constables or Commissioners. What’s the difference? Embrace some, embrace them all!
Twitter has been alight with outraged views on this subject. Many comments have been inaccurately targeted and some have been downright abusive but the topic has generated more traffic on my time line than pensions ever did.
The primary argument has been that a Superintendent with so little service won’t be in the position to make effective command decisions, especially when it comes to public order, firearms and other authorities.
It currently takes two years to assess fully whether or not a wannabe is going to become an efficient and effective Constable. During this probationary period, student officers undergo both classroom based training and tutoring and then spend 12-18 months gradually accruing the requisite skills.
During these two years student officers learn the basic crafts of “policing”, a wide and imprecise term which incorporates the handling of all manner of incidents at the sharp end. They work closely with more experienced colleagues, encounter new and daunting situations and have to make crucial decisions involving the lives and welfare of others. They also- and crucially – have the opportunity to decide if the job is really for them.
Student officers are supported not only by their immediate colleagues but also by supervisors who have been where they are, seen what they are seeing and done what they are doing.
Supervisors will be moulded by their experiences of having been in the same situations. Most police supervisors will be hardened to the emotions which can cloud judgement precisely because they have been there themselves. These mutual experiences engender mutual confidence, respect and trust.
The current route of progression for the gifted and talented officers is via the High Potential Development Scheme. The scheme has its fair share of detractors and it did fall into disrepute some years ago, since when it has been comprehensively revamped and restructured. It now has far more credibility and makes it possible to reach the Superintending ranks within 7 years.
However, the crucial factor is that the first two years are still spent as a Constable. After that the world is your oyster: however fast your talent may take up the chain, you have still done the same “probation” period as everyone else. You have still arrested and interviewed people. You have still rolled around in the gutter on a Saturday night.
I have no problem with rapid promotion. I made Sergeant in three and a half years and Inspector in seven. My own progress stagnated at that point and this year I will have been an operational inspector for 8 years. That progress was fast enough for me and if I am further promoted I will at least carry some credibility with me.
For me, the solution is not about teleporting people into senior posts but about moving deserving people through the ranks quickly. The two years as a constable is essential if you are to command others in that role. I would never expect my team to do anything I haven’t done myself.
What upsets me is language of the Home Office. They are effectively saying that they do not believe that anyone within the service can lead it into the future.
They tell us we have the “best police force in the world” and in the next breath say it needs people from elsewhere to make it “fit for the 21st Century.” The two comments do not correlate: in effect they are saying that the “best police service in the world is not fit for the 21st Century.”
I have grave concerns about the operational credibility of a Superintendent with 16 months in. I do not accept that it is possible to perform the role with so little service and it is telling that so much discussion centres on what mistakes an inexperienced individual might make whilst dealing with a murder investigation or a firearms incident. However, whilst I agree that these fears are valid, I think there is another, more potent concern.
I am sure that somewhere out there there is someone who could walk into the service at Superintendent rank and do an outstanding job – the law of averages tells you this – but that person will never truly be a police officer even if they are wearing the uniform.
Policing is not just about time served. A police officer can have 25 years’ service but may have been doing the same thing for that entire time. They would have 25 years’ experience of the same day. Time served is not, by definition, “experience.”
Neither is policing solely about the ability to lead or command. You can be highly successful in business or the military. You can have a full grasp of economics or management but to lead effectively you have to understand what you are requiring your staff to do, why you are requiring them to do it and what the consequences of that action will be.
The question hanging over the decision making process of a 15-month Superintendent is not so much about experience but exposure and it goes right back to the start.
If you have never had to investigate a crime.
If you have never had to patrol wet streets on foot at night.
If you have never had to stand at a scene for hours on end in the cold.
If you have never had to deprive someone of their liberty.
If you have never had to face the fear of jumping out of a police car and running headlong into a massive pub fight.
If you have never had to deal with distress, anger, violence, horror or carnage.
If you have never had to face insults, bottles and bricks and wonder whether you are going to be going home at the end of this shift.
If you have never had to undergo an HIV test because someone spat at you on purpose out of spite.
If you have never had to remove children forcibly from their parents and take them into your protection
If you have never had to break the news to someone that Daddy isn’t coming home.
If you have never had to try and breathe life into a dying road collision victim.
If you have never had to do any of these things how can you possibly expect to command those who have? You will have no comprehension of how long things take, of the value of spending that extra half an hour with a vulnerable victim. You will have no sense of empathy, nothing to relate to, no concept of the emotions involved for either the public or the officer.
For one of these new Superintendents, policing will be purely formulaic. It will be entirely led by theory and numbers.
Any serving cop in the world will tell you it really isn’t that simple.
A good police leader should not only understand what their team are facing but they should have the measure of the pulse, mood and history of the community they serve. This is not something you can learn from a book, in a classroom or in another line of business. A neighbourhood beat officer or Inspector should be able to feel the tension in their community as if it were their own emotion.
Under the current system it may take 7 years or 28 years to make Superintendent but one thing is for certain. At some point you will have done at least some, if not all, of the above.
In these situations, there is a progression from self-management in a crisis situation to leading others through a crisis situation. Whilst I am sure we can all think of notable exceptions – as we could in any walk of life – promotion is generally earned. It is the sum of everything which preceded it.
The fact is that you simply cannot walk into the police, stick a crown on your shoulder and make the kind of decisions we expect Superintendents to make. It is not solely about “performance management” or outstanding business ability. A Superintendent may well be partly a business manager but they are also police officers. A Constable with the rank of Superintendent. How can you be a Constable with the rank of Superintendent if you have never actually been a Constable?
The fact is that that route to achieving such a senior rank is a rite of passage. You earn it, you can’t walk straight into it and, if you do, the cap will never properly fit.
So far, police reform has reduced our monthly salary, reduced our pension, increased our service and now has the potential to block the promotion pathway. The financial implications of police reform have affected me greatly and the prospect of compulsory severance hangs over us all: however, the proposal of Direct Entry is my “red line.”
Direct Entry diminishes and devalues the Office of Constable. It suggests that the Government places no importance whatsoever on the work, skills, dedication and experience of the junior ranks. And for me, that is the biggest insult.
This blog was written for and published by @GMPFederation and appears on their blogsite
My heartfelt thanks to @DorsetRachel for editing.