Yesterday’s Man

This blog may be as uncomfortable to read as I know it is going to be to write. This is going to be an existential exploration which is unlikely to lead to any answers. I find myself in the somewhat strange position of asking, in relation to work, “what am I doing here?” I know I am not alone in this position either – in a recent survey, some 76% of police officers said they would not recommend the job as a choice of careers to others.

This kind of thinking out loud could effectively “do my legs” in terms of career progression or opportunities but in over 20 years I have never felt more confused about the direction of the police service I love.  Read More…

“Tasering Children” – A Response

February 25th 2015 – Today, the media is alive with the garish headline that UK police have used taser 400 times on children in one year.

This information has been published following an FOI request from a journalist – a favoured way of finding a story. It wouldn’t be so bad if the journalists actually provided some full context but they generally don’t. FOI is a means by which public bodies can be held to account but, having seen many of the requests in my time, they are too frequently used with the headline predetermined in the question.

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The Man in the Hole – a personal blog on Depression

Depression is a hideous illness. If I had a virus or a fever I could take medication, allow it to do its thing, and expect to get better in a few days time.

I would see the symptoms. I might be hot, cold, shivering – my body would be showing me it was not right. To the rest of the world it would also be pretty obvious that I was poorly. No doubt this would lead to sympathy from those closest to me – even platitudes from acquaintances but either way – someone would feel the need to express their concern for my well-being and hope I “get well soon.” Read More…

On Change, Listening and Engaging

I am delighted to host another guest blog. This one is from Superintendent Paul Clements of the City of London Police. (@CityPoliceSuper)

Paul is one of the country’s first Direct Entry Superintendents. Whilst I have reservations about the whole “direct entry” thing I have been impressed by the way in which Paul has gone out of his way to meet the critics and sceptics (like me) and narrate his difficult journey on social media. 

Paul has never been afraid to discuss and debate the issue and he has more than earned my respect and admiration for doing so. 

In this blog, Paul addresses some of the main concerns about “direct entry” and wider police reform from his perspective. 

On Change, Listening and Engaging

It can be difficult to read back your own words.

In September, Police Oracle quoted me (correctly): “Don’t wait to evaluate us [Direct Entry Superintendents] before taking on more” during my presentation to colleagues at the Superintendents Association Conference.

This week I’ve been reflecting on that quote having thought long and hard about a blog on change from @nathanconstable.

Nathan wrote that his blog might be difficult reading.

It was.

Difficult because I’m part of one of the initiatives he writes about. Difficult because I can see potential in much of the reform that’s proposed. And difficult because I know, having led contentious change programmes in public services before, how important it is to communicate with colleagues.
Nathan writes “I don’t see [change] with the relentless optimism of others or welcome it with open arms as the new and bright future. I’m not scared of it – I just don’t understand it”, and in so doing, he speaks for many colleagues I’ve met in several Forces and he identifies a significant risk to these reforms. We need to engage with colleagues, involve them in discussions and in the design of programmes, articulate the rationale for change. We need to do this urgently and we need to do it well.

Please bear with me for a bit of science. There’s a way of thinking about how we react to change based on analysis of how people deal with grief from Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969). It’s not universally applicable, but I’ve seen it play out when I’ve managed change before. The first stages are absolutely key.
For “shock” and “denial” read – “why Direct Entry?” and “what’s wrong with me?” and “am I not already professional?” I think we’re in this stage now. Direct Entry Superintendent and Inspector; policing degrees; professionalism etc. Colleagues are longing for an explanation of why? Why now? Why this?

What happens when we don’t address these concerns quickly is that the point in the graph where it starts to dip down towards frustration and depression (the ‘inflection point’) comes sooner. The descent is quicker. The low point lasts longer and, since everything we’re talking about needs colleagues to accept and work with the changes, it might not happen at all. You’ll see on the chart that morale is of course inextricably linked to this.

That’s why it’s so urgent. That’s why we need to get it right.

Which brings me back to my Direct Entry article: “Don’t wait to evaluate us before taking on more”. As a sound-bite, it communicates absolutely the wrong message. It’s confirming fears that change is coming, and it looks like ‘this’, and it’s happening whether you like it or not. You’re not involved; you’re being informed.

The College, I know, is working hard on this and, in parallel, I resolve to do more to engage, to try in my own small way to help colleagues understand the rationale. I’ll do it in my own words, and I’ll start with my own programme:

Why do we need Direct Entry?

John Sutherland wrote in his blog this week that he didn’t think that any of the colleagues he has worked with would “suggest that policing is fine just as it is … they would say that there are all sorts of things that we could – must – do better”. I’ve come across the same sentiment time and again in the Forces I’ve worked with. I’m not saying for a second that there aren’t countless colleagues across the country who aren’t delivering the highest standard of service to communities. But demand is changing and policing needs to change to meet it. If we don’t, victims suffer and criminals prosper. Additionally, look at the change that’s coming from external factors: continued budgetary constraints; ICT/digital innovation; regionalism? You only have to look at what we’ve spent on external consultants over the years to acknowledge that policing might lack some of the skills to help deliver this change. Why don’t we recruit leaders from outside, fiercely committed to serving communities and developing colleagues, leaders who have managed and delivered change in the past, to help manage this change from inside the organisation?

I’m not a huge fan of using ‘group think’. It has a pejorative connotation for me. I’ve seen plenty of de-briefs in policing where open and honest opinions are put forward. There are different perspectives in the Service (reading Nathan’s blog will show you that). But isn’t there a chance that even more value can come from having officers coming into roles where they can really influence, to bring a different approach to, for example, communicating with colleagues and the public; training and developing our colleagues; and a culture still in some places steeped in hierarchy and rank-consciousness? Isn’t it worth trying?

Ok, maybe, but why don’t they just come in as Police Staff?

It’s precisely this point. Bringing in outside skills and experience is only part of the rationale. Just as a programme or an area of policing stands to benefit from fresh thinking and a ‘critical eye’, perhaps the same could be said about policing culture. These are some of the messages I’ve come across in several Forces: “Senior officers need to be more visible” “I wish they would stop micro-managing” “our ideas are never listened to” “we’ve always done it like that”. 

What if we brought people from outside with different approaches to leadership and management? Wouldn’t officers gain from a different style, perhaps less conforming to established organisational/cultural/rank-based shibboleths? It is important to be warranted officers because the potential impact on culture we could have, is greater.

But what about the talent we’ve already got?

We ignore the skills, experience and (crucially) the potential of our colleagues at our peril. We risk disillusionment, discontent and disharmony. We are NOT talking about Direct Entry being the only (or even the main) way of becoming an Inspector or a Superintendent (or a Chief). We’re talking about bringing in a small number of leaders with diverse backgrounds to have an incremental positive effect on a Shift, or a Basic Command Unit or Local Policing Area, or a Specialist Unit. And what I am convinced of is that the development of existing colleagues will be absolutely central to any test of the success of Direct Entry. We’ll be bringing in people who have demonstrable track records of doing just that.

Officer’s prospects won’t be materially affected, promotion from within will always be the principal mechanism. So why are we doing it if it’s such a small number of people? I just don’t buy the idea that for change to be worth doing, it has to be wholesale, swingeing. If it’s worth it for that BCU, for that Shift, for those officers who work with Direct Entry colleagues, then it’s worth doing.

I get Superintendent, but why Inspector? It’s too risky.

I did my rotation as Duty Inspector last Summer, as did my seven colleagues across the Met, Sussex and North Yorkshire. We operationally managed murder scenes; suicides; high risk missing persons; we took children into police protection; and we dealt with public disorder. We did all this using the training devised and delivered by the College of Policing and our Forces, but principally using the same risk management approaches, critical thinking, real-time decision-making and leadership skills developed in our former careers. Yes, the effect of a poor decision in policing can be life or death rather than £x, but at all levels officers rely on the National Decision Model to inform their choices, and we explain our actions on that basis, not merely by intuition or gut instinct.

Direct Entry Superintendents can help to bring an external perspective to shaping strategy, to community relations, to the culture of senior managers; but Inspectors have a direct link to staff, on a daily basis to bring the benefits of prior experience and skills to the operational front line much more readily. Direct Entry Inspectors and Direct Entry Superintendents are complementary.

What about professionalism?

I’ve decided not to comment directly on the degree proposals in advance of the College’s Consultation starting this week. But I do want to try to link professionalism and qualifications to Direct Entry.

I wonder whether this is a familiar scenario to some colleagues: There’s a new project. A Chief Inspector or a Super is selected to manage it. They may have successfully managed projects before, they may not have. They may know something about the subject area, they may not. They bring in the subject matter experts and they ‘crack-on’. They deliver the project to the best of their (and their team’s) abilities. The Chief Inspector uses this as promotion evidence. Their next project will probably be even better. Everyone goes back to their day job or onto their new posting.

Now imagine this: There’s a new project. In fact, it’s been proposed by a PC. She identified a need to improve a process, scoped the project, costed it, and designed an outline project plan. She delivered a presentation to her Super and a Chief Officer who gave their approval and gave her the budget. The PC resourced her team with a business analyst from Intel, a Special Constable part time, a colleague from the local authority, a DS from Crime, and an Inspector from local policing, all with crucial skills and experience to impart. The PC led the team and delivered the project. Other colleagues were accountable to her for their input. The benefits of the new process were relatively small but they were realised. The effects of this model being possible at all, on those involved, on the culture of the Force, on the potential development of staff, on that PC – are anything but small.

What’s stopping this happening now? I think this is down to confidence – that of the individual and the organisation’s confidence in the individual. If gaining a degree level qualification, with everything that evidences (critical thinking and analysis, communication skills, reflection, independent decision-making, problem solving in complex and unpredictable contexts, research skills. etc.) if that enhances the PC’s skills and confidence to make this happen, then shouldn’t we do everything we can to encourage colleagues to achieve a professional qualification?

Is that enough though? No. We need the culture of Senior Managers to change to allow this way of working. In the private sector this model happens all the time. If Direct Entry can help facilitate this l in policing, then let’s try it. ‘Role not Rank’ succeeds in a Public Order scenario. It can succeed elsewhere too.

Finally, back to that quote “Don’t wait to evaluate us (Direct Entry Superintendents) before taking on more”. It’s absolutely critical, for the design of the programmes and the confidence of communities and colleagues, that Direct Entry is comprehensively evaluated (and the College will have to deliver a report to Parliament on that in 2019), which is why we need a broader sample; eight people in the first year and 6 in the second is not going to give us a big enough evidence base. We need more Direct Entry Superintendents to assess the full benefits and we need a wider geographic distribution.

That’s the point I was trying to make.

These are the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of the College of Policing or the City of London Police.


#Degreegate – a chance to speak 

If you’ve been following my blogs and tweets of late, it cannot have escaped your notice that I have some views on the whole issue of whether police officers should be required to have degrees. 

I found both the concept and the manner it was announced to be flawed in many ways. My feelings around the concept are my own and are not universally shared but I do know that I am not alone in having those reservations.
The feedback from my Yesterday’s Man blog has also confirmed that I am far from alone in feeling excluded from the College of Policing and much of its proposed reform agenda.

It was therefore encouraging to read  this blog from Emma Williams who recently attended a College of Policing meeting where both of these aspects appear to have been discussed. 

I am not comfortable with the use of the term “Twitter Storm” to describe the reaction to the College’s degree idea as I feel this belittles the strength of feeling held by many. Confusion and resistance to the idea also goes much deeper than that which was expressed on social media. This isn’t just a “Twitter Storm” (which conjures up images of “storm in a tea cup”) this is real and genuine concern and, in some cases, disagreement that this is wise or necessary. 

It is a strong opposing view which seems to have been strengthened by the recent announcement that several private sector employees are making an apparently evidentially based decision to stop degree requirement for potential employees. This evidence suggests that there is no link at all between having a degree and being a successful employee and that it actually narrows the field of applicants with much talent being excluded. 

Nevertheless, the most pleasing thing arising from this meeting is that the College seem to have recognised the strength of feeling and are opening a six week window from February 2nd where people will be able to submit their thoughts and views on the subject.

I am yet to see what this will look like and how submissions will be made. I am yet to see whether it will be an open forum or guided questions. More crucially, we are all clueless as to how much influence or effect this will have. Will the views be listened to? What if the responses are overwhelmingly against the idea? 

For this reason I deliberately steer clear of calling this a “consultation.” My sense is that the whole thing will be going ahead whatever.

However, this is an opportunity that people both for and against the ideas cannot ignore. It is a significant and welcome gesture from the College of Policing. Whilst it is arguably about 6 months too late – it should now be grabbed with both hands by anyone who has an interest on either side of the debate.

I am therefore writing this short blog to say that I will be submitting something when the details are announced. Depending on the methods allowed I will probably have to do so (in the interests of transparency) in my own and real name. This is fine and, if I am able to, I will share my submission more widely at a later time. 

I am asking you to do the same. Whether you agree with the idea of police degrees or not – or whether you are somewhere in the middle – this is a vital opportunity to say something and potentially have some influence. 

This is to be welcomed and supported. Lord knows I am a self confessed opponent-in-chief to degrees in policing and have been very critical of the communications methods of the College so – credit where it is due. 

Those of us with an opinion – whatever it is – for, against or neutral-  need to get involved, positively, and speak up. 

I would like to thank Emma for her blog and I hope that the College accept her offer to become involved in the development and research. 

I would like to thank the College for giving us the chance to submit thoughts and views.

I now encourage everyone to actively get involved and express their views. Please keep an eye on the College’s website and Twitter feeds for details and I will post anything I see in a bid to spread the word. 

Definitely A New Hope: Star Wars – The Force Awakens Review

I have never written a film review before and I may never write one again. I will endeavour to avoid any form of spoiler for those people yet to see the film but if you really want to see this film with no preconceptions then stop reading now or return when you have seen it.

I was one of the original Star Wars generation. I grew up with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo as heroes. I had the toys, the duvet case, the annuals and bought the films on VHS, DVD and then Blu-Ray. This was a story in three parts – with glaring plot holes even a child could see – but which contained everything a child could wish for. Good triumphs over evil, a bad guy, the good guys, lasers, spaceships  AND magical powers. Knights with futuristic weapons.

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Why Education Matters, But Not By Degrees

A few weeks ago, a Twitter debate raged on the subject of whether it was necessary for all police officers to be degree educated. It has been proposed by the College of Policing that, in order to “professionalise” the police, it is desirable (and, therefore, likely to happen) that any new recruit will be required to undertake a Batchelor’s degree in policing.

At present, it is not clear what that will look like but the best guess is that it will actually be combining all existing foundation training and calling it a degree. Purists argue that this is not a degree at all as it does not test critical thinking and there is no dissertation. Others see it as the gateway to a future of officers who will act and think differently.

Read More…

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