Direct Entry – The Biggest Insult

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.


12 responses to “Direct Entry – The Biggest Insult”

  1. Brackendale says :

    Great piece and how true, how can you expect someone to just come in and do a job advising others on a role they have never done from the basics !

    Was thinking about this today – I work in finance and was doing the VAT Intrastat returns for the HMRC – to me its second nature after 30 years. But if I asked you just to come in and do my VAT you would not have a clue and I would not have a clue either to do your job. BUT the big difference is my role is NEVER life dependant on decisions but yours IS. I NEVER put my life on the line at work but YOU do. If i make a mistake it can be rectified – your mistakes could cost a life including your own.

    Why people who make these policies up cannot see it either baffles me as a member of the public – why is it we can see it but they carnt ?

  2. Chris says :

    Nathan – Eloquent as ever and such an accurate and well honed response. Although retired I am one of the angry one’s as to what our politicians are doing to the the Police that ultimately has to serve Society. Well done and thank you, reading it did indeed make me sadder still.

  3. Richard says :

    Some interesting points but as a taxpayer and a member of the public i can see faults in the service provided by the Police which serving,officers are unable or unwilling to see.
    It is a fact that locally the number of people who have faith in the Police is little over fifty percent. Local officers managed to raise this statistic recently by a few percentage points and were almost screaming it from the rooftops yet to the rest of us such low figures are a disgrace and show that something needs to change and that something needs to change quickly.

    The status quo is not working and we need people whose minds are not closed to push through new ideas which will at least have a chance of improving things.

    Whose mind is closed i can almost hear you ask, as a serving officer you don’t consider you mind to be closed and you don’t think that way about the colleagues whom you trust with your life.

    Serving the public as a police officer is not an easy task. You deal with the dregs of society on a regular basis, you come into contact with crimes and people so heinous that it changes you as a person. You do, or may do all of the terrible things listed in your posting above. You are part of an elite club, you are trained in combat and hardened to violence, hardened to seeing suffering and hardened to being the cause of suffering.

    You probably see yourself as a nice person who really is doing the world a favour, protecting people from dangers and dangerous people. You believe that you do everything you can to do your job to the best of your ability.

    That’s all great but what happens when someone rightly or wrongly criticizes the work you or one of your fellow officers does? Yes that’s right, you reject that criticism. You reject it without giving it a second thought, it is an automatic reflex. It is consequence of the training, trust and comradeship you share with your fellow police officers.

    I don’t have the same training as you, i have walked my own path and am trained in different arts. Namely those of my vocation, I don’t need to trust my colleagues and the level of comradeship we share is very low. We have lead very different lives, seen different things. I am far more open to criticism than you. when i receive it i resist the temptation to reject it, i analyse it and try my best to improve.

    Police Officers cannot accept criticism and certainly can’t be the source of it, after all when your faced with danger, your life is under threat a you need urgent assistance, could you really trust the man you have just deeply offended, whose career you have just placed into jeopardy by criticizing last weeks performance? Think about that carefully.

    As a member of the public i can see numerous glaring faults with the Police. I can bring those faults into discussion and i can criticize the Police. I can suggest improvements and i can do this safely. Serving officers cannot.

    This is why you need to recruit in new ways. This is why you need decision makers in the service who have not become institutionalised and whose minds have not been closed by their previous experience as constables or are part of the camaraderie which is essential in front line policing.

    • Nick says :

      Richard as an police officer, I fully accept what you say re the police accepting criticism, as an organisation they are truly awful at it. That is indeed an area where the police do need to improve. Please bear in mind however, that the systems put in place by the police to deal with complaints / criticism, are not of their individual organisational choosing they are put in place based upon a framework enforced by successive governments. I firmly believe that this and many other public sector systems put in place by government, have been put in to fail, so they can be used as an excuse, to dismantle, cheapen and weaken the police. Which is in fact what they are now doing with the fire service and the nhs.
      On a day to day level, I would say the majority of police officers, would happily listen to their customers to try and do what they do better, sadly there is now so little free time for feedback, reflection etc. the vast majority of fro line officers rush from job to job, and are given barely enough time to get the basics done, let alone do it with polish, as they undoubtedly would wish too.

    • Bob S says :

      Sorry, but to say serving officers cannot suggest policing improvements and cannot discuss them is total nonsense bordering on arrogance. Your final paragraph also clearly demonstrates you have totally missed the point about direct entry and is also insulting to many in the police service who are capable of free thinking and who through their wide personal experiences means they are anything but closed in their thinking and decision making.

  4. Blue Bob says :

    If they really wanted improve the talent pool in the higher ranks of the police then it is as simple as just changing the whole promotion system. Obviously keep the exam as any Sgt or Insp needs to know the law, but then get ride of the whole politically correct role play or the paper sift in the London. Any time a good respected capable police officer has to take an office job to gather evidence for promotion is a joke. Unfournatly the years of these politians getting promoted in the job has leaf to them altering the whole system to favour people like them and not real coppers.
    The sooner good copper ( experienced) are in charge the police the sooner the public will see/ get the force they want.

  5. nick says :

    I have some sympathy with Richard here, as well as Nathan. Also, I don’t accept that someone who hasn’t performed all those tasks you list can not therefore empathise with the situation. When we’ve lived long enough, we’ve all been in horrible, emotionally-charged, sad, frightening situations. I would bak my own humanity and ability to empathise with individuals in these situations despite never having been a police constable. While you suggest direct entry is disrespectful to constables , I’d suggest your view is disrespectful to your fellow human beings who have never donned the uniform.

    Richard raises an interesting point – it’s the camaraderie, loyalty and teamwork that bring you to your conclusion. The paradox is that this is vital in order for you to go about your daily work but equally it obscures your objectivity in discussions such as these.

  6. Inspector Gadget says :

    Richard, Richard, Richard.
    Police officers are also ‘taxpayers and members of the public’.
    Due to the nature of our employment, like many millions of other employees, we pay all of our income tax and National Insurance, every month, every year, with no exception for all of our working lives without fail.
    Please do not set yourself up in your very first paragraph as somehow more worthy than us because you pay your taxes.
    My wife is a member of the public, my children and my parents are too. So is my next door neighbour and my siblings.
    We know exactly what the public think of us, and we know how the public work and what categories they fall in to.
    If you are unhappy with the police, it’s probably because you have believed some snake-oil-salesman politician who has mislead you about what we can and can’t achieve.
    Unrealistic expectations, fuelled by empty promises from career hungry senior police officers. That is the problem with so-called public confidence.

  7. Lexx Clarke (@LexxClarke) says :

    ‘Direct entry’ was tried in the NHS about 10 years ago – people with no clinical background put in charge of front line clinical teams. It has proved almost universally a disaster, I don’t see how a similar programme in policing will be received any better. The same objections hold – if you haven’t cleaned up bodily fluids, been assaulted whilst attempting to deliver care or even done the same training with placements etc, how can you possibly advise on clinical matters?

  8. Lobby Thornton says :

    Just a thought, how can a government with its current track record on making well thought out decisions, be the best body to advise on how to change modern day policing.
    They employed a person responsible for reviewing our Rail network, which I do not see receiving favourable reviews from the British public, to guide the Police into the 21st Century. The cuts and changes implemented, have only benefitted the Private sector companies, one in particular springs to mind!
    Whilst I accept, Policing is undergoing a very difficult time, surely as previously mentioned, not assisted by unrealistic targets set by Home Office Officials intent on discrediting the current Police structure.
    The solution is simple, allow Police Officers to Police and leave the management of budgets to persons answerable to the public we serve. So if you want to see a Police Officer within the hour when you have been a victim of crime and no one shows up for a day or if at all, they can explain why the thin blue line is hardly visible.
    Finally, before I step down off my soap box, how can you fix something, when you have no idea what the problem is. When my car does not start, I do not ask my friend who is a wizard at running and managing a large supermarket, I ask a well reputed and experienced mechanic to look at my car, because whatever repair he carries out, will have dire consequences on the safety of its occupants and other road users.
    My respect for all who risk their life in the line of duty anywhere in the world to safeguard the public.

  9. stressedoutcop says :

    Plenty of performance pushing Business Manager Supers in place already from what I can see – who weren’t exactly “hot” on the streets. Credibility amongst the ranks also means looking after the troops and not concentrating on their climb up the greasy promotion ladder. I doubt many of these Direct Entries will find their way into critical roles.

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