Back to School
Two of the largest public institutions in the United Kingdom are taking a bit of a hammering at the moment.
The NHS is currently having its performance culture dissected with clinical precision whilst the police are barely out of the news with stories of alleged cover-ups, inappropriate activity and general inadequacy and inefficiency coming out on an almost daily basis.
Working within these organisations at the moment can be a pretty wretched place. Not because of the work, the nature of the work or the organisation itself but because of the relentless focus of negativity from the media.
It is right and proper that both organisations are transparent and accountable but at the moment it feels like a bit of a siege.
I was talking to one of my colleagues the other day and how it felt to come to work in amongst this media frenzy. We both agreed that the only thing we could do was turn up and carry on doing the best we possibly can – as we always have done.
Many of the issues being highlighted about “the police” are historic or specific to one force. The press are portraying things far more widely and I suspect that the public just see it as “the police” as well.
The “sins of the fathers” are currently under the microscope and those currently serving are taking the heat.
For some context – I was 15 years old when the Hillsborough tragedy occurred. Stephen Lawrence was murdered almost a year before I actually joined the police.
I was still accused of being “institutionally racist” by association even though my first posting was to a small town in South Wales.
Sir Peter Fahy has made the point that many serving officers weren’t even born when some of these things happened but they are being reported as though they had happened yesterday.
It is right that allegations of the kind we are dealing with are properly and thoroughly examined. It is wrong that this wasn’t done a long time ago. It is right that if fault or criminal intent is discovered that people face justice. It is wrong to accuse a 22 year old officer of guilt by association.
The reports about policing have been wide ranging and in rapid succession. The Adebowale report on how police deal with mental health issues. The HMIC report on how well police prepare evidential files. The IPCC have just published a report about how the Met handle complaints of racism.
There is a common thread in all of these reports and they all call for one particular solution – better training.
So, to just take those three reports, the police need more in-depth training in mental health matters, file preparation and awareness of dealing with complaints of a racial nature.
By complete coincidence I have been having a conversation with a friend today who asked me what specific training police have in relation to dealing with young people.
The answer is – none.
My friend was incredulous. I asked why police would need specific training in dealing with one demographic group. My friend offered to share research with me which showed why 16-25 year olds require a different approach.
I was then asked if we had any training in de-escalation techniques particularly for young people. The answer again was “no.”
I have blogged before about my belief that de-escalation training needs to be taught to officers in relation to mental health but I can see that it would actually have a myriad of uses across policing.
I started thinking about all the police training I have had on conflict management and personal protective equipment.
Officers are indeed taught about the “force continuum” which starts at mere physical presence and ends in lethal force.
After “mere physical presence” comes – broadly speaking “talking.”
Before use of force we all know that we should try and use verbal communication to de-escalate a situation but I have NEVER been given any specific training on this.
It dawned on me that in nearly all my “self defence” training the lessons have been focused almost exclusively on legislation around the use of force and then the mechanics of use of force.
“Tactical Communications” are mentioned but usually only briefly as the requirement of the session is to re-qualify for handcuffs, baton and CS spray.
It just seems to be accepted that we all know how to tactically communicate because we are police officers.
My friend asked me about what I knew of the “aggression cycle.” The answer to that was “absolutely nothing.” I could have a guess based on experience but I have no scientific understanding.
Then I remembered that Lord Adebowale had made reference to this in his report. He said that officers frequently confused aggression for violence and too rapidly chose to use physical force to subdue someone.
Which leads us back to his recommendation (one of many) – more training.
The HMIC have just published a report which is critical of the quality of files sent to the CPS. Evidentially deficient, things in the wrong places, missing documents were just some of the list of grievances.
Turning it on its head one could ask – do the CPS really need all this stuff and are their requirements too great? But, accepting that they ARE the requirements we really should be meeting them.
Have we had any training specific to file building? No. The last input I can remember was in training school and then “on the job.”
Many important legislative or procedural changes to files have been communicated by email or “teach yourself” packages like NCALT.
HMIC call for more training in relation to file preparation.
Whilst this does sound like a lot of training I don’t believe it would be that hard to deliver. Many shift patterns in existence across the country have built in “training days” which could be utilised without having to take officers off the front line and put them behind a metaphorical desk.
Reading all of these reports together suggests that there is a lot of information out there that officers should know but don’t know. I suspect that more reports will be written over the coming months and that they too will recommend more training for officers.
The reason I post the “sins of the fathers” issues and “training” in the same blog is simple. Since I joined I have had training which was intended to specifically deal with the outcomes of things like the Macpherson Inquiry. Diversity training has been mandatory and necessary. “Self defence” training has moved on light years since my early service but:
A) this is not being acknowledged by the press who are reporting on the past and
B) given the latest findings of these reports one has to ask whether the inputs have been truly effective.
I believe they have been. The culture within the police is massively different from how it was even 20 years ago but there is still work to do.
Once upon a time it was a standard entry in every officers annual appraisal that they were able to “communicate well in a wide range of circumstances, effectively changing their approach to the needs of the situation” (or words to that effect.)
We never received any training in this. It was all learned from experience – which didn’t always make it right.
Just using three of the examples I have quoted here shows three different sections of the community: people suffering from mental illness, young people and different ethnic groups.
There are many other sections of the community who would also argue that the police do not know to communicate effectively with them either. It’s a huge challenge.
It is clear – the common thread in all of these reports is a call for more (some) or better police training. It involves a lot of training in a lot of things. None of it can be done effectively by email or NCALT.
There is much that the police do right but there is much that we do wrong or could be better at.
How do we even begin to address this?
Is it time for us all to go back to school?