A phrase has appeared in the media with increasing frequency of late. It normally appears after an inquest or inquiry in actions taken by police and can come from a range of sources:
Single issue campaign groups
The phrase is this:
“Police need more training …”
I sensed that I had seen this phrase a lot recently and so I ran that very phrase through Google and I wasn’t wrong.
Having done this, the results which came back showed that the police apparently need more and better training in:
Dealing with domestic abuse
Mental health training
Reading HGV Tacographs
Dealing with “honour” crimes
Dealing with bullying
Dealing with cyber crime
To name but a few.
The phrase is normally in response to a single theme, in isolation and with no reference or context to the many other things which have recently been added to the training list.
Add it all up – it is a LOT of training.
To do any of these subjects justice would require more than an hour or two in a classroom. Indeed, I have previously suggested that the very minimum required for mental health training (to achieve even a basic understanding of some of the concepts and legislation) is two full days.
That is before we get into some of the real specialisation such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training which is a two day course (run by MIND and others) for an introductory level qualification.
Remember that Lord Adebowale, in his independent report on policing mental health in the Met, recommended that ALL front line officers should receive training in this.
If these subject matters are so important that they keep coming up in reports and inquiry findings then one has to ask how it is to be managed.
Currently, the shift system I work allows for 5 training days a year. One of those is taken up with the mandatory Personal Protection Equipment training (Baton, CS, cuffs etc) and will no doubt, in future, incorporate the soon to be mandatory fitness testing as well.
Which leaves 4 days.
Training days come once every 10 weeks or so. It is one day – built into the roster. Anything additional would be classified as a “course” and would count as an abstraction.
This means, that in order to attend it, it would leave a gap in resources on the team.
In my experience, training days tend to be badly done. At least an hour to an hour and a half is spent talking with a member of the Senior Leadership Team. This is supposed to make them accessible but it usually sees them delivering key messages (about performance usually) to a captive audience before opening the floor up to questions from the officers present.
I have been present when a senior detective has turned up and specifically said “I am not here to talk to you about detections” before spending the next 40 minutes talking about detections.
The rest of the day usually consists of cramming as much into hourly slots as possible to cover as many subjects as possible. No subject is ever given the time or attention it deserves.
This is scattergun training. We can say we have done it and a force can say its officers have been trained but have they? Really?
Mandatory training usually comes by way of the much hated NCALT.
For the uninitiated this is computer based “self teach and test” using products delivered by the College of Policing. Training like this involves watching, pointing clicking and testing.
It is possible to rattle through any of the current NCALT products simply by pressing the mouse and not paying attention. I am not confident that anyone undertaking an NCALT lesson truly absorbs what is in front of them.
Nonetheless, having got to the end of the session (which can take a couple of hours of duty time if you do it properly) you are shown as “trained.”
I recently did the new mandatory one on cybercrime. I can remember nothing about it other than the fact that it started by telling me what the internet was.
NCALT is not popular and I do not believe it is effective.
The list of subjects above (with the probable exception of HGV Tacos) all need detailed and effective inputs; classroom based and with subject matter experts delivering them.
Each of those subjects requires days of training. Not hours – days.
At the moment, the sheer volume of subjects which apparently we need more training in far far outweighs the time we have available to be trained.
Going back to mental health – is it not absolutely urgent (given the number of death by restraint incidents which KEEP happening) that we address this fully and properly?
Which do you prioritise?
How do you fit it all in AND still provide a service to the public?
Several forces have either changed or are in the process of changing their principle IT systems. These are systems which the majority of staff use daily simply to get the job done. Crime recording, investigation, missing people, custody, intelligence – all use IT systems.
When a new one is introduced it is vital that all staff are trained in it before it is turned on. Otherwise normal functionality will become impossible.
It can’t be done in a day or without classroom input.
So how do you mobilise an organisation of several or even tens of thousands to ensure they are trained (over a period of a few consecutive days) sufficiently close to the new IT go-live so that things aren’t forgotten?
It is a massive undertaking – not dissimilar to moving staff around for a major pre-planned event. It affects rosters, rest days and overtime budgets.
IT training on this scale should be a rare occurrence. Once every decade perhaps. The point, however, is this:
To ensure that the training delivered on this list of subjects above is given true justice then it requires the same time in the classroom, the same number of staff and it involves the same logistical nightmare.
A simpler solution is to train some staff to a higher degree.
Police have historically done this for officers trained as first responders to sexual offences. It works up to a point – that point being when there is no first responder available.
Each team could theoretically have a number of trained subject matter experts in mental health, sexual offence response, crisis intervention etc. Then you have a problem with succession planning and retention. What happens when these officers move on – or are unwell or on leave?
You will be permanently training people – identifying gaps – then training people ad infinitum.
Part of the problem is that much of this training is about learning about culture and complexity. It is no longer sufficient to learn legal definitions by rote as it was when I first joined.
The world has changed greatly and police training simply has not caught up with it. It is neither deep nor subtle enough.
It is no longer sufficient to have omni-competent police officers who are “a bit good” at everything. This approach is akin to comparing constables to medical GP’s. The police are running out of specialists to refer to as the focus is on maintaining the front line.
If, as has been so simplistically suggested, “more training” is the answer to these issues then finding the right amount of time to dedicate to this is slightly less simplistic.
NCALT is not the answer. It should not be allowed to be the answer. It may well be AN answer but it is not the right one.
Rostered training days do not allow sufficient time to explore and deliver meaningful training.
Anything else has repercussions on service delivery.
Of course, the good news is that this should all be eminently doable.
Only a few weeks ago the Right Honourable MP for Lewes, Mr Norman Baker (Minister of State for Crime Prevention) was quoted as saying that because crime was down “the police had less to do.”
This being the case perhaps we can dedicate some of this new found down time to additional bespoke training.
My next blog will be on the following subject:
“If crime is down so much – why are the police busier than they have ever been?”