Stop Struggling!

There is a joke which goes around police self defence training – the scenario involves a violent subject resisting arrest and the object of the exercise is for the officers to restrain him. Four officers approach and take a flailing limb each and start pulling and pushing. The joke is that after a while their momentum continues long after the subject is subdued. The officers continue to wrestle this poor individual unaware that it is their own pulling and pushing that is causing their colleagues to think the person is still resisting. All the shouting of “Stop Struggling!” comes to nothing because they are, in fact, fighting with themselves. The story is often relayed by police trainers to show the importance of talking to one another whilst trying to deal with something difficult and how the person at the bottom of this pile can end up being injured if you don’t.

A view of my Twitter timeline this morning and the numerous police related stories brought this training scenario very quickly to mind. All I could see was various important police bodies taking a limb each and pulling in opposite directions.

Last night there was a big debate on police wellbeing – today there was a report on a PCC saying officers should find another job if they feel they are struggling.

Meanwhile, you have the very public discussion between the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary about at what point each meant they should believe or not believe a complainant.

Then came the HMIC report on Police Effectiveness.

I had the opportunity to read the overall report and several individual force reports before most people woke up and at one point I actually laughed out loud. Not because it was funny but because it just seemed to say something so opposite to other things I have been reading of late.

The College of Policing have spent a lot of their time producing a Leadership Review which seems to advocate the flattening of the existing rank structure and reductions in the overall level of supervision of officers. This has been supported by the publication of a new Policing Bill which seeks to legislate to do exactly that. No rank other than Constable and Chief Constable is safe.

The College has spent a lot of time working on schemes, at government behest, to bring in people from outside the service directly into high ranking positions. This is shortly to be extended to the most senior operational rank of Inspector before any real evaluation has been done on the merits of the scheme for superintendents. Effectively you will have senior officers commanding two junior ranks with a little over 18 months service and no prior police experience before that in many / most cases.

The College has also announced plans to create a system of entry which will involve new recruits paying for their own training and having to obtain a degree in policing before they can commence as Constables. This has even extended to talk of people choosing their specialism before ever doing a day’s paid police work and taking modules of a degree which will steer them solely into one area of policing or another.

There is much talk about a flexible workforce. About people coming and going from the police service with transferable skills and with greater ease. Even talk that the only way you can gain leadership skills to progress in the police is to leave the police and get it elsewhere before coming back.

These reforms paint an image of a highly transient workforce who will come to policing with no police experience and at high rank. Who may not stay within the service for very long and, whilst there, will be expected to self manage their work because of the supposed benefits of higher education. Degrees replacing supervision.

It was therefore with some confusion that I read that the HMIC’s chief criticism of forces today, before any of these reforms begin, is that inexperienced and untrained officers are managing case loads that are too heavy, that they are ill-prepared for and that they lack proper supervision.

The HMIC therefore seem to be calling for the very things that the College are seeking to move away from.

One of them has to be wrong, surely?

There is no confusion here. The language in the HMIC reports is quite clear and talks of “inexperience” and “lack of / or poor supervision.”

The poor supervision theme was heavy in HMIC’s reports on crime recording standards and CSE investigation as well.

So whilst one entity seems to be advocating we need more of it – the other is actively working on schemes to remove it. The HMIC report doesn’t ask for or suggest alternatives to supervision – it just comments on the quality or lack of it. Clearly implying that more is needed – not less.

This has been one of my main concerns about the whole College of Police agenda. That the ideas and reforms they are suggesting are going to have to somehow get past things like HMIC inspection and IPCC investigation. The various elements do not seem to be suggesting the same tactics at all. Today was a classic illustration of that for me.

HMIC also loudly proclaim that neighbourhood policing is under threat and the suggestion is that officers are being diverted away from it to do other things as the workforce has shrunk.

This is a real “we told you so” moment for the Federation and Superintendents’ Association and others who predicted this was a likely outcome.

The government have responded by changing their language from “there is no question the police have the resources to do their important work” to “Chief Constables and PCC’s have no excuse whatsoever for not delivering at least a good service.”

This is a huge change in rhetoric. Far more aggressive.

Sadly it implies that in some cases “good” is all a force can hope to be. The use of the words “at least good” suggests that not all will be able to achieve outstanding.

The final conflict in today’s report continues with Neighbourhood Policing as the HMIC report talks about the numbers of officers engaged in it and the amount of time they spend doing it. They say it is being “eroded” and that forces are “sleepwalking” into distancing themselves from their communities.

Firstly, I don’t think anyone involved in policing is sleepwalking into anything – it is arguable that they are being frogmarched – and (again referring to previous HMIC Inspection and IPCC investigation and media furore) forces have sought to concentrate on the areas of policing which cause the most threat, harm and risk. Invariably these means prioritising people and places and invariably it means concentrating on fewer of both to ensure that those absolutely most at risk are protected as best as possible.

The downside of this is that those who appear to not really need the police or need them less often get exactly that. You lose community contact and visibility that way as a side effect. Some were suggesting only last week that this is as it should be. HMIC say this is bad. So do many others.

However, for the last month or so there have been many reports and articles and voices calling for further radical reform of the police so that we can bring in specialists such as IT experts to deal with fraud and cyber crime. The theory is (and it links back to the earlier commentary on College plans) that this new wave of officers may never wear a uniform and may only ever learn or deal with one aspect of policing.

Forces have been told they must do more to concentrate on fraud and cybercrime as these seem to be very much on the rise and are now the volume crimes replacing burglary and personal theft.

So the vision a few weeks ago was that we could do with fewer uniformed officers on the beat because it was outdated and unnecessary. What was needed was people working in offices, in suits, because that is where the crime is to be solved.

Today – the HMIC seem to be calling for the exact opposite and are saying that there are not enough officers engaged in neighbourhood work and they are spending too much time doing other things.

Well – you either free them up or you get more of them because the things they are doing instead are not going away and actually the call is to have even less of them in the first place.

You’ll forgive me I am sure but my head is spinning.

Is it just me or – when you put all of these things together on the same table and read them all at the same time and compare notes – does none of it add up?

There really is some great opportunity out there for joining up with other interested parties and agencies. There have to be better ways of managing current police demand than currently exist and not all of those should actually involve the police at all.

I am not advocating for one moment that we bury ourselves in a trench and die in the ditch trying to maintain some old mythical police model which probably never worked or even existed in the first place.

Things do have to change but are we looking at the right things?

What concerns me is that whilst one important body goes one way another comes in and seemingly demands the opposite.

This has been the case for decades and unless THIS changes then all this talk of reform is destined to become fads until the next inspection report comes along and tells us we need something else.

It ultimately comes down to this – is there a real overarching blueprint for reform to which everyone is signed up and agreed or do we really have a bunch of people pulling in different directions at the same time?

One has a chance of succeeding – the other really doesn’t.


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