Resetting diversity

Always one to dip my toes into controversial waters, this blog may read as quite challenging for some. It isn’t my aim to muddy those waters, or throw controversy out there and stoke the rhetoric, this blog is about getting back to basics.

What do we mean when we talk about ‘increasing diversity‘?

I mean, right back to basics.

  • What does increasing diversity do?
  • What is it aiming at?
  • Is what we are after going to do what it should be doing?
  • When we are ‘diverse’ (whatever that means), how will we know?

All of these questions are difficult to answer, but before we put any efforts into trying to improve diversity in our constabularies we absolutely have to understand what it is we are trying to do…

You may have heard about a number of initiatives in constabularies up and down the country that seek to address diversity based issues. They are usually lined up with figures, and these usually illustrate that forces up and down the country are unrepresentative. This term tends to mean that the proportion of employees that they have do not mirror the proportion of population that they have in the community. As an example, 30% of the community may be black or asian, but the proportion within the constabulary may be 4%. This is the usual framework that dictates discussion around ‘diversity’, and indeed many departments are actually created in order to deal with this issue.

Framing diversity in this way makes it a really simple idea. If we reach a particular percentage, then we are diverse! Yet, hold on… are we? Why do we have these figures? What do they mean? How do they ‘deliver’ diversity? What is it we are really seeking?

I argue when I’m speaking at events that there is real danger to be encountered when we reduce really complicated issues to ones of figures and sums. Systems Thinking approaches talk at great length about the measures that ‘define’ our work, instead of measuring them. Follow the targets and all you get is numbers, and you can bet that numbers don’t go all the way towards solving what has become the ‘diversity problem.’

To understand the problem a little better, you have to go back to when diversity started to become something that affected the police. It goes without saying that the police had entrenched practices that actually ironed out diversity for decades. Recruitment was very prescriptive, with height measures, gender disparity, and even lifestyle and income checks. There were restrictions on where to live and who to marry, where you could socialise and who with, and home visits from senior officers to check on the ‘decency and fit’ of the candidate’s social background. To see how far we have come, some of these were still in place when I joined (approximately 15 years ago).

So in context, we have come a long way.

There is some great research starting to emerge around measuring fairness in police forces, focusing in on race and background. One study in particular shows that senior black officers in the US have differing values to the rank and file, and this can result in conflict internally. In other words, diversity isn’t all rosy. Diversity can lead to conflict in the workplace, but this in itself can lead to improved decision making. Tension and disagreement in these areas force us to consider alternative viewpoints – a potent weapon in combatting groupthink (see Maskaly et al. (2017) for further).

The riots in the early 80’s, along with Orgreave, Stephen Lawrence, and Hillsborough began to expose some real issues with these methods of recruitment. They illustrated how tight the culture became, how much dissent was discouraged, and how pockets of really poor attitudes and behaviours were left unchallenged. Some of the recommendations from the Scarman and Macpherson reports addressed the uniformity of the police workforce – quite rightly pointing out that diverse views and thinking were distinctly unwelcome.

New Public Management then stepped up to the plate, and after a lack of progress on the recommendations, they obliged with a collection of targets and measures that began to represent diversity. Throw in performance culture, and everything that went along with it including bonuses and competition in the workplace, and a police officers job was reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet.

Diversity can not be about numbers on a spreadsheet. They may be a measure, something we consider that points us in the right direction or gives us extra information, but let’s be clear, diversity is not percentages.

My research indicated that during a single recruitment in Lancashire, 93% of recruits already knew someone in the police. Most of this 93% were friends and acquaintances. We know that jobs can often be spread through word of mouth, but it’s not just the awareness of the jobs, it’s the information that assists the applicant with choosing to apply and taking part in the recruitment process. If our current officers are helping their friends and associates out, does that make the majority of our successful applicants friends and acquaintances of the current demographic of police officers? My research would indicate that it does… And that has important ramifications for what we consider to be diversity inside our forces now.

Firstly, candidates who have no contact with existing officers are immediately, and unconsciously disadvantaged by the existence of a social support network that they can’t access. Our internal staff support external ones, and obviously these tend to be people that they know or share time with. Other research tells us that we are likely to socialise and spend time with those that have similar values and world views to ourselves – if you do the math, it tells us that we may be unconsciously closing the door on external applicants, especially ones whose communities do not tend to have much police contact. (There is supporting theory in Homophily and Ethnocentricity for further reading in this area.)

Secondly, our culture is wired to do this ^^^^^ We tend to favour internal routes to selection. If you want to be a cop, become a PCSO, a Special, a Comms operator, or a Custody Detention Officer, and the work your way in. I realise that this is tradition and that it pays to have established career pathways, but more complicated questions around these traditional routes must be considered. If we are constantly recruiting from our comms room, what is the knock on impact on resilience in there? How do we pay for the constantly rotating training and development? How do we develop deep skills and consistency?

Moreover, on the above point, they are very different jobs. I have worked with PCSO’s who weren’t really interested in community work, but instead were there to gather experience to become an officer. Does this really lend itself to problem solving and long-term relationship building?

And thirdly, we spend so much time talking about how our recruitment processes filter out 3% of candidates from other backgrounds at point B, but rarely do we actually address the underlying problem of a lack of applications in the first place. If we spend a huge amount of money ironing out processes and ensuring absolute proportionality in our operational exercises, what is the knock on effect if only 4% of applications are from diverse backgrounds in the first place? We may not ‘need’ to put effort into gathering more applications because each post is way over-subscribed, some have over 20 applications per officer role in some recruitment windows. Why on earth would anyone want more? Well, the answer to this question depends on whether it’s worth considering the value that could be brought to our constabularies by those that do not apply/are not aware/have no existing social connections with current officers?


Towards an evidence informed approach

Having spent a lot of time in this area of research, what can we actually do to make a real difference? The first is to take note of Einstein:


We really need to step away from numbers as an outcome, and treat them as a measure. We need to address underlying issues with our recruitment strategies, such as the fact that the majority of applicants find out about constabulary jobs via word of mouth or by religiously checking the website. How do we reach those people who are fantastic advocates for their communities, but simply have never considered becoming a police officer because they’ve never been exposed to the profession?

The answer to this question lies in focused community engagement; the building of relationships in communities where we have little to no representation. Our staff and officers are role models, they are just often sucked into the system, with little time to invest in doing the more traditional police work of building relationships and cultivating trust. In many ways, this is actually a part of the evidence for the existence of neighbourhood policing. Building relationships in the community will create social connections, and these may lead to new lines of recruitment and new flows of information. In other words, if social connections are important for recruitment, let’s go and make some where we need them.

How do we look to address the value of information passed between our existing employees and potential candidates? This innocent practice has great influence on who becomes a police officer, and whilst changes here may be culturally painful, it may be time to totally rethink how we approach recruitment. The more we propagate existing recruitment strategies, the more value there is in knowing someone who has been through it.

And finally, we have to look beyond the numbers and look instead at why the numbers are there. The original problems identified in the Scarman and Macpherson reports centred around legitimacy; they were about fair treatment and mutual respect. They were about procedural justice, improved connection and communications between the police and our diverse communities, and they were about dialogue – making sure that forces actually listen.

We see departments up and down the country chasing increased percentages, whilst underlying causes like unconscious bias are left relatively unaddressed. We remove internal groupthink from the debate, and instead focus on whether we hit 6% or 7% in the latest round of recruitment. And finally, we fail to consider what success looks like. When we hit 7% do we go back and pretend like the ever-present issue of diversity is done and dusted?

The issues above are being addressed by the College of Policing and HMIC, and despite being told on many occasions that they speak a different language, they are persisting with issues such as unconscious bias and valuing difference. The problem is that these haven’t yet been linked up in the policing psyche. Diversity is about percentages? No, it’s legitimacy. It’s always been about legitimacy. It is what it was about when the conversation started, and despite being rudely hijacked by New Public Management techniques, it is still about that today.

It’s time to reset what we mean by diversity, and stop relegating important underlying causes like unconscious bias to the back burner, whilst we recruit from our own social connections and focus on spreadsheets. Diversity is far wider than numbers and it always has been, can we focus on what matters, instead of what’s counted?

Direct Entry

This is difficult for me to write. I know that many officers will read this and feel angry. If you mention direct entry (DE from here on in), there is an automatic and visceral dislike that shows itself, even when some try to conceal it. Not everyone feels like this, but I would say that this is a majority opinion – and one that I held myself several years ago.

There are some great people in the police service, and I think they show a great deal of integrity when they say to direct entrants, ‘I don’t believe in the scheme, but I will support you wherever I can, because I would do that for everyone else.’ It’s difficult to intensely dislike a particular initiative, but then actively support the recruits that become the result of it. It takes courage, resilience, and an ounce of critical thinking that allows judgement to be suspended whilst a level of support is provided.

This aside, I’ve also heard stories of a physical lack of support for these recruits, and this includes those that enter the service under Police Now. This sets up the schemes to fail, as very tight cultures (and the police has a tight culture) can reject quite violently those that don’t ‘belong.’

Why is this ‘belonging’ so strong? There are many different reasons, but several really strong ones, and before I start to talk about them, let’s just go over the ‘evidence base’ conversation.

This is actually happening:

We don’t believe in this fad that is evidence based policing and to be honest we can function without it. We don’t need academics telling us how to do our job. It will pass.

*DE introduced*

Where’s the evidence base for this?”

And this is also bolstered by:

Direct Entry is progressive, and we can bring in new ideas and approaches using this new approach to recruitment.” With regards to Inspectors and Superintendents.

*DE introduced at chief constable level*

Where’s the evidence base for this?

I don’t want to cast judgement on this. What I can see though, is a desire for the rationale behind the changes that are happening, and I think that desire is justified, rational and deserved. Procedural Justice Theory tells us that the outcome of a decision is often not as important as the understanding behind the process of coming to it, and the sharing of the rationale and the ‘evidence’ behind it. Maybe officers and staff would be more accepting of these changes, if the rationale for them was shared and discussed in an open way?

So, why do we have Direct Entry? I can’t tell you what was in the minds of the people making the decisions, but I can possibly discuss some of the structural issues behind its introduction. Maybe this will help with the rationale part.

Police Employment

The police have a very strange employment arrangement. You can’t make a police officer redundant. When I speak to people outside the police, this is the strangest thing to them. Short of gross misconduct, illness or injury, or committing crime, police officers are set for their career, which is now up to and over 38 years long. If you are a cop and this is your normal, realise that this is anything but normal for everyone who isn’t a police officer.

This employment arrangement makes for organisations that have very static work forces (backed up by official turnover rates). When austerity hit, forces up and down the country had to cut higher percentages of police staff, because they couldn’t lose officers. Officers in turn often filled staff positions, as the function that was performed by those staff members was still essential. Officers are often a lot more expensive than staff, so this made for quite nasty efficiency figures in some positions.

Now, movement between forces is also quite rare. Transferee programs are often in short supply and carry low numbers. Freeze recruitment through austerity and this means even less movement. You are left with relatively large organisations that carry the same staff, for many, many years, up the same linear rank progression, who rarely leave their constabularies, and rarely receive perspective from other forces. To compound this, outsiders who transfer in are often returned to uniform constable and their prior experience disregarded – ultimately having to start again. Relationships are very, very important in this environment, you are working with the same people in the same surroundings for decades.


What does the above tell us about the physical structure of police forces? It tells us that they are insular. And when you look at how officers learn to lead within these structures, this insularity is further reinforced.

Within the UK policing landscape, there is an under-developed leadership infrastructure. The MOD, the NHS, and Education all have leadership programs that are decades old, with bespoke academies, programs and career pathways. Despite the odd course, and a singular fast track, or high potential track that used to carry around 50 officers nationally per year, police leaders (by and large) learn to be leaders from current police leaders. And until you hit senior level (NPCC), the leaders you learn from are usually within your own constabulary.

If you also look at the custom and practice around police promotion, you will see that current leaders always hold the keys to the promotion of future leaders. This even includes ‘allowing’ officers to apply for promotion, and when you look into the training required for this responsibility, in most forces there isn’t any – at all. This is reversed at PNAC (Police National Assessment Center), when often for the first time candidates are externally evaluated – anyone looking at this structure from the outside could understand why PNAC was such a big deal, it’s often the first time that police leaders step outside their local leadership support systems. You need personal backing to apply for this too.

Now, if you couple the above paragraphs with the research around unconscious bias, which illustrates that we show preference for those that share the same values, opinions and behaviors as us, it creates a system for the propagation of leadership that looks like the current leadership… Without external influence, professionalisation in selection, or checks and balances, people will naturally gravitate towards supporting those that behave as they do, it’s what our brains do, it makes us comfortable.

In private industry, tight groupthink leads to organisational failure. Competition keeps organisations innovating and changing, or they are quickly left behind and become forgotten. There is a constant pressure to learn. In public service the operating model is very different, but the pressure to push to change is absent, there are no boards of shareholders eager for profit. There is a complex accountability system, and it does have the power to drive reform, but events that are playing out now show how difficult this system is to navigate.


My research (blog here) illustrates that there is a lot more chance of success in the police recruitment system, if you already have police connections. I am currently studying social isolation in policing for my PhD, looking specifically at the range and number of external connections that officers keep following joining the police. I can’t presume the findings of my research, but I can discuss my own experience.

I lost many of my external friends when I joined the police. A small number happened quickly, but the majority were lost over time to the shifts, and the cancelled rest days, and the tiredness, and ultimately the values that I had to uphold. Anecdotally, this is normal for many officers, and the job itself often becomes a ‘family business.’ I have worked with many officers who have had parents, siblings, or extended family in the job. The camaraderie, the support networks and the friendships made because of this are – I would think – unique, and very, very strong.

If you put the above two paragraphs together, the end conclusion is that recruits often know police officers, and police officers often have quite tight social circles. This can lead to a tight recruitment pool, that we may struggle to break due to the passing of information between tight social circles that sustain themselves passed the point of police recruitment.


Putting it together

When people ask for an evidence base for direct entry, one only has to look at the systems that maintain the profession. We have special employment conditions that ensure the longevity and stability of our workforce. Leadership within the workforce is developed through contact and development with the current leadership, rather than any external exposure or formalised career pathways/structure. And our recruitment is sustained by the tight social circles that we maintain through the nature of the work that we do.

It’s a potent combination of factors that create a unique brand of insularity.

Direct Entry directly challenges the above structure, ultimately breaking the insularity by injecting new experience into the leadership structure. All of the ‘learned’ leadership is challenged by an approach that is distinctly un-police – the intended result being forces that approach policing in a different way. This ‘different way’ may be down to behaviours, for instance the hiring of leaders who were not developed and created through a strict command and control based hierarchy, different world views, or it may be down to bringing in new skills and capabilities. The aim is to ‘add to’ the current police leadership offering, not ‘subtract from.’

Aside from all of the above discussion, it is very, very important for serving officers and staff to realise that their ‘normal’ is far from normal. Direct Entry isn’t direct entry in other organisations, it’s just normal. People can re-train and apply for any job they want, at any level of experience that they want. It doesn’t mean that they will be successful, but it does mean that the opportunities for change and external challenge are open. Continuing professional development allows access to progression externally, and this weakens the strength of existing social ties and the gathering of ‘backers’ to traverse gateways that just aren’t there (or are considerably weaker) outside the police.

Police rank is a structure peculiar to the police, and the way that we see the world is filtered through the epaulettes that people wear. Direct Entry challenges this construct, and linear progression, and time served, and those are 3 incredibly established pillars of our culture. The challenge to these structures challenges the way we see the world, and that results in that pit of the stomach unease when schemes like these are discussed.



There are some fundamental philosophies behind direct entry that bother me. I’m passed the concerns of safety or risk, I just can’t see any officer accepting an order that they think is unsafe without challenge. Direct entrants don’t exist in a vacuum, and there is a large system around them that they will learn from quickly, and also receive feedback from. I also understand that bringing in new experience, world views and skills can benefit policing. There is a fundamental assumption however, that the employment market is one of the silver bullets for culture change – and I think this under-estimates the efforts needed to bring about impactful reform.

I think Direct Entry challenges the police world view, I think it exposes the police to elements of competition and challenge that have been present in almost every other labour market for decades. But, I don’t think that the small numbers on the scheme can overcome the leviathan of stability that represents police culture. This puts the entrants at risk, but it doesn’t presume failure. With significant resilience and internal support, candidates can do great things, and I personally hope that they do.

There is something distinctly neoliberal about direct entry: Expose the police forces to the labour market, and the market will provide the reform through increased competition…’ There’s a big assumption there, a BIG one. It presumes that external candidates will have the influence to really break that insularity. It is possible, that the tight insularity – which let’s face it, may actually be necessary for mutual support and wellbeing – will simply absorb Direct Entrants into the functioning system, with all those external skills and capabilities rendered powerless by social structures that are hugely entrenched.


The Future

I would point out at this point, that insularity does not equal poor performance. But, there are some ideological discussions to have here. ‘The Police are the Public, Public are the Police’ perspective would state that in the case of employment – the police are very much the police. Again, this doesn’t presume that we do a better or worse job, but in terms of some of the fundamental bed rocks of UK policing, we are out of kilter with the public’s employment model. Who’s to say this isn’t necessary? Not I, but I would open my mind to having it tested – which is essentially what DE is.

I wrote this blog because I understand that people will want simple answers to why direct entry is here. There isn’t a simple answer. There are reports into senior officer misconduct, several notable policing scandals, poor diversity, and an employment and leadership system that develops very tight views of the world. All of these contribute  to the environment that has led to changing the structure of police employment.

Can we prove it ‘works’ before doing it? Well, this is a good question, but the answer is a resounding no. You can’t prove anything like this works without doing it. There is no test constabulary, where we can drop external candidates in and see how they perform in comparison to control groups. There is also an abundance of evidence that it works elsewhere, with forces across Europe and the world using their version of direct entry over many years. Let’s face it, it is the employment model used by almost every other occupation, so it is highly likely that it will ‘work’ to some degree. However, the evidence for this change doesn’t lie in whether they work, but why it was considered that this change was necessary.

The question should not be, where is the evidence that this will work, it should be what was the evidence that led to this becoming an option. This in turn leads to questions about whether DE will go some way to solving, or contributing to wider solutions that work towards mitigating them. Will it work? Only time will tell, but I do know that the louder the service protests the changes, the more it evidences the insularity. There’s a fine line between appearing defensive and insular, and raising worthy concerns whilst keeping an open mind.

I for one don’t think this protest will stop, slow or even affect the instigation of further reforms in this area – only very different approaches to the way we police, and a concerted effort to reform ourselves may do that…

Braveheart Leadership: “Freedom” or shackle?

I’ve been working in the police leadership arena for several years now. It’s been an interesting time, and mixed in with several jobs at the College of Policing and now HMIC. I’ve had the privilege to look at what the future of leadership for the police may look like, and that’s from a structural, developmental and behavioural point of view. I must have had hundreds of conversations with frontline officers, academics, and senior leaders about what leadership means to them, and there’s a common theme: Leadership in the police conjures up a very specific image in people’s heads, and this image presents both challenges and opportunities.

I have had the chance to take several training sessions over the previous weeks, and I asked the attendees:

“When I say ‘Police Leadership’ to you, what image does it create?”

The answers were as follows:

  • Male
  • Late 40’s, early 50’s
  • White
  • Has ‘presence’
  • Authoritative
  • Imposing
  • Commanding
  • Confident
  • Makes decisions quickly
  • Tall
  • Athletic build

There were some more, but these formed the general themes across most of the sessions. Now, the interesting thing to me, was the level of consistency that these answers seemed to generate. It suggests that we all may have a very strong image of what a police leader is in our heads.

A good friend who also works as an Insp in a county force discusses this as ‘Braveheart Leadership,’ and he allies it with strong command, charisma, and courage. He also talks about going, ‘over the top,’ showing some dash and some daring. He’s an introvert, and often points out the war stories that people tell, pointing out that it is often those with loud, authoritative voices and quick decision making that seem to find favour, whilst those more thoughtful and quiet seem to be given the back seat repeatedly. You could say that the media has a pretty strong hand in developing this idea too, and if you look at the content of most ‘fly on the wall’ police documentaries, there’s a type of work that seems to grab the headlines and the camera – and it’s not being sat with a vulnerable 15 year old in hospital awaiting a mental health assessment.

As an officer who has sat through many ‘refs’ (that’s a meal break for those not in the police) breaks with my team, the amount of ‘war stories’ that officers tell increase over level of service. Discussions of big public order incidents, or frightening confrontation and fighting feature regularly, as do discussions of how particular incidents containing conflict shape the way that we view the world. ‘Us vs. Them,’ ‘Holding the Line,’ and being ‘up for it‘ or ‘handy’ in terms of handling conflict are common references/ideas, drawing influence from the military and times of war.

I don’t think this is too much of a suprise though, it’s very emotional when you’re in a physical fight. It’s scary, it can obviously affect your ability to work, and the thought of how close your back up is, is always at the forefront of your mind. If I could guess (and I worked Blackpool Central on Response for many years and have seen my own fair share of conflict), I’d say that these incidents build up a fairly solid veneer of trauma in most officers, so it doesn’t surprise me that this veneer shapes the way that we view and see the world – and leadership in particular.

It is also worth thinking about how the work that officers do has shaped their idea of leadership over the last few decades. We have had a mixture of New Public Management Leaders who discuss ‘the business,’ our ‘resources,’ and lots of things to do with ‘demand management.’ These terms have been reinforced by ‘war cabinet’ meetings that are sometimes still ongoing daily in some forces, where how many burglaries we had the night before need an immediate ‘action plan‘ and ‘diversion of resources‘ to ‘maximise potential detection probability…

This type of work lends itself to command based leadership. Operational decisions are made in the short term, to short term spikes in crime. Long term decision making takes a back burner, as do strategic infrastructure things like IT and our estates. The end result is an environment where a particular ‘kind’ of leader can thrive. It’s group think at its best:



So, as we speculate on what may ’cause’ our idea of leadership to emerge, it’s time to put that idea into the current context of what’s going on around us.

The Police are seeing huge changes in demand, facilitated by an external environment that is changing so rapidly that even experts in technology can’t keep up. The internet is changing the way that we investigate even the most basic of crimes, not because it is an ‘essential part of any investigation,’ but simply because it is now an essential part of life. Across the Western world, crime types are changing. Traditional property based crime is falling, and we are seeing the way we view and deal with vulnerability revolutionised. These changes are causing huge pressure on the frontline, and in the context of austerity, they are compounded to the point of making officers feel almost left behind.

If I were to point towards where the police need significant development, I wouldn’t be pointing towards places that other people can’t see or feel when they are involved in police work. We will still face public disorder, burglary and assaults as a matter of course, but these will be inter-mixed with child protection, mental health and social deprivation. No matter how much these areas of work present as alien to officers long in the tooth or favouring traditional types of police work, they are here, and we must adapt – because the police do not dictate the requests that the public/society make of them.

Now I’m not saying that drawing a defining line defining what we do isn’t useful, I’m just saying that that line will not be where we may prefer it to be. The problems facing police are complicated, and they require fundamental changes in infrastructure of forces and re-investment in areas previously left untouched. I remember being sat around a table at a conference with a chief officer, who stated, ‘We don’t have the resources, I’m not even turning that stone over…‘ Now whilst this may be admirable in terms of protecting current levels of service, it presents an awful strategic approach, mired in the short term. Basically, ignoring hidden demand will only bite you in places like officer wellbeing and the ability to respond to 999 calls within a few years – ignore it and the short term benefit will be greatly outweighed by the long term cost – especially in terms of looking after our officers.

So what does all this mean for police leadership?

Whilst we may still need our police leaders to protect the ability to respond to public disorder and traditional crime, we also need leaders who will look to the future and make difficult decisions about what a force actually looks like and how it responds to varying calls demanding lots of differing levels of service. Demanding omni-competence of our officers may mean that we create a perfect storm of pressure, where every officer has to be everything, to everyone. This is not sustainable, and we have to recognise that our people have strengths in particular areas, where they may serve the public at their best. Not everyone on a team can be a digital investigation whizz or a vulnerability expert, just as not everyone can be public order die hard or a ‘handy‘ thief catcher. This is the start of acknowledging that we need to be more sophisticated in the way that we send our officers to jobs, and ensure that we have high levels of skill in particular people, rather than average levels of skill across the board.

We need a selection of leaders with different strengths, some of whom can manage difficult partnerships with IT companies over time, developing tools that mix operational need with managing public value. We need leaders who can work in long term collaborations, developing approaches to vulnerability that concentrate on prevention and protection, not just catch and convict. We need leaders who can spot the changes on the horizon and put in places long term plans to transform police organisations into something that roll with the times, rather than respond in atrophy to demand that we saw coming a long time ago. And, we need leaders who can confidently lead large incidents of public disorder, and command critical incidents with skill and care.

If you can find me a leader that can do all that with equal skill and ability, I shall eat my hat at 2am refs… So if we bear the difference that we need in mind, it makes sense that we consider how we select and develop our leaders now?

We still need command based leadership. We still need levels of process and management. We still need leaders who can work with others and plan for the long term, chipping away at entrenched societal problems. The trick – and not just for constabularies – is to recognise that the stories that we tell, and the stories that we hear, may not be the stories that we need. The romantic idea of the police leader, isn’t in kilter with the forces that we now need, and at its basest level this is abundantly clear just from a diversity point of view. Taking it past protected characteristics though, and into diversity of thought, what we really need is an acknowledgement that the ‘stories’ that create our idea of what a leader is may actually be creating issues for our organisations long term.

I spoke with an officer during a lecture several weeks ago, and the discussion captured some of the risks around the impact of our ‘idea’ of leadership:

I met one of those Direct Entry Supers the other day. They just… didn’t come across as a leader. She was small, not imposing, there was no… gravitas...” (paraphrased)

We spoke about this comment in the lecture, and as we delve under the surface of ‘gravitas’, we arrived at the current ‘idea’ of policing leadership. That idea had caused a judgement to be made in a moment of interaction – something that we cops are very good at. It illustrates how our ‘idea’ of leadership informs our judgements about what we are looking for – whether the organisation physically needs it or not.

Each constabulary will have its own idea of what a leader is. This is fine, as long as that idea is sufficiently wide enough to meet the service that we propose to provide. It’s no longer good enough to rely on a ‘type’ or an ‘idea’ of leadership that only fits times of crisis – mainly because over 95% of what we do doesn’t function in crisis. We have moved on from that, and the service we offer is wider and more complicated than ever envisioned even a decade ago.

It’s time to develop what we think of as leadership within our constabularies. Allowing leadership to become a particular ‘thing,’ or come from a ‘particular pathway’ can cause problems for the way that we approach even the most seemingly insignificant call. In fact, as we delve into many incidents that we haven’t previously considered to be ‘police work,’ we see shoots of warning that indicate on repeat offending – sometimes of the most serious kind. If we really want to get serious about developing our understanding, we need to change the idea of what constitues a police leader, and if you were going to ask me my advice on how to start to ‘open’ the idea up, the first thing I would say, is:

Change the stories. They are more powerful than you think.

On the EQF – Mythbuster 2

I’ve kept out of the debate on the EQF over the preceding days. I tried last time around to have some discussion, but by and large, emotion is running high and where emotions are involved it’s difficult to find balanced debate. The feedback has been extremely negative on social media despite this being out in the public realm for many months; it seems that some will hate the change that is coming, and see it as an attempt to impose barriers on an open profession that has stayed in some families for generations.

As an officer with a degree, people ask me if it has ever been of use regularly. It’s a hard question to answer, because I can’t consciously tell you what happened to my brain processes during the 3 years at uni. I can’t tell you if when I make a decision, I am employing skills that I have learned specifically whilst learning in higher education. It just happens in my head, and this is a point at the crux of many arguments.

I’m going to try and take a selection of criticism and discuss what the rationale is behind the changes, in a hope that it adds to the official line a little and helps to deal with some of the confusion.

  • “Education won’t make me a better officer, I’m good at my job already.”

To be fair, no one has said that anyone is bad at their job. This has never been part of the reason for the EQF and it never will be. It’s an argument that seems to fit the emotion of the moment though, and much like the arguments that fit the emotion of Brexit and the American Election, they have legs. This statement has the strangest logic about it, because it is kind of saying that higher education won’t help improve anything, often without the people saying it having experienced it. How can anyone know if something will help or not if they haven’t done it? Some of the best courses in policing change the way that people operate in their jobs forever, and these are only a few weeks long. What may happen with knowledge gained over several years?

If you’re a cop already, you won’t have to do anything differently, but you will have the option of accrediting experience you already have. Just to make it very clear, it will not be compulsory for serving officers.

  • “Policing is about experience and common sense.”

This has been said about any profession that has undergone Professionalisation – and please note the capital ‘P’ (see below). Experience is the cornerstone of learning, and common sense is indeed needed in vast quantities. The decision making in policing contains significant risk, and it has to be communicated in a way that the public interacting with us understand. A liberal dose of common sense doesn’t just come in handy, it’s essential. The argument above is valid and it won’t change, I would say however that adding in ‘education’ doesn’t exactly reduce the above to a poorer version of itself. Being able to supplement the experience and common sense with understanding that isn’t present in current training can only assist? Could it mean that our decisions become more informed? 

Stating that experience and common sense are mutually exclusive of education is actually quite insulting, as it suggests that all graduates lack life experience and can’t relate to public facing work… I’m really sorry, but this isn’t only untrue, it insults most of the NHS, social workers, the legal profession, teachers and many other public facing occupations. Personally, I think we can – and should – be better than this. 

  • “But I am professional…”

A ‘Profession’ (capital P) is an occupation that has key characteristics, including an established knowledge base, a formalised and standardised route for qualification, established and monitored continuing professional development, and a dedication to improving practice (list is non-exhaustive). You may have seen that all of these factors are currently being developed by the College of Policing. A Profession is therefore a different thing to being professional, which I think of as doing your job well and having pride in your work – both of which are present in policing in abundance.

I think the communication in this area has been lacking in parts, not just centrally, but within individual forces too. Cops I have spoken to have taken this to almost be punitive – as in, ‘You aren’t professional enough so we are bringing in this to sort it out etc..’ If this is the narrative going on behind the changes,  is it any wonder that it is landing as it is? I would feel aggrieved too if I believed I was being called unprofessional…

No one is calling anyone unprofessional. Becoming a ‘Profession’ is very different to people being professional, and conflating the two leads to really dangerous misunderstandings.

  • “How will sitting in a classroom help anyone? You learn on the streets.”

Again, in fairness, there is a lot of truth in this statement. A lot of good learning has been proven to be context specific, so you learn whilst you do. I’m a little surprised to see this argument used at all, as for the first 6 months of police training, I sat in a classroom. The training consisted of learning legislation by rote and applying it to written down scenarios, along with lifesaving and defensive tactics. I found this method of training very painful and still do – which is why the College is designing the courses with Higher Education institutions to incorporate large sections of learning whilst doing. A vocational degree like nursing has a large percentage of its course situated in the wards where they will eventually work. The policing degree will be a mix of actual policing and learning on the job,  supplemented with some classroom work that will hopefully be ten times better than learning legislation by rote :-/

The old fashioned idea of a degree gained by sitting in a dusty library discussing obscure theory is not applicable in this context in any way, and suggesting that it is is nothing but hyperbole.

  • “This will not help our diversity at all. It’s another barrier and only makes thing worse.”

This is a valid opinion, it is possible that this change may affect diversity. It is important however, to realise where we are critiquing from. We have a a very unrepresentative workforce, and we have some way to go before the service reflects our communities (whether we should be aiming for that is a whole other blog). The diversity profile of higher education is far better than that of policing, and we must remember that a good proportion of officers will still enter through the apprenticeship route. We can’t guess how the EQF will affect our diversity profile, it may even improve it… it is however a legitimate risk and people are right to raise it.

People looking for answers in this area may be disappointed, it will be a complicated issue that will need a lot of unpicking. 

  • “I wouldn’t be here if this was in when I became a police officer, and I’m good at my job.”

This has been a very common rebuff, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who joined decades ago that simply would not be in the service if it was degree entry only. The thing is, *apologies for the bold text* POLICING WILL NOT BE DEGREE ENTRY ONLY. This has been much discussed and it needs to stop. Apprenticeships will be available that allow those without qualifications to join the service, just as the paramedic career pathways allow. In truth, this will mean that those without qualifications will leave the service as a graduate. I think this is entirely appropriate for the actual work that an officer undertakes and think it is a hugely positive step.


So, what do we know?

We know that initial police training will rise from being at level 3-4 standard, to level 6.

This means our officers will receive higher levels of training and education, that prepare them for not just taking action, but also understanding the wider context that the service sits within. I could discuss critical thinking and reflective practice, but both of these terms are often referred to as jargon, are poorly explained and often taken as an insult (I’m already critical etc.). The truth is that decision making at the sharp end is getting more difficult as we start to interact with risk and vulnerability more and more. In the past, when we knew less, this was OK,  as we acted on the information we had. This is changing, and as a knowledge base builds, you can’t ignore it or refuse to use it. There must be a mechanism of passing that information to practitioners, and training as it stands won’t quite cut it.

Training is currently also variable, and this means that probationers in Constabulary 1, have less training than Constabulary 2. Not only does this put practitioners at some risk, it also provides a differing level of service depending on where you live (the use of Restorative Justice is a classic example). Let’s get our act together on this and admit our system is fractured? The EQF stops this in its tracks and establishes national standards that uniformly equip our officers. It establishes a common language and framework of understanding, a base level of knowledge, and introduces all officers to continuing professional development before even joining the service.

Contrary to the *academics are ruining this job* mantra, you can bet that faculties up and down the country will be mixed, with criminologists, researchers, police officers/ex-police officers and students all working together.


OK,  so it’s not perfect. It will have its challenges and it will have its speed bumps. It does however form a huge part of any Profession. It’s not about officers being unprofessional,  incapable,  or about the academic illuminati taking over, it’s there to raise initial levels of understanding and acknowledge the complexity of police work.

When in doubt, listen to Albert:

And before anyone says it, I’m not saying officers don’t think, only that our current system of training often doesn’t train the mind specifically to do it 🙂 I hope this blog clears up a few things/helps,  and as usual I’m always available on Twitter if you want to feedback/comment.

@WeCops on Leadership – a summary

This Wednesday we held a discussion on leadership in policing. The questions that were posed were as follows:

1) Will the reduction in ranks in policing be positive or negative? Why?

2) How can the voices of officers be heard better by leaders in the police service?

3) There are competing demands for police attendance at present, what role does leadership have in resolving these issues?

The debate was well attended and we had 59 people tweet using the hashtag and several more who participated without. It was a busy chat, with 435 tweets and a reach of almost 800,000. These numbers are all well and good, but what do they mean? What does this chat ‘do’? Where is the learning?

@WeCops chats are an opportunity for people to talk, share and comment about a subject proposed by the person leading the chat. There has been debate about what the ‘end product’ may be, yet this may frustrate the purpose of @WeCops altogether. Before there was a @WeCops, discussing police leadership on Twitter was impossible without vitriol and negativity that persisted despite the best of intentions. It wasn’t possible for people to discuss some issues without constant references to ‘shiny-arses’ or ‘desk dwellers.’ Twitter was pretty much bereft of police professional development discussions, and there was only a very small community of practice.

@WeCops is changing this, and for the first time in my memory, there is a relatively ‘safe’ space to discuss issues that are sometimes contentious and (we hope) always interesting.

There are however dangers in the development of this space. If the pendulum swings too far, @WeCops becomes exclusive and seen as a niche group of people who run within a bubble. This criticism has already been levelled, and we as a team are working on bringing different hosts and subjects to the forum as often as we can. This is especially true of participants and lurkers: if you are participating in the chats, or just watching, please drop us a line, we want the chats to be run by those who use/see them, and you don’t have to be a cop or even work in the cops. If it’s interesting and police related, let’s run a chat on it 🙂

Sometimes, the product is the chat, and the DM’s we don’t see, and the connections between practitioners that happen as a result of it. This stuff is important, and it’s happening as a result of these debates.


So, leadership.

Q1 was an interesting mix of those people who were either for or against rank removal. It ran the full spectrum from, ‘There are too many leaders, they need to be thinned with the cash spent on the frontline,‘ through to, ‘There is too much work now, how can we get rid of people who are running to the wire with workload?’ There were however two themes that merit some more discussion…

The first largely fell as a set of questions, largely asking why we were removing ranks at all? This is a strong indicator that the conversation just hasn’t been had with police officers and staff, and if people don’t understand the reasons why something is happening, it violates some pretty well researched organisational justice principles. Leave people in the dark, and the space around this change will be filled with the culture, and the cop culture can be cynical and unforgiving.

If ranks are going, what happens to the work we have currently? Is there a distribution upwards or downwards, or is it going altogether in some cases?

The long and the short of this is that officers and staff want to know why the rank removal is happening, and the answers aren’t there.

The second relevant part of this discussion centers around whether rank should be the ‘real’ question at all? Tweets discussing whether the removal of ranks would change behaviour were repeated, and this is a very good point. Removing a silver pip from a shoulder may not change behaviour for the better, so what is the reason for the change? Some participants suggested it was about saving money, from what I know, it’s actually about the levels of work in the organisation and how they correspond with levels of leadership. But again, this conversation is absent and this space needs filling with the right information.

Q2 was a healthy mix of practical tips through to the very salient, ‘We can talk but will they listen?‘ This may be a display of cynicism, but it was a strong one and repeated throughout the debate. There were some good contributions from leaders about how they speak with staff currently, and also about some examples where they have listened and acted on feedback. There was little discussion of true innovation in this area though; very few discussed using new technology, or involving the frontline in making the decisions that affect them (it was mentioned, but not by many). This is an important shift, and I think the question invited some challenge. It may be less about listening/speaking with, and more about just stepping backwards and allowing the frontline to do it themselves with the right support.

Modes of communication are great, but without trust, and actual involvement in the decision making, will the frontline ever feel truly ‘involved?’

Q3 was topical, with many officers calling for senior officer intervention in mental health on Twitter regularly. The main theme was a strong ask for leaders to really work with partners to reduce demands on them. This makes for an interesting question, as the skills for cross agency working and negotiation may not be the same skills for operational command and control. The lower ranks create an operational skills filter, and then they are asked to do a full 180° turn and operate in a totally different manner once they reach higher levels in the organisation. This is a risk for the future, and it’s also why selecting people for role and not rank is so important.

The skills that leadership now need, may not be the skills that they cut their teeth with. How do we navigate this as a service? How do we plan and select people well enough to fill this gap?

This blog will be shared with people in the College of Policing and in HMIC who are currently working in exactly this area. We hope that @WeCops offers a way to collect the voices of those involved in the chats, and then collate that feedback and pass it to those working on change in policing right now.

The choice to get involved is yours, so please feel free to either take part in the chats, propose one, or simply watch and hopefully take some learning from it. Thanks for taking part!

Leadership is a strange thing…

Leadership is a strange thing.

When I first joined twitter, I got caught up in the endless stream of quotes that are shared liberally by leadership gurus and coaches on there. It’s populated by short collections of sentences that are meant to make leadership easier to understand, but are often contradictory. A great example of this is the current debate (often unseen) between followership and empowerment. On one side, leaders are people that inspire people to follow them where they are going, provide a vision, inspiration and support, and on another, leaders don’t set the way at all, they support others to find it. This clash is often not even discussed, but there are a hundred quotes on either side that do the rounds every day, with people taking inspiration from them constantly.



The truth of course, is that leadership is a lot more complicated than ‘showing the way,’ or becoming a ‘lion’ to lead the ‘sheep’ :-/ It’s what is often called ‘negotiated.’ What does this mean? Good question.

When a leader tells someone to do something, there is a process that then takes place in that person’s head. It’s usually unconscious, but contains things like:

• Do I want to do that thing?

• Am I supposed to do that thing?

• Is it legal to do that thing?

• Have I got what I need to do that thing?

• Do I feel capable of doing that thing?

• Do I want to do that thing for them?

• What are the consequences of me not doing it?

In some cases, there’s very little negotiation because the relationship with the leader is just too poor, and some of these questions take precedence over others. For instance, ‘What are the consequences of me not doing it?’ will often override, ‘Do I want to do it?

In the Police context there’s a lot of this going on under the *corporate jargon alert* banner of ‘discretionary effort.’ Discretionary effort (for me) is all about changing the dynamic of this conversation going on in people’s heads.

Researchers will discuss the amount of discretion afforded to police prior to them making decisions in work based situations. The position of Constable is a unique one, because they often hold the power to choose whether they enact particular disposals eg. give a ticket to someone speeding. This isn’t the same as in other jobs, where refusing to provide something is technically a disciplinary offence automatically. Officers can – and do – refuse to make arrests where they believe it is inappropriate, thus complicating the notion of leadership within the police context even further.

On a personal note, the switch from ‘What are the consequences of me not doing it?’ as the main driver of activity, to, ‘I want to do it,’ is one of the key functions of leadership, and it can come about over any number of scenarios.

The important take home about thinking about leadership in this way, is that the person being ‘led’ has as much (if not more) control over any action’s success, than the leader. Leadership is as much about the people being led, as it is about those doing the leading. Making that responsibility conscious is really important, because good leaders can be ruined by dysfunctional teams, and great teams can be ruined by dysfunctional leaders.

Leadership is a relationship, it’s not a list of behaviours.

External context also has a huge part to play in policing. There are numerous people that the police actually serve. Layering in the Code of Ethics, and understanding that we are there ultimately for the public, whilst delivering for the Home Office as a function of democracy, whilst staying accountable to local communities and being pro-active in safeguarding the vulnerable, is no small ask. It may be the case that delivering a function requested by the people due to issues with the system elsewhere (mental health) may be vastly unpalatable to the workforce. This clash is also where leadership lies, and it can again exist on a spectrum of respecting the workforce’s wishes and pushing back against the requests for demand, right through to listening to the calls and delivering what the public is asking of us.

This is part of a much wider ‘negotiation’ between the public and the police, and it is never as simple as listening to one stakeholder (such as your workforce in isolation) and doing what they request. The future of this ‘negotiation’ is likely to be messy, partisan and full of politics – whether we as officers like it to be, or not.

So, this blog was about starting to layer in some of the complications that affect police leadership at the moment, yet there are changes that are tabled that are to land shortly. This blog has hopefully set the scene for a conversation on @WeCops that sits within the context of the relationships described above…

1) Will the reduction in ranks in policing be positive or negative? Why?

2) How can the voices of officers be heard better by leaders in the police service?

3) There are competing demands for police attendance at present, what role does leadership have in resolving these issues?

Question one is about affecting the physical distance between the top and the bottom of the organisation. Will this help or hinder the relationships that leaders and those being led must navigate?

Question two is about leaders entering into a conversation with those being led. What could help to improve the current situation? This is about developing the ‘negotiation’.

Question three is about what happens when multiple stakeholders in the leadership relationship clash. Who takes precedence and how do we navigate the issues that may arise?

Wednesday the 9th at 21.00. See you there @WeCops

Identity challenges ahead…

I’m beginning to do some heavy reading about the way that we interact and ‘fit in’ with each other as the basis for my next stint of study. Having been a police officer for quite a while now, questions of how I fit into the organisation have persisted since I first joined. They are still there, and the questions around what ‘fit’ means, and what it does and doesn’t do, to those who may or may not ‘fit’ has driven this personal area of research for me. This is just me sharing some thoughts on the changes in perception of policing off the back of my reading.  


My last blog here discusses the fact that the service may be selecting new recruits that have active exposure to the organisation. So, the bulk of the recruits come from specials, PCSO’s, staff and people who already personally know police officers. The research already done into this suggests that a lot of what is going on is just information sharing between people who know each other, but this information holds value in the recruitment processes, and in turn the use of this information then provides overly robust competition for those without it.

So… an example. Many people in my family for their view about policing by what is portrayed on television and online. They are always happy to discuss the latest episode of ‘Interceptors’, and are often quite disappointed when I mention that fact that that work represents a very small part of policing. The ‘cops and robbers’ story is one that as a society we know well. Films, TV, books and online communities discuss the chasing and catching of bad guys like it’s the holy grail of policing, indeed, a lot of officers feel that way too.

When I speak with my family, I often break this perception, and discuss how the work actually is. It isn’t like those programs for most of the time. In fact, most of the time its quite tough emotionally. But those 24 hour shifts have their benefits and it’s not as scary as people think, and you always have back up close by and an emergency button, and you’re one big team and you look after each other… this conversation is important,  because it breaks their preconceptions about the job, and ultimately it informs on whether they would ever see it as a potential career. Without me having this discussion, it’s all about fast cars, fighting, and kicking doors in.

The research tells us that a lot of police work is actually very boring and party to high levels of emotional labour. What does this mean? It means that for every bad guy that gets caught, there are hours of generally pointless patrol/graft and lots of time spent dealing with upset victims of crime and administering process. That 5% that you see on TV, that reinforces and develops a lot of the police ‘story’, the cops and robbers, the heroes and villains,  the romantic saviour and macho fairytale warriors… all of that is woven into the fabric of society, and people believe it to be true.

This cops and robbers theme is apparent within policing. Commendations go to people fighting with violent and unpredictable people, people risking their lives, and those who deal with horrific calamities. All of these people, are of course especially deserving. What you rarely see, is the reward for exceptional empathy with a traumatised victim, a lengthy and protracted partnership initiative, or the dogged pursuance of that case that everyone thought was dead. The balance is out. The vast majority of very difficult emotional work is under valued and under rewarded, whilst the slight minority of bravery based incidents receive worthy plaudits.

Now, I shall repeat, as often is the case when these blogs are read, someone caught up firmly in the cops and robbers story will say this is about belittling bravery or some other such nonsense. I’m not decrying what we do, I’m decrying what we don’t do.

The future of policing is not policing as we know it. The fairytale version of crime is diminishing, along with the crime types that propagate it. More exposure was given to projects/comments about burglary in the media this last week than the rise of modern slavery and hate crime. We like what we know, and we know cops and robbers. Crime is becoming more complex, the emotional labour for officers is rising, and people who are sold on the story of catching bad guys and keeping people safe see the rising tide of mental health incidents, social problems, and complexity approaching. It’s not comfortable.

So what about cultural fit? The service has to begin asking itself if its image reflects its future demand. Are people joining the service ready for the content of the work that they will be facing? How are we changing what we do to meet these changing needs? What are we doing to build a ‘new story’ about policing? Where in the media is the team following a community officer as they work through the very difficult social problems that they deal with? Where is the story of broken police officers caught under high emotional strain, and receiving amazing support from the organisations where they work? Where is the story of accepting new skills and backgrounds into the service without constant references back to a time when we were hiding in back alleys and catching people carrying swag bags? Where are the stories about supporting and developing and empowering the vulnerable?

I know that people don’t like change. Right now we are in the middle of a seismic period of it. Austerity has ripped capacity away to the brink of reactive capability. Our terms are creaking across the service, from back office to frontline blue light response. One thing hasn’t changed though, and that is the story that accompanies policing. There’s a big question here around cultural fit… what does and did that ‘fit’ look like? How has it been propagated? What amazing things did it bring to our workforce?

But with changing demand looming (sorry, it’s not looming, it’s here), what would a change in ‘fit’ look like? What would it require? How will people wedded to the story of cops and robbers face that impending change? How do we change the perception of those attracted to or who are joining the service now? How do we have that conversation as a profession? How would we select for a new ‘fit’? Do we need one?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I just know that the present service is creaking, whilst in many cases firmly wedded to a demand profile that is changing rapidly.

Is the answer that there is no ‘fit’ anymore? Or is it that there is a new one being developed? Whatever the answer to these questions, the police identity is in turmoil and settling upon a direction (whatever that may be) will require huge cultural shift efforts from forces up and down the country. This is against the backdrop of hugely reduced capacity, creating stress and rising threats to officers’ mental health.

Whether cops and robbers, or protectors and guardians, the future predicts an identity conflict. Whatever the eventual answer, the journey through that conflict represents a huge challenge…