This is a Red Button Project blog and I make no apologies for it being challenging and – I hope – radical. This is not intended as an ‘attack’ on any person or structure, just an analysis on the situation as it sits now, and a selection of possible ways forward. The premise of this blog is one in which the current rank structures and historical context has been wiped out, it therefore makes a great deal of assumptions. Please, take the assumptions into account with a healthy dose of tongue in cheek, as the blog is not a manifesto for change, but an aspirational manifesto of principle instead. I’m not saying it will all work or indeed that it is even possible. See it as a collection of extremes, discussed so that they can create some debate.
The concept of representation is a complicated one, not least of which because it relies on one of many assumptions – who, is being represented? If one were to accept that the police were an instrument of the state, then the service represents those that are in elected power at any one time. There are a number of checks and balances in place to ensure that this representation is not subject to wholesale party sway, these being the Rule of Law, and the complicated democratic functions that are intended to ‘self check’ at various points throughout the legislative process. If I was to simplify this concept, you could say that the police as they sit, are very representative of the political establishment, in that those in possession of the decision making processes are predominantly male, white and middle class – a rule which holds true for a large percentage of Parliament.
This has been slowly changing, with increasing numbers of women slowly making it up the policing ladder, and really small improvements in BME numbers too. These trends are positive, but let’s be stark about this, they are too slow and there have been no significant step changes for many years.
Now what if the police are there to be representative of the people? What if there is a seismic shift in ownership taking place, rapidly advanced by global technology? What if the huge rise in transparency and the need for public accountability actually masks a bigger change behind the scenes?
What if the people are taking ownership of the police?
If this is taking place, we are witnessing a removal of power from centrally influenced home office boardrooms filled with middle class white males, to groups comprised of a diverse public, socially enabled by technology rife with networking capability. That mistake that PC 489 made on Central Street? It doesn’t belong to groups of middle-aged white males in boardrooms anymore. It’s the possession of every person that is able to see the incident on CCTV and comment, and it will go viral.
What does policing look like on a stage that is managed by the public? It is a stage managed by the crowd. A stage that lives or dies by the audience that it keeps. Trust is built on public performance, with the crowd taking ownership of the choice of production and all of the ramifications thereof. In an age where secrecy is nigh on impossible due to the free sharing of information, how does a profession that has closed its doors to scrutiny manage under the spotlight of constant media stardom?
There will never be a time again when information of officer wrongdoing is not centre stage. This is the environment that the cops operate in now, and they will live, or indeed die by it.
So, the Red Button has been pressed and all existing structures are gone. What if we were to take this current social environment and build something that looked different to what it does now? What base do we work from? The Police as an instrument of the state, or the police as a publicly owned body under constant scrutiny and request? If it were the latter, representation becomes a principle around which a new police force is forged.
Who makes the decisions around deployment, communications and tactics currently? The answer is predominantly middle class white males. The decisions are made in a hierarchical structure that reveres command and control. Control lies with those who hold rank, and as time served is intrinsically liked with rank, those young in service have little to no hand in the decisions made in force. The public also hold little sway, with no mechanism to be involved in the decision making, or the way in which those decisions are realised. The PCC was an aspirational position designed to improve this locally held democratic influence, but if you look at the demographics of the PCCs, you quickly realise that they are again, predominantly middle aged, white males. If this holds true, and you rewind to the recruitment practices of 25 years ago, the senior police roles will now be held by a cohort of people who were significantly restricted by harsh fitness tests and home recruitment visits. There was little difference in the demography of candidates then, and the decision makers as they stand now represent little difference in demography as a result today.
Numbers alone are not sufficient to sideline representation though, as decision makers today can stand for inclusivity and bring those younger in service, the public, and those of rank together to partake in decision making. The results of these decisions will of course represent the public far better because of the inclusive nature of the decision making, but without this inclusivity, the narrative is cursed to remain that of those holding current higher ranks. The outcome of these decisions, naturally falls upon many people, who of course are clearly not comprised of solely middle aged white males.
You would be forgiven for thinking this was a diatribe against tyranny of the middle aged, middle class white male, but it is not, as the issue is not the middle agedness, the middle classness, the whiteness, or the maleness. The issue is that of their dominance, both in number and the positions of control. It stands to reason that there are of course middle aged, middle class white males in the community, and that the decisions made should offer service to this demographic as it should to any other. When a particular demographic holds sway over all decisions made however, without an inclusive process and a conscious relinquishing of their power, the inevitable result is a decision that is profoundly unrepresentative, and the level of scrutiny now being applied constantly will light this up with floodlights – and record it whilst it is at it.
I could give examples of this in action, such as the demonising of youths during the ASB years, the ignorance around policy governing the use of social media, the uptake on new technology, and the willingness to collaborate, most of which are generationally influenced. Had those younger in service been involved in social media policy design, both in cop use and during deployment at incidents, would it look the same as it does now? And I say this with the greatest respect, many of the policies around issues such as these have happened because a particular generation is in control of the development of policy – even if that policy directly affects another totally different generation.
So a new blueprint for diversity… Is it needed? After the Red Button, the answer is no. There are no problems with diversity as there is no police force, we are building from the ground up, and where do you start? You start with recruitment. Recruitment is a professional process, but it is based upon many years of a dominant cultural control. Instead of asking the police officers currently in post about how they would deal with a job and using that as a base for designing selection exercises, maybe it is time to start asking the public how they would expect officers to deal with it – as those are the questions that will need to be answered when the spotlight is shone. Designing any process needs an aim, and that aim then shapes the process, if total scrutiny is coming, designing recruitment and selection with this in mind must be incredibly important. Officers run the risk of totally scrutiny at any job they attend, resilience as a recruitment competency may be therefore, essential.
What would an inclusive decision making process look like and how do we select leaders who facilitate that environment? Good question. I do know that the current leaders hold the reins of recruitment and that the talent needed for the future will look nothing like the talent that has previously been encouraged. Acting in a constantly shifting, hugely accountable, far more transparent world will require someone comfortable with uncertainty and open to constant challenge. Holding control tight and wielding compliance measures doesn’t sit well with Generation Y, and with the forthcoming development of specialist practitioners, accountability is more likely to be pushed down than sucked up. The future environment won’t require increased numbers of those different from middle aged, middle class, white males, it will require those that recognise their dominance and consciously work against it.
Finally, democratic ownership of the policing budgets is something currently unthinkable. I’ve heard many arguments against it, and the truth is that difficult decisions around budgeting cannot be made without the background information and the complex context that revolves around policing. If you were to throw random members of the public into complicated police decision making they would inevitably falter. This does not however, mean it is not the right thing to do. If scrutiny and accountability is the end result, it can be mitigated through transparency and accessibility in the first instance. Figuring out a way to do this, is absolutely intrinsic to getting representation right.
Representation is not about numbers, it’s not about characteristics, and it is not something that can be solved through policy and control. Representation is about displaying the right kind of behaviour; a behaviour that is not representative of a dominant demographic, but instead inclusive and cognisant of a wider fairness. Achieving this change within the current cultural and structural framework is immensely difficult, as it requires the challenging of dominant and entrenched mindsets, supported by systems designed by those mindsets.
Designing it from scratch would be far easier.