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.
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!