Criminology and Policing – meeting in the middle

I’m writing this blog after being lucky enough to attend the British Society of Criminology (BSC) annual conference at Birmingham City University. Before the usual eye rolls about conference attendance, I shall hopefully address some of what they actually ‘do’ later, so please save your scepticism until after reading 🙂 I also need to clarify that I received a bursary (the Post-grad Bursary from the BSC itself) to attend the conference and apart from Conference food and drink, I paid for all my own and won’t be claiming any of it back – why is this important? Because for some reason, we shout ‘tax payers money‘ at officers who want to learn and develop. It’s a bit like members of the public shouting at officers who eat during their shift. Clearly it’s very positive that serving officers are trying to keep their blood sugar levels up whilst on duty, just as it’s positive that officers are trying to learn more about their job, so that they can make better decisions when actually doing it.

That aside, I’m hoping that this blog may create some debate – as they often do. Whilst the Academic Illuminati© seek to overthrow the police Resistance, I am reminded that in many, many cases, police officers have had no contact with what academia does, or how it does it, and subsequently what it may mean for practice. Policing is easy to criticise when you have no knowledge of doing it, as many police officers will be aware as they receive public complaints about how they do their jobs. It is therefore incredibly disappointing to see police officers decrying results of surveys/studies by attacking the survey questions or the method of investigation – all of which has been heavily considered by people who often have many years of experience compiling them. It’s totally fine to raise questions, of course, that’s part of what academia is all about. But as with many things, it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

Bearing this in mind, let’s discuss some of what an academic conference ‘does‘ and ‘is‘.

Broadly speaking, groups of people involved in study within a particular area, come together to present ‘papers’ on what they are studying, or questions that they feel are important. This means that you can see presentations on many topics, that are often investigated in many different ways. There tends to be a main lecture theatre for what are called ‘Keynote’ speakers, and several break out rooms that then present in more niche areas. You get the program in advance, and are able to choose which break outs you attend, in addition to the main speakers that form what could be called the backbone of the conference. There are usually several speakers that speak in the area that you are interested in, so you get to tailor who you meet and learn from.

Warning: Long words ahead (sorry, not sorry :-D)

In the BSC, I got sample a really broad selection of what Criminology is/does/represents. It’s quite a strange discipline because it encompasses lots of different methods. What do I mean by this? To give an example, Psychology is dominated by statistical analysis of experimental outcomes. This means that there is a ‘way’ of conducting and learning about psychology that is broadly accepted as the norm. In criminology, this ‘way’ is disparate and some may say, fractured. There are functionalist approaches – these look at broad effects using statistical methods – think census data or similar, but equally there are symbolic interactional approaches (bear with me, please) that look at face-to-face communication and the meaning that we convey in inter-personal encounters. Similarly, there are action research projects ongoing within forces/prisons – these tend to involve practitioners and academics working together to design and conduct research, that would clash spectacularly with the experimental, randomised control trial led research championed by Prof. Larry Sherman at Cambridge. This last strata was largely absent at the BSC, but can be found going great guns at the Society of Evidence Based Policing (SEBP) conferences.

Above all of these, there is a strand of theoretical, philosophical research that looks at what we consider to be knowledge, and tracks/develops trends in thinking over time. This is the big stuff and I get lost in it. It’s nice to do the mental gymnastics around it if you are into that stuff, but from my perspective, the application to practice is remote. I appreciate this may be from a point of ignorance (mine of course), but for the bobby on the beat, or the investigator in the office, it is just too far removed to mean anything.

So what does this tell us about Criminology and how it can help us police? It actually tells us a lot. There are pockets of researchers and methods that we can take advantage of and use for every area of policing, we just have to be able to know how to use them, where to use them, and what they will give us at the end. Criminology presents us with a smorgasbord of options to choose from, we as a profession have to be careful not to limit them or shut them down.

So what does the products look like? What do the outcomes of using academia actually do?

This is a good question, and to properly understand it, we have to understand what science and the application of the scientific method actually is. Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as a single sentence, but I like to try and wrap it up as ‘a particular way of thinking about the world.’ This way encompasses lots of questions, tests, observations, reports and then usually re-testing to check that what you did the first time around actually works. People who don’t see this as valuable will denigrate it in the usual ways, by saying it takes too long, or that it’s biased, or that academia isn’t the ‘real world.’ Quite weird really, as all academia does is examine the ‘real world…’ using more rigorous thinking than would usually be the case?

Back to products. What does a conference actually produce? It’s quite weird for me as an officer to see researchers from different universities watch a ‘paper’ (presentation) and then say, ‘Your research is really interesting and I think we can work together‘ during the questions part, only to see them deep in conversation over coffee in the next ten minutes with contact details exchanged. You don’t see this in cop conferences really, they can get a bit ‘peacock-ey‘ where forces appear to be more in competition with each other than they do collaboration. The College has developed some Peer Review functions and started to gather a uniformed set of ‘evidence’ that seeks to combat the peacock stuff, but it’s refreshing to hear people at the conference speak about forging connections with people both inside and outside their area as a major motivator for attending. I get the impression that these groups of researchers working together to advance their understanding in their area is really rare in policing – I think forces tend to forge ahead with projects in isolation and only come together after everything has been delivered (and it’s always delivered – of course!).

Practical stuff? Well, I saw a whole bunch of presentations that would help me if I worked in Neighbourhood Policing (legitimacy research and community engagement), Response Policing (mainly body worn video and technology but also missing from homes), and Policing in general (diversity, Senior Women in Policing and others). I also attended one paper (really trying to use this word as it feels weird to me) where they discussed the legal frameworks around implementing decision making models based on algorithms in policing. These are landing in forces now, and I found the presentation fascinating. It was delivered by a Law Senior Lecturer (Dr. Jamie Grace), and discussed the real risks around bringing these models into the policing environment. I passed that straight back to senior officers in force who are discussing some of these models, and it may mean that we make far better decisions down the line. Ultimately, seeing that one presentation, may save tens of thousands of pounds of tax payer’s cash…

So, more generally, I think I was the only attending officer at the conference, although there were several that were retired or had left the service prior. I was welcomed by everyone (and this was a big conference). I felt a bit swamped by the theory stuff (and I do actually enjoy that stuff), and got lost in the odd question about particular scientific methods. I did take some tangible things away that will help with my job, and managed to spend the vast majority of it learning about research ongoing around the country in criminology that directly affects policing. It was a great experience, and I would recommend that people apply for the bursary next year if they can. To apply, you have to be a member of the BSC, and there’s an annual fee that is manageable if you are studying (yes, I pay for it myself).

Aside from the conference, the title of this blog professes to discuss how criminology and policing interacts. Although I haven’t addressed this directly, I think I have covered some of it, but will put it into more practical terms now: Applying science to policing changes the way that we think. This change is threatening. If I’ve spent my entire career gathering experience, and then someone with none of it comes along and tells me some of my fundamental beliefs are actually incorrect, how am I likely to react? We have seen it happen with ‘fake news,’ politics over the last few years, and more recently seen it analysed after the Brexit and Trump vote. The natural reaction is to double down into our established identity, and denigrate the ‘other’, no matter how much evidence is presented. This is happening now in policing, and it’s happening as the two identities of policing and academia become closer than just touching distance.

These conferences are a place of ‘between.’ What does this mean? It means that practitioners will never be truly comfortable in the academic environment, just as I suspect academics may not be comfortable at wholly practitioner based events. This merging will take many, many years, because you can’t just knock down a pillar of a profession overnight. In this case, the way that police idolise and fetishise experience as the only way of learning anything remains steadfast, and baulks at the encroachment of book learning or research. Mixed areas where experience ‘clashes’ with this different way of learning are places of friction, and anyone navigating this relationship has a challenge on their hands. Remaining ‘police’, whilst developing to think differently means treading a tightrope of identity, and falling off is a real possibility. These events are a way to practise, see both sides, and see those opportunities that allow both to be pulled together for the greater good. If you are one of these practitioners, be prepared to make sacrifices on both sides, as you lose your balance occasionally. At some point in the future, the tightrope will become a beam, and then finally a path, but the journey from here to there won’t be easy.

When we are seeking to place the academic ‘conference’ as thing into the realm of policing, we have to have a serious think about what it can ‘do.’ From this experience, making sure that people have an opportunity to network outside of their immediate police environment is very important – it drags their perceptions wider and can change decision making in their jobs on a daily basis. Gaining contacts in a specific field of research means that you can throw out questions that may be very difficult to answer in the police environment, to people who know the answer very quickly. The ability to do this can not be undervalued – it’s very important for operational policing. And finally, as a practitioner attempting to forge a path between the two – rather than skipping from one to the other – it’s important that academia acknowledges that the police aren’t just listening and conversing with research, they are doing it too. It’s an opportunity for both to learn from each other.

A final note for practitioners. If you are lucky enough to be asked to attend one of these events, or persistent enough to forge your own path into one, have a hard think about how the conference may create real difference in your work and design your program to get the best connections and learning that you can. Learning for learning’s sake is always a good thing, but it’s better when you are able to take real, tangible benefit in your day job from that learning.

Many thanks to the BSC for the opportunity to attend, and to all the awesome people who made me feel comfortable there.

The art of the policing possible – Technology


I thought I would write this blog after watching the discussions of the past few months. Not without good reason, the stories surrounding and involving policing have been quite negative, with particular focus on police officer assaults, dwindling numbers and the always inevitable drop in service quality. The magic formula of:

More cuts = greater innovation

Seems to be reaching its conclusion, as the dropping numbers of frontline officers and their support meet a perfect storm of changing demand without a full quotient of necessary organisational development. This manifests itself on the frontline in such a negative way. Officers are deployed to deal with cases that they have not been trained in, supported by often difficult to use ICT, against a backdrop of high workload. Is it any wonder that officers are feeling the pressure?

Sending a frontline officer to a digitally enabled fraud, an intelligence report of possible human trafficking, or to a high risk missing person suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s without appropriate personal and professional development will inevitably lead to problems down the road. This situation is firmly set against a backdrop of austerity, where forces have been forced to cut deeply and quickly, often having to resort to support services like learning and development to meet the govt’s ambitious funding reductions.

There are only so many things that innovation can solve. There must be enough people to meet demand, in order for real change to be planned, organised, developed, tested and implemented in the background. Otherwise you end up in a complex game of exchange between Peter and Paul, where the frontline are more stretched through secondments onto important projects that ultimately often fail to land for any number of reasons. Where is the capacity for the frontline to reflect on their practice meaningfully? Where is their protected personal and professional development time? Where is the organisational support to provide development that meets the pace that our current changes in demand dictate? Bashing the cops for not being good at dealing with a particular type of job, whilst at the same time robbing them of any meaningful capacity to meet that new job type is morally bereft – or could that be just good politics..?

Having said all this, innovation is something that the police (and all public services) should have been doing anyway. It shouldn’t take swingeing cuts to jumpstart change into action. It should be something that we do as part of daily work. The Leadership Review found that in places, the police were decades behind other sectors in the way that they support and develop people. That hasn’t happened because of austerity, and we would do well to remember the reasons behind that. With this in mind, I thought I would write a blog that looks ahead. What is coming? What may land? What changes are taking place that aren’t often talked about? What could they mean for policing? What is the art of the policing possible?

This blog will focus on technology, but I will write others in this series. Capturing a policing future in a few hundred words is challenging so please give me some leeway 😉


Digital Investigation

digi invest

Technology is the beast that will continue to both giveth and taketh away. As with all public institutions, policing will continue to run behind the pace of technology. Without dwelling on a plethora of reasons, I will focus upon one. We are not good at skirting around current rules and regulation to work in the murky grey area of technological development. We are wary of the spaces that exists between what we really know is happening now, and where the next now is being tested by international hackers in bedrooms around the world. We are a reactive service, and like I was told by one now retired Chief Constable, ‘I didn’t even turn that stone over. What was underneath looked horrific and we are struggling to meet current demand. Why would I make our lives so much more difficult?’ We are never ahead of the risks in this area – maybe we should accept that and focus on developing the best form of reactive service that we can?

This means that the beginnings of the Crystallise program that is seeking to evaluate the digital capability of our police forces will return to govt. with the inevitable evidence that we struggle to meet even the most basic of digital needs. This will create funding for a professional and far more focused approach to defining the ‘space’ that policing sits in. What is it that the police do in the digital space? Are we investigators? Do we digitally patrol? What does a real ‘digicop’ look like? How do we fully access digital information held by multi national organisations?

These questions will require global agreements on data accessibility, higher taxes/levies/restrictions on technology companies that don’t comply, and ultimately the banning of some companies that refuse to engage in some level of regulation. It may take time, but a build up of evidence that points towards unregulated social media being the origin of political espionage may provide a much needed lever for politicians to act. We are seeing the start of this change now, but as more evidence emerges, the new national regulation will become international regulation. We will have to consider what constitutes freedom of speech as an international concept, rather than a national one.

What will this mean for the cop on the street? Digital investigation won’t be digital investigation, it will just be investigation. Separating out digital investigation as something wholly divided from ‘normal policing’ will become more impossible by the day. Expect baseline digital literacy for frontline officers, continuing professional development plans that incorporate elements of digital awareness, and better tools for accessing open and closed source media. Expect huge legislative change on accessibility to data, growth in voice activated data collection and investigation, and the ‘digital timeline’ as a cemented and required element of any CPS case. As our devices ‘handshake’ with the Internet of Things, expect digital records to become maps of our lives, movement and interactions. The collection of physical evidence in the form of ‘clues’ will pay second fiddle to the red line traced by Google Maps or Strava of a person’s whereabouts.

At first attendance, there will be no statements. Initial accounts will all be gathered via bodycam, and as suspects are booked in at custody the cam is docked, downloading all available evidence at point of arrest. The files attach to the custody record, accessible to anyone who needs it with the right permissions. No more handovers, real evidence provided in real time, to courts and barristers who have long lamented the skewing of evidence through policing’s eyes. This would give new meaning to the objective observer and collector of evidence, police would literally become the eyes and ears of the justice system.

Now, criminals are resourceful. What will the counter measures employed look like? People may deploy decoy devices to setup contradictory digital signatures. Imagine giving your phone to a friend whilst you go to commit a burglary, and then relying on its handshakes to prove your innocence? On a stop search, the lack of anything internet related may give rise to suspicion, as offenders go ‘dark’ to commit crime. There is also the possible rise of dual identities on digital devices, with real life and dark personas accessed at the push of an app’s button. Imagine the creation of witness testimony upon arrival at an incident, all recorded at first port of call and then verified through concocted digital signatures – scary stuff.

Mr Johnson, it appears your device became dark between 19.00 and 19.20. Can you tell us what you did in those twenty minutes, because your phone stopped talking to the lights and the fridge?

This development will of course require us to become far more savvy. I need to know my IP addresses from my TWIF’s if I’m ever going to present a digital case, or as said before, just a case.





Courtesy of

Cryptocurrencies will continue to rise in use and value, and as the cutting edge industry leaders vie for mainstream access and use (think Bitcoin), we will see a migration to emerging technological currencies for crime. This means that tracking currencies will become ever more complicated, with a mobile phone read changing from ‘text message content’ though to looking at the content of currency wallets in the cloud. This makes proceeds of crime a total mire, with no ‘real’ cash to chase, transaction ledgers that are inaccessible, and blockchain evidence strewn across hundreds/thousands of computers across the globe. Any attempt to address this without serious investment and international cooperation will be fraught with difficulty. It requires expertise, and that, requires money.

How does this look for Dickson of Dock Green? Well, they will probably need some sort of reader that allows digital dumps to take place of mobile devices in real time. Plug it in and go – a ghost replica of the device – accessible in the future, through legislation that we haven’t passed yet, that seeks to recover and freeze assets that right now we can’t even find… With copies of this data, experts back at the station search and sift using powers that we haven’t defined yet. Seizing this needs to be as easy as taking cash from someone’s current account.

There’s a challenge right there. I always hear: “Are the police best placed to deal with this?” I think this is a misnomer, if ‘everyday criminals’ are now accessing this technology, then we need ‘everyday police’ to be able to exploit and use it. The challenge is considerable.



gun drone

Courtesy of

I personally believe that the use of airspace is a huge threat and an opportunity. Already the military are designing infantry drones that essentially deploy machine guns at ground level, and this is on top of existing technology that can send missiles through windows. Today’s military tech, is tomorrow’s criminal technology, so expect the use of drones in terrorism. This will mean that suicide bombers won’t actually have to commit suicide, and can send their bombs in through unregulated airspace remotely. They will also be able to deploy drones into multiple spaces at once, and easily target follow up emergency services. Our ability to stop these drones is limited, and unfortunately this may mean that we have to see them before any real investment goes into their prevention.

Drones won’t always be used for terrorism. As they filter down to other criminal fraternities they could be used for voyeurism, hostile reconnaissance, as lookouts (think sending them up on street corners whilst you rob a bank – all the while the pictures are relayed to your watch). They could also be used for acquisitive crime, giving rise to fresh warnings about leaving your windows open. When drones are able to fly in through windows and pick up jewellery and electrical items like phones, and still flying out in a way that allows the operator to retain control, then burglary will change forever. Is a drone a part of a person? That’s a legislative conundrum coming to your door, because if it isn’t, it’s theft only (Osprey examiners will be salivating!).

What will this mean for the cop on the street? That car with it’s roof open and someone sat operating multiple devices needs searching, and you will have to think really hard about what is evidence for the purposes of seizure. What do you do when you see a drone flying over back gardens? Does that provide suspicion for a PACE1 search of anyone operating a mobile phone?

All these threats discussed, drones provide such opportunity for the police and other emergency services. They are already in operation for large area searches, and some can employ night vision and infrared. High visibility drones could serve on point duty for several points, with automated warning systems that notify a single officer nearby of infraction. Drones could be set to ‘follow’ if there is concern over immediate safety, and could also be first deployment for real time, on scene video. Think of the possibility for evidence capture… It would also reduce huge waste in deployment, as those reports of a ‘huge fight’ turn out to be handbags at dawn via the deployed drone (that runs from the comms room on GPS coordinates).

Taking this one step further, personal issue could lead to major advances. Road traffic attend an incident and immediately deploy their personal drone to survey the incident, identify hazards and provide real time video of positions, tire marks, and damage. It also captures related number plates of those stopped who may have witnessed the incident. First on scene to a public disorder deploys their drone as they get out of the car. Algorithms identify aggressive face expressions and capture photographs for facial recognition whilst the officers attends to immediate casualties. The photos are deployed through software back at the station to locate those who got away before providing details. And they may, just may, lead to the end of the foot chase or car pursuit. An offender takes upon his heel, at which point the drone is deployed to follow at height. Officers direct resources in to a box at distance, and close in when the pursuit comes to a close.

This stuff is operationally worth its weight in gold.


Now this blog has only covered a few of the areas of technology that should be given some air. There are far more, including wearables, sub-dermals, autonomous vehicles, gene technology and larger phenomena such as technology enabled norm disruption (what we are seeing from foreign states interfering with democratic systems). All of these pose threats and opportunities to our police forces, who are currently operating in a horrifically tricky environment. Returning to a line I deployed at the start of this blog:

Bashing the cops for not being good at dealing with a particular type of job, whilst at the same time robbing them of any meaningful capacity to meet that new job type is morally bereft – or could that be just good politics..?

What can policing do? It can deploy the resources it has, to try and meet the need it currently faces, whilst doing its best to plan against a backdrop of rapidly changing demand. Skimming and providing an innovation fund does not innovation make – especially when that fund is removed from core funding in the first place? If we are too busy chasing our tails to tackle the bigger changes needed to our service, then the problems are being stored up ready for the next scandal. Innovation isn’t a forced luxury, it’s necessary, and it needs real money. When all is said and done, if you want a forward facing service, you have to pay for it.

Austerity and trauma in policing

On Wednesday, we hosted a @WeCops chat on how austerity had affected policing. We set the questions looking at how it was affecting the service, the organisation and finally, the police officers and staff themselves. It was a busy chat, with many practitioners getting involved, and it was even joined by some partners and members of the public who had experienced changes in the way we police.

The chat is recorded here, listed with all the participants, the tweets themselves, and some of the bio details of who got involved. You can click into the tweets and find practitioners who took part, along with their views just below in all the tweets collected via the WeCops hashtag #WeCops. All of our chats are recorded this way, so if you want to have a look through the archive they are all there and accessible for reading, study or even academic analysis. It’s really a potted history of how practitioners feel about a particular subject, at a moment of time, and can clearly illustrate both strong feelings and operational understanding or perspective.

There were distinct themes that came out of the chat. The first two questions discussed changes in demand, with greater exposure to work involving mental health. This was discussed in the context of ‘catching’ work from other services, who are also clearly suffering the effects of austerity themselves. As pointed out by one tweeter, this is a far-cry from the ‘single minded crime fighter’ discussed by Theresa May in 2011. It also sets the scene for what is – for some – a somewhat unwelcome shift in police identity. If officers join to catch bad guys and send offenders to jail, what starts to happen when that which genuinely made up a significant proportion of the work is replaced by spending hours on end waiting in A&E departments?

This concern was also given some support as practitioners discussed rising difficulty when it comes to staff retention. Great officers are leaving the service, and although it’s very difficult to directly point the finger at austerity, it’s very clear that there has been a huge effect on working conditions and the level of workload carried over the last eight years.

When deciding on the questions, it was clear that the content of the chat was going to be quite negative, but it is always necessary to look at both sides of the argument in any case. Sharing these tweets tries to ensure there is some critical thought about what austerity has achieved, however out of balance the results have been. Practitioners did discuss how some technical innovation had been forced by austerity, as less patrols had meant smarter deployment and technology to be used by officers at scene. There are tangible benefits of better technology for frontline officers – these aren’t just gadgets. They are tools that can help reduce stress and anxiety, also reducing waste as officers are usually constantly shifted from station to scene to victim. Ultimately, mobile tech can mean the difference between going home on time, and losing those vital hours with family at the end of your tour.

Volunteers were also discussed as having been afforded far more organisational time for better appreciation and deployment. Officers will always argue that they may take the place of full time employed alternatives, and whilst this may be case, it is difficult to state that the service made best use of those willing to give up their free time for public service prior to austerity.

The final question asked how austerity had affected officers personally. This drew a whole range of answers from higher stress through to a general need for better quality leadership and greater autonomy and empowerment. I love questions like this, as they force reflection, and this came out from participant’s tweets. Some officers stated that although there may be a higher workload, it was still the ‘best job in the world,’ or that it is the public service ethic that keeps them going, despite all the external changes:

Moving from the chat and into the next part of this blog that discusses trauma relies nicely on the content of the above quoted tweet. Our service relies heavily on that ’emotional investment’ that officers and staff provide. In academia it can be discussed as ‘discretionary effort.’ The term itself has been discussed critically on social media, as it assumes that putting more in than you ‘should’ leads to a reliance on essentially what could be considered as ‘overwork.’ This isn’t quite what is meant from the term, but as there is a lack of information out there about what it means it is easy to see how it can be construed that way.

Discretionary effort is effort that is applied because you want to apply it. It is the difference between taking on a crime and doing what is necessary by policy, and doing what you feel is right. A good example may be an officer encountering a vulnerable victim in the course of their duty who has been clearly deeply affected by their brush with crime. The system says the officer should ring them every thirty days, the officer thinks they need very regular contact and support to get them through their experience. Discretionary effort is that extra visit to see them, those extra returned calls to reassure them, or the odd note to let them know what is going on: it is the difference between a required service, and a caring one.

If you have ever worked in public service, you will see this effort everywhere, the problem is that as the environment changes, leadership doesn’t adapt, and busyness overtakes that space that we once had, it is far, far harder to bring that effort to the fore. Even more so, if trauma exists in practitioners.

This week, Lancashire Constabulary held host to their first trauma event for first and second line managers. Dr. Noreen Tehrani discussed with practitioners how to see post traumatic stress disorder in their staff and themselves, how to begin to offer support and some help, and what level of support is needed from the organisation. I shared some of the slides in this thread if you want to take a look.


So how does austerity and PTSD mix? This is an important question, and it’s one which is often not discussed.

Austerity has caused individual workload to rise, the nature of work to change, and the general level of work based support to drop (most forces have been forced to cut back office support functions). This creates a cauldron of negative pressures for frontline officers. Not only do they have to cope with increased work, but they are also faced with a switch in their mission and lower levels of organisational support.

Forces have had to cope with changes in training need (the huge volume of mental health incidents for example) with fewer training resources. Forces have also had to cope with higher levels of stress in officers and staff, with lower levels of funding to assist them. And forces have had to cope with officers and staff struggling to motivate themselves as the reason that they joined is slowly becoming a poor relative to what is essentially a strange mix of coercive social work and raised personal safety risk from changes in terrorist tactics. As @iofiv put it, a form of ‘Paramilitary social work.’


Fighting against this switch in demand is far from easy. The other agencies who were first port of call for much of this work have been cut to the quick, and we have legislative responsibility, on top of morale responsibility to act upon. If we are to preserve life, how can we with good conscience state, ‘That’s a job for the Crisis Team,’ knowing full well that the ‘Crisis Team‘ is one member of staff on county cover? It is a job for those in senior positions in the service to push back hard against this ‘gap’ in service provision, but whilst the gap exists, servicing it may be painful but necessary.

This doesn’t mean that we become a service that doesn’t say no, we just say no in the right place, with the right information, and to the right people. It’s important that we don’t say no to victims or sufferers; they aren’t the people that created this situation, just those that are unfortunately reaping the outcomes of it 😦

Aside from the demand shift, the repeated, increased exposure to higher workloads becomes a ticking time bomb. The service has always hidden trauma within its ranks. It is not rational to discuss trauma as something that is ‘new.’ In the past, when there was capacity in the service, those suffering were probably found a role to alleviate its affect, or shifted because they had become to ‘difficult to manage.’ There was space for these people, and we could accommodate support in many places of the organisation, even if it often wasn’t viewed as ‘good value for money’ by those counting the beans. There were also some slightly unsavoury practices that probably counted as coping mechanisms such as officers frequenting the bar after work for ‘two or three‘, or forming immensely strong social bonds with the teams in which they work. As those social provisions have lessened or disappeared completely, so have the opportunities for social ‘defusing’, a vital part of coping with trauma.

Chief Constable Andy Rhodes believes that we are comparatively late to begin to address trauma in our organisations, and made a point of discussing the military’s approach in contrast. He was vocal about policing needing to up its game.

So, how do officers cope now? Some literature points towards higher levels of self-medicating (drinking alcohol, poor food choices, prescription medication), others towards rising levels of debt amongst police officers. It goes without saying that there is probably rising levels of Leavism (taking leave instead of time off sick) and Presenteeism (coming into work despite being ill), sleep deprivation, and this is on top of rising levels of long term sickness across the service. Throw in recent surveys on morale from the Police Federation and mental health from the Police Dependents Trust and the content of this story becomes very, very challenging.

If forces do not grasp the nettle, austerity will continue to cause the steady build of trauma, higher workloads will remain, and lower organisational/social support will be the result of necessary budget constraint. It becomes a recipe with horrific ramifications. Discretionary effort may keep the wheel on that little bit longer than it should, but without decision making that seeks to actively address workforce wellbeing, and investment that isn’t just in officer and staff numbers, what will begin to put a halt to the development of growing threat to the health of emergency service workers?

The responsibility to stem this tide doesn’t just come from outside the service. We all hold some personal responsibility for our mental health, and understanding what is happening to us and around us is something we can never outsource. Despite austerity, trust in the service remains high, and this is testament to the amazing people that make up our organisations all around the country. But, as austerity continues, the risk continues to rise within our service, and individuals will be the casualties. These people are our colleagues, our supervisors, our team. In the face of this threat, we must do what the police force is good at, and that is rise to the challenge.


If you took part in the @WeCops chat then thank you, and please continue contributing. If not, make sure that you follow the account and keep an eye out for subjects that interest you. It may even be the case that social media begins to fill some of that ‘social’ hole that has become so vastly reduced following eight years of sustained cuts. Twitter may not be the most accepting of places sometimes, but it may have become a depository of officer’s feelings, insights and interactions. It may just have become the new ‘canteen…’ (as discussed by @IanHesky and @EmWilliamsCCCU) In times of austerity, being kind has never been more important. That tweet that cuts, have a thought, that person may be using social media to cope.


If anything discussed in this blog raises concern, or the connected tweets discussing trauma have raised feelings or possibly helped you identify some feelings/experiences in your life, please make sure that you reach out and get some help. Mind is a wonderful charity for advice, as is the Police Dependent Trust , just don’t suffer in silence. If you represent an organisation seeking to up its game in wellbeing, please check out Oscar Kilo here

The squeezed middle

Over the last few years, there has been reams of discussion on Twitter and of inside policing about how the Job is becoming more and more unpalatable. I could use the acronym #TJF (the job’s ******) or look at the nostalgic ‘it wasn’t like that in my day,’ interactions that occur daily to point you at the evidence for this feeling. There has however been little research that begins to look at the longitudinal interactions between recruitment and morale. This blog is officer centric, and I do apologise for that, but I couldn’t find the equivalent levels of staff data.

Recent research by the Federation seeks to start to turn over this problem and allow us to see how morale fluctuates over the years. Internally, some forces still don’t do staff surveys, and when they are completed the results can often not be shared. There is however a set of forces that are beginning to also collate evidence on the effects of ethical leadership on their workforce, and the research is excellent quality – leading me to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Why am I talking about this? ^^^ Well, the point I am making is that when people say ‘It’s never been this bad,’ my brain starts to ask, ‘compared to what, and how are you measuring that?’ Is it that you have experienced better days, is it circumstances very particular to the current working environment, is it changing expectations, or is it simply something that we have always done and said in policing?

I distinctly remember landing as a scared probationer in Blackpool town centre, and being told that the job isn’t what it used to be repeatedly. Clearly, some of the things may have changed for the better, some for the worse, and if you really try and pick apart the patchwork quilt of alterations to the work, you quickly realise that you may be there forever. Nailing down exactly what is causing lower morale or the feelings of lack of opportunity at work is very, very difficult.

We can however look for some larger changes that have clearly had an impact. Changes to working regulations are always hugely unpopular in all spheres of work. Having your contract of employment changed or tweaked away from the conditions you accepted when you signed up will always create animosity of some sort. Yet who has been affected by these changes and how do they actually hit the workforce in different ways?

I’ve used some data from the Police Workforce Report 2017. All of the following graphs have come from that report, and despite it being a dry read, it is well worth a look.

So, what is going on with our workforce?

The first graph that I want to show sets the scene for the entire blog:


Screenshot (40)


Can you spot the outlier? If you look at the distribution of the curve, you can see that there’s a big spike in the middle that doesn’t follow the rest of the pattern. This is the major recruitment in the early 2000’s, driven by New Public Management and a huge focus on crime reduction. This period included the Reassurance Project, the huge drive to recruit full Neighbourhood Policing teams, and a large part of the later disparaged performance culture. If you look at it in context, there’s almost a period of double recruitment.

So what is going on with these officers? Well, as one of them, I can tell you. Earlier on in service when opportunities were great and movement common, they will have seen promotion boards every three months, often accompanied by an abundance of temporary promotion roles that were given out regularly. They may have seen their forces openly encouraging people to take their exams, as there was often a dearth of applicants for promotion, with some people being promoted simply through need. Switches into different departments and moves into CID were plentiful, and it was worth checking internal bulletins daily because jobs were always advertised.

Chasing promotion or development at this length of service (0-5 years) was rare and often frowned upon. For this reason, a relatively small proportion of these officers would have been able to take advantage of plentiful opportunity. This was the environment that they spent their formative years in the service within.

Then, austerity hit. What did it do to opportunity?

Screenshot (37)


Well, in reality it halved them. But wait, at this point, most of those people that were interested in promotion or lateral development from the almost double recruitment would be just about getting ready to consider some movement… This is where the new recruits from the major recruitment, would be reaching 7-10 years experience, a time when many inside the service will be trying to figure out where they may fit. So, just as this major recruitment hits the time in service to consider progression, the opportunities halve.

In reality – let’s do the maths – the amount of total (yes that means all) substantive promotions across the country between 2010 and 2015 equates to approximately 9,250, if distributed equally across all the forces this is just over 200 promotions per force, over a 5 year period. Let’s remember however that the distribution is far from equal (forces range hugely in number), and that the numbers do not account for multiple promotions over that period. So if someone had three promotions, that would of course need to be taken into account. For the lower ranks in my force, for roughly the same period, there were no promotions at all at the lowest ranks, and many departments were amalgamated to reduce cost – further reducing the opportunities to develop laterally.

In short, this almost double recruitment cohort, would have ideally been met with sustained levels of opportunity without austerity kicking in, with austerity, proportionally their chance to progress has been dropped to a quarter of their colleagues who went before them.

Internal data indicates that for us, this cohort is where we have the least engagement with the organisation. When you scrutinise the above data, it’s easy to see why. After a significant investment in their pensions and a decade with the organisation they have been informed that their terms and conditions have been changed, their opportunities (relative to other colleagues that they have seen progress over their first 5-10 years) have been cut in four, and lateral development and movement has been severely squeezed.

So what does this all mean? I haven’t written this blog from my perspective as I trod a different path and worked on development outside the organisation (secondment to the College and HMIC) and have been privileged to receive some benefits through the HPDS scheme. This blog is more about the way that we target opportunities, support, development and communication inside our wider organisations.

If the data is telling us that there is this cohort, and that this cohort have both felt the cuts and changes more keenly, and seen the biggest shift in provision of opportunity, then organisational response should be aimed towards dealing with these issues. Taking a broad brush approach allows equality of access, but it does not allow fairness of provision. No tangible ‘advantage’ for promotion or selection could be given to this cohort, but how we seek to foster support and opportunity should always bear this information in mind.

Practical considerations

There are some myths about the levels of officers leaving the service, so here is the data:

Screenshot (42)


Voluntary resignation is at roughly the proportion that it was ten years ago, with a slight trend downwards and then back upwards over the period. What this data doesn’t tell us, is the level of leavers’ service. Although we know that leavers overall are rising, we don’t know how many of this cohort of officers is choosing to stay, or how many are choosing to leave.


UK Police Officer Leavers
Police officer leavers 2007-2017


Although there is a rise evidenced in the above chart, it is worthy of mention that the data fluctuates between roughly 5.3% and 6.7%. Although the trend may be significant (in mathematical terms), there has been no huge jump in leavers of the service. This data tells us that the cohort that is least engaged, is by and large, remaining in service.

Practically, what can we do about this? There are all sorts of initiatives that may help increase engagement with the squeezed middle. They need to meaningful and deliberate, and this work is made even more necessary because of who these people may represent. They are likely to be very experienced and knowledgeable, influential to those younger in service, and possibly acting as mentors or in temporary supervision roles. They are also likely to have received considerable investment in skills, equipment and experience. Despite this, their motivation for public service may have taken a hit, and their entitlements over the long term have been hugely affected.

So, we have a very valuable cohort in the squeezed middle. How do we address this organisationally? There are possibilities to address this practically for the service, but when discussing interventions with regards to wellbeing, personal development and mentoring, the attraction of this cohort is very important. Procedural Justice theory tells us that when people feel that they have been treated fairly, they then reflect that in their own behaviours and actions with the public. This presents as a risk with this cohort, as it is fairly clear that there are likely to be feelings of unfairness, both organisationally and politically.

In the extreme possibilities section, there is targeted work on career change support, ring-fenced promotion/development opportunities by length of service, and bespoke leadership development. The provision of these to a particular cohort is unpalatable, and may affect procedural justice elsewhere in the organisation, so communication to all affected would be essential. It would also be useful to make sense of both the financial and physical effects of austerity for this cohort, and CPD events on the impacts of pension changes, the possibilities of other investment avenues, and career planning may see a large take up.

The later service cohorts of officers are also very likely to have been affected, although they may have had chance to take advantage of longer periods of possible movement earlier in their service. They are now experienced a very high level of competition from the ‘squeezed middle’ for any progression opportunities, and as such they too will be feeling the pinch.

Is it right just to do nothing, or inform any member of this particular group that, ‘this is just the cops, you need to deal with it?’ I don’t think it is, because for this cohort it isn’t ‘just the cops,‘ it’s a very specific version of it. They have caught the worst of austerity after a significant investment in public service, and likely been unable to benefit from when opportunity was more plentiful. Although there is something to be said for personal resilience and public service motivation, to assume that external circumstances have had a proportionate effect on the workforce is to ignore the fact that they have had anything but…


This blog was intended to provide some context to what austerity has done to the opportunities and motivation of particular cohorts of officers within policing. It doesn’t provide any solid answers, only some possible solutions, and these are likely to be difficult to implement. Having the knowledge makes a difference though, especially to those who are inside this cohort. Making sense of the lack of opportunity and how they are feeling and why may offer some understanding and explain particular attitudes and behaviours in the workplace. I would welcome any suggestions as to how to deal with these issues, so please feel free to comment below!



Reflections of a police officer first year PhD student

As I head towards my first end of year review in my PhD, I felt the need to share what I had learned so far on twitter. The thread gathered some interactions and drew out some great comments and DM’s, with a few asking me to draw the content out into a blog. Well, here it is! The tweet here vvvvvv is the original and if you click through to it you can find the original thread. If you aren’t a twitter user, I hope you enjoy my reflections on my first year in PhD study.

Studying at this level whilst working as a police officer has been both an eye opening and an eye widening experience. I feel like I need to clarify the difference, as they are profoundly separate. Before starting to study as an officer I was fully locked into practice, and by that I mean that I bought into the culture. I made plenty of arrests, chased drug dealers, knocked on target’s doors, and spent many enjoyable duties dealing with public disorder in Blackpool Town Center. When I look back, I can see now that this time immersed in practice was actually some of my happiest times in the job. I didn’t question the practices, I just got involved and did what was asked of me.

I studied for my second degree whilst on 999 response and working as a Community Beat Manager. As part of this degree I learned about transactional analysis and studied some Foucault as part of a dissertation module. I studied the use of language in text messages between drug users and drug suppliers, and began to increase my self awareness about our tactics and processes.

I continued into higher education and ended up completing two Masters degrees, the first in Research (conducting research, as well as some of the theory of research), and the second in Strategic Management and Leadership. Both of these widened my perspective further, and began to cause me some problems at work.

I say ‘problems,’ and ’cause,’ because work became more difficult. I began to see that our answer to all problems appeared to be ‘more resources,’ and in most cases whoever shouted the loudest or made the most persuasive argument won (please read Jerry Ratcliffe’s latest blog on this here). I began to see that the way we measured performance was hugely flawed, with binary comparisons ruling resource deployment and some very dodgy practices around crime recording (all thoroughly wiped out in my force now – thank goodness). The personal issues these create aren’t pleasant, because you begin to see that the practices you have fully bought into and have been immersed in represent something unpalatable. In other words, increasing your awareness and education in an environment that has never really valued education puts you at a disadvantage.

This is what I mean by eye opening, and eye widening. Simple decisions become less than simple, and the variables that you now consider are far wider than they used to be. Ultimately, you will make different decisions to many of your colleagues, and in an environment where conformity is important, this means you have to double and triple layer your thinking.

This is quite hard to explain, but a decision that used to have an easy answer now has a different one, and no matter how you colour it up, you are going to have to explain in detail why you took that different decision, and have that explanation in mind when you make it.

I really value the telling of stories, so here are two that I think make my point better than I ever could 🙂

Quick example 1:

I came into a shift briefing as a response Sgt and found that one of our very regular missing from home people was once again missing. She was in her teens and was at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE), and in this case the missing from home log had absolutely no detail on it about where she was and who she was with. Her foster parents had taken her phone from her as punishment for her behaviour, despite the fact that that phone was the single most valuable tool we had to locate her.

I then spent the next half an hour asking to raise the missing from home to High Risk from the level of Medium Risk. My argument was that she was at risk of CSE and that we had absolutely no idea where she was or who she was with. The Insp on duty disagreed, and stated that we had no further information that she was at immediate risk of harm (strict adherence to policy) – from my perspective this would never happen as we had absolutely no idea where she was and she had been gone approaching twenty four hours. I didn’t win the argument, but allocated a large proportion of the team to finding her. After some hefty intelligence enquiries and many conversations with her friends, we kicked the door in of a sex offender and found her hiding in a wardrobe. One arrest later…

Now, at this point, the usual practice is that we return the person home, try and conduct a debrief about where they have been and who they were with, and then file a ‘found report’ on the system together with any referrals we need to make. In this case, we would usually come on to find her reported missing again at the start of the next shift – this is not a rare occurrence.

I was aware of research into adverse childhood experiences, trauma and the gathering of information through rapport, I wanted to stop this child going missing again so I stopped the usual procedure and went to buy her a sandwich and some sweets with one of my team. We sat with her in an interview room for nearly five hours. We got to know her, listened, made her cups of tea and offered support. She disclosed levels of abuse at her foster carers that had never been reported, and highlighted behaviours that put her at more risk than she already was. She wasn’t eating, sleeping or socialising with children her own age and was clearly suffering anxiety. This information allowed us to work with social services immediately and change her home address within that tour of duty. It was more information than social services had gained in months. Whilst I worked at that station, she never went missing again.

Now, whilst that example may seem relatively benign, the point is that I had to buck the usual system/custom to get her the help she needed, and whilst ‘booked off’ for that five hours I was pestered constantly on the radio to check logs and update logs and run handovers to the next shift. Whilst all of this is important, it wasn’t as important as helping that teenager break out of her cycle of going missing. I needed to invest the time in an intervention that was guided by knowledge I had picked up in education.

Now, as you continue your journey as a practitioner, these events crop up more and more. You become aware of the fact that dropping patrols on every problem, rarely solves the problem. You also become aware of practices that may be ‘normal,’ but may also be harmful. You will also slow the process of decision making down, and this is cultural anathema. You have to survive with this knowledge and operate in a way that doesn’t put you at risk, and this is harder than it sounds.

2nd example. 

If you have ever chased burglars as a job (I did it for nearly two years), you will know how exciting – and how boring – it can be. One day is spent leafing through forensic footprint records to match against a partial lift of a print from a crime scene, and the next is spent hunting forensic matches and chasing charges for your arrestees. It’s a fun job to do and it was always seen as ‘gucci’ work. You get to know burglars and learn their patterns of behaviour, spending days in cars with offenders produced from prison so that they can point out the other houses that they have burgled – a process that when done properly can be immensely rewarding for victims.

One of the tactics that was used was called ‘target hardening.’ This is essentially where you make life very difficult for prolific burglars by knocking on their door at all hours of the day, and stopping and searching them at every occasion that your powers permit. This can mean three to five visits a day (perhaps more), and constant stops on the street. The intelligence from these stops can result in a conviction if clothes match that of a description at a nearby burlgary and may direct forensic submissions of footwear or fibers at a later date.

My current studies revolve around social identity and social networks. Without going too much into detail, my method of research is based upon methods used in the study of drug rehabilitation in prolific offenders. The research says that to become drug free, people have to ‘move’ from one identity (that of a burglar) into a healthier identity, one that works, is supported socially and belongs to groups that do not contain the usual groups that burglars associate with. Practically this often means renouncing their current friends and making new ones, exploring a more stable life and engaging in social activities like Alcoholics Anonymous or therapeutic drug treatment communities.

Why am I telling you this?

I am telling you this because the ‘Target Hardening’ I discussed earlier frustrates the above happening. Knocking on the door of a recent prison release four or five times a day inevitably annoys the other people who live in the property (it’s always a house of multiple occupancy), making it an unwelcome home for that person. Within a few days, they will be having to socialise with their old networks in order to find sofas to sleep on, cementing the conditions for them to re-offend.

If you follow the theory down the rabbit-hole, the police behaviour is likely to be creating victims. Imagine knowing that and being asked to ensure your patrols conduct those door knocks???

I am hoping that these two examples illustrate why I made the tweet thread that I did, and illuminate how gaining this knowledge can make surviving or thriving at work more difficult. Normal practices, behaviours and interactions that you took as ‘normal’ take on a different light, and navigating decisions in areas that were previously very comfortable becomes far more fraught with personal risk. I have strong values, so knowing this stuff but ignoring it becomes impossible for me personally, opening up the door to rapid – and often uncomfortable – personal development.

I’m also not saying that the decisions that I made are ‘right’, just trying to illustrate that they are different. It is the ‘different’ that creates the risk, not whether the outcome is ‘right’ or not.

So, onto the tweets about whether there should be more practitioners who pursue this…

I personally think that engaging with this level of study is unnecessary to become a competent or effective police officer, but – and this is the kicker – who is going to ask the questions about the above practices that really need asking? External advisory groups or studying academics might, but what is their likely exposure to all of the processes of daily business? As a practitioner, you don’t just see daily business, you engage in it. You know all the nooks and crannies, the perils and the pitfalls, and you understand the social context that surrounds it. Who better than to work on improving the service as we now know it?

This element of deep learning is present in many other professions. Practitioners with PhD’s exist in many other areas of public service. I don’t know one senior police officer with a PhD, but I’m not surprised by that because of all of the things discussed previously. To be considered a top operator you have to do as your told and do it well, right? Until that changes, and the criteria for success becomes something more than the supervision of door knocking or misper (missing person) finding, then the successful execution of practice as we now know it will always trump the questioning of practice as we know it.

I do however, know which one I prefer – and that is why I know I made exactly the right choice. If you have the drive, and the passion for your subject matter, I would recommend it to everyone, even if it would come with a heavy dose of salty realism. Studying at this level may not be the easiest path to tread, but my goodness the results of that insight are rewarding 🙂

The workload is manageable, and you have to be prepared to read, and read a lot. I also spend a lot of my time with my kids in play areas whilst I sit at a bench with my laptop out writing. Other advice that I received before embarking on the PhD revolved around the finding of a really good supervisor who you get on with and can bounce ideas and work off without fear. I found that, and the advice was spot on (so thanks Steve Tong and Katja Hallenberg from the Canterbury Christ Church Police Research Center!).

If you are a practitioner, and you are considering a PhD, I would advise to go into the process with eyes wide open. It will not be easy, and that is in terms of both volume and the change in your decision making process. Having had some tough experiences at work though, I would still decide to continue with my studies despite the cultural issues that present themselves. As a last tip, it is hugely important to describe the motives for such study. As detailed above, it is unlikely to earn you plaudits or promotion, simply through the increased awareness that causes a difference in decision making. If you can accept this, and are passionate about your subject matter, I would say that it is well, well worth it. The personal development alone is worth every penny.

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.

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…

Measuring Leadership: the Holy Grail?

There’s quite a bit of research in this blog, but it’s not cited. If you want references or want to search for the sources of the data, drop me a line and I will do my best to find them for you. As usual, there’s quite a bit of culture stuff in here, but it wouldn’t be one of my blogs without that 🙂


I started working on Leadership specifically on the College of Police Leadership Review. Prior to that I studied it at Warwick for two years, and I’m back into studying it now. It’s a complex subject, and usually unfairly reduced to soundbites and catchphrases that people throw around with abandon. Classics like:

“Many hands make light work.”

Go hand in hand with:

“Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

It doesn’t take rocket science to realise that these clash quite significantly. This is true of much of the leadership literature. You can find books about keeping ‘grip and control,’ and place them directly across from books by leadership consultants/gurus like Simon Sinek. Sinek will talk about empowerment, and finding meaning, whereas the grip and control gurus will talk about managing process and keeping tight audit.

This clash makes the whole area of study contradictory, and there are few studies that actually begin to discuss how complicated the area of leadership actually is. When you dig underneath the myriad of discussions about leadership ‘styles,’ you realise that they are collections of lists of behaviours. These behaviours have been found to hold value when researched in particular contexts, but we don’t actually know if it was the context that made them successful, or the behaviours themselves…

Let me give you an example.

An organisation calls the researchers in because the staff survey says that working in that company at that time is pretty awful. They may like the work, but they don’t like the leaders, and they certainly don’t like the environment and culture. Unsurprisingly, a particular set of behaviours is absent, and the workplace needs them to begin to function in a balanced way. So… a really heavy command and control culture, is likely to need empowerment and far more communication up and down. The company needs them, because there has been a culture in place for some time, and that culture has self propagated behaviours in order to function in a particular way.

This happened with policing during the performance era. Performance became the by-word for success, and if you delivered performance you were held to be a ‘good’ leader. Those leaders then entered into positions where they got to select other future leaders, and as performance had always been important to them, it became important to other aspiring leaders too. When this begins to happen, you see a distillation of behaviour. It becomes palpably strong, almost themic.

The trouble is, the police is a pretty diverse organisation in terms of function. You really shouldn’t have command and control permeating through every department in the police, it’s damaging. You need different leadership styles in neighbourhood policing, CID, community cohesion etc.. As Command and Control remained the dominant leadership style, so it did grow into an unstoppable force, and it still remains immensely important in policing to this day.

Command and Control is a controversial subject. Some leaders will swear by it. They call it by all sorts of names and usually attach ‘Operationally Credible’ to its use. The demand stats show that the kind of work that needs it is actually really, really rare, yet it’s sticking around with a vengeance up and down the country. There are good reasons for this, as if the Command had been better at high profile incidents where there has been loss of life, the outcome may have been very different. If you screw up when you need it, the outcomes can be pretty atrocious.

So, what have we got so far? We have the need for Command and Control in fairly rare incidents, but it is of very high importance. Do we need it everywhere? Clearly not. Yet, as with many things in policing, the broad brush is applied, and usually all candidates will have to prove their ability in Command and Control during promotion processes etc.. This results in a very specific set of behaviours being applied as a filter through to areas of leadership.

And, I need to add some comment in here about measuring Command and Control (or investigation, or road traffic incidents etc. – whatever you choose to measure as a filter). If you are being measured on whether you reach the same decisions, as those that designed the exercises, then you are only being measured for whether you think like them. This is designed in group-think. Decisions have to be able to be made that are different to the ‘accepted solutions,’ whilst you measure how candidates got there, instead of where they ended up (this is a whole other blog!). This is Diversity of Thought, and you can allow for it in measuring candidates.

Want to be a leader in the police? Best be able to use Command and Control – and that’s OK, because we need it (in places).

Now, some people are not good at Command and Control. They have a different skill set, and may instead prefer leadership styles such as Collective Leadership.

What happens if someone who prefers Collective Leadership gets put through the Command and Control Assessment? Well, they won’t perform nearly as well as those who are naturally really good at Command and Control. In fact, they may be filtered out here, and all because their strengths in leadership lie elsewhere. It’s kind of like a control mechanism for a particular kind of leadership. It also significantly disadvantages leaders from departments who need a different leadership style – such as people with skills in forming partnerships and collaborations.

It establishes a behavioural hierarchy, and it attaches status to particular behaviours. If you don’t see assessments during promotion that look at problem solving, you won’t attach value to the behaviours that go along with good problem solving. It’s strange that you will see lots and lots of examples on application forms that detail dealing with public disorder or match command, but you rarely see them discussing forming strong links with local charities…

Back to measurement.

Hopefully the example discussed above sets a scene. If you have a strong kind of leadership in place, that leadership will often set the bar for selecting other leadership, and unless they are enlightened enough to look for challenge in their future leaders, they will select people that they are comfortable with. There’s loads of research on this, but here is a very quick run down on how good unstructured interviews in isolation are for selecting future leaders (varies depending on the study, but by and large, they are rubbish). Add to this the other Police favourite of the application form, and you have a combination that looks like this:

  1. Exercises that create behavioural bias in selection (such as command and control scenarios as a filtering method).
  2. Use of application forms (pretty awful in terms of reliability and validity).
  3. Unstructured interviews (again, fairly awful in terms of reliability and validity due to the fact that they are so subject to bias).

The resulting picture basically shows (and if you want a run down on how good particular exercises are for selecting good leaders, have a look here) that the traditional methods for leadership selection within constabularies up and down the country, are riven with bias, unreliable, and often invalid. These are technical assessment/selection terms for being poor quality.

A quick example of the hierarchy of exercises:


So, I hear you asking, if the current methods are pretty awful, what can you replace them with? Well, actually there’s all sorts of things that we could do better, but as an ex senior officer pointed out on Twitter last week, Assessment Centres were stopped in many constabularies because the senior leaders didn’t like the outcome of them. This stands to reason, because assessment centers often look at the whole of the candidate, and single exercise filters are forgone for several exercises that measure the a much wider picture. This means that some Command and Control heavy senior leaders, will be presented with successful candidates that do not have anywhere near as much of a Command and Control outlook as they do – thus putting them out of favour, or making it very difficult for them to succeed.

In short, solid assessment centers with a wide array of exercises, are more likely (certainly not certain) to measure wider communication skills, the ability to process information, and the ability to display empathy/values. They are more likely to select good leaders.

We can go even further into the building blocks of leadership, and look instead at things such as intelligence, emotional intelligence (how we interact with other’s and our own emotions) and cognitive load (how much info you can take in and process). This is relatively simple stuff, but it removes the behavioural bias that is built into many of our internal selection processes now. Serving cops often don’t like discussing measuring intelligence, they also dislike written tests, and they hate psychometric tests (I have direct experience of the use of all of these methods). All of these are far more valid and reliable than current methods though. How do we know? Huge amounts of research tells us, and it tells us convincingly too.

So what gets in the way of better selection and measurement? Well, the truth lies in something that is called ‘face validity.’ This is fancy wordage for how the culture sees the exercises. If the candidates do not feel that the test measures ‘being a good cop,’ then the outcome of the results will often not be trusted or given any value. This makes improving selection fraught with leadership challenges. If you introduce psychometrics as a leg of your assessment center, there will likely be a backlash by candidates who will tell you that they mean nothing and are a total waste of time. The research tells us different, but the people’s perceptions of doing the tests are clearly immensely important.

So, how do we navigate such a complicated landscape? The answer? With great difficulty and lots of iterative work – this means that things will fail, you learn from them, try it again with tweaks, and then learn from the second application, and so on. Eventually you end up with a product that the culture has begun to accept, that does a far more improved job of unbiased selection.


If you made it through to here, then you are doing well, because that was quite dry. What are the take-homes from the above?

  • The current way we select people internally is hugely prone to bias and unreliability.
  • There are many better ways to select out there that have been researched and tested repeatedly.
  • These methods may be really counter-culture, so implementing them may be very difficult.

So, finally, what about the ‘Holy Grail?’ Well, nothing is perfect, you could search for the ‘right’ kind of selection exercises for a millennia. Will we ever find them? I don’t think so. I don’t think that searching for the perfect set of selection exercises is actually a worthwhile exercise. Why? Because it is all contextual. It depends on your environment, on your people, and on your culture. What is true however, is that better selection is not only important in order to find future leaders, it’s also immensely important to find different leaders. We will never find the hallowed ‘diversity of thought’ without doing a full reset of how we select our future leaders. Behavioural filters are used almost everywhere, and quite simply, they institutionalise behavioural bias. They’ve got to go, or become part of a suite of exercises that sees far more of the candidate. This means going from a past-the-post system (where each exercise is an opportunity to filter candidates) to a holistic system where a selection of exercises are used to see a wider picture of the candidate as a whole.

Dilbert (as usual) captures the bias that needs to disappear very nicely:


Nothing like a good challenge 🙂

Above all, there’s a duty to the people that work in the police, and to the public, to use the best methods that we can with the resources we have. That way, the likelihood of selecting the best leaders for the future will improve, despite the heavy cultural challenges that we may face. And just to finish… the above methods that have been discussed, don’t bring in the Values that put those candidates in the chairs in the first place, and if you don’t measure for that, it just may be possible that you don’t get the leaders that you would like holding the leadership positions… there’s work to do here, let’s get on with it 🙂