Humility

Let us be a little humble; let us think that the truth may not be entirely with us.

(Jawaharlal Nehru)

I am choosing to write on this topic for many reasons, but the most prevalent has been a course I attended recently on Whistleblowing and Ethics. The course was a few days long, but the conversations that followed and that occurred during really got me thinking. Much talk was had around the term itself, as the feelings attached to the term were thought to be quite negative. If you were considered a ‘whistleblower,’ it normally hangs an air of mistrust around your neck. Yet the people who spoke at the event seemed to have the strongest principles and values you could ever want to see displayed in anyone… In fact, they were the kind of people with which you knew where to stand, and who professed to having staff working for them who would happily defend them to the hilt. They were leaders.

Yet none of them were leaders.

Not one had actually survived the event of whistleblowing. All were struggling in the workplace and outside of it. They were fighting on, in the passionate way that people with really strong principles do. Watching them discuss what had happened was heartbreaking, because – you know what – they were right. They were right in the stance that they had taken, they had been offered incentives to ‘forget’ about the things that they knew. They had been chased and hounded, generating high levels of personal paranoia. And some had been accused of having mental health problems.

They had been accused of having mental health problems because they disagreed with an element of culture that others believed was acceptable. I’m not going to reinforce any stigma about mental health problems being anything out of the ordinary, but I will point out that seeing something differently in life doesn’t qualify as any illness I’ve ever heard about?

I’ve had that conversation. That exact one. It was immensely painful, and the self-reflection that followed was too. I couldn’t help but imagine what these speakers had gone through, and share a little of how they had felt – or even were feeling.

At the beginning of the workshop, a video was shown of an army general who had whistleblown in the USA. The conversation that followed was a typical cop one, concerning the whistleblower’s motives for releasing the information, and whether they could be trusted. I think this is totally normal, and it’s certainly indicative of cop culture, as we are both good at making judgements fast, and suffer with institutionalised suspicion. Let’s face it, that suspicion is pretty darn useful, but the ability to turn it on and off is the bit that we really need.

You see, when whistleblowers make the decisions that they do, there are no ‘good’ outcomes for them. They know that they will likely become pariahs in the workplace with colleagues, friends, and supervisors. They are aware that there is no way in hell that it will ‘help’ their career. They know that talking about what they know and have seen will be emotionally painful. They know that their relationships at home will suffer. And… they know that they will not be believed. As a good friend said (@abloodynicechap):

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A quick google of the above saying can pretty much guarantee you some interesting reading. Along with the mnemonic: FIFO. FIFO stands for, ‘Fit in or F*** Off.’

It’s all about not challenging. All of it. It’s about going with the flow and sacrificing how you feel about things, for the sake of the status quo. The status quo is a powerful thing. It’s seductive, and seeps into the fabric of everyone’s reality. The status quo means people concede towards feeling and thinking the same about things. People think it stays pretty static, but it really doesn’t. It only takes a few role models within the status quo to push the boundaries, and people will edge towards those boundaries too, setting up a ‘new’ status quo.

The tighter the teams, the more likely it is that the status quo moves imperceptibly. People are always trying to fit in, so as the role models change their behaviour, others start to embrace the new boundaries created, and even if the shift is small, it’s cumulative. Over time, the new status quo looks nothing like the old one, but it feels like nothing has changed. It still feels normal. Anyone outside that team – if they really looked – could see that the new status quo isn’t quite right, but tight teams rarely let people break through, because FIFO is in action.

Imagine this happening over an entire culture? Do you think when targets in policing were introduced, that officers would be reclassifying burglaries and persuading people to retract complaints? Yet where did we end up? That behaviour crept in. It was insidious, culture creeping its way slowly towards a new normal that actually wasn’t normal at all. There were whistleblowers, and then the whistleblower (@J_amesp) with hard evidence and an unrelenting need to change things – not for the culture, but for the public. Conceding to culture wasn’t an option, because deep down, they knew it just wasn’t right.

These people are brave. I mean, they are courageous. They make decisions that do nothing but disadvantage them. They ruin their home lives and many of their relationships because they believe in something bigger than themselves. They are the early warning systems for culture, and for leaders; they are like the goose that lays the golden egg…

“Hey, Mr/Mrs Leader, you know these practices that are going on? They don’t serve the purpose of the organisation and they are harming people. I’m telling you about them because I care about what I do and I want to help these people that are being harmed. I know that this doesn’t paint me in a good light, but I can’t sleep at night. Please help.”

If there were a ‘google translate’, you wouldn’t go far wrong with the above paragraph. If you were a leader, and you heard the above, what would you think?

So… why do snitches get stitches?

What if those practices that the person in front of you is discussing, are accepted as ‘normal?’ What if they are what got you promoted? What if what they are telling you may harm your career? What if it may cause a huge amount of work for you? What if that person has been ‘difficult’ to manage? What if the things they are challenging, are part of your very identity?

Here is where a great leader steps up to get some stitches.

Humility is one of those things that is discussed in the realms of leadership regularly. I’ve had the ‘humility talk’ and I know many that have also experienced it. The problem, is that:

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I would say that Nelson Mandela and Gandhi were pretty humble people. They also spoke their truth to power, through the most difficult of experiences. There’s this misunderstanding that seems to have gotten in somewhere, that humility is inextricably tied up with a lack of challenge.

“Who are you to challenge on this? You need to be more humble.”

This isn’t humility, it’s deference. It’s power telling the challenger to get back in their box. It’s power telling the challenger to be more grey. It’s power telling the challenger, that actually, they need to realise who holds the power.

Of course, it’s very possible that the whistleblower is wrong, just as it is possible that the leaders may be wrong. I don’t think we need to discuss where the perceived possibility of being wrong ends up. It certainly doesn’t end up with the leader. If it did, then that leader would be showing humility, because really, they may be accepting that they – and their actions – may have contributed to the problem. What is driving the leader’s decisions at this time? Is it humility?

Humility

I think this is a great way to think about humility. It isn’t about not challenging, or not seeking change. It isn’t about being grey, or being quiet. And it isn’t about doing what you are told, despite how you feel.

Humility is about realising that you are no better than anyone else, that everyone you meet has trodden a path that you can’t even comprehend, and that others always hold knowledge of greater value than you. Always.

If leaders displayed humility when a whistleblower knocked at their door, then maybe these incredibly courageous people would be able to help to make the change that they wish to see for the greater good? Maybe bad practice could be openly discussed and changed? Maybe we could prioritise those who are subject to those processes, instead of the processes themselves? And finally, we may realise that not only do we not know all the answers, but that there may well be people that do know the answers, to whom we would not normally listen.

Humility is not deference. Humility is empowering, supportive, sharing and caring. Maybe if we concentrated on building each other, then there wouldn’t be a need for whistleblowers at all, and we could save those people from immensely painful experiences. Challenge, and challenging yourself and your views leads us down better paths, inviting it is the hard part…

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The (slow) march of the Millennials

This is a long one (apologies), I really need to work on my brevity 🙂 I know that there are individuals that don’t sit squarely within these definitions and that they represent a broad brush approach, they do however give us a ‘broad’ view on what is coming down the line – and therefore they are pretty useful!

Some of you may have have heard, seen or even discussed Millennials, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Y and Z, or even the newer Generation G. They are usually used in a business or journalistic context, and have perhaps gained the apt label: Megatrends. They refer to groups of people that have been born before particular time boundaries that have been shaped by their experience of the world. If you look at it in terms of an example, those people that directly experienced World War II, have a different view of the world from those who have not. Each generation has these defining moments, and a certain school experience, built within a particular surrounding social/political environment.

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I am a Millennial, although they are also referred to as Generation Y. If you want to read about Millennials, there are things all over the web that you can access via Google, but here is a quick breakdown. By and large, the senior positions within companies that sit at the top of the FTSE 100 and most public services, will be currently run by latter end Baby Boomers and possibly Generation X. It won’t shock you to see that there are distinct differences – and therefore clashes between the generations…

workplace characteristics

The external workplace that the police inhabit is set to become a majority Millennial workplace in either 2015-16, in the cops the best guess is around 2020. The lag in between is due to the particular nature of policing, with long tenure employment and large cohort intakes. As we have just seen the longest lag in police promotions and movement that we have ever seen, the gap in the leadership ranks has widened, with a larger percentage of Boomers and Generation X holding more positions of control as the hierarchy has shrunk due to austerity. The ‘catch up’ period is coming, but will there be an ‘equalling out’ of leadership responsibility, or will the Boomers and Generation X simply reinforce their level of control over the workplace even further? Only time will tell.

The one thing that is certain, is that the nature of work is changing rapidly. It’s becoming ever-more mobile, dispersed, on demand and technologically enabled. If you think about the way that the police currently operate, you may note that we are nowhere near that, and there will also be a ‘catching up’ period necessary in the very near future – simply through the gap in what the public expect, and what we actually manage to deliver. If people can track their parcel and delivery driver for their Ebay purchase, speak with the driver and organise alternative levels of service, will this expectation transfer at some point to the level of service expected of police officers?

Context

The reason I have written about this blog, is that the police work environment is set to change quite dramatically in the UK due to the Leadership Review, and the types of changes that are coming are tailored for the workforce that will be entering the police in the future. Millennial workers challenge authority regularly and dislike rigid hierarchies and structures. They communicate digitally and prefer it over face-to-face communication sometimes. The work to live and value balance in their lives, and are well educated, often carrying high student debt. A good report on these traits is here if you want a read, although there are many fully researched studies that show remarkable similarities in outcome.

Any police leaders looking to the future have a very tricky course to navigate. There will be a cadre of senior leaders who are distinctly Baby Boomer/Generation X. These people will have been promoted and supported throughout the performance era in policing. Looking back on it fondly (or not at all fondly, if I’m honest), the themes were situated strongly in Standard Operating Procedures, ‘business process’, compliance and audit. People were resources to be deployed, and the reign of specialised competence remained prevalent. Silos of specialisms characterised by continual competition between themselves made up the work environment, and ‘remit’ ruled the roost. Work was compartmentalised, chopped up into digestable pieces, and strewn across policing, generating huge amounts of waste and ambiguity in industrial levels of handovers.

My opinion of the above era aside, if you look at the charts above, you can directly map particular traits into those workplace conditions, and really see how they ran in sync. You may also be able to see how those young in service railed against them. This railing was however quite muted, as hierarchy imposed its stringent silence upon dissent. Even if you disagreed, it was far safer to stay quiet and just try and make a difference – despite the workplace conditions that – in some cases – actively worked against that.

There are countless articles that research the unintended consequences of the performance era, across many public services. Austerity has however – contrary to the intended aims – actually embedded a static position of leadership in the police. There is almost a five year gap in promotions in some forces, and even then there will be many with lengthy ‘acting’ or temporary experience prior to that. As the present leadership cohort has remained, the question to pose is one of pragmatism; is it likely that a dearth of ‘fresh’ supervisors entering the leadership domain has caused a temporary lull in progression towards the next generational shift?

That was a long sentence. Has austerity – instead of jump-starting ‘reform’ – actually forced conditions within police leadership that work against practical change?

A New Era

Building new workplace conditions for a changing workforce is very difficult within the policing environment. Let’s look at what happens when you discuss particular traits in context:

Transitory Careerists

This means that the average level of time spent with single companies is dropping incrementally. Even if you discount some of the research that indicates it isn’t quite as bad as many say, the researched figure in America is now 4.4 years, whereas here in the UK it sits at approximately double that. You may think that an average of 9 years isn’t too bad, but the figures are buoyed considerably by an ageing population, with young people far more likely to change careers. As the percentage of Millennials increase in the workplace, this figure will continue to fall. If we conservatively guess that it will sit at approximately 6 years by 2020, it’s fair to say that we need people to be able to drop in and out of policing not because it suits the business, but because it will suit the workforce… Many have speculated on the opposite of this, “it’s a ploy to save money etc.” The truth is that to commit to exist and compete for people in a time where the entire workforce will have changed, is a pretty important step to take.

Educated, value driven future employees

This is an important discussion to have. A recognition that the external environment in policing has travelled faster in terms of accreditation and supported transition between public services is a fairly painful one. It says a lot about our current workforce, who are operating in a high risk, high responsibility workplace, without any external recognition for that. Policing does a lot of training, but the evidence tells us that classroom based learning accounts for approximately 10% of learning that needs to take place, with the vast amount of learning sitting in peer-to-peer influence and ‘on the job’ experience. (the other 90%) That we continue to ‘train’ our officers in a classroom envt. may frustrate any efforts at ‘real’ change, and studies have also shown that NCALT sits at around 0% efficacy for actual behavioural change.

Some may say, ‘Well if this is the case, why would you want to put a degree in place?’ Firstly, it brings policing into the modern work environment, allowing greater transferability for future recruits (note: future recruits). Secondly, the proposed degree will have a high amount of ‘on the job’ learning, peer-to-peer learning, and perhaps more importantly, self driven reflective practice. What does this mean? It basically means that the practitioner does a lot of their own learning by looking back on their experiences, and trying to improve upon them. Education (note: not training) also encourages objective evaluation (critical thinking). Although some may speculate that the current environment will not support this critical thinking, as the percentage of Millennial leaders increases, it will be a vital part of future practice.

If the next generation of workers needs to feel like they are making a difference, surely it would help to actually ‘know’ that they are? This is where education comes in. There are other reasons for improving objective analysis skills, including a rise in the regulatory environment and increasing complexity of work, these too play into the ‘need for change’ mix.

I don’t want to dwell on this, the argument on both sides is complex. It is however a change aimed for the future (possibly even past 2019), rather than one that seeks to change the ‘now’.

Collective/Participative Leadership

This is a large part of the Millennial need, and it is enabled by technology. Millennials are tech savvy and comfortable on social media. Baby Boomers and Generation X prefer titles, recognition and direct communication. This clash has been most visible in the police use of social media – particularly twitter. Here is the Kings Fund’s view on what Collective Leadership is:

“Collective leadership means everyone taking responsibility for the success of the organisation as a whole – not just for their own jobs. It requires organisations to distribute leadership power to wherever expertise, capability and motivation sit within organisations.”

This supports the future of the Advanced Specialist Practitioner, the removal of hierarchy as the sole provider of expertise, and it chimes directly against the, ‘Do it your way, forget the rules,’ need of Generation X. It requires the sharing of knowledge, not the hoarding of it, and it rests fundamentally on the need for a shared goal. This is values/mission led, group orientated, high trust, networked leadership. Some may say that it is the antithesis of the current leadership environment in the cops, and in many cases I think that they would be right.

Why this may need to be slow

I mentioned earlier about the ‘slow down’ caused by austerity within public services. I encourage the reader (be they cop or otherwise) to look around and see if they can find any Millennials in places of senior leadership in policing. I would hazard – and this is a total guess – that the actual amount will be minuscule. With the current promotion structure as it stands, where experience and time served (read Baby Boomers and Generation X) hold the most value, how quickly are there going to be any in senior leadership? This is despite the fact that they will make up over 50% of the workplace in around three years. If that isn’t a recipe for a wicked cultural problem, I don’t know what is…

How can this be mitigated?

  • The leaders currently in place can alter behaviour in order to better represent the growing numbers of Millennials in their ranks, invite their input and involve them in designing future change.
  • Millennials can take some ownership, instead of feeling disconnected, and actively lobby for change that they wish to see.
  • The service can facilitate ‘jumps’ in leadership by removing barriers, reducing ranks, and starting to mirror the external environment more closely. Talent schemes may be used to push those younger in service through to decision making positions.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but they are some some suggestions that may help to navigate the bumpy road of the future with a little less dissonance. The truth is that the current/recent external environment has created an internal environment that frustrates the very ‘reform’ that it sought to enable. It’s left a heady mess of cultural conflict as older generations of leaders now seek to navigate the murky world of motivating Millennials, without having any Millennial counsel. The nature of work itself is changing rapidly through technology, with Millennials in the best position to steer the ship, but without any hands on the tiller…

The future of workforce development looks increasingly complicated; maybe it’s time to involve the workforce in the design of that development? Without some element of ‘together’, it may continue to operate as it does now, leaving a generation of skilled leaders in its wake.

Shifting foundations

Policing is undergoing changes that are shaking the very foundations of its identity. This blog is a reflection on that from my perspective, having spent some time involved in that change. It may get a little more personal than my usual kind of blog, so please bear with me if you are expecting another based solely on research. It is in there, it’s just hidden 🙂

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I’ve just spent a week on a course which discussed the theory of knowledge. This isn’t the best way to start a blog, as many will just be instantly put off by something so obscure – and seemingly – so far removed from everyday policing. But when you really start to understand such a complex subject, you realise that it actually underpins everything we do, every day. In fact, it is so pervasive, that we can’t escape the benefits and the negatives that it produces.

I watched a serving Detective Inspector discussing a study that he had just completed into ‘Threats to Life’ and the way that we deal with them within force. These are incidents where the police come into contact with a threat made to someone’s life, and there is a set of things that we do with regards to these incidents when they happen. He was shocked to discover that the reasons behind ‘why’ a lot of these things were done were based on a ‘tacit’ understanding – which basically means that everyone just understands why they are done, it is ‘implied’ that they are all useful, and that they are just something to complete in every case. If you are a police officer reading this, you will encounter many of these ‘tick lists’ every day. They are usually applied without question and then enforced through compliance management, yet when he began to ask ‘why’ around the local procedures, he usually ended up with, ‘Because we have always done it that way,’ or the even more common, ‘Because I asked you to.’

Even more worrying was the fact that there was no training in managing ‘Threats to Life’ incidents, no consistency between areas or supervision, and no study or research of the outcomes. There were often no recorded evaluations as to why an incident was downgraded/upgraded, and over time the incidents were often downgraded simply because something else had taken priority or there was nothing else to do on  the list. Indeed, the usual discussions that took place sat firmly within the story that had created the incident, instead of any data, knowledge, insight, or deep understanding. The way that the incidents were managed often depended solely on the experience of the supervisor – which is of course totally variable.

The reason these things weren’t there, is because there wasn’t/isn’t any data/knowledge/insight/deep understanding. An incident as severe as this is without in-depth research. Are any of the actions taken by the officers involved adding any value to these occurrences, or are we creating action simply because we have to be seen to be doing something? The audit of these instances would certainly suggest that lots of actions is an acceptable indicator of ‘hard work’ to resolve the incidents, but which of these actions are actually doing something? Which are reducing that threat? Which are actually increasing safety?

We don’t know the answer to any of these questions.

These studies are beginning unravel some of the pillars of the policing profession. Experience has always been a by-word for understanding, but as we truly scrutinise our actions, we realise that understanding is often without depth, and the actions related to it are simply ‘filler.’ The commonly (and tacit) understanding in the workplace is often, ‘But if we do everything that we usually do, then surely we are going to be making a difference, and at least our backs are covered.’

During this presentation, the DI related this to medicine. It was a startling analogy. Imagine a patient walking in with a set of symptoms, and the doctor giving them a full sheet of exercises and a plethora of medication. “Here, take all of these. We think that one of them does the job for what you are suffering. There are loads of possible side effects but we know that they’ve worked occasionally in the past.” The patient then asks why, and the doctor – who hasn’t had any specific training in this area – states, “I’ve done a few of these before and they have always turned out OK. You have to trust me because I’ve been doing this a long time.”

Obviously, this wouldn’t happen. The studied knowledge that the doctor possesses allows him to make a far more focused decision, with precise dosages and times of consumption. He often has read in great depth about that particular set of symptoms, and although he realises every single patient is different, he has a set of previously proven medications/exercises that he can prescribe. Indeed, if you asked the doctor why he had made that choice, he would be able to probably describe what the medications did on a cellular level, and how they actually dealt with the problems that the patient was experiencing.

Policing is around 150 years behind medicine in evidence based practice, and although policing will never hand out prescriptions of medication, it is clear that there are actions that can be taken that do ‘work’. They create better outcomes, and as long as they applied within the right context, they are likely to produce the same effects. There is a Hampshire study ongoing (CARA) that is piloting conditional cautions in a domestic violence setting where a process of education is ‘prescribed’ for first time offenders, instead of the usual disposals. The results are great so far, and soon they should be rolled out for people to use as they deal with similar incidents. You might like to think of this as a police version of a drug trial for a particular malady or affliction…

Hopefully this has given you some context for the introduction of evidence based practice, but the theory around this is fine, the application of that theory is another thing altogether…

 

Policing has several ‘pillars’ or foundations to its identity. In the UK we have the big stuff, like the Rule of Law and Policing by Consent, but there are career based foundations too. These are things like ‘length of service,’ experience, ‘sound common sense,’ a tenured job for life, a good pension, and a lack of employment rights as servants of the crown. These all help to form our job identity, but they also help to form our general identity in life. We are all – in parts – our job. But police officers tend to become absorbed into policing far more severely than in other professions. Social isolation is a tenet of police culture, so as officers often become isolated from ‘non job’ friends, the ‘job’ friends become ever more important. The shared experience becomes a glue that knits cops together, and the pillars of it have been unshakeable for many years.

Social identity is individual, as who and how you identify with those that you work with can both suck you in, and spit you out. If you don’t buy into those accepted pillars, or you have opinions that differ from the established majority, then there will be a spitting out on the cards. Imagine a government then comes in and begins to question all those pillars? In fact, they go further than questioning, and they begin to dismantle the stone pillars, whilst simultaneously erecting a steel framework. This framework is far more accessible and bits of it can be replaced if necessary, but those big stone monoliths, they are coming down – one by one. There are a great many cops stood on top of those pillars, and in many cases, they may have joined the job – in part – because of them.

If you lived in a house where this kind of construction was taking place, chances are you would go to a hotel or go and stay with a friend, because living in a house that is having it’s foundations removed and replaced is going to be a pretty unpleasant experience. Indeed, I read a really good blog from @NathanConstable here that pretty much describes this experience, and it is certainly a shared one. There are a great many feeling this way, and it would go a very long way if this feeling was acknowledged and understood, instead of steam-rollering, digging and welding away under them regardless.

 

How do these two sections meet? They meet in a great amount of indignation, resignation, unhappiness and in some cases, hostility. No one likes to have their identity – or what makes them, them – taken away from under their feet. It’s horrible, it’s unpleasant, and it results in feelings of irrelevance (this is the worst in my opinion).

But, as we watch demand shift into very complex waters, is there any doubt that we need to be able to go deeper than, ‘but we’ve always done it that way?’ We can’t employ check lists based on a few dodgy jobs to deal with incidents that have the propensity for people to lose their life. We can’t expect the pillar of experience to deal with new kinds of jobs that simply haven’t been ‘experienced’ before – think cybercrime. We also can’t expect the pillar of ‘common sense’ to root out child sex offenders – we have to be increasingly sophisticated. All of these changes means changing the very way that we see the mode of ‘accepted’ knowledge within policing. It can’t be enough any more to have ‘done a few years,’ within an area to prove that you are the best person for the job. You need that ‘new’ knowledge, the stuff with depth of understanding and an ability to question ‘what we have always done.’ You need that drive to constantly learn about what is going on in your area of business – and this does not mean just by ‘doing’ that area of business. It means continuing, self-driven, professional development. It means asking the right questions about how to make things better, and then actually empowering people to change it.

Caretakers sat on pillars of experience ensured that the profession remained solid for many years, but the world has moved faster than we have, and renovations are under way. I feel – working in this change as I have – like a complete alien, uncomfortable and totally unaccepted by the majority of policing culture. I’m interested in giving the best possible service for the public, and I believe that there is a better way. I’m also really uncomfortable with the removal of some of these pillars, as I personally think that some were actually a good thing and need to stick around, with a steel frame built around them. I also think we should be shouting up to the people inside the house, and increasing the understanding around what is happening and why, by inviting them down to design the new framework. And the last thing I will say is that the replacing of ‘professional experience’ with a steel construct of evidence based practice is NOT the way forwards. They both need to compliment each other, so we can appreciate the craft of the artisan, tempered by the knowledge generated by research. A doctor will always use professional experience AND their medical knowledge before prescribing a drug. In the future a cop could use copper’s nose, together with the learning around ‘Threats to Life’ to ‘prescribe’ intervention that is both likely to work, AND does not result in many, many hours of wasted activity – that actually may be causing harm.

This is not an ‘either, or.’ It’s a ‘together.’ And no one should be evicted.

 

This whole ‘change’ business has gotten personal. I love policing, I just see it slightly differently – as many do. As I come to the end of this, there is no ‘irrelevant’ or ‘yesterday’ to anyone within policing in my opinion. If people are feeling like this, then there’s some big mistakes that have created some horrific pitfalls from the Home Office downwards. There’s no point in dwelling on that though, because the future is coming fast. We need those that are feeling like ‘yesterday’s’ police officers, to both temper and develop a service that best uses their experience, together with a new mode of learning. If we get that bit right, without pushing anyone out of the door as the builders move in, then there’s hope that the future will be one built with the best of both worlds.

Our ‘accepted’ knowledge can no longer exclude research knowledge, we have to accept that ‘the way we have always done it’ hasn’t always been the best way. But, nor can we throw that immensely valuable experience into the irrelevancy bin. Not just because it is still hugely relevant, but also because it should still form the base for delivery of our service.

I wouldn’t want a research based computer prescribing my medication, would you?

Breaches, breaches everywhere…

This blog is about the wider social issues affecting the cops at the moment. It explores the relationship between officers and the College of Policing, and speculates on the relationships now formed via interactions between them over recent preceding years. As usual, I will be discussing research evidence, but I’m hoping that it is still readable and that it gives us some frameworks through which to discuss what is going on.

What is a Psychological Contract?

Everyone uses contracts every day. They are usually tangible, but in many cases you don’t even realise it’s there. When you go into a shop and pick up a mars bar, there are rules governing what happens when you take the mars bar out of the shop – not least of which is the need to pay for it! These contracts are protected by law, and they run through our society from top to bottom. There are lots of other rules that we live by every day, but we often don’t think about them.

A Psychological Contract is the same, but it isn’t governed by tangible rules, it deals with expectations. To give readers a quote that may help:

‘…a series of mutual obligations of which parties to the relationship may not themselves be dimly aware but which nonetheless govern their relationship to each other.’ (Levinson, 1962)

So the rules aren’t written down, we can’t see them, and in many cases we are unaware they are there. If I was to give an example of these, I would say that they are pretty individual and different to everyone, so it is quite difficult. If we put it into a cop context, it would be like discussing your relationship between yourself and your supervision. If you work really hard and constantly work your socks off, you expect your line supervision to support your leave requests. This would be an unwritten rule, and dependent on your relationships obviously, but nonetheless that expectation may develop.

The issue with psychological contracts, is that because they are unwritten and you can’t see them, they develop differently. The line supervision may believe in total fairness when it comes to leave allocation, no matter how hard you work, so although you develop an expectation where you expect reciprocal support if you work really hard, there’s no guarantee that this will be met. This is when something called ‘reciprocity’ kicks in. In this example it would look like this:

Cop works hard –> Cop expects backing for leave –> supervisor sees them working hard, gives them praise –> Cop thinks praise a signal for backing –> cop asks for leave –> supervisor knocks leave back because they see it as unfair to the rest of the team –> cop believes that their hard work isn’t being supported and sees less value in working so hard –>  supervisor sees withdrawal of effort and can’t understand why it’s happening.

Reciprocity is when someone with a psychological contract reciprocates a perceived breach of contract – so basically something happens that doesn’t meet their expectations, so they react accordingly. In the above example, it is a withdrawal of effort, because they aren’t receiving the backing they expect.

The truth is that the above example could actually be sorted out with a quick conversation.

“What’s going on, you seem to have lost a little motivation? Is something bothering you?”

“Well, it has actually as I couldn’t get leave last week and I missed my best friend’s wedding.”

“Oh, I didn’t think it was that important, you should have said.”

“You didn’t know?”

“I didn’t, sorry. I like to make sure we meet the minimum turn out for shift and your request took us below. I didn’t want to leave the rest of the team short and I’m really fair with how I process leave. I’m really sorry, it won’t happen again. Would you mind letting me know in the future if it’s important, as you are a brilliant cop and I want to look after you.”

This all looks fluffy, but what is actually going on is an exchange of expectations. They are talking to each other and defining how to meet each other’s needs. At the end of this conversation, both leave with a clearer idea of how the relationship works and how things can be managed better in the future. As many will know, conversations like this often don’t happen for many reasons. The cop won’t ask as they feel the solution was imposed by hierarchy and many bosses don’t like being questioned. If the question does happen, the answer is usually: “Because I followed policy. It’s fairer that way.”

I could talk about how we can improve this all day, and a great example would be for that leave request to be put to the team.

“Guys, XXXXX needs leave next week for his best friend’s wedding. It takes us below. What do you think?”

“We’re OK with that and can cope.” Or, “I know YYYY from Neighbourhoods can cover.” Or, “It’s Saturday night, can we deviate one from lates?”

Again, this example looks simple, but you are removing decision making from hierarchy and that can be quite against the established culture. It also takes more effort, and when you have a lot of ‘important’ leave requests it can become impractical. The truth is that a simple request can create big issues and start off a chain of events that stops people working for the organisation. Managing the expectations is a complicated job, and supervisors need to put some real effort into finding out what their staff expect from them and vice versa. When you get it right, it’s awesome. When there are clashes, it can break people.

So what does any of this have to do with the College of Policing?
I may have digressed slightly, but I’m hoping you’re with me 
If I were to ask a frontline cop what the College of Policing is for, the answer is usually: “No idea.” Because the word ‘College’ is in there, many assume it is an accrediting body for academia (not true). Many officers have also seen recent changes that are legacies of Home Office intervention, and because they are being implemented via the College, there is an implicit association with the Conservative Government, and by proxy, Tom Winsor and the Winsor reforms.

Let’s have a look at the potential state of the psychological contract with the College of Policing for a frontline officer:

image

Above the iceberg you have the tangible contract of work and pay. Even this has been recently affected and changed, so the visible top may have some damage. But look at what is beneath the surface of the water… There have been significant changes announced to training and development, recognition, qualifications, status, and importantly pensions. What is the reciprocal effect of these changes to tacit expectations? Look at the left side of the iceberg. Loyalty, commitment, time/hours, effort/ideas, the driving of change, and tolerance are all on that list.

If we look at Twitter over the last week, we have seen a significant uplift in communications by the College. This means an increase in volume of data around the changes, but does it really deal with the expectations of officers? I have seen so many examples of tweets where people ask:

“Isn’t the College meant to be there for officers?”

“What happened to our input?”
“I don’t feel consulted.”

“The College is just an arm of the Home Office.”

Now, I’m not saying that Twitter is the panacea of engagement, but it offers important insights into the psychological contracts of Officers with regards to the College. The above examples tell us:

“Isn’t the College meant to be there for officers?” – I expect the College to represent officers and I don’t feel that it is at the minute.

“What happened to our input?” – I expect to be able to input into policy making and I have no idea how to do that. I don’t feel it has happened.

“I don’t feel consulted.” – If consultation has taken place, it certainly hasn’t included me, and I wanted it to.

“The College is just an arm of the Home Office.” – I don’t think that the College represents me.
These are all Psychological Contract breaches, and if we accept that the theory is robust and pretty much does what it says on the tin, then there will be reciprocity. What will this reciprocity look like? It is likely to be intolerance, disengagement, a lack of trust, reduced loyalty (if there is any) and a lack of motivation to contribute ideas. In short, the landscape is not healthy.

Now the College is in a tough place. It does want to be there for officers, but it is also answerable to the Home Office. I would like to think (in a Utopia!) that the College will eventually be wholly owned by its members, and any changes will come as a result of bottom up feedback from its membership. To be fair, having worked on the leadership review, I did a huge amount of consultation with officers and staff, as well as external organisations. But if you look at the policing family, I would have been lucky to interact with 1% over the course of a year.
Using the methods that we have historically used, how can consultations of 1% lead to acceptance? I imagine that will be very hard. I also think that perceived breaches will continue, especially as further reform (on the right of the iceberg) lands. As these breaches continue, it is highly likely that reciprocity will too, and officers will continue to be disengaged and feel uninvolved. How do we rectify and deal with this?
Well, as given in the conversation above, understanding the expectations of both parties is key. This is a two-way relationship where both sides pro-actively engage in order to find out what each expect from each other. Right now, I think officers are confused as to who the College represents, what its agenda is, and how consultations with officers take place. Engagement therefore, may actually begin with some clarification on both sides, and this can be done in full view and publicised on social media. The more visible this communication, the less likely it is that ambiguity will exist, and ambiguity just leads to lots of breaches.
In the current climate, how can both begin to repair the relationship?

The truth may lie in an exploration of methods; as current methods are clearly not working. The forthcoming membership platform will help, as it is a reason for officers to interact with the College, but what it does not do is clear the mess of differing expectations that currently populate the divide. I for one would love to hear what Officers want from their professional body, and whilst the new layers of reform land over the coming years, that can form a program of work that begins to develop some positive relationships.

One thing I would wish to make clear, is that a professional body is not a Union. It exists to further the development of the Profession. This means that changes will not always be popular. I think that many officers would accept that far more readily, if there was a sufficient understanding and trust around both officer’s and the College’s expectations. Leaving this gap, without filling it pro-actively and positively, will compound breaches and drive wedges between the parties.

I think these last few days have been an indication that things are changing and new methods are being explored, but there is a lot of catching up to do in order to garner the support of an increasingly disenfranchised frontline. We really need that conversation to take place:

“What’s going on, you seem to have lost a little motivation? Is something bothering you..?”

The EQF, Evidence and Innovation

After an interesting weekend, where the Twitter seemed to explode with a whole host of accusations towards the College of Policing, and by-proxy towards me (having previously worked there for 12 months), there are clearly some issues that need ironing out. There are many questions that need answering, some via the College, but others are about our culture and the way that we – as a collective – view and react towards change within our midst. Amongst many things, this blog will discuss what ‘evidence’ actually is in the context of change, and how it is used.  I can’t speak for the College and I won’t try, I think there is lots of work needed to connect with officers and that this weekend is a great example of why.

 

When writing these blogs I am trying to bridge a gap between academic writing and police blogging. It is no small feat and requires me to re-write and re-visit each paragraph on repeat, until I finally hit publish and await the ensuing discussion. I tread a fine line between not using purely research based writing to inform because it is dry and often difficult to read, and leaving it out and posting an opinion piece. For this reason I leave out academic referencing, and more often than not, the authors too. Within the first few paragraphs of my last blog here I actually discuss about 50+ studies. It is in shorthand and you can’t  see the individual studies, but I have written discussions on the same studies several times (including for my recent MSc). I discuss how ‘good’ the studies were, (with regards to their methods) and what they actually tell us when you gather them together. The evidence is evaluated using the Maryland Scale in terms of how reliable it is. The lowest standard of evidence is opinion, rising to RCT trials. I’m not totally sold on this model, but it provides a useful guide and is often used across Policing as way of evaluating studies.

cnmc-nlss-02-eng

So, what is it about academic study that everyone is shouting about? “It’s not policing and policing is a fast paced environment., where quick decisions are made, and we deal with disorder and high risk crisis incidents etc. etc.” This is a commonly held view in policing, and to put it very shortly, it’s total tosh. I’m not usually this direct, and I know the middle road is usually the best to tread, but this needs saying: It’s anti-intellectualism, it reveals stigma, and at its basest form it evidences prejudice.  Learning from the rigorous work of others is exactly what creating a ‘knowledge base’ for the profession is all about. It stops us making the same mistakes again and again and it ensures that we as a collective remain open to new learning. There’s actually a really good article called the ‘Dialogue of the Deaf’ (I can’t post it as it is subject to copyright) and it details the issues between the Police and Academia really well. The police say that the research is not operationally useful, and the academics conversely want to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s (and Academia’s) sake. This leads to an impasse, where the cops want useful knowledge that makes a difference, and academics pursue knowledge that will get them published. This impasse is dissolving, and we are seeing some great collaborative work that hits the best of both worlds.

The scientific method

I don’t want to go into too much detail as I can hear the snores already kicking in, but the methodology of academic study is the bit that creates its value. What do I mean by methodology? It is the rigorous questioning of the way that the data is gathered and assessed, that ensures its value later down the line. It isn’t about quick snapshot study, it’s about planning and executing, and then testing and re-testing, and then questioning your findings. This is a reflective cycle – this means that you are constantly checking and self-checking, and then peer checking your analysis. It means that you are testing out ideas (hypothesis) against data that actually means something, instead of collecting data that holds huge inherited bias. This is the difference between real study, and pseudoscience. Here’s a quick graphic that compares the two:

scivspseudosci3

I heard – during many exchanges on Twitter yesterday – that academic study has no place in policing. Well, it doesn’t if you want to be locked in the column on the right? If you were to take a selection of the way that we used to view police ‘performance’ during performance culture, you will see that the methods that the police used were firmly sat in the right column. But as Simon Guilfoyle has been discussing recently, that’s what happens when you don’t provide training in the methods used to manage properly (discussed in his latest blog here). There are huge risks if we carry on sitting in the right column, like a lack of institutional/personal learning, doing harm when we think we are doing good, and making decisions based on misunderstood data that ultimately harm our staff.

In shorthand, if you view ‘evidence’ as belonging in the right column, there are big issues with drawing meaningful conclusions. It doesn’t mean that the info isn’t useful, especially with regards to quick and dirty opinion polls. They are great for examining opinion, but opinion isn’t evidence of anything other than opinion, and not liking something isn’t evidence that it does/doesn’t work… This is really common in any workplace, and leads to Semelweiss type problems, where new things that work are rejected by professional communities because they are counter-culture. Some changes that are really positive can be rejected by the workforce because of the way that they are perceived/implemented – not because of whether they actually work (read anything on Change Mgmt. by Leandro Herrero/Peter Senge if you want studies on this).

Evidencing Innovation

This is the most common issue I have seen, and it is really dangerous. The misunderstanding around evidence based practice is causing a questioning of innovative changes. It’s right to question – and it should be encouraged at all times, but using the call for evidence to stifle new practice is totally counter-productive. Here is a break down of what Innovation can look like in the police, (follow the link) but if you want it shorthand, if you don’t take risks or have a supporting culture behind you, it makes it ridiculously difficult. I think the risk taking is happening more often now, but the supportive culture is absent. This is a result of many things and cannot be ‘blamed’ on anyone. It’s something we should all take ownership for though, and work to develop if we are ever going to see any positive change take place.

What is happening now in the policing community is interesting to see, as ‘Evidence Based Practice’ – previously debunked by the community as ‘academic interference’, has been taken on, bastardised, and it is now being used as a weapon against change.

‘Where is the evidence that Direct Entry at Inspector works?’

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

Where is the evidence that police need degrees?’

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

Where is the evidence that Police Now works?

There isn’t any. How can there be? We’ve never tried it.

I could go on. The above questions lead to speculation at best. If you were to take Direct Entry as a great example, I could tell you that it works in many, many places around the world. But I can’t tell you if it will work here. But that’s ok. Let’s be comfy with that and try it out. If it doesn’t work, we’ll evaluate it properly and we will see if it was worth trying. There will always be risk in trying something new, but there are enough checks and balances in place to mitigate that risk (like lots of other people to learn from and keep an eye/develop them in the workplace etc.).

Another discussion point: “Why are we rolling it out if we haven’t evaluated it properly?” Well, forces have asked to be part of the trial. This makes the trial bigger, and in turn this allows for a better evaluation to take place. Basing a country-wide full roll out on the experience of a small amount of people is pretty thin, so let’s widen that base out and make the evaluation more robust. The better the evaluation, the more learning we all take from it. This is essentially growing the sample that you use to draw conclusions from, and the greater the sample, the more representative the results.

And it could be that the schemes fail – and many people will love that (clearly), but early indications are that they aren’t the apocalyptic disgrace heralded by the doomsayers. Let’s wait on the full evaluations before we jump all over something that may be very positive for staff in the workplace.

The real evidence for change

By all accounts (and many staff surveys), workplace wellbeing in the police is pretty poor in many places in the UK, and we have just seen the largest proportion of senior officers ever under investigation for potential misconduct. On these issues alone, I would say that we have a solid evidence base for the reasons for some change to take place in the way that we see leadership.

Having just conducted a study myself on promotion and selection within the cops (specifically with relation to BME candidates and frontline perceptions), I can say that some officers’ trust in current police promotion systems in the UK is appalling. They do not believe that the systems select the best candidates consistently, they believe they are often unfair, and that they suffer lowered morale because of them. The information around the systems and the way that they are used can promote an environment where nepotism and networking are perceived to hold higher value than competence. This research will land shortly hopefully and it is currently changing practice in individual forces in the UK.

Finally: culture. There are many positive aspects to our culture, but there are many repeatedly evidenced issues with our culture (discussed here) that we really need to sort out. We are an internal looking beast, and the scepticism and cynicism with which we view ‘outsiders’, the suspicious and socially removed behaviours that we evidence every day on twitter, and the – let’s face it – downright nastiness (that verges on bullying) shown towards those with contrary views to the masses are evidence within themselves. They have been studied repeatedly by ethnographers and they are enduring behaviours that are just toxic. They don’t make for a healthy work environment, and they don’t make for an environment conducive to real and actual debate. I shall continue to bang this drum – and I don’t care if I get pilloried – as ‘openness’ is important for the police to develop a better relationship with the public, and we have to try and ‘open’ our views and test our assumptions as much as possible if we are ever to improve on this.

I suspect, that the way we view these changes has much to do with our own personal circumstances. During change, we have a tendency to immediately ask: “How does this affect me?” There are some great books on this by John Kotter that deal with coping with change in life/organisations, and this is an enduring (and researched) trait. It leads us to make assumptions like:

Direct Entry is bad because it affects my promotion chances.
Direct Entry is bad because I have had to work my way up there.
Direct Entry is bad because my knowledge is special and outsiders don’t have it.
Direct Entry is bad because they will be relatively poor decision makers.

Now these may all be personally held beliefs reinforced by experience. I can’t question them, they are the beholders’ and totally sacrosanct. I would however question the way that others’ views are seen. Do their contrary opinions hold equal weight? Are contrary ideas seen to be accepted and debated? Or are they attacked and seen as some sort of virus?

Are these questions above the right ones to be asking at all? Should they not be – and we are a public service – about the service we provide:

Does direct entry create different leaders that benefit the service?
Is it possible to do these jobs without the lengthy experience beforehand?
Is the knowledge really that special? Or are there lots of other ‘knowledges’ we can learn from?
Is it possible that new types of decision making are a good thing?

These can be explored during a pilot, but they can only be explored during a pilot. We can’t evidence them. Is it possible that direct entry may change the service for the better? Of course it is! Is it therefore something that can explored? Again, of course it is! The ‘openness’ I am discussing in the blog above isn’t about agreeing with the idea, it’s about having the mindset to explore new things with a critical – but tolerant – eye. Acceptance of difference (including difference of thought) is a choice.

I’m not sure the tolerance is there yet. Maybe we can all work on it some more?

 

Disclaimer: a) I never worked on Direct Entry (although many assumed I did), and I’m not totally sold on it operationally at Insp level. I think a lot of work has to go into designing the right learning prior to it happening, but I have faith and as an idea it is well worth a try. I think the reservations can be overcome. b) The EQF was not my idea and I am not ‘driving’ anything. I did some of the background research and I believe that improving education is always a positive thing. I don’t believe in total graduate entry – which is good, as the College is also looking at non-graduate apprenticeships. And I also believe the service is full of awesome people without any transferable qualifications – and that is wrong, we should be accrediting those skills. 

Unfolding some rumours about the EQF…

So, I have finally – after vowing I wouldn’t – decided to come and discuss the Educational Qualification Framework (EQF) for Policing. Why should I come into the debate? Good question really. I guess first, I’m a cop, so it affects me, and it affects the people that I am working with. I have also just finished working on the Leadership Review, part of which included some research on whether education was an important part of future leadership. Indeed, I also did a lot of the comparative work on the EQF, looking at how other jobs structured their professions from start to finish. It totally opened my eyes.

The reason I’ve decided to blog, is that the info that is out there is sparse. I can’t comment on other’s communications, or indeed other people’s opinion, as it is theirs. I also don’t contend how people ‘feel’ about this. It is their prerogative and totally individual. I can shine a light on some of the research that I found and why a lot of the myths/concerns around at the minute don’t stack up. It may help paint some foreground and some background into the debate, and context is always so important.

Brace yourself, it’s a long one…

Current research evidence and making an evidence based decision

The current research around this in the UK is very, very sparse. There have not been many studies on whether being a graduate increases the quality of the officer. People have assumed that this is a major driver for its introduction, and this is just untrue. Cops up and down the country are making difficult decisions in complicated circumstances all the time, and doing so with great compassion and skill. Indeed, within environments where we work with partners, cops are often the only ones without a qualification, yet their performance still causes them to become leaders in those fields.

So, if there’s no evidence in the UK that suggests cops need to be graduates, why should we consider it?

Research elsewhere does indicate that certain things do happen. There’s good evidence from the US (in research terms) that puts together many studies, that shows that graduate officers use less force than non-graduate officers – and before you say that’s because they avoid confrontation, that was ‘controlled for’ in the studies, and there is no difference in arrest rates. There is also good evidence that graduate officers receive less public complaints.

There is weaker evidence across a number of studies that only hit low levels on the Maryland Scale of Evidence (this means that they aren’t as rigorous). These indicate higher levels of empathy/emotional intelligence and higher uses of alternate disposals. I would be loath to rely on these, but it is an interesting area for further research.

And on that note, some commentators have mentioned that there is a lack of an evidence base to make this decision in the UK to move to a graduate only profession and that there should be further research before doing it. I think this would be totally the right thing to do, but right now, the cops are on a burning platform, and we need to move quickly before things start collapsing. A systematic review would take many years, and right now we do not have anything like the time needed to conduct it. If austerity carries on at the same rate as it is forecast to; by 2021 the overall level of officers will fall by half what it was 5 years ago. Half the amount of officers…

What does this mean? Well you may have caught commentators from the NPCC talking about how this will affect their basic ability to answer 999 calls, and if we can’t answer 999 calls, how are we going to train our cops properly? This is a serious consideration… As training becomes more complex and specialist, how are we to deliver it? In many forces the L&D function will almost cease to exist entirely, with only space for mandatory training sessions based on legislative change. The cops are currently one of the only professions that pay their recruits a full wage to train, without – in turn – asking them to work. This is an amazing thing and something that has been of immense value in the past, but when we can’t answer 999 calls, can we ethically keep this function? Keeping people safe has to be our priority, and if that means taking our training out of that ‘fully paid’ role, that is what may have to happen. Am I happy about this? No. Would I like for this not to be the case? Yes. Is it something that I think should be preserved? In principle, yes, but if it means less cop cars or less frontline officers when things are stretched – I’m sorry, the public come first.

People have seen the ‘shifting the burden of paying onto the individual’ comment and assumed that this decision is about saving money, but it isn’t, it’s about preserving core function. We are a public service, and we need to conduct our core duties that allow us to remain viable – this may mean that a lot of things that we hold dear may disappear. It’s a travesty, but saying or feeling that it is a travesty doesn’t stop it from happening. As a side note, if we begin to fail at core function like 999 Response, this paves the way for privatisation at a frightening rate – please bear this in mind…

So, in summary, there is some evidence that being a graduate changes the behaviour of officers. Is it enough to conduct wholesale change? No. Have we got time to conduct a proper research review of graduate officers in comparison to non-graduate officers? No – austerity is forcing change at a far faster rate than would allow it. And the final chunk of ‘evidence,’ based on current profiles and projections, the cuts are at a level that would remove most – if not all – of the internal learning and development function, how would we train our officers?

The Knowledge Base

People will have heard these terms being thrown around over the last few years: ‘The Knowledge Base,’ ‘the Evidence Base,’ or the ‘Profession’s Body of Knowledge.’ They all mean the same thing, but let me run them through with you, so this next bit makes sense.

When training to be a doctor or a lawyer, students will look at the great body of knowledge that the profession has built up over many years. They will leaf through books, journals, magazines, commentaries, and lecture notes. They will read about the failures of the past, the successes, the near-misses, and more importantly, they will learn about how more knowledge is generated. In medicine it is research, in law it is statute and case law (in the main), and they know that they will need to stay up to date with this knowledge throughout their career.

Where is the Policing Knowledge base? Good question, I wasn’t taught any policing history during initial training, there was no identified body of knowledge, and mainly I spent 5 months learning various bits of legislation rote. In fact, most transactional training since has been very similar. Many will be saying: So What? Good question, well here is what happens when you don’t have a knowledge base:

The profession makes the same mistakes again and again as learning from past mistakes does not take place. As a physical example, it takes huge mistakes like those that happened at Soham for system change to take place, but personally, I haven’t seen anything about Soham or what it meant for policing (in other words, we change the system and not the people).

Many wheels are re-invented. This means that pilot after pilot in new technology/practice takes place all over the country, and that knowledge is not shared. I remember testing body worn cameras over ten years ago. Ten years! The profession is only just now conducting research into whether they offer benefit. Even if we decide that they are amazing, it will probably take another 5-10 years before we have a uniform system in place, and even then officers won’t be able to access the lessons learned, because the Knowledge Base is currently so sparse. This is being developed now by the College of Policing, but think of the waste that has taken place over the preceding ten years – just on bodycams… Establishing a Knowledge Base makes policing a whole lot less expensive to the tax payer, because it stops us repeating the same problems repeatedly.

Lack of consistency. People mix stuff up around this bit. This isn’t about training clones, or even about training everyone in the same way. Localism and individual preference is really important, and quashing that is bad for a healthy profession. This is about getting core understanding out there, in a way that allows for basic decisions to be made in the right way. An example: If you are burgled, research has shown that you are far more likely to be burgled again within the next few weeks/months. It also shows that your neighbours are at far higher risk. I have personally seen many officers advise the opposite. Why? Because there is a lack of structured continued learning in the cops, and the Knowledge that we have was never taught during training.

What does extending the training towards a degree actually do? Well it compliments the transactional training (statute and legal requirement), and the craft that is learned from peers in the workplace. Let’s face it, most useful learning is done ‘in the job’ almost via campfire stories or visibly seeing others do the job. This is great if you think that the job is totally the same as it was a hundred years ago, but it has carried on changing over that time and many things have strayed behind – technology being only one example. It’s about introducing the ‘science’ to the ‘art’ and the ‘craft.’ It is the main difference between a trade, and a profession.

If you don’t make the move to make this a requirement, what happens? Well, you have people making decisions using common sense, plus the science and enhanced understanding, and you have people making decisions using common sense. Advising your burglary victim that it is highly unlikely they will be targeted again – common sense. Advising them to strengthen their security and pulling in crime prevention and providing extra awareness – common sense and science with enhanced understanding. Which would you want as a victim?

I need to add as a caveat here, that it has nothing to do with the quality of the person in the above scenario, indeed there is nothing that says a graduate does the second better than the first. What it does say though, is that the Knowledge Base will not make an impact unless it goes out as widely as possible.

And again, I move to the So What? There is a growing Knowledge Base that has to go out as widely as possible. Why? Because it helps us make less victims, and it helps us make better decisions. Right now, taking on this extra knowledge is optional. Some forces don’t like it, other don’t subscribe to it, and others love it and are taking it on quickly. What does this look like to the public? It looks like a service that may criminalise in one area, whilst another will not, it looks like a service that may make less victims in one area, whilst another will not, and it looks like a service that gives better victim care in one area, whilst another will not.

Core consistency is very, very important – and right now we don’t have the resources or the structure to make it happen.

Diversity

This is the rebuff that has been the most quoted. Let me ask something. There is no other public service that currently has the openness of the police. We ask for hardly any entry requirements (some forces do but they are the exception and not the rule), we train everyone and pay them whilst they train, we are currently actively seeking diversity and offer pro-active support to minorities, and we pay the same rate as other graduate professions. Right now, we are immensely attractive when you look at our barriers to entry.

And our current levels of diversity are awful. Let’s be honest, every other profession has higher levels of diversity, and they have far more barriers.

Here’s the question… Is it possible, that actually, our lack of barriers affects our status as a profession?

From personal experience, I know officers who are from a minority background who have received derision for their choice to join the police as their community holds the job in poor regard. Why? Because it isn’t a profession, and the level of structural learning is low-non-existent, and the culture is often perceived to be racist. I would hazard a guess, that tackling this status should be a priority if we are to recruit from diverse backgrounds. 23% of current under-graduates studying come from a diverse background, and they make up far less of the population as a proportion. Graduate entry could be attractive and actually help with recruitment.

Aside from that, the evidence in the EU and the US of bringing in graduate entry into policing affecting diversity indicates a slight rise in diversity following its introduction – as long as positive action and other entry schemes such as apprenticeships remain in place (which they will). Police Now (Graduate scheme) has also recruited (in its first intake) far higher levels of diversity than standard recruitment across the country…

Summary: Suggesting that it will affect diversity recruitment is an interesting suggestion, as our diversity recruitment is poor now and we are one of the most open public services. Using the available evidence, we can gain an indication that this issue won’t raise its head, in fact it may even go in the opposite direction. The truth will out in the future, if it happens, and we shall see. If it does, then it will need addressing.

Transferability

This is the one that I will likely receive most abuse for (yes, abuse, as I have seen pretty awful abuse directed at graduates across the service since this discussion started). The current structure of our job does amazing things for people. It provides security, it provides structure, and it provides stability. There are very few jobs that allow tenure, and yes we have paid for it by withdrawing our industrial rights. In the past, when the pensions were excellent, finding another job was almost seen as a compliment to your life following retirement. With the pension re-structure, and the tenure extensions, the chances of staying in the job for life are limited. I have spoken with many officers who say that they will likely move as they can’t foresee themselves on the frontline working 24 hour shifts at age 60 (and who could blame them?).

This is where the change in the ability to transfer out of the job kicks in. Because the service is well paid, and because most similar jobs (in terms of pay) are at graduate level, our cops may face a significant pay cut and cut in their quality of life when they leave. How is this fair? Cops are functioning at graduate level now. They make fast paced, high risk, complex decisions every day, in an environment filled with graduates from other services. That is one of the reasons why accredited prior learning is being introduced, to allow serving officers the option of accrediting their experience, so that they do not get trapped in a job that they would like to leave, without significantly affecting their quality of life.

Staying in a job that is affecting your health, with few alternatives available, without the option of pursuing higher level learning (such as Masters etc.) could be pretty toxic to the future workforce. And yes, this means that policing may become a 10 year profession for some,(or even shorter) but the changes from a 30 year profession to a much longer one was not of the police’s making. Ensuring that the service supports the new environment is pretty darn important for wellbeing, and for culture, and for putting our current awesome staff to the same level in the external environment that they are performing at internally.

To reiterate, this is optional. Do you want to stay the whole 38+ years and don’t want to accredit your learning? No problem. Totally your choice as a cop.

Finally

I have talked extensively about the risks above. What happens if we don’t do this? Here’s a pretty big one… The future of policing does not look like the policing of ten years ago. It will be fast, highly scrutinised, highly visible, and decision making will be far more complex. Making a decision to arrest a DV offender won’t be as simple as ‘positive action,’ it will require knowledge of the accepted professional practice, exposure to the changing Knowledge Base, common sense, and the ability to communicate.

Example: When you go to a doctor, they will know the drugs that they can prescribe through their exposure to the medical Knowledge Base, they will know their current area policy for prescription, and they will need common sense and communication to make that person comfortable and understand what is happening.

If those doctors were just using their common sense and their communication, and had no knowledge of the available research and made the wrong decision, there would be some pretty tough questions to be answered. And they aren’t under the microscope all the time, and verbally challenged constantly, and dealing with highly drunk/drugged people (in most cases), and probably being recorded via mobile phone.

The cop environment is tough now. As the research grows around What Works, officers and constabularies will have to keep up to speed with it. I’m not talking about reading academic journals, I’m talking about continuing professional development. We can’t train in two years, and then do defensive tactics/fitness test/public order until we retire. The world is changing faster than that, and as such so will our accountability.

If you know more, you are accountable for more, and having just seen millions of pounds go into developing the Knowledge Base, I would say that getting our future cops up to speed with it isn’t optional, because it protects them as much as possible.

There’s a perfect storm coming if we don’t get ahead of it, and protecting our cops in the midst of it requires the introduction of science/research understanding. This isn’t a slight on any serving cops, it’s not a barrier designed to keep people out, and it’s certainly not an attack on the level of service we provide now (which is exceptional in most cases). It’s about improving the levels of learning, whilst having no money to do so, and protecting the wellbeing of our cops with regards to future scrutiny and visibility, and their desire to leave the cops should they so wish (there are other reasons that I won’t touch as this is too long already).

As a final note, the slating of graduates as police officers has just been shocking. I have met some cops who have been poor who have been graduates, I’ve also met some cops who weren’t graduates, who were also poor. That is a recruitment/development issue and not an educational one. Tarring educated cops as ‘bag carriers’ is nothing but anti-intellectualism and serves no other purpose than to divide. Gone are the days when graduates entering the profession was rare, it’s just a pity that the same attitudes have stuck around despite the world moving on. This is a debate that we need to have, at least keep it civil and respectful – as befits the service which we represent.

Semelweis and the Police

Bear with me on these next few paragraphs, I promise they are relevant.

Ignaz Semelweiss was a Hungarian physician that worked in obstetrics in the mid 19th century. For the purposes of this blog – and I won’t go into too much detail – he was a pioneer of evidence based medicine. He was the first to buck the accepted theory of ‘miasmatic’ transference of disease; this basically referred to disease being transferred through the air, instead of by contaminated contact.

Miasmatic transference was the accepted ‘norm’ within the scientific community at the time of his study, but he did not accept it as red, and conducted his study using his own observations of the difference in death rates between a maternity ward staffed with midwives, when compared with a ward staffed by doctors. The ward staffed by doctors had a much higher death rate, and the current theory of airborne infection was used to explain this. Semelweis discovered that the current airborne theory of infection was false, and that it was the fact that doctors were not washing their hands between the mortuary and other patients that was the deciding factor.

Semelweis found that when mandatory hand washing was introduced, the mortality rate dropped from 18% to 2%, and then down to 1% when they started washing the instruments too. He implemented this in the hospital where he was working, but because the current thought (we shall call it the narrative – because it was the accepted story and language of that era) was in totally the opposite direction, he was eventually removed from post by the senior managers. They were convinced that the change in mortality was actually down to an upgraded air conditioning system…

Semelweis was moved to another hospital, and shortly after moved into a mental hospital. He died there as a patient. Twenty years later, his work heralded a revolution in medical thinking, with the miasmatic beliefs dying away to be replaced with contact based disease transmission theories. In those twenty years, thousands of people died, because the current thinking and narrative would not accept this new evidence. It was too out of kilter with the theories espoused by senior medical practitioners across the country.

At this point, I will move away from mortality rates, and back into my usual discussion around cop culture. In the UK we are at the point where evidence based practice is a relatively ‘new’ term. Some of the study will buck significant narratives that have been in place for many, many years. Here is an important question:

What are the current ‘miasmatic’ theories in policing? What assumptions rule our behaviour that are totally incorrect, yet we set up entire industries around them as if they were sacrosanct?

And another just as important question:

What would we do with our Semelweis?

If someone were to find evidence that one of our accepted practices was in fact counter-productive, what would become of them? I can think of one that gave evidence at the PASC and then left the job immediately after (James Patrick); I can also think of one initiative that continues to buck repeated evidence and is still discussed as a great ‘reform’ initiative – Scared Straight. The truth is that Semelweis-like characters are likely to increase as EBP grows, and the way that profession and colleagues interact with them is also very likely to hit the front page of the newspapers.

I write this blog – again – with reference to Stop and Search. It is continuing to hit the headlines as there are rises in knife crime in London, and I have read many commentaries on dealing with the problem. Some are extremely well written and I can react positively to the sentiment, but the thinking that is required to tackle them relies heavily on experience, narrative, and culture.

I had a great conversation with a Chief Superintendent last week about the development of ‘gut feel,’ as a vital component of policing. As someone who used to love my drug jobs, I relied on it heavily, and after over a decade of experience I’m pretty good at predicting who is ‘carrying’ and who isn’t. This kind of ‘feeling’ is a direct product of experience, and somewhere in my brain, my subconscious is making connections based on previous interactions that lead to conclusions that I act upon. I’m sure that the ‘feelings’ around knife crime are similar, and there can be no doubt that removing a knife from the streets can only be seen as a good thing that may have saved a life that night.

But, we have seen a steady build up of evidence that the occurrence of knife crime is not strongly linked to the rate of stop and search. What does this mean? It means that no matter how many searches the police carry out, the effect of them upon knife crime is not significant. If you want to see the data, have a look at the work of the Police Foundation, in particular Gavin Hales here. What conclusions can we draw from this? It’s always dangerous to draw total conclusions, but it is possible to ask some serious questions:

  1. If the rate of stop and search doesn’t affect the knife crime rate in a significant way, are the cops using it in the right people and in the right places? (pretty sure this is asked daily)
  2. In the knife crime that takes place, would it have been possible/probable to catch the offender en route to the place of offence via stop and search?
  3. Is it possible that the knives that are being found currently are carried for defense and not offence?
  4. If the latter is true, how do we change tactics to address knives being used in an overtly offensive way (i.e. with specific intent).

The problem with all these questions, is that the answers take a huge amount of analysis, and are therefore lengthy and expensive. I have no idea if they are being considered, but they aren’t being discussed on public forums or on the media, nor are the wider questions of community cohesion and a culture of violence. Knife Crime is a wicked problem. It is unsolvable. The only solutions possible are ‘clumsy’ and will involve lots of different initiatives that connect and are delivered jointly. Stop and Search is not ‘the‘ answer to knife crime, it is part of a complicated tapestry – and the evidence suggests, not a very effective part at that.

At this time, the main opposing voices in this debate are external, and are mainly academics that study policing, and on the other side, police officers. The debate looks like this:

Academics: we study this with rigour, the tactics are proven to be variably poor.

Police: We know Stop and Search works because our experience tells us so and we totally believe it.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s a Semelweis problem. Experience and narrative against proven evidence. Don’t get me wrong, Stop and Search is part of the answer, but it probably needs to change in the way that it is used (significantly), and then accompanied by a plethora of other totally different interventions. Who will be the real Semelweis on this topic? Probably not me, it’s taken me weeks to pluck the courage up to even write this, such is the strength of the accepted narrative.

Opening our profession to critique is a necessary step in the process of learning. Our current assumptions that underpin our decisions can be totally incorrect, and many years in the making. These assumptions may cause people to die (as they did in medicine in the mid 19th Century with hand washing). Critical thought therefore isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. People’s lives depend on it.

Let’s listen to our Semelweis. They are out there. They are the different ones that won’t accept the current culture and stick out. They are the ones who constantly question, say no, and challenge rank based assumptions. Diversity in the workplace isn’t about numbers, it’s about welcoming the Semelweis characters and learning from them.

Changing deeply held assumptions takes difference of thought, but mainly, it just takes the ability to actually, actively, listen.

Demand Mgmt.: Is it the new Performance Culture?

This isn’t a Red Button blog, as it doesn’t deal with the future. It is more an examination of what we do now, and how we do it. It professes dangers and should shine a light on some cultural issues that persist despite some concerted efforts to reduce/replace them. 

 

This blog came about after a conversation with a good friend, who just said, ‘Demand Mgmt., it’s taken over.‘ I replied, ‘Taken over what?‘ He then said, ‘It’s the new ‘performance,’ it’s all we think about.’

Unfortunately the conversation ended shortly after, and I had to leave, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and do you know what? He may be right. 

This isn’t a blog about any particular force, or a group of forces, or about the College of Policing; it’s about culture. It’s about, ‘The way we do things around here.’ (For those who have read about the academic material on the subject.) It’s about conformity, and the need to be on bandwagons before finding out where they are going and what the condition of the wheels looks like. That conformity comes from somewhere, and how it then displays itself in the workplace is incredibly important. What is going on with our culture in the police, and is it actually positive?

Targets are dying a very messy death across the landscape of policing. The death rattles and gurgles are continuing way past the point of acceptable standards of drama, and are now encroaching on Spaghetti Western territory where full on monologues continue despite ten bullet holes in the soon to be deceased. If you know the evidence behind targets and their use, it is actually impossible to carry on using them. The unintended consequences far outweigh the results achieved and in the context of harm caused, they can be horrific. I have alluded to these consequences before so I won’t go over them again, but performance mgmt does not sit well in ‘non-algorithmic’ work. This means that unless you are sat on a production line fixing part A to part B, carrot and stick methods of management don’t work. And policing is light years away from any production line. 

In my last blog, I mentioned some of the behaviours seen in the performance environment. The list wasn’t exhaustive, so here’s another: 

“Toe the Line or Leave”

There has been much discussion on Twitter about this phrase. It’s all about conformity, and it is actually a direct attack on dissent and difference. Translated in a slightly more verbose manner, this becomes, ‘You will do what I say, when I say it, and you will not stray from it, or question it. If you do, you can leave of your own accord as you will not be accepted.’ If one were to ask for one of the best and brightest example of Command and Control leadership, this would be a contender.

Many reading this may think that this is fair enough, as if people don’t want to be part of a team, or do the same work as everyone else, then maybe the job isn’t for them. I would challenge this really heavily, as some teams become like packs in their behaviour, and they will hunt out and exclude anyone different because it threatens the way that they think and behave. I’m not sure it’s just small teams that do this, I think strong cultures do it…

  
This happens. It happens in every profession. What happens as a result of it is a matter of how ‘strong’ the demanded conformity is, and I suggest that you can evidence that by the consequences of what happens to those outside of the accepted ‘groupthink.’ Policing is rife with tales of different officers being hounded out of the profession, and whistle blowers are treated with disdain and often end up in expensive employment tribunals. The strength of the conformity is so strong, that without it, you can often be seen a freeloader, a hanger on, an unnecessary, a dissident, a ‘disruptive influence…’

So let’s go macro on this… What do commentators say that the cops are lacking?

  • Creativity – Conformity to policy is one of the biggest causes of tabloid front pages in police history. As is, ‘Computer says no.’ You can’t have a creative workforce unless creativity becomes a valuable trait within the workplace. Creativity relies on autonomy (personal control and discretion), and as this is very, very low in the cop environment, you can imagine what happens to those that display it.
  • Strategy – this has been criticised in the recent reports commissioned on senior leadership by the College of Policing. Strategy is all about setting things in place now, that won’t be realised for long periods of time. It often sets strong values and mission statements that guide whole organisations to constant, planned change. Strategy requires significant forays into uncertainty, it is usually grounded in evidence, but supported by constant re-assessments of what the future may bring. It fundamentally, is a creative process.
  • Innovation – I watched a talk recently, where innovation was discussed as the constant and sought after breaking of the rules. It discusses that it’s really hard to get ‘real’ innovation from within the company, because a company’s sustainability relies on those rules being followed… Imagine those rules are so tight, that any difference is seen as a threat, and then try and innovate… If you want examples of Innovation problems, I.T. (although it’s doing some catching up) is a constant reminder of what happens when you react to here and now, instead of thinking about what is coming over the horizon.

Unsurprisingly, these areas of high critique, are where you will find unadulterated difference in the people that have their strengths there. People who think differently, approach problems differently, and deal with people differently. Using a lot of contemporary leadership study, these people like bringing others together, taking calculated risks, show regular dissent, and push for change by inspiring people. 

These people may not flourish in a performance culture, and many may have left, or been so cowed by the current culture that they dare not whisper a challenge for fear of an imminent dressing down. To find these people we must look at empowering others and releasing the control of them. This means searching for answers from those working the coal face, and then giving them the influence to implement that change. Would it not be interesting to see what they could do, given half the chance?

  
Some people believe all of these three above categories to be ‘buzz’ words, but in reality they aren’t. They are only buzz words because people like using them without the right meaning attached. As a good friend tells me often, ‘No-one understands what innovation is, they just use the word in meetings.’ Innovation is held to be a change in operations that offers a difference of over 30%… Think about that, a change so deep that a third of our work is totally changed forever… I can not think of a single time that this has happened in my policing memory. That time needs to be realised now. 
 

Anyway, back to my original point and the point of this blog. The questions around demand that are now rearing their heads across the policing domain are almost performed in unison. ‘We are doing other service’s work! – This shouldn’t be a police job! – We must filter out what we are doing at Comms!’ There appears to be a huge lean towards stopping those asking us for help, because we are the wrong kind of help..? We are setting up departments to manage demand, and by the whole we don’t actually understand it enough to make any  big decisions on it yet. Many forces don’t have a deep understanding, but the narrative is established around it and everyone is talking about it. Everyone.

Performance culture stopped us really talking about demand, because everyone was counting what was coming in, instead of proper critical thought around why it was coming in. Demand management is now stopping us asking some similar but very important questions, and it is also overtaking the narrative to the point where it is stifling discussion. We can talk about the percentage of calls coming in that are crime related, but how long do those take to deal with properly? Where is the thorough analysis of start-finish case mgmt times, the timings on mental health liaison, the timings on missing from homes. That approximate 20% of calls that are crime related coming in, they may account for 80% of police activity… If that were the case, many of our arguments are hollow and without meaning…

But hey, let’s cut the numbers of logs coming in. That will solve the problem of massive cuts in our numbers? Only it won’t, or even come close. This narrative, and it is a strong narrative, is stifling the real discussions that need to take place around designing a service that can weather and deal with more work with significantly reducing staff levels. We need that 30% change, a 5%-10% reduction through managing exceptional calls for our service out of our work lists won’t do it. We need to change the way that we actually police. Demand info starts that conversation but doesn’t come close to ending it.

Everyone is saying it, but who is really doing it? We need a return of trust, discretion, and more leadership behaviours (not just Management behaviours). We need layers of audit to go, and the frontline to become autonomous professionals without the spectre of risk averse internal investigations because they made an honest mistake behind them. We need the workplace to be a positive place where cops and staff enjoy turning in, with an atmosphere of inclusion where difference and dissent is encouraged and not trodden on. We need good technology to enable new ways of working and a CJS file and court system that is fit for purpose in a mobile world. And we need – we desperately need – an inspection regime and a Home Office that will support this change. 

This, is where the 30% is. This is complex problem solving that requires collaboration, solid strategy and creative risk taking. At risk of a pun, salami slicing just doesn’t cut it.

   

 
I will finish on an example of what a strong narrative does to difference. The current narrative around stop and search is so stark on Twitter. There are educated people trying to chip in with things like research evidence and community experience, but they are repeatedly shouted down by the constant ‘stop and search works’ commentary. The evidence over the last few years shows that this link is tenuous at best. I need to labour this, people have studied large numbers of searches and their efficacy in the criminal justice system, and they have found that the link between stop and search and reducing crime is weak.

Officers with experience of using it have been told that it works for years, and may have caught people carrying before. It has been the established narrative that when there’s a stabbing, up the stop and search in the area. Cops believe this wholeheartedly, it is a well motivated belief, and I used to believe it too. I have seen the research now, and I understand the data, and it says my belief is wrong. I accept this, but some may attack the evidence because it threatens an established narrative that they believe – to draw a stark contrast, this is what happens with strong ideology in religion.

The problem with the strength of this narrative, is that it stops critical discussion. It stops us asking the right questions. If knife crime is going up now and everyone (I mean I don’t actually think I’ve seen a cop on Twitter ask these questions – despite there being many) immediately jumps to the conclusion that it is because stop and search is falling, what does that say about the ‘strength’ of our culture? What if the real reason behind the rising stabbing is a lack of policing legitimacy, rather than anything to do with stop and search? What if the issue is rising poverty and tribalism within stricken communities? What if the issue is that the drugs trade is hitting rates similar to that seen in places like Baltimore in the US? What if there is a rising threat of death as retribution within street level disputes, and this has nothing to do with stop and search?

All of those questions, unasked because we ‘know’ it’s stop and search. 

Only we don’t. We don’t at all. 

Why are those questions not being asked? Because that is the strength of the police narrative, the strength of assumption, and it irons out critical thought, creativity, strategy and difference. It has to stop, it’s dangerous.

 

Performance Culture, so what does it look like?

  
 

This is another challenging blog, and one which – again – I make no apologies for writing. As a cop who has lived through the worst of this culture at its height, I am incredibly thankful my force moved away from these behaviours many years ago. I am aware that some persist, but you can’t fight what you can’t see, here’s some binoculars 😁

 “I need to show a reduction by March. That’s it, now you make it happen. I don’t care how you do it, but you will do it.”

Performance culture at its worst. At the height of New Public Management (public management techniques that centre around league tables, competition and percentages) the affect upon policing on the front line was felt keenly. Managers were rewarded by reduction, including bonuses for senior managers if they ‘performed’ exceptionally. These bonuses weren’t small either, and well worth the label of ‘incentive’ were anyone to ask.

In a hierarchical organisation where command and control rule, the demands for cuts were hierarchically enforced, commanded, and demanded. Control was a huge part of the deal, with micro management by senior managers a regular part of the day’s proceedings. It was commonplace to be questioned on the name of the victim from last night’s burglary, or the number of target visits that were conducted. If you didn’t know these snippets, well the wrath was unleashed with lashings of disapproval. You were ‘letting the side down,’ ‘didn’t understand how it worked,’ or were simply, ‘not up to the job.’ 

Morning meetings were incredibly well attended with frontline Sgts, coordinators (also Sgt’s), intelligence, burglary robbery team supervision, CID, several Inspectors, a Chief Inspector and sometimes a Supt. they lasted an hour at least as each area went over – in great detail – what had happened the night before and what we were doing about it. If the management system hadn’t been updated (even if the actions had been completed) there was admonishment for that PC/Sgt en route, and God forbid a lack of immediate follow up on any Serious Acquisitive Crime. At one point I costed this meeting for the year, it was astounding. This is where the phrase, ‘Shoulda, woulda, coulda meetings,’ was born.

Serious Acquisitive Crime (SAC) was a strange category because it classed domestic burglary as the same level of severity as a theft from an unattended vehicle. Invading a house and stealing keepsakes, has far more impact than a smashed quarterlight and stolen Sat Nav, but hey, they were counted and part of the league tables so they received special attention. There was a squad dedicated to SAC and we were under huge pressure to reduce our numbers, so much so that we had staff dedicated to the management of crime reports in and out of the SAC categories for jobs that were borderline in other categories. What I saw in this area wasn’t corrupt, but it was a huge waste of money and did absolutely nothing for victims. 

All that mattered was the numbers. Even when we were talking about victims, it was about victim satisfaction scores, or public confidence levels. The target wasn’t catching the burglar, it was turning the crime from red to green on the system. 

All of these behaviours were discussed extensively in the PASC inquiry into crime statistics. We as a force had moved away from this culture and all targets had been removed by the time of this inquiry. I had my fair share of ‘brushes’ with this culture, as on many occasions I refused on principle to do certain things asked of me. It harmed my work life and there were times when I questioned being a cop, I didn’t join for this stuff, and I know that many feel the same way. 

History aside, what were the defining cultural behaviours on evidence during this period? I could refer to my previous blogs on culture here and here, as much of it applies, but I won’t, let’s get specific. 

Meetings

  
Performance meetings. What do they really do?

Well, I guess the answer is that it depends on what is in them. From a practical perspective, how do they actually help what is going to happen in the future? Who are they run by? Mgmt. Who call the shots? Mgmt. Who asks the questions? Mgmt. Who designates actions? Mgmt. Who holds the attendees to account? Mgmt. Who delves into the detail? Mgmt.

You get the picture.

I need to know how any of the above actions actually helps the frontline do their job a little better? In a time of diminishing resources (well, to be fair, all of the time) the frontline need management assistance and not increasing scrutiny. What does it really do? Forces them to comply? Yes. Coerces them to do extra on top? Definitely. How does this help form relationships and foster a learning environment?

Inspires the frontline? No. Empowers them? No. Assists them? No. Engenders trust? Definitely not. Raises standards??? Standards of what, form filling and recording?  Encourages creativity? No again. Develops people? Nope. Improves relationships? Nope. 

I could just go on forever. I just can’t see how knowing about what happened the night before (unless it’s exceptional) helps anyone? If the Mgmt. want that info, surely they could get it from the computer systems themselves? Why do frontline officers who should be dealing with victims have to sit and prep for a hours at a time to satisfy this style of micro mgmt, when the actual product of the meeting is mistrust and extra distance between ranks? It is the job of the immediate line manager to manage their team and keep an eye on standards. If you need a meeting to do this in your organisation then you are stating that the immediate line mgmt is inadequate by proxy. What message does that send?

What of actual value comes out of these meetings, and is that product actually worth taxpayers cash? 9/10 times the actions decided at the meeting would have happened anyway or had already been considered and discarded by the attending officer.

I’m sorry, I’m asking too many questions here, let’s move on. 

Individual Staff Performance

I remember a particular conversation I had about one of my team. I was told that a particular member of staff had hardly made any arrests, conducted any stop/searches, or submitted any process and that I needed to put them on a action plan to improve. This member of staff was amazing. They dealt with all the complex hand overs and sexual offences for CID, and were also qualified to run complex video interviews of victims and witnesses. As such, they were often ‘off the grid,’ and had low enforcement stats. I tried to explain this, but the numbers ruled. This member of staff was seen as poor according to the spreadsheets. 

How can I as a a supervisor justify a conversation where I tell one of my cops they are performing badly, when I know for a fact they work their backside off? I can’t. And I didn’t. 

  
What cultural behaviours does this create? Well people chase and get very good at things that get counted. And the thing that gets counted is the objective, and not what it is meant to measure. A classic example would be chasing arrests as they are positive indicators, which causes cops to lean towards them during interactions with the public. I think we know where that may lead. But, the opposite is also unfortunately true too. The things that don’t get measured, like empathy, understanding, compassion, demeanour, and kindness are superfluous to the amount of counted detections (cases cleared up).

It also leads to cops judging others on the same things that they judge themselves on. If you are an enforcement cop, then you may (just may) judge other cops on their ability to enforce. These officers will say (I know, I’ve heard it many times), “What does that officer actually do? I never see them in custody and they don’t like fighting, and look at the detections they’ve had? They don’t do anything!” Why the hell would we encourage staff to rate themselves against others who have totally different skill sets?

If culture likes enforcement – and New Public Management liked it a lot – those cops that do equally as important activity, but don’t get the ticks in boxes, are often derided. If you are looking for answers about how difference is ironed out in police, look no further than the assiduous habit of counting beans…

Officer mindset

What should be first and foremost in the officer’s mind when they attend an incident? I think all should agree that it should be the victim’s best interest, with a smattering of societal/experience based context. What do the setting of performance targets do in this context? Well, they become the focus instead. Upon landing at an incident governed by a target, the attending officer has the immediate goal of ensuring the victim is safe, following that, it is the satisfaction of that target that shapes the next few minutes/hours. If it isn’t, the officer will be put through the ringer following the performance meeting the next morning, as opportunities for detections are to be taken at every opportunity…

Even if the officer fights the culture, it will still be a prominent consideration throughout the interaction with the victim, often overshadowing the personal qualities of the interaction, unconsciously. As an avid ‘problem child’ in performance mgmt terms, even I caught myself wondering about the easiest way to turn crimes green and get them off my screen. 

This, is faulty thinking. As an officer, I should be sitting and listening to that victim with all of me there, in that moment, not wondering about how I escape or complete the task, but how I can help the person in front of me. This is where the most insidious facets of performance culture exist, they supplant the purpose for which officers join the job and replace them with a construct forged by spreadsheet.

 
The Red Button

Ok, so the button has been pressed. Performance culture is gone. What does a new culture look like?

Performance meetings

Imagine a performance meeting that became a place to learn. A meeting where a senior manager asks if there had been any screw ups or near misses in the last 24 hours? How about any really good successes? And then asks… ‘What did we learn, and how can we ensure that it does/doesn’t happen again?’ As another suggestion, what could happen if the roles were reversed and the frontline got to to ask questions on the performance of senior managers over the last last 24 hours? Imagine that both of these scenarios could take place without any blame? Where learning comes, and is shared, without any witch hunt or ‘accountability‘, which actually presently only seems to sit at the bottom… 

Let’s be radical. If nothing exceptional had happened in the last 24 hrs, how about we don’t have any meeting and we use the time to ‘go back to the floor,’ or for the frontline to use as ‘innovation time’ where they come up with ideas about how to make things better – for them and the victims. If anything, this time can be used for something that actually produces something positive, instead of retrospective negativity.

Individual Staff Performance

Boxes and grids and numbers can no longer be the future of staff appraisal. Instead of managing officers by numbers, supervision need to get out of the office and actually watch how they interact with the public. The best feedback is given at the time, and it’s also where both the cop and supervisor can actually learn from each other. Where is the feedback on values, and ethics, and kindness, on role modelling, on compassion, and on empathy? Where is the Sgt leading from the front with officers and providing visible examples of good practice to generate learning? Where is the Sgt learning from the PCs about their leadership style and how they can improve?

The quality of conversation in this area is rubbish and governed by numbers. It needs changing. 

Officer mindset

Targets must go. And never return. Numbers must never supplant the officers discretion in doing what is right for the victim. This means autonomy, and it means trust, and it means mgmt empowering frontline staff to interact with the victim and do what is right for them, not what is right for the organisation. This means letting go of spreadsheets as the definer of activity, and using them as an indicator instead. It means mature performance management with statistical process control charts and long term outlooks. Above all, it means change, and big change at that. 

 

As a final note, numbers and charts denote control. They denote tangibility, predictability, and they allow simplification of complex interactions. These are useful, but where is the comfort with uncertainty, the acceptance of being out of control, and the understanding of complexity? Cops do not commit crime, so blaming them for it is like blaming midwives for pregnancy. The future is uncertain, and pretending to have control of it is immensely damaging. It promotes a belief that police actually do far more than they do, and places false reliance on activities that actually hold no value. 

The future doesn’t look like the past. A=B is dead and gone, and we are in an environment of simultaneous equations in its place. It’s a complicated landscape with lots of interdependencies, I would just like cops to come to work and enjoy what they do, and work hard because they want to, not because I (or anyone else) forces them to. And when they make mistakes – and they will, just like we all do – I’d rather we take that learning and get it out there to stop it happening again. 

Performance culture holds us back, not pushes us forwards. It’s time to let it go.

A call to arms.

  
This is another challenging blog, and I hope you take it in the way that I intended for it to be taken. It’s critical, but constructive, and that is what the Red Button is all about. How do we make a better future – emphasis on we?

 

Culture. 
It has a lot to answer for. I’ve posted this before on my Twitter account, and it generated some good conversation. Here it is again, it’s worth a read, and it tells us a lot about the enduring facets of cop culture.

 
 

This is an excerpt from an academic text, so if it reads a little jargon-ey, that’s why. What does it really say? It says that police culture is characterised by a set of core cultural characteristics, these being:

  1. An exaggerated sense of mission – often characterised by the, ‘We are the rough men…’ Speeches.
  2. Crave work based on crime and exciting incidents/duties.
  3. Celebrate masculine exploits (see 1).
  4. Show willingness to use force.
  5. Engage in ‘informal’ working practices – this means ignoring the rules and doing what is culturally acceptable.
  6. Continually suspicious and lead socially isolated lives.
  7. Display defensive solidarity with colleagues.
  8. Conservative in politics and morality.
  9. Culture marked by cynicism and pessimism.
  10. Simple understanding of criminality (goodies and baddies).
  11. Intolerant towards those that challenge the status quo.

This has been evidenced repeatedly in studies across many decades, with what is called qualitative methodology. This is where the culture is observed and then commented on, or officers are interviewed or take part in focus groups, with the transcripts pored over and studied for themes. These themes have emerged again and again, with very recent research holding fast on them (read book/articles by Bethan Loftus if you have time, they are very insightful).

If anyone were to contest the existence of these characteristics, I would point purposefully to Twitter, where they are repeatedly evidenced ad-infinitum. Again and again, the same themes emerge, characterised by defensive cynicism and aggressive suspicion of anything new. 

To be ‘in the club,’ you must trust no one, congratulate masculine use of force, defend anything and everyone even loosely connected with policing, and regard all new things as TJIF (the job is f***ed).

Twitter is of course a window that looks into the heart of police culture, the problem being, that people who are not inside the culture (the public) can also see in and watch these characteristics flourish under anonymous accounts. Now, I need to ask a question about the above characteristics, if you were not inside the culture or had been a part of it, how would they look to you? 

Sometimes I step away from the keyboard, and think about what is being typed for all to see. I may think that I am ‘telling it like it is,’ but the reality is that some very ugly characteristics could be being broadcast to the world and not only are they not helping to turn the tide, they are sending the public face of the cops, backwards. Under a relentless tide of media oppression and scrutiny, is aggressive defensiveness going to get us anywhere? I mean… Anywhere?

 

There are two sets of enduring characteristics that are not on that list up there. 

The first is the relentless tenacity of those cops completely disengaged from the organisation they work for, that care deeply for the victims and the public that they serve. These people are an inspiration to me, shouldering the shifts, the heartache, the social isolation, the cynicism and the pessimism around them, and the tough work they are asked to do, because they want to help people. These people are heroic, and I don’t mean in the ‘we are the rough men…’ sense, I mean in the ‘showing up to work with a smile on their face ready to face the next set of challenges,’ sense. And those challenges don’t come from outside exclusively either, the culture above has sometimes resulted in a selection of leaders that embody all of those things. (Definitely not all leaders by the way, just some.) Would you want to follow a relentlessly suspicious and pessimistic leader, who is hugely defensive in the face of criticism and values only macho and exciting parts of the job? 

The second characteristic not on the list belong to those that fight that culture. I can think of two great bloggers in the Twittersphere, these being MentalHealthCop and NathanConstable. Insp Michael Brown is currently influencing the role of mental health in policing across many sectors. He is advising other professions on the role of the police, whilst offering education and challenge to current practitioners in policing. I’ve used his blogs practically, and I mean pointed serving doctors at them whilst engaged in a spirited debate and who has responsibility for what. I find that inspirational, and Insp Brown is doing it all because he cares. Nathan (I have met Nathan too) describes himself as a ‘positive agitator’ in his bio. He’s knowledgeable, he cares, and he is passionate about finding a better way. There’s a good role model for social media; someone who challenges constructively and is not afraid to learn. Other pioneers like SgtTcs and ConstableChaos also inspire, by being people, and having a real interest in just engaging with the public positively.

If we pressed the Red Button, and social media and culture was gone, how would we rebuild it? Would we want a landscape filled with negativity and defensiveness, or would we want somewhere that generated support and looked at new things with a critical – but constructive, eye?

I know police officers who see Twitter as a passive place to learn. They log in, roam around some timelines a little, maybe click the odd link, and then leave. When I ask them why they don’t tweet, the answer is almost always the same, ‘It’s a pretty hostile place and being positive can be risky, I don’t want the hassle.’ I suspect the hassle comes from two places, cop culture on Twitter, and management enforcing strict control limits on social media. Both of these issues are destructive. They stifle debate, creativity, interaction, and they also erode trust (see ‘suspicious’ and ‘pessimistic’ characteristics above). I’m just going to add here (after comments from @Julieanneda who is great and should be followed by everyone) that using Twitter to reach out and for catharsis is goddamn important, and it may have really helped some. Being negative and complaining about bad experiences can result in great good, it’s the dragging down of others that defines the real issue.

The problem, is that passivity won’t solve the problem, and there is no Red Button.

If we want change for the better, anonymous, negative, defensive Twitter accounts are not the best vantage point from which to demand it. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they may be hugely counter-productive and although it may be cathartic, they may do more to reinforce the negative aspects of our culture than they do to help anybody. If that’s your bag, cool, but stifling debate with relentless ad hominem attacks and negativity only ruins the experience for others. 

Change – and big change at that, is here to stay for several years. If we are to survive it, and help keep people safe, we can shout about how bad the change is and how we have got no money, or we can control the controllables and do the best we can, with what we have. The best isn’t what we already have, and I think we can all agree on that. We are operating on a policing model that has been in place for decades as the world has changed around us. Would it be nice to have more money? Yes, it would, but we haven’t, and the time for mourning is past.

The future of the cops needs culture to change, away from command and control and compliance and punishment and blame… To somewhere more open, where ideas and new approaches can be discussed with a critical – but positive – dialogue. Being positive is a choice, and no matter how bad things may be, everyone has the choice to see issues and challenges as an opportunity to get something decent, or lay back and just criticise relentlessly.

  
It takes courage to stand up and fight back constructively. It takes courage to look for the light in the bleakest of landscapes. It takes courage to avoid the desire to just bitch and let the bad stuff happen. Those aspects of culture not in that passage above are the ones we need, and I implore you, if you are reading this and you want things to be better, start tweeting, start messaging, start talking, start emailing and find out how you can help and challenge constructively, because that’s how you actually change things.

The world was never changed from an arm chair, and I’m not going to sit by and watch these cuts do huge damage, without having some say in how we protect the most vulnerable and our cops in the process. 

You can have a say too, and Twitter is only one way of doing that.

Being involved in positive change is a choice. Make it.