Re-thinking Peel… Or should we?


As you can see, ^^^^^^ this is one of the ‘scene-setting’ blogs for the forthcoming Big Red Button project that aims to source the thoughts and feelings of the frontline, and those that the frontline interact with, for the purposes of generating a new vision about how policing could look in the future. The scenario is thus: The Red Button has been pressed and policing – as we know it – has been wiped out. You have been charged with the re-building of the cops and those that work with them (including the public). What would a police force designed from scratch, built for purpose, actually look like?

So, to start, where to start? Well, let’s start at the beginning… Here are the the Peelian Principles:

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Many officers today haven’t heard of these principles, and for a long time they were an afterthought in training, as they gave way to long sessions on legislation and its application. Just reading them provokes significant thought for any cop, as they constantly reinforce cooperation as the mainstay of preventing crime and disorder. Are these principles out of date? Do they reflect a less complex time when crime was far more straightforward? There are many areas that are food for thought, but I will focus on two that got my cogs whirring as I though about this blog.
7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

This really twisted my usual train of thought… If as a police officer, you are no different from the public in your duties, you just apply them in a full time role, then the purpose of this principle was to maintain a very active community ownership of crime and its dealings. There’s an expectation here within the principle that the public will ‘get involved’ in the application of legislation and the civil policing of their communities. I guess the most cited example of this would be the ‘citizens’ arrest’.

I think it’s fair to say, that community involvement is decreasing at a rate of knots, as the neo-liberal agenda of individualism persists as the main supporter of capitalist economies. The question on people’s lips is often ‘What’s in it for me?’ Not, ‘How does this help us?’ Neighbourhood policing is being visibly withdrawn, and its function is being changed to resemble response policing via the back door in many forces. An unfortunate symptom of cuts via the application of salami slicing: maintain the functions we have, prioritise, deliver the same in a different way.

Peel seems to argue with this principle, that maybe, it shouldn’t be about keeping what we do and doing more with less, it should maybe instead be about giving more of what we do back to communities. Have we spent the last 50 years sucking tight control of policing functions upwards, instead of cultivating their ownership by the public?

‘Neighbourhood watch’ I hear you say! But look at the way it functions. It ‘watches’, and then devolves that info to the police. It doesn’t design out crime, it doesn’t work on bringing people not-of-like-mind together, it doesn’t function to create glue and cohesion within communities. It watches, reports, gathers info, passes it upwards to the police, who then deal with the problem. If anything, it reinforces separation and divide. Is this a Peelian function? Does it fit with the ethos as it was designed?

Of course, this conversation is far larger than a few paragraphs. I do know that units like the Violence Reduction Unit in Scotland are taking an asset based approach to crime, ( http://www.scdc.org.uk/what/assets-scotland/ ) where doing things ‘to‘ the community is redesigned instead to doing things ‘with‘ the community.

Are the police such a separate entity to the public? Where the policing function is sucked up and held and controlled within tight restrictions and policies, or is it just like Peel said, officers are only ‘members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence?’


1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

I hear this discussed a lot, but the two key areas I want to discuss centre around the interpretation of the word, ‘prevent.’ What does this word actually mean and how does it represent itself? How do we as the police interpret that word and what ramifications does that generate in the workplace?

Preventative work is often twinned with the word: ‘pro-active’. An example would be the use of stop and search as a means to prevent further stabbings. ‘Common sense!’ Is the shout. Well, let’s dig into this. What are you preventing when you find that knife? The answer would of course be an immediate stabbing. Does it stop them carrying a knife in the future? Research evidence would suggest not. It may also stop them carrying knives on their person, whilst instead causing knives to be hidden nearby in public spaces, where far more people may access them. Evidence also suggests that the knives are being carried for defence, but defence of what? And the ever important question is why the knives are being carried by anyone in the first place?

The conversation around the use of the word ‘prevent’ in this case is in this case in the ‘immediate.’ The knife has already gone into the pocket, it’s already in their waistband, or strapped to an ankle. The decision to carry was the tipping point in that crime, so in reality the police haven’t prevented any crime when they find the knife, they have just discovered one in progress. Granted, this may escalate had the knife not been found, and that is why finding them is immensely important, but can the function of stop and search be called truly preventative? I would argue not.

So, if the current discussion around preventative methods lies around the immediate, with much preventative work actually taking place after a crime has been committed, are we fulfilling Peel’s vision of this principle?

The tongue-in-cheek comments around getting ‘upstream’ of crime may represent a cultural balking at the change of mindset involved in this. Preventing crime in later life is big cultural change. It represents a complete step away from the ‘here and now’ and into work that may be 10 years ahead in the future. Research suggests that intervention before the age of 4 (new stuff says even earlier) is the key time to bring about changes in future behaviours. How are we addressing this? And before people say it isn’t crime related, it is. It’s just 10 years before the crime takes place. Early Action is a part of long term crime prevention, and prevention is part (if not the fundamental foundation) of the function for which the police were designed. Just because the work is different and doesn’t ‘feel right,’ doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do.

It won’t be a surprise for many to find that the sort of prevention work in Early Action is soft skill based. This is in stark contrast to the ‘hard skill’ base required for the sort of preventative work that cops do now. Which is more culturally acceptable? I shall leave that conclusion to you, the reader.
As I come to the end of this blog, having discussed two of the Peelian Principles, I reflect on what I thought I would find as I thought about this blog. I thought I would find some of the principles outdated and in need of refreshment, but I am asking myself if that is really the case… Is it the case that if we used the principles to design a brand new service, it wouldn’t look like the one we have now? Because if that is the case, it suggests that not only have we departed from Peel over the previous years, but it is possible that we have switched focus entirely.

Policing does not happen in a vacuum, the political environment has a huge influence on policing function. New Labour targets and the counting regime imposed by central govt. has left a lasting and pernicious effect on the landscape of policing. Maybe reverting to Peel as the base for future redesign is not only necessary, but also – in a distinctly retro way – radical.

It’s strange that we can look backwards to look forwards…

Change fatigue: tired for all the wrong reasons

This blog is about change, and why we need it. 

People in the police talk about change in the police all the time, making reference to the fact that they are suffering from change fatigue. This is a totally valid point, but the type of change that the cops have gone through have been particular to some key areas. Terms and Conditions changes have hit hard, with cops and staff feeling the pinch on their wages. During a recession this is tough as hell and people are understandably struggling. Was change needed in this area? Well the book keepers would say a hearty yes, as the cost of pensions was becoming so high that it was outstripping contributions exponentially. In reality, I have moved from an awesome pension, to a very good one, I need to keep this in perspective and not allow the doomsayers to claw me down. Other changes like the removal of CRTP and SPP dissolving, whilst being replaced by a 24hr shift allowance was a good move. The cops feeling the impact on their lives and health the most, should be paid slightly more in my humble opinion.

Whilst I wax lyrical about my perceptions on the changing terms and conditions, there has also been a lot of centralisation and salami slicing across policing. The changes have been driven by austerity, and it is fair to say that the frontline and many other departments are really feeling the brunt of the cuts. What is the cause of this? Is it a rise in demand? Is it a drop in numbers? Is it high expectations? Is it more accountability? The answer to all those questions is: yes. But questions remain about whether ‘deep change’ has occurred. The Home Secretary has spoken about more change coming, deeper cuts, more efficient working, and has emphatically warned against #cryingwolf . Whether this warning will be correct will only play out in the fullness of time, but the record given by the Home Secretary at the Fed Conference on the doom saying nature of #cutshaveconsequences was stark. She was saying, ‘We have heard these warning before and they did not play out. Why is now any different?’

This is actually a very fair question. Why is ‘now‘ any different? Well, I personally think that now is different. We have never seen crime changing like it is now. Cyber crime and accompanying fraud is growing at speed, child sex exploitation is rising, and police numbers are falling. Increasingly higher amounts of time are also being spent on mental health and missing persons. What do all these categories have in common? The offenders are preying on the vulnerable and the victims are often victims of a broken system. These crime classes aren’t about shops losing stock, they are about people losing long term quality of life, and in extreme cases, life itself. 

If we are seeing changing crime classes like we have never seen before, why does our service still resemble the same one it did decades ago?

Now that crime change is nasty stuff, yet I look at the structure of the cops that I joined, and I look at it now… By and large we are doing much the same thing, in much the same way, allocating resources to visible demand and maintaining the functions that we have. This is a service that was designed around performance. The current silos and ways of working are deeply entrenched in their own businesses, and communication between departments is still severely limited. Crimes get lost in complex recording systems and category of crime recording is still a huge issue in some forces. 

I shall ask a question. If we were to design the current police system around risk and vulnerability, would it look like the one that we have now?

What if we were to address the current function of the police and prioritise things that have never been prioritised before? What if resources were allocated not on the amount of logs or crimes, but on the impact upon the victims of them? Detectives in some high vulnerability risk areas are carrying upwards of 40 cases… 40 cases..! This is not about cuts, this is about the way we address and place value within particular areas of policing. There are still burglary units in plain clothes doing – what is considered in the cops to be – ‘Gucci’ work. It’s pro-active, it’s exciting, it’s plain clothes, it’s usually high in officer driven activity (as in cops have some good freedom in there), and officers enjoy it. These units are working in an area that has seen crime drop exponentially over recent years – meanwhile, officers dealing with their life-changing 40 cases drop off with understandable issues with stress.

Policing is changing. It should be, because society is changing. The minute that policing becomes locked into a dominant culture for any length of time (think performance), then there will be victims of that culture. The Rotherham Enquiry is a great example. How ‘on our toes’ are we? Are we there to react to things after they have happened, or should we be planning for the future and far more flexible in the way that we shift and use resources? Is it possible to run a service full of silos whilst dealing predominantly with complex social issues? I would argue the answer is a resounding no.

More change,” I hear the lament. Yes indeed, yet why is change fatigue present? Fatigue is present, because change has come in consistent increments, and existing functions have been whittled down yet expected to still deal with the same or rising volumes of crime. Where has the bottom up change been seen in policing? Where has predictive change been seen in policing? Where has the function re-design been seen in policing? 

In pockets, this is happening, but bottom up change has to be empowered by high up leadership. Predictive change has to be based on stats that we don’t have yet. And function re-design means saying no to traditional aspects of crime, to which we have always said yes. All of these things are based around risk and risk taking, there is no easy way forward. 

There are several things that I am sure of. The answers to the above questions do not lie in think tanks. Their contribution is valuable and assists with perspective (something the cops are notoriously bad with). The answers equally do not lie with the Home Office. The answers also do not lie with commentators. 

The answers lie with the victims, and from within the service as it sits now. Frontline officers are fully aware of these issues and espouse them regularly, and evidence lies strewn around the cops about the atrocious things happening to our most vulnerable in society. The choice to change comes from the cops, it is our choice to make, and the evidence is there to make it. Make no bones about it, in ten years the service will not look like it does now, and for good reason.

What would a service designed around the needs of our most vulnerable, look like today?

Difference, and why it’s hard in the cops today.

I have been studying diversity in the police now for quite a while, and done a lot of reading around research that aims to put the nail on the head as to why there are issues in the police. Before you read any further, this isn’t a blog about protected characteristics like race, gender, religion etc., so don’t expect talk of percentages. Diversity is about difference, but not just bits of difference, all of it.

There’s some work by a gent called Muir from 1977. He suggests a ‘typology’ for policing. What’s a ‘typology’ I hear you ask? Well basically, it is a group of boxes or types, into which you can put groups of behaviour or people. He comes up with four ‘types’ through his research, and these are:

  1. Enforcer – Prefers to use coercive force, legal authority, quick decisions and discusses crime control.
  2. Professional – understands the Police’s role in society and attempts to do the best they can using all the tools in the box. Can use coercion, but does not prefer to.
  3. Reciprocator – Aims to be as helpful as possible. Attempts to empathise and understand everyone, including offenders. Does not like using force.
  4. Avoider – actively avoids using coercion and has little sympathy for people. Of little use to the organisation or the public.

Now, before I discuss this, let’s get the critique out of the way. The research is old, it’s been tested (as best as you can test stuff like this) and it’s been found not to be totally accurate. Fair enough. It does however really chime with me and the people that I know in policing. (You can even see it on Twitter!) More importantly, it has really provided me with a framework within which to discuss difference in the cops. This is known as a heuristic, but I will stop there with the long words as they only bring me abuse 😉

Social capital

What in the world is social capital? Good question. I haven’t totally tied it down yet, but it’s a term that I use to describe the value that is placed on particular behaviours in the workplace. Were I to rate the value on the above 4 types where I have worked, it would look like this:

 
Apologies for crap drawing 😀 

The behaviours that the enforcer show hold pride of place. Lots of enforcement and arrests and catching baddies. It was a type that was greatly encouraged by performance culture, and therefore it could be said that it has a large representation in our current leadership. The Professional also holds a solid place culturally, with lots of process to follow and value judgements to be made. As performance culture wanes, the Professional appears to be taking pride of place in the leadership battle. Reciprocators are often left on the back burner by the other two dominant cultures, and this is where our problems surface…

Avoiders are a toughey. I think that poor treatment of any of the types can create Avoiders, especially with regards to what I am about to discuss. I’m not convinced that they just need to leave the service. Some may, don’t get me wrong, but others may have been cast aside by the dominant type and thus spend their time feeling pretty worthless and shunted out. These people need empathy and support, especially with regards to bringing out their talents.

The issue with difference is a clear one. Enforcers will always want to enforce and use coercion, Reciprocators will want to do the opposite. Professionals will try and do both in some measure, but appear very measured and fence sitting as generally conservative views hold the status quo firm. Now if one of these types holds all the value (think performance culture), then down the line you will get exclusion. One or more of the types will be sidelined and forgotten about – or worse. You end up with a stark imbalance of leadership, and this just forces more exclusion and unhappiness. 

So, how do we deal with this. Well, first Enforcers must see the value in Reciprocators, and Reciprocators must see the value in Enforcers. Professionals can’t fence sit, they must see that this battle is going on and ensure that the right talent goes in the right places. Reciprocators are often awesome in Neighbourhood Policing, Enforcers are absolutely necessary on Tactical Support Units. Both of these functions hold equal value, as the public absolutely need both of them. We just struggle to recognise it in ourselves. 

Diversity is all about inclusion. It matters not if your Enforcers are black, white, Asian, pink, purple or green; they will ultimately display the same behaviours. That is not diversity. The staff might look different, but if they all behave the same there is no real difference at all. A neighbourhood policing team recognising and accepting an Enforcer onto their unit for what they are, and really making use of their talents is inclusion. A Tactical Support Unit accepting Reciprocators and allowing them to work in protest liaison is inclusion. 

Knowing who is who and ensuring a balanced opportunity for progression, in an intelligent way that doesn’t lean too far into a particular type will ensure that exclusion isn’t designed into your workplace in the future. Leaders need to be savvy about who goes where, and know that a diverse team makes far better decisions.

We have to know more about who we are as people, before we assume any right or wrong. If you asked a victim of rape who they would like to attend, they would want a Reciprocator. If you asked someone in a pub fight who they would like to attend, they would like an Enforcer. This is totally cool. If they are cool with it, why aren’t we? 

An important question to ask.

Disclaimer. I am well aware that typologies are a generalisation and lump people into big boxes that aren’t always appropriate. This is really a blog about unconscious bias, and the typology allowed me to frame it in a way that I hope makes it easier to understand. As usual, very happy to receive feedback 🙂

Evidence based policing: a debate of sorts.

This is quite a hard blog to write as the subject matter is quite complicated. Evidence based policing isn’t simple, as nothing is with regards to human behaviour. The ‘based’ bit in the title is also a little dangerous, as it assumes that we may pick up evidence from elsewhere, drop it in without a care in the world, and expect it to work in policing. My tutors up at Canterbury would argue heavily for the word ‘informed’ to replace it, as that still takes into account context, experience etc. Policing has always been seen as taking its roots in a craft, and some of that will inevitably remain solid. Formulaic approaches won’t always work, and discretion will have its rightful place in the policing milieu.

In the past we have had a profession where the craft ruled the roost. Practitioners often designed bottom up solutions, or were given top down initiatives. These were not shared often, and many ‘That wouldn’t work here’ comments were made with abandon. The NPIA were established to offer some standardisation across training and policy areas, but the relationship was strange, and they didn’t fare very well. No one was quite sure how it worked (from a practitioner perspective) and forces seemed to go off on their own regularly with new ideas and programs. Evidence bases were just absent, and often HMIC, the Home Office, or force entrepreneurship decided on programs of work. These were often conducted by favoured consultancies, such as the Quest intitiative. 

The policing landscape kinda looked like this…

(Ignore the arrow for now and pardon the handwriting, it’s hard to write on a tablet!)  

  

The ‘Profession’ was the NPIA/CENTREX and the ACPO committee membership really. The evidence base was being developed by academics on the side, and because relationships were kind of frosty, they didn’t work for the sharing of the evidence base at all. The strategic direction, as such, is now looking to change this. The College of Policing has been created to begin to set national standards and create policy that is based on evidence. Forces are exploring the evidence based stuff independently and through the College, and for the first time orgs like the SEBP (Society of Evidence Based Policing) are gaining a lot of traction. It’s kind of moving towards a model like this:

  
I am well aware that this is a simple model, but I think that you are hopefully seeing what is happening via my crap drawings. 

Now there’s a feeling around the imposition of EBP that is really negative, but it is so justifiable that it has to be explained. EBP isn’t a fad brought in by a group of consultants, nor is it purely an academic practice. Cops on the deck are involved in EBP and making trailblazing headway exploring the relationship between crime and our activity. This is then used by the force doing the work, shared locally, and good practice is then picked up via the College (CoP in the diagram) and shared nationally. This makes sense to me. I understand where it is going and establishing a working body of knowledge is a good idea in my humble opinion.

Are you still with me? Hopefully yes… 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

So… The debate. It makes sense that people see EBP in the light of the last twenty years. It looks like a fad, it looks like another Quest, or another Lean or another… It isn’t a fad. (To be fair some fads are rooted in good evidence and should stick around.) It’s more of a way of thinking rather than a particular method of working. Decisions to change things need to now be justified with evidence, and this can usually take two forms, although they are conflated all the time.

  1. Evidence of the problem – not necessarily evidence of the solution.
  2. Evidence that a solution works/doesn’t work and is/isn’t transferable.
  3. X Factor. (Extra one to be discussed later)

There may be more, but these seem to be the most prevalent. 

With number 1, we may have a problem such as a new version of cybercrime. We do the evidential research to establish what the problem really looks like before designing a solution, but because the problem is new, there may not be any evidence of a solution that works on it. This is where creativity and innovation lie. I have heard people identify problems properly, and then ask for evidence based solutions for them. That can’t happen because we haven’t tried to solve it properly yet. But we have to measure anything we do do to see if it works, which eventually moves us to number 2…

Number 2 is when we know something works because we have tested it. It gets tested properly in many different places, and when we know it works it goes into the body of national work and we know we can draw on it when we need to.
I could discuss context and social class and income and the fact that we are human forever, but if a number of Randomised Control Trials (RCT’s) are completed properly they are really good at showing something works. So, if an alternative disposal initiative is trialled for young offenders and we know it works all over the country, because they are coming into the criminal systems less afterwards, then let’s share that and get it out there properly. In the past this has taken years, and years, and years… 

We mustn’t forget that EBP is not all about crime. People will talk about it incessantly, but do you know what, we are missing a huge trick if we take that stance. The work around wellbeing, recruitment, selection, promotion, and a whole host of other functions is already out there. There’s lots of evidence around employee motivation that we could learn a lot from, and if we take it into account it influences what leadership looks like (see the Leadership Review stuff). If supervision look after our staff and treat them like adults, they work harder and enjoy being at work far more. Complete no-brainer in my opinion.

The X Factor

A) This is the danger area and we need to be all over this. Instead of ‘what works’ it may be far more important to understand ‘why it works.’ That is where true transferability lies. So if we know that letting people work from home in particular circumstances ups their wellbeing and productivity (it does), then why does this happen? Well, it insinuates that when you give employees more control of their lives and give them some autonomy, they enjoy life more and work harder. This is a pretty good principle to explore…

B) whilst we concentrate on ‘what works’, we forget about the people making it work. In other words, does ‘what works’ have a load of unseen cultural issues that may be far more painful than the result. I look at hotspot policing as a great example of this. Enforce it in a draconian fashion and the work becomes mind numbing. It reinforces process led policing, removes human skill and experience, and leads to auditing and compliance. Now that doesn’t sound like fun at all, is there a pain/pleasure debate to be had here? Absolutely. In this instance, making fewer victims in the short term, may lead to major retention and motivation issues, and therefore more victims in the future. 

Eyes wide open.

I really hope that this helps to paint the picture of the landscape a little bit better. Please drop me any feedback in the comments or on Twitter. Please remember that anything critical in here is because I’m trying to add to the debate 😀 The more we approach this stuff without rose tinted glasses, the better the outcome we will get. 

Stubbsy

Crime is falling? No, no and no.

Before I write this blog, I need to put out a few disclaimers. This is NOT a political blog and it is not a tool that should be wielded for political purposes. It is written from my experience and knowledge gained as a police officer in large UK force, and has not been generated as a result of dislike. This is a blog about education and increasing awareness about an argument that is used hastily and without due consideration by many people both inside and outside the public facing world. I’m writing this to help increase understanding, nothing more, and nothing less.

Let me tell you about crime recording…

The first no: Complexity

The statistics that are used on the news and in the papers are generated from two primary sources. One is the British Crime Survey, the other is generated from crime that is reported by police officers in one of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. I was initially trained as a cop for around 5 months, during which time I learned most of the definitions used in everyday crime, verbatim. I can still quote the definitions over ten years later, and use them daily when on the frontline. You would think that the recording systems follow this legislation, but they don’t. The rules around recording are completely different to the classification and charging rules inherent within legislation. 

Why?

This is a good question. I could go through a load of examples around arguments I have had with our crime recorders in force, not because we don’t like each other, but because the rules don’t fit with daily work. The recording of assaults are completely out of kilter with the charging standards. What the CPS would say was Actual Bodily Harm, is nothing like what the recording rules say. What is said in the heat of an emergency 999 phone call isn’t always exactly what happened, but crimes are recorded on the back of these comments despite independent investigation strongly indicating events to the contrary. I can see the rationale for this, as it empowers the victim, but the opposite is true as a result; it disempowers the cops.

I could talk about this all day. Because of these empowerment rules and tight classifications the system is massively complex. This means mistakes are made every day. It also means that there are times when crimes are recorded when independent evidence from witnesses at scene indicate the victim’s account is not all as it should be. There are lots of reasons for this, not least the effect of memory recall after a stressful event. The cops have 3 days to record it or it is recorded automatically. The numbers of recorded crimes therefore sometimes contain huge errors, without any intent on the part of those doing the recording. Why? The system is old, it’s hugely bureaucratic, it doesn’t fit with the organisations that use it, and people are doing the inputs – and they make mistakes. 

At this point I could go into gaming caused by target culture, but this argument has been put across on many occasions by persons more worthy than I. It’s why the crime statistics have recently been downgraded in terms of reliability, and this tells its own story. It doesn’t happen in some forces as all targets have been removed, but targets exist in other forces and there is repeated research proving perverse behaviour around them. Targets skew data; where they exist, a true picture is very difficult to find. When a target is created, the number becomes the focus, and not the victim. Changing the objective like this causes all sorts of unforeseen problems that have been discussed by a PASC enquiry. The activity however around these problems skews our view of crime and crime mapping. If the data is messed with in the first place, how can we rely on it?

The second no: The systems are exclusive

Things are excluded from the British Crime Survey, just like things are excluded from police crime recording. Hey, neither of these reporting systems address cyber crime… I’m going to say that again. Neither of the statistical recording methods that are used to generate the phrase, ‘crime is falling,’ include cyber crime. I’m going to hammer this home. The biggest and fastest growing industry, housing some of the highest value crime, providing the most dangerous systems for exploiting vulnerability, and facilitating connections between very dangerous people, is bereft of crime recording. There is no comprehensive and reliable reporting system that properly captures what is ongoing on the web.

With regards to this, we need to readdress the subject of this blog and make the salient point again. If the picture is incomplete, you can’t draw solid conclusions from the picture. If it’s half the picture, you can guess at what is shows. If the picture is missing one of the main subject matters, you can only speculate. Crime is falling? How does anyone actually know? We don’t record it all…

Aside from cyber crime, there are a number of offences that are also unrecorded. These include traffic offences, some theft offences, offences such as drunk and disorderly etc.. A large proportion of fraud is now dealt with via Action Fraud, and can you guess at whether that stuff is recorded in the official reports? Nope. All of these contribute to the overall picture of what the public would consider as crime, but none are recorded on the systems that matter, so they aren’t subject to comment. 

Crime is down? No. ‘Recorded’ crime is down, and this only represents a portion of the picture.

The third no: The system is reactive

Crimes are recorded when one of two things happen:

  1. The police witness the offence
  2. The victim or a credible 3rd party reports the offence

I think I’m going to do some hammering again. If the victim chooses not to contact the police, and neither do the witnesses, then the crime ‘officially’ hasn’t happened. The implications around this are complicated, because I need to now discuss legitimacy.

When a person trusts in the police and what they do (approx. two thirds on the latest data), then they may be more likely to contact the police if they become a victim. Speculating, if one in three don’t trust the police, will they even report a crime if they fall victim to one? If someone doesn’t believe it’s possible to locate the offender, or they don’t want to go through the stress of going to court, they may never ring the cops. If they don’t ring, it hasn’t happened.

So, legitimacy. If the police do a good job, engage with communities, get good results, help the vulnerable, and are fair in their behaviour, then the trust from the public may be high. This means they may contact the police more, and consequently, crime will appear to rise. When there is higher confidence in the cops, victims could be more likely to use them. What does this mean? Well it could mean the exact opposite of a narrative that is often used, and that is that the cops are responsible for falling crime through great work…

Falling crime may simply be representative of a falling number of reports. It doesn’t necessarily mean that crime is falling. This has been written about extensively, as people within communities think crime is rising, but the official stats say they are falling. Could it be that after almost two decades of target based performance culture, victims feel less confident about calling the cops, and therefore less crime is being recorded? Could it be that the less officers we have on the beat, the less we find offences that get recorded?

The BCS says that it gets around this legitimacy issue by randomly surveying the population. This apparently gets around the issue of confidence in reporting. I’ve just done the sums on the representative nature of the BCS. It too is exclusive in its choices of what is counted as crime. It also surveys approximately 0.06% of the population to generate it’s picture on crime. I shall leave you to consider the effectiveness of this sample in terms of generating a more comprehensive picture…

Far more insidious than any of the issues I’ve discussed above, is the attachment of causality to police. What does this phrase mean? It means that crime goes up or down because of police activity. This is a very dangerous game to play as it provides a narrative to cut police numbers whenever crime falls. I talk about this a lot, but it’s a gross over simplification. Crime is a social product, something created out of a myriad of previous experiences. Think about it, putting out 8 police officers into a city centre or suburban area housing tens of thousands of people, and then expecting them to affect individual’s behaviours inside premises is highly presumptious… at best. I’m not being defeatist, I’m just being a realist. Crime has fallen in many areas because it has been designed out, or because someone has gone to jail, or because a family has moved away or, or, or… Crime does not belong to police, and police are not responsible for causing it.

I don’t want this blog to end on a negative note. The stats state that confidence in the cops is high in comparison to many other public professions and that is something to be proud of. The issue with legitimacy is just discussed because it highlights a significant weakness in the way that crime is recorded. There are other elements at work too, like only the primary (or most important) crime being recorded, public order offence ambiguity, complex and long winded offences like harassment being reported in one single report, and the list goes on.

This blog isn’t here to offer any answers, it’s just there to assist with clearing the waters. Black and white arguments are rarely thus. In this case it’s far more gray than many even comprehend. Next time you hear the comment that crime is falling, recall the issues discussed here and have a think. And while you’re at it, have a look over what’s been discussed and ask a few more questions too:

  • Are police really responsible for instances of crime, or are the causes of crime far more complicated than the numbers of cops on patrol? Societal issues like cohesion, poverty and culture may be far more influential than how many cops are on patrol at any given time.
  • If we wish to use the phrase and give it some credence, what needs to be included and who would be responsible for recording it?
  • If cops aren’t responsible for the causes of crime, what are the causes and how do we really influence them?

I’ll leave it there. Is crime falling? 

No, no, and no. It’s changing, and the systems we use to record it are not keeping pace.

Ask the audience?

Sorry to steal mercilessly from a very well known TV quiz show, but I think the time is coming when the cop’s lifelines are running out. We’ve phoned a friend and consulted mgmt experts in other fields, gone 50/50 and removed some of our ‘luxury’ services (which were anything but) and now we are left with turning to those that we serve. 

There’s a tipping point coming, and if you can’t feel it, then have a look around and listen to what is being said at the top of the service and by those in government. Thee are more cuts in the pipeline no matter who gets elected, and the cops have trimmed to a buzz cut, there’s not much left to go. 

And so, difficult questions are on the horizon. These questions are around what the cops do, what they are seen to do, and what the public can expect. There has already been several talks this week from the Commissioner of the Met and the head of the Superintendent’s association, where there have been frank – but still positive – discussions about what the public can expect from the future. I think that although we can discuss this in a positive way – as there are ways we can innovate and become more efficient – there is a stark reality underneath, that all you get for less, is less.

So what does this ‘less’ look like? Well, for me it looks like change. The salami slicing is over, the overall structures that have remained in place for many years are reaching ultimate stretch. They will break if cut anymore, so it is likely that the structures will shift and the functions will change. Many will discuss refusal of attendance in some instances, and this may be appropriate due to the ‘mission creep’ that has beset the service, but be under no illusion, there’s a lot of risk in that there creep. Those decisions are not easy. Others may discuss emergency services amalgamation, and in places this may work, but the ill-fated Fambulice as it was dubbed, just won’t work. If people bemoan a lack of training for frontline practitioners now (and they do, justifiably), how can you expect them to take on further responsibility?

Whoever makes these decisions has to be incredibly brave, and they then bear the brunt of the risk associated with it. Leadership is hard won and hard to maintain, so although some may make the leap at the head of the service because they are brave people, should they be the ones giving Chris Tarrant the answer to the million pound question?

Several years ago the PCC function was introduced as a means of affecting accountability and increasing democratic participation. We could discuss the efficacy of such a measure for some time, with detractors and supporters putting forward equally valid views. Currently, they are in place for the foreseeable and are responsible for scrutinising the policing function and providing a conduit from those that call the cops, to the cops themselves. Similarly, Scotland is working on developing their democratic accountability and participation, and are operating under the belief that the public are far brighter than they are given credit for. I think that this is a valid view, so is it possible to expect more real engagement from the PCC’s to help with this million pound question? The function is there, so why not?

The cops, like many public/private services, are still wrestling with command and control leadership. And it is the misunderstanding around the ‘control’ of information and policy that may be the sticking point for this shift towards participation. “Surely, we must know better, when it comes to deploying police resources? We know our business and we know what works,” may be the rebuttal. What does this assume? It assumes that the people that use and feel the benefit of the service don’t know what they ‘really’ want, and that the cops are far better placed to make that choice.

This may be true. But why? Is it true because the information the public need to make an informed choice isn’t there? Is it true because the democratic representation from PCC’s resembles more broadcast than engagement?  Is it there because the structures have always assumed ‘control’ of info exists within the cops, and that having control is a good thing?

***

I recently read, ‘PR is Dead’ by Robert Phillips. It’s a great book, but many will say that it’s content is not applicable to the police. On the contrary. It discusses a paradigm shift from companies being in control of their information and spinning it accordingly, to the control falling to the citizen. Social media is forever changing the landscape that we live in. The debate is public, bad news is aired immediately, and it is taken and distributed with abandon. You can’t control that, and trying is futile. Companies that are developing better ways to allow customers control of their choices, and constantly learning from them, are performing far better than those that still believe in spinning the truth. Honesty is the best policy, because then the decisions are collective, and not a futile attempt at control over something that is well and truly alive. I have heard on many occasions, ‘We don’t want to set hares running.’ Unfortunately, there’s an organised sports event in the meadow and they are running the marathons and sprints as we speak…

***

Why the deviation? It’s simple. Is it time to ‘Ask the Audience?’ The PCC’s may be just the people to do it… If the police lay out the information about what they do, how they divide up their service, and the demand they receive, it just might be possible that the public – being brighter than they are often given credit for – may help inform the tougher decisions. This does two things:

  1. It gives the public a greater understanding around what the cops do and the difficult choices they have to take.
  2. It manages the expectations about when they should/shouldn’t call for assistance because their decision is better informed.

How does this happen? It happens with the Internet, and social media, and it happens through real conversation. Broadcasting stuff is a one way street, and it implies that the function of social media is one way. Well, it’s not, it’s about networks, and conversations, and empathy and debate. Embracing it and using it to offer real and honest debate with the public may just be the beginning of a shift in leadership. Heroic leadership and the all-knowing super human is not a model that chimes with a vibrant platform like Facebook or Twitter. The public want a voice in this discussion and it is possible to actually go looking for it…

Asking the Audience may just result in that million pound jackpot where unnecessary demand falls and the public have realistic expectations about what it is the cops can really do in an age of austerity. Let’s ask Chris, we did pretty well to get this far without running out of lifelines, didn’t we?

So what are the consequences?

You may have read about the #cutshaveconsequences campaign. If you haven’t, where have you been? It has been well publicised on social media and many are now using it to illustrate the effect upon daily business at all levels of the police and other public services. The message is a stark one: cut the funding, and these cuts will be reciprocated in the service that is provided. This isn’t through malice, or laziness, or spite, it is a simple equation of supply and demand. Cutting the ‘low hanging fruit’ from police budgets have supposedly resulted in ‘efficiency savings’, but savings in which bit of ‘efficiency’ are we talking about?

Well, it transpires that the ‘low hanging fruit’ was often back office function. Frontline cops will tell you that these people are rarely seen, but that is – of course – not surprising. It isn’t their job to attend calls, and the vast majority of their work deals with invisible demands like file preparation, community engagement, HR processes, communications and training. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but ask any business how they would feel to lose a portion of their training/PR/Admin staff and they will tell you that they play an intrinsic role in making the business run properly. What happens to the work that they were doing, when they aren’t doing it anymore?

Well some of it will just be lost, other parts of it will be passed on, and a classic example of this would be back office case file preparation. Maintain the numbers on the frontline, yet move work previously placed in back office function on to their toes. Remove some call handlers and the response time/call answered time rises. Train cops face-to-face less, pile up the NCALT packages in their place, and you will have officers making more mistakes. Add the extra paperwork on top of the mistake, the higher level of injuries caused through increased response time, and the lack of reassurance function and it all starts to look a little more complex.

Calls to the police haven’t fallen, and failure demand from similarly cut other public services is on the rise. Failure demand is where the problems raised can not be dealt with properly via the system that is in place, and it continues to create often worsening calls to service as the problem is compounded. A classic is mental health, where police are feeling the brunt of another system which is really struggling. As local authorities can’t finance anti-social behaviour interventions or problem tenancies the police again often catch the fall out. This risk grows through a very stretched social services, who are attempting to deal with complex family problems with similarly reduced resources. Fallout? The cops again. 

But crime is falling!!! You will hear the cry shouted from the rooftops. Not everywhere it’s not. And let’s be honest, the problem here isn’t that simple either. The recording structure is archaic and immensely complicated, new crime profiles (cybercrime) are not even included (!!!), and there are still target based performance cultures in place up and down the country. Where there are targets, there will be perverse behaviours, and right now in the current climate, cops certainly don’t need them (and never should they). The word ‘crime’ is becoming synecdoche (long word roughly meaning it’s far too simple to describe what it represents). Policing is not all about crime anymore (and it never was), and the recent work from the College of Policing proves this.

The next possible policing change is the amalgamation of neighbourhood policing into response teams, or reductions in the numbers of officers working in communities. It has always been described as the jewel in the crown of British policing, and rightly so. It increases legitimacy, forges relationships, creates trust, solves problems, and represents someone to talk to face-to-face. It is heavily linked with preventative work and engagement, the kind of work you can’t measure. Some people may cynically state that it is very hard to ‘prove’ it’s value. It’s actually very easy, go and speak to the communities about the value their beat bobby brings. Other options include workforce modernisation or very risky refusal of response in particular circumstances (which I personally think could be awful).

So, further cuts have been announced, what may happen now? Frontline cops have already fallen, and make no mistake, they are now stretched. Police operate in a high stress environment and the physical effects of the job can be debilitating at the best of times. Because of this high stress level, the resultant recovery needed is higher than most professions. If you want to read about this, check out ‘Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement Officers,’ it’s a great read and it changed the way I understood my job and the effect it had on me. It talks about a syndrome called ‘Magic Chair,’ where a cop finishes work and sits in a particular chair. They can sit for hours and stare, not really taking in or interacting with others, not even really watching the TV. Sleep is physiologically difficult because of the speed that their mind reaches processing what has happened that day. It’s a biological reaction, in answer to the high stress environment that they work in. It causes problems in relationships, and health will often suffer because alcohol is often used to self medicate. It’s a dangerous spiral to get into and it can lead to mental health issues down the line if not checked. (Read the book if this chimes with you!)

The interesting part of the book deals with those people that are experienced cops. It details the first domestic violence incident attended, and discusses the biological reaction of adrenalin release, high heart rate, perspiration, and that anxiety feeling. Older cops will tell you that this lessens with experience, but the research has proven that it still happens… The officers just get much better at dealing with it. It still takes its biological toll, it still causes the anxiety and higher heart rate, and as such your body will need to hit a comparative ‘low’ to balance this out and let you recover. It’s called the ‘Emotional Rollercoaster,’ and if you’re a cop, you are never off it.

So why have I started with cuts and ended up discussing stress? Easy, whilst people speak about increasing legitimacy of the cops, gaining greater trust, making them more accountable, and forging better partnerships, austerity is causing the functions that support these things to be reduced. The reactive policing function is fast becoming the last bastion of the frontline. Stress rises accordingly with reduced support, frontline cops suffer higher workloads and ever more scrutiny. Backup is always that bit further away. That stress ‘high’ causes more and more biological damage, causing mistakes to be made and lower rates of physical health. This results in higher sickness levels, and subsequently a cycle of more stress on colleagues that are already strung out. I don’t think that I need to explain anymore…

So what are the consequences of the cuts? Well, they are human consequences. Strung out officers starting to turn in and roll into tight defensive balls as they feel attacked from all sides. Families of officers who feel the Rollercoaster lows at every end of shift. Victims feel them acutely as preventative work wanes and response times rise. Mistakes are made and otherwise great people are put under huge pressure as their decision making is called into question. And slowly, but ever so surely, a dialogue of ‘us and them’ emerges. Cops have to fight this like hell, because there is only ‘us’, grasp the nettle, and deliver as best they can in spite of these cuts, because that is what cops do. The public rely on them. Head held high, support colleagues as if they were family – because they are family. 

Cuts do have consequences, and they aren’t rooted in response times, log to attendance ratios, or detections. They are rooted in people’s wellbeing. Looking after officers and treating them properly has never been so important as it is now.

Looking up and looking down. Police promotion and cultural influencers…

Writing about police promotion is such a dangerous pastime. It is possible for readers to think that you are discussing the quality of those promoted, or be personally criticising those that work within the police promotion system. Neither of these is true. To use a well known quote from the best TV series ever (The Wire), ‘It’s all in the game.’ If you want to be promoted it stands to reason that you play the game that is requested of you, by those that will ultimately decide whether you are promoted or not. There are lots of ways to look at this, but the fact that this phenomena exists tells us nothing about the people that manage it successfully.

You will often hear – both on the parade room floor and on Twitter – “They are all the same,” “They take the corporate pill and change,” “They used to be one of us, but now they want promotion they are becoming one of them.” This is normally associated with lashings of the rumour mill around who plays golf with who, and speculation on Masonic membership etc. What is the story that lies behind these mutterings? What is happening here? Why is there an ‘us and them’ dialogue that requires change in behaviour for the candidates to be promoted? What does this change look like in people and why is it happening?

I have researched around this extensively, reading from many different walks of life. But, this learning is supplemented by real life experiences and many discussions with some pretty experienced people. If there is a problem here, what does it actually look like?

The Corporate Pill.

Hearing this phrase regularly, I didn’t give it much thought. It’s normally accompanied by, “It’s what you have to do,” or similar. Is there a change that is required between team member and team supervisor? Why is it described in this way?

I’m going to write this as if I was the example for illustration purposes, but what follows isn’t a ‘real life’ example, so to speak.

Well, of course there is a change. Moving from someone who does the daily work, to someone who leads whilst doing it requires a change in behaviour. That’s fair. There’s new responsibility attached to the role, and your team are now your charges. In my opinion, it is your sole job to make their life easier. As a leader, you work harder so they don’t have to. It’s not about putting layers of bureaucracy or tick boxes in their way, it’s about removing them so that they can do their job much easier. Making your team happier brings the team together and they are proven to work harder, the happier they get. Officers joined the police to help people, work hard, and go home safe, if you enable that, then as first line supervisor I reckon you are hitting it about right. Oh, and buying cakes. Very important.

But wait, I would like to lead like this, but would my bosses want the same thing? I want to look down and focus my efforts on my team, what if my bosses don’t agree? What if my bosses want numbers? What if they see looking after the troops as a fad? What if their career is their priority, and me spending my time looking down at the troops isn’t helping? What if my style of leadership doesn’t gel with theirs?

Well, it’s simple. If I wish to progress, I have to swallow the pill, and give the bosses what they want. If I forego what I want to do, in favour of what they want from me, I am far more likely to get promoted. If I deliver what the bosses want, and make myself more visible to them, then I’m assisting my own chances of promotion. What is happening here? Well, I am starting to look up…

The problem is, you only have so much time in the day. So when I start looking up, one of two things happens… I am less able to look down as much as I would like, so my support for my own team suffers, or I put in extra time to do both. If I put the extra hours in, it’s possible to get the bits done for the bosses, but also really support my team. Well it is, but not if you want a life outside of policing. If you want a family, and a home life, and to protect your fitness and wellbeing, then you simply can’t do both. So what many really good supervisors do, is carry on looking after their team and just forget about promotion. That pill is too bitter to swallow and the price is too high.

But there are others who will really look up. It’s here that the issues with cop culture start to rear their heads. You can only get so much visibility in the cops because of the hierarchical nature of the organisation, so looking up and ‘delivering’ can be tough. It requires a lot of effort, and as such the looking down can really suffer. These are the people that receive the label ‘Careerist’ as most of their focus is on securing the support for the next rank or promotion.

The issue here however, is not the people involved in this practice, it’s the culture and system that supports it. If culturally the police require visibility at the upper ranks for promotion, and you hear feedback such as, “We don’t know you up here. You need to get yourself known.” Then problems are afoot, because the value of your career lies in looking up. If we were to look at that interaction through the eyes of values based promotion, then two things happen:

1) Those people who serve their bosses best get promoted as they are most visible and accessible to them through looking up.
2) Those people with the strongest values around supporting their staff are overlooked because they spend too much time looking down.

So what is really happening here? We can see the balance issue around what is required of candidates. It’s clear, and there are issues around team support etc. But there is an underlying problem, and one which really needs addressing. The priorities of the people selecting for promotion, automatically exclude a large cadre of great leaders who are really working hard for their staff. I don’t need to discuss what this may do to the talent pool’s diversity… Needless to say, there is a group of great and valuable talent, with strong ethical values, who may be simply unknown to senior members of staff. The hierarchical culture creates the distance that makes them invisible, the difference in value placed on looking up makes them inaccessible, and them wanting some semblance of home life makes them appear uncommitted.

How do we find this group of people? It’s really simple, we go looking.

To solve a problem, you can’t use the same thinking that you used when it was created. We can’t expect hierarchy to support a new kind of candidate. The culture won’t let that happen. So, how do we step outside of the current structure and make it work? Well, there are many different ways to look at it, but the simplest is to stop placing value on those that continually make themselves most visible to senior mgmt, and go looking for those that you can’t see… There’s latent, good quality leadership going on day-in, day-out, but because their values don’t sit well with looking up, many bosses won’t even know they are there. When have the police ever practiced pro-active talent mgmt? It happens very rarely, it’s always reactive. The candidate always strives and pushes, and puts themselves forwards for projects, and does extra over and above. The important question isn’t how much work they are doing, it’s how is that work distributed? Is the candidate playing the game, at the cost of looking down, because if they are it may be worth questioning their attitude towards their team. And as usual, the more important question isn’t around the individual, it’s around whether the organisation is demanding it from them and enabling that switch in values from a team based focus, to a focus on looking up. If the culture wants it/demands it, ambitious candidates will always deliver it.

To sum up, the culture is creating an environment where looking up has always held great value for career progression. How much value for the public or the staff is there in that decision? How can that value be tipped on its head? How can we find the shut-down talent? Is it about values realignment? If it is, what does that look like and how do we create a system that helps with this? Is it time to find the balance between those that work hard for their team, and those that have the potential to work at higher levels in the organisation? Why do we always demand extra work that creates rifts in home life from the candidates? Why can’t the organisation and the Mgmt. put some real effort into speaking with the staff and finding this latent talent? Where are the candidates that care so much about looking down, that they are simply invisible?

All very valid questions…

Are you looking down, or up?

Climbing (and falling from) the greasy pole…

How do we measure a good leader?

This must have been debated at every level of the service at length. I have been party to some interesting conversation on garage forecourts at 4am around who has been promoted and who hasn’t, as many cops probably have. Everyone has an opinion, but the consensus often falls onto a ‘good/bad’ footing at some point. The promotion system is often discussed in a very derogatory way by officers at the sharp end. Many have little faith in it and will almost always state that it is one of the reasons they will never try for a leadership position.

So what do good and bad look like? What does a competent leader look like? Well this is a tough question and one that is very open to subjectivity. There are some really contemporary thoughts on this in current literature, looking at concepts like ‘Stewardship’ and ‘Followership,’ with older theories espousing various forms of Heroic Leadership and grip/control. Theory aside, many will state, ‘I know a leader when I see one,’ and perhaps this is the best way to define it, as a good leader is often defined by how those they are leading see them. This -of course- means that there will be many different kinds of leaders in many different walks of life.

The below is a very quick image from Kotter (who is a pretty well known guy in mgmt theory).

IMG_0105

It may not be a surprise to think that most of the supervision that cops experience fall on the Mgmt side. There are other graphics that exchange the words ‘Mgmt.’ for ‘Boss.’ Either way, if you think that the biggest influence on Police Leadership has been New Public ‘Management‘ for the last 15-20 years, it stands to reason that Mgmt. as a leadership style has won out. This does not mean that there are not charismatic managers and managers that inspire and support their staff. I know of several who do and are excellent from an anecdotal perspective. It does however indicate that a strong weighting may be present due to the 30 year police employment tenure. If all you have known is Mgmt., and all the bosses want from prospective leaders is to display ‘strong’ Mgmt., then all you will end up with is more managers. This presents an interesting conundrum, and one that I discussed in my last blog around a reactive policing style favouring a command style of leadership. Does a heavy Mgmt. structure favour only managers? What if you are a great leader? You certainly represent more risk than usual.

This can be referred to as Prototype Leadership, or a situation within an organisation where those higher in the hierarchy will select those that they feel most affinity with. In short, bosses will promote bosses who look and act like them. This ensures safety, consistency of delivery, and absolutely no rocking of the proverbial boat. It is by no means particular to policing and happens in many careers on a regular basis.

Now where people stumble, is that criticism of such a process often relies on an assumption that the bosses do this consciously. ‘They only choose people that are like them.’ Although this may actually be true in terms of outcome, in that self-selection does occur, it is often completely unconscious and very difficult to ‘self check.’ Those funny generalisations start to come out to explain it when discussing promotion, like, ‘I think they are ready,’ or ‘I feel safe with him/her in charge.’ It is those generalisations that begin to hint at unconscious bias, and not being aware of it can be hazardous to the future of the organisation, because self selection drastically limits the propensity to change…

I don’t want to drag this part of the conversation out, but research of candidates during promotion processes showed that those candidates who displayed creativity in problem solving were AUTOMATICALLY thought of by selectors as having less leadership potential. What is happening here? The selectors are selecting ‘safe.’ What are the long term implications of this? Well, unless this particular unconscious bias is addressed, creativity is filtered out of candidates or the creative candidates are filtered out themselves.

What are the implications for the future of any organisation who has large amounts of prototype leadership? If you were in private industry the market would overtake the business and it would die. In the public sector? Stability and consistency, whilst the world accelerates on passed it. It could be said that attempts to address the changing profile of crime (i.e. huge increase in use of technology) have fallen victim to ‘safe hands’ management, augmented by archaic procurement bureaucracy and an unwillingness to utilise external skills. This is however complete speculation…

How do we address this problem? It’s unconscious, it results in stability, it’s consistent for the public… Should we change it? Is it a bad thing for a public service? The answer again lies in diversity. The same research as discussed above, showed that activating the ‘Creative Leader’ prototype addressed the problem. This basically means saying, ‘Hey, selector people, creative candidates can make really good leaders, can we have some of them too?’ This means that the current Leaders asking for creative candidates from selectors may actually result in a large shift in the kind of leaders selected.

It’s kind of like giving permission or empowering selectors to look for difference in candidates…

This is where the benefits start to kick in, balancing risk taking leaders who inspire, with managers who help keep them grounded and ensure that checks and balances are in place, sounds like a good combination for the public doesn’t it? So change is there, but it isn’t too crazy…

Putting people in the boardroom who aren’t always ‘safe’ is a good way to grow, not just in the organisation, but personally too. Difference in our leader profiles is therefore necessary for healthy challenge and change. All that is left then, is to organise/develop a system of selection that allows flexibility, where individuals are selected for role, and not for rank. This in turn, may make that pole a little – just a little – less greasy.

That however, is a whole new blog.

The cultural rabbit hole…

As part of my current role I had the opportunity to look into the cultural challenges that may face the cops in the coming years. I won’t lie, it was immersive and fascinating stuff, and if you work in the police and have access to academia, a quick search and you will be off down the rabbit hole.

And a rabbit hole it is. Some of the things that I read made my stomach turn, not least because it was so insightful that I had experienced half of them myself. The worst thing was, it was probably the first authentic experience of reading and finally understanding a really good analysis of cop behaviour by an ‘outsider’…

You know all those little behaviours cops do every day that are normal? Well, they aren’t normal.

There are a number of themes around the behaviours that pop up again and again, these mainly being:

Hierarchical – power and decision making/control originates from the top – lower levels provide the function, info passes down but not often up – people connect with the levels they are closest to and often distrust those furthest away.

Insular – cops retreat into their teams and create close bubbles – inherent suspicion of outsiders and a protected feeling of the job being completely unique – struggle to integrate with other agencies properly, – through entrenchment, opinions become completely different to those outside the profession – institutionalised cynicism.

Command centric Ritualistic status in policing – Heroic Leadership revered – command applied to all situations instead of appropriately when needed – problems solved in the ‘now’ rather than where they begin to originate – disempowers lower ranks but makes life easier for them – incompatible with culture of challenge/candour.

Reactive – significant status attached to a good thieftaker – catching bad guys, carrying tech/weapons also seen as higher status – use of force and ability to fight also seen as higher status – low status attached to soft skills/problem solving/collaborative practice/emotional intelligence.

Culture of numbers – heavy reliance on numerical data – low weighing on evaluation of qualitative information – success/failure culture, large area of grey often ignored – utilise very simple outlooks upon complex problems.

Mgmt Culture/Street culture – Large separation between what is discussed in meetings and what happens on the streets – cops think mgmt don’t understand their job and vice versa – often difference in method between command centric lower ranks and slower burning problem solving upper ranks.

Now all these facets are pretty ingrained. It was amazing how similar some of the problems encountered in 1970’s America have hardly changed over time, and persist in a slightly altered state. Some would say, ‘Well, that’s common sense, we do almost the same job, but a few years on.’ That’s true actually, we aren’t far off doing the same job, but think about that for a second… The reactive status of policing, the insular nature of the teams, and suspicion and cynical nature of the staff has tempered slightly, but it’s still there. The Gene Hunt characters immortalised by Life on Mars enjoy popular acclaim even now as people discuss the ‘Golden Age’ of policing in fond terms, before the bureaucratic ‘evil’ of PACE hitting the profession in 1984.

So what do these cultural facets mean? They mean lots. You will read many commentators discussing the fact that the Police are the last unreformed public service. Reform for what? Reform how? What’s so bad about the cops now, that needs to change? I talk about this stuff a lot, because although it is aspirational to be future facing, how long is that journey ahead? We may know where we want to go, but how far away is it? More importantly, plotting way markers in any period of change is difficult if you don’t even know where you are starting.

I think the truth is that there is no ‘crisis’ in leadership. It’s a word that’s misapplied, and funnily enough it is turning one of the worst facets of cop culture on its head, and throwing it straight back at them.

The reactive/command centric/hierarchical nature of the culture means that there is a tendency to apply command behaviours and leadership, to problems that require anything but. Everything is treated like a crisis and action needs to happen now, and we need to address immediate safeguarding, and we need to make an arrest, and we need to gather the evidence, and we need…

And the list goes on. The supervision apply the basic command led process and ensure that ‘minimum standards’ are met, and if there’s risk, the cavalry comes out. But they come out for the ‘then.’ They come out when the incident rears its head, when it all gets too much. When the tipping point has come and the parties involve reach a point of no return and contact the police. And then, well it’s a crisis isn’t it, and command leadership sits well with crisis. It’s how the police get through them. Pats on the back ensue now everyone is immediately safe, and we’ve done a fantastic job etc. but what happens next?

Well this is where the culture balks. Prevention needed soft skills and community awareness, it needed boots on the ground listening to people and hearing the neighbours and friends. It needed multi agency information sharing and slow-burning problem solving that may be time intensive. And do you know what is the worst thing about all this? You can’t measure what doesn’t happen. You can’t measure the quality of relationships between the police and the community, and you can’t measure the differences that the police are making to other people’s lives. You can’t measure the person that leaves their violent partner before they get murdered, and you can’t measure that smile that you put on child’s face when they needed it most.

So what happens when the purse strings tighten? Well the reactive side remains, because it’s what we do. The culture has to maintain the reactive side and protect it like a hallowed ground of infallibility. We have to ‘keep people safe.’ But there’s the rub, when the emergency calls come in, you probably have around 30 minutes to utilise command based behaviour and resolve the there and then. You safeguard the victim for the there and then and probably never see them again. What happens afterwards, and for the next victim who is waiting?

Command based behaviour is the bit that the culture likes and supports. It is 100% necessary and a vital part of policing. It’s also the part that is needed when the wheel comes off. We do however spend the vast majority of our time with the wheel on, wobbly maybe, but still in place. It is the activity during the time of ‘wheel on,’ that prevents ‘wheel off’, but it doesn’t carry the cultural capital of a good ‘thief-taker.’ You know those cups of tea and ‘feet up’ home visits of victims, that is where the smart money lies, because it makes less victims in the future. It changes lives and pulls in other vital services to offer much needed support. It is the time in the run up to crisis, that prevents crisis.

The smart money goes into prevention, because that means less victims.

So where does the cultural rabbit hole lead? Well, the cops still retain a function of command, so it must stay. But what about the other bits? A leader good at command holds good status thanks to our culture, but they use that skill appropriately sparingly. When they start applying command behaviours to far more complex (wicked) problems, all sorts of perverse outcomes begin to rear their head. It stand to reason therefore, that commanders need to be in roles where they use command a lot. What about the other roles? Well here’s a conundrum, because the other styles of leadership don’t quite gel with the culture. The collective leader, the distributive leader, the transformational leader, the participative leader… I could go on. The culture doesn’t quite like them as much, they don’t hold the same status and times can be tough, especially when reactive policing is slowly becoming the only ‘safe’ place left. As the preventative funding drops away and troops are reallocated to frontline policing, where command culture is at its strongest, how does that bode well for the future of a diverse leadership?

It may just be the case that austerity keeps the leaders best suited to a complex future culture, away from positions of leadership.

I’m not sure I like this rabbit hole…