Police State – Part II

Following publication of my first ‘Police State’ blog yesterday, one reader challenged me – not unreasonably – to suggest what I think should be done in response to my concerns about the state we’re in.

What might be done about police morale?

What might be done about police reform?

What might be done to ensure that we are able to serve our communities to the very best of our abilities?

Here are a handful of thoughts.

They represent very much a personal view – so feel free to add any of your own at the bottom of the page…

(1) A relentless and unashamed celebration of the everyday heroism of the people who police our streets.

Most Police Officers are extraordinary.

Extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Police Officers save people’s lives every single day: victims of crime; drivers of cars; sufferers of heart attacks; drowners in rivers; those on the edge.

Police Officers put themselves in harm’s way every single day: confronting men of violence; pursuing gun-wielders and those carrying knives; entering burning buildings; stepping into the hurting places.

Some pay the greatest price of all.

Police Officers catch criminals every single day: murderers; rapists; traffickers of women; abusers of children; perpetrators of domestic violence; exploiters of the elderly; dealers in wickedness of every kind.

Police Officers make the difference every single day.

And we should celebrate them with every breath we have.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a prominent national journalist and was struck by a question they posed:

‘Who is standing up for policing in this country?’

It was rhetorical. But their belief was clear…

No one is.

Actually, I think there are some good people prepared to stand up for us – inside and outside ‘the Job’ – but I understand the point made. Theirs aren’t the voices that tend to be heard – and the prevailing public narrative about policing remains hostile.

So it falls to us to tell the stories of our colleagues: stories of breathtaking courage; stories of endless compassion; stories to make you laugh and make you cry.

I for one will never grow tired of telling the tales of the remarkable people who serve on the thin blue line.

(2) It’s people, stupid

People need to be front and centre in absolutely everything we do.

The people we serve – and the people we serve alongside.

The rest is just noise.

(3) A time for honest, grown up conversations

We need to have an honest, grown up conversation about priorities.

There are some things we will always do – the things that have to matter most. And our decisions have to be based on risk & harm: protecting the most vulnerable and confronting the most dangerous.

But there are many things we will have to do differently – and there are some things we will have to stop doing altogether.

Because everything can’t be a priority.

Then we need to have an honest, grown up conversation about what might be called ‘the disease of short-termism’.

Policing operates at the margins of society. Most of what we deal with is neither simple nor straightforward.

Terrorism; Violence in the Home; Gangs; Knife Crime; Trafficking; Missing Persons; Mental Health.

The list goes on.

None of these is going to be resolved in the space of the next twelve months. Professional experience suggests that nothing of significance ever will.

But that isn’t how it seems to play out in practice. For all our best intentions, in this relentless world of ours, the endless demands for a solution by next April (or, better, by next Friday) mitigate against any kind of sustained, effective intervention on the issues that count.

As I overheard someone saying not too long ago,

“Doing the wrong thing faster won’t get the right thing done”

And we need to have honest, grown up conversations about crime.

Reported crime has been falling for some time.

But it’s the unreported that bothers me – the hidden horrors beyond common view.

My professional experience is that, the more vulnerable a victim, the more likely it is that a crime will go unreported.

These are the things that ought to keep us awake at night.

(4) An acceptance of the fact that the police service might just benefit from some reform

Not all reform is bad reform.

Actually, I would describe myself as a reformer.

By which I mean:

(a) I care passionately about policing and about its role in society;
(b) I care passionately about the people who do the job;
(c) I care passionately about the public we serve.

I want us to be the best that we can be.

And, we would have to accept that we have made any number of mistakes – some of them catastrophic – and that there are some things we’ve just not been very good at.

I’ve never met a right-minded cop who thinks we’re fine just as we are.

But we also need to understand – and be honest about – the new economics of austerity.

Saving money and reforming policing are not necessarily the same thing.

(5) Rethinking Training

Police training should be the very best there is.

It should be innovative, dynamic, inspiring and rooted in operational realities.

It needs to be seen as an investment, not a cost.

There is a desperate need for us to reinvest in our most important resource – our people.

(6) Less Management, more Leadership

Actually, you need both.

But now is the time for Leaders – at every level of policing. Because we are facing challenges the like of which we haven’t seen for more than half a century.

Of all people, it was Napoleon who said:

‘Leaders should be dealers in hope.’

For some, that hope has seemed in short supply of late.

(7) Understanding Culture

Talk of police culture tends to end up as a conversation about the negative. And there are undoubtedly things that need challenging and changing.

But, generally, my experience is of something other.

My experience is of the things you cannot put a price on – but that we cannot be without: things like that precious and old fashioned thing called duty…

——————

There is so much more that might be said – and so much more that should be done.

But we need to start somewhere.

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9 thoughts on “Police State – Part II

  1. Howard

    You also need to reform police regulation. HMIC & IPCC seem to live on a different planet.
    You need to reform the Home Office. They create PCCs for local accountability (in that case why do we need a Policing Minister?), yet insist that everybody does the same thing. The Home Office who reduce one piece of paperwork, yet create 10 more at the drop of the hat.
    You need to reform the many laws in the UK. Too many laws are used way beyond what they were intended for.
    You need to reform the CPS and Courts, because the police get the blame for their mistakes.
    In short, to reform the police for the better you need to start reforming others first.

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  2. retiredandangry

    Another great piece John. Every time I think of something that might improve the Police it seems to cost more money, not less. It seems to me that you really do only get less for less. As for Police Training, my last personal experience of it was woeful. Either computer-based training or the very least necessary to ‘cover arses’. Even training on PACE, when it first came in, amounted to nothing more than a few hours on the job training for anybody other than recruits. New recruits were much better equipped to apply PACE than officers with a few years in, and nothing much seems to have improved since. I fully agree, the Police needs to be the best it can be, and resourced appropriately.

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  3. AdamB

    (5) Rethinking Training

    Massively agree…I come from a training background which has been constantly subject to attack by people outside of the department who have no knowledge of the product being delivered.

    When an attempt was made to change the style of training from instruction to coaching, it was met with massive resistance. People that had been at the training venue for 15-20 years (whilst being paid to be policemen) argued that ‘we have always done it this way’, with no acknowledgement that the demographic of their students had changed massively over those 15-20 years.

    I am now hearing, that these ‘highly valued’ training experts are to be deployed back to Borough for a month at a time, because they are part of a RLC, and that is what everyone has to do. They are not current on legislation, SOPs etc, despite doing the required NCALTs, or having someone do them for them.

    If they did manage to trip over someone committing a crime that they knew the points to prove of, then what, how will the abstractions, court etc, down the road be covered when all of their colleagues are already working to capacity?

    Not only are Police Officers being made to do this, so apparently are Police Staff. People that have never been anything but trainers, they have never worked CAD, CRIS, CRIMINT, Merlin, staffed a front counter, answered a phone in a Police capacity. But they must go out, because everyone has to…

    I’d say rethinking was a mild way of putting it….

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  4. Neil reeding

    The service needs to stop being a service to all people. For example, last night on the Met Twitter feed… you had a guy on there who’d been missing not even for a day… Have you seen Jo Bloggs… he’s been missing ‘this afternoon’. Now that really doesn’t constitute a proper missing person. He’s not under 18 and wasn’t considered to be high risk. However, with the social media frenzy we are making work for ourselves with constant pushes of people who have just been out on a night out and their phone isn’t charged. 9 out of 10 of these people turn up VERY quickly yet we’ll put 8 officers out to find them. If they are high or medium risk YES we must throw the kitchen sink at it. But if that person has disappeared 18 times before then we have to make an assessment of the value of that process. Also I’m concerned with 43 forces who have different uniforms, different ways to flick a baton, different handcuffing procedures, and different ways to vett people. It means that if Joe 90 from Camden wants to move to Durham he has to go through weeks of training, weeks of vetting, and have a brand new uniform fitted. This is all at huge cost and admin.
    Would the same be said for a soldier moving from one barracks to another? NO!

    No longer should Police managers be allowed to buy technology! It should be assigned to experts in their field because none of the systems currently talk to each other, they were bought five years ago so actually aren’t fit for purpose, and some officers are still working with Microsoft 1997 which is a disgrace.

    Vehicles… they should be mobile police stations with all the right kit. Some forces have it and other don’t. I can’t understand why every car in every police force doesn’t have ANPR. It’s a huge crime fighting machine.

    And finally, the Police aren’t there to be customer service representatives. People should respect but also fear officers. If you’ve done something wrong you should be treated robustly no matter what.

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  5. copd4real

    They need to separate the cops from bureaucracy. Kind of like a swat team is an elite force, specialized, and with clear priorities, I think they really need to separate those driven individuals from the regular, routine, public facing work, as they get bored doing the routine.

    Find the abilities of the officer, and help him or her be their best. Isn’t that the goal for all good leaders?

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  6. Andy Rhodes

    Agree completely here , what we are taking about is a relentless focus on the capability of our great people and making sure we have the right horses for courses. Why are we surprised that some of our people are unhappy when they are sheep dip trained, given outdated IT kit and treated like widgets in a machine? Look at 3 things that motivate people according to Daniel Pink – Autonomy (linked to discretion, having your say about how work gets done etc) Mastery (not JUST training but personal development as a human being which involves understanding how you deal with the high emotional labour of policing) and finally Purpose (we seem to be struggling with this at the moment as many feel they are losing what they believed gave them meaning – I’ll expand)
    I spoke to a frontline officer I know last week, she was rushing about juggling kids with shifts with getting some time in the gym – she’s got a packed schedule only part of which is being a police officer , she’s pretty good at that though in my view. She was buzzing because she’s actually processed a prisoner , not just locked them up and handed the job on , she hadn’t done this for a while so it was a bit stressful getting back into it but she , in some small way, was back into doing work with some meaning for her. She was off to update ‘her’ victim.
    The problem with the ‘state’ of policing at the moment in my view is that for too many years the service has behaved like a parent/child expecting someone somewhere to tell it where it’s going and what to prioritise. It’s too sensitive to unintelligent media coverage and hasn’t put it’s shoulders back , saying it’s proud of what it contributes to society.
    We have an inferiority complex borne out of too many senior leaders who have put their own interests ahead of their people and the public for too long. It’s about people …stupid – like that. We have quite simply put process before people – including the public.
    Now we find ourselves seemingly on the naughty step every day. Again there is a lack of confidence in how we respond. Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.
    I really don’t care what the critics say, I think I’ve got a pretty rounded sense of my failings and those of the service – we need shaking up – we keep failing to learn BUT generally speaking we are very very good at what we do. Some of the command roles i do I get involved with the most amazing people , I see my people doing incredible stuff 24/7 , occasionally they do crazy bad stuff too – they’re humans we sack them.
    I was on call last Friday night and picked up an officer had been properly biffed (northern colloquial for punched) in the face whilst arresting someone the night before. No broken bones but split mouth, chipped tooth etc. I gave her a call when she came on nights to check how she was doing – filled me with pride and reminded me of the good people we have out there. She’d come in for her team, her self and the public….not some strategic mission. I thanked her for coming in – we don’t thank each other enough and seem to be waiting for the red tops to thank us or a civil servant somewhere to send us a letter saying we are outstanding. How about we start getting back in touch with our own self-worth?
    If you believe you are working for a purpose , doing your best and inch by inch , second by second, making a difference then ignore the critics that don’t count………………
    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
    Time for some self-love , rise above it , the reduction in money is bad, very bad but it’ll separate out the leaders with real purpose & values from the sociopaths because people don’t follow sociopaths , you lose trust, you lose extra mile effort and then you start to fall apart – you’ll see.

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