A Handful of Thoughts about Police Reform

As 2016 begins to unfold, policing remains in a relentlessly challenging place – both operationally and organisationally. And, amongst the endless conversations going back and forth about this truly extraordinary job, talk keeps coming back round to the question of reform.

But it seems to me that, in so much of the debate, ‘reform’ has actually become a dirty word. It has become something either to be imposed at will or to be resisted at all costs – depending on your point of view.

And that, it seems to me, is not a good thing.

The level of concern that exists has come about for any number of reasons:

• the balance of the prevailing public narrative about policing – perceived by many as imbalanced and hostile; the suggestion that the police are a problem in need of fixing.
• the compound effect of successive reforms over the last decade and more – and a significant degree of ‘change fatigue’.
• the realisation – borne of experience – that not all reform is good reform.
• the broader economic context and the consequent impact on officers’ pay and pensions.

It’s not difficult to see why a significant number of police officers – particularly on the front line – are feeling undervalued and underappreciated at this particular moment in time.

But, surely, reform can be good too – necessary even. Reform of police leadership perhaps? Or training. Or of the approaches that we take to investigating misconduct.

Over the last two decades and more, I have worked with some truly exceptional people – and I don’t think any of them would venture to suggest that policing is fine just as it is. I know they would say that there are all sorts of things that we could – must – do better.

I know they would say that it has to be about the people we serve – and those we serve alongside.

But, as wagons circle and lines are drawn, there is a danger that good ideas will get lost in the noise and rhetoric of the debate. For as long as proposals are presented – or, perhaps more importantly, perceived – as an attack on policing, the very real risk is that key audiences are lost before the conversation has even begun.

If that’s the case, we need to do something about it.

But what?

In the first instance, there has to be an understanding that the context for policing remains more challenging than it has been for generations:

• the enduring economics of austerity – and all that means for the public sector.
• demographic and technological change on a scale – and at a pace – entirely without precedent.
• changing patterns of crime and surging demand for protection and assistance.
• global events that have enduring local impacts – and a terrorist threat shape-shifting beyond all recognition.

Policing cannot possibly stand still – and the necessity for change becomes as undeniable as the realities of the world we’re operating in.

So the question becomes not ‘if’ – but ‘what’? and ‘how’?

There is an opportunity here for people who love policing to lead the way – and that needs to begin with the story that we tell.

Every conversation about police reform has to start with a celebration of all that is extraordinary about policing – and of the need to safeguard and nurture those things at all costs. These things can’t be an afterthought – they have to be the first thought. We need to be talking about things like duty and courage and public service – the things that you cannot put a price on (or measure) but that we cannot afford to be without.

The worst possible thing that policing could do at this moment in time would be to set aside all of the ‘best of the old’ in a misguided rush to modernise.

Having spoken out about all that is right and good in the Job, we have to be able to describe the ways in which any reform being suggested is for the benefit – for the good – of policing:

• How will what’s being proposed allow us to demonstrate the value and worth we attribute to our own people;
• How will it allow us to make it easier, not harder, for those people to do their jobs;
• Fundamentally, how will any proposed change impact on crime – and improve the quality of the service we provide for the people of this country.

It’s all about people. It always has been.

Take the current debate about degrees in policing by way of an example. It seems to me that there are actually two very different proposals on the table:

(1) Degree-level entry standards for policing
(2) Recognition/Accreditation of the skills that police officers develop during the course of their careers.

I have very mixed feelings about the first one (more of which in a moment) – but I think the second one is absolutely spot on. The narrative here ought to look something like this:

• We think that most police officers are extraordinary people;
• Over the course of their professional lives, they do any number of extraordinary things – and they develop an extraordinary set of skills;
• That said, as things stand at the moment, they receive no formal recognition or accreditation for the experience they gain – and nothing they can take with them into the rest of life;
• That can’t be right – and we want to do something about it. We think that police officers (and staff) should receive the credit and acknowledgement they deserve.

To me, that’s a winning way to open a conversation.

The challenge then is to bring in a set of reforms that are non-bureaucratic and actually supportive of the people they’re designed to help. The point must be to acknowledge the things they already do – rather than to create a whole new series of hoops for them to jump through. The College of Policing deserve our support in making that happen.

On the separate subject of degree-level entry, a selection of purely personal thoughts:

• I don’t think all police officers should have degrees
• I don’t think all police officers need degrees
• Some of the best people I’ve ever worked with have had a minimal number of qualifications. Equally, some of the less capable have had all sorts of letters after their names.
• I think that the most important qualities for a police officer are:
– Courage
– Compassion
– Communication
– Common Sense
– (you should probably add a good sense of humour to that list)
• How do we demonstrate that these are things we value – the things that matter more? You cannot teach courage – nor can you measure it. But you can nurture and inspire it. There is a danger here that – as we have done with crime performance – we will end up reducing the debate to the things we can measure.
• I think we should have exceptionally high recruitment standards in policing – higher than we have now – but that that should extend to attracting the very best graduates AND the very best non-graduates. The priority must surely be to recruit the right people – rather than the people with the right qualifications
• A specific thought here about Professional Development (a key element of College  proposals). Put simply, it matters. We have allowed Training to become one of the ‘Cinderella’ bits of policing – under-valued and under-resourced. If it is true that our people are our most important resource (and they are – by far) then that has to be reflected in our investment decisions. In all our thinking about the future, how do we value and develop the people we have now?
• I also think we need to think through the ways in which we bridge the gap between academia and practice. It is one thing to possess knowledge; it is quite another to apply it.
• One incidental consideration – but an important one. If we only recruit graduates, the likelihood is that we will be recruiting a significant number of people with high levels of personal debt. And we know from very painful experience that there is a direct correlation between debt and susceptibility to corruption.

So what might all of this mean for the question of reform?

It means that we need to be committed to grown up, honest and constructive conversations: about crime; about demand; about the unavoidable need to save money; about what we do and how we do it.

It means that we have to be prepared to listen – particularly to people who are in the thick of it – and we need to have the maturity to allow for professional disagreement.

It means, fundamentally, that we need to understand what the prize is.

And, surely, that has to be all about building a Police Service that is fit to face the challenges of the next fifty years – built on its people; built on the very best of all that has gone before and sustained by the very best of the new.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The things that we’re here to do haven’t changed in the best part 200 years.

The Job is to save lives;

To find the lost;

To protect the vulnerable;

To confront the violent;

To pursue the dangerous;

To comfort the mourning;

To seek justice on behalf of those no longer able to seek it for themselves;

To step into harm’s way;

Sometimes to risk it all.

It’s a job that matters more than ever before.

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26 thoughts on “A Handful of Thoughts about Police Reform

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  1. So refreshing to read an articulate positive and realistic commentary from a serving officer. More and more convinced Reform is a bad word to use in this context, it implies criticism and I don’t think that is the intent. Whatever political affiliation we may have there is a need to keep the nation safe and with all the obvious stress on public finance we must be as fiscally efficient as possible.

    VFM in my view is often best determined by practitioners, no one will voluntarily cut their own budget, but often they know how it could be done, we need to engage at all levels to capture unified intent, open disquiet among the ranks damages morale of both serving officers, but also the confidence of the public, – only criminals can benefit from that. Debate needs to be much more inclusive and less politically motivated – I guess I would say that ….

    Great piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is terribly sad. We’ve seen the medical and teaching professions impoverished by coercive reforms. Reforms made in the name of improving services that on closer analysis are driven by an ideological need to remove self-determination from practitioners and place control in corporate hands. The media are enlisted to denigrate the professions and make it acceptable for tighter regulation and the removal of independence. The Public Service label and vocational nature of these roles held up to make dissent seem greedy and self-serving. Undoubtedly policing is suffering the same fate. Very sad.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I can’t really say I fundamentally disagree with any of your points. If I’m honest Police Officers are a breed naturally resistant to change, I think we can all be guilty of that to some degree. But, surely, ‘Reform’ (or change by any other name) should lead to a GENUINE improvement. If it does we should embrace, if it doesn’t then it shouldn’t happen. A implistic view I know, but I really don’t understand why either the Service or the Publicshould accept ‘Reform’ that makes things worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re a Chief Superintendent, right? So you know the strategic terrain – the Home Office want, in fact are determined, to have a three-tier service based on NCA – provincial – municipal police model. I see the NCA land-grab every day, not even they know why they want it. Yet here you are preaching hope. I applaud your attempts at positivity, but from where I’m sat you’re like a bloke trying to bail out a tsunami with a plastic bucket. TJF. Seriously, TJF. We can say what we like, but the narrative is fixed by a government looking at another fifteen years in power to implement the McPolice it’s wanted since the early 1990s.

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  5. The notion of Limiting the number of Police Officers with degrees to prevent overloading the organisation with debt ridden employees and thus preventing corruption is a little offensive.

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  6. You probably won’t publish this, but I’m going to write it anyway. I’ll be upfront, I am one of those who absolutely *hates* the police. Why you ask? Because your narrative is completely false. You claim you are there to “protect the vulnerable”, “confront the violent” and “pursue the dangerous” yet in reality you have no idea who is the “vulnerable” nor who is the “dangerous” instead you use the laws and (unwritten) principles laid down by our scumbag politicians as your “guide”. Your narrative is a delusional one of “good” vs “evil” in your arrogance you think you know it all and celebrate everytime you get a conviction. Yet you are willfully blind to the pain and suffering you cause.

    In recent times policing has become to my mind a nastier and nastier profession as the laws have become ever broader, ever more insane and ever more dedicated to maintaining a “politically correct” order. You now run around arresting people for what they say on the internet and often with a mindset of there being a “privileged” group that are above the law. For example, when feminists are busily screaming for some man to be surgically castrated – as are often the comments under mainstream media articles about men convicted under some feminist anti-sex law – you don’t arrest them. But when a man loses his temper on twitter with a feminist who is herself using highly offensive language (e.g. men should not talk to women as that’s harassment etc) then you run around trying to arrest the man.

    It seems to me that the vast majority of police resources these days go into four categories: The war on sex offenders, the war on drugs, the war on terror and the war on speech. These have all resulted in an avalanche of laws and enforcement practices that are thoroughly unjust. For example:

    War On Sex Offenders: Arresting men for images stored on their hard drive “thought crimes” (think Operation Ore), public nudity (think Naked Rambler), drunken sex (think Ched Evans), consensual underage sex (think Jeremy Forrest), convicting the innocent of ridiculous historical crimes (Rolf Harris was convicted without evidence, for instance), enforcement of the evil and draconian “sex offender” registry, recent introduction of “sexual risk” orders that can be used to jail any man. It is also not uncommon for you to convict children themselves of victimless sex crimes. One of the police officers who made me hate the police more than anything was paedofinder general Jim Gamble. Leading Operation Ore he was responsible for the suicides of 32+ people, the arrest and jailing of thousands for mere “thought crimes”. As far as I’m concerned he is both a mass murderer and a terrorist and unfortunately his legacy seems to live on in the National Crime Agency today and the Yewtree Witch Hunt. The police also have a history of arresting and silencing political dissidents who challenge the “paedohysteria” narrative. David Stanley was one of Jim Gambles victims in Operation Ore, having been acquitted he went around trying to help other men who had also been unjustly raided. As a result the police tried to pin further crimes on him (this time using disgraced hypocrite home secretary Jacqui Smith’s extreme porn laws). In the end, he couldn’t bear the cruelness of this world and the police anymore. He committed suicide.

    War On Drugs: Arresting men for what THEY choose to consume into THEIR OWN bodies. Also arresting men for selling or distributing drugs – no it does not cause harm to others, people make their own choices as to whether they want to take drugs or not. It is hypocritical to on the one hand claim you are “protecting” drug users when you are also jailing the drug users alongside the sellers! Also I’d put age limits on alcohol consumption under this. People of any age should be able to buy alcohol without being harassed with “Are you under 25?” posters and pictures of men being jailed for giving alcohol to minors.

    War On Terror: Terrorist Control Orders (lacks due process). Making it illegal to “glorify” terrorism and jailing people merely for voicing some support of ISIS which is ridiculous. The war between the West and ISIS seems to be one of propaganda to me. Most people are stupid enough to believe what the media tell them about ISIS but I am well aware it’s much more subtle and there is much bloodshed on both sides. Policing speech only helps to create a “partisan” climate where each side has a complete lack of understanding of where the other side is coming from.

    War On Speech: Arrests for making “racist” comments online, arrests for “racist” chants at football matches, arresting men who get angry with feminists, internet censorship/filtering, “extremism” disruption orders which are actually probably the most dangerous laws yet. Take a look at what David Cameron said when he was about to introduce them:

    “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens:

    As long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance. This Government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.” – David Cameron

    It’s worth me asking you an explicit question on that point. As a police officer, what are you going to do now the Prime Minister is about to throw away even the pretense of rule of law? Perhaps arrest whoever you feel like on a whim and turn this country into North Korea?

    Ok, this has been a long post. But it’s to put some perspective on the reasons why some people hate the police. If I were to pick one thing that I think needs reforming in the police it is the “good” vs “bad” narrative. Instead of taking sides and enforcing arbitrary laws police officers should come from the point of view of “conflict resolution”. If there’s no conflict then they shouldn’t get involved. If there is a conflict (someone is accusing someone of something) they should try to resolve it amiably using dispute resolution tactics not by “hunting” an “evil criminal”. They must listen to both sides and try to resolve the issue. Courts and criminal sentencing should be a last resort but even there the objective should be proportionality rather than insane sentencing. Police officers should not be rewarded neither morally nor financially for “catching” someone. Infact, if anything they should be rewarded for resolving disputes amiably.

    Of course if my approach was adopted in the police then their behaviour would be radically altered. They wouldn’t be doing any “operations” to catch thousands of harmless men fapping off to porn as there’s no accusation and no conflict – they’re in their own bedrooms. Nor would they be hunting down consensual sex criminals like Jeremy Forrest – his “victim” never accused him of anything! And the same situation would be seen for drug users – consuming drugs into their own bodies = no conflict. As for speech where conflicts maybe occurring it would make a lot more sense to get the two sides in a room with an arbiter (police officer) who they see as someone wanting to end the conflict, not make arrests, and then it might be easier to end the argument amiably. And who knows, everyone might become less angry with their speech if they knew the State isn’t out there to get them. Unfortunately for now at least, the State is out there to get them. And no one is safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This monster should be ignored. His blog supports raping little girls, forcing little girls to be sexualized, hating women, claiming most to all men prefer girls under 18+, thinks that women are infertile, supports pedophilia claiming it is healthy male sexuality, supports child porn etc. Check out his blog

      https://holocaust21.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/9-reasons-why-child-porn-laws-are-evil/

      https://holocaust21.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/mens-rights-as-a-pro-sex-offender-movement

      https://holocaust21.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/why-jeremy-forrest-was-right-to-fall-in-lovie-with-an-underage-girl

      https://holocaust21.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/pro-age-of-consent-arguments-their-refutations/://holocaust21.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/victims-of-paedohysteria/

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  7. For too long it has been external pressure that has driven the ‘reform’ process in English policing BEFORE cuts were imposed by the national government. One must ask where was the original, even inspirational leadership then that enabled ‘reform’. All too often ‘reform’ became key leaders “pet” projects that were announced as superb and would improve service – only to be swiftly discovered were in fact faulty and not VFM. Best of all and still around in abundance is the desire to change the organization and hardly any effort is made to improve morale. No wonder internally ‘change’ is seen as the actions of “donkeys” by the “poor, bloody infantry”.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. As a subcontractpr to the police for many years I know a lot of policeman, all mean well and will help anyone in the street.
    A reform should be about looking at, and cutting out the waste and moving forward with the changing times
    This is not a reform it is a police force trying to cope with lack of money “The goverment cuts”

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  9. Hello – as an outsider researching policing I thought this was excellent commentary. Some of my recent research is relevant to your suggestion that policing involves qualities such as courage, and that they can’t be taught or measured. Another way of making the same point would be to say there are certain virtues any society would want from its police officers given their unique powers. A question that follows is how do we encourage the development of those virtues.

    This problem is what I’ve looked at in studying the training of public order police over the last few years. It’s hard to train public order police because you can never simulate all the complexities of real life public order incidents. After peer review the paper has been accepted quite recently – the final version is copyright owned by the journal, but the text is the same in this version (link below, click to download).

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281006450_Governance_and_Virtue_The_case_of_riot_policing_forthcoming_in_the_Journal_of_Business_Ethics

    Please let me know if the link doesn’t work and you’d like to see the research Kevin Morrell kevin.morrell@wbs.ac.uk.

    I’m also doing research on public confidence in policing, and working on analysing current reforms, the details of that project are here : http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/wbs/projects/public-confidence-in-policing/

    Best wishes
    Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting thinking on a complicated topic, as always.

    My question to you is this: does the exclusion of the ordinary person for participation (not vigilanteism, but “participation”) in protecting the safety of themselves and others around themselves need to re-enter the conversation?

    In the USA, the ordinary person is discouraged from becoming involved, leading to an “us” vs. “them” viewpoint, which doesn’t help in policing.

    Criminal charges may be levied against law abiding citizens who come to the aid of others, which adds a level of complexity to an act of solidarity that has always served to keep “the village” running smoothly, and in a healthy way for the safety of all involved.

    Without the reality of working side by side with the police to run toward the source of danger or tragedy, to do what we can to help, aren’t we devaluaing the role of professionals because we just don’t understand their world well enough, and can’t truly be empathetc to their concerns?

    No answers here, but it’s what I think about as I watch from the side lines as good intentioned people try their best but appear to work at cross purposes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some really interesting observations…. I can’t speak for the situation in the US, but one of the founding principles of law enforcement in the UK is the notion that ‘the public are the police and the police are the public’. It is the realisation that we are part of the communities that we serve – and we do what we do with their consent.
      This is reinforced by the fact that ordinary citizens have certain powers in law – to prevent crime and detain offenders. That said, they always need to put their own safety first.
      My professional expereince has always been that we do our job better when we do in partnership with ‘the people’…

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  11. I agree with you entirely – why do police officers need Degrees? If they have been studying all their lives, they are not going to learn about life – only theories. It is the same with many public service jobs even child-minding. I fail to understand why someone would want to employ a person who has been hidden away in an academy all their lives to look after their children instead of someone who has spent their lives being with children. And who the hell is going to pay £9,000 a year to study for this degree?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great read. I think this was a very open and descriptive communication of what “reform” could look like both in the negative and the positive. I always feel better making decisions about a topic when I have Heard all the evidence, not just one side. I worked for a Sheriffs office as a young adult and left because I felt spending a couple years working the jail would be more than I was really willing to commit to before I could do what I thought, was going to be more suitable. At the same time I have had a higher respect for those who were willing to do whatever it takes. In the most recent times, it does seem that as the media spins everything one way to stir the pot. there are some “bad” cops and I would love to see reform to reduce corruption, that should always be an ongoing effort within each agency. What people are neglecting to also recognize is that there are NO good criminals and without good policing efforts there will be absolutely NO reform in that demographic.

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