Police reform: less management, more leadership

9 July 2015

Last week the College of Policing published a report outlining ten recommendations for police leaders. The overarching message was that workforce reform is essential to meet the challenges of modern policing. Forces must invest in the development of both their warranted officers and staff. This will ensure they have the skills to tackle new types of demand.

This idea is not new. Sir Tom Winsor in his landmark 2012 review stated “The greatest asset of the police service is its people – police officers and police staff. Those assets should be nurtured and developed with skill and sensitivity in order to release their greatest potential.” Similarly, Reform’s recent report “How to run a country: Crime and policing” argued for a more flexible and specialised police workforce fit to meet both national and local need.

The College’s report had three important takeaways for practitioners and policymakers. It argued that building and sustaining a modern police workforce will require:

  1. the recruitment and training of more specialist staff;
  2. increased flexibility for entering and exiting a policing career; and
  3. the removal of unnecessary police ranks to reduce bureaucracy.

The review suggests that valuing lateral progression within policing may be one mechanism to develop the skill sets of officers and staff. Currently traditional promotion up the ranks is the main indicator of success, yet 80 per cent of the police workforce remain in entry level jobs throughout their careers. “Horizontal promotions” in the form of either secondments to organisations outside of policing or transfers to different specialist departments/forces could help more staff realise their potential.  Whilst this may temporarily reduce a force’s resources, the College argues this cost is outweighed by the value these experiences bring.

Increasing the flexibility provided by a policing career is also key. New entry routes into policing such as Police Now, Fast-Track and Direct Entry have, so far, had mixed success. The principle of attracting a more diverse set of applicants to policing is good, but the report rightly argues that the purpose of these programs is not clear to the recruitment market – which limits their impact. The inability for special constables to apply through these avenues must also be reconsidered.

In addition, the lack of flexibility to leave and re-join the force is problematic. Returning within five years to the same role is now possible, but respondents to the review suggested that this period should be extended and that being able to leave and return at a higher rank would be more desirable. Leadership and management experience gained during a period away from policing should be taken into account when seniority is considered. Failure to do this deters experienced professionals from returning.

Reducing hierarchy is also vital. The review rightly argues that emphasis must be placed on “what police officers and staff know, not what rank they hold”. It found that unnecessary leadership structures currently obstruct clear lines of communication and reduce adherence to best practice. With virtually the same ranking structure in place since 1829, the model is no longer fit for purpose. Forces must strip out unnecessary layers to enable greater trust and communication between staff.

A flatter structure will also allow forces to be more responsive to changing demand. This will not only realise significant financial savings but also improve outcomes for service users.

The report provides an important framework for police workforce reform. Whilst implementing the College’s recommendations will be culturally challenging, the Home Office and police forces should embrace this vision to deliver a more effective service for the public.



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