The British police service faces a potentially huge shake-up as budgets are cut, priorities change, and forces look for new ways to deliver policing. The College of Policing has set out a number of recommendations which could transform the British policing model as we know it and possibly even spell the end of the traditional Bobby. Syreeta Lund writes
It may be called The Leadership Review, but the latest examination and assessment of British policing carried out by the College of Policing takes a much wider view of the service than just leadership. It looks at the whole structure of policing and asks some challenging questions about the need for ranks, the increasing specialisation of policing and a reward structure which would focus on skills rather than ranks – opening up the possibility that in future all roles could be open to police staff and officers or ‘police practitioners’.
It also examines police culture and debates the development of senior leadership, direct entry points into the service which effectively leap-frog ranks, and even the historic concept of the Office of Constable, a key foundation block for modern policing.
The Police Federation is examining the review in detail, looking at each of the ten recommendations which cover the areas of culture, hierarchy, lateral development, diversity, consistency, and management and leadership (see below), and the impact they may have. But the Office of Constable is something the Federation has long campaigned on as the ‘bedrock’ of modern policing. It enables police officers to operate independently, and operate within and be accountable to the rule of law – not as an agent of their force or the government. It underpins policing by consent in this country, as outlined by Robert Peel himself, so officers cannot be forced to carry out the bidding of politicians.
Andy Fittes, general secretary of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “Policing in England and Wales is changing; police numbers continue to fall, yet the varied demands placed on officers are increasing. It is therefore important that, as a service, we look at what we do now, how we do it and what we can continue to do in the future.
“The Leadership Review is but one vehicle for these discussions and that is why we will be sending the College Of Policing a full and considered response to the report, following consultation with our national committees.
“The Leadership Review raises many issues for consideration, including fundamental changes to the rank structure; the possibility of giving the Office of Constable powers to police staff and others; and a greater rollout of direct entry.
“These are concepts that may not necessarily seem to be of immediate concern for the public, who understandably just want a police response when they need it. But a pick and mix approach to policing, changing the way the service is structured and delivered, without proper and detailed consideration of the consequences, may irrevocably change policing in England and Wales.
“We need an honest conversation about the future of policing. It’s essential that this is an open and clear conversation with the public too, about what the changes are and how they may impact on them, and about the service they receive and who they may receive it from in future. While we will support change that is for the public good, we will fight any attempt to use the Leadership Review as a back door to implement detrimental changes for police officers or create a service that undervalues the independent Office of Constable.”
The Federation has raised awareness of the importance of the Office of Constable and the need for a mechanism to keep the struggle for control and power in balance. One such example was the government targets given to police forces in relation to specific crimes, which put pressure on police chiefs and officers to take particular decisions, and took away the independence and discretion of the Office of Constable – resulting in decisions being taken in order to hit targets rather than necessarily for the public good.
Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), gave a speech at the Police Foundation’s annual John Harris Memorial Lecture in July, arguing that the twin challenges of changing requirements and cost pressures mean chief officers have to think “imaginatively and radically about policing”. This will mean better targeting services to demand, a commitment to evidence-based policing, further integration with other organisations and a constant emphasis on legitimacy. “Very different workforce skills and a change to leadership culture will be needed,” she added.
Recommendations in the review refer to the need for “flexibility” in the workforce, to review the current rank and grading structures, and recognition and reward for ‘advanced practitioners’ including both police officers and police staff.
A spokesperson for the College said: “Policing is delivered by both officers and staff. Police practitioner is simply a term that recognises this reality. There are many different roles across policing, and these roles are filled by officers and staff. Rather than a merging of skills, the Leadership Review notes that policing is becoming increasingly specialised.
“This is why Recommendation 7 is to make an assessment of specialist and advanced practitioner roles which could be filled by officers or staff in the future, and the powers and authorities that limit such flexibility.”
This rhetoric around fundamental change is echoed across many senior leaders in the service. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner of the Met, spoke at the Royal Society of the Arts in March stating that there would need to be “radical changes” to policing.
In his speech, which addressed budget cuts and how forces manage resources, Sir Bernard spoke about the changing complexities faced by policing. “We need to think hard about the Office of Constable and how we modernise that to meet the needs of the 21st century policing,” he said
Although he stated he supported the principle of officers being accountable in this way he said there was an issue with employment contracts: “As servants of the Crown, our relationship with our officers is governed by Police Regulations, not employment contracts. In my view, these Regulations are increasingly unhelpful and stand in the way of the transformation policing urgently requires.”
Police Regulations essentially control police officers terms and conditions, as officers are Crown Servants, not employees. This affords them more protection in austerity than many in the public sector – meaning that chief constables cannot simply dispose of their services easily. The Regulations also mean police officers are bound by a whole host of other restrictions on their private lives, including preventing them from taking industrial action, a basic right for employees under normal employment contracts.
The review questions how important the concept of the Office of Constable is in future. It states: “The Office of Constable is an important concept in policing. It is a concept open to interpretation but captures the independence of the role and the importance of impartiality and accountability. It is underpinned by a regulatory framework.
“While important, it is not unique. Other professions have principles of impartiality or independence in their decision making based on knowledge and expertise, supported by legal protections afforded by employment law. Our recommendations do not propose removing the key principles or protections afforded under the law, but as police practitioners are drawn from a broader range of backgrounds, we see the concept of Office of Constable increasingly applied to police staff and others exercising powers. Some contributors to this review questioned the status of the Office of Constable in a future police workforce and we encourage a continuing debate about this as policing develops as a profession.”
Recommendation 1: Existing police leaders should influence and drive the required culture change by demonstrating their own commitment to personal development and supporting the implementation of the review.
Recommendation 2: Review the rank and grading structures in policing across warranted and staff roles.
Recommendation 3: Embed the values articulated in the principles from the Code of Ethics in all local and national selection processes.
Recommendation 4: Provide a structure for entry, exit and re-entry points to allow for career flexibility.
Recommendation 5: Advertise all vacancies for recruitment and promotion nationally.
Recommendation 6: Create a new model of leadership and management training and development which is accessible to all within policing.
Recommendation 7: Increase flexibility in assigning powers and legal authorities to staff.
Recommendation 8: Develop career opportunities which allow recognition and reward for advanced practitioners.
Recommendation 9: Introduce national standards for recruitment and promotion into all ranks and grades.
Recommendation 10: The Home Office should review whether existing structures, powers and authorities in policing are sufficient to support consistent implementation of these recommendations.
Article by Syreeta Lund for the Police Federation of England & Wales