Modern policing requires us to value training and professional development. Our attention must be focused on that cultural shift
Ten years ago, as police minister, I drove work to establish the College of Policing. My ambition was to improve leadership, standards and professionalism in the service. Today, it is sobering to see that many of the challenges remain, and in some cases have increased.
Successive incidents have revealed troubling cultural issues in parts of the service which tarnish the reputation of policing and obscure the good, often brave, work done by the vast majority of committed officers. Every institution knows that the behaviour of a few can reflect badly on the whole. The time has long passed when these issues could be dismissed.
Quite apart from these concerns, the police service faces myriad challenges, from the way it engages with black communities and protects women, to the need to respond to ever changing crime threats and the advent of transformative technology. Meeting the growing demands facing this vital public service requires an exceptional generation of police leaders.
A big uplift in officer numbers will lead to almost 50,000 new recruits entering policing in a short period. This is a seismic turnover: by next year, more than a third of police officers will have less than five years’ service.
These officers are at the vanguard of a significant potential change in policing. They need to be trained to the very highest standard, supported to develop professionally, and equipped to exercise the leadership which is needed at every rank of the service.
Some point to the officer cadre in the armed forces as a model, but the police service and the military are very different organisations. The armed forces are deployed on active service for only a proportion of their time, enabling them to focus relentlessly on training. The police are a 24/7 service which never stops operating. Facing constant demands and ever more complex forms of crime, they are very, very busy. It is an immense challenge to expect officers and staff to carve out time for their own learning.
One of the consequences has been a relative failure to invest in the continual professional development that modern organisations know is essential to get the best out of their people. The police have a good Strategic Command Course which its senior leaders must pass to achieve chief officer rank. But that is the exception that proves the rule.
A previous government unwisely sold Bramshill, a prestigious training centre which the service greatly valued, leaving courses to be run in what some have described as a shed. Imagine the outcry if the same thing had been done to Sandhurst, Dartmouth or Shrivenham. Other structural realities, such as the dispersed 43-force model, mean there is no real strategic centre for the police service which analyses crime threats and provides the solutions to tackle them. And frankly it shows.
The Home Secretary has commendably focused on the need to develop leadership, and the College of Policing has a crucial role to play. Today we set out a new focus on improving leadership, boosting professionalism and driving consistency. Central to our plans is a new National Leadership Centre for Policing.
My vision is to establish a purpose-built, modern facility as a national centre for police leadership and training. This could also drive the export of valued British policing advice overseas, where better co-ordination could generate significant revenue. Working with police chiefs, the centre could also provide the strategic hub which the service needs.
In the military, a stint in staff college is seen as essential for highflyers who will be the service leaders of the future. Policing has no staff college. Forces generally offer secondments to the College of Policing reluctantly, and officers fear losing out on promotion if they forfeit operational service.
We need to change this, creating a staff college that chief officers would value and their best emerging leaders and specialists would want to attend. And we need to re-energise direct entry and fast-track schemes to attract the best and the brightest with diverse experience into policing.
Modern policing requires a cultural shift to value training and professional development, affording it more resources than the tiny sum allocated from the service’s £16 billion annual budget in England and Wales, and seeing the carving out of time for ongoing training as essential for career development, not an unwelcome distraction.
Leadership development cannot be for senior officers alone. First line managers in policing – the sergeants and inspectors on who the service totally relies – pass exams but then receive precious little training and support for their important job. In the army, even corporals receive training in “command, leadership and management”.
Every police officer is a leader who may take life-changing decisions. They need to be equipped with the right skills, and instilled with the right values, to help them to exercise good professional judgement. For years, in response to each emerging problem, we have relied on a growing canon of instructions and rules to direct officers. But bureaucratisation isn’t the way to develop professionalism. It constrains discretion, saps resource and lowers morale. We now spend more on inspecting and regulating the police service than on training it. This cannot be the right balance.
The Government, in its Beating Crime Plan, is rightly setting expectations on the police which, along with the demands set by local communities through their elected representatives, need to be met. A stronger College of Policing is needed to help drive the change needed, but it cannot act alone. Chief Constables and the Police and Crime Commissioners who set their budget and strategic direction, as well as the Government which ultimately holds the purse strings, must decide that resourcing training and professional development, and fostering the next generation of police leaders, is a priority.
For all the problems confronting the service, I have never lost my admiration for the thousands of dedicated police officers and staff who, day in day out, do a great job for the public in difficult circumstances. They deserve to have a strong professional body alongside them, supporting them with better training, high quality professional development, and the practical help they need to cut crime and keep people safe.
Lord Herbert is a former Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice and chair of the College of Policing
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Dame Cressida Dick and Sadiq Khan - Lord Mayor of London