As things stand, every Chief Constable in England and Wales was once a ‘sprog’. They walked the beat, made the teas, did their time as student officers and made a stop at every police rank before settling upon their perches at the very top.
Under proposals made by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor, suitable candidates would be able to bypass the existing route to the senior ranks. Those with considerable experience at equivalent levels of local government or the military, as examples, could become superintendents in fifteen months rather than the twenty five year average it currently takes.
This hasn’t gone down particularly well with some officers though, particularly those representing the Police Federation who have expressed concerns that the uniqueness, the ‘X Factor’, of policing is under threat.
That the police service can be at times conservative in its outlook isn’t something that will surprise many people familiar with how the service works.
An article in today’s Independent referred to as ‘well known’ the ‘closed nature of the institution and its resistance to new people and new ideas’, going as far as to refer to individual forces as being ‘parochial’.
It’s worth remembering that with 130,000 officers, policing is a broad church under which a wide range of different opinions and positions are represented.
References to policing as being ‘closed’ to outside views is true to an extent I think. That we have powers over others which naturally set us aside from the public at large helps explain this. We refer to our occupation simply as ‘The Job’ to reflect the extent to which it does sit apart from other occupations.
With us being set aside by virtue of the powers conferred upon us, a strong internal culture exists perhaps not easily understood by those looking from the outside in. This culture has merits and disadvantages in equal measure.
From what I’ve seen, part of our culture is that as a default position, change can be seen as a negative influence. First impressions of change is that it will be a change for the worse, arguments in favour of the status quo are the ones that gain the most attention.
Our ‘resistance to new people and new ideas’ was well illustrated by the general discontent at Tom Winsor’s appointment as the first HMIC not to be a police officer, with thousands of officers protesting in London against the reform proposals in the Winsor Report.
As for why this is, why change can be viewed with such suspicion, it’s hard to say although I’ve often thought it may link back to the pride that officers have in the job that they have the privilege of doing.
Officers want to do the very best they can – when a proposal is made for change it is assessed from a cynical position. Potential pitfalls threaten officers’ ability to serve the public and as this is what they value over all else, the default position is preferred.
Coming as a part of this internal ethic is a deep respect for ‘service’, the longer serving officers having earned influence on the basis of their having experienced many changes over the course of their careers.
With many current officers having twenty or more years in the job, reform is looked at through past experience and when it is, the ‘old ways’ of doing things often appear preferable.
That the policing community is tight-knit I don’t see as something to be seen as negative, I would say though that the resistance to change arising from our internal culture isn’t always in our best interests and that without a willingness to adapt, the job that we value so much will likely suffer.
New policies, structures and approaches are sometimes seen as ‘reinventing the wheel’ yet with the world around us constantly evolving, us not moving with it will mean we quickly get left behind, unsuited to new challenges and ill-positioned to take advantages of fresh opportunities.
That you’re reading this blog is a good example of how police forces can benefit from embracing change.
Allowing individual officers to build links with the public rather than leaving the responsibility solely with press offices has been hugely beneficial and yet there are forces still hesitant to let their officers do the same, even with social media now the best part of ten years old.
It’s right that new proposals should be critiqued and tested before they are implemented but the position that change is to be feared appears only to restrict us from making the most of developments benefiting other sectors willing to try something new.
It’s thanks to a willingness to change female officers are no longer issued with handbags for their truncheons, that steps to address ‘institutional’ racism have been made and thanks to change in practices and approach that public confidence in the police has increased year on year.
Change can be for the better too.