Direct Entry Scheme: Tell us more about what might affect us!
The messages portrayed in this blog do not reflect the views of the writers – so do not shoot the messengers! The narrative presented here offers insight into officers’ own views on a significant area of police reform – that of Direct Entry into the Police Service.
The Canterbury Centre for Police Research was fortunate enough to have been approached by the Police Federation England and Wales (PFEW) to be involved in some analysis in relation to officers’ perceptions of the College of Policing’s recent initiatives. We were grateful to the PFEW for inviting us to engage in this work as the ethos of our centre is to capture practitioner voice and, amongst other issuers, their experiences of police reform.
The data that this blog is based on was generated from the 3626 qualitative responses derived from the PFEW’s Annual Pay and Morale Survey 2017, the only national survey of officers, designed and run by Dr Fran Boag-Munroe.
Direct entry is a contentious issue which has been widely debated on social media over the last few months. Much of this conversation has been anecdotal and focused on a disconnection between the frontline and the College of Policing. Primarily this has focused on the lack of information coming visibly from the College about the work they are doing and the impact it might have on the frontline themselves. Officers’ perceptions about the lack of engagement from the College have been recognised more recently, particularly following a blog from a serving officer, @nathanconstable, and the subsequent thorough response to the blog from Rachel Tuffin, at the College of Policing.
The analysis from this survey offered us a chance to provide some evidence around these perceptions, based on reliable research that perhaps validates some of these concerns voiced by officers.
What did we find?
Quantitative findings from the PFEW Pay and Morale Survey 2017
- 75% of survey respondents felt that Direct Entry at Chief Officer rank would have a negative impact upon policing
- 77% felt that Direct Entry at Superintending rank would have a negative impact upon policing
- 82% felt that Direct Entry at Inspector rank would have a negative impact upon policing
The findings from the quantitative survey data indicated that the majority of respondents felt, regardless of the point of direct entry, that the scheme would have a negative impact on policing. However there is more concern over the direct entry inspector level and this largely related to operational nature of this rank.
Part of this criticism related to a genuine concern raised from officers about the credibility of direct entry candidates to make operational decisions due to their lack of ‘on the ground’ experience and, in the current climate of perceived professionalism, this is important. Academically there is a wealth of literature on what influences individual officers’ sense of credibility and much of it concludes that operational experience and the development of the police craft is a key factor and makes policing unique as a result.
“You cannot learn policing from a book. It is inherently dangerous to allocate persons to senior positions without them learning their craft first”
These perceptions, notions of uniqueness and acknowledged complexities of what the police deal with intersected with officers’ thoughts about DE entrants coming in from the private sector – particular at inspector level. There was a perception that the skills required to be effective in areas such as risk assessment, in the context of growing numbers of vulnerable people and perceived dangers, can only be built through experience.
“You cannot beat experience, managing police is not like managing Tescos”
As we were analysing the data we began to realise that some these perceptions of ‘not enough time doing to job’ linked quite clearly into an element of resentment that serving officers had about supporting DE entrants in their role. Firstly there was the issue of trust, and officers being confident in DE officers’ operational decisions without having the craft knowledge they rank as ‘high value’.
What resulted from this was officers offering assistance to and support these DE officers which they felt was not recognised by supervisory staff. It was clear from the data that a sense of not being valued was relatively strong and these feelings were compounded by their frustrations abut limited internal opportunities for serving staff and blocked career progression.
“It’s like people like me who’ll be bailing them out when they can’t make a decision due to lack of experience and knowledge”
Therefore officers talked about providing resilience, bailing people out and their subsequent frustrations about not being recognised either pay or management wise.
The impact on them personally
There was no doubt from the analysis that morale and (more practically relevant) de-incentivising had occurred for some as a result of the support they had offered others and the lack of information about what this meant for regular officers in terms of their access to progression. Direct entry was described as a ‘kick in the teeth’ and as the opposite of The College wanting to professionalise officers as they ‘parachute people in’.
What this ultimately led to was a sensed of unfairness amongst respondents and a feeling that whilst they were being told to gain more qualifications to build on, what should be accredited, experience, these DE officers were being welcomed with potentially neither aside from experience in another sector.
The extent of these feelings should not be underestimated and are important to hear. The inferences arising from this quote were not uncommon in the data:
“There are plenty of officers with wasted skills and who are ready for promotion in forces. They are blocked by the culture of negative attitudes and poor people development in the force. HR people do not develop people and the PDR process does not recognise those that are ripe for development. Introducing external candidates at middle management level further blocks opportunities and closes doors for promotion in the force”.
Whilst there was some recognition that at high level (superintendent) external officers could bring different skills in terms of management and leadership styles, at warranted rank level DE was seen as a risk and incredibly frustrating for these respondents.
The fact that these perceptions linked to other officers, beyond them as individuals, clearly highlights the sense of unjustness of this decision across the whole. This was not a sense of unfairness for the individual but for the collective. Considering the literature on organisational justice this has huge implications for the wider sense of identity officers have with the organisation and their willingness to buy in to and support priorities and change.
Current processes for progression
What was interesting in the analysis was how the frustrations extended to the systems in place for them to achieve promotion inside the force.
“Why don’t we look at what we already have first rather than employ people who know nothing / have no experience of policing?”
“Why not change the promotion process to one which attracts and promotes good leaders who care for their staff and the public not getting onto the next rung of the ladder”
The PDR process was seen as defunct and also the sense of this and the current promotion process being partly responsible for a perceived need to employ from the outside as the right people hadn’t been given the chance inside. This should be considered as critical learning from this research.
What does this all mean?
We feel there is some key learning from this research which extends beyond the DE scheme. We will be publishing another blog with more demographic data, additions from a recent Twitter poll and also some other important findings from the survey relating to officers views having actually worked with officers and whether their initial perceptions had changed.
However from this initial blog it is clear that the lack of engagement and limited information available on DE had resulted in a void being filled with fast spreading information about what it means for regular officers.
In every area of change communication is the most important factor. In policing information travels fast in policing particularly now through social media networks that offer officers and others a space to voice questions, frustrations and thoughts about different police issues. The College of Policing has, in ways, recognised the need to engage more with the front line but perhaps there is a lesson here about who they engage with about different issues as opposed to just getting a load of information out there to everyone. Tailored messages are evidently in need here about the effects some change or initiatives might have on certain officers and how their fears might be allayed. On a number of levels this is important given the findings here about lack of incentive, lack of recognition and lowering morale. We know from all the excellent work being conducted on officer wellbeing that such factors may well impact negatively on productivity.
Finally and for us, one of the most important issues, is that individual professionalism is being impacted on here. It is undermined by officers’ perceptions of DE and conflicts with what the College are selling to officers about the importance of their experience and the fact it deserves formal accreditation through academic acknowledgment – hence professionalism. We think this is likely worsened by the lack of information forthcoming from the College about what this scheme means in the wider context.
The messages presented here from an analysis of officers voices are important for development of communication / engagement and the imparting of knowledge about new schemes.
These people are the workforce. They are what makes policing work at a very difficult time and treating them properly is vital for a number of practical and personal well-being reasons.