New notions of diversity: Internal bias and the role of leaders – Emma Williams

New notions of diversity: Internal bias and the role of leaders

I recently came across a definition of diversity on the internet that really resonated with me. It broke down the term diversity into three parts and moved beyond the association of the term with race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and sexuality by recognising research conducted with Millennials who define the term differently. The definition made inclusive, factors such as diversity of thought and experience. I am not sure if it is just Millennials that think like this about diversity, indeed I am certainly not one and I, many of my colleagues and friends would consider diversity exactly as this describes it. Such interpretations identify the issues ‘within and between’ demographics that impact on one’s social identity and indeed, the way we see and experience the world around us. The three areas identified in this definition are:

  1. Legacy Diversity – race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and sexuality
  2. Experiential diversity – physical and social identities and the impact those identities have on life histories and experiences
  3. Thought diversity – how neural makeup and lived experiences impact problem solving

Hold that thought….

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend and speak at the Kent Police diversity and inclusion event organised by ACC Jo Shiner. The day was attended by over 400 people: police officers, specials, cadets, IAG members, the PCC and others – all there by choice (there was no mandated expectation of attending) to hear a number of speakers talk on issues of diversity in the workplace. The papers covered leadership, change and staff inclusion within change, intentionality, authenticity and a number of ideas developed in other industries about how to develop inclusion strategies within organisations. The aim being to genuinely encourage flexible working practice, innovative recruitment processes and more. It was a great event and I took a lot away from it, not least because I could link some of the issues discussed to the police environment and some of my own research.

Returning to my statement about diversity above, the paper that I really identified with was on unconscious bias and associated issues. The speaker from @laughology described four layers of unconscious bias that really made me think differently about the concept in the context of policing.

How often do we assume when we hear the term unconscious bias, that it refers to external stereotyping? Stereotypes about race, victims, young people etc. rather than bias internally, within the organisation about policing roles and its’ people. Understanding these layers of bias in the context of police leadership and ‘real’ shared leadership seems central to me when thinking about police leaders. In fact, having delivered a paper myself an hour before @laughology spoke, the cross overs to the development of real learning environments, accepting and encouraging new ideas and innovation was clear.

I could not help, resulting from my own background and identity, but align some of these thoughts up with my professional persona in academia and how such considerations of bias link to the way we view the development and capturing of police knowledge. Therefore, please excuse me for linking some of the next part of this blog into the notion of police ‘professionalisation’ and, subsequently, academia.

The speaker talked through four areas of unconscious bias which I want to try and relate to internal police issues that may impact on effective and successful change within policing. For those of you reading this, you might have already considered these links and if you have please share them with me, comment, email me and let me have your thoughts. However, for what it is worth here are mine.

  1. Affinity bias

 Affinity bias links to decisions we make about working with people we like, those we have commonality with and those that perhaps share our way of seeing the social and working environment within which we operate. How often do we hear in policing, on social media via research etc. that promotion processes favour certain ideas and within a team, favour certain people? How many senior leaders and middle managers align themselves with ‘people like them’ who endorse their own views and opinions as opposed to opening up challenge and new insights.

Policing, for a number of reasons, is a risk averse organisation and often delivers change by attempting to do what it has always done better as opposed to trying something different.  If there really is a genuine commitment to incorporate learning and creativity within policing this bias needs to change. Surrounding yourself with those who agree with you will not improve efficiency, embrace complex thinking or new collaborations and will likely hinder the true development of a culture of enquiry.

Of course there are instances where previous methods of working are successful and such experiences need to be captured. However, the ongoing perception amongst many officers is that ideas are often ‘doomed to succeed’.         This can silence innovators and refute challenge. Leaders at all levels need to embrace their rebels and capture their ideas before their motivations are quashed, they become cynical and / or leave. Hindering the development or inclusion of people and other partners who are diverse in their ideas and knowledge may inhibit the growth of a more energetic team who actually want to question and challenge such normal modes of working.

  1. Confirmation bias

How often is stereotyping and bias used in decision making? Usually related to those demographics and characteristics of diversity – what if we relate this to knowledge, embedded forms of practice and / or decisions based on previous experiences. These may include issues around certain categories of, for example, victims or people with mental ill health. An unwillingness to expose ourselves to new forms of knowledge that might help move beyond such confirmation bias is of course something that I associate with as an academic, particularly one who writes about police investigation of rape.

Research in this area of policing is extensive, particularly on victim typologies that leave the system (Stanko and Williams, 2009). Yet capturing the experience and voices of officers in this space both in terms of academic literature and internal change programmes is a rarity (plug here publications coming). Actually using simple metrics to consider whether something works or is improving can perpetuate the use of such stereotypes in police work as officers rely on what might produce ‘the result’. Interestingly officers I spoke to for my research knew very well that this was not really dealing with the problems that attrition research had revealed about vulnerable victims and outcomes. Unless leaders and those developing change use the voices of their officers to examine the problem rather than simply review the metrics. If they do not there is a chance that stereotypes linked to certain outcomes will confirm the very bias that the police are seeking to dispel through the concept of reflective practice and professionalisation.

  1. Insider – outsider bias

Many researchers operating ‘outside’ of the organisation they are researching reflect to other academics about how they feel when researching the police. The academic community are encouraged in their writing to use reflection and discuss this in the context of their research findings and analysis. However, how often do those operating within and alongside the police share their feelings about how someone has really made them feel with those that made them feel it? Yesterday’s conference featured a very poignant video developed by Deloitte about fair treatment at work and the masks we might put on featured heavily. How many times are we expected to except something as healthy banter and ‘a joke’ when in reality that might be silencing someone, effecting their well-being, productivity and life outside of work. Group dynamics are difficult in policing and this can relate to not just physical diversity but also to those that think a little differently within their working context.

Just in my experience of listening to officers about their learning, their opportunity to use that knowledge, their desire to change things and their new ideas I have heard the word silenced, not interested, too many times. A little like the notion of the dialogue of the deaf we hear in my world it also operates within the police as well as with the police and ‘outsiders’. Police officers can also be made to feel like outsiders if within a group dynamic they are seen as different, quirky and too challenging. Leaders need to hold people accountable for this. Whilst healthy banter is seen by officers as a coping mechanism, reflecting on how it is making everyone within that group dynamic feel is important for the purposes of true inclusion in any given group relationship.

  1. Systemic bias

How many internal systems and processes can confirm a certain set of working rules that might favour certain groups and ways of thinking. Notions of what constitutes good police work have been debated over many years. However, if there really is a serious commitment to changing the way policing is done and really addressing quality work in performance frameworks seriously, surely leaders need to authenticate their ideas and vision through the systems operating within the organisation. Much has been written about the way systemic bias can limit opportunities and inclusion to certain police roles but it can also limit certain roles being seen as credible within the police hierarchy.

Change to systems underpin the effective delivery of a mission within organisations. Unless they reflect the changes legitimately they will compound limitations of change and real inclusion. Techniques of evaluation which focus on only quantity numbers cannot be achieved in certain police roles such as victim care. This can undermine the importance of such roles and limit learning, what might be good practice and perhaps promotion as those in these roles struggle to prove credibility as a result of their working choices. I am sure there are a number of examples of this but the implications of not reviewing these systems will clearly further limit the opportunity to try new things, capture good ideas and most importantly develop police knowledge from those doing the job.

I am quite sure the information written here is not new but it is worth considering in the changing world of police professionalism. Embracing experiential difference and diversity of thought in definitional terms is not enough. Such words and terminology needs legitimising through actions and a change to behaviour at all levels. Culture can be a considered excuse but people and their actions influence culture.

There is perhaps a developed culture of acceptance about the way things just are. Normalising actions and behaviour through certain leadership styles and an unwillingness to change behaviour more legitimately excludes. It excludes not just certain groups and individuals within the service but also certain forms of new ideas coming into the police and the knowledge being created by the most important people within this conversation – the officers themselves.  As other working environments have discovered simply delivering training on these forms of bias rarely works effectively. It is only by actually listening to staff, changing and challenging behaviours, holding people accountable, establishing systems that support these requirements and realising the benefits of doing so that things will really change and leadership will become authenticated.

Well done and thankyou to Kent Police for organising a great day! It certainly got my small brain cells ticking along :0)




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The Matrix Reloaded?  Why we should improve the MPS ‘Gang Violence Matrix’, not dismantle it – Professor Robin Bryant and Dr Roger Arditti (MPS)


The Matrix Reloaded?  Why we should improve the MPS ‘Gang Violence Matrix’, not dismantle it


Dr Roger Arditti (MPS) & Professor Robin Bryant (Canterbury Christ Church University)

The views expressed in this article represent the authors’ and not necessarily those of their employers.

The MPS ‘Gang Violence Matrix’ is a database of Greater London individuals that the Met have reason to suspect belong to urban street gangs.  Each person is graded according to his or her risk of either becoming a victim or committing a violent offence. The risk from, or to, ‘gang members’ is assessed with numerical scales, estimates combined together using weightings (for those gang members posing a threat, suspected homicide is given one the highest weightings) and the result of the calculation places each individual into one of three broad categories: ‘Red’, ‘Amber’ or ‘Green’. The categorisation is used as part of the effort to mitigate the risk posed by, or to, each suspect or potential victim. Policing tactics might take the form of prevention, diversion, disruption or prosecution. For example, disrupting the criminal activities and influence of ‘red-flagged’ individuals might provide the opportunity for other members of an urban street gang to reduce ties with the rest of the group.

For many of our readers, utilising and maintaining a London urban street gangs’ database may seem a self-evidently worthwhile undertaking and especially important given the recent upsurge in knife crime and homicides in London. However, earlier this month Amnesty International UK released a highly critical report (Trapped in the Matrix) arguing that the MPS Gang Violence Matrix is ‘racialised’, counterproductive, and not compliant with human rights law.  The report also claims that the Matrix was largely the result of a political will to tackle ‘gangs and gang culture’ in the aftermath of the 2011 riots (in the words of the report, ‘a direct response to a new political priority’).  Amnesty recommends that the Matrix should be dismantled unless it can be brought into line with international human rights law and ‘in particular the right to non-discrimination’.

At the outset we wish acknowledge that the report makes a number of valid and important points about the Matrix.  Amnesty highlights problems in maintaining the currency of the database, particularly in terms of removing from the Matrix those individuals no longer deemed to be a risk, or at risk (although we understand the MPS is addressing this problem). The two examples they cite of young men whose lives have been apparently adversely and unfairly affected because their names remained on the Matrix are clearly cause for regret. We believe that the Met have sought to ascertain the veracity of these reports and if substantiated then no doubt an appropriate course of action will follow.

More generally, Amnesty are right to highlight the difficulties in defining a ‘gang’ and especially fluid ‘urban street gangs’, and to criticise the definition adopted by the Met. The report quotes from police and young people who cast doubt on the validity of claiming that a particular person belongs to an urban street gang, arguing that “young people’s identity affiliations with the ‘gang’ were porous, fluid and often ‘for show’; they did not necessarily correspond with criminal activity.”

Amnesty report that in October 2017, 87% of the people listed in the Matrix were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds; 80% were aged between 12 and 24 and 99% were male. These proportions obviously do not reflect the demographics of the population of Greater London. However, the crux of Amnesty’s argument that BAME people are over-identified as gang members  concerns two BCUs with similar volumes of ‘serious youth violence’ (incidentally, a measure not currently used by MPS), one a ‘BAME borough’ (Hackney) and the other a ‘majority white borough’ (Bromley). In the case of the BAME borough, a large number of gang-flagged crimes were recorded whilst only a very small number were recorded over the same period in the majority white BCU. The report then links the issue with disproportionate use of stop and search.

Trapped in the Matrix highlights that approximately 40% of the individuals on the database have a total risk score of zero, indicating that they have no record of criminal charges or police intelligence linking them to violence in the past two years. However, the report does also explain that this is designed to show individuals affiliated to a gang but who have not been drawn into gang violence.

A further point of discussion in Trapped in the Matrix is about how Matrix data is shared with non-police agencies and their staff who sit on multi-agency bodies, such as Gangs Units, Youth Offending Teams and the Gangs Multi-Agency Partnership (GMAP).  Amnesty makes some concerning allegations (albeit largely based on a single interview) about how data is shared and used with Police partners in the GMAP. The report also highlights problems if data from the Matrix is shared in relation to immigration, housing, education, and employment, for given the ‘uncertain veracity and accuracy of the Matrix data, not to mention its racially biased nature’ the sharing of the data ‘could harm people’s rights’.

However, despite raising some critical points that warrant the Met and the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC)’s attention, the Amnesty report has a number of limitations. Most obviously, the methodology is weak. The report’s authors explain that it is based on interviews ‘with more than 30 professionals who use the Gangs Matrix, or are familiar with it, working in the police, voluntary sector, and local authorities in seven London boroughs’.  Exactly, how many more than 30 is not specified. It appears that only six police officers working on Gangs Units and two senior officers were consulted, but their rank or role are not specified. It also appears that representatives of the Home Office, CPS, Probation, Prison Service or Ministry of Justice were either not consulted, or perhaps declined to be interviewed. Further, the evidence base to support some claims is limited to single, often uncorroborated sources.

The report is also based on a number of implicit but unacknowledged assumptions –  for instance that the concept of an urban street gang is either an artificial construct or one that is impossible to define for any practical utility; and that tracking those at the margins of such gangs would have few practical benefits. It is true that the word ‘gang’ is now more frequently used when the police encounter groups who associate together and commit street-level crimes than it would have been in the past. It is less often applied to more organised and less visible criminal associations such as ‘gangs of armed robbers’, or indeed to a conspiracy of individuals committing organised ‘insider trading’.  We accept that this is important, as it will affect the way that data that is collected, categorised and collated. However, the ability to identify, monitor and deal with those that pose a serious threat must take precedent over debates about taxonomy.

The report also makes a number of unsubstantiated assertions. These include claiming that the Matrix was politically initiated, with a genesis in the riots of August 2011 (when in fact it was being trialled by a number of London BCUs before that event); that the Matrix in ineffective for tackling violent crime (although the authors of the report did not define or attempt to measure ‘effectiveness’); and that it is fuelling a disproportionate use of stop and search (an understandable assertion, but one which the report simply fails to evidence).

As noted earlier, the report’s argument that the Matrix is inherently ‘racially biased’ is based on a comparison between the two London boroughs of Hackney (a ‘BAME’ majority population) and Bromley (a ‘white’ majority). Amnesty analysed publically-available data for August 2017, pointing out that although these two boroughs have similar profiles in terms of ‘serious youth violence’ Hackney has a much higher number of gang-flagged crimes.  However, a comparison between two London boroughs for a single month in 2017 does not constitute firm evidence that the Matrix is racially biased.

As a counter illustration, in the following month (September 2017) there were 149 gang-flagged crimes in Hackney but 196 gang-flagged crimes in Greenwich (a ‘majority white’ borough in London which during September 2017 had about the same level of serious youth violence as Hackney). This comparison does not support the ‘racial disparity’ which Amnesty claim. Clearly further research is needed.   The report also does not take into sufficient consideration that the MPS also monitors, investigates and collates intelligence about suspects which the Met differentiates from urban street gangs (for example, Organised Crime Groups, OCGs). The MPS investigates OCGs in a different way to urban street gangs – in simple terms different Business Groups have responsibility for OCNs (SCO7) and street gangs (SCO8) and run separate databases. It is possible that non-BAME individuals are being ‘under-represented’ on the Matrix as a result of being included on other databases.  We simply do not know until (or if) the separate databases are combined in some way.

Most problematically, the report does not sufficiently recognise the fact that violent urban street gangs are a reality in Greater London and that they pose very real risks to each other and the (often BAME) communities they attempt to intimidate and exploit. The phrase ‘human rights’ is used 39 times in the report, but not once does Amnesty explicitly refer to perhaps the most fundamental basic human right of all, that of the right to life. Although Amnesty International has a remit to call on governments to ‘protect everyone – whoever they are – from violence’ the report fails to make any positive suggestions on how the police should manage intelligence to reduce gang-related knife and gun crime in London. One could argue that this was not one of the reasons for Amnesty conducting its research but we were struck by the fact that all of the four recommendations that the report makes to MOPAC and the MPS concern dismantling the Gang Violence Matrix, unless conditions are met (e.g. ‘brought into line with international human rights law’).

Whilst we earlier acknowledged the problems in defining a ‘gang’, including disentangling the cultural binding that wraps around the term, there is no doubt that urban street gangs exist and some commit very serious crimes.  Whilst incidents of ‘false positives’ (those identified as gang members who pose no risk of offending, or are at no risk of victimisation) are reprehensible it seems to us that ‘false negatives’ (those not on a database but who should be) pose at least equal, if not greater dangers. In our view dismantling a valuable database with the potential to reduce the threats posed by urban street gangs on the basis of Trapped in the Matrix would be a grave error. The answer is not to dismantle the existing Matrix but build a better one.

There a number of ways in which the MPS Gang Violence Matrix could potentially be improved.  For example, the scoring system currently employed assigns numerical values to various sources of information about past arrests, convictions, and intelligence related to violence or access to weapons. Individuals are also given a ‘victim’ score, if applicable.  As noted earlier, the Matrix uses a formula to give aggregated and weighted scores which are then grouped into red, amber or green categories. The score represents an individual’s likelihood of committing, or being subject to, harm. The score is adjusted on a rolling basis according to the previous 12 months data, which has the unintended effect of a ‘stepwise’ change in the grading system (a person might move from red to green ‘overnight’). This suggests to us analysing past data concerning the correlation between grades of individuals at particular times and their subsequent criminal histories, with a view to devising a more reliable scoring system and a better temporal framework (for example, employing aoristic techniques).

It is also interesting that Amnesty did not consider at all the fundamental premise on which the Matrix is based – that past offending is a reliable predictor of future offending (and likewise for past victimisation).  Again, it would be useful if research is conducted to test these premises in the context of the Matrix, not least with growing use of machine learning and the opportunities which that might afford. More fundamentally, it appears that the Amnesty report missed the opportunity to understand in a more detailed and nuanced way exactly how the MPS determine the criteria for inclusion on the Matrix.

Further, although we speak of the Gang Violence Matrix each BCU owns its section of the database and is responsible for its population, grading, ‘housekeeping’, and dissemination of data. That clearly has the inherent danger of different BCUs operating in different ways, not least in deciding which individuals should be removed from the Matrix. This is something which the Met might choose to review.

Finally, as noted earlier, the MPS holds and analyses a number of databases that include individuals that group together in some way, if only loosely and from time-to-time and who commit crime, including acts of violence. Can we improve the way that these databases are able to ‘communicate’ with each other? More fundamentally, does having separate databases for urban street gangs, OCGs and similar provide the best way of managing criminality?

It is beyond doubt that policing London in 2018 presents some very significant challenges, not least in terms of gang-related crime, including preventing serious injuries and deaths caused by knives and guns. It is clear to us that that Amnesty International has failed to produce sufficiently compelling evidence that the MPS Gang Violence Matrix is ineffective, discriminatory, or counter-productive. It is important, however, to acknowledge some of the difficult issues to which alludes. The challenge for the Met, amongst the many others, is to assess how best it can retain, adapt and revise the Matrix to maximise its utility in the struggle against gang-related violent crime in London whilst meeting the more well-founded concerns expressed in Trapped in the Matrix.

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Richard Honess – CPD – What do Officers Want?

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) – What do officers want?


The College of Policing’s National CPD Week is almost upon us. This is an opportunity for officers and staff to undertake a range of learning activities through which they can maintain or enhance their capacity to practice legally, safely, ethically and effectively[1]. The College themselves have developed a framework and toolkit to enable officers to undertake such activities.

Some forces provide opportunities for their officers and staff to undertake CPD and many officers take personal responsibility for it. In fact, as part of the professionalisation agenda it is fair to say that encouraging officers to take such personal responsibility is increasing within forces.

There are a number of ways that individuals can undertake such activities. Until fairly recently officers were often mandated to attend training days, organised in force, with content determined by force managers and developed by local training units. I myself recall sitting in classrooms in various locations (often satellite police stations which have now been sold off) and having to spend the day being talked at by various specialist units, many of whom had no real idea how to impart information (hence me stating we were “talked at”). With cuts to training budgets and other areas much training has been relocated to an electronic platform where mandatory force updates are often imparted. I and others have argued elsewhere how ineffective this system currently is[2], in part because what forces might determine to be required is often not relevant to those officers and staff to whom the training has been mandated, or it is delivered in such a way that officers simply do not learn from it.

There are other forms of CPD which officers and staff can elect to do. Electronic courses on the Managed Learning Environment (formally known as NCALT) are open for all to do if they wish, other platforms such as the Police Online Knowledge Area (POLKA) enables officers to share experiences, ask questions of experts and engage in professional discussions. Also, officers and staff can undertake formal learning opportunities, either at their own expense or paid for using force bursaries. However, money is tight (either personally or through bursaries) and so often these may not be practical for some, nor may it be something that officers want to do.

To this end I asked, via my social media platforms (mainly LinkedIn and Twitter), what currently serving officers actually wanted for their CPD. Below are some of the things that were suggested by actual serving officers[3]:

  1. Mental health training similar to the CACHE level 2 because having done that course I can say without a shadow of doubt we come into contact with kids, young adults and people suffering the majority of the subjects covered in that course.
  2. Updates and changes in legislation and case law.
  3. Leadership – similar to the military system of promotion leadership courses.
  4. Community focused policing – once a skill learnt walking the beat – i.e. Bigger picture how can we look to fix or lessen X issue.
  5. I think a regularly updated course on how to gather social media evidence and other digital forensic considerations would be useful especially for frontline cops – it’s as bread and butter as any other forensic consideration at a crime scene now.
  6. Short useful pieces that can help you do your job better. Hopefully that also accumulate into some formal recognition or qualification. I find the study linked to real problems or situations in your workplace can be useful as well.
  7. Personally, I think leadership development is important. The opportunity to see how others work on other forces outside areas, sharing good practice, helps to refresh ideas in their current roles.
  8. I would really like some definitive guidelines and then skills in risk management. I am bored of hearing ‘Threat Harm and Risk’, but no definition, nor any understanding of what it means, how I should use it, and whether it works.
  9. I’d really love some useful and practical help with people management. I am more than happy to do what I think is right, but actually, if you wanted to build morale in a team, get them together and working in your direction, or help build them up to be the best we could look at these skills. Instead, I just do what comes naturally, but it’d be nice to have some backed up learning and training in this.
  10. What about some financial diligence? If I am expected to manage budgets (even if they are low), I’d really like to know I’m doing it right, and actually using the money properly. How to do a Cost/benefit analysis?
  11. Development which promotes thinking/ which results in creating solutions to problems which unless they are solved, lead to discussion people becoming victims of crime.

Alongside these comments which mostly dealt with the subject areas that CPD should cover, other issues were also raised. One is that within the police there is still not a culture of all officers seeking out opportunities, indeed the commentator stated that some officers actively shun development opportunities and that that those that do take them are sometimes those that don’t necessarily need them (when compared to those that shun). This reminded me of a colleague who, every time was asked what he wanted to do just kept on saying “I’m happy here doing what I’m doing.” The thing is we all know that in the dynamic world of Police Change and Development this is often not an option and without some “future proofing” of one’s career through CPD one could end up anywhere, without any choices (when choices happen to be available). Of course, with the development of the PEQF and the three new entry route curricula, new officers will be taught how to seek out and manage CPD opportunities as a matter of course as part of their initial training. This will hopefully cause that generational shift in attitude towards CPD amongst many rank and file officers, but as is often raised, this does not help those already here!

Of course, we must ask ourselves why so many rank and file officers do shun CPD opportunities. Is it that they don’t see the benefit for themselves? Is there a cynicism due to them not being recognised for the CPD that they do undertake, a cynicism which is not altogether unjustified?[4] Is there a lack of availability of opportunities? Do they simply not know about them? Does the apparent hostility towards the College of Policing mean that any attempt at communication about CPD by them is simply ignored? Or are supervisors simply not encouraging the take-up? As we say in the academic community this requires further study!

One suggestion from the commentators was that the police are not very good at identifying and nurturing “natural talent”. Although this does vary to some degree from force to force, there does seem to be a need for supervisors to be able to pick up on such things (a CPD suggestion for them in and of itself perhaps?) to enable their staff to reach their fullest potential. Related to this is the lack of offering of CPD to enable officers to prepare for promotion processes. Either explicitly through exam preparation courses or undertaking activities which would support future promotion applications (something that my own line managers did for me in abundance and led to successful promotion to sergeant on my first attempt).

There were also a number of officers who stated that it would be really useful to see how other forces deal with similar policing issues. This is an interesting development seeing as the College of Policing are trying to develop consistent approaches to issues regardless of which force one works for. This form of CPD, which could include short attachments to other forces could assist.

Another key observation was that the CPD or training courses actually be worth something in the real world. That is training is accredited by learning institutions capable of doing so (I have to be careful here to approach this impartially especially as, for the sake of transparency, I work for such an accrediting institution). That is courses that can earn academic credit should do so. Of course, the College of Policing’s RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) calculator[5] can go some way to do this, it is only a start. One commentator stated that every force Learning & Development Department should have a formal link with a local University or have University staff embedded within the L&D Unit to accredit and certificate such courses. Such accreditation would certainly add value to officers’ development.

CPD is a core facet of professional organisations but it still seems to be an area in which the police still fall short. This is, perhaps, unsurprising given the reduction in resources (staff and finance), and the continual increase in both volume and complexity of demand placed upon officers particularly on the front-line. I have heard from front-line officers who have effectively had no CPD at all in recent years, and that it varies dramatically between forces. This is also a symptom of seeing training/development as an abstraction from policing duties rather than, as new College CEO Mike Cunningham stated, “a key function to enable officers to deliver the policing mission of keeping people safe”.

Knowing what their staff want and need, by actually asking and engaging with them (and acting on this information) is a key activity to enable police leaders to “know their people”. I hope this this blog will be an opportunity to open that door for police leaders to provide what front-line officers want and need. I know that some force leaders do this, but many still do not and to me this is simply not acceptable. I look forward to improvements in CPD for current serving staff and hope that this conversation continues with all sides being open to ideas and suggestions.

Rich Honess

[1] College of Policing (2017) Continuing Professional Development. Available at [Accessed 04/09/2018].

[2] Honess, R. (2016) Honess, R. (2016) The mandatory delivery of ongoing training within the Police Service of England and Wales and its relationship to the andragogical principle of self-motivation. M.Sc. thesis, Canterbury Christ Church University. Available at:].n_search=Search&_order=bytitle&basic_srchtype=ALL&_satisfyall=ALL#pFORrJv8yiiuhUcu.99 [Accessed 04/09/2018].

[3] Most of these are direct lifts from comments made on LinkedIn and Twitter.

[4] Cockcroft, T. & Hallenberg, K. M. (2017) ‘From Indifference to Hostility: Police Officers, Organizational Responses and the Symbolic Value of ‘in-Service’ Higher Education in Policing’ Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice. 11(3):273-288.



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Someone asked our @bighon what he thought of degrees. This is what he said….

I get asked questions…


As someone who was a frontline police officers for many years before entering the halls of academia, first as a BSc In-Service Student, then a research student before eventually taking up a full-time position as a policing academic I get asked questions.

I was recently asked for my view on “degrees for policing” on Twitter by a @KentishKop which I mulled over wanting to give a full answer (big thanks to whoever @KentishKop is for giving me the opportunity to reflect on my opinions, as all good professionals should do).

This ended up as quite a thread trying to explain my position, and I realised that this would make for interesting blog post (like many others on this topic). Also, after a few clarifications from Mike Cunningham the new CEO of the College of Policing, who himself wants to try and counter some of misinformation out there, this post is a slightly expanded version of the thread (with my inevitable Twitter spelling errors corrected!) going into a bit more detail not afforded by the character limits of that format.

So, the question I was asked by @KentishKop was as follows:

@TheBigHon you’ve probably been asked this lots- what’s you view on degrees for policing? Got mine years before, marginally beneficial.

My position has evolved over time (not withstanding my day job designing PEQF programmes for my University, and interest I declare up-front for transparency). When I first heard of the proposal I misunderstood, as most people did, and knee-jerked into fixating on the degree per se rather than the issues the PEQF was trying to address.

Firstly, the PEQF is NOT “degree entry”, that is only two of the entry routes. The third, the Apprenticeship is the route for non-degree holders, however they will earn one through the three years of the programme.

It is also not about making the police “more academic” (whatever that is meant to mean), that is not how many modern degrees work now. There are many vocational programmes out there that aren’t about “essay-writing” and even I have developed a more flexible approach to practical assessments.

I have a teaching degree from the 90’s which was about developing practical skills to enable us to handle the complexities of a modern primary school classroom. Yet no-one baulks at the concept of teaching being a graduate profession, and yet from my experience of being both a teacher and a frontline cop, I would say you are dealing with far more difficult, involved, riskier, and complex situations which require better analytical skills and greater practical knowledge, and skill for using discretion appropriately when I was a police officer!

As Mike Cunningham stated at our study weekend where he was a guest lecturer, most working cops out there are working as if they were in a graduate position (I just wish we could rubber stamp a degree onto every police officer, but University Quality Assurance arrangements don’t work that way). So, for new staff coming in, the recognition that their training/education is at that level is the right thing to do. As for current serving officers we need to develop a better accreditation/recognition process than we already have. The RPL calculator and directories on the College of Policing Website[i] are a good start to this process but far more has too be done for current officers and staff to ensure that they are not left behind or feel like they are being insulted.

I will also say the skills I developed during my teaching degree, in my own opinion, definitely made me a better police officer, it improved my communication (and other interpersonal) skills, decision making and problem-solving skills. Also, given that report after report (in EVERY generation of officers from Desborough[ii] in 1919 to Stevens[iii] in 2013 and all decades in between) has stated that initial police training isn’t and hasn’t properly equipped officers for the policing conditions of the day, and hasn’t kept up with societal changes, this is what the PEQF intends to do and I now, in principle support.

That being said, I still have some criticisms, some of which have been acknowledged, but I also invite the College and others responsible to take note:

Firstly, the poor communications from the College of Policing has allowed some real mischaracterisations of the PEQF to perpetuate, and many (may I say silly) strawman versions of the scheme are still being argued.

The College of Policing also hasn’t helped its case by insisting on keeping the three curricula documents confidential and not public, so people can see what they have determined new officers need to know. As a potential licensee/supplier, the University, and by extension myself, also have to keep it confidential. However, this may alleviate some of the strawmen arguments that are circulating as it shows that they ARE ensuring that the basic knowledge and skills requires of all police officers are still to be taught, and where they will be expanded. This should not be an issue as the content is not really that unsurprising and the licence should be more about getting programmes approved/validated/endorsed by the College.

The starting salary for the Apprenticeships is an absolute travesty given the struggles that currently serving officers are having is also a major issue and whilst this is not formally an issue for the College, it is something they must have an opinion on and as the professional body should be speaking out about (especially if they want to be relevant to the frontline).

As someone designing an Apprenticeship programme I am concerned that it may collapse under its own weight in part due to the volume of what we will be asking apprentices they to do and the operational demands of the service upon them. But additionally, forces also have to get over the idea of training as being an abstraction rather than a core activity to promote the policing mission (one of Mike Cunningham’s observations at his lecture).

Finally, as an Evidence-Based Policing enthusiast (taking the widest possible interpretation of what EBP means) I am concerned that the evidence-base for the PEQF is weak[iv] and at the same time proper testing of it will not be happening as it will be rolled out to all forces instead of trialling it in a few and comparing to “control” forces. We know that for testing interventions in a before/after study is spectacularly weak and so I question how effective programme evaluations can be in this case. It would have been perfectly possible to have conduced a controlled study (even if not random) given that this is a generational change which will take years to embed properly and see the effects. Given the role of the College in promoting EBP they should have known better.

Having undertaken this conversation, I also realise that when exposed to accurate information I am also able to change my position and now aim to speak out against the mischaracterisations and oversimplifications. This is the hallmark of critical and reflexive practice to which I as a professional aspire, and I invite others to do the same, as did @KentishKop in their respectful responses to me.

Richard Honess – @TheBigHon


[ii] Desborough, Lord. (1919) Reports of the Committee on the Police Service of England, Wales and Scotland Part I. London: HMSO.

iii Stevens, Lord. (2013) Policing for a Better Britain. London: Independent Police Commission.

iv Brown, J. (2018) ‘What is the evidence that graduates make better police officers?’ An International Symposium on Policing and Evidence-Based Practice. Birkbeck University of London, London. 27th June 2018. London: Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck.


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E LEARNING by Mr E learning Honess

A (Very) Quick Blog about E-Learning.
This week I did my University’s E-Learning package on GDPR & Data Protection. Now I appreciate that this is not the most thrilling topic in the world, however recently I had my Research Ethics Forms and my request to access a Police Force to conduct research bounced (quite rightly) because of insufficient detail of data protection issues. These forms and my access request are vital as without them I will be unable to conduct the data collection stages for my PhD, i.e. actually do the research! As a result, I was very personally motivated to conduct this training and to do it properly, despite the fact it was a one-off, standalone e-learning course (what we call in the biz programmed instruction).
I did the training and you know what…? I actually learned the material contained within!
If I had not had those data protection issues dangling over me would I have seen the relevance of it? Probably not!
Would I have undertaken the e-learning seriously? Probably not!
Would I have learned anything about a particularly dry subject? Probably not!
Knowing the relevance of the training to me personally was key for me to successfully complete a programmed instruction e-learning course…
So why is this personal anecdote the basis of a CCCU Policing blog?
Those that have read my work will know that I have a personal, professional and academic interest in police training and that I conducted research into e-learning by NCALT a couple of years ago. During that research I found that e-learning was now the major form of training delivery in the police with 98% of officers stating they had completed courses in the previous 3 years. But I also found that 82% of officers stated that it did not meet their learning needs, and that over 70% stated that necessity and usefulness were key motivation (and de-motivating) factors when undertaking such courses. Plus, this was echoed when I spoke to frontline officers about why this was the case*.
In this case I had a clear reason to undertake the course. It was vitally necessary for my role as a researcher and PhD student. I had recently suffered a setback as a direct result of not knowing enough about the topic and so the issue of GDPR and data protection (as dull as subject as it is and delivered in a way I don’t really like) was at the forefront of my mind. The requirement to undertake the training was clear to me and not based on my line manager, research supervisor or someone higher up telling me I had to do it.
This has implications for police managers, especially those tasked with training. Officers need to know why they are undertaking the training. They need to have an appreciation of its importance and necessity for their day-to-day jobs, but they have to experience why it is important rather than just be told that it is. Because all the while they see it as a tick-box exercise to cover the organisation’s liability (a whole other discussion as to why I don’t think it does) and not an essential part of what they do, the e-learning will remain ineffective.
Rich Honess
*The whole research thesis can be read here:

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