British Police Officers: The Under-qualified ‘Street Psychiatrists’ – Jack Stacey BTP – CCCU second year!


Policing and mental health have had a complicated relationship in the past and this continues today. Sadly, a large proportion of the incidents that police are required to attend have mental health at the core. Nationally, it is estimated that mental health related incidents are responsible for about twenty percent of police time (Adebowale, 2013).

Unfortunately, I have regularly found myself having to deal with these types of incidents during my four years as an operational officer and continue to do so on an almost daily basis. I frequently have sole responsibility for the immediate care and welfare of vulnerable people, often people expressing suicidal ideation, who have presented at the railway and are in a position of danger. It is often their intention to end their life, and I am expected to attend the scene and ensure that these people do not come to any harm.

Approved Mental Health Practitioners (AMHPs) are Social Workers, Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Nurses, Occupational Therapists and Practitioner Psychologists, who may train to become qualified to carry out the role (Health and Care Professional Council, 2020). They are required to complete a post-graduate professional development course, which takes one year (Social Work England, 2020). AMHPs are approved by a local authority to carry out certain duties under the Mental Health Act 1983. These duties relate to decisions made about people with mental disorders, including the decision to apply for compulsory admission to hospital (Health and Care Professional Council, 2020).

In contrast, although it is going through the process of change, you currently do not need any form of degree or further education qualification to become a Police Officer. Police Officers have powers under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, to remove a person from a public place to a place of safety, when they appear to be suffering from a mental disorder. Despite this they do not have any formal training to identify or recognise mental disorders (HM Government, 2019).

During my twenty-two weeks, or eight hundred and eighty hours at police training school, I received a total of eight hours training about the Mental Health Act 1983 and the powers available to me. Over half of these hours were completed using online e-learning. Furthermore, out of the numerous ‘realistic operational training scenarios’ that I undertook throughout the training process, I can only recall a small handful of them being related to mental health. In hindsight, it was certainly not reflective of the amount of mental health related incidents that I have dealt with since becoming an operational Police Officer.

Unsurprisingly, I have not received additional mental health training since I have completed my initial course. However, I have had approximately eight hundred contact hours working with vulnerable people suffering with a mental disorder or expressing suicidal ideation. Over my four years on the ‘frontline’ of policing, these hours are responsible for the development of my ‘knowledge’ in relation to mental health disorders and the relevant processes.

From the ‘Picking Up the Pieces’ report, by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (2018), it was recommended that all police forces needed to review their mental health training. However, there was no national guidance provided, which would subsequently cause disparities between police forces. It is my view that this should not be happening when the police have national bodies such as College of Policing, who should be overseeing the input to ensure all forces address safeguarding and vulnerability with the same approach.

I have often been expected to attend a railway station and deal with a suicidal person who is standing at the end of a platform and threatened to go onto the tracks. As a police officer, should I be able to identify whether this is a result of their life circumstances, depression or paranoia, delusions or hallucinations that are linked to mental health disorders such as schizophrenia?

I have been requested to speak to the person in the ticket hall who is pacing around and showing ‘aggressive and unusual behaviour’. Is there an expectation that I should be able to assess and determine whether this person is frustrated due to missing their train, or are they suffering from a psychotic episode?

These are all everyday situations that Police Officers are required to attend as their routine calls to duty.

A Police Officer’s perception of risk is very different to that of an AMHP (Reveruzzi and Piling, 2016). Police Officers often detain people under Section 136 of Mental Health Act 1983, who they believe is suffering from a mental disorder and are at immediate risk of harm. Whereas, AMHP’s often complete an assessment of the same person, and do not come to the same conclusion. Therefore, it is felt that members of the public are detained unnecessarily, causing the person unnecessary distress, and taking up space in already limited facilities. This adds weight to the argument, that Police Officers should not be making decisions without further mental health training or guidance from more qualified professionals. However, when AMHP assessments are completed, the person is often in a place of safety e.g. dedicated Section 136 assessment suite. This assessment is often undertaken a few hours after the initial incident. Whereas, the police have had to act in the heat of the moment to ensure a person’s immediate safety. These circumstances are likely to have an impact on the decisions that are made.

Approved mental health professionals, alongside doctors can formally detain people under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This allows them up to twenty-eight days to conduct a full mental health assessment whilst a person is detained in hospital. This assessment will allow them to gain a better understanding of their disorder, which will ensure that they are correctly diagnosed and receive the relevant intervention. Meanwhile, there are different expectations of Police Officers on the ground. Police have the pressure and external factors of a live ongoing incident and are required to make these decisions in a matter of minutes, sometimes without the option of seeking any professional advice.

To relieve some of the pressure from frontline officers and enable them to make more informed decisions, the Department of Health set up the Street Triage initiative in 2013. This enabled a trained AMHP and Police officer to work together in the same vehicle, to deal with live incidents (Care Quality Commission, 2015). Research has suggested that detentions under the Mental Health Act were reduced when street triage teams were involved, as they can make more informed decisions (Reveruzzi and Piling, 2016).

Unfortunately, I have realised that the demand exceeds the capability of the street triage team. Based on my experiences the street triage team are oversubscribed, and frequently have a backlog of people requiring an on-scene assessment. I have often experienced delays of up to four or five hours before acquiring the relevant advice. This adds further pressure onto Police Officers on scene, who are having to safeguard vulnerable people from immediate risks. Vulnerable people experiencing mental health issues should not be sitting in the back of a police vehicle, but rather be taken to a healthcare setting at the earliest opportunity. These delays may also lead to Police Officer’s detaining people unnecessarily, as they do not have the appropriate advice and support to make a more informed decision.

That said, street triage teams have assisted me on multiple occasions and allowed me to safeguard individuals by referring them to the relevant services that are able to assist with their needs. The professional advice that is given to Police Officers by the mental health professionals in street triage teams provides a confidence in safeguarding individuals. It also highlights that detaining a person should be the last resort, and not feel like the only option. This is reflected in the work of Keown et al (2016), suggesting that the involvement of street triage resulted in a 78% reduction in use of the Section 136 detention power within the first year of its introduction. However, I have lost count of the number of times that it has felt like the only option, without any professional guidance to fall upon.

In short, Police Officers are often the first port of call, when someone is at immediate risk of serious harm or intending to end their life. Police Officers are expected to attend the scene, remain calm, remove the identified risks which often involves negotiating with people in dangerous positions and then make informed decisions about a person’s mental health which could have life or death implications. The assistance of mental health professionals is not always guaranteed either. I strongly believe that Police Officers are underqualified for the decisions that they are required to make and the powers that they are given. Although the introduction of street triage teams has begun to bridge the gap between the police and mental health professionals, there is major flaws with the lack of training processes within the police and that there continues to be no agreed national guidance for all forces to work towards regarding safeguarding and vulnerability. Policing still has a long way to go to achieving a perfect collaboration.


Adebowale, V. (2013) ‘Independent commission on mental health and policing report.’ London: House of Lords.

Care Quality Commission. (2015) Monitoring the Mental Health Act in 2013/14. Care Quality Commission [online]. Available at:, [Accessed on 29th May 2020]

HM Government. (2019). Mental Health Act 1983. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 8th July 2020].

Health and Care Professional Council (2020). ‘Our expectations of professionals who complete approved mental health professional (AMHP) training’ [Online]. Available at: [Accessed on 4th July 2020]

Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabulary (2018). ‘Police and Mental Health – Picking up the pieces’ [Online}. Available at: [Accessed on 29th June 2020]

Keown, P; French, J; Gibson, G; Newton, E; Cull, S; Brown, P; Parry, J; Lyons, D & McKinnon, I. (2016). Too much detention? Street Triage and detentions under Section 136 Mental Health Act in the North-East of England: a descriptive study of the effects of a Street Triage intervention. BMJ Open.

Reveruzzi B and Pilling, S. (2016) ‘Street Triage: Report on the Evaluation of Nine Pilot Schemes in England.’ London: University College London.

Social Work England (2020), ‘Education and Training: Approved Mental Health Practitioners (AMHP) Guidance’ [online]. Available at: [Accessed on 3rd July 2020]

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Flexible working: Reflections and learning @wecops

Flexible Working @WeCops

Blog by Caroline Hay and Dr Emma Williams

The opportunity to work flexibly has been a widely debated subject in policing particularly in relation to diversity and the opportunities that this affords.  Flexible working is attributed to trust and is linked to a more motivated and committed workforce. In turn this promotes productivity and reduced absence.

Different forms of flexible working are available and these are not restricted to gender or those with a family.   The College of Policing list examples of the different forms of this working and during this unprecedented time we need to capture learning both about what is working for different people and important what is impacting negatively on them.

The list given for flexible options is:

  • Job share; more than one person sharing a single post
  • Part-time; working fewer than standard hours either on a daily, weekly or monthly basis
  • Compressed hours; working agreed hours over fewer days
  • Annualised hours; set annual number of hours worked in any one year
  • Staggered hours; different starting and finishing times for staff in the same workplace. This could be down to team level
  • Flexitime; variable start and finish times negotiated locally

The College acknowledges the value of flexible working in the context of staff retention. In turn this reduces training and recruitment costs and maintains experience within.  It also realizes the benefits to flex the organisation in what is a 24/7 commitment.

This @WeCops chat on Flexible Working was an extremely popular chat with 125 participants, 734 Tweets and a total ‘reach’ of 2,834,167.  This evidences the relevance and timeliness of this topic.  The current time restrictions to our physical workplace has forced policing to find different ways to work.  We, at @WeCops looked in a previous chat at our digital capabilities in policing.  This session was a chance to build on how we can realistically implement, utilise and maintain these capabilities effectively.  It was also an opportunity for officers and staff to cathartically convey their experiences whilst discovering / sharing other ways of working that have been established within forces or across other areas of businesses. Digital options go hand in hand with flexible options for many and these need to be thought through carefully particularly in relation to home/work life balance and wellbeing.

Chief Constable Matt Jukes was keen to run this chat as lead on Police Regs and Pay.  He announced that the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) are looking for insights and ideas to feed into their Flexible working portfolio.  Additionally, it is also important to identify any negative consequences of these options such as fatigue, inability to ‘switch off’ and negative wellbeing which have been reported during this unprecedented time. Such is the desire for improvement in this area, Mr Jukes also invited Chief Constables Pam Kelly, who is the NPCC Lead on Workforce, and Chief Constable Carl Foulkes, who leads on Gender.   Three Chief Constables leading one chat is definitely a record! A truly Welsh affair.  Many thanks to them for being so progressive.

The structure of this chat made for a perfect @wecops discussion, it enabled an honest conversation about the barriers and stereotypes of flexible options, provided a list of shared ideas and methods and finally discussed learning and reflections on what might work well in this space going forward.

Question 1What are the potential unintended consequences and barriers to making more effective use of flexible working in policing?

It seemed prudent to establish what, if any, obstacles are still present in policing when it comes to flexible working and to establish if these are structural or cultural.   The intentions were then to look at ways that have already been established, to mitigate these.

The following themes emerged.

Structural issues

The process around applying for flexible working and documenting the request were unclear to some. The infrastructure is not yet there. Even knowing if you are eligible to apply for flexible working was a consideration in the chat.  @_Kano_P was keen to inform people that flexible working requests need no explanation and that the option is not exclusive to parents and carers.  However, others stressed that this needed to be two-way conversation so that the right resolution could be found for people on individual basis.

Some raised concerns about practically implementing numerous demands for flexible working and trying to balance core business needs.  They also discussed complexities around managing different staff patterns in different roles, ensuring officers and staff are safe and looked after.  Nikki Brain @GPSuptBrain suggested that staff members could potentially be left feeling isolated and not included as part of the team if not working the same hours as their colleagues.  Chief Superintendent Sally Benatar recognised this but insisted that if we continue to describe this topic as a problem rather than an opportunity, we won’t see meaningful change.

It was clear from this chat that nationally; flexible working is approached differently but with some similar undesirable results.  Some forces described the process of flexible working as being led by individual force policies which proved rather inflexible and rigid.  It also disempowered leaders who did not feel supported to run their teams and organize them as they need to.  Conversely, others complained that Line managers were in control of flexible working decisions and this had varying consequences.  Sarah Nash described it as a ‘battle’ for some to get patterns authorized.  This was also not rank specific as a C/Superintendent described having a working pattern rejected that week.  It is seen as a lottery depending on who your line manager is and what their thoughts are on flexible working – whether or not this links to culture, it certainly impacts on perceptions of fairness.

We have to consider that there can be good reasons for flexible working patterns to be rejected.  Dee Collins states that it is important to manage expectations of both the individual and the organisation and there needs to be a balanced and fair approach on all sides to make the entire approach credible and capable for all.  She suggested asking staff themselves to view different shift lengths/role sharing and the duties that needed to be deployed.  Ask them how it could work.  Matt Jukes agrees that there should be a partnership approach between the Forces, the line managers and the individuals, but how do we scale this up in large forces?  @MPSSallyBenatar stated that in her BOCU (3 large boroughs in London), they are trialing ‘Project Balance’ which included a job share system and dedicated HR staff.  She has promised to come back to us with an update on this.  It seems a large investment but if evaluated properly, it could help explore the effectiveness and perceptions of organized proposals compared to adhoc designs.

There was a discussion around flexible working patterns being designed within a role, especially within front line roles where flexibility can be hard to achieve.  This potentially removes the need to confront this issue further down the line, although it was highlighted that flexible working should always be revisited.  @DCCPhilCain questioned if agile working could support or even remove the need for flexible working?  This is an interesting question, however there are of course many roles that are not suited to agile working.

Many acknowledge that training within police forces can be extremely inflexible and can cause a real headache for those aligned to flexible patterns. For example, Firearms training is not compatible with flexible working and although forces continue to ‘request’ more underrepresented groups the structures in most areas are not there.  Some forces claim to have trialed flexible training courses but the evaluation of these trials do not appear academic. Additionally, if trainers are not on board any trial is destined to fail!  It would be good to hear from people who have made training within specialised areas, flexible.

It’s frustrating and regressive that it is reported that policing is still struggling so much with flexible working when it is so ingrained in other businesses.  A paper in 2013 by Silvestri, Tong and Brown highlighted a drive for policing to be a more inclusive and equitable service, but nearly 10 years on and Commander Michael Loebenberg states that force structures are still a barrier.  He gives examples such as particular meeting times for senior officers which reduce flexible capabilities and that this lack of flexible working is a potential barrier to people of faith communities in terms of their ability to make adjustments.

There remains much work to be done in many areas to ensure that flexible working can be sustained and that people’s careers are not inhibited by organisational failings.  AC Richard Ullger (Royal Gibraltar Police) advocated accommodating the needs of people who can provide diverse, innovative quality of service for policing.  He said that failure to do this will result in losing those people who make a difference.


There were still many people who felt that flexible working was perceived negatively and there were many Tweeters that insisted that flexible working patterns usually saw people avoiding night shifts and weekends as they are unpopular, making it hard for those completing them, to take time off.  This could be perception as opposed to fact and there is very little research in this area.

Some contributors highlighted language and rhetoric as being a barrier for flexible workers, with those partaking in it being perceived as ‘part time and part committed,’ when research shows the opposite to be true (Metcalf and Dick, 2002). @PFEW-Chair John Aptar suggested flexible working had a bad name and that it needs an overhaul, @ScottishWDF suggested rebranding with ‘smarter working’ as opposed to ‘flexible working.’  We know that language is very important to culture and progression.

Other people in the chat who are on flexible working patters stated that they feel intolerance from their colleagues and therefore work many extra hours to try and overcome this stereotype, despite the fact they are not paid for this work.

Presentism was talked about frequently, with Tweeters wondering how they are viewed by their colleagues if they are not in the building or last to leave.  A study from Caless (2011) indicated that Chief Officers (for example) exacerbate this issue by working 70-75 hours a week.  The gender implications here are quite clear, with men generally being more at liberty to complete longer hours that are required to achieve the necessary credibility for higher ranking jobs (Durbin and Tomlinson, 2010). DCC Jason Hogg agreed and stated that policing needed Senior role models who can demonstrate how flexible working can ‘work,’ acknowledging that police culture sometimes equates long hours with being committed, credible and effective.  Carl Foulkes asked if there was enough commendation for staff who are on flexible plans.  He also acknowledged that there are few senior leaders with flexible plans and stated that it is right to ask why?  A paper by Marisa Silvestri ‘Doing Time’: Becoming a police Leader (2006) is still very relevant today and goes some way to answering those questions.

With both cultural and structural inhibitors highlighted within Q1, there is clearly a need for this to be addressed particularity as this time offers a real opportunity to make a difference.

Question 2

Q2 attempts to pull learning from experiences across the country. These are presented here in list form to ensure clear reading of the most poignant ideas that can be considered, reviewed and evaluated or simply implemented / trialed.

“A dedicated flexible working coordinator works well in our force, they work with the individual and the organisation to achieve a rota that works for all.  The person in the tole needs to understand regs, shift demands and the challenges of modern day life “Julie Rawsthorne @Lancspolice

“Split shifts where possible are great, staff can finish their last bit of admin after the school pick up or after bed time.  Makes it work for them, reduces child care costs too”

“Discuss in your team who holds which responsibilities so they can be flexed where necessary” @Gorrillaofjustice

@LifeofRon “Learn from Airline industry who have to constantly manage ever changing shift demands.”

@SteveTrehorne “Make sure shift patterns are reviewed annually so that everyone’s expectations are met.

“We should really try harder to match up part time workers and encourage job shares” @ChiefinspLisaGore

@DCCSerenaKennedy “We should advertise roles as flexible”

“Ensure people who are making the decisions understand officer’s circs/work ethic – PEOPLE OVER POLICIES @SarahNash

@CCMattJukes – #Trustinbureacracyout – be consistent with principles and values- cookie cutter approach is not the answer, could we use Tac advisors to support front line leaders?

“Be prepared to readjust and create new posts when people reduce hours, utilise the hours that have been given up” InspEmRoberts

@LisaDowell “Allowing staff where necessary to WFH one day a week has in the past assisted staff with health issues” Important to look at the wider picture

“Promote what you can do in your flexible working pattern as opposed to what you can’t do @LizMead

@DCCPhilCain – “Now we have seen so many positives to flexible working, we need to review policies that were developed pre COVID”

@PamKelly – “We need to capture the learning NOW!”

@MichaelBrown “There is learning to be captured from NHS”

“Regular meet ups are important, we are pack animals and 80% of our coms are through non verbal communication. We need a happy medium” @MPSRajKohli

“Senior leaders are learning to let go of the command and control leadership style and to trust their staff” @TomBuidhe

“NHS complete term time hours, is this an option for policing?”

“Flexible patterns can help support high demand periods”

@ChiefInspChrisFraser “Look at how we CAN, not why we CAN’T.

@MPSRajKOHLI described how useful job shares are, “2 minds/ideas for the price of one, worked really well for me”

“Teams offering weekend cover to support frontline officers, which gives more flexibility to the teams, helps others keep their hand in” @SuptChrisCasey.

@InspemRoberts – suggests a template of ‘what works’ to balance peoples’ expectations and make it more clear what the organisation require. Clearly this won’t be a one size fits all but I may allow staff to adapt it to fit their needs and removes the cloak from the process.

What all of these options highlight is that flexible approaches to working need to be exactly that. They need to be negotiated with the individual, reviewed and appropriate for the role. Flexible working practice needs to become business as usual as opposed to being perceived as a ‘special case’ and once agreed it needs to be monitored and reviewed both to ensure delivery of working outputs and the individual’s wellbeing. Let’s learn from and evaluate what we are doing now. Research needed!

Question 3 explored the lessons learnt from the response to COVID-19 and asked what people would like to see.

What is clear from answers to the previous questions is there is a need for research into this. We need to capture learning at the current time and explore different methods and impacts on different members of the workforce. We need to learn from it and see this as a real opportunity for change.

Serena Kennedy described how leaders have been a lot less judgmental as less facilities have been open. This has meant people have not felt as guilty and there is a need to capitalise on that.  There have been those that understand more, have more empathy to those with children etc. – trying to manage caring responsibilities as well as a busy job. Understanding that and acknowledging it can help staff and find congruence with all the issues they are juggling.

@JennyBrown9 asked if we had time to reflect yet? This is key – there have been a wealth of other issues occurring alongside pure working flexibly options. Homeschooling and juggling family and work – are these new ways of working actually ‘working’ for everyone in the current climate? How are people coming with screen fatigue and switching off when working and living in the same environment?

Some forces had commissioned work to review processes of flexible working which is sensible and something that should be considered more widely on a national level. There is a fear that the use of technology could be detrimental to some members of staff who need the face to face contact with their teams for the sake of efficiency and cost effectiveness. This is equally as important as identifying the positives that flexible working offers staff.

Leadership was a key issue here and ensuring that staff working from home (some shielding and unable to come to work) are included. This is vital if we want to make this approach business as usual as those not physically there need inclusion and to be given a voice in meetings despite this being a remote option. This is possible now with digital options and needs to be ensured.

There were also discussions about ensuring staff had access to the right resources and that the distribution of these was fairly allocated. Again this is about accessibility and enabling staff to work effectively. You cannot, in these situations, set people up to fail as it will effect wellbeing and feelings of value.

Broadly, flexible working practices were seen as positive, more accessible and promoting of collaboration. They make those who are difficult to physically ‘see’ such as higher ranks etc. more accessible through the on line forums. This as @danreynolds highlighted can humanize those usually seen as inaccessible and allow EVERYONE at all levels to contribute.

But let’s move with caution, reflect on this time and learn how we can take the good practice from it and move forward. This could open up real opportunities for diversity not just in terms of the current staff but in terms of recruitment of underrepresented groups. I hope people will be honest about their working arrangements and that leaders listen, adjust and review continuously. Promotion of a learning environment for supporting real structural and cultural change is required. This will only happen successfully if we enable those working within it to impact on and be integral to that change and allow it to positively occur.







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Thoughts on the Impact of a No Deal Brexit on Police Cooperation in Europe – Dr Paul Swallow CCCU

On 16 June 2020, the policing consequences of a collapse in Brexit talks were raised by members of the Lords EU Security and Justice sub-committee during questioning of the Home Office Minister Mr. James Brokenshire. This related especially to the loss of access to EU online databases including Europol and the Schengen Information System (SIS II).

In response to the committee’s questions, Mr Brokenshire is reported as saying that the UK ‘will continue to be a global leader of security and one of the safest countries in the world’ with access to Interpol and bilateral intelligence channels. Despite these assertions, it is more likely that as Lord Rowlands and others including MEP Nathalie Loiseau have claimed, a collapse in talks will weaken the UK’s position on international security.

The point of this blog is to set out some thoughts on Interpol, Europol and bilateral intelligence channels.

Interpol, founded in 1923, undoubtedly performs an important and irreplaceable role for many police forces around the world. However, within the EU its role is limited by Europol and the SIS II database. This is not the place to discuss the history and development of Interpol, but despite its importance, the organisation does have several almost insurmountable operating difficulties which in large part led to the establishment of the bilateral intelligence channels Mr. Brokenshire discussed.

The most important issue facing Interpol is the fact that the Headquarters of the organisation in Lyon, France has diplomatic immunity as do all its staff working there. Interpol’s HQ’s diplomatic immunity came about following negotiations with the French government in 1972 and 1982. This was principally to maintain Interpol’s independence from political control and to preserve the inviolability of the criminal records and databases held there at the time many EU countries were developing data protection legislation. These may have been laudable intentions at the time, but they have ramifications today. Diplomatic immunity means that Interpol’s HQ, and individual staff members working there, cannot be sued or prosecuted before French courts for any acts they may commit in breach of French law. Whilst this might not be important in itself, in terms of what Interpol deals with most i.e. criminal data and intelligence, it means that the French Data protection regulator, the ‘Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés’ (CNIL), has no role or influence over the storage and access to Interpol’s vital police databases. In its defence, Interpol has done its utmost to replicate the standards of French, European and indeed international law in that it has set up an independent oversight committee, the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF). It is not clear how the members of the CCF are chosen, but it used to be from a list of people nominated by Interpol itself. However, the problem is that should a French, European or indeed a world citizen disagree with any action or decision made by the CCF, they cannot challenge that decision in court. Subject access is not legally enforceable. This indeed has stopped some countries from being able to share personal data with Interpol and this is the reason many of Interpol’s databases deal with statistical data such as their extensive files on stolen credit cards, passports, plant machinery and motor vehicles etc. There are other concerns over sharing intelligence with Interpol, for example the vetting status of Interpol’s staff, and concerns over the motives of some of its members, but data protection is an important factor. Please note, diplomatic immunity only applies to Interpol’s French HQ. Interpol’s representative offices in its member police forces, the National Central Bureaus (NCBs) and staff working there are subject to national laws and judicial enforcement.

Linked to this is the fact that Interpol has no oversight mechanism or external supervisory body. In short it is independent and reports to no one. There is no independent machinery to hold Interpol to account or to scrutinise its work, or indeed any court or criminal justice system with independent jurisdiction over it. This can be seen in the concerns expressed by many over the alleged abuses of its Red Notice system (signaling a given person is wanted by an Interpol member), where claims that some states abuse the system in the pursuit of political opponents. Interpol does have a close relationship with the United Nations Organisation, but the UN does not supervise or monitor Interpol.

A final issue here is that Interpol’s constitution is less than perfect. It was written in 1956 by a small group of seemingly inexperienced senior police officers and cannot be said to be the governmental agreed treaty many claim it to be. For example, the wording of Article 4 leaves it somewhat unclear who Interpol’s members are (police forces or countries), it lacks many of the ‘normal’ provisions for international treaties and it seems the authors forgot to include a mechanism to expel errant members. Some have claimed there to be differences between the English and French translations of the text. Article 3 forbids Interpol from becoming involved in political crimes and for many years it would not deal with terrorism or indeed involve itself in the hunt for Nazi war criminals. In 1984 Interpol adapted its interpretation of Article 3, but significantly not article 3 itself, to allow it to assist in cases of terrorism in defined circumstances. However, it cannot be relied on to do so as the final decision on involvement rests with the Secretary General, who may decide against. For these reasons Interpol is rarely used for terrorist enquiries in Europe.

In 1972 Interpol refused to help the German Federal police, the BKA to investigate the terrorist attack by the Black September Group on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympic games. Interpol claimed the murders were ‘political’ and therefore article 3 prevented their involvement. This led directly to European governments and police forces setting up the Trevi Group and the Police Working Group on Terrorism (PWGT). The Trevi Group developed into what became the former Third Pillar, the Justice and Home Affairs policy area, of the old Maastricht model of the European Union, which itself set up Europol following, unsurprisingly, a German initiative. In doing it has been argued that the EU explicitly rejected Interpol when establishing its own international policing organisation.

Inaugurated in 1992, Europol’s role is to coordinate the EU’s member states in the fight against cybercrime, organized crime, and terrorism. It has recently established the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC). Europol publishes regular reports on crime in Europe and is supervised and reports to several independent EU bodies such as the Court of Auditors and the Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group (JPSG). It has several operational and strategic agreements with non-EU states such as the United States and the Russian Federation is widely considered to perform its role superbly.

The SIS II database is a security compensatory measure linked to the removal of intra-European border checks under the Schengen Accords. It contains almost 50 million records and alerts for persons wanted under the European Arrest Warrant, asylum seekers, stolen objects and people under surveillance. It is available to all the EU’s policing services and agencies and can be relied upon to be accurate. Data subjects have legally enforceable access to their records and SIS II is overseen by both national authorities and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS). It is in my view a vital tool for cross border police cooperation.

It can be argued that Europol, and the SIS II database, were set up to avoid the pitfalls that befell Interpol. Both were established by intergovernmental agreement, full data protection laws with recourse to Europe’s courts and overseen by the European Parliament.

In addition to the PWGT, police forces themselves have set up many informal, but government approved cross border policing bodies needed to cope with the increasing demands caused by international criminality. These are the bi-lateral (and multi-lateral) intelligence channels Mr. Brokenshire referred to, including the exchanges of police liaison officers between states. There are in excess of 30 of these, mostly small scale and localised, including, from a British perspective, the Cross Channel Intelligence Community (CCIC), the Colloque des polices ferroviaires (Colpofer – Railway Police Symposium), the European Association of Airport Police (EAASP), the Club of Berne and the Dutch, Belgian and German Senior Police Officers Association (NEBEDEAGPOL). Many of these were set up as Interpol was simply unable to cope with the exponential growth of cross border police cooperation in the post war period. Other issues for their establishment relate to Interpol’s lengthy response times, concerns over the security of any information passed to it and as mentioned above, doubts over the vetting status of Interpol’s staff. However, as important as these channels are, they are essentially informal, local and specialist with little legal status, sharing intelligence more than judicially valuable evidence.

So, whilst many of these bi-lateral policing organisations and indeed Interpol itself undoubtedly perform an important function, from the British perspective they will not compensate for the loss of direct police access to SIS II, Europol and its databases. A no-deal Brexit will remove British access to two of the most modern, comprehensive, effective, accurate, reliable and judicially valid intelligence exchange platforms in the world and this can only weaken the UK’s position on international security.

Dr Paul Swallow
Programme Director PhD by Portfolio in Policing

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County lines: Exploring the academic literature in the context of the real world


I started an MSc in Applied Policing Practice at Canterbury Christ Church University in September 2019. It was 11 years almost to the day since I handed in my dissertation at the end of my history degree. I had decided to study for an academic qualification related to my profession. The MSc in APP is designed for serving officers and staff and includes taught as well as research elements, which I thought would be better for me as I didn’t have a background in criminology or social sciences. Our first module was ‘Evidence Based Policing Interventions’. The assessment for this was in two halves, a literature review followed by a reflective critical review on an area of particular local demand. I struggled to think of what to look at until I saw an article in the local press about police operations against County Lines. County Lines drug supply and associated criminality had been blamed in the press for a large rise in knife crime in Kent. As a mainstream CID officer, I picked up the occasional reactive County Lines investigation where suspects had been arrested, but I wasn’t involved in proactive or protracted investigations carried out by the dedicated County Lines investigations teams.
County Lines drug supply throws up many issues for the police, and with County Lines being such a high profile subject for the last six years or so, I imagined that there would numerous articles and books on the subject that I could pick from. In fact, I found there were far fewer than I expected. Perhaps I failed to appreciate how long it took to get a study from completion to publication, but I found numerous gaps in the research. Other areas where research had been completed still left me with questions I wanted to ask as a practitioner that may not have been relevant to an academic researcher. What follows are my thoughts on the academic research literature, with some of my own observations. I do appreciate that I may, at this early stage as a policing student, have missed research that answers the questions I pose.
County Lines has become a hot topic, with friends of mine with no interest in policing knowing exactly what it means. It seems to be accepted that County Lines are responsible for the rise in violent crime, but I failed to find any published empirical research to corroborate this. I don’t doubt that County Lines activities are responsible for serious harm against many people. I can think of several County Lines related investigations I took part in that featured violence, including one that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Scorsese movie, but I don’t have personal knowledge of that many violent incidents I could lay at the door County Lines organisations. There are many reasons why violence may not be reported, and for obvious reasons drug dealers rarely report the robbery of their drugs (it has been known to happen). Several articles, such as those by Leah Moyle and Ross Coomber, asserted that areas dominated by user-dealers, trying to fund their own supply, were more peaceful than those dominated by commercial dealers out for profit. Their evidence for this was based on several case studies, one of which, however, is now nine years old. This caused me to consider how we define County Lines related violence. Sadistic violence against cuckooing victims and violent attacks on rival dealers to take over drugs markets is straight forward, but what about the robbery of young runners by drugs users? What about violent acquisitive crime committed by users to fund their habits? Should this be considered County Lines related violence when this can happen in any drugs market? Are such incidents included when the issue is considered?

Anecdotally I consider violent crime to have increased in recent years, but for the last three years I have worked in a role where serious violence has been a large part of my workload and I have naturally been more aware of it. The Crime Survey of England and Wales suggests that crime rates have remained stable and changes in recording practices may have had an effect. To what extent is the County Lines issue responsible for the perceived rise in violent offences? Is it the case that drugs markets dominated by County Lines are more violent than those dominated by local user-dealers? The extent to which County Lines have replaced local user-dealer networks is not clear, not whether any such displacement was violent in nature or by other market forces.
I found several very good pieces of research into vulnerable people exploited by County Lines groups. This included Leah Moyle’s work on victims of cuckooing and several articles on young people involved in County Lines, including those by Andell, Pitts, Densley, Storrod, Robinson, McLean, Deuchar, Harding, Windle, Briggs and others. Several studies featured interviews with police officers for data triangulation, but only one study by Jack Spicer (‘That’s their brand, their business’: how police officers are interpreting County Lines , from Policing and Society, 2019) focused on police officer interpretation. Spicer referenced the ‘black and white world outlook commonly attributed to police culture’ and I could recognise the feelings and empathise with the officers quoted as if I worked in the same office. Spicer’s article is very informative around perceptions of the officers but, as useful as it was for my assignments, as a practitioner there were other questions I wanted to ask. The investigations I have conducted in County Lines offences have been isolated; spread out over time and amongst my other work. I haven’t had the same level of immersion in the subject as the County Lines investigation teams. As a practitioner I wanted to know what challenges investigators faced, what they learned and what solutions they found. One of the issues with County Lines investigations is that suspects can be drug trafficking offenders and victims of exploitation simultaneously.
This blurring of the lines between victim and offender can be problematic. There have been successful prosecutions of County Lines dealers under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 for exploiting children, however I have been unable to find any information about a successful use of the s45 defence being used by a victim of exploitation within County Lines. This defence states that a person who has committed certain criminal offences (including drug dealing) will not be guilty if their conduct was as a direct consequence of being a victim of slavery or exploitation, and that a reasonable person in the same circumstances, with the same characteristics, would have acted the same way. As an investigator I have found that many suspects give ‘no comment’ interviews. This can be especially true of County Lines suspects who may face lengthy prison sentences of four or more years if convicted of a class A drugs supply charge. When the suspect may also be a victim of exploitation or trafficking, their lack of engagement can frustrate investigations into their exploiters. When such matters are only brought up later at court, such as a s45 defence, it can make it more difficult for investigators to verify their claims and can also undermine their defence by drawing adverse inference. It may also make safeguarding these people more difficult. Researchers found that some of those exploited by County Lines, particularly young males, rejected the label of victim and presented their involvement as a rational choice, even when they had disclosed drug-debt related coercion, kidnapping and violence. How law enforcement agents approach these issues, the decision making processes put in place and the reflections of practitioners on these matters are areas of research not yet examined in academic literature.
Home Office statistics show a 77% increase in convictions of juveniles for trafficking and production of class A drugs between 2012 and 2016, three times the rate of increase for adults. This may be indicative of increased involvement of children in County Lines drug supply. A 2019 study in Glasgow and Merseyside showed socioeconomic marginalisation to be a strong factor in recruiting children to County Line dealing. Other sources, including Home Office publications, have suggested that disadvantaged and vulnerable children, such as those living in care, excluded from mainstream education, those with substance abuse issues and those with traumatic and chaotic upbringings such as victims of abuse or from homes featuring domestic violence, were at a higher risk of being targeted for exploitation. In the investigations I have taken part in I have come across youths sent down from London in order to deal. I have also found local youths employed as runners by out of town drug dealers. Of the youths I have come across some have come from stereotypical ‘broken homes’ with clear issues around parental supervision, a lack of aspiration, a lack of positive role models in the home and a history of social services involvement. I have also spoken to supportive parents at their wits’ end struggling to prevent their children continuing down the wrong path. There have been several studies into those children who have been sent or trafficked around the country to sell drugs, however I haven’t come across any academic research into local youths employed by County Lines dealers.
Other articles were critical of the police service’s reaction to County Lines and critical of the way drugs markets are policed in general. One article by Coomber, Moyle and Mahoney described crackdown operations as ‘symbolic policing’, presenting the police like Captain Renault in Casablanca: ‘Someone is dealing drugs, round up the usual suspects’. In fact the article made an explicit reference to ‘scooping up the usual suspects’. Police strategy is criticised as one built on taking drug dealers off of the streets rather than effectively dealing with the drug trade. Test purchase operations in particular are criticised. I found myself feeling quite defensive, particularly over the use of what I perceive to be a pejorative term, ‘reactionary’, to describe police tactics. There can be many reasons to launch large drugs operations, which can be, as the article asserts, to show that something is being done for the purpose of public reassurance and deterrence. Another reason can be to take out a drugs network in its entirety to preserve as much evidence as possible before co-conspirators can destroy or dispose of it.
These reasons are not mutually exclusive. Targeting lower level dealers can provide information and intelligence that can lead to those higher up the chain, aspects that the article overlooked. Indeed, being able to evidence the supply of drugs is not a prerequisite of proving a drugs supply conspiracy but it can make things a lot easier. The article accused crackdown operations of paving the way for commercial dealers (i.e. County Lines) by removing user-dealers, but based it on data that was eight years old. After I began looking at the literature I moved into a different role where drug supply investigations formed a larger part of my work, and though I don’t investigate County Lines activity on a daily basis, the fluidity of drugs markets has become more apparent to me. Supply chains and labour pools are not fixed with contracts. Someone can be a dealer one day and a runner the next. Dealers who can’t source their drugs from one supplier won’t necessarily wait for a resupply if they can source it somewhere else. Similar to legitimate tradesmen subcontracting, I have seen examples of dealers acting as runners for other lines when their own supply has dried up.
The article addressed the anti-social effect of drug dealing and the associated disorder but downplayed it. The article called for a change in the way drugs markets are policed, and fails, I think, to appreciate that as police officers we don’t get a choice over which laws we enforce. Though it is not explicitly stated in the article, it effectively argues for the decriminalisation of low-level supply by drug users. Some of what these academics called for is not a change in police policy but a change in legislation, beyond the gift of the highest police command. What the articles also fail to address is the potential damage to police legitimacy of allowing criminal offences of drug supply to continue with public knowledge. How could the police justify prosecutions for low level ‘quality of life’ offences such as public order offences, criminal damage and fly tipping if, on the same housing estate, known drug dealers are supplying class A drugs with police acquiescence? There remain further avenues for academic research into the effectiveness of the operational law enforcement response. Are operations against County Lines targeting the ‘correct’ people? How should the targets be defined? How effective are police at gathering intelligence on County Lines organisations? Are law enforcement agencies effectively combating the effects of commercial dealers, or are they targeting user-dealers and ‘rounding up the usual suspects’ in symbolic operations. Are crackdown operations that target low level dealers an effective way to disrupt County Lines organisations? What effects have new powers like Drug Dealing Telecommunications Restriction Orders and Gang Injunctions had? I haven’t yet come across any research into the effectiveness of the National Crime Agency and, in particular, the National County Lines Co-Ordination Centre.
One of the issues I found with the research that looked at crackdown operations was the way in which local user-dealers were distinguished from out of town dealers. For one study the data came from 2007 to 2011 and was based on 105 arrests in Southend, Essex. The differentiation was based on ethnicity and the home postcode given by the arrested person. This data, supported by interviews with local users, suggested that out of town dealers were more likely to be black and local dealers were more likely to be white. Though the conclusion appeared correct, I feel uncomfortable with differentiating between a ‘County Line dealer’ and a ‘local user-dealer’ based primarily on their ethnic origin. I suggest that this method is insufficiently robust to provide accurate assessments in all cases. In many provincial areas of the UK you may be more likely to be local if you are white compared to someone from an ethnic minority, however this will not always be the case. Differentiating on the grounds of race would certainly not be an effective evaluation in areas like Scotland where ethnic diversity is lower and white British males dominated drug dealing. There are also issues with basing assessments on the home postcode given by the arrested person. These cannot always be trusted. As a practitioner I have dealt with drug dealers who have given false addresses on arrest in order to frustrate searches of their homes for evidence and the proceeds of crime. I have also dealt with suspected London based drug dealers who have been arrested and bailed with conditions not to re-enter the county. When arrested again they have given local address, it seemed, to avoid these bail conditions. Of those London based drug dealing suspects I have personally dealt with in my county, they have been a mixture of races including white, black, Asian and North African. To be clear, the author was not making any suggestion that members of ethnic minorities were more likely to deal drugs, only that black drug dealers in Southend were more likely to be London based travelling dealers, and white drug dealers were more likely to be local inhabitants, based on the demographics of the area, information from local users and data from arrest records.
The County Lines issue is often spoken of as a gang issue. ‘Gang’ is a contentious term, linked in the minds of many to urban, often minority ethnic street gangs like groups I came across whilst working in London. One academic, Hallsworth, stated that gangs ‘were a social construction and media invention around which both police and academics coalesced in order to keep themselves in paid work’. Whittaker cited a young person who said that his group of friends called themselves a gang because that is what the media said they were. The definition in UK legislation is very wide and essentially means any collective of three or more who are identifiable as a group can be termed a gang. The media and police use the term gang to refer to County Lines organisations frequently, but it is clear from research that County Lines supply operations are carried out by a diverse range of groups from family groupings to organised crime groups. I have dealt with suspects linked to established London criminal gangs who fit the stereotype portrayed in the media of a street based, hierarchical organisation who dominate territory. I have also dealt with other groups who commuted into Kent to sell drugs using the same techniques of directing runners via a phone based miles away. These groups did not fit the definition of a street gang. There is a semantic difference between gang and group. Particularly in London the term gang is often linked to young black men, as can be seen with the controversy over the gangs matrix. The criminological subject of gangs is a weighty and controversial topic in itself. Gangs will vary from loose youth street groupings to hierarchical organised criminal organisations. The term ‘organised crime’ conjures images of suited mafia dons rather than teenagers in jogging bottoms, but any crime focused hierarchical organisation where there is planning, coordination and a chain of command is arguably an organised crime group.
Some academics have perceived a shift in the focus of urban gangs from expressive violence towards the profit maximisation and a blurring of the lines between street gangs and organised crime. What police call gangs are undoubtedly involved in running County Lines, but is the use of the term gang by the Home Office and the NCA in their literature used deliberately to link the issue to urban gangs, or is it used as a synonym for criminal group? To what extent are urban gangs responsible for County Lines compared to other criminal groups? There remain large research gaps into the composition and structure of County Lines groups. How rigid is the structure? Is the membership of these groups constant or fluid? Are there regional differences? How do their methods differ between localities? Different typologies of County Lines operation have been identified including commuting, holidaying and cuckooing. How do the County Lines organisations choose their markets and their methods?
The academic research conducted into County Lines so far has been of good quality, but there remain numerous gaps, particularly around police perceptions, investigative practice and police effectiveness. Perhaps unusually for a criminological subject, the voice of the practitioner is underrepresented in the research at this time. As a serving police officer there are some interesting areas of research that are effectively out of bounds due to the ethical and professional issues that could arise. It would very difficult for a serving officer to conduct academic research interviews with the middle and upper echelons of a County Line due to the potential for offences to be disclosed that, as a police officer, one would have to deal with. This is, however one of the key research gaps.

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Maintaining a Culture of Common Good: Police, community and leadership during the Covid-19 crisis

This blog was triggered by this weeks’ @wecops debate about the police and Covid-19 with Rob Flanagan and Mike Cunningham from the College of Policing. It received the highest ever views for us at over two million and this included members of the public, police, partners and academics. Thank you to all who took part!
Terminology about lockdowns and quarantines have invoked a level of fear in many of us. Not just fear about the level of risk the current situation presents to all of us but also the fear of having our own freedoms limited and monitored as we are told to stay in, only go out once a day and see no one but the people we live with. The outcome of the lockdown is that the government is asking people to put themselves out for the safety of others. The fact that nearly a million of us have signed up to volunteer with the NHS is evidence of a wider community buy in and agreement to do this – perhaps it is simply a need to ‘do something’ in this unprecedented period of history. Indeed, we are ALL in this together. Clearly an absence of selfishness is required at this time as we are asked to protect, particularly our vulnerable by staying at home and limiting our personal freedom. As a nation we have not felt like this for a while, we have become focused on difference, othering, individualism and them and us mentalities where social cohesion and communitarianism has decayed significantly. Indeed, this disease does not discriminate.
However there clearly will be some noncompliance to the governments restrictions and those who will remain resolute to get on with their lives. This is where the police have now been given the legitimate authority to respond accordingly to protect public health. Whilst this power is now in the hands of the police, there needs to be a tight balance between proportionate enforcement as a last resort and the perception of a dystopian police state which could have fatal implications on the legitimacy of the police in the longer term. I have had a collection of thoughts about the impact of the current Covid-19 crisis on the criminal justice system and, more specifically, the police – both in the short and longer term. My thoughts have been focused on internal issues such as organisational health and the impact of the risks to officers’ physical and mental well-being and external perceptions of the police as the public consider their legitimate role as enforcers of social distancing measures and self-isolation. Of course we all think about how we, as a country, will handle the risk of police officers catching the virus on mass, crime rates, hidden crimes such as domestic abuse (in all contexts) and exactly what the police role and tactics will be when ensuring social distancing and others’ safety.
Reinvigorating motivation?

When I think about my own ethnographic research conducted with officers over a number of years, I often ask officers as a starting question, ‘why did you join the police?’ The responses are overwhelmingly: ‘I wanted to make a difference’ or ‘I wanted to make places safer’. Over recent years, contrary to this, particularly over a time of severe austerity, the police have felt more and more limited in their individual and organisational capability to fulfil this motivation. Violence has, without doubt, risen and the UK has witnessed an increase in our most vulnerable communities being seriously wounded and killed; gang violence becoming more organised, sustained and, dare I say it, normalised amongst young people. Furthermore, such links have spilled out into the suburban counties through county lines and organised crime groups. Therefore, is it any wonder that the police have felt more and more demoralised. They have received ongoing criticism about their effectiveness not just to ‘fight crime’ but to support the vulnerable, deal with child sexual exploitation and provide a visible presence in their communities. For an occupation primarily made up of individuals who joined the ‘job’ to keep people safe, this has become increasingly harder to achieve in reality. Such challenges to the police purpose has left many officers frustrated in their role.
If you look at social media accounts of key workers in the public sector who are, without question, putting their lives on the line for those of us locked away in ‘safety’ from the pandemic, I repeatedly see people who are going to work to make a difference for the majority. ‘I am doing something for the greater good’, ‘keeping people safe’, ‘I would rather be at work than doing nothing’, ‘helping colleagues and team working’, ‘feeling like you are part of a bigger picture’, ‘helping the vulnerable’ are all terms I have heard and seen written on a number of social media forums. This extends to NHS workers, shop workers, police, teachers, drivers and more – everyone involved in making people’s lives easier at this strange and catastrophic time. In a sense it is giving these people a critical sense of purpose to help other people and in differing contexts, keep them safe.
The definition of safety in the context of Covid-19 is different from keeping people safe from crime and disorder, it is about protecting the safety of peoples’ health. Risk factors are different, responses will be different and indeed the police culture which is still seeped in notions of crime fighting will encounter challenges to this new role in public health. As Dr Sara Grace said in a recent blog ‘there is no blueprint for policing the lockdown’. Engagement and negotiation will be key and yes, heavy handed approaches are likely to exacerbate difficult situations. Subsequently, where experiences and processes are considered unfair there will likely be a negative impact on police legitimacy and longer term relationships with the public. However, if we consider the above statements about the greater good, purpose and feeling part of something maybe we can see this new notion of safety as a rare positive in the terrible place, we find ourselves in.
A really hard job.
As we have seen over the past two weeks, noncompliance around social distancing isn’t falling into neat categories. Individuals of all ages and social economic situation are defying the recommendations and leaving their homes more than they should. They may not be the majority but they are there. Dr Sara Grace states that ‘voice’ will be key in police interactions with the public’ and she is right. There needs to be an equity of voice in this process. Regardless of who people are and where they are stopped, the police must listen when they describe their reasoning for being out. There will be a fine line between the consideration of these reasons and individuals feeling like they are criminals and it will be the discretion of the officer involved that will impact on the outcome of that encounter. The principles of procedural justice will be paramount to maintaining the consent of the public and mistakes will no doubt be made. Whilst officers often deal with ambiguity, this situation feels different. The subjectivity of events and actions are paramount and boundaries of what is right and wrong are less clear.

As Reicher and Stott stated in a publication this week ‘if quarantining measures (e.g. self-isolation) are seen as disproportionately penalising poorer groups in society (who are less able to afford time off work), then there is a real potential for social division between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The risk may be amplified when agencies who then enforce such measures (i.e. police, army, etc.) are then seen as agents of privileged groups rather than neutral guardians of law and order. In such circumstances there is a danger of these enforcement agencies becoming seen as the illegitimate agent of the ‘other’ and for a loss of trust and conflict to emerge’. To reduce the impact in the longer term both on individual police themselves and wider legitimacy issues, how these situated contexts are negotiated and managed need to be transparent and proportionate.
What are officers saying and how can we learn from these positives?

Let’s think about some factors raised in the @wecops debate last night that relate to these points about a common purpose. When considered alongside police officers’ motives for joining (as mentioned above), it is clear from the debate that officers, despite the risks to themselves and their families, want to help. In a sense it seems to be bringing people together.

Last night’s chat was in part, aimed at exploring innovation and new ways of supporting officers through the risks this situation presents. However, what was evident in the chat was a simple need for support, authenticity, kindness and legitimacy from leaders (at all ranks). As @TVPAmyClem states ‘I’ve seen a real “one team” approach. We’re not local policing / CID / DA etc. at the moment. We’re police officers & staff with an even more focused common goal than usual. In it together, there for each other and the public’. Moreover, this from @UBJennings is key, ‘everything old is new again” I/we won’t forget this – a game changer’. This is a really powerful statement and indicates that there may be a return to something that has been lost in policing as a result of this crisis. It is how we foster that and maintain it that is vital – both the sense of purpose it provides officers and the potential change it could bring to leadership within the police.

Mike Cunningham from the College of Policing stated that ‘the important thing is that leaders create the opportunities to listen to what is concerning their staff and create the environment where people are prepared to tell them’. @Davehannah6 ‘it’s a goldmine of opportunities to make change now. As you say appetite is there. Not just in policing but from partners who want to assist. Never been a better opportunity to innovate’.

The positivity coming from the debate this week was clear and it reinforces messages being seen across the country about this need to feel part of something which supports a wider eco-system of public care, health and inclusion. Indeed, the reflections being made about life in the community seem to parallel with what is happening in the micro system of the police. Genuinely, reviewing previous chats over recent years this is not common and as was pointed out by many commentators this week we need to nurture it, sustain it and keep it with us.
As @consultantgary pointed out ‘Authentic leadership needs to be the new norm; it is amazing what people do when we all pull together with genuine, authentic drivers’. Officers talked of higher morale, receiving notes of care, support and being able to talk through their concerns and worries which is key during this time. As @gorillaojustice positively reminded us, ‘morale is sky high they’re happy, laughing, getting stuck in daily and moaning a lot if they’re held in reserve and prevented from working. I work with some amazing people’. In the context of what this might be doing for wellbeing this is worth reflecting on. As Ian Hesketh has found in his research productivity and wider organisational health is influenced by individual officers’ sense of wellbeing and we must find ways to maintain this feeling which has, perhaps been lost in policing for some time.
‘When all this is over we all need to ask ourselves what did we do before and analyse why it was important. It is time to reset expectations, commitments and heaven forbid avoid another target culture. This could be our finest hour’ stated @walkthetalk999. However, that is not to say that the police will not make mistakes and the way these are dealt with locally and nationally will be key for the police going forward. ‘We are doing it, certainly in Lancs but let’s be clear, we’re going to make mistakes. We are interpreting brand new legislation at break neck speed. We’re trying very hard. Let’s also be clear; we are doing it for absolutely the right reason-to save lives & #ProtectTheNHS’ (@johntobertMc). ‘I think we have been given an unprecedented role in #ProtectTheNHS , enforcement is the 4th step of 4Es, but too often the first focus in headlines’ (@ccgilesyork).
This is new ground for police and where there is a reinvigoration of morale and a sense of worth there is also unknown. As @jophnrobertMc tweeted, ‘it’s the uncertainty. We often in our profession have control and don’t often like not having this control. We face our enemies with powers and training. This is an enemy that we simply have no control over’.
Doing the right thing during the next few months will be vital as will an organisational acceptance that mistakes will happen. Police discretion will be key here, beyond perhaps standard policy and procedures that officers have to work so tightly to. This time should build on trusteeship, authentic leadership at all levels, support and reflection. It could offer a time where the perceived rise in morale being seen in officers at this time might be maintained by the building of a reflective culture which supports, accepts mistakes more willingly and learns from them. ‘We have to be honest with our staff and public as this is new territory mistakes will be made but we trust our folk to exercise discretion on serious decisions e.g. arrests’ (@ccAndyRhodes).
It is clear that on a macro and micro level individuals are dealing with this crisis with kindness and a desire to help. Indeed, in both contexts it is providing a sense of togetherness and a sense of community. Reicher and Stott ( sum it up here perfectly when they argue that ‘with careful management both at a general policy level and in terms of sensitive community-based and dialogue led policing, it will be possible to maintain a sense of common endeavour and hence to draw on the community as a key resource in dealing with the crisis’.
In the longer term therefore how police leaders deal with and apply this new legislation is not simply important for the community and the long term impact on police and community relations but also for the officers whose sense of commitment to policing is being reignited at this time. Whilst we talk a lot about the common good in the community we need to see this in the police. The @wecops debate highlighted the need for police leaders to embrace this morale and maintain it by supporting, trusting and communicating with their teams and when mistakes arise (which they will) allow them to learn from it. This is new territory for us all and togetherness over othering and blame is not the way forward either inside or outside of the organisation. What we need to do is listen.

Emma Williams



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