Research in Policing and Perhaps, for the Police….

This week I attended the “Developing Evidence, Delivering Practice” conference, held by the College of Policing at Ryton. The event was fascinating on many levels and there are several issues I would like to blog about. But there was one question I left the conference thinking about above all else and that is – where is the research about the impact of current reform on officers?

I have been involved in researching police issues for over 15 years (11 of them as a researcher in the MPS) and I have tried in previous roles to embed research and write recommendations up  in a operationally useful manner, as well as deliver findings via seminars, practical briefings and one-page documents that aim to facilitate understanding to all involved.

Asking officers to use objective research alongside their own professional expertise is complex and because of this and, perhaps also as a result of my own experience in the MPS, I wanted to ask the question yesterday at the conference, just how many PC, PS and Inspector ranks there were in the audience and of course PCSOs, who have a vital role in community engagement.

My own research – and others that are forthcoming – highlights clearly how many at this level are unaware of what research is, how to access it and indeed what role it has in their daily business. Many have no idea that much of what they do and the tactics they are expected to deliver often come from criminological theories that have developed and changed over time.

An excellent example of this was only three weeks ago when I received an email from a student who has just completed our BSc in service policing programme, thanking us for finally providing her with some knowledge of why the police do what they do and why treating the community fairly is so critical for policing by consent. She told me, ‘It makes a lot of difference when you know why you are doing something rather than just being told to do it’.

I don’t wish to appear cynical, as I am extremely positive about the College of Policing and its absolute commitment to using research to make policing more evidence based, efficient and effective. But I wonder when it will also be used to understand what we might need to do to help officers themselves understand the relevance of research and reflection.

Plus, and perhaps more importantly, I wonder if there will be research undertaken to understand the impact of some of the internal changes happening to officers at the current time – and how low morale and a sense of unfair treatment might actually impact negatively on them, even advocating the organisation they work for, let alone signing up to its strategic priorities.

I was pleased to hear the research on procedural and organisational justice discussed yesterday in the context of the successful implementation of the code of ethics and yet surprised to see how many tweets and articles came out about it almost as is this was ‘new’ knowledge.

There is a plethora of anecdotal and actual research evidence to suggest that officers feel disengaged, ready to leave, let down by their leaders and by government plus , at times, restricted to deliver the job they love because of targets and quotas that, they suggest, drives unethical behaviour. This, at the current time, is paradoxical in itself. Surely that is enough evidence to tell us that currently officers do not generally feel a sense of organisational justice and, therefore surely we should be asking what research we need to do to change that.

The ‘what works in crime reduction/prevention’ research agenda is of course vital in the role of the College. But without understanding what we can do to change the sense of injustice officers currently feel, many of the findings offered by this research may arguably make limited difference. Officers need to be engaged with, bought on board with these changes and made to feel less subjected to reforms that they feel are happening to them.

Following the Home Secretary Theresa May’s speech in which she appeared to make somewhat conflicting statements about it not being the role of the Home Office to ‘tell the police how to do their job’ – whilst only ten minutes earlier stating that the College were imperative to ‘MY reform agenda’ – the room engaged in a useful discussion about the key issues facing policing in the next few years and what the College’s leadership review should focus on.

Critical issues arose from many in the room, the increasing problem of cybercrime, austerity and the impact it is having on demand, the impact of cuts on policing and the joining up of emergency services to name but a few. However, it saddened me that only one person mentioned the role of leadership in thinking about the impact of all of these things on the officers themselves and how a good leader might consider those issues and develop strategies to try and keep their team feeling valued and engaged with.

As the research on organisational justice clearly states, officers’ self-legitimacy developed through a sense of fair treatment in the workplace is vital for the delivery of both organisational values and fair treatment to the public. Please let’s use research in policing to help understand how to instill this in officers and to help leaders of the future better deal with the impact of the further politicisation of policing.

Emma Williams



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One Response to Research in Policing and Perhaps, for the Police….

  1. Darren Townsend says:

    Emma love the blog as ever and what you point out is so very true although I had very mixed feelings following on from the conference you mention. On the one hand I was full of hope that at long last we are moving in the right direction in policing around truly thinking and analysing what it is we do and how we can do it better. The flip side came with the American style evangelical preaching around what the college will do in the future, how it will be financed, the overt acceptance of what the Home Secretary states without any form of challenge around the way in which they are killing support networks in the criminal justice system, and last but not least was the fact that the Evidence aspect of the conference delivered very little finalisation or indeed analysis of the impacts on officers, any improvements resulting and most importantly what impacts were felt by the victims involved in the RCT’s? The appalling domestic violence presentation was indicative of this, no genuine follow up results or real learning material. The College needs to remain focused on its core business around what works in policing and how the officers can provide a greater service to both victims and the public and be less concerned around whether it will make the ‘Times’ list of blue chip British businesses.


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