This month I hope some of you will have become aware of the ‘Red Button Project’ which seeks to gather thoughts, innovative ideas and opinion on police reform from officers themselves. You might have read the two fantastic blogs by @nathanconstable and @dedicatedpeeler recently which introduced some context to the project and some initial ideas for discussion – not least the changing demands, the impact on victims and the effects on the staff themselves. Our sense is that as the people experiencing the vast changes to policing, there is no one better placed within the field than serving officers to comment on the impact of current reform and indeed offer ideas for change.
As an academic, I work as a programme director / senior lecturer in policing at Canterbury Christ Church University. I work with student police officers, pracademics, academics and indeed bright officers that have no link into the academic world but simply care about policing and what it might become. Prior to this role I was a researcher in the MPS – I put my hands up and say that I was predominantly a qualitative researcher. Understanding the ‘voice’ of those real actors (whether it be officers, victims, the community, other agencies) that experienced or were part of operationalising a tactic, victim care package or any interaction was of upmost importance to me and I still stand by that ethos.
When our team of researchers were asked in the early 2000s to explore why some boroughs in London were gaining more sanctioned detections for rape than others (as identified at a COMPSTAT ‘type’ meeting) the unit I worked in knew that this may not necessarily indicate ‘good practice’. Indeed if we hadn’t conducted time intensive reviews of CRIS rape reports that were defined as both ‘unsuccessful’ and ‘successful’ in their outcome we wouldn’t have revealed that it was cases involving those with the most vulnerabilities that were facing attrition. Subsequently it wasn’t until I asked officers as part of my own doctoral research why this might be the case that it became clear that organisational structures and ‘performance methods’ actually played a huge part in decision making. In fact it maybe those boroughs with high rates of sanctioned detentions that experience higher rates of unethical decision making as a result, at times, of structural constraints and perceived expectations of success. This information would have been left hidden in a simplistic overview of data. Talking to the actors involved enriched this research and provided meaning to the numbers. I could give you a vast number of examples of similar instances but this isn’t the time or the place.
I am a huge advocate of evidence based policing but I am, at times, disappointed when I attend conferences and there is no offer of research based on qualitative methods. Such rich additions would perhaps inform us of context and provide information about the process involved. This, considered alongside the statistics, presents a more holistic picture that tells us more than just simply whether crime is going up or down. Indeed I currently have a postgraduate officer student conducting research with officers involved in an evidence based policing tactic in particular hotspots. He is reviewing their perceptions of this deployment in relation to their role, sense of professionalism, autonomy to make decisions and the areas they patrol. This information is lost in pure statistics. The impact however is real, is damaging and is potentially going to influence decisions to seek employment elsewhere, perhaps in fact, outside of the police altogether. That is why this project is important to me and close to my heart.
There are various types of ‘evidence’ and indeed forums to gather them differ immensely. For me and some of my colleagues at Canterbury, the voice of the actors involved in the field is essential. I recently conducted some research with my own alumni and the results saddened me. The lack of support given to some of these bright students who, off their own back, took three years out to complete a BSc programme on top of family life, busy roles and shift work was in places quite shocking. And this is at a time when HE and the use of research is being pushed in policing under the professional agenda more than ever. It seems ironic that some supervisors across many different ranks and roles appeared to feel threatened by challenge from these officers and had concerns about their own professionalism as a result of the offerings of trying something different. Rather than welcoming the knowledge these students had gained on the programme about, for example, procedural justice and the importance of the interaction with the public or the offering of an innovative idea about dealing with a rape victim some officers were silenced with a tap on the ‘pips’ and a chuckle.
Such attitudes, in my opinion are archaic, suppressive and completely contradicts the ethos of an organisation that is ready and willing to learn. Perhaps the most ironic part of this research was that it also revealed that some officers prior to doing our course were ready to leave policing. The course had almost reenergised their passion for the job they joined, influenced the way they did their job differently and most critically their ability to ask questions about the ‘way things are done’. Anyway that is for a published article coming soon.
So… Back to the Red Button Project – these are some of the reasons I wanted to get involved. No one is better placed than to comment on the impact of police reforms (many of which are not being ‘evaluated’) than those in it. The research conducted by Paul Quinton and Andy Myhill from the College of Policing, and Ben Bradford from Oxford University around organisational justice clearly states the importance of officers feeling engaged with, being informed about change and indeed being participants in change programmes . If these factors are present staff are more likely to be receptive to changes as they will themselves have a sense of involvement and a stake in that change for the overall purpose of the organisation. At the moment there is little sense of this occurring and time and time again we hear about morale, retention, increased stress levels and reduced commitment to the role.
Another negative consequence of the above is the impact on the public – and think about this in the context of Stubbsy’s blog and the Peelian principles. Both organisational justice research and local research on the staff satisfaction survey in the MPS indicates that if officers do not feel engaged with they will not act as advocates for the organisation and morale will reduce even further. Perhaps the most recent figures out today showing that just one officer in ten would recommend the job as a career decision is evidence of this in the current climate.
I have already had offers of blogs from sergeants, inspectors, fellow academics and pracademics who feel passionately about having their say. So please have yours and don’t be passive in this current climate of reform. We cannot promise what, if anything, will come of this project. I hope for at least a conference, potentially themed around certain topics and we have had interest from some senior leaders who are following this. However, if for nothing else, use it as a debating tool, a space to voice your ideas and feel engaged in the changing face of policing. As Simon Holdaway states professionalism is not static and nor is policing. It operates in a constantly changing field which presents new demands and expectations. As a result of this we feel your opinions and thoughts need to be heard.
For further information about this or if (we hope) you chose to submit a blog please contact either myself @emwilliamscccu, @nathanconstable or @dedicatedpeeler