Thoughts on education in policing….

This is an academic essay written by a postgraduate student here at CCCU. Stewart Hill (the student) has kindly given me permission to publish this on our blog site as it summarises (with evidence) a lot of what I hear about degrees / education in policing in the context of making the police more professional…. a very good piece of work.

Thanks Stewart


‘Provide a critical review of the current agenda to promote police professionalism’

According to Green & Gates (2014) the concept of professionalisation and the police has been debated for over a century (Green & Gates 2014 p.75). Sklansky (2011) argues that the current police reform agenda is now dominated by the ideal of professionalisation (Sklansky 2011 p.1) and as it is developed, police in the UK are experiencing radical changes and significant challenges (Thomas 2014 p.5). This concept is underpinned in the Neyroud Review (2011), which is one of many initiatives aimed at professionalising policing (Heslop & White 2011 p.9). In his review Neyroud sets out his vision for increased university involvement in the education and training of officers.

According to Bruns & Bruns (2015) society currently demands a professionalised police service and sets high expectations that officers will be educated, skilled and representative of the societies they serve (Bruns & Bruns 2015 p.122). Consequently, I intend to critically review how university education and subsequent knowledge based policing supports the drive for professionalisation and highlight some unintended consequences of this concept.

The term professionalism has become associated with overall proposals for change and performance (Walker 2014 p.704). According to Green & Gates (2014) professionalisation is the transformation of occupation to profession. The definition of a profession is wide ranging, often argued and continually changing (Green & Gates 2014 p.75). Consequently, there is no complete definition however, there are characteristics that have been generally accepted. According to Walker (2014) professional knowledge, professional autonomy and service ideal are the most important dimensions to gauge and determine professional status. It has been debated whether the police have achieved professional status (Wilson 1968, Reiss 1971) or will ever achieve it due to their unique position of being subject to public scrutiny and control (Kelley & Norrgard 1971 p.322).

According to HMIC (2004) there is wide agreement of the need for a professional and highly skilled workforce in modern policing (HMIC 2004 p.28). Consequently, there is a drive to involve universities in both delivering training to police recruits (Heslop 2010b) and potentially the prerequisite for degree level qualifications for constables and post graduate degrees for superintendents (BBC 2015).

According to Bruns & Bruns (2015) higher education is essential to police professionalism, bringing benefits to policing beyond those provided by those without such attainment. They argue such officers are more humanistic, intellectually developed, possess better communication skills and place more an importance on ethical conduct. Additionally, Flanagan (2008) argues that it is essential if policing is to be brought in to line with other professions and consequently, responsibility for pre employment education should remain with the individual (Flanagan 2008 p.44).

According to Green and Gates (2014) there has been a change in educational patterns whereby options for higher education are now more available to police (Green & Gates 2014 p.86), reflective of a general push towards professionalisation (Herrington 2012 p.5). The Initial Police Learning & Development Programme (IPLDP) was designed as an initiative to both modernise and professionalise the police service (Heslop 2010a). One of its features was to give greater flexibility to police services in choosing to work with local universities to provide initial training (Wood & Tong 2008 p.295). The programme included academic and competency based learning resulting in a formal qualification, namely a foundation degree.

Green & Gates (2014) argue that in addition to programmes of education within a formal training framework (IPLDP) we are witnessing professionalisation by stealth. They argue police officer participation in higher education has increased, driven by individuals seeking to achieve credentialism, improved performance and promotion (Green & Gates 2014 p.86). Increased interest in police studies and in particular police – academic collaborations have also become more common, according to Heslop & White (2011 p.1) establishing a ‘sub-field’ of the discipline. However, despite an assumption that such collaborations will contribute towards the establishment of professionalisation (Heslop & White 2011) and improved performance (Bruns & Bruns 2015 p.122) these initiatives are not without problems.

According to Bruns and Bruns (2015) a professionalised police service should be representative of society. However, they argue the requirement to raise educational standards is likely to frustrate this intention (Bruns and Bruns 2015 p.122). The Police Federation support this argument and categorically disagreed with proposals by the College of Policing for prerequisite university qualifications on the basis that it would exclude hard to reach groups (BBC 2015).

Wood & Tong (2008) reviewed the collaboration between a university and a UK police service in the delivery of a Student Officer Programme (SOP). They argued that meeting both university and police needs was problematic resulting in tension arising from the contradictory status of the student officers and in particular who ‘owned’ them (Wood & Tong 2008 p.295). Further, Heslop (2010a) challenged the benefits of university education for professionalising the police. According to Heslop (2010a) student officers found the university experience negative and conflictive, as they were neither treated like professionals or real students resulting in fractious student-tutor relationships (Heslop 2010a p. 6). Bruns & Bruns (2015) reviewed the relationship between university education and police performance. Despite there being no agreed definition of police performance, they argue that levels of education do not determine the performance of officers (Bruns and Bruns 2015 p.136).

According to Heslop (2011) performance is indivisible from professionalisation, modernisation and reform (Heslop 2011 p.1). Such modernisation has been motivated by globalisation and the revolution in technology (White and Escobar 2008 p.132) which has increased policing complexity and public demand requiring officers to work smarter rather than harder (Green and Gates 2014 p. 85). Green and Gates (2014) argue that the police are now far more educated and have now built up a body of knowledge through education and research, and the claims of ‘expert’ are now more credible. According to Sklansky (2011 p.6) this professional model depicts managerial sophistication and the use of advanced technology to determine where and when to fight crime.

Gundhus (2012) argues this knowledge-based approach to policing is a move towards true professionalism and New Public Management (NPM), which according to Reiner (2010) emphasises centralised and ‘business-like’ strategies (Reiner 2010 p.205). Heslop (2011) argues that this has led to unintended consequences namely, an obsession with calculability, measurement and control leading to increased bureaucracy, contrary to the intentions of the Home Office (2010), a reduction in police discretion and officers becoming deskilled. This has paradoxically resulted in de-professionalisation (Heslop 2011 p.1).

Gundhus (2012) argues that autonomy is a key factor in determining professionalisation. This autonomy is increasingly becoming restricted due to the transition from professional judgement to trust in management processes and procedures. According to Gundhus (2012) this ‘scientification’ may support a profession as the expert, however it can distance itself from other professionals and the community. Sklansky (2011) argues that current strategies driven by intelligence, technology and knowledge based policing are potentially frustrating what is needed to tackle the current policing landscape. According to Sklansky (2011) it is the face-to-face relationship building with the community that is required if police are to learn from previous mistakes. Further he argues that this scientific knowledge based approach has been adapted in to organisational practices rather than used to call existing strategies in to question (Sklansky 2011 p.9).

According to Gundhus (2012) knowledge strategies, based upon professionalism, are treated with scepticism and resistance at ground level. They are seen as top down management strategies, which restrict autonomy, professional judgement and signal distrust. Gundhus (2012) argues that whilst the intention of management is to deliver professionalism and efficiency at street level it is perceived to be a restrictive organisational directive (Gundhus 2012 p.186).

Walker (2014) argues that whilst professionalism has brought some improvements it has also resulted in bureaucratic control, which is restrictive. According to James and Mills (2012) managers subsequently focus upon targets, performance measures and hierarchical structures of accountability. This often skews activity by concentrating on the measurement of performance (James and Mill 2012 p.142). According to Rogers (2014) as the drive towards professionalisation continues, underpinned with a focus on quantitative rather than qualitative measures, there is a distinct danger that the interests of the community and the police will become separated. Consequently, without legitimacy, Rogers (2012) argues the concept of democratic policing may well be threatened.(Rogers 2012 p.2).

The establishment of the College of Policing (College of Policing 2013), the subsequent Code of Ethics (College of Policing 2014) and the development of a body of knowledge to support knowledge based policing is evidence of the momentum towards professionalisation. However, whilst there are benefits for collaboration with universities, this will not alone resolve the inherent problems discussed (Heslop 2010b p.27). It is argued that officers already consider themselves professional and the debate around professionalisation is irrelevant. If this is so the pathway to professionalisation should start with rank and file, rather than management. (Green and Gates 2014 p.87). The role of the police is currently being questioned, with some leaders calling for a Royal Commission (Heslop 2010b), Consequently, it is not clear what constitutes police performance (Bruns & Bruns 2015,Carter 2016). Answers to these questions will undoubtedly gauge policing as a profession. However, as Sklansky (2011 p.10) reminds us, professionalism should fundamentally be built around the core objectives of accountability and legitimacy.


 BBC (2015) All officers ‘should have degrees’ says College of Policing.[Online} Available from Accessed on 13 November 2015.


Bruns D. L. and Bruns J.W.(2015) Assessing the Worth of the College Degree on Self-perceived Police Performance. Journal of Criminal Justice Education. Vol 26(2), 121-146.


Carter L. (2016) measuring Professionalism of Police Officers. [Online} Available from Accessed on 1 February.


College of Policing (2013) The professional body for policing. Our Strategic Intent. [Online} Available from . Accessed on 1 February.


College of Policing (2014) Code of ethics. A code of practice for the Principles and Standards of Professional Behaviour for the Policing Profession of England and Wales. [Online} Available from . Accessed on 1 February.


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Heslop R. (2010a) ‘they didn’t treat us like professionals’: a case study of police recruits trained at university. Paper presented at the critical perspectives on professional learning conference University of Leeds. 11 January.


Heslop R. (2010b) The Modern Professionals. Police Review. 29 October.


Heslop R. (2011) The McDonaldization of British Policing. Paper presented to the Police Federation of England & Wales Seminar on Police Professionalisation. Leatherhead UK. 23-25 February.


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Sklansky D.A. (2011) The Persistent Pull of Police Professionalism. New Perspectives in Policing. March.


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Walker S. (2014) Police Professionalism: Another Look at the Issues. The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. Vol 3(6), No 10, 701-710.


White M. and Escobar G. (2008) Making good cops in the twent-first century: Emerging issues for the effective recruitment, selection and training of police in the United States and abroad. International Review of law Computers & Technology. Vol 22, 119-134


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Wood D. and Tong S. (2008) The future of initial police training: a university perspective. International journal of Police Science and Management. Vol 11, No 3, 294-305.


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One Response to Thoughts on education in policing….

  1. Emma says:

    Yes, but this Professionalism is an imposition – we’re not asking for it, and has little relevance to the day to day conveyer belt of volume crime investigation. Higher ranks or specialist roles may have a different view…


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