Reflections on Police Now…………………………..
A few weeks ago I found out that one of my @wecops colleagues, @ConstableXL, was involved in the graduate / leadership programme Police Now. He and another syndicate leader from Lancashire Police, @PFM1973, sent me an invite to attend their Summer Academy and I attended today. There were several reasons why I wanted to visit (not simply because I am nosy) – I had seen some of the negativity about such schemes on Twitter and wanted to see for myself what it was all about. Also having plans to develop a new postgraduate programme at CCCU and being involved (and genuinely interested) in the PEQF I thought it would be useful to expand my knowledge. This applies to both information on the current input for potential future leaders and the learning /assessment methods being applied to the scheme. Call it building up an evidence base if you like!
I ask that you bear with me on this blog. I know a few people who tend to read my rants, are questioning to say the least of the education / degree gate proposals and I am also aware that I am writing this with limited reflection of my day. In saying that, and to justify my decision to write this quickly, I feel that there are some really positive factors in this scheme that are worth people knowing about. So here I go in as much of a coherent fashion as I can.
1: One of the first inputs I observed today was by an officer who is currently on the fast track scheme with the College of Policing. A young woman, not an academic or a bought in trainer, a practitioner with an engaging style who made all she said practically relevant. This was the first thing I liked. Practitioner delivery – using research yes – but explaining it in a way that made it practically understandable and useful. Not an easy feat for some of the most highly acclaimed academics to be honest. She provided real life examples of difficult situations citing research evidence about styles of interaction which really worked. However what sold it for me was the emphasis she placed on the importance of self-reflection and learning from your mistakes. Not an easy thing to hear for new officers especially some who are very aware that this entry method is already being questioned by some. These young people would not get that in a classroom alone – that is what they will get when they actually start in the field. My small insight into this pre-work, 6 week input really highlighted that issue for me and I am sure for them too.
2: I was lucky enough to have quite a long chat with the founder of Police Now, Dave Spencer, who remains a serving police officer in the MPS. I asked him why he had developed the scheme and his answers said it all for me. Probationers walking into the job as response officers reinforces the notion that police work is reactive – chasing around after things have already happened and reemphasising what Janet Chan would suggest is the remaining mandate for police work. This part of policing, crisis management, is what the police are very good at and it is a crucial part of their role. However this new scheme, he explained, is about officers starting their career in a community setting, learning about the importance of social capacity (my words), effective collaboration and problem solving around key issues. The issues Keith Grint would call wicked problems, requiring a strategic, long term and joined up response rather than short term reactive tactics. As most of you know this was like music to my ears. This is exactly what we want our brilliant CCCU students to leave us with. The ability to think critically, to understand situations from other perspectives, to consider longer term plans and context which (dare I say it) some other current ideas can miss, therefore maintaining a short term focus and missing a trick. Additionally and perhaps more importantly when considering the development of the PEQF this feeds right in with the long term aims of improving training and access to education in the police. Therefore I commend Dave and his team for being progressive, forward thinking and let’s face it in some circles quite maverick in their approach.
3: Thirdly what a great bunch of mentors these new officers have. These syndicate leads get involved at this initial training stage and later as contacts and mentors when they start in force (this cohort by the way involves seven force areas rather than just the one on cohort one). These officers who are from different ranks and backgrounds come and spend six weeks in London to do this, away from their family, working 12 hour days plus marking in the evening because they genuinely believe in the scheme. These individuals are not all graduates, they are simply supportive of change and recognise the potential these officers have to facilitate change in the long term. I feel sure that some of them wish they had had access to such schemes when first in the job themselves. Good on them – they are positive, supportive and superb mentors for these young officers. Let’s hope the forces involved allow them to stay with their syndicate groups and help eradicate any potential negativity they may experience when they start.
4: This leads onto my next point. In the first session the trainer asked the new officers to consider what they might encounter when they enter their local areas both from the public and other police officers. All the tables mentioned something negative about the response they would receive from already serving officers in force – ‘what do you know, you’re too young, you think you are better than us’ attitudes were all muted. The sad thing is that maybe these assumptions (which sometimes to be honest might be fair assumptions) relate more to already serving officers being critical of the fact that many officers already in the job with amazing talent remain unrecognised, do not get access to new and innovative training and that these issues are simply unfair. What is perhaps paradoxical here is that often the perception is that those officers are too challenging, too different, and too critical and that only those that tow the party line are recognised. If this is the case I agree this is wrong and it confirms perceptions that police culture is not yet ready to become a culture that accepts challenge and potential difference. How interesting that this is one of the aims of the very schemes it criticises. Perhaps something for tomorrow’s debate on @wecops which I am sure will be interesting!
5: Access, consistency and training style was my next observation and links with the above strongly. Please let’s learn from this and in the interest of fairness, the public and organisational justice lets speed up decisions on making training consistent across the country for the police. There are a lot of forces out there right now that might not be shouting about it but who are trying to develop new ways of recognising internal talent and who are developing training schemes and inviting people in to deliver masterclasses on key issues. Indeed Ian Hesketh and I delivered one recently at a force in the North East. The decision around training and accessibility to more than simply these schemes needs to be made, yes with an evidence base, but soon. Perhaps Police Now might be something to learn from in terms of input and assessment – the innovation fund, funded, evaluation in time will tell I guess.
6: I loved the assessment methods or might I call them mini action research projects. In my eyes these almost constitute level seven application of learning incorporating learning from across the taught element of the programme, problem solving, building community capacity and using the work practically in the workplace to produce changes and critical thinking. I loved this and have had similar discussions about immersive learning and action research becoming part of our assessment criteria – I learnt from that and look forward to seeing more (if I am invited back).
7: Finally at the end of my day with the Police Now folks I was asked to complete a form. Not asking me for an evaluation or my perceptions of the day but asking me what I wish I had known at the start of my career, what I wish I had done differently and what message I would give these new folks. It came to me as I was completing this form that as a young academic in the MPS I may have experienced some similar issues that these young graduate cops might also experience when they start in a few weeks’ time. Fear of challenge, being told ‘what do you know’ about real police work and being considered to have delusions of grandeur as a result of their place in the scheme. The difference is these individuals are being told to remain innovative, be different, be yourself and think creatively. I wasn’t told that ever as a new starter. However they enter a culture that doesn’t welcome challenge yet, doesn’t yet accept failure and mistakes as an opportunity to evolve and get better. As I reflect back on my career in the police (albeit as a researcher) I know now I would do things differently. I would challenge those who formulated a hypothesis for a piece of research and told the researchers what they would find but that’s because I wasn’t embroiled in that culture. My thoughts here are that these individuals need to be allowed to maintain that challenge, allow them and other officers not on the scheme to be the opening doors to change. This might take years but they are the ones that can drive it if they are only allowed to.
These are basically my quick observations on today. I think there is a lot of potential here both for the teaching community involved in policing at the current time (like CCCU) and also in the context of developing more consistent and fair access to training for ALL officers, regardless of their academic background. This is a good scheme and much can be learnt from it but it would not be me writing this if I didn’t say in conclusion that there are also large numbers of officers with the potential to be leaders who would also benefit from such input. Let’s hope the final decisions on changes to police training and the PEQF recognise this and use this as potentially a good example.