Silos – @wecops debate by Ian Wiggett and Emma Williams

Silos – #WeCops Blog


This weekend was the first study weekend at Canterbury Christ Church University. We were very lucky to have Chief Constable Ian Hopkins come and deliver a presentation for us on leadership. This blog isn’t about that but it was timely that he mentioned his move in GMP towards systems thinking and joint outcomes – essentially a move away from silos (both internally and externally with other agencies). This he explained was based on the strong realisation that the police cannot alone (ina silo) deal with the type of wicked social problems that are driving demand in his city. The next day a police officer student used the term ‘silo junkie’ to describe the impact of quickly establishing specialist teams to deal with the next crisis that is perceived as RED on the priority list. It seems relevant to mention this as a little ‘background’ for this blog.


The first thing that was apparent from the #WeCops debate was that the term ‘silo’ is not widely known or defined.  I (Ian) didn’t encounter it myself until the early-2000s, when I started looking at how policing fitted in with the work other agencies.  ‘Silo Thinking’ is the problem when different teams within the same company sit in their own boxes, focused on their own problems and resources – putting their needs ahead of the company’s overall objectives.  This is important if we consider the decision by Ian Hopkins to move away from this way of thinking and consider how ‘separateness’ might actually restrict effective problem solving and linkages between different, encountered problems.


When in GMP I (Ian) looked across our contact with other agencies and we found silos everywhere.  We had similar problems, usually involving the same people and places but perhaps different outcome aims.  We realised that we could all help each other.  A small effort by one agency could make a big difference for others, and that one agency’s problem could often be solved by using the powers of another agency – or getting another agency to change the way they worked.


Instead, we saw jobs/cases/problems passed from silo to silo, from agency to agency, sitting in queues, shifting up and down separate priority lists that took no account of others’ needs.  We were happy to dump work on each other, but we were not happy sharing information.  And we wouldn’t change our priorities in order to help other agencies out.


Cops readily see silos in their dealings with other agencies.  Health, and mental health in particular.  As cops struggle to resolve incidents and help people in crisis, it can often seem that other agencies are working to completely different agendas.  The CJS is also plagued by silos.  On the other hand, partnership working in neighbourhoods has really progressed, and there are many great examples where silos have been broken down.  Walk into some of the multi-agency problem solving or enforcement teams, and you will be hard pushed to figure out who works for which agency.


It’s easy to point at silos outside policing. We can all agree on how they get in the way of us doing our work.  But we wanted to look at silos within policing.  They are there, alright.  The silos are internal: separate teams/units/departments focused on their own work, to the detriment of the force’s overall performance; not sharing information and intelligence; a defensive and protective mindset, where getting support from other teams can be really difficult.


Those internal silos lead to work being passed from unit to unit, sitting in queues, and often being rejected or re-prioritised.  To save effort in one unit, it’s passed to other units – even though it may cause extra work overall.  Others may refuse to pick up work that they do not think is their’s, even when they have the space to do it.


A police-speak translation of ‘silo thinking’ is ‘squad mentality’.  ‘Squad’ is not used so much in policing these days.  Instead, we have created a plethora of specialist units.  It’s a minefield these days trying to understand all the 3-letter acronyms, and work out what exactly they do.  NPT, PPU, DVU, RPT, RPU, TSU, TAU – the list goes on and on.   And so, much of the @wecops debate on ‘silos’ ended up talking about ‘specialisms’.


That was partly my fault, because I started talking about ‘remit’.  All these separate units have their own ‘remit’.  The remit defines what those units are there to do: what is their job – and what isn’t.  That seems to be where the problems start.  As one contributor said, ‘Not in my remit’ is the most hated phrase, and often meant you were not putting the needs of victims or colleagues first.


In some research I (Emma) am completing currently these issues have been observed in practice. I have spoken to officers who have been given no choice about being moved from an area of policing they enjoy and have skills in into a different area as a result of a review publication and an internal ‘moral panic’ occurring as a result. This has huge implications on the discretionary effort of the officer, the knowledge lost in their previous role and the lack of knowledge they described having in their new one which bought them into contact with some of the most vulnerable victims who report an offence to the police. I have also heard officers say that the good thing about specialists is that it removes ‘things’ (people) from their remit leaving them to focus on what is important (in this case dealing with offenders). Without getting to academic this reinforces the perceived mandate of policing of being focused on crime fighting and catching the bad guys when we know that much of what they do is simply not that.


The debate discussed examples where remits got in the way: geographical boundaries, between teams, between shifts.   Growing workloads and shrinking resources had led teams to becoming even more protective. How can you take on other units’ work when you are already under pressure?  It’s natural for supervisors to be protective of their team.  We may even regard it as good leadership.  Leaders should look after their team, and help them.  Taking on extra work, which other units should be doing, is ‘not right’. Why should my team cover the failings of others?  No-one helps us, etc, etc.


But specialisms are not the same as silos.  Of course we need specialisms and specialists.  We need officers and staff who are experts in particular areas of work.  We talked about how specialist units brought energy and impact – solving problems, raising standards, and improving service for victims.  But we also talked about how sometimes the bigger picture was missed.  At the centre is the victim, of course.  And sometimes that can be forgotten in disputes over remits.


Is it inevitable that specialist units become silos?  The feeling in the discussion was that it should not.  Good leadership (hmm – see above), and a focus on the overall and shared objectives should overcome the negative aspects.  But is it all about leadership?


We talked about when a major incident, a crisis, brought everyone together.  A clear objective and shared priorities.  Teams focused on same goals, eager to help each other out.  Those sorts of operations can leave everyone with a sense of achievement… and then we go back to the day jobs.


What made the difference during the major incident?  It wasn’t ‘leadership’ – what happened was that the ‘remit’ had changed. The ‘day job’ was different.  Change the remit, and barriers disappear. ‘That’s not my job’ becomes ‘how can I help’.


Of course, it’s not as simple as that.  The other work doesn’t go away; the crisis doesn’t last for ever.  And if you change one set of remits, you just create another – with the same risk of silos.


The lesson is important, though.  Bloodymindedness and personalities can get in the way of teamwork.  But the biggest factor is remit – how the work is organised and shared out.  If the design is good, it can minimise the tension points and risk of clashes, and build the sense of teamwork.  If the design is poor, it can cause too much tension and frustration.  Conflicting objectives, disputes over whose job it is.  Teamwork undermined.


Good leadership can help manage those conflicts.  But good leaders should also be looking to stop those conflicts happening in the first place.  That, for me, comes down to the design of the work.

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@wecops summary. AIR SUPPORT – Dan Reynolds

Blog – Air Support
This @Wecops blog follows on from the ‘Air support’ discussion that was led by our guest host Chief Constable Simon Byrne.
This blog is mainly based on what was gleaned from the discussion on Twitter and as always we want to reflect the debate in the right way.
This twitter topic was a great discussion that bought current police practitioners of all ranks and roles together to share experiences, discuss areas of self-doubt and areas for improvement. We like to be inclusive so it was great that academics and members of public alike also contributed to the shared learning. We even had commentators from distant shores of Canada, Australia and the US plus those in the aviation industry – and we thank everyone for taking part.
Three questions were posed and the following narrative pulls out some of the key messages gleaned from the conversation that resulted (with some extra observations from the @WeCops team) and benefiting from our hosts extended knowledge in this matter.
1. How valuable do you feel air support is as an enhancement to frontline policing?
2. What are the current challenges with air support and how would you overcome them?
3. What should the future of Police air support look like?
Air Support has developed at a pace over the last few decades and is now seen as a crucial part of everyday frontline policing. It provides assistance to officers on the ground in a variety of circumstances. Helicopters search for vulnerable people or wanted criminals, help at public order events with crowd control and safety, assist during pursuits of vehicles, assist with firearms incidents and carry out aerial photography, to name but a few of their routine tasks.
Since 2012, air support for all 43 police forces in England and Wales has been provided nationally by NPAS (National Police Air Support) which is run by lead force West Yorkshire Police and they tweet as @NPAShq. There are 15 bases across the country operating a 24/7 borderless service with 19 helicopters. This move to a national service was prompted by a review of air support carried out in 2009 and was implemented to make air support more effective and efficient. Prior to the 2009 review, Air Support was run at a local level and on an Ad Hoc basis by individual forces or in some cases regional Air Support units.
The collaboration that is NPAS is still relatively new and although savings and efficiencies have been made, its introduction meant an overall reduction in the number of Police Helicopters in the UK which some felt may lead to a reduction in service. It is clear that collaboration is the way forward in order to continue to meet the financial savings required by the Police service but how do we also ensure that the best possible service is provided? Some of the NPAS bases and NPAS HQ were able to join us on our twitter chat and they highlighted the excellent work that the NPAS helicopters do. We thank all those at NPAS for what they do and for adding their contributions to the wider discussion on air support.
1. How valuable do you feel air support is as an enhancement to frontline policing?
This generated lots of discussion around air support and was mainly and perhaps unsurprising centred on the use of helicopters and NPAS (National Police Air Service).
The usefulness was positively commented on by the vast majority of contributors and good examples of its use were clearly illustrated throughout the chat. @NPASBarton, @NPASBarton and @NPASCarrGate all highlighted how they had provided continuous support to police deployed at the recent incident at Manchester arena as an example. @NPAShq showed how air support find an average 6 suspects and 5 missing people each day which was surprising to some but all agreed was a common reason for requesting air support. NPAS are surprisingly busy as well – as tweeted @NPASCarrgate with “#NPAS supported #UKpolicing on 27000 jobs last year from our network of national bases” and @NPAShq showing the variation of the jobs they attend with: “We have landed in inaccessible areas to use defib, stop a male self-harming and to render first aid [just this week].”
Police helicopters are a familiar sight in the skies above both rural and urban areas and both NPAS and individual forces engage in communication with the public, particularly via social media, to promote the use of the aircraft and to provide reassurance.

Helicopters are an excellent tool in the fight against crime and we have seen from our @Wecops chat that frontline officers are keen to involve and use them as often as possible, especially for certain high risk deployments where they are invaluable in assisting patrols on the ground. @NPAShq commented that: “#NPAS locate around 2,000 missing people every year in the UK#savinglives” and this was supported by @GraemeDixon5 who followed it with “Massively valuable! The question is are they value [for money]? I would say yes but am sure others won’t agree.”

The chat highlighted that generally Air Support is felt to be vital, especially for some deployments such as cars that fail to stop for police and become pursuits. The value of the helicopter becomes clear as they can cover distance quickly and can monitor from above, leading to a much safer situation for those on the ground. This was illustrated by tweets like “Valuable? Essential for some jobs! E.g. certain high risk pursuits!” @ThebigHon, and “As we find police pursuits on the increase at a time of high scrutiny – air support is a most valuable resource” from @Daveandcaz.
@DannoReynolds noted air support were not just useful in pursuits but any police activity where it added a much needed eye in the sky such as with firearms incidents tweeting “Totally agree – and for firearms incidents. Why chase at high speed if we can follow from 1000 metres up!”

2. What are the current challenges with air support and how would you overcome them?

A key theme from the chat was the current availability of aircraft and the time in which it takes a helicopter to arrive on scene.

Some felt that this had been compounded by the rationalisation of the air support fleet into the NPAS group but acknowledged that austerity and the need to be lean and efficient would always lead to some trade-off and a feeling that the air support was not always available. “It is a source of frustration [when not available] – largely because it is so effective when it is!”

@DanHalliwell1 commented “a frontline issue is often the time NPAS are requested to the time of arriving on scene is on average 30 min due to demands on bigger forces.” #

Our own @WecopsCaroline added “Indeed, but must be readily available for optimum effectiveness” which highlights the frustrations.

This was a common comment or observation during the chat and rather than being negative of NPAS, it simply highlighted a problem that front line officers experience from their perspective. It also highlighted a feeling in some areas that having lost their force dedicated helicopter they felt they were now losing out. For example tweets such as: “Better provision in Wales would be a starting point. Clearly a lack of resilience in our great country” from @Swales_Fed_Rep.

What is interesting is that the statistics about NPAS deployment and the when and where, don’t always support this assertion. Perhaps there is a need for better understanding that with austerity, we can’t always have what we want or when we want it. This naturally led into the generation of ideas around the future of air support and how to bridge these gaps and shortfalls in service.

3. What should the future of Police air support look like?

This was probably the most interesting and lively part of the debate and the @WeCops team steered and prompted the threads of conversation to create a wider discussion beyond just that of NPAS and helicopters to see what was already being used out in the world. We also wanted to imagine what the future could look like. Cue images of blimps, drones and all manner of things!

Emerging technology such as UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – Drones) is already being used by forces on an ad-hoc basis to provide a complementary option to helicopter Air Support in some circumstances, particularly in terms of imagery and search capabilities. This technology is in its early stages and the near future is likely to see increased usage, with various public and private sector bodies looking at how drones can assist them in their areas of business. There are likely to be legislative changes in relation to drones and their place in the aviation world is still very much being tested. It was clear from our chat that people feel drones, in addition to helicopters, will provide a great resource for policing. There was some debate about how much of the Helicopter work a drone or UAV, could realistically complete. So is it just the newest shiny toy that everyone wants or a valued piece of police kit?

@Stanton1Mark commented “[helicopters are] very valuable but drone technology may soon replace them” but not everyone agreed with this point of view.

@notlistening emphatically disagreed adding “No way can drones replace air support, how many times does this need repeating!”

@jumbo747pilot Scott Bateman MBE (who is a commercial pilot and also the head of Wiltshire Special Constabulary) added valuable contributions to the discussion around UAV’s from his experience in leading Wiltshire UAV team. His experience in aviation also helped and he observed that “Coordination of a mixed portfolio of assets is key to success. Weather bad, send UAV. Etc.”

This was joined by others who indicated that across the country there is a real interest in UAV use and many are starting to test out its usefulness with mixed results so far.

There was a general call from the host CC Byrne to all around the country that are testing or trialling UAV’s to collaborate on what works. He extended and open invitation to get in touch with him as the national lead, so that the best stuff around ‘what works’ can be captured and then shared. This would ensure best practise is adopted across policing as well as ensuring that what doesn’t work is not repeated.

This should then lead to a faster and more research focussed, evidence based approach to the use of UAV being developed. This was well received with @RPFOYSgt adding “We’ve just started a drone trial” and @WYPDeeCollins – the CC of West Yorkshire added her thoughts with “Agree UAVs needed but need regulation, APP (approved professional practise) and rely upon trained operator being available and in the right place – better for scenes perhaps?”

The conversation broadened out and considered those other agencies and departments that have or use air support and drew on the experience within those twitter contributors.

It was observed that our partners in the Ambulance Service and Coast Guard have their own well-established Air Support whereas other partners such as the Fire and Rescue Service rely on assistance from NPAS when necessary with no clear funding model for this work. Partner agencies are also beginning to experiment with Drone use. The general consensus was that there are clear areas for future collaboration.

So what does the future now hold?
Our @Wecops chat was intended to discuss how air support will change and develop over the coming years to meet the new demands of modern day policing. It is clear from the responses and debate that our helicopters and air support are highly valued. There was a warm appreciation for the skill of those working in NPAS but people also feel that we need to incorporate new technology (UAV’s) in order to get the best from our air support.
What is sure is that there will always be a need for an eye in the sky that can assist police and other emergency services on the ground with saving lives, preventing and detecting crime and providing reassurance to our communities.
He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying. Friedrich Nietzsche

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Is Policing on the Bus to Abilene? @nathanconstable and me

Is Policing on the Bus to Abilene?

Nathan Constable – practitioner

For the last month or so I have stepped back from the Twitter commentary on policing and watched. I do this from time to time with the objective of taking a helicopter view of the various themes and subjects under discussion. I want to see the level of agreement and discourse. I want to see if it’s joined up. Look for constantly reoccurring topics, conflict, different directions, where the gravity is coming from.

This, invariably, turns out to be a very painful process as I am yet to finish a period of observation without thinking that “none of this adds up.”

And it doesn’t – when you look at things coming out from the College of Policing and compare it to commentary from front line officers you have to ask how much of it is penetrating. You only have to look at the ongoing debate on taser issues and the routine arming of police officers to see the chasms which exist. I say “debate” but when you really look at it you are left wondering if it is actually a debate or whether there is a debate to be had or even allowed.

Look at the frequent talk of a desire to move away from a blame culture in policing and then watch the news, and the protests, and the politics.

The talk of Evidence Based Policing and the all too frequent reality of Ideology Based Policing and the apparent determination to see some projects continue and enlarge despite there either being no evidence of success or, worse, quite a lot of evidence revealing the problems.

I could go on giving examples because, when you look at it hard, it touches on just about every single aspect of policing past, present and future planned.

If you were to ask yourself “is there a genuine consensus on any part of policing at the moment – from how it’s done – to what it is – to who does it / should do it and how qualified they need to be, the honest answer has to be a resounding “no” and the gulf is massive.

And yet – there also appears to be a sense of overwhelming inevitability about the direction policing is heading at the same time. Seriously – when you stand over it and look down on it all it is quite staggering. So much confusion, discord, fragmentation and seemingly incompatible ideas and yet it’s on rails. A one-way track.

The next question is – how is this possible?

I am not a fan of management gurus or new fads in leadership. I’ve been exposed to a lot of it at various times in my career and I am yet to be convinced by any one particular theory. There are elements of each which may be useful at different times but there is no single solution to success and a lot of it – for me anyway – is just words on a page.

However, there are good things to be learned. For example – lots of people raved about Turning the Ship around by L. David Marquet. Marquet was a commander in the US Navy who suddenly found himself taking control of the worst performing nuclear submarine in the fleet. The book documents his account of how it went from worst to best by all methods of the Navy’s measurement. I read it and wasn’t as excited about it as many but there was one element which struck me as it was a more conscious version of something I was already doing. Marquet was struck by how nobody on the submarine would do anything without permission of a senior officer – even if the lower ranking officer was the expert. Nothing would happen without someone asking for permission to do it. Marquet felt this disempowered his sailors and so gave the instruction that instead of saying “Permission to submerge the ship, Sir?” and there following a load of questions from the Captain he turned it on its head – so – when the sailor recognised it was time to submerge and had completed his checklist he would approach the captain, advise him that the checklist was complete item by item and say “I intend to submerge the ship, Sir.”

This allowed the Captain to listen to the list of things which needed to be done – which came directly from the sailor. This empowered him and then allowed the Captain to either modify “have you thought about?” If something was missing or it wasn’t the right time or better still reply with a simple “Very good”.

I haven’t written bestselling books on the subject but had been doing something not dissimilar. I was struck when I took over my team how many people were approaching the supervisors for permission or reassurance. Even if they really should have known the answer. And it always came in the form of a question “what should I do?”

This was taking up a lot of supervisory time so I asked my colleagues to answer the question with a question “what do you think?”

This would cause the enquirer to say what they were already thinking. Almost always they knew the answer. The supervisor could then intervene gently with “what about?” Or “have you thought about?” if the enquirer needed steering or could simply reply with a simple confirmation if the person was right. My theory was that eventually people would be more confident in their own decisions and would enquire less. It seems to have worked as the queues to see the supervisors are a lot shorter now.

So there are some good elements in these airport lounge leadership books even if no single one of them is entirely right.

I mention this because some of these books offer warnings. The most poignant of which, for me, have come from “Risk” by Dan Gardner, “Wilfull Blindness” by Margaret Heffernan and “The Stupidity Paradox” by André Spicer and Matts Alvesson. But there is another little tale which – I think – could be applied to policing right now.
The Abilene Paradox.

This was introduced to the world by a management consultant called Jerry B Harvey in the US in 1974. It recounts the story of a family trip and is otherwise known as “The Bus to Abilene.”
General Colin Powell, former head of the joint chiefs of staff in the US military, recounts that it is a well-known term in the US army. Meetings could be frequently halted by the chair interrupting proceedings with the words “hold on, are we on the Bus to Abilene here?”

The story goes like this: an extended family are sat in the heat on their porch is rural Texas when the old father in law announces he is bored and wants to go to Abilene for food. His dutiful wife immediately expresses support for the idea and one by one all the family go along with it.

They catch a bus. The journey is long, hot and unpleasant. When they arrive they eat at a restaurant and the food was as bad as the journey. At the conclusion of the meal they all head home on the bus and no one has expressed any comment at all about their feelings.

When they get back home – someone says “well that was a great trip wasn’t it” without a hint of sarcasm. To which someone replies “no, it was awful.” Another says “I didn’t want to go anyway.” Another says “nor did I – I only went because you wanted to go” and so on – until it is evident that only one person wanted to go in the first place and everyone else just agreed because they thought they ought to or had to or didn’t want to say anything. The family then wonders how on earth they all ended up going on a journey none of them actually wanted to go on.

This is, as the texts will tell you, not the same as groupthink because groupthink is where everyone actually DOES agree – but possibly on the wrong things for the wrong reasons. In the Abilene Paradox there is actual disagreement with the original plan – universal agreement that the plan is a bad one – but everyone goes along with it anyway because they feel they should – have to – ought to – it’s not their place etc.

So what does this have to do with policing at the moment? Well – that’s for you to decide all I would ask is for you to rise above the noise and look down on what’s going on across the board of policing. Look really hard. Look at what the police are being asked to do and the resources they have to do it. Look at what the police are expected to do and the powers they have. Look carefully at the criticism and where it is coming from and then look at some of what is being proposed. Look at the theory and then look at the practice. Look for the conflict, the disagreement and then the direction and then ask “are we on the Bus to Abilene?”

Emma Williams – not practitioner!

I had not heard of the Bus to Abilene when NC told me about it. It is an interesting tale and one I think I can relate to policing but perhaps in a slightly different way.

Nathan starts this blog by outlining his perceptions of the fragmented and disjointed opinions of policing that are voiced on Twitter. The debate about a range of police issues, he argues, is perhaps unwelcome by some. Different ideas and challenges are hidden and in some cases even silenced. Indeed, when you have off line conversations with police officers about their personal concerns around speaking out on various forums (which I have a personal interest in), it is clear that many worry about ‘saying the wrong thing’ for fear of professional standards departments knocking on their doors.

Here I think lies the problem. In one way we hear of the need to encourage challenge, innovation, bottom up decision making, more creative problem solving etc. etc. Sadly, I think for many, it is seen as simply, rhetoric. I do absolutely think there are forces out there doing, or at least trying to do, things differently and I also think there are officers out there who actually don’t want to do it. They perceive their role as crime fighting and arresting bad guys and that is what they want to do – so actually there are challenges from both the top and the bottom of the organisation at times.

However, what is dangerous for everyone here is not having the ability to speak up through fear, fear of making a mistake, fear of reprimand, fear of blame and fear of disconnect from colleagues. And this is important in an environment that is classically known for its solidarity, teamwork and camaraderie. As the Abilene paradox states, people don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ and be considered as different. Any social psychologist will tell you that conforming in a group setting is easier than being different and actually, hearing the stories at our conference in June this year, I can see why. Sometimes it is simply easier to follow a group than it is to be an individual – this is key.

Initiatives that are doomed to succeed are it seems commonplace in the police, yes we evaluate them, but often crudely and without context and dare I say it without the occupational professionalism from the frontline. Without trying to get academic about it what constitutes knowledge is highly contested and the type of rational, standardised knowledge that is being promoted (by some) at the current time can only add to this climate of fear as officers are encouraged to, follow a protocol, complete a check list, stay in line with the risk assessment… getting it wrong is monitored by management via these outputs and they have the reverse effect on officers. They certainly do not invite difference and the trying of new things.

This blog could be really long – maybe we can do a part two but I agree that there are risks of a visit to Abilene. However, I think I would add to NC’s observations by saying that there is also a policing paradox developing here. A paradox that is created by a rhetoric (although I hope it won’t remain one) that officers will be trusted to make their own decisions and that leaders, both senior and middle, (who are perhaps even more influential) will encourage and empower just like in Marquet’s book. This is juxtaposed with an environment (as far as officers are concerned) that negates their opinion and supports a new regime of knowledge creation that happens entirely outside of their own occupational professionalism.
Always remember that groups benefit from diversity – and I mean diversity in the widest sense. Let’s celebrate diversity of thought and not miss the creative ideas and solutions that might offer a much better destination than Abilene. And you know what even if Abilene is the place of choice let’s get there together through listening, empowering and accepting ideas that might facilitate a smoother journey.

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Emma Williams

There has been a lot of recent debate about degree-level entry and the ‘professionalisation’ of policing. Emma Williams of Canterbury Christ Church University has been heavily involved in work to recognise serving officers’ existing skills and capacities. Here, she outlines what ‘Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning’ will mean.

Over the last few months there have been five regional events held by the College of Policing to update local forces and related Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) on the Police Education Qualification Framework (PEQF) and what it means to them.

By their own admission the College has not been fully effective in their communications with frontline practitioners.
By their own admission the College has not been fully effective in their communications with frontline practitioners, and as an attender and presenter at two of these events, the audience really was made up of interested academics and officers specifically involved in learning, development and training.

Misunderstanding remains about the PEQF and this was highlighted to me in a recent blog by an Inspector from Cheshire.

Dan Reynolds is a huge advocate of and engager with the College and his awareness is probably more advanced than most on the detail of the PEQF.

However, details have moved on since Dan last enquired and whilst much of his blog was correct some of the terminology and detail about what officers could achieve via their experience and prior learning was slightly confused.

Therefore I thought it might be useful to give an update based on what I have been discussing at the events being held across the country to potentially, a wider audience. So here goes.

Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning

Last summer, 2016 a tender came out to work with the College of Policing on the controversial PEQF.

Indeed, for anyone who has read my ramblings on degree gate, you will know that I too had mixed feelings about making degree level entry compulsory for a range of reasons.
The contract was for a six month period, finishing in March 2017 and as Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) had been very much involved in the conversation prior to the tender, we thought ‘in for a penny, in for a pound,’ and put in a bid. We were successful in the process and here we are now at the end of that contract.

The work strand I was involved in was the Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL)[1].

CCCU has a very established programme for serving officers, and if I am quite honest, the RPEL options and now the apprenticeship programme are the two areas of the PEQF I am most excited about.

The College did listen and have actioned some of the findings from their consultation about degree level entry (which reported in December).

Indeed, for anyone who has read my ramblings on degree gate, you will know that I too had mixed feelings about making degree level entry compulsory for a range of reasons.


The RPEL side of the PEQF I feel very positive about. A recent survey conducted by the College found that 79% of officers who responded would like to obtain a qualification.

Officers (if they wish) are absolutely entitled to claim the rightful recognition they deserve for reasons of transferability, recognition and actually for some, their own self esteem.
CCCU have between 50-80 applications a year for the BSc, and the amount of learning officers and staff can evidence in their forms always impresses us – clearly this should count towards academic credits for a full degree.

The complex decisions made, the research undertaken to explore problems, the conflict management skills and the reflection and self-evaluation completed on a daily basis is something which is hard to evidence in many other occupations. This in itself makes officers professional people.

Neither me, my colleagues or the College would state that a degree automatically makes that person more professional; BUT having a qualification can align policing with other professions, and I truly believe these issues are two separate things.

Feedback from our own students suggests that qualifications can also make an individual feel more justified in their role. However, regardless of tha,t and put fairly simply, officers (if they wish) are absolutely entitled to claim the rightful recognition they deserve for reasons of transferability, recognition and actually for some, their own self esteem.

This is why I was so pleased to work with the College on this – because I absolutely believe in it – should officers wish to do it. And let’s make this very clear – for serving officers it is optional.

The deliverables

To be honest when I saw the list of deliverables and the timeframes we had to complete them I nearly panicked and ran away. Six months to produce:

A directory of universities with policing related qualifications /costs attached / learning methods / assessment styles and potential content
Three guidance documents for individuals, forces and higher education institutions
A standardised application form for officers to use when claiming their credits
An agreed list of the academic credits attached to a number of current National Police Curriculum courses
We would not have been able to do this work without huge assistance from a number of HEIs and forces who helped with the indicative credit figures / the piloting of the application form / the feedback on the application form from practitioners etc. But after much blood and sweat we got there.

There is also an additional development – a digital platform which will allow officers to populate their career history, previous training, education and experience to provide them with the indicative credits they might be entitled to should they wish to gain them (this is due for release in the summer).

Unintended consequences

One of the most positive issues arising from the pilot of the application form was the positive feedback from some of the officers involved who previously had no idea what they might be able to gain academically from simply what they already do.
This is a very effective way of formally recognising the fact that some people might not have the piece of paper; but my goodness they are capable of gaining one – if they want to.
The credits fed back to the officers involved ranged from some applicants being accredited to a standard half way through a degree qualification – meaning they could gain a degree in three years part-time.

Others received feedback from universities that would take them straight in at a postgraduate level purely based on the complexity of their experience and professional training on the job.

If policing is going down the road of all applicants either coming in with a degree or being trained to degree level through an apprenticeship, this is a very effective way of formally recognising the fact that some people might not have the piece of paper; but my goodness they are capable of gaining one – if they want to.

Worth noting is that this credit recognition was reflected across all of the HEIs that helped with the evaluation of the application forms – of which there were a fair few.

The willingness of the workforce to engage with us on this shows the appetite for this opportunity, and as we promised the application form has been completely amended based on the applicants’ feedback. It is now relatively simple to complete, standardised and should make the process of applying for credits fairer and more consistent across all academic institutions. This was an aim of the PEQF initially.

Change for us all

The development of the guidance documents has not been simple. Indeed, there have been questions at a number of events I have attended about the reality of what they include actually happening in practice and the potential to set false expectations. But in order to make this work, everyone involved needs to make some changes.

The College acknowledge they cannot enforce what individual forces choose to offer their staff and officers in terms of support and financial assistance – forces need to consider operational requirements and reduced budgets.

Individuals cannot guarantee that they will be able to attend all the relevant lectures and get every assignment in on time, but if they do choose this option, the personal extra time to study is a given.

And HEIs might not all fully understand operational commitments and the need to make their theoretical learning practically useful – there is change needed here for us all.

Supporting each other

The guidance documents, I hope, will outline similar information which is written in a different way dependant on the audience (force, potential student or HEI).

There are clear ways that this process can be eased through mutual support and all if us accepting change and doing things differently. The documents are of course far more detailed but here are some examples from each one:

Individual guidance – The aim of the individual guidance is to offer information about different learning styles, to provide examples of what people might use as evidence if they decide to apply for credits or put them towards a further qualification – the individuals who chose to take this opportunity are the most important ones and they will need the support from the forces and the HEIs.

Therefore, we have tried to offer some thoughts about the type of questions that potential students might want to ask their force about in terms of support. This might depend on the type of learning style someone opts for, but it could focus on time to attend lectures and complete assignments, having an assigned mentor who might have academic experience or even just someone to help them think about where they might be able to apply their learning and help their own force with knowledge gain.

I can hear the ‘yeah right’ comments as I write this, and have heard the ‘that ain’t gonna happen’ statements myself. I completely agree that the culture to promote such a learning ethos is not quite there – but let’s try to be positive!

Force guidance – This is where we try and offer examples of what might work for people who want to study and gain credits for their work. There are some huge advantages for forces who enable their workforce and believe it or not some great examples of those that do exactly this.

The added bonus is that a supported workforce gain a real sense of value from that support and feel more part of their workplace. This might not be stated in the guidance but offering support to your people has huge benefits both in terms of productivity and for using their assessments to enable the development of an organisational research bank and evidence base.

This guidance focuses on the specifics of what forces can do to help, what support issues might come up for different learners and how they can assist with the application process. There are examples of good practice out there – let’s try and use it, support this change and help employees’ have their expertise recognised more formally.

HEI guidance – Let’s face it, this is also a huge change for some HEIs. Many might not like having to sign up to a set curriculum, to be more thoughtful in the way they deliver teaching and in their application process. Plus they will inevitably have to think more practically about how they assess students.

But if we want to really align the world of policing and academia we should embrace this change. The opportunities to learn from practitioners about their reality compared to what is in the books is something that should be welcomed.

The HEI guidance offers ideas about how the academic community can support students in operational roles and how we can have a real impact on workplace learning based on education and evidence. Exciting times for us all as teachers in a very practical, fast changing and dynamic world.

The future

This change will take time and it will require us all to think differently and step outside of our comfort zone if we want to make it work. However if we really care about the future of policing for its employees and the public we have to acknowledge how fast the environment is changing.

Universities need to provide evolving, relevant, research driven programmes which aim to assist practical cops and staff think about how they map learning onto their vital experience and on the job learning.

Forces need to support their staff in order to help them gain the recognition they deserve (if they choose too). The benefit for the individuals and also on a wide scale is clear.

And individuals should they choose to put their credits towards a further qualification have to try and use their learning in the workplace despite the potential barriers. This could (and I am positive) facilitate a change that is needed to help develop a learning and change willing environment which may make the vital difference in policing going forward.

[1] This piece only discusses detail from this area of the PEQF

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Caroline Hay and Emma Williams

Evidence Based Policing (EBP), what it means to the front line, the way it is defined and the methods to get more officers involved in ‘doing it’ has been a contentious topic for some time. There is a growing body of academic work exploring officers’ perceptions of a sense of involvement in, and understanding of, EBP. Indeed, a recent presentation by a PhD student, delivered at the winter meeting of the Society of Evidence Based Policing conference highlighted the ongoing issues officers have with this concept. Interestingly one of the key themes emerging from the findings of this research was the sense that officers own professional expertise is often ignored in the process and outputs of EBP. This in itself is linked to their disengagement.
Given this it was positive to see the recent definition coming from the College of Policing which, I hope, allayed some myths about their own perceptions of what EBP is. It was particularly reassuring to see within the definition:
• The recognition of professional knowledge and;
• The fact that EBP is not simply about evaluating police work but also it serves to help understand and define problems better. In fact if this first part of a problem solving process is incomplete there is likely to be limited effect of any applied tactic or strategy.
It was with all these issues in mind when @wecops decided to hold a debate on EBP and given the excellent blogs produced by @WYPOwenWest on this subject area we were very lucky to have him involved to host this important conversation two weeks ago.
This blog will highlight some of the issues raised to provide an overview and summary of the evening’s conversations.
Q1. How do we engage front line cops in EBP and where can research be best applied to tackle pressing operational need?
This question is vital – as the team predicted the chat response did not produce many answers for later part of this question. Given the academic literature on this and the lack of involvement the respondents described in the research mentioned above, it was not surprising that a wider police audience mirrored some of these thoughts. We hope the summary below effectively starts to explore some of the reasons for this.
Initially, Tweets, perhaps predictably, called for front line engagement. It seems to be a popular soundbite, ‘let’s speak to the boots on the ground.’ These opinions are also in harmony with research from many other occupations about employer / employee engagement and involvement. However there is an important role to be played by academics here too.
Part of this lack of understanding relates to officers not seeing the potential benefits of EBP because they do not feel involved in EBP processes. As highlighted by @Dwanalysis: I think if we involve the front line in research they will engage if they see the possible benefits. @TheBigHon agreed and stated: absolutely, give them a role in leading projects and studies!
Whilst this is a great idea and offers genuine suggestions, some were also keen to point out that this is not always practical with operational commitments and resource constraints. @Oakhampolice argued: What is it? Stretched front line honestly don’t have the time to think about it.
The reality of policing presently is that front line officers do not have the time to engage with EBP. What was disappointing about the debate on the night was the lack of engagement from front line officers. This is perhaps related to them not knowing exactly what EBP is or perhaps it was related to something else. However, it was clear that there is a feeling of cynicism about this from some as there is towards many new policing approaches. As @ktbg1 remarks: So many projects are ‘doomed to succeed’ & don’t follow the evidence, many are cynical about getting involved in testing properly.
Interesting the host himself acknowledged this and stated that perhaps EBP has been too elitist and a promotion tick box…it needs an egalitarian approach for front line. Simon Holdaway made an interesting comment about the amount of involvement required of the front line at this stage. stating: I’m not sure why the front line needs to know much about EBP right now. V early days in UK. Decide long-term strategy first.
In ways this was supported by Paul Quinton from the College of Policing: “A wide uptake (of research and academia) amongst frontline at the mo. But their practices can be evidence based if higher-ups communicate evidence via other means such as briefings, guidance, standard operating procedures, etc. GPs prescribe drugs based on the guidance they get, not because they necessarily know the ‘science’ behind the guidance. Some do of course and will have even contributed to the evidence base”.
With the demands facing officers some might argue why should we be burdening officers with the detail of EBP? However, there has to be the right balance between simply giving officers SOPs, briefings etc., based on research and involving them in discussions about actioning them. The potential negative ramification of this being that their sense of being de-professionalised by EBP is confirmed by such decisions to leave them out of elements of the process.
As @EBPegram argues, there are good reasons for engaging officers as evidence needs to be understood before its’ implementation.
Other comments relating to Q1 focused on accessibility and language. As articulated by @Kerrinwilson999 – Too much emphasis on front line cops to do research on #EBP Forces / CoP need to package up ‘what works’ in easily accessible format.
However as @RockandDroll stated this is not just about using research it is about embedding a need to review what you do and learn from it: When putting together an op, results analysis/EBP should be part of it, resourced adequately. Great CPD (continued professional development) for the right person too!
This is interesting – is there an argument for a central and standardised package, updated when new research is established such as the what works centre as a standalone or should we be engaging with officers to ensure analysis of any results following the implementation of such evidence – surely both. As @DannoReynolds informed us the ‘What works Centre’ at the college & Polka, are a great source to find evidence and real life working stuff from police officers in post. But if we also want to ensure we are evaluating police work as standard practice, engagement with officers and embedding a further understand of EBP is vital. Not simply being able to access what works information.
Q2. How can we re-direct the principles of evidence/knowledge based policing more towards the front line?
This question aimed to explore how we can get police officers who are regularly engaged in patrolling to become involved with EBP. @OakhamPolice related this again to time point: #WeCops I’m really sorry but my response colleagues are fighting hard to keep up with day to say stuff they just don’t have time. However this was challenged by @DedicatedPeeler: But this is the problem. It’s like chicken and egg. Can’t deal with problems as too busy, so they remain problems #wecops It’s on repeat.
ktbg1 endorsed this argument: Desmond Tutu said ‘we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in’ However it is interesting that many cops still consider EBP to be mainly dealing with symptoms of problems over long term issues (what works over what matters) and this is in itself a challenge both to forces and academics alike.
As @wecopscaroline warned-what about immediate ‘risk’: You can’t let people drown whilst you’re trying to find the solution #wecops. This is the balance.
@Ktbg1 informed the debate group that in Thames Valley Police, she has introduced a journal system for when research and evidence has been gained. This is accessible to officers who are embarking on new and local projects. This seems ideal. It would be interesting to see how many people use this. When time constrains are a factor, officers need information to be presented simply and succinctly for them to engage with and understand it.
The host, @WYP_OwenWest bought the conversation round again to the issue of problem definition: We talk a lot about problem solving but rarely use analytical techniques and dare I say it science to do so. This can be particularly challenging to officers who think they have a clear understanding of what exactly local problems are. There is a perception that there is a general unwillingness to give appropriate weight to professional observations…Peter Kirkham voiced: I feel that professional / practitioner observations are EVIDENCE. Not opinion! In some areas empirical data can’t be obtained easily/affordably/at all!
The new definition of EBP may allay some of these issues and also as @thebighon stated: maybe the #PEFQ will change officer’s attitude towards EPB?. Could it as PCSO Sarah Barberini‏ argued, play a role in helping to remove the mystery surrounding EBP. This could create a greater understanding at frontline level. Any benefits are a bonus.
Interestingly @Okkiperpernoot highlighted the need for senior leaders to play a key role in front line progression in this area: #WeCops if senior police officers (Insp. and up) aren’t trained to work really intelligence led, all effort to insert any research will fail
This is a critical point as highlighted by both @thebighon and @dannoreynolds: Show them how they are already using Evidence-Based practice.
Discussions about intelligence led policing and problem solving are central to EBP and have both been operating in police work for many years – perhaps this is a way in to explaining the aims of EBP. Lastly, @inspEricHalford gave a tangible answer about how to make EBP real for cops: Evidence cafes have proven a fantastic way to get them actively engaged
Q3. How can we embed, use and develop EBP/KBP so it is business as usual instead of unusual business?
This debate very much returned to original discussions, with @JamesSenior209 encouraging inclusion: Open up projects to all, not a select few. Then ensure everyone is recognised at the end to encourage others to get involved
This debate was always likely to attract challenging comments from some and it is important to highlight these viewpoints given they may be indicative of many. These maybe hard for senior leaders to change: @Agedbobby You can’t (make it business as usual). These questions merely serve to highlight that you don’t know what you’re doing. #wecops #ebp absolute nonsense.
@daimogssoapbox had a more holistic response to answering this question, suggesting: a multi-level approach #blended learning peer 2 peer, champions, e support, coaching, direct micro teaches, ID benefits. Additionally @SuperSteveLyne provided a more positive outlook: letting people see results, it will be addictive to all if they see outcomes, need a few to start the movement in teams!
@PS_498_Morrison makes a really valuable point about balance: Recognise value in evidence from experience vs evidence from data. Front line walking data mines that should be valued & engaged! #WeCops
Of course we must not lose sight of experience and it was inevitable that this would come up in this debate. The value of this is unquantifiable but most would agree, invaluable. It must work in conjunction with evidence for this to work and it is so positive to see this recognised formally in the College’s definition.
The answers to these individual questions did cross over and emerge in themes. The most interesting issue, given how much is written on this was perhaps the acknowledgement that EBP is a term used to describe some elements of policing that is already in place such as, intelligence led policing and the SARA process. Plus the debate about whether front line officers should simply receive the outputs of research via guidance and briefings and not worry too much about how they were created. In order to install a culture that is willing to review practice as standard this is problematic. Plus without understanding such guides and not being involved in them officers’ sense of professional identity can be undermined.
This is a great Tweet to end with and relates to both evidence and experience – indeed sometimes we undervalue what we are already doing.
@Gooderspg: he greatness is already out there, good leaders will provoke its use, subconsciously we already do this, or how are we succeeding?!

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