Where academia meets practice – Reflections by a 2nd year BSc student -Policing and Mental health

This reflective piece by a second year student caught my eye! It is honest, reflective and highlights much learning…..

In 2010 I volunteered to become the Mental Health Liaison Officer responsible for being the point of contact between the local police in Hounslow, mental health service providers and service users. There was no bespoke training for the role, but simply by being named as the MHLO I became the local police ‘expert’ on all things mental health, I had no experience of mental ill health, I got lost when mental health nurses and psychiatrists discussed psychosis or personality disorder and could not understand why someone who appeared to me to be suffering a mental ill health condition was not suitable for treatment at the acute hospital. During my 18 months as the MHLO I re-wrote the local policy on how police and service providers worked together and participated as a joint lead in a project examining what affect the Bradley Report would have on policing mental health.
Policing Mental Health
It is estimated that 25% of the prison population suffer some form of mental health (MH) illness (Ramesh, 2014) and as such it is no surprise that police officers must deal with people suffering an MH illness frequently. In fact the Metropolitan Police Service has dedicated officers in every borough tasked with being a liaison between the police and mental health service providers. At the time of my appointment as a liaison officer Bernard Hogan-Howe had recently been appointed as Commissioner of the MPS and had made policing mental health a priority (Towl & Crighton, 2012). However, given the importance of this, there is surprisingly little training for Mental Health Liaison Officers (MHLO), in fact there is not much training for police in general when it comes to working with people suffering mental ill health.
I took up the post of MHLO as The Bradley Report was published and I approached the local mental health trust’s senior leaders to look at the recommendations of the Bradley Report and what that would mean for policing. The Bradley Report looked at the realities where persons suffering an MH illness were processed through the criminal justice system and made recommendations about effective diversions to make sure people were treated rather than punished (Department of Health, 2009). I spent a lot of time reading the report and its recommendations, had I had the knowledge I have now (and access to the same resources) I would have found that Bradley had already been reviewed in a policing context including a piece by Cummins (2012) where use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, liaison between police and MH service providers and police training were all considered in light of Bradley. As it turns out I chose to focus on police training, the use of 136 of the MH Act and liaison as my initial priorities anyway, however had I been able to rely on Cummins’ work it would have improved the weight of my argument to get people interested in my project.
After introducing myself to the MH Trust’s senior leaders I approached the MPS central unit for MH and was informed that there was no real strategy for development training of police. I explained that I intended to address this for my borough. I designed a training package and organised attendance at local training days to deliver it aided by one of the senior nurses from the local acute hospital. I was unaware that police training had been considered by many academics including Cummins above but in other work as well. For example, Cummings & Jones (2010) highlighted two successful approaches to training police, one where new recruits spent two days at a local MH hospital where they met service users and experienced some of the issues and conflicts first hand, and another where custody sergeants were targeted for training as it was thought that as experienced officers and role models they would be able to pass on the learning to other staff. Had I been aware of these findings I would most certainly have adapted my approach to meeting with smaller groups of more senior officers where I may have been able to arrange input from MH staff and potentially service users too. Moore (2010) also looked at training as part of a literature review of the topic and supported the finding of Cummins & Jones that actually meeting MH sufferers and understanding the issues from their perspective was invaluable in reducing the stigma attached to MH and thereby improving the way police respond to these issues.
Finally looking at the benefits of liaison Coleman and Cotton (2010) wrote an article on a Canadian model where police working closely in support of MH staff delivered real benefits. They detailed several principles for effective MH policing including having identified liaison with partner agencies and ensuring staff were trained to an acceptable level. At a time where Evidence Based Policing was becoming more and more popular having the weight of these academic arguments to support my work would have been of real benefit and would almost certainly have not only improved what I was doing practically but would have encouraged greater ‘buy in’ from the staff I was trying to develop.
I took on the role of MHLO as a volunteer and did it as I wanted to develop myself and thought it would be a good challenge. My experience of the role and the people I got to work with really helped me and may well have been one of the main motivators for starting a degree. I looked at MH issues in a policing context and worked to address them, however I worked hard not smart. With the basic knowledge I have already gained from the Policing BSc I am able to very easily find numerous journals which have researched, reviewed and published findings on all areas of policing including mental health. Not only would this have saved me time, it would have helped me make better arguments for what I wanted to achieve. What I have also taken from this is the value of the degree education and I recognise why the College of Policing are promoting the Education Framework.

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Guest blog from a student – essentially police officers are human ….

A handy guide to the life of a police officer

So I woke up today to the ‘news’ reported (in the loosest terms) in the Sun newspaper that eight police officers were seen eating breakfast in Plymouth. In a day when there are drastic police cuts meaning that police canteens are all but a thing of the past (only a few 24 hour canteens remaining within the Met) and an increase in stress levels for officers as well as reduced times for breaks this article at first really angered me. But then I thought, hang on, maybe the Sun really doesn’t know what police officers do on a day to day basis and might need some help. I thought it is my civic duty to help those poor journalists who have not had the opportunity to spend a day policing to understand the kind of things that police officers get up, so I thought I would help them out with a brief list of things Police officers do. Now I am going to attach a caveat to this list, you may find some of what you read, shocking, upsetting and simply uncomfortable reading, however it may just enlighten you. As for the Sun I think it will save them a great deal of money and time in the future. No longer will they have to have sensationalised stories such as ‘Armed officer buys a sandwich in Tesco’ or ‘Cops in Algarve drink Beer when off duty’. I think this can only be a positive thing for everyone. I would like to point out that this is not an exhaustive list and can be added to. I will rely on the coppers out there eating their lunch and being a general nuisance in public to help me out with the bits that I have missed. So here goes.

1. Police officers sleep – yes they do, sometimes they may even get the recommended 8 hours, that is if they are not late off or having difficulty in sleeping due to the horrific incident they have dealt with that is playing on their mind.
2. Police officers eat – afraid so. all Humans unfortunately need food water and a bit of sunshine, much like plants. without these things they will die and not be able to feature in newspaper articles
3. Police officers poop – You got me. all those pit stops for grub can stay stored up forever, it needs somewhere to go. I have known one police officer actually go 5 times in one day. as they say ‘Sh*t happens’ even to police officers it appears
4. Police officers have families and friends – Sad but true, some of them find partners who like and love them and want to spend time with them, especially when they have been through a rough time at work, dealing with the misery that human life can sometimes bring. Police officers need their families to get them by. Some have also managed to find other humans that like them, they call these humans their ‘friends’. they may even see them in public and say hello, this can sometimes be whilst they are at work!
5. Police officers laugh – Again, this is a serious business so I find it quite disturbing that they chuckle from time to time. However, this is often involuntary because they don’t want their colleagues to know that they actually find them funny as they will earn ‘kudos’.
6. Police officers cry – Sometimes things just get too much and they shed a tear, I am of the ‘Man Up’ philosophy but some of them have seen some frankly terrible things so I think I should give them a bit of a break
7. Police officers have holidays – now this one really grinds my gears! they get days off from policing the streets, time to spend with family and loved ones, time to reflect and chill out. Some of them even go on planes and have time away from the UK. I am sure this is in strict contravention to The Suns ‘no coppers have holiday policy’!
8. Police officers read – again, this is the first I have heard of it. I thought that they made stuff up as they went along without thought or consideration for anyone but it would appear that many read, have opinions and concerns and a few often air these views.
9. Police officers wash – yep. some even have showers on duty!! told you this would get nasty. I have known officers train to stay fit and healthy and then have the audacity to have a shower. I am told that it is ideal to kit physically fit and that’s why they have brought in fitness tests but I draw the line at washing afterwards.
10. Police officers drink alcohol – Only off duty but they still drink the stuff. I thought they we always on duty but the whole family life, holidays and sleep has put pay to that. I believe that some may even get drunk
11. Police officers like the public – stay with me on this one. If you ask any copper, why they joined somewhere in their reply will be ‘ I wanted to help people’. how cliché is that !!! Some even help people off duty. And despite a load of red tape, some try and circumnavigate it for the better of the general public.
12. Police officers pay taxes – shocked beyond belief but apparently they really do! so in effect they are actually paying their own wages?? how does that work?? And because they work for the Home Office they can’t even swerve paying it (which is a good thing).
13. Police Officers make mistakes – Probably less often than you would think if you read The Sun but yes sometimes they make mistakes. Often they make mistakes with the best intentions and are generally devastated if that mistake could have been avoid. But they learn from it and they move on trying to do things better next time.
14. Police officers support teams – I thought they were meant to be impartial? but some have affiliations for Football, Rugby, American Football, even Baseball teams. I have known police officers to be working at events where their team are playing and watched in horror as their team have scored a point, try or goal and they have actually punched the air in delight. Some have even cheered Tottenham! (see point 13).
15. Police officers have feelings – Back in the 1970’s there was a recognised course that removed the feeing part of a coppers brain through cognitive therapy but apparently it was unethical (what’s with ethics these days!!) so now when they read stuff about police that is untrue or misrepresented they get upset and angry and sometimes vent that anger through the medium of writing, dance, sport .. whatever!
16. Police officers watch TV – and not just police programs, some fill their mind with binge watching episodes of ‘Made in Chelsea’ or repeats of ‘Howards Way’, I personally think that they should only be allowed to watch police things but who am I.
17. Police officers don’t like to sit in the station – These people don’t even like where they work! they want to be out on the streets doing police work! be comforting victims, taking statements and keeping law and order. In fact, many try and spend a whole shift away from the place taking call after call after call. but eventually that paperwork is going to catch up with them and eventually they have to return to the hole they call ‘work’. having been to a few I can see why they want to avoid them.
18. Police officers shout and swear – Rude! just plain rude! I want them to be polite all of the time ‘ sorry sir, would you awfully mind not kicking me in the head, there’s a good chap’. They sometimes swear back at people who have sworn at them, or shout because people are doing something they shouldn’t or getting overly animated and need verbal restraint .
19. Police officers love their job – Not surprised with the amount of food they get to eat on duty, time off with families, holidays even factored in ‘poop time’. But they really do, even when its exceptionally tough, they see or deal with something horrendous, they get injured or their colleague gets hurt, they have their pay and pensions messed with and wages effectively reduced, they are pointed out and ridiculed for getting breakfast before 8am in public, they deal with that incident that no one wants to see and manage the after effects and ongoing concerns. Yes, even after that they still love it, still want to help people, still want to protect and still want to make this a better place to live and bring kids up.
20. Police officers read the Sun – this figure maybe somewhat reduced with this type of journalism but they do read this paper. Some officers even actually enjoy reading it, they like the Sport coverage and the humorous stories published in its pages. Most are glad that page 3 has gone though, it becomes awkward for male officers to see that whilst eating a bacon sandwiches in a cafe on the beach.
So there you have it, not an all-inclusive list but one that will hopefully put you straight on a few matters. I have been told that spillage often occurs and they do some of these things in public as well. If you can think of anymore ludicrous things that police officers do I would love to hear them, I may even write a book ‘ the life of a police officer, things you may not know’. In the meantime, keep eating in public, laughing and being happy, enjoying your family life and supporting your favourite team because when it gets very real, like it did for many of us very recently you will need all of these things to sustain you mentally and physically.

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It’s all about the people ‘innit. With thanks to @West Coast Response for letting me piggy back his idea!!

A great blog by @westcoastresponse drove this piece! Thankyou!

Anecdotal and hard evidence from research by the Police Federation / The Police Dependants Trust and the academic community, such as Dr Ian Hesketh, tells us that many police officers are currently suffering from high levels of stress and low levels of mental health and personal wellbeing. For a number of reasons this can go unnoticed by officialdom and can result in officers taking annual leave (termed leavism) to recover and having less working will to put in that extra mile for their organisation. Last year Canterbury Christ Church University ran a one and a half day conference on policing under stress and the issues raised and discussed at the event by a number of the speakers indicated that officers, nationally, feel disengaged from change processes, uninvolved and indeed not considered in the development of policy and new practices aimed at them, their operational practice and decision making.

I get quite repetitive about my desire for officer voice in research production and outputs plus of course the necessary feedback on the way such deliverables are operationalised by the workforce. Research assessing the impact of anything aimed at delivering certain objectives in policing should always involve some kind of process evaluation, how this impacts on people and perceptions of the outcomes. Whilst the ethos of my own working environment at the Canterbury Police Research Centre is always to capture officer voice, there is an abundance of research published on this within organisational change literature as well as specifically in the Policing literature.

Organisational justice theory for example offers some very practical insights into how organisations can do staff relations better and how they might consider the staff in change processes and policy development. The potential to miss out on such rich information from those doing the job is noteworthy and therefore the expertise of the rank and file is lost, not considered and results in staff feeling that their view is worthless, their organisation and its leaders do not really value their opinion and ultimately well being at work is negatively affected.

I was fascinated a few weeks ago by a blog I read on Twitter about the idea of introducing a frontline impact assessment which could offer a method to capture the views of officers on the frontline quite quickly and provide their feedback on planned change and policy development (https://westcoastresponse.wordpress.com/2016/11/05/dispatches-from-the-front/). The blog stated, and I quote from it here that:

“If officers know that their feedback can positively shape policy they are more likely to contribute. Just like we do with partner consultations, it’s important to provide feedback to the teams consulted directly, as well as the wider force to show that they have had an impact on policy development”.

What an excellent statement. The police go all out to assess the impact on communities via equality impact assessments but rarely do they consider the impact on staff. Given the research findings about what drives positive behaviour at work, the research on the current state of stress inside the job and the sense of disengagement officers feel, such an idea seems like a no brainer as a method to help increase inclusivity, engage staff and learn.

As a researcher I can get quite frustrated when we here the term implementation failure. That trusty term to excuse a failed initiative or project – sometimes to justify failure perhaps and sometimes to absolve responsibility from the idea provider and quickly move on. The issue for me is the need to learn from such failures and change the practice next time. Rarely in policing now do we here of process evaluations which actively explore the drivers and mechanisms of change – key failures, challenges or indeed success stories – all of which we can learn from. We tend to focus on the impact of x,y or z which focus on quantifiable data over the views, voice and context. Therefore this blog by West Coast Response really raised my interest levels.

Considering the impact of a policy, a process change, a restructure on the frontline might be a very quick method to learn, to facilitate a smoother implementation which officers feel engaged in (because they have been included) and potentially to minimise any potential negativity by listening to any perceived issues prior to roll out. It seems remarkable that we gather information on the potential impact in the public sphere and then ignore the very people who are fundamental to any further implementation. Surely the threat to the successful delivery of any programme is compromised if we consider all of the research that has been done on the impact of non-engagement with those doing the job.

As West Coast Responses blog stated:

“Developing an efficient process to gain up to date and relevant frontline information to inform policing policy is a potentially a huge source of qualitative data that can have a positive impact on policy development. It comes at very little cost in time and effort and shows frontline officers that policy makers care about their role and value their advice”.

This is an innovative idea which I would like to help share more widely. At a time when leaders in policing need to think more and more about their staff and engagement with them this might provide a very viable tangible way of listening and, as a further positive consequence, a method to smooth delivery of policy and get buy in from those expected to operationalise the concepts.

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Reconsidering peer review in police research and what we mean by ‘impact’: Learning from those doing the job

Peer review is a term we all love in academia. After long hours spent writing up our research findings, ideas and new concepts for discussion we hit send to an academic journal publication only to hear back that we haven’t been analytical enough, there is not enough evidence cited, the structure is wrong or the research methods are flaky. Therefore the piece is considered not robust enough to justify a publication.

I don’t know many academics who have never, in their career, received a rejection or a dreaded ‘you need to make ‘major’ modifications in order for us to reconsider this paper’ The worst thing is you don’t know who has made these recommendations. It may be a colleague, a friend or even someone you really admire and respect – hence the internalised embarrassment about not being good enough is based on the unknown and the mysterious.

The purpose and current structure for peer reviewing in the police context crossed my mind this week as a result of attending the Society of Evidence Based Policing. I was lucky enough to be asked to present at the conference with Dr Ian Hesketh. We discussed our thoughts, at the conference, on the potential use of social media as a way of capturing views about current police practice and issues arising that might be affecting the people from the voice of the practitioner themselves. Such information around local police knowledge might be useful for other officers as a way of gaining support about their concerns; local leaders for them to understand issues affecting their staff and for us as academics exploring insights into policing for further research and review.

Such a concept may be laced with a range of methodological problems but we believe that the conversations that have emerged on forums such as Twitter offer a different kind of awareness about a range of contemporary police issues – not least how current changes to the police organisation are affecting officers and staff. Furthermore, at a time when officers are feeling excluded from much of this change and disengaged from the process it seems like an ideal opportunity that is worthy of exploration.

As I researched this paper, I came across a number of articles concerned with the use of internal web based forums and social media communication as a way of engaging employees in local decision making. There was information about how its use can develop innovation, raise self-esteem and of course help with the sharing of knowledge across organisations – all of which are issues the police are struggling with at the moment.

Conversely, much of what I found about the use of social media in a policing context was focused on the way it can, of course, provide information to the public via local ‘official’ Twitter handles aimed at just that. However in terms of officers voicing their thoughts, the feedback was rather more negative. Issues around not being able to say certain things, inconsistency within and between forces about social media policies and a fear of being reprimanded for saying the wrong thing etc. etc. Whilst this not only raises issues around fairness it also means that a wealth of potential information goes untouched.

Having seen papers last week on the perceptions officers continue to have of evidence based policing (particularly some excellent findings delivered by a PhD student from Huddersfield University) I realised that the findings relating to key challenges around embedding EBP mirror those that I found myself quite a while back. In research I conducted with crime analysts both in the early 2000s and more recently for the College of Policing in 2014 the issues were the same – products and findings were seen as operationally unclear, EBP is seen as a threat to professional identity and judgement, many have never heard of EBP and some officers don’t feel they have a voice within the process.

And so …….. my point about peer review and how we as policing academics also need to consider options to engage practitioners in our products at every stage – not just simply at the beginning of the process. Much of what being an academic in policing is focused on is the ability to make our research findings useful to those who may use it. Not to write lengthy research reports that potentially might never see the light of day in a practical environment but to provide that community with action based, operationally useful findings which can be implemented to drive change. We expect most of our postgraduate students at CCCU to keep an eye on ‘keeping it real’ and some of our students are asked to produce operational reports or briefings in addition to a heavy thesis which is strictly externally examined for academic rigour. Writing in an applied way is a skill for us in academia and it is not an easy task. However surely within a context that is pushing for evidence based practice amongst all ranks and roles, the usefulness of research outputs must be key.

Of course the aims of any research in the police world are two fold – clearly for an academic the aim is to provide knowledge on a given subject that can be utilised within the academic sphere in order to build theory and further understand the complexities of a number of issues. BUT the other aim and of course most importantly for the user of the work is the drive to develop key recommendations and outputs that facilitate change for the practitioner at all levels.

I don’t need to highlight once again my view on the importance of gaining the voice of the practitioner in the research process but what about gaining that insight at the end of the project – that is surely what true collaboration should be in terms of the co-production of knowledge and knowledge outputs. For those universities that are involved in collaboration agreements I am sure this regularly happens, however perhaps not yet as regularly as it should according to the ongoing challenges to evidence based practice.

How can we get practitioners more involved and what can we learn from them?

It came to me after the SEBP conference that perhaps one of the ways we might be able to involve officers more is in the review of our research outputs. We all know that there are some academic journals that are more highly regarded than others by academics but there are some very practical journals available now that are more intended to engage with both police practitioners and academics. Therefore surely the work presented in these publications needs to be understandable, practically relevant and should use clear and transparent language over what can be perceived as academic jargon.

Impact in the academic world is what we currently strive for as part of the REF – indeed when I review an article I am not necessarily looking for the ease of understanding for a police officer who might be trying to implement the findings later on. However the meaning of impact for police organisations and practitioners is something different and perhaps therefore what we mean by impact as operational researchers needs reconsidering. I wonder how much we can further engage practitioners in this process through practitioner review somehow. Is there an option to have a practitioner reviewer on board if the research being presented is aimed at changing or influencing police practice?

It seems to me that such engagement might be positive for two reasons: it offers another way of involving the police in the production of ‘useful knowledge outputs’ which are aimed at them’ and therefore, this may have the potential to help them understand the objectives of EBP more widely than they currently do.

Secondly I wonder if there is worth in drawing the practitioner in to the development of different types of outputs as more standardised practice. A key point raised in one of the pieces of work I came across in my research for our conference paper was a piece on how social media might offer a method to further engage officers not simply in the inputs of research at the start of a project but actually as a forum to gain feedback from practitioners about the outputs of the research itself.

It seems that research and researchers continue to be viewed by some practitioners as being involved in a process that simply involves gathering data, getting published and then officers and other interested parties having to search and retrieve research in order to make sense of it themselves. I wonder if social media might offer a method to create a ‘multi layered, socialized arena for commentary’ (Lievrouw, 2010: 3). This would assist academics in the hard and complex task of making research useful for those doing the job. In addition, practitioner review may offer an assurance that research impacts at every level and not just to an academic community who may after all being looking for something entirely different from their research.



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Thoughts on spit hoods – Graham Hooper

Spit Hoods in Policing – Comment

Policing is an occupation with special risks. Every day police officers are assaulted and injured in the course of their duties, often minor, but sometimes seriously and very occasionally fatally.
For a considerable time, equipment to protect the police, and the tactics that went with it, moved incredibly slowly. Indeed, little differentiated the Victorian bobby walking the gas lit streets of London, with the modern constable on the beat in the late 1990s. Their protective equipment was nothing more than a 14 inch piece of wood – the police truncheon – tucked discreetly down a special pocket in their uniform trousers, some jangling handcuffs – and, well, that was it.

But in the last decade and a half the police have acquired a significant range of new protective equipment that has both transformed their capability to protect themselves but also radically changed their street appearance. The truncheon was replaced by new metal batons, CS spray, or the more potent PAVA spray, was introduced, and the Taser widely issued as a ‘less-lethal’ weapon to use in certain conflict situations. In many forces, through changes to their uniform, officers also took on a more paramilitary appearance.
And now many police forces are adding something else – the spit hood – a device used to shroud the head to prevent a detained person from spitting or biting an officer.
The arguments put forward by the police for spit hoods are simple and, in one sense, compelling; they prevent exposure to the risk of saliva borne infectious diseases such as hepatitis. But after that, the debate becomes much more contentious and a good deal more ethical.

Some have argued that the spit hood is dehumanising and has strong visual associations with torture. Taking this view, the introduction of the spit hood goes beyond mere debates about the best way to protect police officers doing their job. The central question seems to be is the spit hood fundamentally at odds with some of the important tenets so often cited as making British policing ‘special’ or different from others around the world – things like restraint, legitimacy, consent, fairness, proportionality and adherence to the principle of minimal force, still incidentally largely secured by officers who do not carry firearms?
Although not always an easy journey, the police have evolved broadly to match and be complementary with the kind of state we are. As a liberal, democratic, pluralist, rights-based country, British policing has been deliberately constrained and limited, mainly through restricting its powers and imposing accountability upon it. The spit hood throws up a challenge to this equilibrium because it seems to some to be dramatically out of keeping with what policing represents in society like ours. It’s the very same arguments that have permeated fierce debates on undercover policing, the use of water cannon, and kettling in public order situations. Simply put: are spit hoods too oppressive to be legitimate in a country like ours?

Graham Hooper
Principle Lecturer in Policing

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