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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Denial of the Professional

If you look up and note the definitions of denial and the behaviours that may ensue from its’ presence it is not hard to find examples of them in our current government’s actions. They appear to have created their own view of ‘reality’ about forces doing more with less, being able to cope with extra work by having ‘extra officers’ on the street and rarely discussing anything about how this might impact on officer well being.

Denial of responsibility is also clear and is of course juxtaposed with the denial of reality I mentioned above. If we talk about growing demand – there is clear evidence that it is it is far from reducing and is changing, with some indication from professionals across many agencies that this may be partly related to cuts to other services who now cannot cope with their own workload.
What we witness now is classic minimisation behaviours where data and voice is either ignored, hidden or actually just not mentioned. We also observe argued justifications for certain actions and decisions, serving to remove the onus of responsibility from previous government decisions about police resources being reduced – mainly indeed by our PM who was Home Secretary when she made these decisions. Crime (yawn) remains down after all!? Thirdly we see this blame thing coming in over and over again – the direct shift of culpability from the centre to local decision makers and purse holders, who have now very conveniently, under the joyful guise of localism been asked, with seriously reduced budgets, to decide their own priorities.

In psychiatry they might call this delusional but whatever term you attach to it there appears to be evidence of those claiming to be intelligent individuals adamantly denying facts and sometimes a body of data that challenges their own viewpoint. I find it interesting that this all occurs parallel to the implementation of a professionalisation agenda in policing which seeks to ensure officers use evidence, seek data, not be driven by their own experience alone and become more thoughtful in their approach. All of this at a time where our government are ignoring a wealth of information about the impact of their austerity policies and refusing to accept any responsibility for it at all it seems.
The police cannot do this denial. When they receive criticism from reviewing bodies such as the IPCC, HMIC and others, their failings feature all over the media and around dinner tables all over the country. Governance is vital and I don’t suggest that such reports are not essential for improvement but ask any officer and they will explain that until the government recognises the pressure that demand, changing priorities and juggling resources is having on effectiveness and efficiency nothing is likely to change in the long term. Therefore, blame is pushed down to the local forces who subsequently shift resources around and ‘solutioneer’ until the next time someone knocks on their door. The interesting thing is that many officers are absolutely up for being honest about this and are not denying it at all!
You may ask where the government might get the reality of the current state of policing from. It is hard to contemplate that there are boundless numbers of officers out there of various ranks and roles who might be willing and have tried to raise the reality issues with ministers. Cuts have consequences was a great example.
Today I read a tweet from West Yorkshire Police Federation announcing their request for the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to conduct a spontaneous visit to their force. The purpose of this is to encourage her to speak to front line officers and consider the reality of the current state of policing in their area.
This follows a commitment at the PFEW conference from Amber Rudd stating that she would be visiting forces over coming months to gain a front line view on current challenges, resource realities and the impact of these issues at a local level. Since the conference I have seen some lively debate on social media about the actual reality observed by Rudd should she make planned visits to forces – the main criticism being that officers locally will be asked to commit to extra hours and that local work might be put on hold to facilitate such a visit, therefore assisting the keeping these issues opaque. Hence the request by West Yorkshire for the visits to be spontaneous and unplanned.
I seem to be using this term quite a lot recently but it seems to me that legitimacy is something that cannot be ignored in this context –and this is evidence based. We talk a lot in policing about the need for the public to perceive the police as legitimate.Legitimate to make decisions to use force fairly and appropriately and to deal with matters effectively. Additionally, we also discuss the idea of legitimacy inside the organisation and the concept, for example, of legitimate leadership and organisational legitimacy which officers then buy into. The positive consequence of this relates to officers then identifying with their force, its’ strategic steer and the longer term priorities it has set itself up to achieve. Whilst research on the outcomes of getting this wrong, such as impacts on staff well-being, productivity and commitment to the role is clear, we still hear anecdotal narratives about officers feeling separate to their force, their leaders and most importantly feeling entirely disengaged from the conversations about a variety of policing issues that matter to them. We are not getting this right yet at a local level but this central refusal to value our police only serves to reinforce the sense of opinion disregard from the front line.
Therefore, I think there is another level of legitimacy which has become evident in recent months within the policing sphere. This relates to the legitimate and real concerns of officers and how this plays out at a state level – in Government. The rightful anger expressed by public sector workers responding to the refusal to remove the pay cap was unsurprising and clearly indicates the negativity about their sense of government legitimacy. And all this at a time when we have, as a society, required all of the emergency services’ support, unconditional assistance and heroism more than ever, following recent national events.
The brief payment of lip service to this commitment from the prime minister and others is, I am sure, at least partly, welcomed by officers, but the reality is the government has not been not listening, they refuse to take responsibility for anything much at all and almost blatantly refuse to review the growing need for security and the changes in the demand being experienced by our police forces in the UK. Interestingly what this does is nurture and reinforce May’s personal denial and results in further refusals for her to accept the realities that UK police face today – much of this arguably resulting from her own decisions as Home Secretary. Even her own cabinet are challenging her and beginning to realise the implications of not amending the pay gap for example.
If they listened, heard it, saw it, there might be more chance of them waking up to the reality and observing what most of us clearly see is happening. When she was Home Secretary, Theresa May used the term viable to describe the cuts she chose to deliver to the police –they were not and workloads remain unsustainable. This vehement unwillingness to listen and wake up to the facts seems to assist with the acceptance of this terminology. Her refusal to listen and her dogmatic approach further legitimises her own decisions in her own mind and denies the professional opinion of the professional officer. Paradoxically it is perhaps causing even her own party to challenge her authority and legitimate rule.
Legitimacy is subjective and at times citizens might consider government decisions as illegitimate and unfair. This can create a serious crisis in governance. It needs questioning when the legitimacy of decisions’ is challenged by those that enforce the law. I seriously wonder if, unless there is a turnaround soon and a willingness to engage, listen and not deny police realities, that the wider implications for our government might be impossible to deal with by the head in the sand approach.
Let’s all hope that other aspects of the government are beginning to realise that the service needs more recognition of staff and investment in service provision in these troubled times.

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Babel Fish – @Nathanconstable

Thanks to @nathanconstable for re-posting on the CCCU blog site and for writing it!

Babel Fish

Sat outside a Canterbury cafe in the sunshine allows me the opportunity to reflect on the speakers and conversations from the last few days at Canterbury Christchurch Uni’s conference on Evidence Based Policing.

I would like to thank Emma, Jenny, Steve and team at CCCU for organising another amazing event.

I greatly enjoyed the event and the opportunity to speak. I’m not a huge fan of conferences as I often think it’s the same people talking to the same people about the same things. There is a danger of it all becoming very echo-chamber so I was pleased to be invited and have the chance to lob a grenade into proceedings.

I couldn’t help but notice that there were some really negative comments on Twitter about attending an event like this in the middle of what is effectively a police resource crisis. This wasn’t aimed at me specifically. Not that there should be a need for me to justify myself I would say that I booked this is annual leave last March so I was here in my own time.

Another sad revelation was the abuse some officers engaged in this were receiving from officers at supervisory level in their home forces. To those being so unkind I say this. Give it up. You have a choice. This is clearly happening and so the question is “do you want police officers involved in the design or not?” I would argue that “not” will lead to a system which simply doesn’t bear thinking about. So far removed from reality as to be unworkable.

The other thing I would say is, whether colleagues realise it or not, these reforms are ploughing ahead with or without them. If they aren’t aware of them and the implications then that is fine – but there are some of us who are – and I took it upon myself to represent the front line with a large dose of “hang on a minute.” No one asked me to – but trust me – these things need to be said and they need to be heard. So to the critics I would simply say – you need someone in the arena who is prepared to represent you.

The main reason I say this is because what became even more evident to me is the distance between the academic vision and the sharp reality of every day police work. We aren’t talking miles – in some cases we are talking light years. I shall come on to explain why.

There was a great range of speakers across the two days and all of them (apart from me and a couple of others) have some role in or outside the police which will or could directly influence the way things go from here. This stuff is happening. It’s on a conveyor belt. It’s coming whether we like it or not. To try not to have my voice heard would have been a real missed opportunity. I wanted to point out a few issues which get in the way of the most purist visions. The reality check.

The main things that struck me throughout the two days were things I already knew. Things I actually addressed in my talk. But at times they were reenforced to a point of concern. On more than one occasion, the other delegates I sat with – all serving officers – turned to look at one another with one of two expressions:

1: bewilderment

2: incredulity

That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of times when we could all nod in agreement at a theory or concept but there were times when we would be asking each other some very simple questions – what? Why? HOW?

Academia and policing are still a very long way apart. Whilst there are many academic officers and plenty who are now seeking in-service degrees there are very many who are not and have no idea how to research or reference. I still count myself in that category – at least a very inexperienced novice.

I know personally of officers engaged in promotion processes which are taking a more academic route. Where they are required to produce self researched essays as a compulsory part of the process. And I know that many of them are expressing concerns that they don’t know what they are doing. For many – it is long time since they have undertaken any form of learning which didn’t involve studying by rote or pressing a mouse button until the session was over.

As I said in my talk – I am very concerned that this is just being nailed to career processes (promotion, lateral, appraisal) and that embedded is being confused for compulsory.

Some of the speakers were at such an academic level that it was difficult to understand what they were saying. That’s not a criticism of them or their work but I know that if the audience had been made up entirely of police officers that a significant proportion would struggle to comprehend. And not even necessarily the concepts – but the purpose. I was sat with some officers who are hugely more academically qualified than me and we struggled at times. That’s not to say officers aren’t intelligent. What I am saying is that we are not speaking the same language and at times we aren’t living in the same world.

The concept of a “university hospital police station” – a police station which is effectively a teaching police station is academically pure but operationally impossible. And if it isn’t operationally impossible then we are talking about completely changing the way in which policing is done.

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that police resources are thin. Events have meant 12 hour shifts (or longer), cancelled rest days and an almost total cessation of pro-active work. Demand is rising, the threats are increasing but the number of officers is falling. Officers are facing burn out – to now be saying that they have to take responsibility for their own continued professional development (study in your own time) is insensitive and one has to wonder whether the motivation or resilience is there.

To implement the concept of a University police station would mean that you would have to ensure that officers had protected study and reflection time. A lot of it. Effectively suggesting that the entire probation period of a new officer studying for the new degree apprenticeship would only be available to do policing for a proportion of their time. That is simply not viable. Where are the teachers and mentors? That would be more officers diverted. Now think that academic progression is being implemented at every level and in every role.

“But it works in other professions” say the advocates. This is as may be but I ask whether any of these other professions has the same demand profile of policing. Nursing may be busy – but one has to wonder why it is experiencing a recruitment crisis.

Many of the talks were theoretical. There were a few good examples of practical – particularly the talk on culture change in New Zealand police – but that was a ten year project.

I was hoping someone might explain what Evidence Based Policing was seeking to achieve but the answers to this seemed vague to me. Introducing academia into policing seems to be a means unto itself and the expectation seems to be that this will make policing “better”.

There is always room to improve but I am still not clear on how this will make things better. The answer that keeps coming back is that there will be an evidence base and officers will be able to think critically.

Time will tell if either of these actually happens.

Pleasingly, I did get a sense that other speakers share my concerns about the obstacles and blockers. We should chip away at them but some of them are mountains. More than one speaker said that if these aren’t overcome then this whole concept simply will not work.

My plea was that we slow down to speed up. Recognise the magnitude of the challenge and not rush by doing half a job and adding this to career processes.

But something else became increasingly obvious to me over both days and it is about language. Roger Pegram is a passionate advocate of Evidence Based Policing. Roger is also an experienced and practical police officer. He is able to convey the messages (positive and negative) in a way which appeals to both the academics and the cops. He speaks fluently in both and, if this is stand any chance of “landing” (word of the week) then, as a Emma Williams so perfectly put it – every force needs a Pegram.

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy introduces readers to The Babel Fish. A remarkable quirk of evolution. A fish that, when placed in someone’s ear, feeds off other people’s words and automatically translates them directly into the wearer’s brain. A natural interpreter. I made reference to this in my talk but I’m not sure everyone had read the book or understood what I meant.

But this is what we need. Evidence Based Policing has a lot of potential positives but the differences between academic purity and policing reality really need to be addressed.

And just as importantly – if this isn’t to become a fad or tick box exercise then people need to fully understand it.

For that you need a certain kind of person. You need people who can automatically translate and interpret. People who can explain not only the passion but the purpose. Who can make this seem real and relevant. Who can convince a sceptical workforce that this has a point.

At the moment this message isn’t getting through and it feels like something which is again just being DONE to policing. The hostility is palpable.

If evidence Based Policing is to succeed and get into the culture and psyche of officers and the organisation then you need Babel Fish.

They are out there – they need to be utilised. Otherwise this will sink in a sea of resistance and apathy.

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