Academia = Bureaucracy…

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Could one of the root causes of excessive bureaucracy within the police service be our society’s almost fanatical love affair with academic qualifications? Let me try to explain.

Policing by its very nature is normally (and usually) an action based activity, as opposed to a theoretical one. The theory behind the original concept of policing has changed very little (in real terms) since its invention. Conversely and also in general terms, Britain no longer has a workforce with a ‘hands on’ action based ability or mentality. For all intents and purposes, we now have a nation of writers and theorists sat in meetings and, as the police supposedly reflect society, why should today’s service be any different?

The danger of total reliance upon academia, often to the exclusion of any other trait or ability is, theorists will always feel the need to constantly reinvent the proverbial wheel. One which wasn’t actually broken, until they (and politicians) began to mess around with it. And with theory comes thesis upon thesis, along with the associated reams of initiatives and suggestions from all the wannabe professors.

To continue the analogy; a professor* may accept that he/she has to put in some lab time on the way to the top however, it is unlikely that he/she will want to spend much time with the ‘hands on’ experimentation stage within their chosen field. Transfer this concept to policing and you find the service littered with frustrated professors who haven’t ‘made it’ churning out papers on this and that. You also have the successful professors, although a smaller number, who actually reached the dizzy heights of ACPOdom. These senior professors also need to keep churning out papers (1) to stamp their authority on the juniors, (2) for their CPD and (3) simply because they can.

This is a fundamental reason behind the level of bureaucracy within the service. Yes many of today’s administrative problems may have been caused by central government interference. And some have also been caused by (internal & external) politically motivated targets and initiatives however, probably a greater amount is self-generated from within the service.

The service’s almost blind acceptance of academic qualification as a benchmark for recruitment is in many ways nonsensical. All the award of a degree actually confirms is, an individual’s ability to retain, process and present information. This in itself is partly commendable however, that ability is only one skill required by a police officer. This skill was previously imparted on the individual whilst undergoing initial training.  It may be thirty plus years since I went through that process but I can still remember the definition of Burglary and Theft etc, it would seem that not many of today’s recruits can.

I am aware that training methods and learning assimilation methods have moved on a pace since I attended District Police Training Centre however, a ‘bobby’ on the beat still needs to understand the basis of the law they are trying to apply. I have often been horrified over recent years when talking with newly appointed police officers, many of whom appear to have little or no understanding of laws they are expected to enforce. Some of which are actually the ‘bread and butter’ offences which need to be understood when dealing with violence, drunkenness and anti-social behaviour. This is worrying when you consider that; these are the exact areas where there is generally the most public concern and, the offences that usually have the most impact upon them.

There are those who will say this is trivia and should be dealt with by other parts of the ‘extended police family’ i.e. the Community Support Officer. I partly agree with that conclusion however; many CSOs aren’t doing that because of poor training, limited ability or directives from their force Chief Constable. These types of offence are at the root of many problems in our society and form the backbone to basic policing.

Our politicians and senior police officers have already succeeded in creating a two tier police force that is not easily understood by the public. A force that has a community based somewhat fluffy appearance and the almost paramilitary enforcement element. This factor alone has done much to alienate the police from the public they serve. Do we really want to continue down this route?

I believe there are probably three initial ways to separate the theoretical (strategic) and ‘hands on’ (tactical) elements of policing:-

  1. There is an urgent need to move away from using academic achievement as a measure of policing suitability. Once again if we equate the police service to society, it has been widely reported that; the Confederation of British Industry‘s is continually unhappy about the quality and worth of graduates in the workplace. Why should the police service experience things any differently?
  2. Regionalisation and amalgamation of police forces. This is a reoccurring theme throughout discussion on policing reform by most practitioners and commentators, with the exception of ACPO, unsurprisingly.
  3. I believe it is probably time to explore methods for direct recruitment to senior positions. In addition, is there always a requirement to fill that position with a fully warranted police officer?

* It is interesting that a professor is defined as; “person who professes to be an expert in some art or science, a teacher of high rank”. How often do we actually find senior police officers who are actually ‘experts’ in the front end delivery end of policing services? Very rarely so, why is it they should be trusted to ‘teach’ the delivery boy/girl how to do the job?

8 thoughts on “Academia = Bureaucracy…

  1. Re your post above Mr G…

    Yes I agree. It is the rank and file that should have a voice. I am speaking to Paul McKeever at the Federation about it. The Fed are having meetings with ACPO and the Supts Assoc at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, but that’s not til October, so they need to get their act into gear if they want a voice.

    I have advocated that the Federation should have parity with ACPO at any reform negotiations, so that it isn’t just a case of the usual ACPO driving through their self serving ideas and strategies. The problem is getting the rank and file to speak up. It’s a measure of the censorship that still exists, where front line coppers can’t have a say in how their environment is sculpted. It seems that so many must think there’s nothing they can do anyway to contribute. The police blogs are great for venting day to day anxieties and concerns and complaints, but if they never reach the right audience, they become little more than a talking shop.

    I posted the five sets of consultation questions on our site so that officers could post anonymously if they wished. To date, no one has commented! I don’t think it’s because they don’t want reform, it’s more likely that they want someone else to get it for them. I can understand that, but they can’t have it both ways. They can’t bleat about all that is wrong with the service, then not make an effort to speak up and still expect to be adequately represented. It will remain to be seen if the Federation will stand on and get involved in the process before its too late. I will send an e mail to my contacts at the federation and the Oracle to see if we can’t chivvy some responses along.

    Otherwise, it’s down to the likes of you and I (and we’re no longer serving!) and the few other contributors. In which case there is a danger then that our subjective views are not treated seriously. If the panel were satisfied that our comments were representative of the rank and file, it may have some impact.

    I’ll keep you posted on the contact with the Federation. Ruwan makes some good points, but It seems that he is over emphasising the importance of academia. In terms of priorities, I would say that any change needs to start at the top. The article from our pages (that you kindly contributed to) contains the key points I would want to get interlaced into the consultation questions and asnwers somehow. You will have others to add I’m sure.

    1. GOVERNANCE. Sort out the Governance model of policing once and for all. Sort out the professional governance of the police service (the whole HMIC / ACPO / APA / HO / NPIA / HMIC / SOCA / 43CC / IPCC etc is a confused mess and needs a shake up).
    2. The status of ACPO, together with its 349 members needs to be remodeled and repositioned so that its accountability is increased and transparent. For confidence to return, it must start from the top, with a governance structure that makes it accountable to those who fund it, rather than the self perpetuating oligarchy that pervades at present.
    3. Is there a need for 43 different separately governed forces within England and Wales? Make collaboration and mergers really work this time.
    4. COSTS & CUTS. After years of growth the service is under increasing pressure to demonstrate they are more financially efficient. Shared service and shared procurement are becoming more essential. Many of the proposed cuts and savings could be effectively delivered by smarter volume central purchasing arrangements and sharing of resources. HR is an example. Why do 43 forces have 43 HR departments when massive savings could be achieved with one central HR function.
    5. RESOURCES. The most effective application of human resources. From the top down, forces must look at the roles occupied by senior officers right down to the management of the front line. Of 143,000 warranted officers, only 11% are at any one time visibly policing the streets. How can ACPO justify 349 ACC ranks and above, when only 220 are engaged directly in force duties.
    6.A critical analysis of the rank structure is well overdue. It has been suggested that the Chief Superintendent and Chief Inspector ranks are superfluous to operational needs. Why are there so many supervisory, rather than ‘doing’ ranks within the service? How many ACPO officers are really needed?
    7. Civilianisation running at 82,000, costing £2.7billion (£62 million in non forecast overtime) people has clearly escalated out of kilter. Box ticking, flow chart creating departments and individuals, many of whom impede the delivery of common sense policing rather than support it, must be justified as truly necessary or not.
    8. Assuming that 40’ish% of warranted officers (allowing for shift patterns and rest days) are assigned to front line roles, this raises the question, “What are the other 85,000 officers doing?” Accepted that some back office functions require a warranted officer, surely there are many thousands that should be redeployed back to directly policing and serving the community. This measure alone would increase visibility and start the process of restoring public confidence and cutting crime.
    9. The PCSO V’s Coppers debate. There are those that say this represents everything that is wrong with the system, soft, ill conceived politics playing numbers and lying to the public.
    10. CRIME & DETECTIONS. Reducing crime and increasing detections. Set Senior Police Officers a target and hook or by crook they will show that they have achieved it. Connecting performance to senior officer bonuses has whittled away any confidence the public and frontline officers may have had in the crime figures. Stats may not be critical, but the deceitful manipulative practices are self serving and destructive.
    11. HMIC inspectors should be made accountable to Parliament rather than the Home Office, and should be drawn from other professions rather than solely from senior police ranks.
    12. OPERATIONAL PRIORITIES. Refocus the priorities of policing back to the Peelian principles, the main emphasis should always be the protection of life and property, the prevention and detection of crime. Anything else is a distraction.

    Fingers crossed the Fed will have the stomach to push themselves forward on this one.

    All the best



  2. Excellent article MrG,

    I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head here with the whole bureaucracy problem, to requote your paragraph:-

    “This is a fundamental reason behind the level of bureaucracy within the service. Yes many of today’s administrative problems may have been caused by central government interference. And some have also been caused by (internal & external) politically motivated targets and initiatives however, probably a greater amount is self-generated from within the service”.

    The more I think about it, the more I agree wholeheartedly with your point.

    Yes, the previous adminstration with its centralised political interference played its part. However, without a shadow of a doubt this led to the top heavy “Too Many Chiefs” scenario we are presented with today. By way of example looks the comparison between rank numbers from 1997 when labour took office and 2010.

    1997 2010 Increase Percent

    ACPO Rank 193 223 30 16%
    Supts Including Chiefs 1,290 1,495 205 16%
    Chief Insp 1,679 1,966 287 17%
    Insp 6,164 7,222 1,058 17%
    Sgt 18,811 22,852 4,041 21%
    PC 96,914 107,873 10,959 11%

    There are 522 more officers of Chief Inspector and above in 2010 that 1997 (a 17% increase)
    There are 16,058 more Inspectors, Sgt & PCs’ in 2010 than 1997 (a 13% increase)

    Illustrating your point exactly, is that the PC rank saw the lowest increase at 11%. With 3,684 officers of Ch Insp and above in 2010 vs 3,162 in 1997, it is hardly surprising that bureaucracy has become the mountain of a problem that it has. With the benefit of hindsight, or perhaps better thought out vision back in the nineties, the explosion in SMT and Chief Officers could have been controlled and the bureacratic problem we now face would not be half so serious.

    And serious it most certainly is. With 3,684 Chiefs, the ratio of officer to subordinate ranks is plainly out of kilter. The problem is, along with the superfluous ranks and roles, these academia have become more concerned with protecting their empirical fiefdoms than staying focused on what the frontline need to do the job and what the public expect from the service. The noble and commendable reasons for wanting to hold high office, to proudly provide a quality service has been replaced with pure greed, self serving conduct and self preservation. The Chiefs fight among themselves to invent the latest crack pot scheme that will either preserve their position or guarantee their promotion with the front line copper dreading the latest distraction from common sense back to basics police delivery.

    I too am from the same era as yourself. 30 years ago the academics were fewer in number, but had to go through an apprenticeship on the frontline before they would be allowed to leverage their career upward. If a degree copper couidn’t stick at very least a good few years at the sharp end, then the job would make sure they weren’t elevated before they were ready. I’m not so sure those same excellent practical common sense principles apply these days. From what we hear, there are many ACPO officers who might well be able to recite key definitions, but would be totally useless applying common sense principles.

    Theory and academia must never be permitted to replace tried and tested practical hands on experience. Yes there is a place for intelligent, stategic thinkers who can arrive at sensible and workable solutions that truly benefit the rank and file and the public. But most striking proof that the essentials of policing have been neglected by the Chiefs, must surely be the HMIC revelation that less than 10% of sworn officers are at any one time available for visble policing.

    It is the “academics” in ACPO and SMT who must accept responsibility for this catastrophic mis management of resources. Allowing the creation of specialist departments (however useful and essential they might be) that drain manpower from the critical resources of the front line to dangerous levels for the officers and the public shows a staggering lack of vision. So whilst the academics were producing impressive powerpoint presentations about their latest hair brained scheme, basics were forgotten and lives undoubtedly put in greater risk.

    If senior officers cannot demonstrate an ability to get the basics of police resourcing right, we would have to ask, regardless of qualifications…. “Are they the right person for the job?” If flow charts and diagrams have obstructed their vision to this basic extent, prove to us that their academic qualifications outweighttheir practical abilities. In this sense perhaps, Locally Elected Commissioners, suitably qualified to ask and measure Chief Officers in these important areas, may prove to be an inspired suggestion.

    Only yesterday, yet another example from a concerned frontline officer was posted to our article “It’s official, the dangerously thin blue line is now a dot”

    It’s best if I let the officers words speak from experience ……

    “We’re at a subdivision of force ’23’ operating a minimum staffing level of 6+1 (1 being a Sgt). Last tour (reactive) we had 4+0 which refelcted the tour before that. However, we had 2 of these on ‘Constant Watch’ along with 4 other officers from within that shift’s subdivision. 6 fully trained police officers sitting in custody outside open cell doors for 11 hours each watching people that ‘may’ have had suicidal tendancies and self harm issues at sometime in their life.

    There was no questioning the ‘Constant Watch’. Out of 12 operating cells 6 were considered to be ‘Constant’s, 50%. The knock on effect is simple….2 officers were left to ‘police’ the subdivision.
    Arrests could not be made because these remaining officers could not be taken off the street. If someone ‘looked like’ a possible constant they were not being arrested.

    How can ‘we police’ when officers are being taken off to watch the criminals they arrest? Why are the police held to a higher standard of care than any other organisation in the UK? If you are on life support in a critical condition in an NHS hospital tonight you will get observed every fifteen minutes at most.

    If you get arrested for kicking someones skull in and mention you feel a little bit down, depressed and have had suicidal thoughts in the past you are bedded down, given whatever food you like, orange juice and coffee and an ‘officer’ ‘to watch you’ and ‘wait’ on you for your entire stay..? How can this be effecive management of resources…how can this system possible be reasonable, fair or fiscally responsible?

    The public would be horrified that while their houses are being broken into and the people they love are being attacked or abused the very officers they entrust to keep them safe are sat on their arses outside the cell door of someone that least deserves their help and support. Just a comment but it amazes me that ‘someone’ allows it to continue”.

    I’m sure there are many excellent examples of acamedia benefitting the service and provided the balance is identified and maintained, I’m all for it. However, until someone “up there” demonstrates their understanding that visible, response or frontline policing is more important than the bureaucratic mountains they have constructed to justify their existence, reforms may take the service one step forward, but the bureaucrats will keep taking two steps back.


    1. Thanks for the comments Steve, no doubt you will have seen the response received within the Linkedin forum on the subject.


      1. Yes, excellent contributions Mr G. I have started cointributing myself, however i suspect that some of my thoughts may be dismissed as simplistic. It does seem that there is a tendency to over complicate issues that really need a simple viewpoint. I do wonder if some people might have a hidden priority of promoting their consultancy businesses rather than arriving at simple solutions for reform. I suppose that is yet another consequence of the academia set.

        I have suggested that, like you, contributors ought to be focusing on specifially addressing the consultation questions, otherwise the boards will be in danger of becoming yet another talking shop., There are many excellent views on there, but they need to be tailored around the questions as solutions [As they are a straight lift from the Home Secretary’s document].

        I believe we have until the 20th of September to keep the threads alive with responses and views, so my target is to have provided some answers to each of the questions before then.

        Keep up the very good erudite work Mr G!

        Best Regards



      2. I agree with “focusing on specifially addressing the consultation questions” but in addition, it concerns me (given the nature and urgency of the task), how few of those invited to participate are actually doing so!


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