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:-
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?