Police Leadership: Hogwarts OR Ragwort?


The English philosopher John Locke once espoused that education maketh a man and his work, Some thoughts concerning education, has formed a significant part of the British education system since it was published.

So, if the true value of a man (or woman) is commensurate with the quality of their education, there must also be a correlation between the provision and efficiency of that process, along with skills and efficiency of those who graduate from it…

For some time now there have been widespread concerns about the ‘academic’ ability of our police officers. Indeed, Tom Winsor, the man tasked by the government, to review police recruitment pay and conditions, recently suggested police were “‘barely literate” (see here). This in it self is somewhat strange, given that police officers are (supposedly) better trained now than was ever the case previously. If correct, the selection and training processes must be faulty.

It has also been suggested by many (me included) that; the leadership selection process within the service is also flawed, a major factor (supposedly) behind the report now commonly refered to as The Neyroud Review. Despite there being some (but not many) useful observations and recommendations within Peter Neyroud‘s work, many within the service have already dismissed much of it, either in part (me included), or in its entirety.

In my opinion Neyroud, and others of his ilk, are in many ways responsible for the disfunctionality within the leadership of British policing. The current system actually dictates their self-interested methods and self-promotional ideologies, to a certain extent, it is unlikely you will ever rise to the higher echelons of police leadership without those traits today. To lessen the chances of any stumbling blocks on the way to the top, it is also in your best interests to surround yourself, where possible, with like-minded peers – leading to less arguments and/or challenges about your methods.

The major problem with both Winsor and Neyroud is that in real terms, there are too many negative impacts upon the delivery of service to the public, or at least upon service delivery factors. You see both of them had little or nothing to do with ‘efficiency’, despite being ‘sold’ as such they are in many ways, little more than theory based upon academia. The greatest underlying factor for both these reviews was always political agenda, that and the urgent pressing needs of government austerity measures.

I’ve commented previously on the subject of too much academia within policing (see here), as well as offering my views on some of the differences between police and military leadership training (see here). You see I find one other aspect of this whole process even more distasteful; the disgusting levels of self-interest and self-promotion in so much of it. Like the Police Federation (see here), I and many like me, have voiced concerns about what is happening to British policing. We feel cheated by our politicians, let down by many within police leadership and totally disheartened by the direction in which the service is being dragged.

But all to no avail it would seem, as the Neyroud Report has been accepted and apparently recommended in full recently. Now there is to be “a new royal college of policing” – forming part of the “wide-ranging government plans to improve the performance and public reputation of police forces” (telegraph.co.uk). Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has welcomed the news…

The prospect of a professional body for policing is a significant opportunity for the service… To recognise the expertise and professionalism of policing in this way is a logical step and one which would benefit the public if it leads to consistent national standards and the sharing of best practise…(Peter Fahy)

In many respects I would agree, especially when it mostly removes the self-interest of ACPO direction in the service. One missing aspect of leadership reform, widely debated and that I’ve also been an advocate for in the past, was that of direct entry for senior officers; in a similar manner to the officer training methodology used by our military. I have argued the pros and cons of this before (see here) however, given the vastly differing personal drivers required in good workers and great leaders, I have to say I’m a little surprised at some of the groups and individuals who poo poo the possibility.

I am at a loss to understand why anyone would wish to become a police officer to serve the public and yet see it as acceptable to skip the basic and most important roles of constable and sergeant where the basic skills and experience of real policing is learnt and credibility earned…(Derek Barnett, President – Police Superintendents’ Association)

I am also ‘at a loss’ about the above statement. Often in reality, many who join the service today have very little interest in actually being a “police officer to serve the public” – their sole aim is promotion. And as quickly as is feasibly possible and in some cases, by any means available, if not promotion then a quick disappearance from front-line general policing into a specific police role. In continuing against the direct entry proposals Derek Barnett said;

Policing is a meritocracy where advancement is not based on background, influence or favour, but simply on merit. So, there should be no direct entry into an officer class as there is in the military, but advancement should be based on skills, experience and potential.

I’m in agreement with the sentiment of his observations however, unfortunately much of it’s just that – a sentiment. For years now, high potential (aka accelerated) promotion schemes, and the leadership selection process in general, has dictated; many police commanders actually possess very little real operational experience. They flit between units and departments for short periods, gaining (mostly) superfluous ticks in a personal portfolio of (often limited) ‘experience’ to ‘earn’ promotional points for their CV.

But, to a certain extent, that’s OK. After all, there is actually a wealth of difference between many of the qualities required for strategic and operational leadership… This important factor is acknowledged and (mostly) utilised within the methods employed to select our military leaders, and to deliver their subsequent training.

The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst (RMA), which has trained the leaders of the British army for more than 200 years, is one of the finest exponents of that methodology. Indeed, as with the British system of policing, it’s a facet that has endeared its skills to the wider world. The infamous first five weeks of officer training are renowned for being one of the toughest experiences most people will ever go through.

But the RMA haven’t rested on their laurels over the years, as leadership requirements have changed so has the methodology; officer training is now even tougher than before, to reflect and meet new operational challenges. But one thing that military officer training never looses sight of is, the importance and value of subordinate ranks. I fully appreciate their will be some who don’t make the grade, or don’t posses the full set of rounded correct attributes for leadership, but they still graduate. However, isn’t this the case with any training establishment?

The RMA has been refered to, somewhat disparagingly I might add, as “like Hogwarts with guns” however; I suspect the comment to be mostly journalistic furtherance of the ‘class-divide’ debate. Save for the odd affluent prince or two, military leadership selection is no less of a ‘meritocracy’ than policing supposedly is. As ever, continually trotting out (mostly unfounded) arguments around class, race, creed or even sexual orientation actually does little to address the real issues at hand.

This brings me to yet another point within the overall reform subject; many government desires are born out of not only politics but more, political correctness. The incessant clamour for ‘diversity’ in service leadership, aimed at reflecting our society, simply leads to greater levels of positive discrimination. This in turn has a tendency for devaluing the whole selection and training process. A factor evidenced by some of the current (alledged) failings which in reality, are probably reflective of watered down recruitment standards in the past.

And so on to the topic of Police and Crime Commissioners…

Building Bridges or Pulling strings? – Public service reform must be driven first of all by the interests of the public, says policing minister Nick Herbert, and to that end, from November next year, policing in England and Wales will be overseen by locally elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs). They will make policing more accountable and more responsive, says the minister, through a chorus that still sounds more disaffected than delighted at the prospect…(publicservice.co.uk)

The above announcement, which has confirmed a previous government proposal, was delivered at the recent annual conference of the Police Foundation, an organisation that serves as a bridge between public, policing and government. Apparently the bridge-builders listened in near-silence, finding their voice only when former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Peter Imbert offered resistance to the announcement. He rightly but arguably pointed out; political commissioners are bound to interfere with operational decisions.

Lord Imbert described the policy as “madcap” and even “dangerous”. He suggested that it was “arrogant that a Home Secretary and government should think they can improve on Sir Robert Peel‘s ideas and scrap his principles of policing” I would agree… They want to be seen as a reforming government but as Lord Imbert said in the House of Lords recently; “to find the meaning of the word ‘reform’ one should perhaps look under the verb ‘to ruin’.”

A Tory Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, laid down the abiding principle that police must be impartial. Now we have a Tory Home Secretary and government threatening to throw the principle of political neutrality and impartiality on the scrap heap…(Lord Peter Imbert)

The Police Foundation conference finished off with a summary comment by the chair Roger Graef who concluded;

The minister spoke with conviction, but there’s high anxiety facing police. The upheaval, combined with what I see as unrealistic public and political expectations, could prove a thorny road for chiefs and managers.

Shouldn’t all this reform actually be about service efficiency and not about politics and/or individual self-interest?

So many ‘customer satisfaction’ surveys, readily published and lauded by senior officers and Police Authorities, would have us believe; the public aren’t dissatisfied with the police service per se… If anything, they’re actually despondent about the poor levels of service delivery… Failures that are (mostly) born out of the manner in which the service is managed, by its leadership under the direction of politicians. 

Having been involved in various police debates over recent years, and having spared with Neyroud on several issues previously, not least the issue of academia, I can hear him screaming now (if he should read this)… “it’s all anecdotal, where’s your evidence to back up your comments?” And subsequently bashing hell out of his keyboard.

Well Mr Neyroud (et al) unlike your evidence, which often appears to be based solely upon the thoughts and theory of fellow academics, all mine comes from personal observation. First-hand experience and knowledge, gained over a 30+ year period, along with a good deal of subsequent research and reflection . It also relates to having previously tried to provide a service to the public effectively, whilst smothered under an ever thickening blanket of virulent Ragwort, masquerading as ‘management’ – in a system of mostly lack-lustre supervision and command. This was only eased by proudly serving for 15 years with some exemplary ‘Hogwarts’ graduates, ones whose skills and leadership traits were clearly evident.

I’m not confident that much, if any, of this current reform process will actually deliver the expected goods and/or changes to the service. In reality it’s probably set to become yet another sad indictment of management failures within the public sector. Failures that predominate in an area that i continually at the mercy of political interference. With reference to the police in particular, this is totally unacceptable. Policing is a role that must, in all reality, be apolitical.

I would like to finish by offering my congratulations to Peter on the award of his CBE, I’m sure he is very proud… But, forgive me for wondering if the citation actually read;  “for consistent ‘tinkering’ in but mostly around policing” – It appears some of the respondents to the news of this Royal accolade in The Oxford Times weren’t able to be as magnanimous as I have been!

2 thoughts on “Police Leadership: Hogwarts OR Ragwort?

  1. Neyroud spent his time telling everyone how brilliant he was.
    After the Highmore Cross shooting incident in Thames Valley he went on telly and blamed the fact the firearms officers were not allowed to go to the scene by management on the fact they were following national procedures. He failed to mention he wrote them when ACPO lead on firearms. Arrogant self interest- must be an ACPO member.


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