New Steps in #Police Management…Not far enough?

Change ManagementI have it on good authority that my local force (North Yorkshire Police) had a high-level and important management meeting during the week. The topic for discussion was that age-old chestnut which rears it’s head far too often these days, especially during recent years…restructuring!

Much of the ‘restructuring’ which has already taken place across UK policing in recent years has mostly been too little and sometimes, also a little too late if truth be known. Many of the ‘new’ measures, despite often being little more than a proverbial wheel reinvention, have been taken solely for political and/or financial considerations alone. Ask many at the operational end of policing and you will find; there has been little done which effectively addresses the important issues around (1) quality and effectiveness of process and (2), the actual levels of service delivery to the public.

Despite the radical and holistic approach espoused by many within police management it seems to me that, many of these changes have been merely piece-meal efforts. Ones designed to justify the politically enforced mantra of “doing more with less” – due to austerity. That or to further the career path and/or self-interest of some police leaders.

As within several other areas of our public sector, there doesn’t appear to have been much done to address the massive administrative and bureaucratic burdens still faced by UK policing. I fully understand that effective public service delivery obviously comes at a financial cost. One that the public should better understand however; to my mind and the minds of many others, there is still a mass of financial wastage going on in British policing. The (arguably) unnecessary top-heavy management structures of many of our public services is a case in point. A factor clearly evident within our police service.

Fundamental changes (and/or significant reductions) to management structures are still required. They have been suggested by many for several years but few have been implemented, until now perhaps? Previously the inherent self-protection of senior leadership within our police fiefdoms, or the self-importance of many within police middle-management, has resulted in most of these calls falling on deaf ears. Are we now finally seeing some headway within this fundamental cost-saving area of police restructuring? Could that restructuring go even further?

This week I read about a relatively ‘new’ business process which is sweeping across many sectors. I’m referring to the practice of operating within a so-called Holarctic organisation – i.e. Managing Without Managers.

Holacracy is claimed to increase agility, efficiency, transparency, innovation and accountability within an organisation. These are all factors that policing could well do with grasping with both hands, especially within the current social climate. The politics, self-interest and reduced finances aside, we also have to consider the impacts on our policing from an almost endless media barrage. An unabated onslaught which is inducing much of the adverse public opinions about UK policing and unfortunately, is creating a decline in the support for policing by consent.

The Holacracy approach encourages individual team members to take initiative and offers a process by which their concerns or ideas can be addressed. This system of distributed authority also reduces the burden on leaders to make every decision. Unlike many other areas of the public sector and particularly within the emergency services, every police officer is accountable under law for their actions.

To a certain extent police officers already act autonomously. This factor is something which was difficult to explain to other emergency service (and military) personnel. Difficulties can arise during the command and control of joint service exercises and/or operational incidents. Senior Officers (from any service) often didn’t feel comfortable making joint decisions with someone holding a lesser equivalent rank than they did. Admittedly, this was a greater problem years ago, there is (or should be) greater joint service understanding now. That and the fact incident management is now based upon personal capability and skills, as opposed to rank structure of the past.

As the Holacracy process dovetails with many stakeholder theories, the ones that are often championed in todays police service management, in words if not in deeds, perhaps greater moves in that direction would bode well for UK policing as a whole?

Back in 2010, when much of the ongoing change to policing was still partly embryonic, I wrote about some of my personal visions for the future of policing in the UK (see here). Some parts of that ‘vision’ have actually come to fruition but I suspect much more is still to occur, even if it is a little too slowly. Increased collaboration between forces (if not amalgamation) will continue. The removal of many more Chief Inspector and Chief Superintendent posts – if not already done – to name just two.

From personal visits to some of the smaller police departments in the USA; much of their policing process seems to operate perfectly well, without numerous tiers of management and supervision. There are far fewer attested (warranted) ‘uniforms’ between the patrol officers and the Chief of Police, something which we still suffer from here. As I’ve pointed out before, may functions within UK policing don’t necessarily require a warranted police officer.

I have to say I’m still formulating my opinions on the recent ‘direct entry’ to Superintendent issue, one which will undoubtedly have profound impacts upon UK policing. Much of that particular process, in a similar way to the Police and Crime Commissioner fiasco, is mostly an effort to fix a problem that wasn’t actually broken. That said, I’m still convinced there is some room for the Holacracy approach in UK policing?

How many changes are still to come in policing on this side of the pond or indeed, ones which actually fit any of my previous predictions, remains to be seen. I am however convinced that change is still required, I also know that change is ongoing. But I’m worried, I’m concerned as to how many of those planned changes are formulated for the benefit of our society, as opposed to the people doing the planning?

There is no doubt that for many within the local force management structure, whatever the outcomes from this weeks meeting, some of the changes decided upon may well be seen as a step too far. I for one will be pleasantly surprised if any of them are actually measures that go far enough?

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