Since long before I retired from the police and like many others, I became increasingly disillusioned by the levels of inept management within British policing. Although I often expressed my views on the matter, they were often ignored. This was mostly due to my lowly position in the hierarchy of policing, along with a (perceived) lack of any formal qualification actually ‘allowing’ me to formulate or have an opinion…
When there was any interest expressed in my opinion, it was usually shown by platitudinous (deaf) ears. I had to do things differently, firstly I sought to add credence to my opinions with academic study. Secondly, I turned to blogging and social media where I set about trying to publicise the issues I was concerned about, the ones that were impacting on operational police officers and the public they serve.
I engaged in regular debate and contributed to various blogs and forums looking at policing in general, police reform in particular and got my head around some management theory. I started to take an even greater interest in the wider public sector issues, government austerity measures, politics and the policies impacting upon police service delivery.
During this mostly educated (but also sometimes anecdotal/opinionated) engagement with others, I have found some very interesting, knowledgable and highly experienced people on my virtual travels. In addition to all the somewhat simplistic (but still valid) opinion of many, I found the views and sound observations of Inspector Simon Guilfoyle to be of great interest.
I contend that all numerical targets are arbitrary and cause dysfunctional behaviours, but argue for relevant and proportionate performance measurement within a systems context…(InspSimon Guilfoyle)
Simon, in a similar vein to Steve over at The Thin Blue Line Blog (but by different methods), seeks to cut out the cancer of current management methods in policing. His ‘systems’ thinking, in addition to being interesting, is also presented in a manner which is very easy to understand.
Simon produces ’evidence’ based and ‘academically’ sound information and opinion, often published in humourous manner via his blog on the subject (see here). He has highlighted many of the issues currently driving the predominant management methods within policing today. He previously pointed out how; the impact of targets on policing delivery are a crime in progress. There is (thankfully) an increasing group of people within policing who are now in total agreement with his views, I would also count myself as part of that group.
In addition to the interesting and acclaimed pieces of work he’s done on the subject recently, Simon has now produced a book about ’systems’ in policing (see below). His book is receiving some great comments and many recommendations; it has to be commended to anyone responsible for management within policing.
This book could be game changing for the police service. Systems thinking theory can be viewed as complex and challenging, but not for Simon Guilfoyle. In this book he provides a comprehensive and cohesive explanation of the theory based on years of research and his practical experience of applying systems thinking in a policing context…(Ch.Supt. Irene Curtis)
Simon’s book is also available as an Amazon Kindle e-book (click image) and more reviews can be found HERE.
Intelligent Policing: How Systems Thinking Methods Eclipse Conventional Management Practice by Simon Guilfoyle - A Triarchy Press Publication
Foreword: John Seddon
Book type: Paperback (and e-book)
Today, despite mostly trying their best, many police managers are actually prevented from doing the ‘right’ thing for their officers, for policing delivery and for the public they supposedly serve.
On this morning’s Chris Evans Breakfast show (BBC Radio 2); Baroness Julia Neuberger, whilst discussing the news of Margaret Thatcher’s recent demise alluded to a predominant problem here - ”If you want to lead, you won’t always be liked.” Too often, our political ‘leaders’ (and police managers) are far too preoccupied with public opinion and press relations. They are so tied up with pandering to that opinion, be it actual or perceived, they end up being just too busy to actually do their job.
There is no doubt that management within any public sector organisation is an undertaking that is an onerous task these days however; the most important task is simply to manage the delivery of a good ’service’ to our society, nothing more and nothing less! Perhaps the time has come for police ’managers’ to try some new methods?
You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew…(Albert Einstein)
Try some ‘systems thinking’ in your police leadership and management, not for you but for us!
Random examples of previous articles from my blog
- Police Scotland: The way forward for British Policing? (bankbabble.wordpress.com)
- #SocialMedia: Inspector Gadget and Satyagraha (bankbabble.wordpress.com)
- British Policing: The Engineer of It’s Own Demise? (bankbabble.wordpress.com)
- #Policing – Hard times ahead but still got my fingers crossed (bankbabble.wordpress.com)
- #Policing – The fallout from #Bettison (bankbabble.wordpress.com)
- British Policing: (Avoidable?) UKcop #FAIL (bankbabble.wordpress.com)
Many from within the ranks of British policing constantly bemoan the apparent decline in public support for the job they do however; as I’ve written before, policing is often the engineer of its own demise…
The photograph on the right, which is an example in point, is currently circulating via social media. The posting was aimed at Hampshire Constabulary in this instance and was annotated with the following message…
“Could you kindly explain your officers reasoning for parking illegally over the disabled bay? I happen to know that they were getting a takeaway so had no reason to park in this way! I fully expect a public apology as to why our tax money is being spent employing officers who do what they want because they drive a blue and yellow car! No wonder the police get a bad name when your officers have such a blatant disregard for the law themselves. This photo was taken tonight 23/03/2013 at Hedge End McDonald’s.”
It was posted to Facebook by someone called Chris The-Stig Burrows. The ‘abandonment’ (aka parking) of the patrol car (see location on Google Maps) may not have actually inconvenienced anyone on this occasion but that isn’t the point. The poster has raised a valid and pertinent issue here, being a police officer does not mean – Do as I say not as I do!
A message on the Hampshire Constabulary Facebook page read: ‘We’d like to reassure you though that on this occasion the officer in question was responding to an emergency – and was not in a hurry for a McFlurry.’ (Metro News)
In the few days since posting, no doubt aided by additional local media interest, the picture has been quickly circulated far and wide. At the time I saw it there were 9,365 ‘shares’ 13,607 ‘comments’ and 68,710 people had ‘liked’ the picture. To be fair a good deal of the comments I read were actually broadly supportive of the police however; a great deal were not and it is those which are damaging. Irrespective of the juvenile, puerile or inane nature of many, disparaging comments about policing, justified or not, ultimately produce a knock-on effect and mostly negative impact on public perception of policing.
The ‘official’ police comment to the posting suggested that the occupants of the police vehicle were responding to a disturbance complaint at McDonald’s, not buying a take-away. Whatever the true facts of the story, the fallout from the picture and the subsequent derogatory comments about the police could (possibly) have been avoided.
It frustrates me when I see examples of police officers who clearly aren’t striving to be above reproach. How can they enjoy any respect from a public who, rightly or wrongly in these circumstances, perceive there is one law for them and one for the police?
With the advances in smart-phone technology and everyone’s ability to rapidly circulate images and opinion via social media; you would think that police officers would be even more aware and savvy about how the public observe them. Even more than was the case in my day - Perhaps not?
Perhaps some police officers, in extremely limited numbers I would suspect, don’t actually care about public opinion or how they are perceived by those they are responsible for serving? Perhaps they really do look upon the public with ‘us and them’ mentality and attitude today?
Could the picture have been simply mischievous? An action born out of a personal gripe or grievance from someone who has recently fallen foul of road traffic legislation and/or enforcement? Especially as the author’s choice of nickname suggests; he believes himself to be reminiscent of a motoring icon with immense driving ability.
Many of those commenting on the picture don’t actually know all the facts, me included but sadly and in many ways, the damage has already been done. Incidents such as this, no matter how minor or silly, all actually help to bolster support for government ’attacks’ on policing.
- British Policing: The Engineer of It’s Own Demise? (bankbabble.wordpress.com)
- Police officers quizzed after parking in disabled bay at McDonald’s (metro.co.uk)
- Police officers caught parking van on double yellow lines as they went to Sainsbury’s to buy lunch (thisismoney.co.uk)
- ‘The police are constantly under attack from the government’ (guardian.co.uk)
I read an interesting Guest Blog by John Clifford at No Offence, the award-winning cross sector criminal justice community. Whilst examining a recent report by Lord Stevens, Clifford raised some interesting and pertinent issues, ones that are having a significant impact upon policing in the UK…
Although I partly agree with Stevens I have to say I also tend to agree with some of Clifford’s observations. But many of the points raised by both gentlemen although valid, only partially hit the proverbial nail on the head when trying to understand these issues. There are many varied and undoubtably problematical factors having a negative impact upon our police service today, officer moral is merely symptomatic of the remainder of the issues.
Both observers agree that “police morale is low“ (for differing reasons) and I (like many others) am also convinced that assumption is actually a resounding fact, but also for some differing reasons.
Let me start by saying that, contrary to popular political (and media) lead belief, the vast majority of police officers are not resistant to organisational or process change. It’s one of the aspects of the job that attracts many recruits in the first instance and that constant change was evident throughout my thirty years of service. That said, many of the causes for poor morale currently revolve around the constant state of flux that officers find themselves trying to work within.
Much of that ‘flux’ is down to poor management skills at various levels within the service; management and direction delivered by individuals trying to sell themselves (or ‘their’ service), as opposed to the political and/or financial influence from external sources that many police managers try to suggest.
Even with the current personal impacts of changes to their conditions of service and remuneration, most police officers are still stoic about the situation and continuing to deliver service to the best of their ability, whilst enduring all the mostly politically driven service reform. “I’m not happy but, unlike many, I still have a job” as one serving officer pointed out to me the other day when I asked him how things were going.
Getting back to the blog penned as a response to the recent report by Lord Stevens, Clifford’s opinion is that Stevens was inferring that; the low morale of the police is entirely a result of the failure of politicians to offer them unqualified support. Lord Stevens expresses his viewpoint based upon statistical data from a workforce survey.
The statistic comes from a survey of 14,000 serving officers, from constables to chief superintendents. The research was led by a Professor Jennifer Brown of the London School of Economics…(telegraph.co.uk)
The survey data tends to suggest a large proportion of police officers would no longer vote for the Conservative Party (as many have traditionally done in the past). More worryingly, “fifty-six per cent of those surveyed had recently contemplated leaving the police” and “Ninety-five per cent of serving officers do not feel the Government supports the police,” says Lord Stevens.
We have a national crisis of morale which threatens to undermine the work our officers are doing… (Lord Stevens)
Whether or not the data is anything more than indicative remains to be seen. As I’ve observed on numerous previous occasions; statistics (especially those commissioned by the government or agencies of that government) are often manipulated and/or presented in such a manner that tends to ”prove’ the particular point being raised. But Clifford is also correct when he says:
It is my experience that people who are aware that they are providing a bad product or service in their work do indeed suffer from poor morale, and I do not believe police officers to be immune from that…(John Clifford)
Now I’m not suggesting that this research, led by Professor Jennifer Brown of the London School of Economics, is anything less than factual and accurate but I would ask; is a survey of 14,000 out of a possible 134,101 officers a sufficient slice from which to inform the assumptions being made?
Police officer numbers in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level in nine years, the Home Office says…(bbc.co.uk)
The full-time equivalent (FTE) officers in the 43 forces of England & Wales is in decline, it stood at 134,101 at the end of March – a fall of 5,009 officers (3.6%) compared to a year earlier (see here) and that decline appears to be continuing. Who knows, perhaps the continued decline will prove the statistics to be even more valid in the future?
There are two main paragraphs in Clifford’s piece which (in my opinion) sum-up where his viewpoint is coming from. The content suggest there is not only a government ’hatred’ of police but also a public one.
I think that the best response to the [Stevens] article is that, if he is correct in the inference that the government hates the police, for once they are in accord with the general public…(John Clifford)
I agree with Clfford in the first of those two paragraphs when he says; “there are several reasons for this” but, like so many other commentators, he appears to skirt over the significant negative impacts generated by the methodologies of our media machine. A press where even the so-called broadsheet types tend to operate with tabloid mentality when it comes to talking about our police service.
Clifford is also right when he says ”increasing incidence of police officers policing the policeable” are impacting upon public support for the police. He points out how ”pursuing prosecutions of basically law-abiding people for minor offences” and “one-off offences by people defending their person or property” has alienated the public from the policing process.
He is again correct in his assumption that too often; “if one tries to report an escalating pattern of threat, the police are [often] powerless to take preventive action.” More worryingly he describes how the police are “disparaging and unhelpful toward those who report it, often turning on the person reporting the issue with threats about what will happen to them if they were to take action themselves.”
In the second of those two paragraphs Clifford outlines his next point about the lack of respect for police officers. Clifford says that Stevens (read police) wrongly believe that this lack of respect is “a product of societal and governmental reductions in standards.”
I don’t think it is wrong to believe it is a societal issue. There is a commonly held understanding that our police should (and mostly do) reflect the standards, ethics and morals of the society from which they are drawn. That fact alone also helps to endorse Clifford’s final observation of the paragraph in that; “…the actions of most MPs is certainly evidential of a considerable gap in morality between them and the general public too.” The ‘gap’ to which he refers, in a society of predominant self-interest and self-importance of the individual, perhaps isn’t actually as wide as he would like to think it is.
Clifford continues by saying that; ”erosion in the respect in which the police are held is [in his opinion], rooted in their steadfast refusal to address failures within their own ranks.” This may be “an attitude that began a very long time ago but, were the cases of “officers fabricating evidence against people whom they regarded as deserving of their comeuppance” really as prevalent as he suggests? I doubt it and again, it’s another factor that in many respects, is yet another reflection of predominant traits in our society.
Clifford does mitigate this claim by pointing out the fact that (in many cases), they were quite correct in their assessment of the individuals concerned but that is neither a defence nor relevant. In order to maintain integrity in a free society with democratically defined legal system, one which is based upon ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and relies largely upon judicial precedent, we have to have the belief that it is better for ten guilty people go free rather than one innocent person being convicted.
Clifford rightly suggests there is a separate argument to be had as to whether our legal principles remain practical or appropriate today. In a society that is as dysfunctional as it now is, with as many ethical and moral standards as there is diversity of ethnic and social standing, can we still be confident in saying what is/is not ethically or morally correct, let alone criminal?
That said, we would also do well to consider the fact; many of those so-called ‘travesties of justice’ in the past have only latterly been succesful at appeal due to advances in forensic science, and/or the presentation of some new ‘evidence’ being presented, that wasn’t available during the original court cases.
Around 7.30pm last night I saw a police van drive up the High Street without any lights. The vehicle was driven up onto the footpath and pulled up outside a shop where the alarm was sounding. The officer got out of the vehicle and briefly looked into the shop window, tried the front door then drove off along a pedestrian area before turning back onto the road, still without lights.
The above type of incident does just as much (if not more) to undermine public support for the police. Although relatively insignificant, it unintentionally displays a ”do as I say, not as I do” instruction. It suggests that there are rules for the public and a different set for police officers.
And each time a group of off-duty officers get together for a night out on the town, have fun and get loud and leery, they would do well to remember the eyes of the public are upon them. When interacting with members of the public officers should ask themself; “would I be happy with being spoken to in such a manner?” With or without the uniform every officer, on or off duty, are ambassadors of the service.
Society observes your every move when you become a police officer; you can’t be a diligent professional at work and then a total arse off duty. Or worse, be an arse on and off duty!
It wasn’t (and still isn’t) the odd bent detective who accepted a regular bung from some drug-pusher, fence or dodgy car dealer who have scuppered support for the police. Thankfully that type of individual is so rare as to be insignificant in driving public opinion. No, all those officers who thought/think they can simply behave as they wish, on and off duty, are the ones who have screwed public support for policing!
- Police morale is plummeting, says Lord Stevens (telegraph.co.uk)
- ‘National crisis’ in police morale says former head of Met (independent.co.uk)
- Ask police for help? I wouldn’t bother, Met officers tell poll (guardian.co.uk)
- ‘Morale crisis’ hitting police (bbc.co.uk)