Laura-Nadine Schuhmacher reports on “Policing Professionalism: Leadership, Ethics, Public Confidence”

Laura Schuhmacher Photo New

Let’s play a game where I say a word and you tell me the first picture that comes into your mind.

Word 1: “Crime”:

I think of persons clad in black with masks and guns, as in a classic robbery scenario.

Word 2: “Police”:

I see officers in uniforms with clubs, roaming the streets.

Clearly, I watch to many crime series on TV. What I maybe should have pictured for word 1 was a caretaker neglecting an elderly person, or an anonymous avatar bullying someone in a chat room online. But what should the picture for word 2 look like?

This is the question that was discussed at the recent 34th Anuual Cumberland Lodge Police Conference entitled “Policing Professionalism: Leadership, Ethics, Public Confidence”. The focal point of the conference was the recently published “Leadership Review” by the College of Policing, an independent, non-profit body that is calling for restructuring and reform of the police.

Fact is, police don’t need to roam the streets as much as they used to. Statistical evidence suggests that traditional crime, such as robbery or car theft, has been falling since 2000, probably due to technological advances in the security sector that are now available to everyone. However, new challenges have arisen, and the focus of the police needs to shift and adapt to be able to face the crimes of the 21st century.

The Leadership Review formulates ten recommendations that the police should implement to make this necessary transition. These ask for a severe restructuring of the force, including a call to review the rank system and loosen hierarchy, in order to create flexibility. Currently, there is only one way to become a high ranking police officer: start young and work your way up. Once you reach a certain rank, there is no review or challenging of your position. The recommendations suggest opening up the police to highly skilled professionals from other areas that would be suitable for lateral entry, as well as providing life-long learning opportunities for those already on the force and a system that rewards specialist skills and expertise rather than power and rank. Furthermore, junior members of the force need to be able to question their superiors without fearing for their career, a particularly sensitive problem in the police

To achieve such a change, the College of Policing looks to the Chief Constables and asks them to be the leaders of change. The proposal of common values and new fundamental standards of professionalism is something that needs to be implemented by the police, not imposed on the police. The College themselves do not have the power or resources but rather a guiding function.

The problem with this scenario lies in the rather vague approach. There was a lot of talking, but there is no clear course of action. There isn’t one responsible person or committee that is now going to go and implement the discussed changes. Neither is there a clear definition of many of the changes that were called for. “Review and replace the rank system”: How does the rank system even belong to, and how can it be taken away from them? “Introduce national standards for recruitment”: Who’s job is this going to be? What are the standards they are going to implement?

Overall, the Leadership Review opens up a lot of questions and demands, but it is unclear who is going to answer them. It is important to take up the discussion and the spirit of change that the Review has created and built on it, ride on the wave rather than letting it break and wash out, taking all the good intentions with it.