Sunday, July 24, 2011

Military leadership =/= Police leadership: advice to the Winsor review

I wasn't aware until this morning that UK is undergoing the largest review of its police forces in 30 years. This review (officially titled the "Independent Review of Police Officers' & Staff Remuneration & Conditions") is headed by Tom Winsor, a former rail regulator and current lawyer. The committee has published the first half of their report already and the second half should be out in about six months. While I've spent some time researching and writing about policing, it has been almost exclusively on deploying police not domestic policing. However, there are some principles of policing that are universal and that it looks like the second half of the report might challenge some of the principles.

The Telegraph has an article today that the Winsor review is considering recommending allowing soldiers, lawyers and foreign police chiefs to enter the force without the mandatory two-year probationary period, most of which to be served as a constable (yes, I know, it's the Telegraph, which I loathe to quote as a sole source for anything). I have absolutely no opinion on the last bit - that might be good for the police force for a number of reasons. I have serious issues with the first recommendation and will withhold comment on the lawyers bit (a more complicated topic).

Firstly, I don't have issues with former soldiers (Marines, airmen, sailors, etc) and lawyers serving in a police force. I think that's great. But I do have issue with the idea that you can take a military leader and assume that his leadership qualities are a great fit for police leadership without indoctrination into the police force and its culture. If there's one thing we've learned from police development programs in Iraq and Afghanistan is that if you have the military lead training and reform of police forces, you end up with police forces that look a lot more like military forces than police forces. It mainly has to do with the difference in leadership: military have a command relationship with their soldiers, while police have a managerial relationship with their subordinates. After all, police officers are all officers. (I have a whole slide presentation I put together for a talk on this subject if any of you are interested.)

That's why some probationary period is required to transition leaders, in my opinion. You can't just have a class on rule of law vs. good order and discipline and expect soldiers to be good cops. Like a lot of professions, police culture is the source of a lot of their strengths (also often the source of bad policing traits) and it can't be learned in an 8-week school or some such thing. At an extreme example, could you imagine if Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, Baron Stirrup, was made the head of the Met tomorrow? I don't think anyone (save those that support a strong police state) would think that a good idea. The bottom of the Telegraph article has a couple of quotes that are pertinent to this and should be heeded.

The bottom line here is that soldiers and police work in disciplined, uniformed, hierarchical organizations, but that does not mean they are the same thing. I highly recommend to the Winsor committee to not recommend removal of the probationary period and time as a constable. Different promotion policies after that, sure, but soldiers need to learn how to be police before they can be able to lead police.


  1. John P. Sullivan sent this article that you might be interested in.

    Policing Urban Crime: Lessons from High Point, NC and Rio by latamcommunique

    Adds to the conversation of military helping police and police helping military.

  2. Thanks, Mike. I'll give that a read, too. This post isn't to say that military and police are incongruous or that lessons learned from one aren't applicable to the other. On the contrary, as a matter of fact. But TTPs differ from culture and those do not neatly map from one community to the other.

  3. Excellent points, Jason. I would add that for anyone looking for a clear documentation of how differences in UK military vs police culture shape operations, Mark Urban's study of the repeated shifts between police and military primacy in Northern Ireland is a good reference.

  4. Thanks, MK. Another thing to add to my reading list...

  5. Agreed; if this has been reported right then it seems to suggest that the Winsor reveiw not only think that police officers = army officers but that police = army. But Winsor is a sharp operator so I *hope* thats not what he is thinking.

    However I disagree with you saying all senior managers should start in an entry level position (constable) within the service. There is a lack of talent at the high levels but more importantly too many senior officers all have the same narrow experience.

    As virtually every police job outside core policing has been civilianised in the UK, senior officers will only be experienced at 'policing' not actually running an organisation.

    I understand in the NYPD the chief of the dept is the highest warranted officer and is the uniform leader of the officers while the 16 commissioners above him may or may not have had bottom up policing experience. (I suppose in army terms the chief would be the senior warrant officer) And the last three FBI directors have been lawyers (hmm maybe that doesn't help my case:-)

    My last point to make is police in the UK are proposing that Constable is no longer the entry point and people will have to join as PCSO's or auxilery constables for at least a year before applying to be constables. I would suggest this akin would be expecting to find the senior surgeons and consultants of tommorrow from the portering or janitor pool of todays hospitals

  6. Backroom Boy, thanks for your comments. Your first point is the one I was trying to get across. You don't expect a commissioner to jump into the Army as a battalion commander: it just doesn't work that way.

    And you're absolutely right that senior managers shouldn't serve in the entry-level first for a number of reasons (an important point I failed to mention). I'm not sure how one gets around the problem unless they do some sort of apprenticeship (for lack of a better term) at a higher level, but not necessarily the level they would eventually end up in. I have no idea though - the U.S. military has been trying to crack this nut for a while to no avail. But some cultural indoctrination/immersion must occur.

    Police personnel policies are difficult to get right. But this line of recommendations is very off from the fundamental principles. I hope the actual report either does away with it or is able to address these issues.

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