Sunday, July 24, 2011
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.