We shouldn’t dismiss direct entry schemes out of hand without taking a detailed look at their viability, write Dr Colin Rogers and James Gravelle from the Centre for Police Sciences at the University of Glamorgan
The recent publication of the Independent Review of Police Officer and Staff Remuneration and Conditions by Tom Winsor, known now as Winsor 2, has opened up for discussion the way in which the working conditions for police officers and staff may be introduced for the next 30 years or so.
Once one gets past the media headlines concerning fitness tests, which frankly tends to deflect away from the more important aspects of the report, one can see areas which need to be carefully considered and thought through in detail before any acceptance of the recommendations. Indeed these issues may be more problematic than the economic issues discussed within the reports. One major issue is the idea of direct entry schemes which may prove to be a major stumbling block in the attempt to introduce the recommendations.
The Historical Recruitment of Police
From the earliest times of the modern police, normally considered to be 1829 with the formation of the Metropolitan police, the issue of recruiting the right people has been an important one. Critchley, writing in his work on the History of Police in England and Wales 1900-1966, points out that from the outset it was a deliberate policy to recruit men(sic) who had not the rank, habits or station of gentlemen. There was to be no caste system in the police as in the army or navy. The police force was to be a homogenous and democratic body, in tune with the people, understanding the people, belonging to the people and drawing its strength from the people. Wages were, in fact, deliberately kept low initially to discourage former military officers from joining the force.
Clearly, there has been from the earliest times, a feeling that merit alone was important when recruiting and also selecting people for promotion which was demonstrated by performance in the successive ranks. Individuals were promoted through the ranks as a result of ‘proving’ themselves capable of doing the basic demands of policing, thereby earning the respect of their work colleagues.
In addition to this belief, the ‘Peelite’ view of policing is one that the police are the public and the public are the police. This has come to be a major point when discussing how representative the police should be in its members of the community they service. This argument has, for example, fuelled drives to increase the number of visible minority ethnic individuals within the police in this country for a number of years, as the population of the country has changed. It has been argued that direct entry schemes will work against this attempt at diversifying the workforce of the police. It is against this traditional and historically based framework that opponents of direct entry schemes base their arguments and which no doubt will be used against the current recommendations by Winsor.
Winsor and Direct Entry Schemes
For a number of years we have seen that there has been a discussion regarding police training, education and direct entry schemes. Winsor suggests two quite radical changes to the current system which will affect the way in which senior officers are appointed. These two suggestions are:
• Direct entry scheme for Inspectors which involves approximately 80 candidates each year being targeting the ‘best graduates in the best universities’. This scheme would become available from August 2013
• Direct entry scheme for Superintendents. This it is stated would be a short term scheme, presumably until the superintending ranks are full of those who have achieved their position having joined through the Inspector direct entry scheme. This scheme is to be used to target those individuals from such fields as the military, security services, industry and commerce. It is suggested it should become active from September 2013.
The aims of both of these schemes would allow for an influx of individuals who will bring with them external thinking, experience and skills which would be of great benefit for the police service in such changing times and ensure excellence in future leadership.
On the face of it, the proposals seem to be a sensible way of ensuring that leaders in the future police service will have the required skills to provide the type of management for a public body in challenging times. Winsor believes that the brightest and best individuals should be the future of police leadership, as it moves from being a ‘blue collared occupation’ to a more professional occupation which can be compared to the law, medicine etc.
While opponents of the direct entry scheme will argue that there is a danger that the creation of an elite group which may lose touch with the requirements of the rest of the organisation, and alienate the community, is not without some historical precedence. We need there for to understand the different social context of the times when these decisions regarding direct entry schemes were implemented.
We live in a far more complex and challenging society than hitherto. People are more aware of their rights under the law than before, more people are educated to a higher level than before, and people live longer and will continue to do so. The rise in technology over the past 20 years for example, is an indication of how fast society and its use of such technology has changed. The economic pressures alone mean that the police service in England and Wales cannot resist attempts to modernise and streamline its organisation and functions, and despite protestations concerning such recommendations as these they be not be without merit, providing they are applied in an equitable, open and accountable manner.
When one considers the wider raft of change, not just in society as a whole but for the police service in particular, we should not be surprised at a recommendation such as the direct entry scheme. Clearly for Winsor, there appears to be a realisation that there is not the time for slow change in leadership styles and abilities to wait for the right people to work their way up through the ranks.
The fear from the police organisation is that this will cause divisions among the workforce with an ‘elite’ who will alienate themselves from the rest of their colleagues. However, the workforce – especially at the street level – is already divided into response and neighbourhood, warranted and unwarranted staff, with more use of private security forms in the future apparently.
While the introduction of direct entry schemes currently appears unpalatable, it needs to be fully discussed and explored as a viable option, not just dismissed out of hand on the basis of historical precedence and fears.
Police and direct entry schemes – why not?
Bob Bartlett: I served for thirty years and more and retired as a chief superintendent.
My first reaction is God help anyone who gets to that rank too soon with all the operational complexities the individual will be plunged into. It is an insult to think that a military officer or a manager of a widget factory or even a lawyer could by some magic do the job. My experience in industry and of the military is that the police have little to be ashamed of in their management.
Secondly I went once to Finland for 10 days looking at the prevention of drunk driving. It was odd that for days I never met anyone above the rank of inspector. It became clear that the superintendents were lawyers and direct entrants and for whatever reason did not feel it necessary to greet a fellow officer from overseas. This to me showed there were great barriers between the working police officers and the parachuted in bosses which for many reasons is not good.