This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Direct entry: solution or risk?

Plans to allow police forces in England and Wales to recruit senior officers from outside the service are to be detailed by the government later... (BBC)

There probably is no hotter topic for debate in the police profession than this at the moment. My sardonic tweet (Breaking: Gov announces direct entry to Royal College of Surgeons - "there are some v skilled butchers out there") has already been retweeted 10 times in the last hour...

There are arguments on both sides of this fence and, politicians aside, senior cops are not united (contrast the views of Sir Hugh Orde and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe). I am very cautious about wading into this debate as I have not read around all the issues sufficiently. However there are a few things I do want to say:

I do not believe that the basis for this plan should be anything other than a strong belief, backed up by comparable evidence, that it will improve policing and outcomes. Arguments based upon expediency because the current systems are not working very well are not a good basis on which to go forward, in my view. My solution instead would be to inquire into why those systems are not working and sort those out, rather than introduce such a wild card or risky quick fix into the service.

In some ways, the introduction of direct entry (if that is what we get) is one (inevitable?) consequence of maintaining the police profession as a craft rather than a regulated, evidence based, academically grounded profession where direct entry would be untenable. I know this will not be a popular thing to say: but without an evidence based body of knowledge and practice (see my earlier post), the police service remains far too open to the whims of politicians, and indeed to direct entry.

Arguing for direct entry on the basis that it will improve gender and other equalites in the service is laughable. Now I do not have the data to hand, but I cannot imagine how recruiting senior people from either the armed forces or business will make any difference here. Infact I would contend that it will make matters far worse. We could easily end up with far less diversity that we currently cling onto without some very strong positive action measures being introduced alongside.

And finally, I would say what is sauce for the goose is of course sauce for the gander. Will we see direct entry to the armed forces any time soon? How about direct entry to the judiciary who are also not well known for the diversity of membership? Indeed how about direct entry to the House of Lords: perhaps a good cohort of 16 to 25 year olds could shake the place up a bit? After all, parliament is making decisions that will have a greater impact on their futures more than the current  set of Lords (as these young people, frankly, have more future to look forward to...!)



  1. Tom Lloyd30/1/13 09:40

    My major concern about the proposed change is the lack of a clear definition of the problem that that the Home Office is trying to solve.

    Is there a lack of diversity, police professionalism, business acumen, political skill, poor performance, poor leadership (try defining that!) or something else that I can't pinpoint?

    Until you are clear about the problem it's foolhardy to impose a solution.

  2. I could have written this myself Jon and I agree with you Tom.
    Last year the service was to be a profession, this year you can join at the top, in the middle, just below the middle or at the bottom for less money.
    How professional is that?
    Perhaps the impatience with police leaders is that they can't keep up with the constantly moving goalposts and don't embrace dogma with no evidence base like the government does?

  3. Jon, My understanding was that the College of Policing was approved to move the police service towards becoming a 'regulated, evidence based, academically grounded profession'. However almost before the paint is dry on the College of Policing signs we are about to move the goalposts again. I do not see how parachuting in people at the level of Superintendent is actually going to to do anything to improve the delivery of policing on the front line. However it is nice to see ACPO getting it in the neck at last they have sat on the side with their mouths tightly shut throughout the reforms to the vast majority of police officers and so I do not suppose to many tears will be shed by those officers at the fact that TM has decided to enable the introduction of police chiefs from abroad.