It was interesting to talk with Chief Superintendent Neil Jerome of Kent Police about the proposals to fast-track police recruits to higher positions – because the Chief raised a perfectly valid point.
He said: “Experiencing what it is like at three in the morning to be plodding the beat, when you are on your own, gave me a far better and greater understanding of the job. My credibility, to my officers and staff, going out doing what I am asking them to do, is so much more enhanced because they know that I have done it myself.”
In that statement, Chief Superintendent Jerome has pointed out what I personally believe to be the biggest flaw in these proposals (and they are just proposals at this point; scrutiny is to be expected). You can’t simply teach people how to be a police officer, in the same way you can teach a trainee lawyer or a doctor. Policing requires experience. It requires men and women who have been on the streets, interacting with people. And this takes time; it took Chief Superintendent Jerome 19 years to work his way up the ladder and he considers himself to be one of the quicker officers to do so.
Everyone at the bottom of the hierachy needs to be able to look up to their superiors and know that they have shared the same experiences. Confidence is key and taking orders from someone who has done it all themselves will do exactly that.
Police Minister Damien Green said to the BBC: “There is no organisation in the world that cannot get better and it must be the case that if you widen the pool of talent, then you will get even better policing in this country.”
This is also a valid point but it could create problems. Encouraging military personnel or university graduates to join the service could definitely bring a fresh approach to policing, but it risks creating a culture where policing becomes simply a career, a chance for recruits to hop up the ladder and get to those senior positions. Chief Superintendent Jerome said: “You don’t come into policing unless you fundamentally believe in some of the ancient traditions around policing in this country.” Those “traditions” set policing aside from many other sections of society and it is this traditions that we must uphold if we are to have a successful, passionate police force. These proposals have the potential to change that and for that reason, they must be considered again.