Thursday, 31 January 2013

Time to call for Inspector Clouseau?

What do we look for in our leaders?
There is a passage from an unused script in the West Wing which poses the question, who would you follow?
1.       The man with crooked associates and two mistresses, who hides his disability, chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day
2.       The man who was sacked twice, used opium in his youth, drank brandy and champagne to excess daily and hid his mental illness
3.       The vegetarian, teetotaling, non-smoking war hero who never had an affair
I hope most would go for FDR (1) or Churchill (2) rather than Hitler (3).
The point is the portrayal of leadership and the requisite skills depend on context and circumstance.
This is why the current furore over direct entry and overseas appointments is such a difficult subject to unravel.
The answer gets even more uncertain when you throw into the mix, what problem is the government trying to solve?
Along with large parts of the service I am absolutely clear that the police are not representative of the wider society that we are entrusted to police. Now let’s be clear, it’s impossible to mirror society but it needs to be representative and it isn’t.
But is direct entry and overseas appointments the answer? Well it’s hard to see how. The military may have many virtues but its leadership is not diverse. When did you last see a woman or black senior officer at the higher echelons of the military? How will importing white men in their 30s assist the police service to address under representation?
So let’s turn to business. Fewer than 3% of FTSE 100 companies have a female CEO and they appointed their first black CEO in 2009 and I don’t think there has been another since.
The scandalous lack of diversity (and not just in terms of gender and ethnicity) in leadership roles across the spectrum of the public and private sector is an issue of national scandal, so why is it felt that policing should be singled out for ‘reform’?
I am the first to acknowledge that the service needs to do more to tackle these profound issues but I cannot work out why we should be singled out for special attention and I am even less clear how the proposals as presented will solve the ‘problem’.
So let’s move to competence.
The government announced this week they have paid out over £15 million in compensation to detainees in Iraq for uncontested cases of torture and human rights abuses. I must have missed the clamour for the public inquiry into the ethics, integrity and leadership within the military that allowed this to happen on their watch. I am even less certain how the National Decision Making model, framed from the ECHR and the values and mission of policing, will be greeted never mind the principles enshrined in policing by consent and accountability to a PCC. It’s not a question of being better than each other; we are different and to assume we are interchangeable is an insult to both the police service and the military.
Then there are the wunderkinds in the City who steered the economy onto the rocks and the politicians who borrowed, then spent and then cut their way out of crisis. I am sure amongst their many skills the ability to deliver over 20% of savings in budgets, whilst maintaining service, will be at the forefront of their applications to join the leadership in policing. Alongside honesty and integrity.
So, in what other organisation would we be making a virtue of getting to the top quickly? The judiciary, medicine, politics, teaching or indeed the military? These are all professions with a career path but I have never heard a government Minister promulgating the virtue of getting to the top of these professions quickly as a goal in itself. Surely it is what you do and what you deliver along the way that helps you learn and improve. It’s about making a difference and building teams and when you get to the ‘top’ you apply what you have learnt to support and lead others to make a difference.
Now, for the record I am not against the appointment of foreign cops to roles within the UK. However, in delivering comparable competence there is no evidence that it will address diversity or under representation. The vast majority of jurisdictions being considered also operate without an officer class in policing so they would bring with them the virtues instilled in them from a lifetime in policing, invariably modelled on the UK.
As a service we export police officers across the globe and they adapt to their new role and generally add value so it would seem hypocritical to say that we are somehow unique and that we only export policing. But prospective candidates for Chief Constable would need to adapt their experience and approach to the UK tradition of policing and acknowledge the constraints that this may place on their leadership and style. So deciding that everyone needs to be armed might be a hindrance!
I am an advocate of a testing, challenging and larger fast track promotion process that could and should discriminate in favour of ability. It may be that we need to focus these schemes to positively attract under represented sections of our communities. But we come back to the underlying challenge. People need to want to join the police and we need to make it a positive choice for them and at the moment that has not been their experience. So in my view this is about building confidence in policing. Announcing by implication that there is a crisis in the leadership and potential within the service seems counterproductive.
But let’s not forget few of us have been recruiting and underrepresented staff profiles just got worse over the last 3 years. As forces move to recruit there is no reason why they cannot focus recruitment and take positive action to attract the best possible candidates from underrepresented groups. This benefits policing and society and should not be seen as a threat by the service.
I do believe that ‘fast track’ should start at the foundation of policing as a constable – this is not some emotional attachment to nostalgia; it is the bedrock upon which policing by consent is built and the challenges facing officers every day is experienced. It is invaluable as learning and should not be so easily dismissed by those who have never experienced it. However this is not an argument for time served or incremental progress through every rank and the service needs to accept that we can be more creative in designing our future.
As is probably clear by now I am unpersuaded by the appointment of superintendent ranks from outside policing. Again police colleagues from other jurisdictions may be able to add a new dimension to our approach but I remain unconvinced that the numbers waiting to land in the UK to police will ever make this more than a symbolic nod to openness whilst avoiding the wider societal problems of under representation.  
I think the police service should do more to attract skilled professionals with expertise in areas such as IT, HR and finance, forensic accounting and covert techniques etc but I cannot understand why they would need to come, or indeed want to come, as police superintendents and spend months training to undertake a generic role when it is their expertise we need. Instead of creating new pathways into policing lets celebrate the police staff that serve the public and deliver policing every day.
Finally let’s not forget the context of the other changes being introduced into policing.
What is the incentive to be a chief officer in your 30s if you have to work till your mid 60s? Why would anyone speed to the top, to end up on a 4 year contract aligned to a PCC and the vagaries and risks associated with the electoral cycle?
So, in acknowledging that policing could and should do better to bolster the breadth and depth of leadership in the service I feel that the approach being advocated from the Home Office fails to recognise the complexity of the issues and seeks to provide simplistic and headline grabbing solutions. While this at least is consistent with many of the solutions proffered to address the ‘problems’ in policing, these solutions have the potential to alter the vital relationships within policing but more importantly in the fundamental relationship policing has with the public.
Which brings me back to the question, what do we look for in our leaders?
Let’s face up to this question and avoid the headline grabbing gimmicks.

Sunday, 13 January 2013


This coming week the use of social media within and by the police service is going to be discussed at a round table somewhere in Bramshill, so I thought it timely to volunteer some thoughts.
As is customary I will start by reaffirming these are my views and not necessarily representative of the two police forces I serve. This in itself is an interesting convention because it assumes that I am about to say something which may cause some anxiety, concern or litigation! I’m aiming to do none of them.
In writing this I know that some colleagues in both forces will already be feeling nervous and I can do no more than offer them and anyone else anxious at my access to the internet and a thesaurus, reassurance that I endorse and strive to conduct myself at all times within the Statement of Mission and Values for the Police Service.
My operating principle starts with the use of discretion, professional judgement and common sense. I can think of no better framework to guide my thoughts and actions.
So I tweet and blog about work and the police service in general. I also choose to discuss aspects of my home and personal life. I am very alert to the issues of personal security and safeguarding the privacy of my family. However I do not think they or I are jeopardised by my domestic revelations, cooking tips or commuting calamities.
Neither am I a self obsessed narcissist with an insatiable ego (no, I’m not!) who feels the need to discuss what I had for breakfast (toast) or who cannot function without knowing what other people think of me (really, you do?).
Whilst I am passionate about the vocation and profession of policing I do have a life (!!!) away from work where faith, family and friends help define me as a human being and I want to represent the service as a person not an avatar.
I use social media because I believe I have a positive obligation to engage and communicate about policing and it is an incredibly powerful way to connect with people. I have lost count of the number of times I have met people who already ‘knew’ me because of twitter. The vast majority of these occasions were really positive. We had started our ‘conversation’ and ‘connection’ with each other long before we met and although we were meeting about policing we were invariably talking about life. What a great place to start.
Yes, there have been interactions online and in person that have been less positive. Let’s be absolutely clear that phenomena did not start because of social media and no activity is devoid of risk. However, our role is to identify and manage risk.
In all my conduct as a police officer, both on and off duty, I am accountable for my decisions and actions and I operate on the basis that I need to be able to justify and explain myself. I also strive to act with integrity, compassion, courtesy and patience. The latter is a perennial challenge but I continue to work on it.
In factoring in all of the above I feel able to use social media to engage directly with communities, stakeholders and colleagues for the benefit of both policing and wider society. 
I am conscious that as a senior police officer my views and thoughts are scrutinised and I think very carefully before pressing send. But this discipline is not defined by seniority or role and it is a necessary requirement to underline that, amongst other things, we must strive to show neither fear nor favour in what we do as representatives of the service.
Conversation, discourse and argument are all essential in a democracy (and a mainstay in my house) but they must be conducted in a spirit that is sensitive and dignified and which demonstrates respect for the human rights of all.
So this is my Modus Operandi for social media. But it is also my MO for life and work and I think that is the point. Other than limiting myself to 140 characters I don’t operate differently online than I do in meetings or with colleagues or communities.
Having this framework to work within is why I am able to be a vocal advocate of the wider use of social media in the police service. I want to positively support the use, not begrudgingly surrender to the inevitable. Too much time is taken up discussing what might go wrong at the expense of celebrating the huge impact policing has in positively transforming lives and communities and the part that social media should play.
Let’s be clear, any system can be misused. Anyone with a pencil can be an organisational terrorist but we don’t ban stationary. There have been and will be in the future, many transgressions of common sense and professional judgement via social media. The vast majority are preventable and rectifiable through education and a commitment from individuals and organisations to learn.
However, some are inexplicable, distasteful and unprofessional. My approach to this is uncomplicated. If you want to be offensive, rude or party political via social media or any other interaction then it is not compatible with your role and I believe you should be held accountable for your actions. This can be subjective stuff but integrity and professionalism are personal barometers and in posting comments the test of ‘what will people think’ appears often to have been overlooked.
The recent elections of Police and Crime Commissioners were an interesting test for the service. For the record it was not ACPO who constrained comment on candidates, policies or the electoral process by police officers. It was the law. To be specific, ‘The Representation of the People Act 1983’ and the ‘Police and Crime Commissioners Order 2012’.
As many offenders will tell you the law can be an inconvenience but our job is to uphold it, not ignore it.
I also think that the difference between marching en masse to demonstrate against changes to pay and conditions is a world apart from an individual placing personal commentary on the Government and individuals within it into the public domain.
However, this is not a vote for the Thought Police. I’ve lost count of the times I have been incensed by the inane commentary of a misinformed politician or pundit. But I’ve not gone and shared my thoughts with the wider world in an offensive or party political commentary. If and when I do, I won’t be fulfilling the Oath of Constable.  
I am equally certain that some forces have over reacted or misconstrued the use of social media by their staff. Chief Officers, like everyone else, make mistakes. I’ll say that again.  Chief Officers, like everyone else, make mistakes. They too need to be allowed the opportunity to learn and reflect.
But there will be cases where accounts need to be closed and misconduct proceeding taken against officers and staff. Unlike some journalists and politicians I don’t comment on cases that I am unsighted on and we know that facts can get in the way of a good story. I do recognise that both individuals and organisations have rights and that due process has to be followed.
This leads on to the vexed question of people who comment and communicate in a personal capacity. In my view, once you have identified yourself as a member of the police service you are bound by your professional responsibilities and subject to the same guidance and rules as if you were at work. So, I don’t think the public would expect you to talk to them using the F word so why would it be acceptable to include it in a tweet? You are no longer a private citizen and the ‘none official’ status of your account is, in my view, not a defence.
The solution?
Encourage and enable people who want to speak for the service to do so as members of the service.
Provide them with the training and the ‘rules of engagement’.
Trust them.
Celebrate their success.
Help them learn from their mistakes.
Hold them to account when needed.
Overall embrace the opportunity to engage with communities.
If we did this then the fall back into anonymity would be unnecessary.
In my experience the vast majority of police users of social media, notwithstanding the associated risks, achieve successful outcomes and reduce the risk of harm to individuals and our communities.
And that, when all is said and done, is our Mission.