We are currently experiencing network problems with the desktop version of Police Oracle. We hope to have these resolved as soon as possible.

Interview: the final class of 2022

Police Oracle speaks to an officer who attended the final Strategic Command Course last year as the College of Policing moves to a new senior leadership selection system

Richard Baker was a West Midlands chief superintendent with 27 years service when he was encouraged by his chief constable Sir David Thompson to apply for the Strategic Command Course (SCC)  -  the last one to be held in its current format.

He says at that stage in his career he would have settled to see out his service at that middle management rank and the encouragement of his chief was a big motivating factor for putting himself forward for the three-day Senior Police National Assessment Centre (SPNAC) which every candidate has to pass before being accepted on the SCC.

He had joined West Midlands Police straight from University where he did "a very useful” applied engineering and geology degree which he jokes has “helped me endlessly in my policing career.”  

He had a strong family background in policing though  -  both his mum and dad were cops, he has a brother in the same force and his daughter has just joined as well.

He was moderately ambitious but says he didn’t aspire to senior command until very late on. “My dad retired as a superintendent and I think I had that aspiration for the first five to 10 years of my career,” he says.

In terms of promotion he was made sergeant after six years and inspector six years later so progress through the ranks was steady but not rushed.

He specialised quite early with a background in investigating robbery, burglary and serious violence before moving on to serious organised crime and CT policing ending up as a chief superintendent in charge of the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) for three years.

But a much earlier role gave him a peek into the mysterious world of the command suite.  

“When I was a sergeant I took a total U-turn in my career and became a staff officer for one of the ACCs,” he says. “That gave me a real insight into the role of force executive team members. I think that had a significant impact on me. I would say it was one of the least enjoyable parts of my career because you are not managing people and it is quite a lonely place to be. But it was undoubtedly valuable.”  

Any thought of the Strategic Command Course, however, came late on. He says: “I hadn’t even thought about it. After 23 years as a new chief superintendent, I thought ‘that is it’ and I would see my time out in that rank. But it was during that time the chief had a chat with me and said I should be thinking about the command course.”

He says that for many officers the SCC feels like a “bit of a Holy Grail”  - something that is out of reach and officers need encouragement to go for it.

He also knew a couple of officers who had gone on the SCC and told him “it will be the best course you will ever do.”

So after that chat with the chief he applied for a temporary ACC post in West Midlands and was successful completing 14 months in the role which he says gave him the confidence that he could succeed at that level.

There is a perception in some policing circles that you cannot ‘fail’ the Strategic Command Course so  it is a sort of golden ticket for promotion.

But you can fail the Senior Police National Assessment Centre which sifts candidates for the course.

Richard Baker failed PNAC at his first attempt but kept going passing the year after. He describes the test as “really challenging” and adds: “Under the new system that is changing from a pass/fail approach.” [The College of Policing is scrapping SPNAC and the SCC replacing it with a new executive leadership programme next year].

“You find out within a couple of weeks whether you have passed or failed and you feel a sense of euphoria,” he says.

Having passed NPAC officers go back to the day job and then get sent on the 13-week SCC a few months later. Richard Baker says he was slightly anxious about the prospect: “For 27 years you have been coming to work every day, the phone has been ringing constantly, you are managing duty cover and when you go on the command course all of that instantly stops.”

He describes it as “a unique and privileged” opportunity. “To be able to come out of that 24/7 non-stop policing environment to be given the time and the space to think and listen to some of the best speakers in policing is fantastic. You come away chomping at the bit because you have had three months off operational policing but you have acquired an enormous amount of knowledge.”

Under the old SCC system four weeks of the 13 are devoted to remote learning which Chief Supt Baker said was the most difficult part of the course for him. 

This part is usually devoted to academic research and there will be officers on the course who haven't had to write an essay for nearly 30 years so it will be out of their comfort zone of day to day policing. 

However, Richard Baker says that the course has changed the way he will manage from now on and hopes it has made him “a far more rounded and better leader and manager.”

There are around 15 senior command vacancies around the country at the moment and police and crime commissioners have complained that the vacancy rate for chief officer posts is around 20 per cent  - the highest it has been for many years.

This partly explains CoP’s reasoning for overhauling the system which selects senior officers – with just over 50 candidates on each course there is not enough throughput to meet the demand and widen the pool of candidates PCCs can select from.

The reforms will take in “a blended learning” approach involving day events and remote learning rather than a big hit 13-week concentrated course.

Like other officers that have gone through the SCC Richard Baker hopes that some of its values will be retained. The peer group of aspiring chief officers you meet on each course is part of that he says. “Many of us are still in touch. We share experience of going through processes. I think that network of friends you develop at the command course will become more and more valuable over time.”

He says the proposed changes will make the course more accessible to candidates but hopes the new arrangements will retain the blend of people from other partnership agencies outside policing who are prepared to pool their knowledge and experience..

“I am a born and bred Birmingham lad and have not worked anywhere else,” he told Police Oracle. “One thing that the course has given me is that I need to broaden my horizons outside West Midlands to different things which in policing is a bit of a rarity. To be able to go to a network of people from different forces to talk about issues and problems is invaluable.”

Leave a Comment
In Other News
GMP ACC set to move to West Mids
Two new ACCs for Police Scotland
Two new ACCs for Staffordshire
More News