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Comment: the service will eventually get the workforce it deserves

Yes get rid of those not fit to wear the uniform but do much better for those who are

Handing over the reigns of misconduct hearings to chiefs once again felt inevitable on the back of recent and not-so-recent events. Sir Mark Rowley may have led the charge but Police Oracle has not spoken to a single chief constable over the last 12 months who didn’t agree with him.

So the top brass now have the tools to get rid of those who, to quote their own words, “are not fit to wear the uniform.” Few in the service would disagree with that sentiment as it applies to the genuinely corrupt or dishonest. Yet deep suspicion surrounds how the changes will deal with the ‘middle ground’ of those who have erred, shown a lapse in judgement or have made an operational decision which provokes social media-fuelled community outrage. The pool has become poisoned.

The misconduct changes, announced during the Home Office’s headline-seeking ‘crime week’ policy fest, lack some essential detail; for example will the PAT appeals system be retained or will chiefs truly have the final say on who stays and who goes? 

What is noticeable though is that Ministers have made reference to the new arrangements also dealing with “poorly performing officers” which firmly leans towards non policing employment law. Using the vetting system to sack Crown status employees rather than going through the misconduct process is another example of that.

This feeds into the old narrative that it is “too difficult” to get rid of bad police officers. The protected status of being a warrant carrying servant of the Crown is being slowly eroded. What will the Home Office and police management get in return for this direction of travel?  A weakened Federation which is planning to ballot its members for industrial rights. A growing number of officers who are jaded and cynical public servants with little expectation that the organisation will protect them when they are asked to do difficult and dangerous things.

Those officers have grown used to hearing about their shortcomings. They feel tarred by the same brush. It has undoubtedly made the job more difficult notwithstanding the fact that there have always been groups of people who have a vested interest in ‘hating’ the police.

But it is time for the service to genuinely consider how it is failing its work force and has done so for years. Consider the following example: you are an officer newly ‘acting up’ in a public safety role on a weekend shift in charge of multiple cases in an area where minimum strengths are consistently breached. You make a decision during which a vulnerable person dies. There is an automatic referral to the IOPC and you are suspended for a year during which time you are told you are under criminal and misconduct investigations. That officer is effectively shouldering the blame for organisational failures. Failures in training, failures in balance of supervision and experience, failures in resources. How many officers have quietly left the service early (without any need for chiefs to sack them) totally scarred by their experience?

At a more basic level you could point to things other organisations, with significantly lower professional risks than policing, take for granted. An effective annual appraisal system for example. An agreed job related fitness test. IT that works. Effective and meaningful on the job training throughout a career not just at the start. A fair system of performance related pay.

The Federation this week told us it was refusing to sign the Police Covenant because of concerns it guaranteed officers and their families nothing more than ‘business as usual.’ Which isn’t very much. We can do better.

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