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Devon & Cornwall Police Federation

Degree Debate: The crucial point that's being missed is you need to pay a good wage to attract the best candidates

4 November 2022

Debate over whether police officers in England and Wales need a degree to join the job are missing a central point – you need to pay a good wage to attract the best candidates, the Chair of Devon & Cornwall Police Federation has said.

Andy Berry was speaking after 16 Police and Crime Commissioners – more than a third of all PCCs – wrote to the Home Secretary to drop the blanket requirement for all officers to have a degree. They said that recruits from the military, Special Constables and older career-changers are being put off from joining, at a time when forces in England and Wales need to recruit an extra 20,000 officers.

They also claim that new officers studying for a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) are being taken away from the frontline.

Andy believes what the PCCs really mean is that training officers to degree standard is too time-consuming and expensive. He said: “They are probably thinking, simplistically, ‘Let’s get training done quickly, after all a police officer doesn’t need much training to stand outside a pub and break up a fight’.”

High-quality training is vital, said Andy, adding that the biggest hurdle to attracting older, more experienced recruits is the poor pay.

He said: “Policing is a serious business. We have serious powers that need to be used wisely and we need to understand and empathise with the traumas that the public suffer. We need to have the skills and knowledge to interpret and enforce the law with appropriate discretion. We need to be morally and physically courageous. We also need to have a culture where within the service colleagues treat each other with respect.

“The reality is that there are a whole range of issues which are currently causing the problems forces face, but ditching the degrees will be unlikely to solve them. The biggest challenge of all has been to significantly increase the complexity of the police training programme at the same time as trying to run the biggest recruitment campaign ever. 

“This means the burden on the organisation to release our frontline officers, where so many are still on their degree course, for training and academic study is massive. It’s easy to imagine the difficulties of a Sergeant with three quarters of her patrol team still being trained and all needing time back at the station to complete their studies rather than attending incidents. 

“This is exacerbated by forces wanting to treat these apprentices as full-time cops, way before their training is complete, and aggravated by the fact that the training departments, ravaged by the austerity cuts which had at times had reduced recruitment to near zero, have struggled to keep up.

“So much of this pressure in the system and so many of these problems have been caused by the political decisions by previous Governments which slashed policing budgets and then a decade later realising that they had made a gargantuan mistake decreed that the 43 police forces in England & Wales recruit 20,000 extra cops in just three years. 

“The PCCs’ argument that police officers don’t need degrees is also rather simplistic and binary. It leads to tired statements that those with degrees lack common sense and would be no good outside a pub at closing time.

“Many people lack common sense, including those without degrees, and as a graduate I was more than capable of handling myself and drunken louts outside pubs and clubs. Police officers have joined with degrees for decades, it’s nothing new. Equally many of the finest officers I know have joined without degrees.

“The problem that we do have now is that for those without a degree, but perhaps a decade of experience in the military or industry, the ‘poverty line’ pay for police officers at the commencement of their service is deeply unattractive to many with mortgages and families to support. Adverts suggesting that the pay is good after the first seven years just don’t cut it!

“Police officers need high-quality training to enable them to operate in the modern world and, even if a degree isn’t the best answer, dumping it certainly is the wrong answer. More must be done to bring in the experience and skills of those who join later in life – ultimately the best way to attract people who can police with intelligence, empathy, discretion and who can withstand the highest degree of personal and professional scrutiny is that you have to pay them well, really well.”