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3 February 2021
The uplift in police officer numbers is a positive move in what has been a difficult time. These officers will form the future of the service, and they are needed, wanted, and welcomed. However, these new police officers are being trained differently to their more experienced colleagues. Not only are the recruits receiving degree level learning, developing their skills to a recognised level, but as a result of the restrictions we all face, due to the COVID-19 pandemic they are unable to experience policing first hand, understanding their new career in a way that cannot be conveyed over the internet.
The recent Demand, Capacity and Welfare survey conducted by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has shown that 32% of frontline supervisors and Sergeants within the service are concerned they will be overseeing a high number of young, inexperienced officers, and that, of those, over half (52%) believe they will not have the time to dedicate to each of the new recruits. In addition, they are concerned they themselves have not been developed sufficiently to be the role model, mentor and guide they aspire to be.
This is not a new problem. “The service needs to consider the perceptions of the frontline supervisor and the lack of value they feel the service places on them”: these are the words of Sir Ronnie Flanagan from 2008 when he was Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, as part of the Leading From The Frontline thematic review. His words are just as true today as they were then. Sir Ronnie identified the policing organisation needed to place “greater emphasis on appropriate development and support to ensure frontline leaders are confident to deal with the varied challenges they could face” and that the 2008 review “reinforces the key role of the frontline sergeant in translating vision and strategic intent into day to day policing reality”.
Sir Ronnie’s words also show this issue is wider than Sergeants: it has impact across the federated ranks. Improvements will be dependent upon tutor constables to develop, introduce and supervise new recruits in an operational policing environment. It will fall on colleagues to offer further guidance and help to less experienced members of the team. It will require assessors to carry out formal assessments in the workplace of student officer’s competencies, and it will require inspectors to manage and understand the dynamics of a varied team.
PFEW continues to advocate for all officers to be provided with protected learning time, a meaningful Professional Development Review, access to appropriate training, and fair and transparent systems for promotion and career progression. It has been a slow journey, but after thirteen years, there is a good foundation in place. We need to build on this progress further.
For example, the National Police Promotion Framework is currently being revised for improvements. We’ve been calling for greater emphasis to be placed on the development and training of supervisors, not just the assessment of them. We want to see nationally recognised and accredited training programmes in place that newly qualified officers attend prior to being assessed in rank. Additionally, we want to see those who carry out the assessments trained and qualified to do so.
The uplift is a great opportunity for policing. Properly done, it can recruit a work force that is reflective of communities, develop new officers to a high standard, and it can secure the frontline. On a national and strategic level, we hear all the right things being said about person centred learning, investing in our people, development of open, transparent, and fair processes. Some are even enshrined in law. However, according to the results of the Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey, we are yet to see these well-intentioned directives being implemented in the workplace. It’s a good reminder that we need to continue to work collaboratively to make this change happen.