I was at the Conservative spring conference last weekend. I was heartened to hear the sensible and practically based speech made by the Home Secretary, Theresa May (unlike some other previous holders of that august office of state).
She talked much sense about what troubles our law enforcers and put forward several sensible suggestions as to what, in these very dificult times, needs to be considered to ensure efficient, value-for-money policing.
I guess that there were many other things that she also could have said, but for me, sitting there at the conference for the first time, free to openly display political bias with my new-found status as a recently retired police officer, for me there was one glaring omission.
So what is this big issue? It is simply the culture that discourages police managers from managing.
I am not talking about Chief Superintendents and above: their role is – and for a long time has been – political (mainly with a small 'p'); I am talking about Sergeants and Inspectors.
We have swung from the dark days of blind obedience when I joined over thirty years ago, pretty much straight past the sensible point somewhere in the middle, and on to an ethos where intructions are often seen as harrassment and discipline is seen as opression. Yes, there is usually still compliance and yes, of course, good supervisors display logic and a willingness to explain and educate; but the slight stare or the small sneer often seem to betray the thought "Why do you think you can tell me what to do?"
There was a socialist 'revolution' of sorts in police training some 15 years ago that means that the ones who were being taught then are the teachers now. It specifically stated that you should never have to 'do' without a reason (standing outside protecting a murder scene in the rain) never allow yourself 'to be picked on' (i.e. "your turn to make the tea") and never, never accept without questioning (which incidentally can be potentially life threatening in some circumstances).
Absolutely, I do not hanker for the era where I saw petty discipline for discipline's sake just to puff up the occasional pseudo-bully's self esteem. I am simply saying that the police force is a disciplined organisation with a rank structure for a reason and that willing operational managers need to be allowed, encouraged, protected and permitted to do what they are actually paid for. Those that are unwilling should, where necessary, be educated, assisted or simply required to do what is right.
Of course there is always a need to ensure that people are treated with respect and in an acceptable manner, but those structures and safeguards are already in place, this is about suporting good supervisors who in turn can produce good, efficient police officers. Those officers in turn will become the managers themselves.
Very obviously this one suggestion will not cure all the ills of the British police service and I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of officers and PCSOs still join because they have a high moral sense of duty and a genuine desire, as I did, to 'do good for the good guys by making life bad for the bad guys'.
I know that some will be critical of what they might call old fashioned dogma, but I think it is nothing of the kind. It is what I strongly beleve that the public want in and from their police service. The public are the real bosses. It is an issue that needs to be openly debated and taken seriously.
Take the fear out of managing: you know it makes sense.