Friday, 1 February 2013

Starting half way up the ladder

There's a couple of posts over at Gadgets gaff that I couldn't help but agree with, in part. I'm not a regular visitor, as I feel my 11 years of retirement after 30 years of service puts me well and truly into the `dinosaur` category, plus I feel I had nineteen excellent years of police service and actually enjoyed it. However, the final eleven taking me to my `30 years and goodbye` were somewhat strained because by then, as a senior officer, I don't think I actually fitted the required `mould de jour` and couldn't turn my mind to all the budget trimming number crunching policy political stuff. It just wasn't my style and I felt punished for making that known to my new peer group and the chief officers above me who, in turn, gave me the impression that they felt they'd promoted a bit of a traiter. I felt a bit like Groucho Marx who wouldn't want to join a club that would allow him in as a member - my treatment for paranoia is almost complete and I'm feeling a lot better these days.

Where I would offer a challenge to Gadget's view is on his stance of being against direct entry for inspector ranks. I'm not actually against it, I just question whether it would be worth the bother. As part of my foray into academia, I spent some time in The Netherlands where such a system did exist and as far as I am aware still does. My research was on other matters within their criminal justice system so I only have anecdotal evidence on their `officer class`. The following observations should be viewed with that in mind.

After a couple of years full time study at the Dutch police college the new inspectors would find themselves at an operational police station. As per the system in the British military, oft used as a comparison by politicians favouring such a change, there would be experienced sergeants overseeing constables who generally make most of the day to day operational decisions without resort to higher ranks, but there I feel we should be cautious, for one should not make like for like comparisons as police and army organisations' operational doctrines are very different. However, as per the military, there were inspectors with lots of experience, who had come up through the ranks, as well as those who joined up and immediately went to the police college for 2 years to graduate as an inspector without having to earn sergeant stripes on the way up. In Amsterdam I spoke to my peers of that time, operational sergeants with up to 20 years experience, and I asked them specifically about how they found the direct entry inspectors. Their views I summarise and paraphrase thus;

`Some rookie inspectors were poor managers of people and put a lot of junior police officers' backs up by clumsy decisions and poor empathy skills and showed a marked lack of understanding of what makes ordinary people in all their guises (the main commodity of the police) tick. On the other hand, there were some who very quickly endeared themselves to the junior ranks, were open and willing to learn and had their feet firmly planted on the ground and who grasped the most important principle that just because they out-ranked their team, they didn't `out-experience` them and therefore did not automatically have all the right answers`.

That short summary happened to be true for me, too. I worked with newly promoted inspectors who variously displayed those self same characteristics identified by my Dutch colleages, yet my British police colleagues had all started off as constables and some had actually been in the job for over ten years, some twenty years, before making it to inspector. To my mind, the fact that an officer may think that fifteen years experience makes them better than one who has only three years has always been prevalent. I would always caution that attitude with the question, `is that fifteen years experience or just one year that has been repeated fifteen times?`

I would not close my mind to direct entry to the inspector rank without first seeing how it might be managed. Perhaps there is a blueprint in existence that I haven't seen. However, having seen that the Dutch experienced the same good, bad and average human traits in their organisation with its direct entry system as I did in mine without one, I question whether it is actually worth it, as the end product in The Netherlands appeared little different from the British equivalent.

My own weary observations have consistently confirmed to me that traditional policing has been progressively ditched and rubbished. It was never perfect but it was not rubbish and did not deserve to be dismantled as part of some huge academic social experiment. Senior officers have been steered, nay, encouraged away from doing what was, and still remains, the number one priority, that of clearing obstructions from the path of those who are trying to fight the alligators. We should start at the desired end result and work backwards from that, not try to impose the perfect world as seen from the top and work down to where it happens, because no one appears to be there anymore. So I guess on that final point me and Gadget agree!

POST SCRIPT: This link may be of interest


Unknown said...

I think your comment about fifteen years or one year fifteen times resounds the most with me...

I am the youngest on my shift (both in service and age) and was a job the other day... on arrival it was a right old muddle. My oppo felt we had done all that was needed and we should let the two people we were dealing with go... I felt that at least one of them need to be arrested, but I didn't know why!

In the end the sergeant directed us towards arresting them and a clear indication of why... which as soon as he explained made perfect sense!

Even though it took his outside perspective to bring some clarity to the situation... it was interesting how my instinct as a probationer was so different to the colleague I was with who had been in the job six years...

As you said... experience isn't everything.

I think what possibly works about the Police service as it is... would be the variety of different personality and skills you have on the table. All of the people on my shift offer something different. Some have military backgrounds, some academic etc. etc.

Sheer experience or just "being there" doesn't guarantee expertise though...

Hogdayafternoon said...

thanks for dropping by to comment. Good example you gave. I had an experience with a `Bramshill Flyer", young, degrees in everything, blonde, could've even been Scandinavian so Gadget would've beeen happy. She was a sgt en route to chief supt in 5 years. Came in with a `big personnel issue` which I looked at and offered her the solution to. Her words stuck with me: "I've spent a sleepless weekend worrying about that so howcome you've given me the solution in 30 seconds". Simple answer was she couldn't reach back 25 years to find a precisely similar case like I could - but she wouldn't have to struggle next time, providing she remembered, would she? We see good and bad as we look and learn. More will resound with you as time passes, as you know. I hate it that there is so much pressure now on officers to be 100% right. Discretion and acting reasonably and in good faith counted for so much, once.

Tadanori said...

The only problem I foresee is the likelihood those in junior ranks aspiring to become managers one day will have an even harder time succeeding in that endeavor.

With a £4000 pa pay cut for recruits recently introduced despite the lowest number of those in junior ranks in 20 years, the managers might not have one to manage.....

Hogdayafternoon said...

Tadanori: The Dutch system didn't prevent junior ranks becoming inspectors and above, it was just that the college entry guaranteed you the starting rank (providing you graduated, of course).

The other thing the Dutch had was max tenure (no, not a porn star)you would do 10 yrs in uniform then find yourself in the CID. After 10 yrs there it was out into uniform again or some such swap. Don't mention it or they'll all want to join.

Anonymous said...

The frustrating thing is that this comes at a time when those of us currently in the promotion system have been told there will be no movement for the forseeable future. Estimates of 3 to 5 years at least. With further blockage brought in by direct entry we can see this extended.
This is coupled with the fact that we cannot apply as direct entry without resigning. Undoubtedly as a direct entrant despite degrees and wide operational experience - I won't get a look in because, stupidly, I thought the best way to get promoted in the police was to join the police rather than some graduate scheme in private industry.


Met Anon said...

I find Gadget's main flaw is that he is, in an almost cartoon-like fashion, "resistant to change".

I haven't read his posts because I can't bear his site any more. However I have read yours :-D

I would add one thing. The current setup is deeply flawed. When you get to Chief Inspector ranks and above you find that they give a very good impression of having never pounded that utopian beat nor attended that all-important domestic. An affinity with "ordinary people"? Don't make me laugh!

I recently went to a meeting with the local Chief Inspector and Ricky Gervais could not have given a better impression of David Brent-esque management-bullshit-without-actually-saying-anything. He had oodles of time "on the front line" under the current system.

I agree with what you say. I am not against it, but direct entry must be done properly by selecting good candidates, on a small scale (at least to start with) and making sure they don't jump feet first into incidents and operations they don't quite understand.

But at the same time can the powers that be please please please sort out the dimwits that currently occupy these rarefied positions?

Anonymous said...

The description of your career path sounds roughly similar to mine. I was actually having too much fun as an Inspector (Support Group and Firearms) to want to climb the ladder. In addition there were at least two periods in my service when there were lengthy moratoriums on promotions above Insp (apart from the chosen few)so I decided to stay where I was and do my job. I eventually got promoted just before the job really went 'wibble'.
I don't really have an opinion about direct entry only to say that a few will be good, a few will be truly dangerous and most will be average. If anything they will be left wanting by the inadequate training they will surely receive. In my time as a CI I was under pressure to constantly reduce the time spent on training. I felt the time we spent on training and refresher training was inadequate in any event. Instead of the Dutch model with a 2 year residential course I feel the 18 month wonders will get a few weeks in a Travelodge somewhere, a set of notes and just enough knowledge to make them think they truly know it all. I don't equate time served with experience. Some people never learn from experience and others assimilate knowledge quickly. What the service has lost already is the 'corporate memory'. There won't be any grizzled veterans around to say 'hang on, we tried that back in 1995 and it didn't work then'. From what I read in the papers some of the mistakes in the financial sector were due to inexperienced 26 year olds being let loose with little oversight as the grey heads had been retired and there was no one to say 'this is not going to work'.
Interesting times ahead. I suspect that the Home Office will conceal their dissappointment when a lot of officers with 5-15 years service leave to take up employment elsewhere as they have no prospects of advancement and are replaced by more 'malleable' staff. As you say the model of policing we had was not perfect but wholesale social engineering won't not work either and I have yet to hear any politician deliver a credible model for 21st century policing. If you read the commentators in the papers they seem to think we could go back to the 1950's and all would be well. One think for sure, when the Insp with 18 months service is confronted with a critical incident they will be bound to get some excellent advice from the 18month service on call Supt.

MTG said...

Recounting personal experience of 'traditional' policing must involve a brief mention of the Village Sergeant. A Headmaster figure and dutifully assisted by a few spotless 'beanpole bobbies', he was both pretty well regarded and effective. I agree it was never 'perfect' but all the same, it was damn good.

Important social elements perished alongside our Village Sergeants. A sense of policing together; moral responsibility and a slice of 'Englishness'.

I see nothing worthwhile in or faintly resembling 'traditional' policing among the Gadgetistas and no amount of deckchair shuffling will inculcate them with those qualities I once admired as a youth.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Ladies/gents (I don't always know): Some quality observations here. I have an appointment with a Jura tonight. I will return, tomorrow, and read your words again, as I feel there's more I would like to add to your pithy comments.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, an appointment with a jura. A cryptic tease, Hogday?

Hogdayafternoon said...

Anon@06.02: Pure Superstition ;)

Hogdayafternoon said...

G`day.(On `6 Nations` Day)

What a bummer. Historically, the Met I joined had two promotion pass levels, `qualified` and `competitive`. You `qualified` by passing the promotion exam ie a mark of 50% would do it. You were then on the slow elevator where you would be promoted within ten years. If you got a mark of around 75% (variable depending on vacancies) or more you were `competitive` and were probably looking at a wait of between nine months to two years. A qualifier could re-sit the exam any number of times to try and `qualify`ie speed up their promotion. I sat the exam in 1975 and failed! Only 80 passed that year in a force of nearly 20,000! They were so desperate for sgts they re-marked the papers twice and managed to get 120 qualified which was still way too few. Jeez, if only I'd spelled my name correctly I may have just got it. I transferred to a county and passed their exam the following year and passed a selection board 4 years later with 9 yrs service. As laughable as that seems now, it sounds fairer than your dilemma.

Met Anon:
I recognise that. I made C/I with 21 yrs service and only the last 2 were as an insp. I'd spent 9 yrs a pc and 10 a sgt. On my regional insps course (six pointless weeks, for me) I was an oddity amongst all the other insps who mostly had less than 8 yrs service. As a c/i with 21 yrs service I now realise I was even more rare, but I was in a specialist ops dept so I guess that excused me. A few yrs later, on a real division, my supt gave me a bollocking because I drove the van to an urgent asistance call - there was no one else to drive it, but he didn't see that as a reasonable excuse. The loons were
now firmly in charge of the asylum.

Yes, we probably know each other, or know someone who does. Your description of the `Travelodge/ on-line training` is horrifically true. And the 5 to 15yrs service demographic you mentioned was precisely the group that the Edmund Davis enquiry had to rescue a generation ago.

True. Sad and true, even allowing for an excess of rose tint. There's a lot to be said for subtle social controls rather than cold, hard,inflexible, calculated-to-the n'th degree, techno-policy and legislation. Even in the dark days of `death penalty for everything` there was a huge element of subliminal control - I think it was based on `fear`;)

Anonymous said...

Jura? Is that the coffee maker (R)(C) or the Whiskey?

Hogdayafternoon said...

Anon: I'd never add anything to a single malt, except another! (`Superstition` is one of their brews)

Blue Eyes said...

A touch of water sometimes helps to bring out the flavours. NEVER ice.

CI-Roller Dude said...

I worked in both the (US) Army and as a cop in California.
In the Army we had folks show up from college who were put in charge and usually had no idea what to do. If they were smart, they listened to the sergeants- if they were stupid, they didn't.
The main difference between the Military and Civilian police work was the Military couldn't get sued for screwing up.
I mean for example in Iraq often innocent persons were killed or injured and we NEVER got sued.

In civilain police work, if a bad guy fought and got hurt, he would often try to sue.

Ladders said...

Just remember that when climbing that career ladder to make sure it is leaning against the right wall first. There is nothing like getting to the top and realising it wasn’t where you wanted to be. #fact!

Hogdayafternoon said...

Ladders: Thats the best advertising I've ever had sneaking in via a comment, so you're staying.