David Cliff
David Cliff

Member Article

Leadership in the modern age of policing

As Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) across the country mark their first anniversaries in their posts, David Cliff, management consultant and researcher currently working with a number of PCCs, to better understand their leadership development needs, looks at the system. Police and Crime Commissioners have a unique position in our community. Although elected, they are neither mayors nor politicians. They occupy a position that informs policy, requires robust commissioning skills, demands multi-level leadership skills to direct innovation in their local forces, whilst at the same time listening to the community, with the quietest and most oppressed voices therein. It is unfortunate that they have received so much criticism in the first year.

Some has been with good cause, and it is right that this is challenged. However, a lot of this has been brought about as a result of more diverse players attempting to undertake a complex position with difference, innovation, and in many cases flair. It is quite strange that most Police and Crime Commissioners have been criticised, in particular for their administrative costs. Decent service commissioning and a decent infrastructure doesn’t come cheap.

Most constabularies’ budgets exceed a hundred million pounds and yet the commissioning function in many cases costs sub one million. Few other public service organisations could deliver a 1% management cost. It comes down to a matter of counting and perspectives, I suggest. The mind-set of austerity can be an unhelpful one at times. It is a tough brief, a challenging one, and one that is off to an encouraging start, despite low public awareness and “glass half empty critique” by some of the media. In these more accountable times, the Police and Crime Commissioners have now been in post effectively for a year.

At a time when people are concerned about the politicisation of the police, the role is an unashamedly Conservative stratagem. Nonetheless, however, it does provide the opportunity for those accountable for the commissioning and delivery of police services to be democratically elected for the first time, unlike the Police Authorities that they replaced which comprised members elected in other political spheres prior to their co-option. They comprised the great, the good and the not so good, not ordinary members of the public with whom there was very little contact. They acted as audit mechanisms and were more about the rules being observed rather than innovation, creativity and the customisation of police policies to local needs. We just can’t have it both ways, the politicisation of the police may be a key concern. However, the democratisation of the police inevitably involves political processes.

As an organisation at the heart of public service, most academic theorists regard the police as one of the most resistant to change. The cross-fertilisation of those at the top of the organisation, with an arm’s length detached “oversight” brief to create the necessary “systemic tension” in the way the police do business, can only be a force for good. The cross-fertilisation of the role of Police and Crime Commissioner with people from different walks of life, from business, the law, long serving police officers, etc. creates a “necessary diversity” of approach that allows the police to be far more outward looking than hitherto.

Previously, the police have been very much a closed institution with people working their way through the ranks. Mirroring the diversity of Police and Crime Commissioners are the active recruitment policies that allow people from other backgrounds, where appropriate, to directly enter police ranks, without “working their way up the system.” There are many within the police who would see this to be a threat to a key public service. Many see a “divide and rule” approach that negates the experience, the operational wisdom, the “savvy” orientation that comes from dealing with the public from having trod the streets for many years.

But this is not the case. The truth is crime and law enforcement is as much about the public’s perception of crime as crime itself. Crime has also changed in a modern world. It’s true we still need “thief takers”, but we also need people who understand the new world of crime and law enforcement. This world encompasses complex human rights, the rights of women, those subject to hate crimes, the complexity regarding drugs policies. Add to that list the tactical competence and understanding of new criminal modus operandi involved in cybercrime, including international fraud, human trafficking the exploitation of young on the Internet and yes, the inevitable shadow of terrorism. Such skills are not always gained from working one’s way through the ranks, but from a diverse range of skills and experiences that only a broader pool of talent can offer.

It is the Police and Crime Commissioner’s role to engage with the public in ways that inform local policing. Equally, there is a responsibility upon all of us to put away the apathy that comes with wider political processes and understand that crime and disorder is a real, live, here and now community issue that requires members of the community to participate, inform (in every sense of the word) and guide. These new incumbents have and will make mistakes including; some debatable expenditures and actions, comments to the press, et cetera that may appear capricious. But we are dealing with police organisations embracing change and diversity that need new leadership approaches to get there. If we want a return to the skilled conservatism of past Police Authorities that said little, made few waves, fuelled no debate and no controversy, then we step back from achieving policing that is a true societal fit for the demands of 21st century.

So let’s remember to “support your local sheriff”, as the 1969 James Garner film urged, let’s give them a real chance, participate, inform processes, and get involved. It will make a real difference to entire communities in the times to come. David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken and Vice Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ County Durham and Sunderland Committee.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by David Cliff .

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