by Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis, President Elect
This week saw an historic moment for the police service of England and Wales as its first professional body formally came into existence.
At the present time it could be argued that, when looking at it from a national perspective, the service is pulling in several different directions at once as 43 forces seek to modernise, develop and adapt to the challenges and demands presented by modern society, particularly this current period of austerity and reform. Each force has their own ways of doing things; standards and policies might be agreed nationally, but that’s not always recognisable; training standards vary and there’s a perception that only on limited occasions could it be truly said that there is uniformity and agreement.
The College of Policing has been created to combine much of this work under one virtual roof. It provides the service with a unique, and previously virtually impossible, opportunity to standardise and professionalise in a way that is supported by the whole service. Chief Constables will still have local autonomy, and so they should as they are held to account by their local Police and Crime Commissioner, however they will have to have good reason not to adhere to standards set by the College.
Whilst there should always be room for individual and bespoke solutions to local policing problems, it’s a poor indictment that the spreading of good practice has, until now, been so piecemeal. Part of the College’s responsibility will be to identify “what works” and then share that knowledge to all forces so they can implement it. These won’t be just ‘someone’s good ideas’ – they will be scientifically researched and evaluated methods as the service moves towards a more ‘evidence based policing’ approach. We should be sharing these ideas with pride and not clinging to some perceived advantage. Policing should not be a competition – if we’ve got evidence that something works we should all be doing it, with local adaptation if necessary.
The term ‘college’ does tend to conjure up images of academia and professors in stuffy libraries but this is misleading. The College of Policing is not simply about research and study. Professional bodies have existed in other organisations for years and we should not fear them. They have existed within the medical profession for more than a century. They allow experts from across a particular field to come together and agree on procedure and guidelines. The College of Policing will provide this opportunity for policing. It is intended by its very design to be inclusive and consultative of all. There are representatives from the Police Federation, the Superintendents’ Association and police staff on the Board of Directors and also on the Professional Committee which will be the driver of the College’s business.
From a frontline officer’s perspective it will provide much more consistency from force to force. If an officer gains a driving qualification in Norfolk they should be able to take it with them if they transfer to Merseyside. Gone will be the days of pointless and costly duplication to meet some unnecessary locally determined standard. If they become accredited in one place it will become a transferable skill. This has to be good for the officer, the service as a whole and the budgets.
As well as providing essential and consistent standards for operational training to enable officers to do their jobs it will also provide access to additional development opportunities, for those who wish to progress through the ranks or who seek to move between different roles and who are willing to take responsibility for their own future development.
British policing is already recognised as a world leader in community policing, criminal investigation, public order, roads policing and counter terrorism. We export this around the globe and we can be proud that our expertise and innovation is admired and respected worldwide.
However, any great organisation always seeks to improve what it’s doing. For the first time, the College of a Policing will provide a hub from which the service can learn, develop, share and move forward as a cohesive unit.
Whilst many other aspects of police reform have caused anxiety and division, the College of Policing is something we should universally welcome and be excited about. The most exciting thing is that the College is still at a conceptual stage – its true potential and the positives it can bring to the service are yet to be fully explored and realised.