The Parachuted Supers

Thursday, 10 April, 2014

The case against the Entry Level Superintendents programme- a view from the front line by C. Ikeazor

Extraordinary situations require extraordinary measures to address them. This maxim allows for the application of extraordinary measure and not any measures. The anything will do remedy is little more than a desperate or reckless, if not dangerous, gamble.

For the first time in the history of modern policing in Britain, superintendents who have never served as constables will join the police. Potentially, any one of them could rise to become Chief Constable or Commissioner some day leading to that rarest of creatures a police chief who was never a bobby and never wore the hat. The arguments in favour of this move are ample and although the decision has been made, the arguments against remain overwhelming and unshakably valid. This decision sanctioned by the Home Office will see the recruitment of 20 direct entry superintendents this year with at least 5 of these being hired by the Metropolitan Police Service.

The idea of parachuting highly skilled individuals into senior ranks in corporate organisations has worked in many instances and is now a given. Organic growth, that is the slow paced march from bottom to top is no longer the only path for employee progression to top hierarchy of organizations and rightly so.

Parachute entry to high level positions is a modern corporate tool for attracting highly skilled individuals to meet management needs.   The principle, however, should be addressed to organizations where the cohesiveness, the managerial expertise and authority, and individual confidence do not depend on foundation experience at the roots of the organization.

The idea of a Commissioner (not entirely unheard of) who has never chased thieves on the streets, walked the beat, helped the old lady across the street, given evidence in court, talked to people on the streets and in the neighbourhood, shared a cuppa at a local café or fete, and felt the pulse of the community as their officer, their bobby, is most unsettling for the service and for the community. The police service is an organisation of individuals with corporate and public objectives, but it is not a Marks and Spencer type outfit where a Mr. Rose can be brought in to fix the sales figures.

You cannot expect an Army Chief of Staff to be an individual who had never tasted the joys and pains of recruit or officer training and not been through the rigours of executive decision making up the ranks, with all its risks, mistakes, challenges, and rewards. A good and effective general needs to be trusted, admired, and followed into battle by his men and women.

You cannot (well at least should not) parachute individuals from the civilian world to become captains or majors in the army because of some diversity or skills shortfall. You train up your own ranks. You fast track and progress those within your service with the basic experiences to the required rank levels. There is already an existing skill base. Troops follow leaders better when they and their leaders have shared experiences. It is a human thing.

Make no mistake about it, the police service (once referred to as a force) is engaged in a war, a war against crime and criminals, simply put bad people. Officers will have to be routinely putting themselves in harm’s way to do their job and protect their community and it will be reassuring for them to know that their supreme commander who urges them on knows how they feel, not because she or he just says so, but because they have been there themselves.

Bobbies will appreciate criticism and harsh words when deserved from a Chief who was once in Indian because she or knows what it is like. The community will hear better and appreciate the proclamations and preaching of a senior police officer who grew up from their streets, however short their time was there, because they know that he knows them.

I began by acknowledging that extraordinary circumstances may require extraordinary measures to address them. So how do we address the problem that the parachuted Superintendents programme seeks to tackle? One of the main problems the parachute scheme, the Direct Entry Superintendent programme seeks to address is that of diversity and underrepresentation.

It is already clear that the old measures of Positive Action and publicity campaigns appear alone are not to be working or producing the desired results. It may not have been considered, but it may well be that the police is not the most desirable of careers for many in the target communities for simple reasons of preferences and prospects. This is another point for discussion elsewhere but it is worthy of consideration.

So, in the absence of the Direct Entry Superintendent programme what extraordinary measures can be applied to tackle the problem of diversity and representation at the senior level in police services? What can be done? It is already being done and nothing I say here can be a "Eureka" moment idea. There have been or there are schemes for fast-tracking officers from recruit levels senior ranks.

All those parachuted superintendents could have joined the service as recruits, passed through those ennobling and purifying rituals and rigours of recruit training and beat duties as necessary foundations and they hopped-skipped-jumped through the several ranks to Superintendent. Simple.

There was the High Potential Development (HPD) programme and the Emerging Leaders Programme which see fast track progression for qualifying officers. If these appear not to have provided the desired results to things can be done - They could have been expanded to allow for increased intakes to any required level or numbers. The fast track process could be quickened to see the relevant officers (subject to merit tests) spending no more than say six months or 12 months at each rank until they reach the superintendent level where they join others there in the usual progression process.

It is quite possible for qualifying entrants to progress from constable to superintendent in 2 to 4 years. Their fast progression through the ranks would form part of their training and preparation for the superintendent rank.

If remuneration is identified as an issue negating the success of this method in attracting the high skilled and therefore potentially high salaried individuals, a separate and highly enhanced pay structure can be devised for those recruited into the service on the fast track programme. Pay them well, very well. Whatever happens, get them to start at the foundation level, give them a taste of training, taste of the streets, and give them the pride of patrol and that unique experience of being a Bobby. They would be able to say like any officer, that they too have through the rites of passage of officerhood. They can look their junior officers in the eyes and say "I understand…I have been there too".

Post Script:

Nobody asked me but I know that most Black Ethnic Minority people I know do not consider the police as a career, not necessarily because of any inherent anti-police or anti-establishment attitude but simple because other careers were simply more attractive in terms of pay, prestige and progression. My younger brother is a solicitor but he would never dream of becoming a police officer and he is not anti police or anti-establishment. He always wanted to be a lawyer and that was what he aimed for and became. Approaching him and badgering him to join the police to make up BME numbers would disrespectful to his choice and the same goes for the countless others who have made their choices based on their own aspirations and calculations.

Most graduates or masters degree holders who think they can earn 2 or 3 times the pay of a constable by putting up with far less inconvenience (no night duty, no drunks, no street corners in winter, and the usual elements of danger and harm) in 9 to 5 job in the city will not even think of the police as a second or third choice in their career plans. It is a no brainer - the pay, the terms and conditions, the internal culture are the key baits in attracting applicants from any community, Black, Asian, Minority, White, Male, Female, Gay, Straight etc.

Chukwudum Ikeazor




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