Superintendent Paul Ackerley, head of staff development services at North
Yorkshire Police is hoping to create the leading rural force in the country.
Stephanie Sparrow reports
Covering the patch seen on television’s Heartbeat series, North Yorkshire
Police is the second largest police force in England and Wales.
The location is as idyllic as that seen on Sunday night TV, as its 3,209
square miles encompass the City of York, the resorts of Scarborough and Filey,
and picturesque towns such as Skipton, Settle and Harrogate.
Yet, in terms of skills and training this is no rural backwater.
Superintendent Paul Ackerley – who heads the force’s staff development services
and reports to the director of HR Jon Porter – is determined to establish best
practice in measuring and improving the performance of its people, as part of
the force’s ambition to be "known as the leading rural police service in England
He employs a wide range of training strategies to achieve his aims and
believes he can issue more NVQs than any other police force in the country.
"We can deliver them right the way across the criminal justice
sector," he says, "and management to level five."
Ackerley functions as a head of training with a difference. He wears a
uniform and as a silver commander and police superintendent, can be called upon
to make policing decisions outside his training remit at a moment’s notice.
These can range from authorising the search for a mobile phone user’s signal in
a potentially life-threatening situation, to monitoring anti-US demonstrations
demonstrations at the early warning station at Menwith Hill.
Yet, despite these demands, his motivation could be understood by someone in
a similar role on Civvy Street. "Training is my passion because it is
about enabling people to develop, and then watching those lights turn on,"
He is responsible for 60 staff who implement and manage the training of
1,400 officers and up to 700 civilian support staff.
This may sound top-heavy in terms of staffing, but not when the complexity
of the training is taken into consideration, as police officers potentially
consume weeks of training every year – particularly in the intense area of
"If someone applies to become a firearms officer they initially attend
a six-week course on how to use their weapon. This involves two weeks of
shooting and four weeks of tactics," he explains.
And this is only the beginning, as firearms officers must take five one-week
refresher courses during the year and a four-week advanced driver training
course. If they want to become a VIP officer – which means looking after
royalty – they need a further five sets of one-week blocks.
"They also need to be trained in method-of-entry equipment," adds
Ackerley. "A three-day course which they have to take every three years,
and a four-day first-aid course, which they also need to renew. They need to be
trained in use of force, because every officer needs two days’ training in that
a year – and that’s before we start talking about training in relation to new
law and procedures."
Yet after all this skills development, a firearms officer may never even
need to draw their gun.
"We have never shot anyone in 20 years," says Ackerley.
"Having said that, it might be because we have trained people in these
skills so effectively. But there is lots of build-up at various stages so you
do need that intensity of training."
The police has an "insatiable appetite for training which will never be
met", he continues. "Every time a new piece of equipment comes in, or
criminals start using a new type of technology, we start training our people to
deal with it."
The national ethos of local policing exacerbates the need for training. So
if a firearms officer, for example, moves to North Yorkshire from the West
Yorkshire boundary he would have to go through Ackerley’s induction course.
"Different forces use different guns, and we have different policies
supporting the way we deal with firearms incidents. If an employee moves within
branches of a retail giant they would find everything is virtually the same,
but that doesn’t apply across the police service in England and Wales," he
And as Ackerley points out, police officers can follow many career paths
which, in turn, accelerate the need for training.
"We don’t have the situation as in the US, where you join the
California Highway Patrol or the FBI and follow that line. Here, after two or
three years [in the police] an officer can apply to be a CID officer and will
then have to be trained as a full crime investigator – a 15-month course.
This is not to say that training is not closely monitored or tied to the
business case. "When anyone wants a course, they have to put in a mini
business case and this states what alternative solutions have been considered,
and what objectives it will meet for North Yorkshire Police. After training,
their supervisor signs off to verify what they can do. This [method] is
internal to us and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary has commented on
To an outsider it must seem Ackerley has the budget to suit such detailed
work. He has secured a £1m increase for 2003-2004 to bring the annual training
budget to £2.8m.
Out of the 29 areas of training covered by this sum, there are six that take
up the lion’s share: probationer training, leadership and management
development, senior management training, IT training, firearms training and
development, and driver training and development.
The impetus for training needs comes from government principles and the
force’s strategy. For example, training 120 newly appointed probationary
constables during 2003-2004 supports the Government’s aim to increase the
numbers of police officers, offering visible reassurance to the public.
"The Home Office sees that police leadership and probationary training
are two of the key issues facing the police service at the moment. Centrex [the
Home Office body which produces training packages] is currently devising a new
leadership programme which will cover all ranks and grades, and has just
revamped its senior leadership programme at the police staff college at
Bramshill," says Ackerley.
Sector skills body the Police Skills and Standards Organisation (PSSO),
estimates that by 2007, the high levels of recruitment will mean some 51,000
police officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have less than five
years’ experience. It has urged all forces to identify leadership and
management skills needs and shortages as soon as possible "to ensure an
effective service to the public".
Ackerley is already on the case with North Yorkshire’s own leadership and
development training strategy. Its aims include empowerment, engendering a
culture of continuous development and developing innovative thinking. Courses
are available to all current and newly appointed police officers and support
staff managers at any stage in their career.
To this end, Ackerley runs a leadership forum to promote the strategy,
"set up to help develop the leadership skills of our senior managers and
the leadership style of North Yorkshire Police as a service", he explains.
In addition, he is working with The Work Foundation’s Campaign for Leadership
and offers staff the opportunity to take part in a Work Foundation liberating
leadership profiling activity, which involves participating in self-assessment
and peer feedback in 38 key areas. He also runs his own leadership summer
He is candid about challenges ahead. "Some of our officers have been
very task focused. We are trying to broaden their horizons," he says.
Ackerley believes discretionary behaviour is the key. "If you look at
the liberating leadership behaviours, the 38 areas involved have nothing to do
with carrying out tasks, it’s about the way we do them that has the
His work is having an effect as demonstrated by this July’s summer school –
to which chief officers, chief superintendents, inspectors and principal
officers from the civilian staff were invited. "Two of the most
sought-after subjects [on the programme] were ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘the
personal aspect of change’," he says.
Ackerley’s work on helping others to find their definitions of leadership,
based on self-awareness, starts at probationer level. He gives the new
recruits, aged from 19-40 years and drawn from all walks of life, quite a
moving definition of what it means to take command of a situation, and to lead
others, perhaps complete strangers, out of a potentially distressing situation.
"Probationers come here for an induction programme on what I call the
learning journey," he says. "I ask them which skills they think they
are going to need and they’ll probably say ‘decision-making’ or ‘communication’
skills and miss out leadership."
"I tell them: ‘in 12 months’ time you could be in a police car with
blue lights flashing and [sirens wailing], and be the first person to arrive at
"Everyone is going to look to you to take control of the situation.
They won’t care how many months or years of experience you’ve got, because a
police officer has arrived – and you’ve got to be thinking about casualties,
obstruction to roads, the health and safety of people and yourself. That’s a
big responsibility," he adds, "but that’s leadership."
Over the past two years the Police Skills and Standards
Organisation (PSSO) has linked and mapped a National Competency Framework and
National Occupational Standards.
The suite of standards has now been approved and the PSSO has
integrated the units to create the new Integrated Competency Framework.
North Yorkshire Police used the relevant National Occupational
Standards as a point of reference. For example, it has attracted the attention
of the Home Office for its work on mapping a probationer’s development
portfolio across to a customer service NVQ, which should give them an
encouraging start to their careers.
"Its about accrediting prior competence really and now probationers
can get an NVQ out of it," says Ackerley.
It is also believed to be the first force in the country to ask
firearms incident commanders to not only go on a firearms incident commanders’
training course, but to then complete a portfolio of evidence to be matched
against the relevant national occupational standards.
"It’s done the same way as an NVQ and will put us in a far
more robust environment to show that people are more occupationally competent
and have been deemed to be so," says Ackerley, referring to a process
which has internal and external verification.
He believes this will be invaluable if the PSSO sets up a
professional register for firearm incident commanders, as those commanders with
the portfolio will be eligible for registration.