Police recruitment reforms – good cop, bad cop?

Home secretary Theresa May has announced radical reforms to police recruitment. They include opening the role of chief constable to applications from abroad and allowing the direct entry of outsiders to senior ranks. Former Met Police HR chief Martin Tiplady explains why he believes it’s a case of good cop, bad cop.

I am a keen exponent of change. I get frustrated around people who naturally resist it. I love new ideas, new gadgets, new thinking, new everything. I say this as a backdrop to the announcement that changes are afoot to allow overseas candidates to become chief constables and to enable individuals to sidestep constable ranks in the police. One of these ideas is worthy. The other, in my opinion, is daft.

I see no reason at all why Bill Bratton, who has led policing in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, could not become the Met Commissioner. There may be a risk, but c’est la vie. It’s the same risk as any UK candidate for that role.

The big picture

A chief constable or commissioner is a chief executive. Of course, the incumbent has operational responsibility, but don’t be fooled by the claim that an intimate knowledge of UK law is required – there are legions of advisers on that front. Rather, the role is about big-picture strategy, astute political acumen, operational confidence, an understanding of policing and leadership and motivational skills. We have overseas managers in our transport systems that have done superbly. Tim O’Toole, the chief executive of FirstGroup and former managing director of London Underground, is just one example that springs to mind.

I have the highest regard for my former senior police colleagues at the Met. They are skilled experts in their field and some of the best and brightest people it has been my privilege to work with. But equally, I have no doubt that police chiefs from other parts of the world could strut their stuff here.

By contrast, direct entry for non-police professionals to the ranks of superintendent is of grave concern. When first appointed to the Metropolitan Police, I admit to thinking that many capable people without a background in policing could bring benefits to the police service and that resistance to such a move was wrong. I no longer hold that view, having witnessed first hand the extent to which – in order to be effective – operational police managers as individuals must have experience of operational action. On this I have no doubt at all. Actually, I go a stage further – I do not know what problem is trying to be solved here. If there is a view that police leadership is falling short, can someone please explain how an army of non-police managers fixes it?

A matter or life or death

When I think of policing issues – fronting a mob, controlling a crowd, major incident control, overseeing a search, security planning for a major event – we need experts, people who know what they are doing and who are able to work out the scenarios that may develop. Even more significantly, the response to these incidents is, in a lot of cases, about life and death. And public and officer safety. I do not want amateurs in charge.

As a member of the public, I want those in charge of these and other policing situations to know what they are doing, to be experts, to have first-hand knowledge and experience. I have nothing against Tesco or Barclays Bank and their own skilled managers, but they are not “operational” managers in the policing sense of the word. They possess a skill to operate in a different sector and those in policing operations need to be equipped to deal with life and death on the street.

For those in senior policing positions who are falling over each other to support the latest political wheeze, why are they suggesting a 10% target for such appointments? That sounds like tokenism to me rather than heartfelt commitment.

Just as pertinent, if I am a front-line cop, I want to know that a command given to me when I face the baying mob is considered, expert and does not, unwittingly, place my own security at risk. This will only happen by knowing that my manager has been there before, understands how mobs work, understands how my colleagues and I think and who does not take decisions based on how shoppers or customers queuing in my bank are controlled. It is a silly idea to put non-experts in charge and smacks of an initiative for initiatives’ sake rather than a thought-through plan that addresses the problem, whatever that may be.

A much better strategy in my view is to look at what police officers do, remove those duties from them that do not require warranted powers or their skilled input and give those tasks to others who might be more skilled at them. Believe me, there is a lot of scope here.

I love change. And I think we should embrace one of these new plans. The other should be quickly binned, as it could be disastrous and deadly. And then we will all wonder how we got there.


Martin Tiplady OBE is managing director of Chameleon People Solutions and former director of HR at the Metropolitan Police Service.

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