A changing beat

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Dr Stephen Brookes, Senior Fellow in Public Policy and Management, looks at the changing nature of policing in the 21st century

Working with the Scottish Institute of Policing Research and senior practitioners, I have recently been studying the challenges facing Police Scotland amid concerns about the lack of a long-term vision or clear financial strategy.

However as a relatively new and large force, the study has also proved fertile ground for looking at the wider leadership challenges facing our police service today.

This is a timely moment to be looking at leadership within policing. Firstly, there have been significant governance changes in recent years, most notably with the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) replacing the work of police authorities which were not felt to be accountable enough to their communities.

Secondly, forces across the UK are continuing to deal with the huge impact of public sector austerity with most forces losing around a quarter of their workforce over the past decade.

New style of leadership

Such demands require a new style of leadership and the big challenge for chief constables today is to fully understand and recognise the new political, economic and social context they are operating in.

The recent publication by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) of a Policing Vision 2025 provides optimism in this regard. As a blueprint, it sets out a vision that extends beyond making savings or incremental reform, and majors on transformational change across the whole of policing, putting the public and the improvement of policing for the public at its core.

For instance, the vision aims to make far better use of digital technology, while improving specialist capabilities to train and equip officers to respond to the changing nature of demand, such as that posed by cyber crime. It also aims to better integrate efforts with other agencies across health, education and social services to help prevent crime.

Accountable

At the vision’s core is the need for policing at all levels to be accountable and responsive to the public through PCCs. In taking this approach, values come to the forefront of leadership behaviours and the vision and its governance can be supported by focusing on collective leadership values.

But what exactly are these values?

*Developing a collective vision is a critical first step in asking ‘why do we want to lead?’. This is about developing a vision based on the values and experience that exist throughout the organisation and its networks, rather than just setting the direction from the top of the organisation or partnership.

*The vision should be outcome-focused and create and demonstrate public value for all stakeholders, including those who deliver the services as well as authorise and receive them.

*Multiple levels of leadership are required so that interaction is played out at different levels of policing with different people taking a lead, based on expertise or knowledge, as opposed to position, power or authority.

*Partnership working through collaboration is the bedrock of collective leadership. The closer we get to the areas of far-reaching decisions, the greater is the need for this deeper and more comprehensive understanding of social problems. This calls for collective values that support an adaptive and action-oriented style of leadership focusing on where the problem leads rather than where the discipline dictates.

*Systems and structures need to support the vision.

*Skills and behaviours complete the framework. Behaviours are determined by values and the challenge for senior police leaders – working closely with senior public leaders in other agencies – is to ensure that training and leadership development is fully integrated with, and informs, evidence-based improvements measured against the socially desired outcomes that the vision seeks to achieve.

Challenges

It is encouraging that the College of Policing is working with forces to give its workforce the skills and powers they need to meet these challenging requirements, focusing on making policing more representative of its communities and finding a better balance between personal accountability and a bureaucratic fear of making mistakes.

The real challenge is then to encourage these approaches through values-based leadership and assessments rather than a single-minded approach on quantifiable targets and processes.

I know that some Police and Crime Commissioners are making real efforts in targeting important social issues, such as tackling domestic abuse in Northumbria and Durham, working collaboratively with their police forces and partners.

However this approach is not universal and perhaps the new vision for policing in England and Wales will take the opportunity that now exists to put the public interest at the core of collaborative efforts to make our society safe for all.

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