Over more than a decade I have had an extensive privilege to meet and occasionally work alongside Police Officers mostly in Sussex. My role as a member of the Independent Advisory Group in Brighton & Hove which began in 2004 and across the whole of the Sussex Police service in 2006 has given me an huge sense of respect for most of the people I have met. Occasionally the actions of a small number of officers brings the reputation of their colleagues into question and leads some people outside of the world of policing to question the integrity of the whole of policing. I am pleased to say that I have regularly observed at all levels within policing a commitment to ensure that one or two bad apples do not spread their canker to the whole tree. However the sense of internal camaraderie which can occasionally lead to individuals mistakenly protecting their colleagues when what is needed is a very different action would exist in any service that is regularly exposed to some of the worst behaviour in society. It is for this reason that Judge William Macpherson in his report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence called on all public services to undergo “regular inspection, public reporting and informed independent advice.” It is to their credit that Policing did observe this recommendation. Few other public services have made the same level of commitment!
This exposure to society at its worst happens every day, but I cite some examples here. One only has to listen to the stories from the hundreds of officers drafted in to deal with the aftermath of the terrible plane crash in Shoreham on 22nd August 2015 to understand this. Alternatively one could search out twitter and this morning a chap called John Apter who is Chair of the Hampshire Police Federation tweeted @Hantsfedchair “15 of our officers were assaulted over the Christmas period, 4 officers spat at, other punched & kicked. Not so festive for some! #” finally in the week before Christmas one of the workers in the Company I am part of was assaulted after they had intervened in a case of physical child abuse which they witnessed. I know that the team of Police Officers dealing with that case had some 20 witnesses to interview to ascertain what happened. Whilst they were sadly not present during the attacks, each time they are told the story from a different vantage point their own senses must surely be impacted, particularly as some of them will have presumably met and spent time with the child concerned.
There is currently a plan or a proposal known as the Policing Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF) to change the way in which police officers qualifications are assessed and just as Nurses and senior Early Years educators have been asked to do, the intention is to bring in an approach that means that all Police Officers will need to pass qualifications that are at degree level. Our nation in terms of those who create policy seems to have an obsession with degrees and whilst many of the Police Officers I have met would be more than capable of dealing with the rigour of such a regime, that may not be true of all of them. The ideas that Policing must be seen as a graduate only service is in my view deeply flawed. Reflecting on where I have worked, where I have served voluntarily and indeed amongst my friends and family, the people with degrees are not always those with the best answers in a given situation. I would welcome a Police service that encouraged all of its members to improve their education during their 30 year service, and if that led in time to a large proportion of graduates then that would not disturb me. However currently in the UK, 34% of the population has a degree or equivalent qualification. In 1829 Robert Peel stated as part of his 7th principle of law enforcement “The police are the public, and the public are the police”. If 34% of Police Officers had degree level qualifications that would make sense, the precise proportion is irrelevant, but aiming for 100% seems flawed. I recall a number of discussions I had with the person who invited me to become a member of the IAG back in 2004. He had failed to make the grade to Inspector from his rank of Sergeant during the early part of his career and then his family and other factors made it difficult for him to study and sit the relevant exams. He was nevertheless one of the best Police Officers I have ever worked with. In the past the most senior ranks in the Police were restricted to people who were ex-military. Thank goodness those days have passed. I am certain that the College of Policing is right in many places regarding elements within PEQF, but making access to the role of a Police Constable something which demands a commitment to a degree level qualification is something I cannot support and I know it is disturbing to many current and recently retired Police Officers. The College of Policing need to rethink this element of their proposal.