Further reflections from Programme Lead, Chief Superintendent Nicola Dale
Anyone who knows me will know that I am not a big fan of social media, I have no idea how people manage to keep up with everything on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and the other multitude of media. I have enough trouble staying on top of my inbox!
I last wrote a blog over a year ago and, as the second cohort of Direct Entry superintendents graduate into substantive superintendents, I thought it was time that I shared some more reflections.
The most satisfying job in my 30-year policing career
In a few months I will be looking at retirement from policing after the most fascinating and rewarding 30 year career that I could ever have imagined. I have worked in four of the busiest London boroughs, been a trainer in public order, led on youth issues for London, been Head of Training and prior to coming to the College of Policing I headed up Professional Standards. Even during my more 'indoor' roles I have never stopped doing what I enjoy most, putting on my uniform and policing London whether that be through public order or on call. When I joined the police at the age of 19 it was because I had no idea what job I wanted and I saw an advert for the police so thought it would be interesting as a first job whilst I decided what I wanted to do. Little did I know what would lay ahead and that I would catch the policing bug and stay for 30 years. I will be ending my career with the most satisfying job ever. I get to hand over the baton to the next generation of police leaders, I get to see immense skills and experience, coupled with a level of energy and enthusiasm that accompanies any new venture, come into the profession that I love, and pick up the reins. We are all only custodians of the office, many have passed through the same journey and many more will in the future, taking the oath to serve in the office of constable, ….with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality…. cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property.
The oath holds true whether someone joins as a constable, an inspector or as a superintendent. The drive to make things better and serve the public is the same, it is just the role that we take on and the route that we travel to do it that differs.
As I look towards my future and ponder what it might look like I find myself scanning various career options, looking at websites, getting a CV together to see where I might take my skills and experience. It doesn't occur to me about what I might be lacking, I am more focused on what I can take to a new career. This is not unique to me, I speak with many of my peers who are retiring from policing and we are all doing one of two things - either stepping into complete retirement and dusting off the long lost hobbies or seeking a new career. None of us are looking to join a new line of work on the ground floor, we look at 'direct entry' into whatever career we are looking to pick up. Why should those coming into policing from other careers do anything different?
Criticism from anonymous blogs and commentators
Since taking up the role at the College of Policing as the Programme Lead for Direct Entry I have been subject of ongoing negative and sometimes personal public insults, sometimes accused of being 'Teresa May's puppet', suggestions that I am 'only doing it to be promoted', 'what does she (me) know about policing' etc. from those not prepared to stand up and identify themselves and who hide under the 'anonymous' tag in various media publications and online forums. I have probably experienced more constant abuse through leading the DE programme than I have as an operational cop. After taking on and disbanding a hard core gang in Brent many years ago I faced daily threats through graffiti plastered over Wembley Central underground station. Like many other colleagues I have been hissed at and spat at as I have patrolled some challenging inner London boroughs. I have also enjoyed, on an almost daily basis, the immense satisfaction that you get when you make a positive difference to someone's life. That was all part and parcel of my job and, when you have spent much of your policing career as an operational police officer in busy inner London boroughs you get used to it. Restoring peace in a community that had been blighted by the gang for years gave me immense satisfaction. Getting abused by a small minority of fellow officers who hide behind 'anonymous' blogs is much more disappointing but does not dent my job satisfaction and belief in Direct Entry. It is just a small minority because I also speak to the many officers who have worked with the new Direct Entrants and have nothing but praise for them, nothing but respect for what they bring into policing and nothing but admiration for what a tough programme they are on. These are people who can speak the truth about Direct Entry because they can speak from firsthand experience of what these new members of our policing family bring. They see new Superintendents and Inspectors rolling their sleeves up and getting stuck in. They see them keenly trying to understand the role of constable by, not just observing or sitting in meetings, but doing it, arresting people, standing on fixed points, calming down the latest DV incident and being completely up to date with policing in 2017. I will be the first to say that, whilst I have tried to remain current, doing regular on call (on duty) shifts or even my colleagues who are working day to day on borough you can never replicate actually working on the frontline, understanding what it is like to be a PC today. It is far different from when many of us who are now Superintendents joined the job, before the days of digital being the norm.
The bright future for Direct Entry going forward
Direct Entry gives us the chance to enhance our many skills in policing by merging freshness with experience, bringing fresh leadership skills in from industry, seeing policing through objective eyes, making us even better and even stronger than we already are. I am sure we will have some people who join through Direct Entry and who will find policing is not for them, that is completely normal and expected. The assessment process and the programme are so tough that people who do not make the grade will not make it through to the substantive rank. It has to be that way. They will either not stay, they will not be scared to leave policing and go back to a different career, or the regulations are there to move them out of the organisation in the same way that any failing probationer would be dealt with if the support offered does not assist enough. We have all worked with a minority of fellow officers in policing who joined through the traditional routes and have stayed in policing when perhaps, policing was not for them either. They do not have the courage to move on, the processes in policing are not robust to dispense with them once out of their probation, and they are the people that can stagnate policing and become negative and draining. Thankfully these people are a minority, but a minority who can have a significant negative effect and who can carry significant risk to the organisation.
This blog will no doubt evoke reaction from my 'anonymous' friends. My message to them is that if they are sceptical about Direct Entry then step out from the shadows and have a conversation about it, come along and meet the Direct Entrants, meet me face to face. Spend the time that you spend attacking positive change by being a part of making policing better. I can receive as many insults aimed at me or the programme as can be thrown but it will not dent my belief in the programme or the people. Direct Entry is way overdue and brings nothing but benefit to policing.
I will soon be handing the programme on to a new pair of hands who will have a fresh approach and can build on what we have already built. I absolutely recognise that, whilst the programme is good, it could always be better. It is still new, it still has a lot of local bedding in to do. There is a still a cultural mountain to climb but, with every new Direct Entrant who has been brave enough to come into policing that mountain gets smaller and policing gets better.