The role of the College and challenges for the future

Interim CEO explains how the College is working to connect with the frontline

In December last year Interim CEO Rachel Tuffin (pictured) wrote a response to a blog by Nathan Constable where he asked a number of questions about the College's standing in policing and connection with frontline officers and staff.

Her response below explains what the College is here to do and some of the work currently being delivered:

Breaths of fresh air

I'm writing this blog on the College of Policing with thanks to Nathan Constable for his 'Canary in the Mine' post.  His blog gave me the motivation to share more about what we are doing, about the dilemmas, and as we announce our new CEO, to reflect on what needs to happen next. To test Nathan's metaphor to its limit, it's like taking a breath of fresh air to keep the canaries alive. Two apologies up front, I've written it myself as Interim Chief Executive as a small sign that we take this seriously and are listening carefully and responding, but it's taken me a while and it's quite long, sorry! Also, while I don't shy away from difficult truths, I do have a natural tendency to look on the bright side – so apologies in advance if that winds any readers up.

Facing the facts

The bottom line is that in the College, we will always have to balance different perspectives, and that's a potentially tricky position, but it can't be avoided. It's true that the College was set up to champion professional development for officers and staff, and it's also the standard setting body. That combination in a professional body is quite unusual – and can cause tension but there's a great potential benefit. In the longer term, our system can mean that our own professionals, as part of their development, will build the evidence base and help set the standards. Internationally, and in other sectors like teaching they're envious, because they see the potential even if it'll take years for it to be the norm.

For now, when policing sets standards, in anything from undercover to domestic abuse, College staff draw together operational expertise, research - where there is any, the perspectives of partners, voluntary or third sector groups, government and the public. We try to balance protecting the public and protecting professionals by making our standards workable on a day-to-day basis. Then the content needs to be communicated to all those audiences and more, and they all have different perspectives and needs. It isn't simple and it's easy to get the tone wrong.

Often specialists in one area of policing will feel frontline officers and staff need to do things better, while the frontline feel demands on them are unrealistic, and the restraint video stems from this tension. The background was that in the light of a highly critical review of the use of restraint, the professional lead and the custody officers felt it was right to share some of the key warning signs. The video was reviewed by police officers, but because they were custody specialists, my guess is that they took it for granted that the suspect would already be under control. Given the clip didn't actually show that context, the frontline reaction is understandable.  It's a reminder that we have to user test and not only rely on specialists.

Listening to the canaries

Nathan's blog is a constructive challenge and while it's kind of him to recognise the potential impact of challenging feedback, people working in the College understand that tough words mean people care and it can help us make things better. I think what they find harder, is that some more positive aspects of our work consistently attract less attention. Take recently where my naively phrased comment on pay (more on that below) and the recent restraint video received negative feedback. Over the same period there was the announcement of the College bursary winners, the launch of a tool to recognise officers' and staff's prior experience and learning, and the award of £7.5m to help deliver police welfare and well-being. Of course negative stories are more newsworthy, and that's an issue in policing more generally – it can affect all of our motivation over the long run. It would be great to learn via the same direct and immediate feedback about what's well received as well as what doesn't work or people find frustrating.

You find there are always different viewpoints to weigh up as well – on pay some thought the professional body had to take a position and some thought we shouldn't say anything. In my comment, I meant 'encouraging' in terms of a possible signal on the public sector pay cap, but I understand that's not how people read it - or how it played out.

The full response is lengthy and covers a number of different areas including the independence of the College, work that the College carries out that people may be unaware of, getting feedback and connecting with the frontline, personal development of officers and staff, the work of the Police Knowledge Fund, why people should become College members and shadowing operational officers.

You can read the full response to the blog on the College website.

You can read Nathan Constable's original blog online.

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