Blog: Why policing needs a professional body

Professional Community Chair of organisational development and international, Lancashire Constabulary’s Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, on why a professional body is important.

The last five years have been tough for the police service. We have seen the sins of the past come back to haunt us, adding to the general erosion of public trust in institutions and their leadership. But while it often feels like policing is being singled out for special treatment, we are no different from any other institution – these days we are all far more inclined to challenge things our parents would never have dreamed of challenging: the doctor, the politician and yes….the police officer.

We challenge them because there is no longer any hiding place for failure and rightly so. The availability and speed of information means that our decisions and our behaviour are open source the minute they have happened - and despite the incredible work we do 99.9% of the time the 0.1% will always be amplified and catch us out.

But policing is different in that we rely on the public to trust us to get our job done in so many ways. The trust of a caller ringing in to say they've seen a suspicious man in a car talking to a young girl, the trust of a victim of abuse to come forward and disclose their ordeal, the trust of a community to come forward when there has been a spate of burglaries in a neighbourhood by a known offender.

Fortunately, trust and confidence in the police are higher than ever. In January last year the public were asked by Ipsos Mori if they generally trust them to tell the truth or not. Sixty-six per cent said they did trust the police - the highest number since this question was first asked in 1983. The question for me is… how do we maintain and even improve this?

For me the foundation of trust is competence. If I'm about to go under the knife I want to know the surgeon has been trained to a certain level, is operating to that standard and is applying his or her art with precision, based on the evidence of what is most likely to make me well. They haven't just learnt on the job and been trained slightly differently in one of 43 hospitals.

Experience comes with time but it is a huge advantage for any professional person to have consistent standards backed up by a recognised qualification supported by a professional body.

Walk into any police building and you'll find lots of people already doing this and doing it at their own expense.

Policing is pretty good at competence so don't take this as a criticism - we train people and they deliver unbelievable service most of the time. Whilst I have had the misfortune to work for incompetent people (and there are a few out there), I see very little of this coming across my desk when you consider my people deal with 1.4 million calls a year.

In any walk of life it should be taken as read that you know how to do what you're paid to do. This brings me to the real game changer when it comes to trust… intent.

By this I mean the values, beliefs and emotions that lie beneath the surface of a person and determine how they apply their competence. In almost every story of institutional failure it is this that has led to the breakdown in trust, not competence.

To demonstrate competence with great values is therefore the basis of being trusted as a professional and we have been left exposed compared to our colleagues in other sectors because we have had no professional body to back us up, to say 'this is the standard we work to' and 'this is the evidence we apply' and 'this is the behaviour we expect from each other'.

Or... on this occasion we fell short and failed whilst daring greatly so give us a break.

This is where the College of Policing comes in.

What does it mean for us on a personal and professional level?

I've worked for many technically competent people whose values appeared non-existent and so I didn't trust them. For too long our world has been dominated by skills training with insufficient space for personal development which is often inaccurately referred to as 'soft' skills. The reason why most people avoid personal development is because it's hard!

As a profession we need to recognise and reward personal development whilst providing the support for those who want to get below the surface and raise self-awareness.

We recently did a staff survey at Lancashire Constabulary and there was a lot of tough feedback in there about fairness, how we treat each other and communication. Nothing whatsoever that said we weren't competent at doing our job but plenty in there about our values and how the behaviours of some leaders leave people feeling.

Without exception the failures that have damaged our legitimacy with the public are down to personal attitudes, values and beliefs. Our culture is tough and insular. The nature of our work can lead to us losing the one thing the public value above even competence……….compassion.

Policing is high-emotional labour and personal development is the key to developing a positive form of resilience that enables us to do work that few others can contemplate doing. It is also the differentiator between average leadership and great leadership.

It's still very early days for our professional body. The Royal College of Nursing was founded in 1916 and gained Royal Charter in 1928 so we have some catching up to do. We are starting to see some of the building blocks coming through – such as the Code of Ethics and Direct Entry - and there is clearly a degree of anxiety about why these new ideas are being developed.

I see the role of Professional Community Chair as an opportunity to pick up on what really lies behind the anxiety by engaging with a broad range of people and then feeding this reality check back to the college. This helps to separate fact from fiction. It also helps the College stay connected to its growing membership.

I propose that we wake up, smell the coffee and put our shoulder behind the creation of a professional body for policing so that we can promote the incredible work our people do in a world where trust is everything.

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