In a professionalised police service will graduate officers find the 'discretionary space' to use their critical thinking skills?

Exploring the freedom of serving police officers to make autonomous decisions.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
John McCanney
Police region
North West
Collaboration and partnership

Cumbria Constabulary

Level of research
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

The professionalisation of the police that is envisaged by the policing education qualifications framework (PEQF) will potentially necessitate change within the police. The Police, as an occupation, have many of the attributes that define a traditional profession. However, they do lack graduate entry, a defined specialist knowledge based, and autonomous professional decision making. This research explores the last of those deficiencies.

A professional has the ability to make a decision that is not subject to further review by supervisors within a structured hierarchy. Is this true in policing? This research explores what serving officers think about their freedom to make decisions.

It will then research the views of student officers before they become operational officers, to understand their expectations of how free they think they will be to make decisions. They will then be followed up after their probationary period to see if their views have changed.

The intention of this research is to provide an insight into whether the police force is structured in a way that will facilitate the critical thinking skills that are promoted within the PEQF framework or whether graduate officers will be frustrated by a lack of opportunities to make autonomous decisions. This research will inform the debate on the professionalisation of the police and hopefully influence professional practice.

This researcher is supported by the College of Policing bursary scheme

Research methodology

This is a mixed method approach with a quantitative questionnaire for operational officers and then a qualitative approach involving interviews of 20 student officers.

They will be interviewed to obtain their views, once during the introductory phase of their training and followed up towards the end.

The initial sample for the questionnaire was all operational officers in Cumbria Constabulary. 200 responses have been received.

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