I took it home

An interesting phrase and it seems to have resulted after some ill-advised comments from the head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), Sir Thomas Winsor. He gave a live interview to Sky News on Thursday 20th April and was discussing the difficulty some Police forces are facing in recruiting and retaining detectives.

It is a remote possibility that the widely-viewed clip may have been out of context in respect of the whole interview, however the actual words he used left no doubt. Mr Winsor first stated that one of the problems is that detectives are not paid any more despite the fact they have specialist skills. I will come back to that issue later but he then went on to make an unbelievable statement. Detectives have a more stressful job than response or neighbourhood officers because in the main response officers do not take their work home with them.

This prompted a response the like of which I have rarely seen on social media, from public and police officers, both response and detectives, who were all astonished at the naivety and disrespect Mr Winsor was showing to Policing. To make such a remark demonstrates his unsuitability for his current role far better than I could ever achieve in any blog. To think that any emergency service worker, and especially Police officers, do not carry with them the memory of every tragic and awful incident they deal with is hugely derisive. If you have access to twitter just search the hashtag #itookithome and I defy you not to be moved by some of the accounts. I can picture and remember numerous fatal accidents I dealt with including my first in 1980 in Mitcham Road, Tooting at 0200 when a mustard coloured Austin collided with one of the old concrete lampposts. The driver was not wearing a seatbelt and the drivers’ door was the point of impact meaning the driver collided head first with the lamppost. Then there was the child that ran out from their school gates between parked cars in Mitcham and was struck by an old Ford Granada. I didn’t receive a call to that one but drove around the corner to be met by the car sideways on and the child lifeless in the road.

Obviously, I never took either of those incidents home or the four suicides by hanging I dealt with, the stabbing victim I cradled as he died in Tooting Bec or the lady who took her own life by pouring paraffin over herself in her front room in Balham New Road. Obviously If I shut my eyes, I cannot see the childs face or the lady in her pink nylon house coat that had melted onto her, because I didn’t take the incident home with me. So many more I could recount but then so could every Police officer, response officer, neighbourhood officer or detective.

Every Police officer can recount similar traumatic incidents and events that are buried deep in their minds but can be triggered by driving down a road or someone mentioning an incident. You take all of them home with you and carry them with you for ever, and for someone in a position as Winsor is to make such a disparaging comment, is highly disrespectful and shows his contempt for policing.

I have always acknowledged and commented publicly, that investigative work is a specialism but then again so are many other areas of policing and none currently attract an additional payment. The issues around lack of detectives and recruitment largely centres around reducing numbers meaning those in the role have increased workloads. There are currently policies in many forces where response officers are now responsible for investigating the crimes they report so not only do they respond but they also investigate. Do they fall into this `taking the investigations home ` category that Winsor finds so convenient to use as an explanation for lack of detectives?

It was always the case that moving into the CID (detective branch) was seen as a bonus, it is not a promotion despite what some seem to think. It inevitably takes you off shift work and more importantly no night duty. You tend to react to crimes and investigations after the uniformed response teams have attended and dealt with the initial call. It is frequently slow time policing as opposed to the fast moving and decision making role carried out by response teams. I have worked alongside some outstanding detectives and excellent Police officers and respected their role and work, but I never wanted to do it. By the same token, they acknowledged my role in policing but never wanted to return to response policing due to the demands of the work. Waiting for that emergency call and not knowing what you may face or the risk to yourself or your colleagues.

It seems strange timing that Winsor should make his comments so soon after the Westminster attack and the day after three Met officers were injured running into a house after a 999 call and the house then exploding in a fire. I am sure everyone in both incidents is still taking it home with them and running over every millisecond in their heads.

The clip from Sky News ends with him mentioning that detectives carry a risk if they make a mistake and miss something. This suggests detectives have more stress because of this risk factor of making a mistake however I would suggest that front line operational officers face a greater risk. Think of the pursuit driver and the risk assessment they are conducting every second of a vehicle pursuit. If they get it wrong they will be under the microscope of an investigation by the IPCC and possible criminal charges, imprisonment and loss of a job and career. The same can be said with firearms officers and the inevitable investigation if they make the decision to discharge their weapon. Mistakes in either role would cause just as much stress and arguably more than it would in any detective based role.

I interpreted the interview as another divide and conquer tactic that has been so typical of everything Winsor has been involved in since he was appointed to review Police pay and conditions. I have no idea if he has ever actually experienced a working week with either response officers, neighbourhood officers or detectives but I suspect not. He strikes me as the type of person who would run away from exactly the types of incident that many of my former colleagues continue to run towards. He would not take them home with him because he would never have to experience them, hence his inexcusable choice of words during his interview.

There are issues with recruiting and retaining detectives but some of the main ones have resulted because of the very cuts in pay and allowances and reduction in officer numbers that he instigated. Every Police officer faces stress during their career and every one of them takes part of the job home with them every day. That’s why it’s a vocation and not just a job………


When I grow up I want to be a…..DE?

Direct entrant as a senior Police officer ………said no one ever!

How on earth did we reach the stage where one of the most committed, dedicated and arguably, demanding professions became one you can step into at a senior level with no previous experience?

Direct entry started a couple of years ago originally as a home office proposal but the process was managed by their own creation, the College of Policing. The College replaced the aptly named National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), more lovingly referred to by many serving officers as `no point in asking`! The College of Policing` intention is to eventually function independently of the Home office, but it is pivotal in understanding the history of the Direct Entry (DE) scheme to realise that this was one of the first major changes in Policing that the College managed. For many serving officers this type of suggestion for people to join policing at a senior level with no previous experience, can only have come from outside the service and this seemed to have a political hand behind it. The college, being new in existence, appeared keen to achieve their first major task set by their creators and significant effort was put into the recruitment and the training programme. Only 7 Police forces opted to take part in the first DE scheme for superintendents held in 2014 and there were 867 applicants for those posts. The applicants were asked to apply to the force of their choice and 46 were chosen out of the 867 applicants to go forward to the assessment centre. Five applicants withdrew before the assessment leaving 41 to be assessed and eventually only 13 were chosen to enter training as a superintendent. Only 13 out of 867 applicants shows the rigorous nature of the assessment centre and the quality of the applicants which must indicate and assist in the `success` of this new scheme? Question is, the longer the scheme continues and the wider it is accepted does that naturally reduce the quality of the future candidates?

The successful applicants have an 18-month training programme which includes a 10 week `operational rotation` in their home force experiencing the role of a Constable and a 15-week similar rotation as a Sergeant/Inspector. Normal entrants have a probationary period of two years as a Constable followed by a year or two as a Sergeant & then similar time as an Inspector. It takes a highly capable and driven Police officer to pass all their assessments at the first opportunity, taking anything from 5 – 7 years at best, before they can become an Inspector. Even that could be considered as being too fast but at least they have had significant experience at each rank in years/months as opposed to weeks. My experience of these types of `rotations` is that you never really experience the actual real role because you know its only for a very short period of time. Those with you know you are only there for a short time and Police work is so unpredictable it is highly unlikely you would fully experience all the aspects of each rank.

There is a fast track option for promotion available in most if not all Police forces, and highly motivated and ambitious police recruits can accelerate through the ranks without using a direct entry scheme. I have no doubt about the sincerity, aptitude and commitment of those who have applied and are currently performing the DE roles. To some extent I can see the benefit and need for relevant experience in policing at senior levels but I would question the requirement to employ people directly as senior police officers and leaders. There is a need in policing for experience in business management, managing people and improved use of technology but surely the individuals with those skill sets could be employed as senior Police staff or consultants?

What does this scheme communicate to an experienced officer who wishes to seek promotion and then sees someone join directly three or four ranks above them? Is the service really valuing its own staff and making the most of the investment they have placed in them during their formative years as a police officer? There are only so many senior ranks across the UK in policing and the more you make available for people to apply from outside the service, then the less there are for experienced and serving officers. Who do you think the direct entrants go to for guidance or advice when a situation or incident happens that was not covered in training or in legislation?

Policing is often about knowing what you can do legally but then applying common sense, a practical approach and discretion in making your decision. That is gained by first-hand experience and dealing with a variety of incidents and honing your people skills and situation skills which you do not acquire from classrooms or rotations. I am sure that many of the first few cohorts, as they like to call them at the college, are highly competent and capable individuals fully committed to policing and as I said I can see some benefit at a very senior level for their kind of knowledge. My point would be, do they need to be warranted officers for the service to benefit from their knowledge and experience?

The one aspect of DE I will never accept is having direct entry for Inspectors and I really cannot see the need or requirement at that level of policing for direct entry. There are numerous capable and experienced sergeants ready and willing to be promoted and the Inspector rank arguably needs the most highly experienced and competent officers. The recruiting advert from the college of policing website states `The direct entry programme opens up the Police Service to people who can bring new perspectives and diverse backgrounds to support the continuous development of policing`.  I am not sure what new perspectives or how being from a diverse background would benefit a critical incident on a Saturday night? You cannot buy or teach experience, you can provide the foundation training but then you learn whilst doing the actual job itself.

In many places around the UK at about 5pm on a Friday until probably 7am on a Monday the policing area is left under the sole command of an Inspector. There are senior officers available on call but the immediate management of an incident or situation rests solely on the shoulders carrying those two pips signifying the Inspector rank. In my view, you cannot identify or select someone from outside policing who would be competent or capable to perform that role irrespective of their background or perspective without experience.

For me then the actual concept of DE has been wrongly applied and the initial intention was probably sound to improve policing by attracting dedicated and committed individuals with the right skills. The fast track scheme was more than sufficient to accelerate these applicants through the ranks after a suitable period of experience. This just seems to be a political proposal to further diminish the role and vocation of Police Officers and make it a `part-time` job that you do for a few years and then move on.

2014 programme figures Source :  http://recruit.college.police.uk/Officer/after-I-apply/Documents/DEResultsAnalysisReport2014.pdf#search=direct%20entry%20superintendents

Direct Entry Training programme source