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.
Direct Entry Training programme source