By Alchemmy’s Ian Ashenden
The recent media coverage around UK Policing makes for difficult and sobering reading. The publication of Baroness Casey’s review into the culture and standards of the Metropolitan Police Service and its catastrophic failings is a deeply depressing read for anyone interested in law enforcement or, more simply, interested in fairness and justice. Sadly, all too often a major adverse incident or systemic failing is needed to act as the catalyst for meaningful public sector reform. The question is are we now at a tipping point for radical transformation across UK Policing, and is there a genuine appetite from our Police leaders to embrace change and reform?
The case for change is compelling and impossible to ignore. Policing doesn’t operate in a vacuum and the global environment is changing fast with new emerging threats and the ever-increasing complexity of criminality. The global pandemic, cost of living crisis, environmental emergency, and technological advancements are all radically changing our communities. Law enforcement can’t stand still and policing needs to be equally agile to respond.
Policing faces huge challenges around culture, leadership, and public confidence. Rebuilding the public’s trust and the police’s legitimacy are amongst the biggest strategic challenges now facing UK policing. It will undoubtedly take a long time and significant effort to restore the public’s trust, following the institutional failings around racism, homophobia, and misogyny all clearly documented by Baroness Casey. They point to deeper systemic failings around recruitment, vetting, training, leadership and a toxic culture of collusion in some areas. Funding, low pay, low morale, a relatively inexperienced workforce with over a third of Officers having less than five years’ experience, ineffective HR policies, and obsolete IT infrastructure are also all real issues facing UK police Forces today.
This paints an exceptionally challenging picture, but there are reasons to be optimistic. When I initially read the Casey review, I did find myself thinking about the Front-Line Officers in the Met who are decent, hardworking professionals, and who undoubtedly signed up to being a Police Officer to help the most vulnerable people in their communities and “make a difference”. How must they feel reading the horror stories of misconduct of their colleagues that tarnishes their organisation and their profession? I still firmly believe the vast majority of Police Officers are good people, doing their very best in extremely challenging circumstances. We need to harness and empower the majority to drive cultural changes at all levels.
Frontline Police Officers do a stressful, sometimes traumatic job, whilst often working long unsociable hours to the detriment of their health, wellbeing, and relationships. There is simply insufficient structures, policies, and compassionate workplace cultures to adequately support them. A huge cultural shift is needed to re-build a resilient and empowered workforce, and attract new Officers and future leaders that reflect the societies they serve. It remains a small minority of Officers having a disproportionately adverse and damaging effect on the profession.
Leadership is vital during any change programme to support Frontline Officers, victims, communities, and set a new strategic direction for their teams. It’s time to adopt a Change-Mindset and embrace new ideas, opportunities and harness technologies to truly transform policing. As the Casey Review states, the Met “dismisses external views and criticisms, and adopts the attitude that no-one outside the Met can understand the special nature and unique demands of their work …. it has become a serious weakness. It stops them hearing and understanding other views, including those of Londoners, and prevents them bringing in external help, co-opting experts and stakeholders to provide support and challenge.” There are pockets of innovation and best practice within Forces and national organisations like the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the Police Digital Service (PDS) who are cultivating the culture and mindsets that champion change as a pathway to growth. Police leaders need to embrace these opportunities and create the environment, vision, and values to unlock innovation, adoption, and transformation across their teams.
Policing is essentially an information and communication business. We need to invest in Police IT systems and infrastructures, as well as driving innovation and the continuous adoption of new technologies. The focus needs to be on crime prevention and reducing harm, where unlocking the data will add immediate value. We need to invest in and empower local policing teams, whilst strengthening the national bodies at the core of policing who are often best placed to develop the strategies and infrastructure to address the new threats.
The Alchemmy Home Office & Policing team includes proven expertise around people & change, digital transformation, cyber resilience and unlocking data & digital opportunities to support Police leaders. We can help harness digital opportunities and provide support around its’ adoption and the digital tools to disrupt criminality. However, technology is only part of the picture; we help prepare the business for the technology as well as the technology for the business. Focussing on a people-centric change approach results in improved adoption rates and benefit realisation from technologies and change programmes. We can support Police leaders implement meaningful cultural change, by coaching and building trusted and empowered leadership teams. Ultimately, Policing needs to outpace its “competitors” by embracing new technologies and a purposeful change mindset, to ensure it is able to meet the many and emerging challenges it is facing.
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