From my own personal experience, I can say that leading a police force is a unique privilege. The responsibility you shoulder is huge, but the opportunity to lead an organization filled with people who want to make a positive difference to the lives of others, and are willing to put their own safety at risk to do so, is an honor. Dame Cressida Dick has stepped down this week, having had the privilege and responsibility of leading the Metropolitan Police for more than five years.
The problems facing the Met – shocking cases of abuse, misogyny, racism and homophobia, and criminal exploitation of the powers we invest in our officers, as in the case of Wayne Couzens – will require dedicated and focused leadership from the very top of the organization if they are to be tackled. As others have observed, it is not enough to attribute these appalling failings to a “few bad apples”.
Every case undermines the confidence the public have in our commitment to keep them safe, and undermines the outstanding work that we all see, every day, from the very great majority of officers and staff. As leaders, the public and our workforce are looking to us to make changes now to reassure them that it is right to put their trust in us.
The problems themselves, however, are not confined to one force or one leader. They are issues facing the police service as a whole. The success of forces across the country will largely depend on the culture that exists on the frontline.
The solution lies in ensuring there is high quality leadership from those making the day-to-day decisions that matter to the public. That means the constables, sergeants and inspectors who are responding to the public’s call at 3am setting an example for new recruits or challenging inappropriate behavior at its source. These are the people who ultimately create the culture for delivering policing at a standard rightly expected by the public.
Overall, policing has a poor record of supporting the people in these roles to gain the skills, knowledge and development they need to lead well. I have witnessed examples of brilliant leadership at those ranks in my 34 years in policing, some of which have received national and even global admiration. But this is more often due to outstanding individuals rather than a coherent system of development.
We should no longer accept this aberration in policing. A review of the College of Policing that we published this week shows that investment in police training and development compares poorly with the investment in equivalent ranks in the military. The review sets out our commitment to increasing support for frontline leaders through the establishment of a national police leadership centre. However, our work will require a collaborative effort from everyone in the service, from forces, mayors and police and crime commissioners, to staff associations, national bodies and the government.
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An increased focus on police leadership, at all levels, will also complement the positive changes we are seeing from a boost in the number of offices and better initial training. The coming years will see almost 50,000 new recruits entering policing, the majority of whom will have received updated training set by the College. New recruits are already reporting that they feel better prepared for, and more confident in doing the job, compared with those who undertook the old training. In the coming years, a substantial cohort of policing will not only be equipped for what they will meet on the street, but also more empowered to challenge the wrong type of culture.
As Dame Cressida Dick steps away from policing, she can be proud of a 40-year career dominated by public service and the knowledge that she will be missed by many in policing, including me.
As for the next commissioner, I am confident that if they prioritize the renewed focus on supporting frontline leadership, led by the College, it will undoubtedly help them deliver the consistent standards and culture Londoners expect. It also might just help make what some have described as an impossible job that bit easier.
Andy Marsh is CEO of the College of Policing and former chief constable of the Avon and Somerset Police