There is little doubt, after endless scandals and shortcomings have come to light, that the Police Service is in need of change. The work to change needs to begin with the internal culture of the police, says Jennifer Brown.
The strapline for this year’s Police Federation’s conference (19th -22nd May) is ‘Blueprint for change’ and sets the tone in the light of the Home Affairs Select Committee’s severe critique last Friday and comes on the back of the Normington Independent Review calling for radical organisational reform. Both can be added to the lengthening list of reports about police scandals, management malpractice and operational shortcomings. Has the quantum of criticism reached the tipping point sufficient for the Service and its rank and file staff association to seriously set about changing?
The Independent Police Commission conclusions published last November noted that the succession of publicised failures not only undermines public trust but also erodes police officers and staff’s confidence in their senior managers. It is certainly time for the Police Service to change, and our report together with the Normington proposals and much that is in Winsor provides the content to realise a programme of reform. But is the Service ready and what are the necessary conditions to promote change?
Psychological research proposes four stages in the change process: pre-contemplation which is a state of unawareness and lack of concern about any problems often accompanied by denial and rationalisation intended to defend the person from any concession that they may be at fault or are behaving dysfunctionally. Contemplation is the acknowledgment of the problem but a disinclination to do anything about it. It is only when the person gets to the action stage that change starts to take place. There is a final requirement of maintenance which consolidates change and guards against the temptation to relapse.
At yesterday’s conference session, I suggested that organisationally, the Police are hovering between the contemplation and action stages having a toe in the water but not yet taking the plunge. Whilst some individual members are at the action phase others are stuck in pre-contemplation with the danger that this may evoke a rigid adherence to business as usual. As the shadow home secretary said in her platform speech there is a moment for the Federation to embrace the suggested reforms and modernise itself. The world has long admired the British Police and is looking to see new models to emulate.
Readiness to change is predicated on three necessary conditions: presence of good citizenship, identification by its members with the organisation’s stated values and an internal management style based on principles of organisational justice. Good citizenship is a disposition to be helpful to others, offer constructive suggestions and a general willingness to go the extra mile. Colleagues from the University of the West of England show such good will still abounds amongst the rank and file officers presently serving in the police. However, my own surveys with federated ranks of officers indicate there is still work to be done in creating internal management structures that are procedurally just, i.e. treating people fairly and giving them a voice in reconstruction. Moreover only 22 per cent of officers in my survey said they were aligned to their force’s values.
Work by Paul Quinton and colleagues at the College of Policing show that procedural justice, especially in terms of leadership, are intimately connected to feeling part of the organisation, and that a sense of identification is critical both in releasing that reservoir of good citizenship and empowering people to have the confidence to make decisions at work.
The report produced by the Independent Police Commission: Policing for a Better Britain, said that the litany of organisational and operational failures chips away at public confidence in the police and proposed a new deal for officers and staff. A climate of bullying is inimitable to a procedurally just organisation. If the Federation and the wider Police Service wish to implement the Normington and Independent Police Commission proposals then the work of change must begin with their internal cultural.
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