Police Now – a chance to form the opinion formers….?

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The latest frontline colleague to accept our invitation to write about Police Now is PS Richard Sparks. Richard is a Police Sergeant with 21 years service. After a time as an Acting Inspector on a Response Team in Westminster, Richard has now joined one of Westminster’s Neighbourhood Teams. These are his thoughts…….

I’m an MPS skipper with 21 years service. I’m a fan of @BullshirePolice, I’ve followed @InspectorGadget since the early days; over the years I’ve followed @NathanConstable, Nightjack and a host of other colleagues. Frankly, they say some of the things that a lot of us have been thinking. All of which makes it a bit strange to be on what might be the other side of the argument for once.

I’ve just returned to Westminster Borough as a Neighbourhood Sergeant but for the last 6 months I’ve been running the logistics for @Police_Now. Not something I took on with any idea of career aggrandisement (with the cuts I suspect that ship may have long since sailed) but because although when I first heard about it I was a bit suspicious as I heard more I thought it might have something to offer us.

I’m probably not alone in saying this and it may not make me popular in certain rarefied circles but here goes…… I believe that, in the main, the vast majority of this country’s opinion formers can be ignorant of the work that we police officers do, day in day out. There are plenty of reasons for this but surely amongst them is that we don’t have anyone in the upper echelons of society who have walked in our boots.

No MPs have been a regular police officer. No judges. No Blue chip CEOs. No celebrities (Unless Rav Wilding counts despite his short stint on Strictly). No journalists. No think-tank policy chiefs. Very few academics (stand fast Professor Simon Holdaway).

And yet these are the people whose opinions are influential in this country. They are legislating on how we do our work, they’re passing down judgment, they’re writing articles that people judge us on and they’re developing the evidence base which determines how we’ll do our work in the future. Who is doing all of these things with a properly informed view of what our work is really like? And I don’t just mean ‘understanding’ what it’s like from a Tuesday afternoon ride-along or reading a report prepared by an Advisor. I mean understanding what it’s really like and what it feels like bringing in the same suspect for the 3rd time that week after he’s been bailed by the court twice already or finding somewhere for the child you’ve had to take into police protection at 2am or…. well you get the picture.

The armed forces have recognised this as an issue for years. They’ve got their Bob Stewart’s and Dan Jarvis’s. They’ve got university training units where bright young things get a bit of an understanding of what it’s like to be in the forces – and even if they don’t join up, the next generation of opinion formers has managed to learn something about the ethos and what it’s like to really commit yourself to something greater than yourself. In policing we just don’t do any of these things and I believe that has got to change.

So what is Police Now and what is it not? Well, it is most definitely NOT a promotion programme. Police Now thinks that every police officer should be a leader in their community – that’s the sort of leadership they’re talking about. There are no fast tracks or free passes here – only higher expectations and longer hours. There’s an extensive pre-learning package, an independently marked pass/fail exam on day one of training, training days that are a minimum of 11 hours (often longer) and in the first fortnight the recruits get one day off. Factor in a 90 minute commute each way and it’s beginning to look like one of those “boot camps” international banks have or basic training in the armed forces. The intensity means that in 6 weeks the recruits get trained in the basics of policing and a whole lot more – easy it is not.

Police Now takes the kind of candidate who might otherwise have gone straight into a blue chip grad scheme or a short service commissioning course. No one involved in Police Now is saying that policing should just be for graduates but when we’re up against city employers we need a programme that provides what graduates are looking for and that can compete.

And, while we’re disabusing myths – Police Now was created as part of the Met and is not a profit making enterprise. No one is getting rich here.

Police Now’s expectation is that many, in fact most, will stay in policing long after they finish the programme, but some will go on to other places. They’ll be encouraged through an alumni association to pass on the positive message of what police officers are doing.

It will soon be possible for a graduate to get a place on the Civil Service’s Fast Stream Programme and defer entry for two years to join Police Now. Think about that, a generation of senior civil servants who are ex-police officers. Ex PCs making and influencing policy in the Home Office. Maybe even one day a Home Secretary who has been a PC.

To me it all makes sense and it’s about making sure that some of the people forming opinions about what we do have a decent opinion of us to start with.