Should all new police officers have degrees?
David Hill, Associate Professor shares his views:
“I have a been a police officer for 25 years and when I entered policing all those years ago I did not hold a degree, in fact, I held very few academic qualifications at all. When I think back to the early years of my career, policing seemed a much simpler and straightforward job. I would come onto shift; the team would be briefed by the sergeant; I would then go out on patrol, either on foot or in a car; I would police the particular district that I was assigned to and attend jobs as directed via my radio by the control room operator. It makes me feel very old to admit it but there was no such thing as email — reports were typed into a word processor and printed off or hand written. My on-going crime investigations and other work was kept in a metal drawer in the crew room and was regularly checked by my sergeant to ensure that things were being progressed and I was simply expected to keep on top of the work and generate new work through my policing efforts.
Oh how times have changed! A modern police officer is expected to understand the complexities of an ever changing and ever demanding multi-cultural society. Crime patterns, once quite predictable and stable within geographic areas, are now fluid and ever changing with the constant movement of people in and out of towns, cities and rural areas. It was once the case that local officers could tell you, in detail, who was likely to have committed a crime on their area, where they lived and who they associated with. Nowadays crime is committed by criminals and criminal gangs that do not play by geographical boundaries, cybercrimes are now common place and the police now play a much bigger role in identifying and helping vulnerable and exploited individuals.
Since the mid-1990s, all of this growing complexity has led to the realisation that policing can’t do what it does in isolation. Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs), Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA), Multi Agency Safeguarding hubs (MASH) and Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs) are just some of the forums that police officers are expected to understand and to operate within. In addition to this, we expect our officers to engage with communities in a much more intelligent and understanding way than ever before in order to ensure that the community feels it has a say in how it is policed. Police officers today are expected to profile their community and understand the networks, power structures and key community leaders who can help us to do our job.
This level of complexity requires officers to use influence, leadership, co-operation, empathy and teamwork. Whilst ensuring that the outcome and the way in which it is delivered meets very high ethical expectations and can stand up to external scrutiny. British policing has always been held up internationally as being of the very highest standard, if we are to maintain that standard then we must ensure that we continuously take a critical look at ourselves and be willing to adapt. So it is my conclusion that the answer to the question posed above is simple: if the degree programmes reflect the complexity of the real world and if universities work closely with the sector in designing and delivering what is needed, then a graduate from a programme such as this would be a real asset to policing and the communities that we serve.”
Angela Packwood, Criminal Justice Services Coordinator talks about the University of Northampton’s Policing Degree…
“The Policing degree consists of both theory and practice which makes it very applied in nature. It gives the students both the academic knowledge as well as the practical skills to be a police officer. It is designed in such a way that not only do the students achieve a degree, but also have the opportunity to work as a special constable and have 10 weeks working full time with regular officers. The application process into the police for a full-time role is subsequently reduced as the students have been working with both the police and the University for three years.
We see students really grow and develop over the three years of the degree. A vast majority of our students go onto to become special constables after year 1 and it is at that point they are able to put all their learning into practice. Policing has changed so much since I joined back in 1981 that officers need a variety of skills to deal with the ever changing role. It is now a lot more complex. It is not financially sustainable for police officers to train their own staff when education take off that pressure and produce officers with all the skills that are needed. Our students receive excellent feedback from Northamptonshire Police.
I support the professionalising of the police service and equipping officers with the right skills to be able to do the job. The police are mirroring other professions such as nursing and law and policing should be seen and measured as a graduate profession, giving officers the recognition and skills they deserve.”