The Home Office’s proposals for direct entry, initially set out in Tom Winsor’s review of police pay and conditions, have gone out to consultation today and not surprisingly have provoked a flurry of debate.
Under the current system, all officers must join the police force as a constable and then be promoted up the ranks. This has been seen as fundamental to the British model of policing, enabling officers to build up experience of frontline policing before being considered for leadership roles. This ensures that all officers learn the craft’ of policing and understand the challenges that officers face, but it also limits the pool of candidates available for promotion to senior ranks at a time when high-quality leadership is needed more than ever. Winsor’s three pronged solution – fast-tracking to inspector, direct recruitment of superintendents and hiring chief constables from abroad – attempts to address this but the arguments for direct-entry are far from straight forward.
At a time when the police are facing new challenges, generating fresh thinking and attracting high calibre recruits is clearly essential. Fast-tracking high flyers to inspector level is a credible solution and the new College of Policing is well placed to develop an appropriate pathway for this. But recruiting to higher ranks, particularly direct recruitment of superintendents, poses much more of a risk. An accumulated knowledge of the police service and of policing cannot easily be replicated through training, while their lack of operational experience might see direct entrant superintendents marginalised from key roles. At a time when morale in policing is low, the credibility of senior officers recruited through direct entry is another real concern.
We need a professional police service which is able to respond to modern challenges and the current recruitment system is by no means perfect, but direct entry has real risks and a hasty introduction could create more problems than it solves.