A healthy lead? Chief officer appointments need questioning

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A healthy lead? Chief officer appointments need questioning

In recent weeks the Deputy Chief Constables of Thames Valley, Northumbria, Staffordshire and Wiltshire have all been selected by their respective Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to take over from their chief constables, three having stood as the sole candidate.

In light of these appointments, and with the College of Policing Leadership Review approaching its conclusion, it seems timely to ask whether the current model for chief constable (and wider chief officer) appointments offers a sufficiently strategic and resilient model of leadership management for both individual forces and the police service as a whole.

PCCs were introduced by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which also removed the requirement (unless in exceptional circumstances) for a chief constable to have previously served as a chief officer in another force.

Both decisions reflect the localism’ agenda introduced after the 2010 general election.

Subject to the approval of the Police and Crime Panel (PCP), which can veto the PCC’s first preferred candidate (it has not happened yet), it is up to a PCC to choose his or her chief constable.

Subject to the PCC’s approval it is also up to the chief constable to choose his or her fellow chief officers.

Unlike in the past, and with the notable exception of appointing the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, neither the Home Office nor HMIC has any input into the decision making. There is no strategic management of the most senior tier of leadership in policing in England and Wales once officers have passed the Strategic Command Course.

In recent research for the College of Policing on misconduct by chief officers that I co-authored, a number of our interviewees expressed concerns about this model, highlighting the risks of chief constable and other chief officer appointments being made on the basis of interpersonal fit’, with fewer checks and balances than under the previous arrangements.

They suggested this was reflected in the limited number of candidates applying to fill chief constable posts and the number of chief and deputy chief constablevacancies filled by internal candidates, with potential external candidates deselecting themselves because there’s a name on the door’.

In particular, the PCC model was characterised as man-to-man marking’ and as such unique in public sector governance.

One chief constable expressed the view that it just doesn’t feel sufficiently resilient’. Concerns were also raised about homogeneity in chief officer teams, with potential implications for a lack of both diversity in thinking and challenge.

These concerns about a bias towards internal candidates do seem to be borne out by the facts.

Of the 40 substantive chief constables (including the commissioners of the MPS and City of London) serving in the territorial police forces of England and Wales (there are three temporary appointments), 18 were appointed prior to the advent of PCCs, of whom six (33 per cent) served as DCC in the same force in their previous role.

For the 22 appointed by a PCC, 13 (59 per cent) served as DCC in the same force in their previous role. So chief constables appointed by PCCs are almost twice as likely to have been DCC in the same force as serving chief constables appointed by police authorities.

Given the general election result, it is clear PCCs are here to stay. If we accept the pattern of recruitment and promotions has changed (which the figures above suggest it has), and we accept at least the possibility that this risks negative consequences for the leadership of policing including its diversity and ethical health (as some very well placed senior figures in and around policing believe to be the case), then what can be done about it?

Although possible, it seems unlikely the Association of PCCs (APCC) could have a role in encouraging and supporting its members to consider the national picture, given that PCCs are locally accountable and leadership does not feature in the Strategic Policing Requirement.

As with force mergers, PCCs may in fact be a structural barrier to reform.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) workforce coordination committee would seem to have a particular responsibility to consider the development and appointment of chief officers up to DCC level, ensuring that an eye is kept on the strategic (national-level) development of police leadership in co-operation with the College of Policing.

In a similar vein, HMIC will be considering leadership under the new PEEL national inspection programme, and could pay particular attention to whether forces are maximising opportunities to improve leadership, including examining how they encourage competition for vacancies at chief officer (but not chief constable) level, and what the barriers are.

It will be particularly interesting to see whether the College of Policing Leadership Review has anything to say about chief officer and especially chief constable appointments.

Direct Entry, a favourite of the Home Secretary, is one possibility, and certainly has the potential to inject some competition indeed, perhaps the issues identified above make the case for Direct Entry stronger?

More generally, the Leadership Review could consider ways of ensuring a level playing field for candidates and in so doing seek to encourage more candidates to apply for vacancies, not least by identifying and seeking to address barriers.

In the case of chief constablerecruitment it is ultimately incumbent on Police and Crime Panels to discharge their responsibilities to scrutinise robustly recruitment campaigns and proposed appointments, even if that means that PCCs need to re-advertise vacancies.

Two questions are worth asking, however. First, why haven’t any PCPs used their power of veto? Second, and perhaps more pressingly, are PCPs sufficiently well informed about the demands of leading a police force to make an informed judgement when presented with a preferred candidate, particularly when they don’t get to see how he or she fared against his or her fellow candidates, if indeed there were any? And that is the ultimate concern: that recruiting from a pool consisting of a single internal candidate isn’t in anyone’s interests, least of all the public’s.

Gavin Hales,Deputy Director, The Police Foundation

This blog was originally published on 12 June 2015 by Police Oracle.