Making the Hard Calls for the Right Reasons
I was recently speaking to a relatively senior American Military Officer who lamented to me of his senior leaders ‘If they can make a decision that screws the GI, they will…’ I was a little shocked by the candid nature of his comments. He went on to list a number of examples, particularly in the area of operational welfare, that got me thinking about the parallels to policing leadership.
I’ve worked for some genuinely impressive army leaders over the years. Men and women who instinctively knew what was fair and right when it came to their people and often with great moral courage, advocated for it without compromising the completion of the mission.
They decided that the implications of inaction far outweighed any concern for personal gain.
I have been reflecting on this as each day passed this week during our ‘CRITICAL’ alert phase. I kept hearing what I consider to be the somewhat disingenuous statements from senior police leaders that they have deployed ‘extra police’ when we know the reality is that they have simply switched assets to 12 hours shifts, cancelled rest days and kept folk past their shift end times repeatedly to ensure police are ‘seen’; the bulk of whom can do little to counter any renewed terrorist attack in any event due to their arming state & training.
Despite the strain on officers we appear to fail to examine the second order consequences of ‘show deployments’; of ‘increased’ unarmed patrols, unarmed officers searching at the front of police stations or sending unarmed stations to ‘confirm’ firearms related incidents. All of this required despite Op TEMPERER deployments.
At what point do senior police leaders say enough is enough? If we are unable to cope with raising our alert state to its highest level without breaking the service and its officers isn’t it time for the Association of Police Chiefs to stand up and be counted?
Cops deserve leaders that put themselves metaphorically on the line to make hard edged operational decisions that will set our police service on the path to sustainable deployment, preferably without the use of the British Army and absolutely not at the expense of the frontline officer.
I genuinely don’t believe any senior police officer deliberately sets out to ‘screw the cop’. They were all frontline officers themselves once and have been through the similar trials and hardships within their own context. Frankly, if any take any joy from making decisions that adversely affect officers they are no leader in any context.
Rather, I believe that distance from the frontline has caused an imbalance for some in their understanding of the concepts of ‘team, task and individual’ whereby the task is achieved at all costs, especially to the individual.
This is ‘short termism’ at its worst. Its results can be seen in attitude surveys amongst officers across the UK. By and large, with some notable exceptions, frontline officers do not trust their senior leadership to make the right decisions. I certainly don’t expect my senior leaders to give up on the morale of their officers. I expect them to fight to improve the morale of those they lead knowing that it is a vital component of police effectiveness. I expect them to make a difference.
I guess some would say that it’s our job to occasionally have to exceed our capabilities to deal with unexpected situations. I completely agree. It’s our commitment to service that enables us to do this. We are good at it and it’s something to be proud of. But I would expect that this is the exception not the default position. Once identified the first time, the next time a similar scenario comes around a good leader has mitigated for it.
It is a leader’s job to correctly assess troops to task for both most likely and most dangerous scenarios. Any plan that sees us continually rely on working officers to the bone to ambiguous effect is not a good one. Tasks should be ruthlessly assessed for necessity and effect when resources are tight.
Perhaps an additional contributing factor is the lack of a consistent and robust planning process that our ops planning teams can use to effectively assess missions and tasks and resource them accordingly. Too often the answer to the next deployment is to pull out a similar order from the last one without a detailed mission analysis & examination of the effects we are looking to achieve. We all have examples of wondering why resourcing for Christmas and New Year seems such a challenge to get right every year! It is a leader’s job to ensure planning is effective.
Our current response to enhanced threat states requires a root and branch review: Resources required, how they are tasked and how they are equipped to respond to the task. The British Army, like the Police, will do as ordered and do it well. The Army will always be there to secure the British People at home and abroad. But even Op TEMPERER hasn’t mitigated the strain on officers sufficiently.
It’s all well & good to keep saying ‘We have to have a conversation with partners & the public about what police do.’ Its past time to be taking tough decisions with regards to what drops off to deal with higher priority risks. We cannot keep resorting to directing the teams to simply work harder.
The phrase ‘we’ll just get the cops to…’ just doesn’t cut it anymore. It will take leaders with significant moral courage to redress the situation. Now is the time for bold and fearless police leadership. The long term health & welfare of our officers, & the subsequent effectiveness of policing in the UK depends on it.
I haven’t blogged for a while, as many of you know I am away at the moment working overseas with the fantastic support of my force back home. I see many parallels between military operations and leadership and how we lead cops on a day to day basis where every call is ‘operational’. I hope to reflect some of these occasionally while I am away.