Preparing to Police

Reflections on Occupational Training versus Tertiary Education

I have two degrees…. a Bachelor of Arts in South East Asian Politics & History which I got on company time when I was in a former life, and a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice which I did on my own time, albeit sponsored, in a former jurisdiction.

Add to that a Diploma, an Associate Diploma, A  couple of certificates and a certificate I am studying for in my own time on Coaching (and will follow up with a Certificate of Mentoring to round out a diploma) and I’d consider myself reasonably well versed with tertiary education.

I’ve also been lucky enough over the years to have had some great occupational training experiences including 18 months of straight leadership, occupational fitness and tactics training, another 8 months of dedicated staff and command training and initial training in 3 different policing jurisdictions. Plus of course the myriad of courses that you do in ours and related trades. I like to think I can spot good training as well when I see it.

So when the College of Policing in England and Wales announce a variety of Degree pathways as they did today which will see a new constable earn a degree by the end of a 3 years period (or indeed join with one to start with), it got me thinking of the utility of my, mostly enjoyable, tertiary education experiences versus the utility of great training and how they can impact on initial policing and in subsequent police specialist and leadership training.

So looking back I can say I learned some important things from my tertiary education over the years. The key things that have held me in good stead are as follows:

  • An understanding that somewhere out there someone has probably solved the problem you are working on or a problem like it… and how to find it.
  • An understanding of qualitative and quantitative data.
  • How to write (in a style…).
  • A love of history and a surprising love of Shakespeare (it was an Arts degree after all..).

I also took a lot of things with me from my occupational training too:

  • Initial technical proficiency.
  • Fitness and an understanding of how to train.
  • How to train others.
  • An understanding of my personal physical and mental limits and how to exceed them.
  • (In the best training) Regular simulated practice of leadership and technical skills under pressures closest to the real thing.

Interesting enough a couple of my tertiary qualifications came directly from completion of vocational training based solely on course content… a nice bonus.

Unfortunately my tertiary education experiences came with some not so useful aspects:

  • A lot of the material simply didn’t relate to what I needed to know to be a better cop: I didn’t really need a history of criminology, knowledge of feminism in criminality or a detailed understanding of the higher concepts of policing structures and how a force is held accountable at government level. This took up a great proportion of my degree / diploma time.
  • I ended up doing a lot of ‘evidence’ documenting to show I had met qualification requirements – mostly to folk who had never actually done the job and despite the fact that I was being supervised daily by officers who could judge my performance. As an example I am mid 6000 words into writing my probationary Sergeant’s ‘Log’ as I write this. Time taken doing this is time I am not doing the job, learning specifically new aspects of the job or dare I say it.. resting between jobs.
  • I heard from few if any people actually doing my job. They had all studied it in detail. All bar one had ever been a cop. They simply couldn’t relate to me or my motivations. The time I did hear from cops, they were delivering academic course content as it was given to them – not sharing their experiences.

Training wasn’t all roses either of course. I am a particular critical of training and have little tolerance for training that wastes my time. My best experiences have been immersive, scenario based learning experiences that minimise theory and maximise time to get skills right.

Training time is too valuable to waste on extraneous stuff, be it academic or poorly delivered vocational work. We need to be ruthless, absolutely ruthless, in seeking to improve training content, delivery and experiences. We are too busy in the job to waste folks time and the work is too important to deliver second-rate training. We need to invest in tools to make us more effective and instructors to ensure they are current and can deliver. There is little room for ‘nice to haves’ in mandatory police training.

So here are my concerns about the proposals today given my experiences over the last 27 years of education and training:

  • We will spend too much time on extraneous subjects that don’t deliver what the officers need to be effective cops in order to demonstrate academic rigour.
  • We will spend too much time documenting these requirements in order to be assessed and qualify for degree level qualifications.
  • Education will be delivered by folk who have never policed and have limited understanding of the work officers will undertake. If it is delivered by cops they will be delivering and academic syllabus by rote.
  • Will will do too little simulation and practical skills work to give a confident foundation to launch into on the job training continuation.
  • We will spend too much time with officers abstracted from shift for ‘study time’, leaving an already stretched team even further short-staffed.

I essence, cops will come to shift with plenty of ‘nice to knows’ but very few ‘need to knows’ which will need to be picked up by overworked tutors and with members of the public used as guinea pigs.

I have other concerns with regards to how many funded routes will be offered versus pre-join qualified posts (I mean why would a small force say, wanting 15 officers, NOT require the pre-join degree candidate when they CAN specify that and reduce training costs?).

But sticking to training I feel we may be missing a trick.

I’d prefer to see us take a different route of investment: Super-charging vocational training to make it as cutting edge and as superb as some of our very best and most effective policing courses: Public order, negotiators, firearms, driving. These are impressive training experiences that produce first class outcomes. We’d be better off pouring our energy (and money) into modelling this into initial (and other specialist and leadership) training to provide cops to the frontline who are smart, robust, practiced in physical skills and with useful qualifications such as driving, initial enhanced public order quals, initial volume scene examination, open source investigation and a working knowledge of police systems, so they can contribute from day one on arrival in the shift.

If these qualifications happen to map across to the awarding of a tertiary qualification (minus having to do extra, extraneous work or ‘evidence’ anything) then that’s great, award it for free as a bonus for getting through a hard couple of years training.

If not? Well… perhaps tertiary qualification isn’t what we are looking for….


Author: West Coast Response

I'm a Police Sergeant here on the West Coast of Scotland. I love the job and the folk that do it. I enjoy polite debate on policing and criminal justice and am particularly interested in the practical impact of policing policy, police leadership & making the job better for frontline officers.

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