New Lancashire police officers need 'common sense and people skills' rather than a degree, commissioner says
Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner is calling for a rethink of a national policy which means new recruits to the force either need to have a degree – or obtain one as part of their training.
Andrew Snowden says that neighbourhood policing roles – which are a key element of the current drive to boost officer numbers in the county – require “common sense” and communication skills, rather than a university qualification.
Meanwhile, Lancashire Police’s chief constable has warned that studying for a degree, alongside time spent walking the beat, can put trainee officers under “incredible pressure”.
Chris Rowley says that the need for them to combine degree work with on-the-job training also has an impact on frontline policing capacity during the time that they spend in class instead of out on the street.
Since the start of 2020, those interested in joining the police have generally had three options available to them.
Those who already have a degree – in any subject – can apply for a two-year degree-holder entry programme, which, in Lancashire, is available to those wanting to start out either as police constables or detective constables.
Aspiring officers can alternatively opt to study for a degree in professional policing before applying to join a force.
For those who have not been to university, there is the option to join by undertaking a three-year degree apprenticeship, which involves both academic study and practical learning on the beat.
During its current recruitment drive, Lancashire Police has been given temporary permission to take on a limited number of new officers via a previous entry route, under which successful applicants who are educated to a certain standard – usually two A-Levels or equivalent Level 3 qualifications – complete a 21-week training course before hitting the streets as a police officer, in just 13 percent of the time it would take for them to gain a degree,
Andrew Snowden told the LDRS that he would like to “call time” on the requirement for a degree for every officer role – and said that he was lobbying at a national level for multiple routes into the police force.
“There is a huge role to play for degree-holder entry – it is a real fast track [for a] career into different areas of the police. I think higher education institutions like UCLan – [which] we partner on with lots of different projects, as well as training – have a role to play in the training of every officer.
“But what do you look for in a good neighbourhood policing officer? It’s common sense, it’s [being] street savvy, it’s an inquisitive mind and it’s the confidence to be able to communicate with people and deal with – and diffuse – difficult situations.
“That’s about a human being and their skills and their background - what they’ve lived in life. And that, for me, is really important and we’ve got to bottle more of that,” Mr. Snowden said.
Speaking just over a year after he was first elected to the commissioner post, he also told the LDRS that he believed some of Lancashire’s best officers might have been deterred from signing up with the force if a degree had been demanded of them in years gone by.
“You go out there and meet a lot of [the] really good-quality neighbourhood policing officers that we have in Lancashire [who] are doing the job the best they can. They don’t have degrees – nor would they have become a police officer if a degree was required.
“I think that is a huge issue that needs tackling.”
Lancashire is aiming to have recruited 509 new officers by next March – the county’s share of the 20,000 police roles being reinstated nationwide to replace the equivalent number that have been cut since 2010.
When coupled with other additional officers funded via increases in the police’s share of Lancashire council tax bills, the county force will have regained more than 600 of the 750 personnel that it lost during austerity by next spring.
Chief constable Chris Rowley welcomes that fact and the benefits it will bring in terms of fighting crime.
However, he stressed that one of the biggest challenges posed by the current uplift in numbers is getting new recruits into “independent operational roles quickly”.
“The current entry routes offer new police officers the benefits of doing a degree and gaining a qualification they may otherwise not have taken – however, I know from listening to our current student officers that this does create difficulties and pressures on them in respect of learning and completing the modules, and time on the street actually performing the role.
“Unlike other organisations, police officers are not supernumerary, which means we feel an impact on our available resources when they go back into the classroom to complete their studies.
“They don’t get protected study time, which can put an incredible pressure on them going from university, to the streets, and back again – all whilst completing assignments. This also puts pressure on our teams.
“We need our new officers to learn the theory and the law but we also need them to learn the craft of policing, which takes time and can only be achieved through practical experience on the frontline,” Chief Con Rowley explained.
The county’s top cop – who took on the job in April 2021 – said that that College of Policing had listened to Lancashire’s concerns about the “pressures in the system” and had given the force special dispensation to run two recruitment intakes under the previous, non-degree, route.
Chief Con Rowley said that that option gave him “more resources on the streets that can be deployed to keep people safe” in the form of newly-trained officers.
He added: “They aren’t pulled back to do further compulsory study – although they are supported and mentored throughout their probationary period to ensure they continue to learn and perform at the level we would expect.
“Whilst [the dispensation] is very useful to us, we recognise that this is a short-term fix and we have entry routes which still require that academic routes are used.
“To that end, we are working with our [academic] providers to reduce the time student officers will spend in the classroom so we can maximise their time on the streets performing duties that help keep people safe across Lancashire.”
The LDRS understands that the next intake of officers in Lancashire – 120 of them – will come in July, with further tranches in October 2022 and January 2023. It is not known exactly how many new recruits will be eligible to join via the non-degree route.
Andrew Snowden said that he was concerned about “the huge delay” that the requirement for a degree caused in the training and deployment of new officers.
“It’s just one of those things that I think it‘s time to… have a rethink [about] and at least a review of whether this is really what’s right for frontline neighbourhood policing, in particular.
Responding to the issues raised by Mr. Snowden, a spokesperson for the Home Office stressed that there was no need for anybody wanting to join the police to have a degree upfront.
“We are putting more police on our streets to keep our communities safe and the government is on track to deliver its commitment to recruit 20,000 additional officers by March 2023.
“You do not need to have a degree to join as a police officer, as there is an apprenticeship route for people who don’t already have a degree.
“While we know that a degree-level qualification does not replace the empathy, compassion and common sense required by our officers, it allows police colleagues to get recognised for the complexity of the job they do,” the spokesperson added.
The entry requirements for the degree apprenticeship route into becoming a police officer are the same as those for previous recruitment options.
The LDRS understands that around half of all new recruits being taken on as part of the current nationwide uplift are expected to join police forces across the country via a degree apprenticeship.
HOW TO BECOME A BOBBY IN LANCASHIRE
In addition to the fixed number of officers to be recruited via a former route involving a five-month training course ahead of deployment to the streets (see above), the following are the main options for those wishing to join Lancashire Police.
Degree-holder entry programme
An intensive, two-year course for graduates, based on a curriculum from the College of Policing. It combines study with patrol work alongside frontline officers and is run in conjunction with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). The course leads to a Graduate Diploma in Professional Policing Practice.
New recruits are assigned to one of Lancashire’s Supported Development Units, where an appointed Tutor Constable will chart their progress as they alternate between periods of study and full operational duties, putting theory into practice. Training takes place at the Lancashire force’s headquarters at Hutton, UCLan in Preston and online.
Once fully trained, officers can choose to specialise in one of the five core areas of policing – immediate response, community, road, intelligence or investigation.
The starting salary for this route of entry to the police is £24,780, and university fees are covered by Lancashire Constabulary.
Police constable degree apprenticeship
A three-year programme during which new recruits study for a degree whilst training on the job and earning while they learn. Applicants need to have a level 3 qualification.
In the same vein as those joining via the degree-holder entry programme, apprenticeship officers are assigned to a Supported Development Unit and will be guided by a Tutor Constable as they move between studying and working on the frontline.
Again, once they have completed their course, they can choose the area of policing in which they would like to specialise. Apprentices also have a starting salary of £24,780 and will get their university fees paid for by the Lancashire force.
Degree-holder entry programme (detective level)
Billed as being for “critical thinkers” who enjoy problem-solving, this is a two-year course which involves studying for UCLan’s Diploma in Professional Policing Practice. Recruits spend their first year learning the ropes as a police officer, as well as the law and procedure and how to conduct initial investigations.
On successful completion of the first year, they become Trainee Investigators, supported by experienced PCs and Detective Tutors to qualify as Detective Constable (PIP 2) Investigators.
Recruits will work with detective colleagues in CID, in departments including Child Protection, Safeguarding, Intelligence, MOSOVO (Management of Sexual or Violent Offenders), or Proactive – where detectives work in plain clothes investigating serious and complex crimes such as child exploitation, drugs supply, county lines and organised crime.
Source: Lancashire Constabulary