Changing Police: A Personal Essay

images“If you want to test yourself, plumb depths of self doubt that you have never experienced before, lose some sleep, but find those corners of resilience that hide in the darkest parts of your brain, then go and find a job working in change in the police…”

Here’s an account from a British constable about change. It sounded quite familiar.

I have gleaned some major excerpts from this excellent and heart-rendering essay about being a change-agent within the police culture (believe me, he struck some old chords in me):

At the beginning, the writer lays out his experience within the police system and how he performed well in patrol, as a detective, member of a major incident team, and at public order events, “I have spent 90% of my [13] year career as a cop,” he wrote, making arrests in his unit, dealing with many mental health incidents and supporting vulnerable people in his area of patrol. He was nominated for regional POP awards and, as a leader, was committed to growth of his officers.

Educationally, he has a Masters degree and is working on his second. He is married with two young children.

  • An impressive career so far. That is, until he started working on changing.

“I requested to go and work on the National Leadership Review… The first few months were nothing short of amazing. I travelled to many different companies and organisations, seeing how they saw the concept of leadership and talent management. I then had to bring this research together with desk based research from the academic world…

“This experience changed the way I view my job. I saw how under-developed the concept of leadership in the police actually was. I also saw a real lack of consistent leadership training, especially at the duty level. I also saw real career mapping – people had ten years plans with moves all planned in – and real succession planning – people were matched via aptitude with particular areas of the business and grown on purpose to fill people’s shoes when they moved on. HR had a massive role in some of these places, driving talent schemes and doing most of the selection…

“After this short (and amazing) period, the really difficult job of consultation began. I visited many forces, and held/attended many workshops where officers attended to feed in to the themes we had discovered. There was some really heavy resistance to some things, and we had meetings where there was just no give in some of the people listening. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t just come half way, they wouldn’t even move… I became the target for a lot of the ire, and as such I felt the brunt of the personalisation of change.

“It wasn’t that they wouldn’t just come half way, they wouldn’t even move… I became the target for a lot of the ire, and as such I felt the brunt of the personalisation of change.”

“I didn’t really know about how people start to personalise change when it happens, so me being me, I went to learn about why it happens. The theory is all in psychology literature, and it makes pretty hard, but quite enlightening reading. The reaction to change isn’t often rational, it’s emotional, and when you get emotions coming to the fore it often isn’t pretty…

“Stressors have been repeatedly shown to impair decision making, so when you hear something that affects you personally, and it means change, all sorts of twanging happens around your emotions, that make the weighing up of evidence really difficult.

“I saw this first hand, with senior officers turning puce when discussing the possibility of introducing educative standards for leadership. We were told it had no value, and that people were perfectly good at doing their job now, why do they need to learn any more?

“[T]hese things fell on deaf ears (unconsciously) because the subject just made people mad. It tugged on their identity, it made them feel uncomfortable, the arguments didn’t matter… and there’s usually a load of rebuffs coming your 1280px-grahams_hierarchy_of_disagreement-svgway that sit at the bottom of Graham’s triangle… (See insert.)

“[T]he ad hominem attacks that reveal some [negative] facets of our culture… If anyone has done the strategy/operational merry-go-round, they will understand this. There’s a peculiar thing that happens in the cops when you stop working on the frontline. For some reason you become ‘less’ of an officer…

“For some reason, the 11 years I spent in front line roles would be reduced to ‘of no value’ because I was working on some really difficult project that required specific knowledge and ultimately developing new skills and gaining understanding… There’s also this feeling that you need to be kicking in doors to be a cop (not true), or that you need to fight regularly to prove your worth (totally not true), or that ‘strong’ decision making is always fast decision making (just dangerous)… Leadership is a complex beast, putting labels all over it (and macho ones at that), serve to cause division and create unfairness in the service. It’s bad sauce and it needs to disappear…

“If you want to test yourself, plumb depths of self doubt that you have never experienced before, lose some sleep, but find those corners of resilience that hide in the darkest parts of your brain, then go and find a job working in change in the police…

“Working in change in the police is as close to self harm as you can get. In many ways, this is startlingly accurate… Working in change means that you must sit, daily, with your self doubt, meet it in the canteen, speak with it on twitter, listen to it on the phone, and read it in your inbox. It would be easy to work in change and be a narcissist, because you’re always right, the criticism is never a problem. But, if you care, and you really want to make a difference, you best ready the personal resilience, because you need it every day…

“If people are working within change in policing, trust me, they care. It is not easy, and they will in all likelihood be suffering. They could be suffering from the weight of the culture, or the constant criticism, or the frustration of having all that understanding from the research, or the reduction in perceived self worth. Change is not easy anywhere, but it’s certainly far from easy in the cops. Just bear this mind if you feel the emotional hijack kicking in, because we are all human, and empathy is bloody important.

whowantschange1“On a final note, this isn’t a blog about how change is done, it’s about the fact that in the current climate it has to happen… I’ve sat in meetings where people have identified huge issues with our culture and leadership, and then steadfastly refused to say anything positive about any of the solutions put forward – whilst simultaneously failing to make any suggestions as to how new solutions may be reached… And I see – on a daily basis – the barracking of bosses and sometimes a total distrust of senior leadership, but absolutely no willingness to get their hands dirty and step up to either challenge those assumptions, or work to improve them…

“We – as a service – must take change as something that is uncomfortable, difficult and complicated… [W]hat are you doing about the problems that you are identifying and how would you work towards solving them?…

“Change is tough, watch out for your personal emotional hijacks, and try, and try to think about the people working in it as people that care about policing as much as you do. Because accepting change has to happen is easy; actually personally changing, well that’s a different story altogether.


 

You can read his entire blogpost HERE and connect with him on Twitter at: @DedicatedPeeler