Home Office plan to attract brightest and best angers rank and file
A controversial 'fast-track' scheme that would see university graduates and middle managers enter the police force as trainee inspectors, instead of starting out as constables pounding the beat, is being quietly drawn up by the government.
According to an internal Home Office document seen by The Observer, the government wants to attract the brightest graduates who have usually opted for professions such as accountancy or the law but are put off by the idea of entering the police as a 'lowly' constable.
But the plan has alarmed rank-and-file members of the force who claim it will create a generation of senior officers with insufficient experience in policing. 'You can't simply bring in people from other sectors of the economy and expect them to run firearms operations or complex public safety operations,' said Bob Quick, chief constable of Surrey Police who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) on workforce matters. 'We want a system where they come in as constables and can quickly move to senior positions if they prove they have the skills.'
The plan will be discussed by the Workforce Modernisation Board, which oversees policing matters and is composed of civil servants, union officials, and police officers, this month. The Home Office document, 'Multiple Points of Entry and Exit to the Police Service', suggests many graduates do not see joining the police as an attractive career. 'There is evidence that the police service could improve its appeal as a graduate employer,' the document notes. 'The UK graduate careers survey 2006 found that 78 per cent of students thought the service was either "not very" or "not at all appealing" as a graduate employer.'
To tackle this problem the document says the government plans a new 'entry route... aimed at both the best graduates and experienced individuals from other sectors with proven leadership skills.'
The government believes the plan would allow more women and ethnic minorities to gain promotion within the police faster. It also believes it would bring in new perspectives and attitudes. Graduates could achieve the rank of superintendent within two and a half years, a prospect that concerns the Police Federation, which represents the interests of more than 130,000 police officers in England and Wales. The federation points out that, under the current 'High Potential Development Scheme', it takes five and a half years for high-calibre candidates to achieve superintendent rank.
'This document shows that, under the government's plans, graduates would go in as trainee inspectors rather than as constables,' said Jan Berry, chair of the federation. 'This is elitist. Policing shouldn't be about status, it should be about experience.' And she warned that the fast-track approach could backfire in tense situations. 'At two o'clock in the morning, when the clubs are kicking people out and it's all going pear-shaped, you want someone with experience of policing, not academia.'
The ACPO has called for the plan to be replaced with a new pay scale for the most able constables as a way of attracting high-calibre candidates.
The document reveals that the government is aware its plan will prove controversial. 'There are, of course, risks associated with any change in established arrangements.' It suggests there is need to 'establish the credibility of direct entrants as leaders of officers with more operational policing experience' and 'minimise possible resistance from police forces'.