Dr Steve Tong and Emma Williams from the Canterbury Centre for Policing Research (CCPR) at Canterbury Christ Church University, comment on the recent proposals for police education from the College of Policing.

The police service has long held a symbolic place as a highly regarded British public institution within the United Kingdom and throughout the world. The mission for the Police Service in the United Kingdom has been based on the concept of policing by consent, local accountability and a minimum use of force. While there are criticisms of the police this is not unique to the UK. Comparatively speaking the ethos behind the British model of policing is exemplary when compared to others and this is highlighted in the high levels of trust the public generally have of the police compared to other professions. However, policing is not getting easier, the expectations of what officers can do is growing and a variety of complex challenges are calling into question what the police service of the future will need to remain effective.

The police have been described as one of the last unreformed public services in relation to being recognised as a profession. This has been for a variety of reasons. Police officers are expected to use discretion and are required to have common sense. This is often based on learning from experience and having gut instincts that inform their decision making. These skills and abilities are, currently, learned in the work place via experience or through police training neither of which are currently acknowledged in terms of academic accreditation. This might appear unusual to those outside of the police when we consider other professionals such as nurses, lawyers, paramedics, teachers and others as they are all professions with an appropriate recognition in terms of qualifications.

The key issue with the current arrangement for police learning and development is that police officers do not receive appropriate recognition for their skills, knowledge and abilities. Most policing commentators would argue that the police role and the skills officers require are comparable to other professions. Furthermore, the police role is becoming more difficult. Police officers will be expected to be increasingly computer literate, have an ability to learn independently and reflect on their practice, apply evidence when developing tactics and strategic plans, understand how crime is committed in new ways and have an ability to capture evidence from a range of digital devices that will continue to change. The police will need to adapt to a variety of challenges when fulfilling their mission to protect the public where the challenges of vulnerability facing the police is growing.

If the academic community can assist with the further development of policing as a profession, we as the Canterbury Centre for Police Research (CCPR) welcome that. Just as practitioner knowledge and experience can enhance our curriculum for teaching, we hope to be able to provide officers with further information on which to draw on and use alongside their experience when making hard operational and strategic decisions. We do not think the academic community can ‘teach policing’ but we do feel that academic skills such as understanding complex problems, asking critical questions and challenging the status quo could assist the police in delivering their roles.

We welcome the College of Policing’s proposals to award hard working police officers and staff the opportunity to gain academic qualifications from their existing training and experience. Experience is critical in policing as is the use of discretion and reflection. Gaining qualifications and having the options to enhance these via academic programmes (if officers so wish) is an exciting opportunity for those that wish to engage in this process.

For more information about the Canterbury Centre for Police Research (CCPR) visit the University website.