Monday, 23 February 2015

Change The Light Bulbs

During a recent training day I was given a three hour input on 'customer satisfaction'.

Apparently the senior managers have noticed that the Metropolitan Police Service is the worst in the country for customer approval. No great surprise.

The people who were contacted by the Public Attitude Survey told the pollsters that it often isn't what police officers say, but how it's said that upsets people. People will report a crime and sometimes the officer taking the report will say something like “You'll be ripped apart in court.”

Another common complaint is that officers don't regularly update the victims.

We all know that people remember when things go wrong, not when they go right. I'm not excusing it, but I understand why some officers might casually say things that upset victims – we are under pressure and harassed by our sergeants and inspectors for performance figures.

Also our perspective of the job is the mechanics of investigating the crime. For us it's a process – a flowchart of activities to carry out before the crime can be closed down. A detective might have forty crimes that she's working on simultaneously. Updating every victim weekly would mean forty ten minute conversations. How can the officers therefore keep every victim regularly updated?

People need to have reasonable expectations. A weekly update isn't going to always be possible.

Anyway, I'm off-track already. So the Met senior management have decided that this three hour teaching package is the answer. This will solve the problem and turn every conversation with the public into a positive experience for them.

The point made was that retail businesses can do it, so why can't cops? (I don't mean to undermine every officer who, like me, strives to spread a little joy during the day. There are plenty of us, but apparently the Met senior management expects perfection).

Well, John Lewis is a bit different from the police service.

John Lewis and Waitrose are renowned for enthusiastic and helpful staff. If you ask the employees (who are all also partners in the business) about their jobs, as I have done, they embrace the organisation. They are treated well and know it.

Thing are a little different in the police.

On my first day in the Met my new supervisors weren't expecting me, I wasn't given a locker and waited weeks for my kit to appear. I had to find my own locker and organise my own access to the computer systems. There was no guidance, no instruction, no induction, no tour of the building, no explanation of Met systems or policies. I wasn't introduced to my inspector, borough commander or any other bosses.

In short, the organisation didn't give a shit.

I met my new team-mates and they looked after me. But no representative of the Metropolitan Police took any responsibility for settling me in.

That's one example, but the point is that in the police you are tacitly made to understand from day one that your welfare means nothing at all to the organisation. This message is hammered into you again and again.

You're a pair of hands. Nothing more.

Quite different from John Lewis.

There's also something else. Police culture has an innate meanness about it. You're often treated by supervisors with suspicion or contempt. It's unpleasant at times, and difficult for a normal, intelligent or sensitive person to accept. And I'm not referring to dealing with the offenders, but the way you can be treated by sergeants and inspectors – your own colleagues.

The dysfunctionality of the system means that you are continually banging your head against brick walls. Any time you need something from somebody, there are always unnecessary obstacles.

There's a feeling of defeat that you have to overcome every day, just to keep going.

Not great.

My point is this: with this context – so different from John Lewis – how can we easily spread joy to the public? Every officer could certainly be positive, energetic and giving of themselves towards the public...if they felt some regard from their employer other than pure contempt.

And I'm not referring to the changes made during the last few years – Tom Winsor's retrospective changes to police pensions, the cuts, the calamitous Local Policing Model, and so forth.

The friction and exhaustion from simply trying to do your job, has been the case for decades both after and prior to Winsor's reforms.

The police service contains officers with a range of personalities, and friendliness doesn't flow naturally from everyone. But there are simple techniques officers could be taught, to avoid complaints.

However, a few hours of teaching 'customer service' won't remedy the problem. We need a total change of culture. We need the constables to start to feel that their careers and and welfare actually matter to the organisation.

Such a change would have to originate with the Commissioner, because a manager is more likely to treat his subordinates with concern and respect if he feels the same positive regard emanating down from his own boss.

I know it will never happen, but I say it anyway. If only to undermine the ineffectiveness of thinking that the poor customer service problem will be solved by merely making constables watch a Powerpoint.

I'm reminded of a friend telling me about a company she worked for. Morale was extremely low because of the management culture – the supervisors were perceived as idle, feathering their nests and benefiting from the hard work of their subordinates.

Staff were leaving in droves, and so the senior management discussed the problem with Human Resources.

HR interviewed employees and looked around the building. They decided that people were leaving because there wasn't enough light.

They changed the light bulbs.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A New Year – Moving Forward With The Metropolitan Police

I've been running this blog nearly a year and a half and we're now well into 2015. It's probably time for a recap and to remember where we're trying to go with this. Perhaps even to work up a statement of basic goals. This post is a bit miscellaneous, with a kind of list of points.

My motivation: within two weeks of probation I realised the job was nothing like the fiction that was peddled to me in the promotional literature. Instead of catching bad guys it was all about targets; all about managers hounding you for performance figures, using the public like a resource to hit their targets.

The tail wagging the dog. I found that constables had the lowest imaginable status in the organisation, lower than the most junior clerk.

I'm in the Metropolitan Police Service and the management of this shambolic force is riddled with broken thinking. The problems don't start between the inspectors' and chief inspectors' ears, but those guys certainly buy into the target-chasing and all the rest of the lazy management techniques.

We all need to keep working to raise awareness of the dysfunctionality that saturates the UK police service.

I applaud the awareness-raising work of passionate people like Tony Munday at Police Choice (Police Choice), working to reform the system.

My aim is to serve you – to serve the community of people who care about policing.

When you read a post, please do leave a comment, good or bad. Blogger doesn't allow me to respond, but I'm trying to work around that. As soon as I can, I'll get back to you.

If you want more of something – more facts, less whining, or whatever – do let me know, and message me with any suggestions.

When I write I assume you probably aren't a copper, and so try to show you the reality behind the soundbites and journalistic speculation. I hope I hit the right level of detail. I don't tell you everything, because that would tend towards unreadability. So there is simplification involved, but the facts are there.

As for tone, the distressing state of the police service and the management thinking, in particular the Local Policing Model, makes me very angry indeed. You are probably angry too, and that's why you are reading my blog.

I want a really effective criminal justice system – we're paying £3billion a year for it, so let's start asking for one. And let's keep on asking until our government starts to listen.

I want a criminal justice system that functions properly, instead of decisions made on the basis of optimising managers' promotion prospects and protecting them from criticism.

We need a happier organisation, with trust, good regard and loyalty between the managers and the constables.

How about the officers' careers and welfare featuring somewhere on the force's list of priorities? Will managers please stop mistreating them simply because you can – because they aren't protected by employment law and can't withdraw their labour. Better morale will feed into a better service for the public.

I want a better career for my colleagues and myself, but also for the public (which includes all cops).

The spirit of policing in the UK is hideously perverted by a management whose management decisions seem to be dictated solely by their desire to protect themselves from criticism and gain promotion.

It is never my intention to criticise the rank-and-file officers, who tend to be normal folk doing a difficult job. They are working to pay their mortgages, and trying to make the job work as best they can, despite the barriers put in their way.

My commitment to you for 2015 is that I will keep blogging and updating you with relevant information that enters my awareness. I don't always have the most interesting or well-written material, but I'll do my best.

I really think we can eventually remedy this disgraceful state of affairs, but it has to start with full awareness of the true picture. It needs a public with their eyes fully open – which is where bloggers come in. Not only me, but the many other wonderful police bloggers.

If we persist we can cause a gradual evolution of attitude. We've seen this already, in that the public distrust claims that targets have been banished.

I hope that it won't take a national disaster to prove the full extent of the travesty. If something happens, for example a plague like several we have narrowly averted during recent years - such as bird flu - what if we can't adequately respond because we're too busy ticking boxes and chasing targets?

History shows that it will happen. Commissioners' knighthoods won't protect them from fatal viruses.

Let's stop the senior officers from treating British policing like it's their own personal play thing.

Here are some goals we might try to work towards:
  1. The creation of a government committee working on a plan to reboot the UK police. Such a committee must include experienced serving constables.
  2. Legally-sanctioned media access to constables without fear of disciplinary proceedings against those officers. At present no journalist can speak with a constable without exposing that constable to threat of dismissal. Sir Bernard has clamped down on journalists' access to cops - what is he afraid we'll say?
  3. A government investigation into police promotion methodology (inspector rank and upwards) and a programme to redesign the promotion process.
  4. Explicit inclusion of officers' careers and welfare in force policies.
We have to keep going; there's no other choice. I intend to start regularly Tweeting though I prefer spending my limited time and energy working on my book, which still isn't ready for publication, but should be up on Amazon in the summer. The book will be the story of my career experiences. You'll enjoy it.

Here's to the next year, which will hopefully see more eyes opened, and will I'm sure yield more amusing yet sadly predictable police mismanagement.

And thank you so much for your support since August 2013.

Together perhaps we can save the criminal justice system, one blog post at a time...

Justice and Chaos