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Opinion: A fresh model for 21st Century Policing

The establishment of a regular police reserve will retain specialist skills and plug the gaps left by the disappearance of the 30-year-career officer, argue Chris Sharwood-Smith and Dr Rob Gurney.

Opinion: A fresh model for 21st Century Policing

Date - 7th April 2021
By - Chris Sharwood-Smith and Dr Rob Gurney
12 Comments 12 Comments}

The changes to the UK Police Service since the turn of the 21st Century have been dramatic. New innovation coupled with a need to drastically reduce costs during a protracted period of financial restraint has brought in the need for a whole change in concept around the recruitment and retention of officers.

The Service is currently operating a resourcing model that is derived from a historical 30-year service span based around pension benefits, yet there are few officers left who joined under those conditions of service. These benefits no longer apply and with changes to pensions regulations in recent years the workforce demographics of the Police Service are changing with them.

Societal attitudes towards employment indicate that future generations are inclined to move jobs on a regular basis. Career development may involve gaining wider experience through changing employers and even employment sectors. New officers are likely to leave after just a few years having gained the necessary experience that will assist them to move to a job that may bring a better lifestyle and income. Just a basic trawl of the on-line site “LinkedIn” shows the number of officers who are looking to move on to another career before approaching anything near to their retirement date.

Police Officer training is both costly and time consuming and the potential cost of an exodus of officers who have attained various specialist roles should be of great concern for future Police & Crime Commissioners and Chief Officers alike. Not only will there be a future risk to operational resilience but there is also likely to be a massive loss of skills and experience that cannot be immediately or easily replaced by new recruits.

Forces are currently struggling to maintain operational resilience during peak demands for service and alternative operating models must now be considered a strategic priority. Although the UK Police Service benefits from the Special Constabulary, it needs to be acknowledged that they are complimentary and not supplementary to the regular officers.

Additionally, the voluntary nature of Special Constables means that they are unable to commit to the training necessary to acquire any of the highly specialist roles that are needed in the times of crisis or emergency.

There already exists within the military the model for a paid reserve system, why could this not be adopted for the police service? This would give those officers who choose to move on to another career an opportunity to retain their skills and continue to contribute to policing maintaining their links whilst at the same time starting their new career.

 A "Regular Police Reserve” (RPR) could be formed of experienced, trained former police officers who have either resigned or retired from a UK Police Force in good standing, that are willing to commit to a number of days per year to assist their Regular colleagues in times of high demand.

The aim of the RPR is to provide operational resilience for planned peak service requirements utilising skilled officers who have retained their specialist capabilities. Similarly, the Reserve Officers could be “on-call” to provide urgent short notice aide for local and national emergencies.

In a similar manner to Reserve functions operated by the Military, the cost to the Police Service would amount to an annual retention bonus for the individual along with wages only being paid for the specific hours worked as a police officer. Regular paid training and assessment would naturally form a mandatory element of the contract between the Service and the individual[1].

Reserves would not replace Special Constables 

It is important to note that the RPR would not be a replacement  for the Special Constabulary, these are fully trained and experienced police officers retained in a reserve after they have left full time policing. Nor would this be a 'Dads Army' of retired officers in their twilight years. With officers choosing to move to different careers much earlier it is anticipated that the majority of the RPR would be recruited from those with up to thirty working years left in them. The RPR would be retained on a commitment to a number of days per year for which they would receive remuneration.

The RPR would provide the UK Police Service with a broad spectrum of law enforcement capabilities utilising existing operational and specialist policing experience. RPR officers would be available for deployment on both pre-planned operations and in support of regular policing at times of peak demand.

The role of the RPR is to provide reservists and/or readily formed units, in order to give the Police Service extra resources and additional support at times of increased operational demand. In particular the RPR could provide specialist skills that are not regularly required such as:[2]

  • Detective skills (both general and specific)
  • Firearms skills
  • Public Order skills
  • Operational Planning skills
  • Event & Emergency Planning skills
  • Surveillance skills

The greatest benefit of this proposal is the retention of skills and experience that would otherwise be lost with competent officers exiting the service earlier. Fully trained police officers would require little funding to maintain skills or refresh them, but they also bring a wealth of policing experience that cannot be gained in a classroom. The practical policing “know-how” of experienced reservists would be cascaded to less experienced regular officers.

This will enable the deployment of fully trained and skilled police officers at times of operational need and national emergency. It may also provide a short term solution to specialism gaps such as a national shortage of detectives or firearms officers.

The clear benefits of an RPR would be that an effective reserve can be formed with little or no initial training cost and once in place it could be deployed simply and effectively according to individual forces' needs or on a national level if required. There is already in existence a proven system for the implementation of national mutual aid, which could be utilised for large RPR deployments.

Most importantly the huge cost of training individual officers to a high level will not be lost when they leave the service, instead it will be re-invested. There would be little additional administrative costs as there are already in place all the relative requirements within individual force HR structures to maintain the system on a local level.

Cost analysis is complex as this scheme would not look to replace the recruitment and training of new Constables, which currently runs at around £74,000[3] using the NPCC formula, it is aimed at retaining existing skills and experience The availability of the RPR may well reduce the specialist training budget as many of the reserve would be able to provide those specialisms when required.

It would be envisaged that the status of an RPR Officer would be that of having all the powers of a constable when on duty. There would, however, be a requirement for a minimum commitment of days to enable them to remain on the RPR, this could be linked to the payment of a 'bounty' type payment in the same way as the military. There would also be a requirement for the RPR member to maintain any specialist training standard.

The United Kingdom is in a unique position where there is not only an opportunity but also a need to revise the way in which the Police reserve is organised. The increasing loss of policing experience creates a huge threat to future operational capability.

Whilst the recent recruitment campaign will increase police officer numbers to a level maintained in previous years, it does not take account of increases in demands on the service and it will not address future resourcing shortfalls. Forward planning around officer retention is necessary now before it is too late to meet future demands on the Police Service.

The implementation of a Regular Police Reserve will address the resourcing gap and provide a sustainable model for policing in the 21st Century.

Article notes: [1] The nature and length of this would be determined by the specialist qualification held by the reservist and the appropriate training that would be needed to remain current and competent.

[2] This list is not exclusive and there are a number of other roles both operational and administrative that may be available e.g. event and contingency planning or training.

[3] FOI request to West Midlands Police Feb 2020  https://foi.west-midlands.police.uk/police-officer-recruitment-cost-954-20/

Chris Sharwood-Smith spent over 30 years in the police serving with the Metropolitan Police & Hertfordshire Constabulary culminating in a secondment to the United Nations in New York to lead a project on Police Peacekeeping Training. On retiring from the police in 2010 he set up his own Training Consultancy, which has seen him working for the UK Stabilisation Unit, United Nations, European Union, and US State Department. He has also worked for a number of Awarding Organisations mentoring, assessing and quality assuring vocational qualifications up to level 7. Currently he is an Associate Lecturer on the Metropolitan Police PEQF scheme.

Dr Robert Gurney is the founder and former national President of the Disabled Police Association, with a career in Policing spanning four decades. He currently chairs the NPCC Number Plate Advisory Group and conducts academic research into ANPR technology and motor vehicle number plate properties on behalf of the UK Police Service and the Home Office. Dr Gurney is also a Police adviser to the Royal Humane Society, a role that he has fulfilled since 2006. The society makes awards for the saving of life and acts of bravery.

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Anon - 5 hours ago

More importantly. Will they have access to Corp Jones Butchers van for transport?