It still really suprises me that in UK universities today much of the teaching around issues of UK policing focus so much attention on failure. Courses, modules and lectures regurgitating how corrupt, sexist, racist and ineffective our UK police forces are a prominent feature of many social science degrees. I am in no way arguing that these topics are not important, they most certainly are and students need to be educated on such problematic issues. However, what I witness less of is the balancing of arguments in these areas and the lack of engagement by some academics on the fantastic work the police do. So this post is my reflection of how, in a the current climate of policing, we need to work more on the side of our police forces than against them.
Police officers are first and foremost human beings and by that nature they make mistakes. Sometimes police officers make bad choices, get things wrong, and sometimes these errors of judgement have severe consequences. This is no different to other professionals such as lawyers, doctors, social workers and judges, who also have to make difficult choices, who sometimes miss key pieces of evidence and many people’s futures depend on their actions. Criticising police officers for their mistakes doesn’t change what’s happened, learning from those mistakes and making effective changes to prevent them in the future is the most effective response. From an academic perspective, this means effectively working with police officers and staff to assist them in effective change. Publishing journal articles damning the work of the police (without solutions for change) only benefits the academics and further divides the police academic relations.
I see part of my role as a Criminology lecturer as educating students on a whole array of policing issues, the good and the bad. As academics we have an opportunity and an obligation to teach students all perspectives on policing, including the police themselves. My students have been mostly engaged by guest police lecturers and getting an insight into real work challenges faced by officers everyday, which enables them apply some of the academic debates to real world settings. Thus, building good relations with police officers has a tremendous benefit for students .
I have worked with police forces in various research capacities and have to admit that much of the old literature on the police closing doors on academics has never come true. My experience has always been positive despite being an outsider to the police, they have welcomed me, worked with me and in many ways helped me develop as a researcher. That is not to say that these relationships don’t commence with reservations, of course some of my encounters have been met with scepticism. However, their reservations are understandable given the volume of negative press and publications received historically. My approach has always been to be open and honest about my intentions and the outcomes I hope to achieve, which I believe have helped open the doors that little bit further. The research I have undertaken with police forces has always aimed to improve the working lives of police officers, so for any police officers reading this, know that not all academics are working against you.
Whilst some may argue that the newly established What Works Centre has taken steps to do this to bridge the police and academic divide, I suggest that simply uploading research findings to a database is not enough. Sitting round a table and thrashing out possible strategies, building working relations and developing effective communication between researchers and police departments is the best starting point. Inviting police officers onto courses to contribute to educating students on the police is invaluable. A good working relationship is built on trust and respect and this needs to work both ways.
Recognising the great work the police do is vitally important, having a legitimate respected police service in this country is vital for social cohesion and community relations. Yes, problems need to be identified and overcome, just like any other organisation. And yes, some police officers do abuse their powers, and those people should be held accountable. But for the thousands of hard working, dedicated police officers just trying to do a good job, we should work with them to offer a positive future for our police forces.