Today's columnist, David Crompton: A degree of common sense

Do all police recruits need a degree? The College of Policing think this should be the case and have said so publicly this week. But is it a good idea?

Tuesday, 16th February 2016, 12:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th February 2016, 12:20 pm
Page Hall Roma Feature Police patrol the streets of Page Hall

Policing has certainly become a more complex profession in the last decade or so, and the need for detailed knowledge about child abuse, mental health and social issues has never been greater.

We also rely upon DNA, computer analysis, digital forensics and other technical advances to give us a vital advantage over the criminals, so it is certainly a harder job than it was when I first walked the beat.

Juggling all of these requirements at the scene of an incident can be a big challenge, even for some who have good standards of education.

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But does it mean everyone joining the police should have a degree? Should there be room for people with life experience as well? I can remember being fresh out of university (yes, I have a degree), 22 years of age, going to my first domestic dispute, and being faced with a couple 20 years older whose marriage was coming off the rails.

It was my job to try and sort it out, only arresting someone as a last resort. I didn’t find it easy!

Or what about the first time I was faced with dealing with bereavement and a fatality where a family had just lost a loved one?

This was also something which a bit of life experience would have helped with.

Or what about developing the ‘sixth sense’ of being able to spot when someone is lying to you? I would argue this is an essential for any would-be police officer.

Most people who join the police are liable to remain on the front line for a sizeable part of their careers.

The reductions in supervisory positions means this will increasingly be the case. Are we in danger of creating an environment where people have an expectation which cannot be matched by the reality?

Where this occurs people tend to leave to go and pursue other career choices despite us spending a lot of time and energy equipping them with the necessary skills to do the job.

In reality, might we be better served by recruiting a blend of people with different skills and qualifications? I can certainly think of one recent Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, previously a Chief Constable, who only had O and A levels to his name.

Under these proposals, he wouldn’t even have been able to join the police, let alone become the top police officer in the country. For me, the jury is still out.

I can certainly think of colleagues who have come out of the armed forces, caring professions or customer service who have a huge amount to offer policing and who bring with them lots of common sense, experience and new ideas. I hope we don’t lose that.

* David Crompton, Chief Constable, South Yorkshire Police