The missing generation?
When looking at the personal careers of the senior leaders of the Police Service, you see a mixture of those who followed the traditional path of promotion, learning ‘the job’ first for a number of years before realising they had ambitions to move up the ranks, and those who knew from day one where they wanted to be and grabbed the opportunities as soon as they presented themselves. You could say that they’re the lucky generation who had the choice which path to take.
Fast forward 20-plus years and we are faced with a completely different picture. The economic climate has hit the Police Service hard, budgets are being cut, jobs are being lost and opportunities are slowly decreasing, with some never to be seen again. Across the country year on year, officers are taking national promotion exams but, with the lack of promotion owing to the economic climate, a large pool of talent is slowly stagnating.
Up to 2011, in the Greater Manchester Police alone there are approximately 800 constables who have passed the promotion exams. That figure is very close to 10% of the entire force. We all know what this means to each officer personally, but what does it mean to the Police Service as a whole?
Well, let’s look again at our current leaders, look at their CVs, read how they were able to work in different departments and move around and up with relative ease. See how their experiences at the sharp end shaped the way they lead their respective forces, and now think about the leaders of the future.
Previously the average length of time for someone to get from PC to Inspector would be around 10 years, but – with promotions on hold across most forces and the sheer volume of qualified people – it’s now looking more like 15 years just to get to Sergeant. There will be people in this pool of qualified officers who 20 years ago would easily have made it to ACPO rank within their 30-year career; now they will be lucky to get past Chief Inspector. The only avenue available for people with ambitions of being a force leader is the High Potential Development Scheme.
This will mean the number of people who would be experienced and qualified enough to take on the more senior roles will be very slim. Rather than today’s scenario of best person for the job, it will feel more like the only person qualified for the job! We are running the risk of losing an entire generation of brilliant future leaders because of the cuts in lateral movements and, more so, the lack of promotion opportunities.
The promotion system is changing, and as yet it’s not been filtered out how it will look – but key to the new system must be how we can ensure we do not miss out this generation of officers and all the skills and potential they possess, because the Police Service and the general public will be the real losers if we do and it may take another generation to recover from that mistake.
By Patrick Wood, Greater Manchester Police.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official position or policy of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).
The use of Taser in the UK
Police officers have a duty to protect life and property; providing them with the tools to do the job (and an effective range of tactical options) is as much about protecting the public as it is about protecting the officers themselves. I start with this point because it has a tendency to become lost in the debate, which often focuses on police officers wanting more weaponry and an inference that they will misuse it.
From a legal perspective, officers must use only as much force as is necessary in the lawful execution of their duty. To support them in doing so, Article 2 of the UN Basic Principles states: “Governments and law enforcement agencies should develop a range of means as broad as possible and equip law enforcement officials with various types of weapons and ammunition that would allow for a differentiated use of force and firearms.”
Taser and other ‘less lethal’ technologies have been introduced to meet this requirement. Taser was first introduced in the UK in 2003 during a trial involving five forces; it was issued to authorised firearms officers as a less lethal alternative to conventional firearms. In 2004 this trial was extended to all police forces. In 2007 Taser was authorised for deployment, by authorised firearms officers but outside firearms operations. In the same year, a trial in 10 forces began whereby non-firearms officers were trained and issued with Taser. Following these successful trials, Taser was made available in 2008 to all police forces for issue to specially trained officers.
The latest Taser usage data will be released by the Home Office shortly, and will inform a thematic review being produced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is important to clarify what we mean by Taser ‘use’. Use is defined as drawing the weapon, aiming it at a person, using the sighting system to ‘red dot’ a person, arcing the weapon (where the cartridge is removed and electricity is passed between conductors to create a deterrent crackling noise), discharge of the weapon (where the barbs are discharged at a person) and ‘drive stun’ (where the cartridge is removed and the Taser applied against the body).
Previous data confirm that Taser discharges account for around 25% of use. Significantly, in around 75% of cases the weapon is not discharged and its mere presence is sufficient to encourage a violent individual to become compliant. This does not support the notion that police officers will abuse Taser or are ‘trigger happy’, as described in one national newspaper.
In common with batons, incapacitant spray, police dogs etc, Taser is not a risk-free option, but generally the electrical current is not dangerous. The weapon is often emotively described in the press as a ‘50,000-volt stun gun’. The truth is that 50,000 volts are only created to make the weapon arc; the electricity that actually passes into the body is far less, around 1,200 volts. In any case, voltage is not the issue – it is amperes that matter, and a Taser discharges only 0.0021 amps. (A Christmas tree bulb uses about 1 amp.) It is the manner in which the electricity oscillates that has the effect on the neuromuscular system.
The risks associated with Taser are more to do with the loss of muscular control; this can cause individuals to freeze on the spot or fall to the ground, unable to break their fall. This creates an obvious risk of secondary injury as a result of falling onto a hard surface. Government medical advisors also highlight the potential risk to individuals of small stature or those with heart defects, and this is covered in officer’s training which remains one of the longest and most comprehensive training packages in the world.
So why isn’t Taser issued to all frontline police officers? These are operational decisions for individual Chief Constables. The Home Office Code of Practice on the Police Use of Firearms and Less Lethal Weapons places a requirement on Chief Constables to produce an annual Firearms Strategic Threat and Risk Assessment (STRA), and to ensure that sufficient numbers of their officers are selected, trained and equipped to respond to the threats identified. Alongside threat and risk, geography is important. Geographically smaller but more urban forces may be in a position to provide adequate Taser coverage from within force-level specialist units. Response times in geographically larger, more rural forces may necessitate equipping more frontline patrol officers with Taser.
The Metropolitan Police Service is training an additional 1,300 frontline officers. A number of other forces are extending the rollout of Taser to provide better coverage and increased public and officer protection. However, there have been a number of high-profile adverse incidents involving Taser, and maintaining public confidence is vital. Put simply, Taser remains emotive; ‘if we abuse it, we will lose it’.
The rollout of the side-handled baton in this country was postponed as a direct result of the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991. It is worth remembering that this incident also involved the use of an earlier type of Taser device, and it effectively stopped the issue of such devices for many years.
There has been considerable public debate, and even judicial reviews in some parts of the UK, about the decision to issues Tasers in the phased way described above. So far we have brought the public opinion with us, and the judicial reviews and comments have been supportive of the actions of the service. This phased approach, linked to threat assessment, is in my view the correct way forward.
By Simon Chesterman, ACPO Less Lethal Weapons Lead
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official position or policy of the National Policing Improvement Agency.
We thank DC Patrick Wood for his efforts and allowing us to place his blog on UKPO.
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Edited by kenworthy, 04 January 2013 - 06:50 PM.