ACC continues mentoring role

Assistant Chief Constable Sue Cross is currently on a three-month secondment to the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) as a syndicate director for the strategic command course.

She is documenting her experiences in a weekly blog. This week the course resumes after the half-term break.

Week five

We had the final week of our leadership and ethics module at Tulliallan and then we were given a week off for half-term to reflect the fact that the vast majority of delegates are away from their families and many have school aged children.

I realise in the economically challenged times that we live in that some may say "we are lucky" and I would agree. As police officers we are very lucky, the cuts have mainly affected those officers with 30 years service and police staff. I do however know that many officers are now, like the rest of the country, starting to feel the impact of the financial downturn. Like everyone else they are experiencing pay freezes set against increases in general cost of living expenses - fuel, heating and food to name but a few.

Although policing is a fantastic career it is very demanding role, with shifts and disruption to family life as well as the exposure to things that many people never see in their lifetimes. On a daily basis I monitor the 24-hour log that is circulated around North Yorkshire Police. It sadly all too often contains details of serious road accidents and I often think about those officers who work in the road-policing department. Some members of the public are quick to criticise and condemn them for issuing speed tickets and other activities seen as trivial in the eyes of the public. Having sadly had a member of my family killed and another seriously injured as a result of reckless driving I am always in awe of how professional members of our road-policing unit are when dealing with road traffic incidents that occur on a very regular basis.

So, back to the Strategic Command Course. In the second week at Tulliallan we spent a great deal of time studying an area called Calton, in Glasgow. The average life expectancy of a man in that area is 54. The delegates had to put themselves into the role of the police and other agencies such as education authorities, health and the private sector and consider the issues raised in Colton and how best they would spend a government allocation of £90 million over a three-year period.

The work culminated in a presentation to an external group. Although the proposal was lacking in the finer detail required for a budget of this nature (due to the time constraints) it was agreed that there were some excellent ideas contained in the proposals, particularly around tackling the drinking culture.

On the train home on the previous Friday I sat opposite a young man who was travelling to Edinburgh. It was lunchtime and he had a can of beer open, he asked if I minded if he continued to drink and did in fact offer me a can of lager! (I graciously declined). I got into conversation with him and he said he did not normally drink this early in the day but having just been released from prison it had been some time since he had a drink. As he talked about his life and his experiences it really brought home to me how important the forthcoming exercise was going to be for Strategic Command Course. This young man had not had any positive male role models in his life, he was unskilled and worried about getting a job, he was a father who did not see his son but wanted to be a good dad. He was caught in the classic situation of not having a job, not been able to put down roots and see his son until he could prove to his partner that he was going to more reliable. He used drink to help him forget and get through his life, when he drank too much he was violent and this led to him committing crime.

He was typical of the young men Police officers up and down the country are dealing with day in, day out. My fear is that we will see more young men like him because of breakdowns in society and the lack of opportunity for meaningful work.

Linking this back to the exercise, I worked with the police group, which was interestingly made up of all the delegates on the course who were not UK police officers. We discussed the role of policing in social change - the police are there to reduce threat, harm and risk in communities, to make communities feel safe and building on a view of the Army's role in Northern Ireland just prior to the withdrawal of troops - "to create a safe environment within which those who have the vision, skills and passion to improve a community by working with them (not by doing things to them) can get on with that mission."

The week finished with a really powerful exercise where delegates from the Releasing Potential Programme joined the course. This is a programme designed to bring together police officers from minority backgrounds and work with them to enable them to reach their potential.

I say it was powerful because my syndicate and our assigned delegates seized the opportunity to have those difficult conversations about diversity issues and also understand, in what is still, a very white male dominated organisation, where we are making progress in becoming a more diverse organisation without promotions or assignments being seen as 'token gestures'.

The session also gave me a bit of a kick to question how influential and supportive I have been in this area; it is very easy when you get to the top of an organisation to stop listening and seeing what is happening and to realise how you should be helping.

The group concluded that although individual stories are interesting for setting the scene the actions they needed to push were the things that were working - increasing programmes such as RPP (Releasing Potential Programme), making sure people in your organisation know about RPP and how it could help them, active coaching and mentoring for staff in minority groups, encouraging open dialogue with senior managers so we really know how people are feeling and what is happening on the ground.

I know it is cliché but policing is all about people and yet we still manage to promote staff who are not good people managers, they may be very good at their role but not the best to lead a group of people, with the confidence and skills to have those difficult conversations that are often needed - something to reflect upon as we reach the end of Module two.

2.42pm - 20 February 2012

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