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Coppers’ culture in full

Years of ‘target culture’, plus strict adherence to protocol, rank structure, and risk aversion encourages ‘group think’ and has a detrimental effect on the relationship between the police and the public. That is according to a report on police by the ‘enlightenment organisation’, the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). 



Click here to read the 24-page report in full. 


The report concludes that to improve community relations it would be helpful if police had a good understanding of the ways in which their minds work, and how they impact on what they do.


It recommends that there should be more institutional support for changing police culture – including integrating a package into police training regarding self-development, improving professional performance and taking more control over one’s thinking and behaviour.


You can download the report at – the RSA website.  


For background visit – 


Accepting that individuals in the heat of complex incidents can make mistakes is most likely to encourage greater openness from officers; that was the Association of Chief Police Officers comment on the report. 


ACPO lead for workforce development Chief Constable Peter Fahy said: “The vast majority of our staff are driven by a very strong sense of vocation and personally-held values of public service and compassion. The report is right to suggest that in the pace of modern policing and the pressure to be visibly active there is a need to reflect on difficult incidents and perhaps how they could have been handled differently. Many staff do this already because they care deeply about their impact on the public.


“ACPO has recently developed and promoted its own decision-making model which helps staff to ensure that the core values of British policing are constantly taken into account by staff. Developing professional practise through a new professional body for policing, as proposed by the Home Office, will also help in this regard.


“Self-awareness, policing ethics and the impact of leadership behaviour on culture are key aspects of police leadership training. The media and other regulatory organisations can play a part by acknowledging that in many incidents it is better to adopt a lesson to be learned approach rather than finding an individual to blame. Accepting that individuals in the heat of complex incidents can make mistakes is most likely to encourage greater openness from officers.”


For more information about the Royal Society of Arts report Reflexive Coppers: see the RSA website.


Steer principles


The RSA researchers worked to the ‘Steer approach to behaviour’:


1 Use your habitat to shape your habits.

How does the working environment shape your automatic behaviour?


2. Trust your gut, but remember to pay attention.

Your intuition, based on professional experience, is powerful, but how can you remain vigilant in situations where something genuinely new is happening?


3. Take your time, literally.

There are three main decision speeds – automatic, reflective and ‘mulling’ – which do you use most and why?


4. Be influenced by others, but know your own voice.

You need others to help you think, but how can you guard against groupthink?


5. Don’t let consistency get in the way of learning.

The desire to reduce cognitive dissonance often prevents us from understanding what really happened – how can we avoid this? 


The report said: “We recognise that the police service is a diverse organisation, and there is no monolithic ‘police brain’, but we worked on the understanding that there are common concerns and a shared culture that plays out differently depending on varying individual profiles and professional contexts.” 




Previous RSA research in 2009 found that, for reasons highlighted by Flanagan, police were working against their advantages in terms of collaborating effectively with the public and other organisations. While the police continue to be inspected against a range of performance measures and are also accountable for delivering against a range of locally defined targets and priorities, they do not seem to be making the most of their interactions with the public. Future challenges pointed to the need for the police to build systems and a workforce that are better at making and facilitating decisions, managing risk, using information and intelligence, and team working. It was argued that officers will need greater emotional intelligence, greater ability to use discretion, and will need to be more outcome rather than process-focused. 


From the report


[New Met Police Commissioner] Bernard Hogan-Howe’s to do list includes dealing with aftermath of the riots, keeping a handle on the continuing terrorist threat, planning for the Olympic Games, restoring public trust, all while making cuts of £543m by 2015. In light of these challenges, what do the findings of our modest research offer?


Hogan-Howe has set out his stall for no-nonsense, bold policing which is about crime-fighting above all else, and does away with unnecessary partnership working. The tone of his “total policing” agenda might appear to be somewhat at odds with our suggestion that police need to be encouraged to take the time to consider the impact of their habits, attention and decisions. Hogan-Howe says, “I am trying to get the police to concentrate on our strengths. We are good problem solvers: we go in, sort a problem out quickly and move on.” Our research process suggests that such ‘quick wins’ are only part of the story, and that some police officers feel that several factors inhibit the organisational learning necessary for dealing with more complex cases.


About the authors 


Dr Jonathan Rowson leads the Social Brain project at the RSA. Jonathan holds a first class degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Oxford University, an Ed.M from Harvard University in Mind, Brain and Education, and a Doctoral degree from Bristol University on the concept of wisdom. A chess Grandmaster, Jonathan was British Champion for three consecutive years 2004-6, and writes a weekly column for The Glasgow Herald.


Dr Emma Lindley is Senior Researcher on the Social Brain Project. Emma holds a first class degree in English Language and Literature from Liverpool University, an MSc in Educational Research and an ESRC funded PhD, both from the University of Manchester. Emma’s research led to the development of the Inclusive Dialogue approach to education about mental illness and has received media attention from the BBC and the Times Educational Supplement.


The report also has a foreword by Prof Betsy Stanko, Head of Research, Strategy and Analysis at the Metropolitan Police. 


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