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Kent comment: Policing could suffer if senior officers don't have front line experience
Commenting on proposals to overhaul the way senior police officers are recruited, leading University criminologist Professor Marian FitzGerald has suggested that the move could have a negative impact on the police service.
'The claim by the new chief inspector of constabulary that direct entry into the police service could "change the face of modern British policing for the better" is only half true. Recruiting outsiders into the most senior ranks would have a profound impact on the service - but not necessarily for the better.
Any serious student of the police in England and Wales knows that one of the main obstacles to getting change within the service is the gulf between officers in the front line and the senior ranks.
Front line officers often feel that senior officers have forgotten what The Job is like on the streets. They do, however, respect leaders who retain that perspective - people they can still imagine disarming the maniac with the knife or defusing a situation which risks escalating into large scale public disorder.
The legitimacy of the police largely depends on the quality of the day-to-day contact between officers on the ground and the general public. What is often overlooked is the extent to which low morale among these officers may carry over into their dealings with the public and thereby risk undermining police legitimacy.
'The current proposals for direct recruitment from outside the service will only intensify the gulf between the senior ranks and the frontline. And the public will feel the difference - but not for the better.'
Marian FitzGerald is Visiting Professor of Criminology at the University's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research.
Story published at 10:22am 31 January 2013
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