In the Media

Police would benefit from having time to think, says charity

PUBLISHED April 16, 2012

Police officers should be given 20 minutes a week to think about decisions they have made on duty, a charity said on Sunday.

The Royal Society for Arts (RSA) claimed allowing officers time to reflect on their performances would boost their work.

Launching the society's Reflexive Coppers study, author Dr Jonathan Rowson said: "The quality of police interactions with each other, with the public, criminals and victims of crime all depend upon their capacity to better understand their own minds and the minds of the people they deal with.

"The police service might benefit from tools for self-examination beyond standard professional training, including the development of a shared language to talk about how and when self-awareness connects to recurring challenges at work."

Rowson's report, part of the RSA's "social brain programme", found encouraging a "self-reflective culture" would improve communication and efficiency and potentially boost specific investigations.

It said too many officers were quickly forced to swap roles, giving the example of constables tackling rioters, breaking bad news to grieving families and supporting rape victims, possibly on the same shift.

The report said: "Police are rarely given the chance to reflect on the kind of tensions and dilemmas that stem from this dual aspect of their role, and the operational and personal challenges that relate to the psychological underpinnings of their behaviour."

But the study, which comes as forces shed up to 16,000 officers, admitted: "Given limitations on staff, time and budgets, any changes to working practices would have to be relatively subtle if they are to be realistically implemented."

It called for "a series of small changes such as encouraging officers to take a short time (around 20 minutes) every week to explicitly reflect on their decisions, habits and attention, and perhaps begin promoting the value of this to senior officers so that this would not have to be done on their own time".

The study claimed helping officers have "a good understanding of the ways in which their minds work, and how they impact on what they do" would improve community relations.

It also recommended more support from senior officers for changing police culture ? including creating a package in officer training to help them take "more control over their thinking and behaviour".

Writing in the report foreword, the Metropolitan police's head of research, strategy and analysis, Professor Betsy Stanko, said: "Policing is changing, but perhaps not at a pace we would like.

"This piece of work seeks to stimulate debate and to help lay the ground work for future research, and ultimately improvement in a vital public service."

She added: "This exploratory study implicitly suggests that there needs to be institutional support for changing police culture."

Chief Constable Peter Fahy, lead for workforce development at the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "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."

Fahy added: "Accepting that individuals in the heat of complex incidents can make mistakes is most likely to encourage greater openness from officers."