Police service needs overhaul as training synonymous with 'lacking real-world relevance' and 'reduced standards' – think tank finds

The College of Policing should be replaced and the country's next Prime Minister should commission an independent review, according to a new proposal

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Think tank Policy Exchange acknowledged in its proposal that the new PM will be “faced with a police service which has, over the last decade, lost its way”.

The paper’s author, ex-Metropolitan Police detective chief inspector David Spencer, made 11 recommendations he said would help the Government ensure “the safety of its citizens from those who would commit crime and disorder”.

The College of Policing, which had an annual budget of £71million in 2020/21, was established in December 2012 as the professional body for policing in England and Wales with locations in County Durham, Coventry, Harrogate and London.

Mr Spencer wrote: “It is apparent from its own ‘Fundamental Review’, however, that the College of Policing has become synonymous to many within policing with a reduction in standards alongside a perceived lack of real-world relevance to the prevention of crime and disorder."

The former detective noted there was a “lack of synergy” between the standards set by the college and the “inspection regime” of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks with Stephen House, acting commissioner of the Metropolitan Police service
Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks with Stephen House, acting commissioner of the Metropolitan Police service
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are battling it out to take over as the country's next PM
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are battling it out to take over as the country's next PM

He explained: “Having two separate organisations setting and inspecting against potentially different standards is wholly unsustainable and risks causing considerable inefficiencies within policing and confusion for both the public and police officers themselves.

"This must be resolved.

“Given its catastrophic reputation within policing, its failure over the last decade to deliver workforce reform that has been both substantive and effective, and the desire to simplify and make more efficient the setting and inspection of standards, the College of Policing should be replaced.”

Mr Spencer said the college’s role in setting standards should be transferred to HMICFRS and a national police leadership academy established “for the effective training and development of policing leaders across the country”.

The paper also recommended the next resident of No 10 commission an independently chaired review of initial police training in England and Wales to report back within three months.

Mr Spencer noted: “Unlike many professions, the most difficult and important decisions in policing are often made by the most junior people.”

He said initial training of officers had been subject to significant change in recent years due to the introduction of the policing education qualifications framework (PEQF) by the college in 2016.

Mr Spencer wrote: “Throughout its development and since its implementation, the PEQF has been dogged by controversy.

“Due to its potential impact on frontline policing, in an unprecedented step, the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police sought judicial review of the PEQF to delay the framework’s implementation.

"Although ultimately unsuccessful, it is remarkable that a chief constable even attempted to take such action against the College of Policing.”

Leaders at different levels of policing said the PEQF meant officers were unable to meet the necessary standards required to serve the public effectively.

Mr Spencer added that there were fewer officers on duty, more officers were resigning and there were increased costs to the public.

He also recommended regulations be changed so police chiefs could be the ones to decide to dismiss officers found guilty of criminality or serious misconduct, the end of so-called “closed shop” police promotions and using app-based technology in the community more to engage the public in “policing tactics and decision-making”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves the area following a drugs-related raid by Metropolitan Police officers, in West Norwood, London
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves the area following a drugs-related raid by Metropolitan Police officers, in West Norwood, London
Home Secretary Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel

A raft of changes to be led by the Home Office were also proposed including simplifying the department’s counting rules to reduce the administrative burden on police forces, reviewing the amount of time officers spend dealing with those with mental illness unrelated to crime or disorder as well as giving officers the “tools necessary” to police protests and other public events.

The Home Office should also reorganise the response to the fraud epidemic and “establish the scale of a new corps” of data scientists and hackers to be recruited to policing to tackle online crime, the former officer said.

Mr Spencer continued: “While recognising that the current economic climate and cost-of-living crisis makes substantial investment in public services challenging, this is however the only way the Government will be able to fulfil one of its fundamental duties – the safety of its citizens from those who would commit crime and disorder."

The recommendations follow a proposal put forward earlier this year by think tank the Police Foundation that would mean all officers would be subject to fitness and practise tests throughout their careers.

But the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, said in March it was “against” the idea of having GP-style licences for officers.

Prior to publishing that proposal, its author Sir Michael Barber admitted the loss of public confidence in policing is a “serious problem” prompted by a wave of recent scandals and serious incidents including the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer.

The vote for the next PM will close on Friday, with a winner to be announced on Monday and likely new Cabinet appointments including the home secretary to follow at a later date.