Has COVID-19 Killed UK Police Recruitment Uplift?
"Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think."
- Jawaharlal Nehru
In response to COVID-19, the College of Policing have now postponed police assessment centres. 20,000 new police officers are still required to meet the government’s recruitment target. This so-called 'Coronavirus', or more so the current response to mitigate the effects of the global pandemic, have unquestionably set back plans to recruit new cohorts of police officers.
'SEARCH' and 'Day One' recruit assessment centres are postponed. This will clearly delay the necessary uplift to the frontline of policing. However, it is in times of existential threat and national crises that innovation emerges. New ideas and previously unacceptable or unaffordable initiatives are often considered, supported and implemented...
'We Are Innovative and Open Minded'
"Improvidus, apto quod victum."
- Improvise, adapt, overcome
'We are innovative and open minded' is a tenet of the Competency and Values Framework (CVF) in policing. History is packed with examples where innovation in the face of crisis has led to survival for civilisations and nations. It is a story played out through the ages: Understanding the brutal reality of the situation, working collectively to overcome it whilst holding a belief that ultimately your way of life would prevail.
In 216 BC at the battle of Cannae, having led his army and Elephants across the Alps (hitherto believed impossible), the Carthaginian General Hannibal annihilated the largest Roman army ever assembled. Yet in defeat and in its darkest hour, Rome refused to pay the price for peace. Instead, its citizens were put to work making new weapons and equipment.
A crippled Roman army was rebuilt with new thinking and improvisation. This included lowering the recruitment age, enlisting convicts from prisons and offering slaves their freedom in exchange for military service. More legions were eventually raised to replace those lost at Cannae. Rome adapted, training its army using what it learned from Hannibal to finally defeat him.
An Invisible Enemy
"The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands."
- Sun Tzu
Today in 2020 another battle is being waged for survival. This time, COVID-19 is attacking having taken our civilisation by surprise. It is an invisible and silent killer. Tens of thousands of people have died, with many more to follow over the coming month or two. Populations across the world are confined to their homes. Wartime language is heard in daily news, with comparisons to times of WWII and mentions of “Fighting on the frontline”.
However, we are also seeing fresh thinking and approaches to improvise, adapt and overcome. Dyson are adapting to produce lifesaving ventilators; not just by going from ‘suck’ to ‘blow’! A massive 'volunteer army' of 750,000 people have enlisted to support people directly and indirectly affected. The government are implementing unprecedented economic measures to encourage individuals and businesses to battle the potential worst hit to the country at least since the 2008 crash.
We are increasingly all in this together, but what will be the effect of all this on police recruitment? Will it kill off the planned policing uplift?
Opportunity, Competence & Values
"Close scrutiny will show that most 'crisis situations' are opportunities to either advance or stay where you are."
- Maxwell Maltz
Policing has always changed to adapt to events. Recruitment will resume ASAP, but getting anywhere near 20,000 new cops means the College of Policing needs to quickly adapt aspects of the assessment process in order to keep some momentum. Born of necessity, the College is now ‘working at speed’ to provide an online solution within weeks, which meets College standards for assessing candidates. The main priorities are keeping the public safe and ensuring forces have the right number of officers.
There is a clear opportunity presented for the College to demonstrate its own Competency and Values Framework (CVF). This framework is designed to ensure there are clear expectations of everyone working in policing, raising standards for the benefit and safety of the public. It is the assessment tool used to evaluate police officers and police staff for recruitment, promotion or other selection processes.
Compelled to think 'outside De Bono', the College are clearly utilising each of De Bono’s six thinking hats to explore options and implement solutions to keep the police recruitment uplift going.
“We are committed to being flexible in our approach to ensure the best outcomes. The perpetual need to adapt, innovate and question our assumptions is at the heart of being able to serve and protect the public. It includes taking innovative action.”
- The College of Policing
A Virtual Revolution
"It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn."
- M. Scott Peck
Recruits already in initial police training during this ‘lockdown’ period are experiencing innovative changes to navigate through this crisis. These include being trained and redeployed temporarily to force control rooms. Others remain at home during lockdown for 12 weeks, receiving invites to ‘attend’ virtual classrooms instead. Lectures by police trainers are being delivered on force intranet platforms, webinars and other online packages and technology. There is clearly potential in this ‘needs must’ reactive response. Regardless, the surge of a 20,000-strong army won’t be stopped by a microscopic species!
Policing is generally found behind the technology curve. However, COVID-19 could be the catalyst for a deeper dive into virtual assessment methods, using more video, instant messaging, online questionnaires and web conferencing platforms to interact with candidates. These are the sorts of things being explored to continue police officer recruitment in the face of social-distancing adversity! Opportunities are abound for policing to take a quantum leap forward in how elements of initial training and assessment are conducted.
“We will need to adopt new thinking and assumptions, be continually inquisitive and committed to continual improvement.”
- The College of Policing
Virtual assessment centres are essentially online versions of traditional assessment centres, using technology to achieve what is needed without compromising process requirements. Virtual assessments have a range of tools, can generate automated reports and can reduce the costs of personal assessments without impeding regulation or accuracy of scores and results.
Virtual interviews, also known as digital or video interviews, can be used as a standard way of initially assessing the suitability of candidates. UK policing has dipped its toe into virtual assessment methods, now may be the appropriate time to immerse itself in order to become more effective, efficient and to facilitate recruitment at the scale required.
Far from killing the UK’s police recruitment uplift, COVID-19 clearly offers opportunities to learn. Individual, team and organisational learning generated will not just help overcome the Coronavirus pandemic, but other policing challenges which lie ahead.
All this means there is every reason for aspiring police officers to continue their preparation, particularly for those finding themselves with plenty of extra time on their hands! There has never been a better time for reading up on the role, competencies and the sorts of assessments faced to becoming a police officer. Regardless of these assessments being conducted digitally over the next few months, recruitment processes and assessments will likely resume in full before summer is out, so why not ‘hustle while you wait’?
I hope you found this blog helpful. If you are thinking of applying to join the police service, good luck and I wish you all the very best. For more guidance on joining the police service, get your copy of our digital ‘8 Step Guide to Joining the Police’.
Steve Cooper is a former Royal Marine, Detective Inspector, and is a qualified coach/mentor. With extensive police experience, Steve also established Rank Success to help officers achieve police promotion.