Direct Entry Detectives: Directing Experience to the Exit Door?

sisyphean task

Recent CCTV of a Met detective working on their caseload

The recent news that the Met is going to recruit directly into detective posts seems to divide opinion, even amongst the Fed, with the latter opposing at national level but supporting within the Met. So, an inspired bit of innovative lateral thinking or a slap in the face of hard working uniformed cops who aspire to detective status and work?

Well of course a big part of the problem is that most cops no longer aspire to detective roles - in contrast to the historical position when CID was perceived as genuinely elite. Even HMIC have recognised that huge workloads, a lack of support and visitations from professors of 20/20 hindsight intent on making any difficulty “somebody’s fault” have made the detective’s role deeply unattractive. To which you might add negative impacts on personal health and welfare and being unable to move on to other specialist roles because there are no replacements because there is a, er, lack of detectives….

That there is a problem is clear then. But will the underlying causes be fixed by direct recruitment? Is there any evidence that graduates with no policing experience who have lived in London for 3 of the last 6 years and who will earn less than a mid-service uniform constable, will be really keen on unreasonable caseloads and being hung out to dry by uncaring managers and employers? If not, then why should we expect them to be any happier than the present cadre of detectives? In fact, you might argue that the current crop is likely to be much more resilient in the first place, given the school of hard knocks experience they will have had on the streets.

And is a degree a guarantee of competence in a detective (or anything else for that matter)? Well it might be but it depends on the individual – I have worked with lots of very clever people who were hopeless in an operational situation and lots of so-called “non-intellectuals” who were brilliant with people and in really getting into the heart of stuff.

So does the proposed “solution” fit the problem or is it simplistic, albeit outwardly appealing with a nice bit of media? The detective shortage has been a big issue for a long time but until someone has the courage to address the underlying problems we won’t solve it. It won’t be solved by having just one sort of person parachuted in.

We need a good mix where detectives can benefit from each other’s skills and experiences. Some external recruitment could undoubtedly help; in some areas having people with non-traditional skills such as cyber, financial and fraud will have more impact than using front-line cops; but they may well be less good when it comes to investigating a murder in a closed community. It is not a “one size fits all” sort of job any more, if it ever was.

And can we please stop giving the impression that everything that is wrong in policing is down to the people currently in it? In the case of detectives, don’t imply current problems are in some way a weakness of those who are doing the job right now, most of whom are holding an impossible situation together at great personal cost.

Make the job attractive, rewarding, properly resourced and supported. Yes, open it to external people who bring value but also send some positive and encouraging messages to serving cops who want to bring forward their skills into a more testing environment. Who knows, they might just see that as genuine opportunity for advancement and personal development.

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