Swimming against the tide: How to change police culture - RSA

Swimming against the tide: How to change police culture

Press release

  • Social brain
  • Criminal justice
  • Public services

Police should be given more time every week to explicitly reflect on their decisions, habits and attention to mitigate institutionalised problems within the force, according to a report published by the RSA.

Reflexive Coppers: Adaptive Challenges in Policing concludes that years of 'target culture', combined with strict adherence to protocol, rank structure, and risk aversion encourages 'group think' and has a detrimental effect on the relationship between the police and the public.

View the Reflexive Coppers: Adaptive Challenges in Policing report 

The report concludes that in order to improve community relations it would be helpful if police had a good understanding of the ways in which their minds work, and how they impact on what they do.

It recommends that there should be more institutional support for changing police culture – including integrating a package into police training regarding self-development, improving professional performance and taking more control over one's thinking and behaviour.

Commenting on the report, author Dr Jonathan Rowson said:

"The quality of police interactions with each other, with the public, with criminals, and with 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."

Reflexive Coppers found that varied pressure on police often requires them to shift between roles, adapting their behaviour accordingly, and dealing with difficult choices quickly, always under pressure to get it right.

For example, in a public disorder situation, officers have to enact the 'militaristic function', using necessary and proportionate force and rapidly coming under criticism if they go too far or not far enough. The same officers may later find themselves having to rapidly switch roles - delivering devastating news to a bereaved family, or providing first line support to a rape victim.

Yet 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.

The report, introduced by Professor Betsy Sanko of the Metropolitan Police, also found that it is almost impossible for junior officers to swim against the tide, or take more unconventional approaches to challenges within their work. It concludes that introducing a self-reflective culture would improve communication, increase efficiency, and possibly even change the course of specific cases police are working on for the better.

View the Reflexive Coppers: Adaptive Challenges in Policing report

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