When I first became interested in policing, I became simultaneously interested in the thorny topic of police representation. I was instantly confused by the multiplicity of bodies that purported to act as representative of police officers, a sharp contrast with the much simpler structures of prison service and other emergency service unions. A recent online discussion and a visit to this week’s Police Federation Conference in Bournemouth reminded me of my initial confusion and caused me to reflect on the current situation and future possibilities.
Firstly we have the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA) which represents the interests of the most senior officers. Its role is defined as “existing to safeguard the individual and collective interests of chief police officers and senior police staff equivalents, including the consideration of matters relating to their conditions of service and the promotion of their welfare”.
Unless you are a police officer, you are rather more likely to have heard of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which is a professional body not a staff association and is currently led by the supremely political Sir Hugh Orde.
Next comes the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales (PSAEW or “Supers”), representing the interests of Police Superintendents and Chief Superintendents, currently led by the outstanding and outspoken Irene Curtis.
And last but by no means least, there is the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), currently led by the brave but beleaguered Steve Williams. It is important to note that PFEW is not a union but an internal representative body, a bitter history which dates back to 1919. PFEW represents the interests of Police Constables, Sergeants, Inspectors and Chief Inspectors but is in turn divided into the three sometimes competing strands, one each for Constables, Sergeants and Inspectors.
This Byzantine structure is further complicated by the existence of 43 different police forces and by both regional and national representation. This fractured power base is undoubtedly one of the factors which has prevented the police from presenting a united front in the face of the current police reform agenda.
Members of CPOSA/ACPO understandably have their eyes on the prizes of heading up forces and, for a few, of future titles and seats in the House of Lords. It is their role to interpret and implement Government policy and they also have the challenge of managing the delicate balance of power which rests between them and the recently elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC). All of this will discourage them from openly rocking any political boats.
Meanwhile, the Police Federation has the task of defending the Office of Constable in the face of the governmental onslaught which led directly to the ballot on the question of whether to seek industrial rights. However, the Federation’s challenge is complicated by the tension that exists between the three different strands representing the different ranks. Constables are by far the most numerous and contribute the lion’s share of the subs but sheer numbers should never be the deciding factor in a political maelstrom. From an onlooker’s perspective, this triple structure, with its attendant contradictions and conflicts, looks like a fatal flaw.
And between the two sits the Superintendents’ Association, looking up to ACPO, threatened by the prospect of direct entry and needled from below by the Federation.
The internal power struggles within and between these bodies is almost certainly partly responsible for the easy success that the government has had in pushing through the most dramatic of its recent reforms.
I have recently been contemplating the possible impact of both modern management techniques and direct entry on the hierarchical structure of the police and it seems impossible to me that the existing rank structure has any long-term future. Flatter management has been a reality in most of the public sector for some 20 years and it is inevitable that the police will eventually fall into step. I understand that such a move was proposed by the Sheehy Report in 1993 but was never properly implemented. I predict that the ranks of both Chief Inspector and Chief Superintendent will be dispensed with in the fairly near future and would suggest that the rank of Assistant Chief Constable is also open to review. Indeed some forces have already embarked upon parts of this process. I say this in full knowledge of the fact that Chief Inspector carries with it no more authorities than the rank of Inspector and Superintendent/Chief Superintendent is little different.
This will leave three interesting sets of questions:
What will be the role of ACPO in a world where its funding is being cut and the power and public face of individual police forces is increasingly viewed through the lens of the PCC? Will it be reinvigorated in defence of its own position or will it wither in the face of implacable political opposition? And how will CPOSA represent the interests of its members given these potential changes?
Is there a real future for the Federation’s three-rank structure? Would efforts be better placed looking outward rather than inward? Where exactly does the greatest threat lie? And what changes will ensue as an outcome of the forthcoming review and the concurrent battle for power and influence? Should the Federation continue to represent all ranks below the rank of superintendent or would it be better for the Constables to be set free to fight their own cause?
And finally, what will be the future role of a diminished PSAEW? Where will it sit in a world where the power struggle such as it might be takes place between a reinforced Federation and a reinvigorated ACPO? Is it sufficient to continue bridging the gap or would it be better to take sides? To become a junior partner in the ACPO ranks? To become a powerful voice and leader for the Federated ranks (with or without the Constables), taking the bull by the horns and speaking out fearlessly on behalf of all those who feel that their careers and futures are being diminished by the Government’s relentless onslaught?
I am no police officer. I am a member of the public with an interest only in the security of my community but this security relies on the existence of a resilient, flexible and responsive police force which represents itself in a mature, strong and professional manner. I have no answers. All I can do is ask the question: what is the future for police representation?
With thanks to @OLAdams for providing the stimulus for this post, to @BriW74 for pointing me in the direction of the Sheehy Report, to Cate_A_Moore for her observations on the Constables and to @PW0559 and others for correcting my misunderstanding of the roles of ACPO and CPOSA (for whom I cannot find a weblink – all offers gratefully received).
Useful links and twitter feeds:
http://www.polfed.org/aboutus/185.aspx @PoliceFedICC @PFEWSergeants @TheConstables
Unusually I have taken the decision to allow comments on this post. These comments will be unmoderated and I am not liable for the content of any comments made on this post.