Nemo Potus Duobus Dominis Servire:
This question is as pertinent now, as it was when this essay was originally written in June 2012: 
What is right and wrong in Police leadership?
What is amazing is that, despite the Olympics/G4S scandal, so little has truly changed. 

The relationship between police officers, (those continually described as the rank and file or more recently, those perceived as ‘blue collar’) and those at the top of the service cannot be described, by any means, as pulchritrudinous.

Nor can all be described as rosy in the garden, when it comes to public perception, in large thanks to the ongoing Leveson inquiry, which has highlighted the links between gifts and hospitality and influence exerted upon (and bowed to), by senior officers.

However, In recent days there has been much excitement about ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) beginning to ‘make noise’ in the police reform debate, following the announcement of Tom Winsor, as the favoured candidate, for the role as head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

A joint letter, to the Home Secretary Theresa May featured the following last paragraph:

“At this moment in time the make-up of the Police Professional Body remains undetermined, while the Home Office has committed no further funding to ACPO beyond December of this year. We therefore invite you now to set out your position in more detail about the future roles of these bodies alongside that of HMIC and to clarify how the Home Office will seek professional advice on policing in future.”

For some, this has taken on the mythical light of a knight, on a white horse, arriving just in the nick of time.

This follows months of officers and the Federation pleading with ACPO not to remain silent, to speak out against privatisation, against reforms that make officers 10% more expensive at night, that introduce compulsory redundancy for the first time and, are likely to be used to reduce the workforce. To voice concern that during 20% austerity measures; the political interference that will inevitably come, as marginal candidates are elected as Police and Crime Commissioners – due to lack of public interest – will cause further damage: That agenda will influence policing.

As an interesting side note, Commissioner Hogan-Howe was heavily quoted on PCCs at the ACPO conference, only weeks ago, telling attendees that it was time to SUMO. No, not wrestle with the issue, but; shut up, move on.

This silence or SUMO approach to massively impactive issues and, the huge level of frustration that this has led to, is indicative of further significant issue at the top level of police management.

This concern is bolstered by the documented issues raised by Julian Smith MP over consultancy payments between ACPO members. It leads to questions of motivation.

It is quite apparent reading the joint Federation/Association letter that it has little to do with stepping forward, to lead officers in a time of crisis but: is a step towards self protectionism, self preservation. It does not say; stop what is happening, it is wrong. Continuance on this path will have x, y and z consequences.

However it has been billed, or is initially seen, this is not chief officers standing up for officers; united against any of the issues raised. 

This is chief officers saying, so what do we get out of this?

Due to the late foray, it would not be unreasonable to start to think, that the anger arises from some form of broken promise or deal; i.e. we agreed to this, this and this and you promised ‘this’ would happen; so what on earth is ‘that’ all about.

The letter was followed by another much trumpeted New Statesman article featuring former leader of ‘The Met’, Sir Ian Blair, in which he concluded by saying:

“The British police do not have the qualities of a celestial constabulary, but something precious in the genetics of the nation is being lost under this government, perhaps irretrievably. In policing, we are about to regress to the mean. It is particularly ironic that Peel’s own party is involved in driving the partial destruction of his greatest legacy.”

In the article he talked broadly about the issues that officers have raised (for the first time openly, via Twitter) and, again: this almost was received as the stuff of legend, the battle weary general rising, to lead his ailing armies at the last second.

There is however an effective way to demonstrate the problem in leadership of the police, or begin to, by looking at this article and then contrasting it with an earlier one; before the Winsor HMIC announcement.

In March of this year, the very same year; the same former leader wrote a very different article in the Guardian, which included these two statements:

“Once the straitjacket of officer numbers is removed, police forces can modernise their budgets in the way any other institution would do, namely by reducing unit costs.”


“at long last, the opportunities for the modernisation of policing within a public sector ethos are suddenly apparent. It is not a shock, horror idea.”

This can be backed up by this years long list of ACP​O officers coming out in advocation of privatisation; Peter Fahy was featuredin an article as follows:

“Senior police officers have strongly defended the radical extension of the role of private companies in policing, saying they should be involved in protecting the public and bringing offenders to justice. The comments from the Association of Chief Police Officers follow the disclosure by the Guardian that the West Midlands and Surrey police authorities have invited private security companies to bid for a wide range of services, including criminal investigations, patrolling neighbourhoods and detaining suspects. Greater Manchester chief constable Peter Fahy, Acpo’s spokesman on workforce development, said that only “radical and fundamental” change would allow forces to cope with the “enormous challenge of the financial cuts” and maintain the protection of the public.”

To construe this as otherwise than a warning that all is not well, that the ‘broken promise’ alarm is going off, would be perilously foolish. 

Leopards do not change their spots, this is true and, also true is that they don’t half get a temper, when you take away the carcass they are gnawing on.

It is not just officers that see this, or are concerned; again in theGuardian, John Harris wrote:

“I am not accusing Blair – nor, indeed, the equally supportive Association of Chief Police Officers – of being zealous privateers; the point is, they are inserted into a tangle of institutions so relentlessly pushed towards what people like me call neo-liberalism that they almost unthinkingly do its work.”

In none of these public displays has any Chief Officer said no to any of the things concerning their officers; so, in other words, if ACPO haven’t been involved in the ‘this and that, broken promise’ scenario, then are they simply unwitting as to what is happening? The latter is inconceivable due to the amount of noise being made.

Either case is a failure of leadership, but does show some management skill; both of which are distinctly different.

Tweets on the topic of police leadership included replies as follows:

“self-interest. Lack of people skills. Policy not people focused. Detached from reality. Little frontline experience. Short.”

This largely reflects a perception of management being in place, rather than leadership.

“there are many good leaders in policing. If we focus on the positive- highlight & emphasise what it is that makes them stand out. those who have moral courage to do the right things, put public interest above self. Take others with them. lead with integrity, genuinely look for practical innovation, prepared to make difficult decisions even at own personal cost.”

Take a close look at the wording of this; it is doubtlessly well intentioned but, is almost a lift from a book of core management ‘competencies’. It is a visible symptom of management usurping leadership and, the all important distinction being lost.

“some CC’s are prepared to resign their (very lucrative) posts for what they believe, others just bow before mp masters”

This refers to the resignation of Gloucestershire Chief Tony Melville over a number of issues relating to funding precepts and nods to the wider perception that ACPO is ‘in the pockets of politics’. Again see Leveson to begin to grasp the interlocking web of politicians, police managers and the media.

“what we have is managers, not leaders and selfish too”

And again here; the crucial distinction is shown and, worse still, the mention of self interest, self protection remains omnipresent. Holding up the point regarding ACPOs timing in the letter.

These are common themes that run across most open discussions and, most internal discussions. In fact, they are mirrored in many discussions about leadership, no matter what the sector or industry.

There was a good, open, illustration of the dysfunctional relationship between police officers and leaders some weeks ago, in open forum. A question was asked, legitimately about knowledge of operational cost savings and headed ‘with respect’ yet, the reply was not an answer to the question; it was “and what do you sound like without respect?”.

Leaders speak to those under them to keep a handle on reality. Managers talk to each other and enforce their reality downwards.

The above was a clear management response.

Throughout history; Leaders have known that when people stop bringing their problems to them, it is only because they have lost confidence in them or, it is clear that the leaders do not care. Either case is a failure of the leadership. Strangely in management, this is not the case.

Taking into account the highly fractious and damaging silence or SUMO relationship that exists it is clear that a huge leadership failure is taking place and ultimately, the buck for what happens to the police service stops there.

It is also obvious that there is a leadership void in the police but, this not to be confused with a management void; of the last there is very much.

It is important to define the difference as simply as possible; which is no easy task, yet can be broken down to some key elements:

Management can be taught; leadership cannot.
Management is the use of acquired skills to engineer a response; leadership is an inherent ability to command a response.
Management is about checks, measures, carrots, and sticks to control staff. Leadership means that people will do as asked because it is you asking, for the right reasons.

A good point is this; you may not be a manager now but, you could learn the skills, to qualify you to do it. 

Conversely, you are either a leader or, you are not.

Of particular relevance in the policing environment you could say:
A manager will react to external pressures and adapt their focus and direction to them, with hopes of circumventing the issue successfully. A leader would head straight for the heart of the problem.

Leadership cannot be measured in a chart, although many try. The rules of “achieves x statistics” or “completes actions to standard z” do not apply.

These types of measures have proven themselves in manufacture, just look at Continuous Improvement; the success of ‘Lean’ at Toyota (now being talked about by a PCC candidate and the current Home Office model) or Six Sigma at Motorola.

Try to implement this in policing however and the chaos begins; the all important leadership/management distinction manifests more clearly.

The examples are countless but take crime figures; where the application of these ‘management processes’ has led the police away from fighting crime and into the territory of crime management. An endless manipulation of crime types, recording standards, detection types, arrest targets.

Management looks to the ‘process inputs’ and constantly amends policy, shift patterns, squads, resources, budgets; all to push a change in the ‘output’. Because this continues, the tweaking and endless management has left the police in chaos, has cost money and; dented public perception.

Look to the riots reports, which show just how few officers were on duty on a Saturday night for the evidence of ‘Lean’ tweaking. 

Even Harvard Business Review now cautions the use of these methods in environments requiring flexibility and innovation. While also noting that the companies using these methods rigidly, are suffering major losses due to the lack of new solutions arising from over-management.

Additionally in policing there is the buzz word phenomenon; which causes a phrase or word to be seized upon and employed with relentless ignorance of the wider implications. 

Quickly it becomes part of a promotion assessment mechanism and subsequently change is made at all levels by those hungry to advance:
They have to show x even if they don’t understand y and z. 

As a result the cycle has (and will) perpetuate; ad infinitum.

Misapplication of this technique is also of ongoing concern because of the, now open, recycling of the 1993 concept of police “only fighting crime”. 

The worry arises from the second option of deploying these techniques; where rather than endlessly interfere with ‘process inputs’ to show improvement, the output is doctored directly. Both are equally dangerous in terms of policing.

Equally, both place demands for management rather than leadership; the end result in either case will be the detriment of policing, ultimately for the public.

A good leader would have recognised these problems long since and, importantly, said it out loud. 

They would have said, irrespective of the personal impact:
“this is not a production line and officers and the public are not units or inputs, to be toyed with. If there is a crime problem, then we have a crime problem. Instead of managing it I want everyone on the street until it stops”.

Officers themselves want this leadership and, contrary to often sold spin, it is the ongoing management and linked management practices which cause concern, cynicism, apathy and despair.

The public also see this, it is clear in any conversations had; they also want the officers on the street and not managing crime figures. They, too are crying out for leaders not managers.

But, what if a leader fails?

In the case of a manager, they would fight; the most open example of this behaviour has been displayed, for years, in Lord Sugar’s boardroom.

A leader however will admit fault and step aside. That is part of the immeasurable character quality of a leader.

In the main, the theme running across the police service is that it can be managed but, that management is no longer working; because it has lost sight of the purpose. 

All management does now is try to circumvent the ongoing situation, while trying to adapt to its own failures and; to save itself, in some form.

What the police needs, the officers need and the public needs; is for the service to be led. 

The old, Latin motto at the title of this article means:

“Noone can serve two masters.”

This is true and a lesson to be applied; forthwith and with passion. 

Leaders cannot serve two masters, but managers can and do; external pressures and themselves.

The final adage is that leaders should appear, when they are needed and stay as long as they are needed.

The police is in crisis and for now; maybe for the long term, it needs leadership, not management.

There are leaders, capable of dealing with this moment; prepared to serve only one master. The oath. And, they are prepared to hand the reins back again; when the crisis is over.

The current managers need to heed this and, for the good of the police and, the public they serve, stand aside.

If they do; they would show the beginnings of their potential, to become leaders in the future.