I feel very privileged to be asked to write for the American Society. Having attended a couple of conferences in the States, and visited numerous PD’s I feel at least a little confident to have enough knowledge to give a view. Although ‘snapshots’ are not always helpful, with the right lens they can be incredibly insightful. What I can offer is to draw on 30 years of service as a UK cop, and a lifetime of caring, understanding, and experiencing life as a professional uniformed serviceman.
To provide some context, I now work for the College of Policing in the UK, as the lead for Wellbeing. Wellness, as I know you refer to it, is top of the agenda in the UK in many aspects of working life, not just policing. I am, however, focussed on the policing aspects and all that good officer (and civilian police department staff) wellness can bring to a community. I say community because they are the ultimate beneficiaries of us getting this right. Tired, bored, disgruntled, low-paid, and demoralised cops are not going to offer much of themselves; that is simple. What is slightly more complex, and often contentious, is how we battle against these psychologies. My work at the College is focussed on just that area.
If I begin with the elephant in the room. I have been astounded by the length of hours the US patrol officers work. Wherever I go with this debate, I find myself returning to what appears to be an engrained culture of non-stop work. I must say that I have seen no boundaries (in the US), with seemingly open-ended acceptance of the status quo. Simply put, this cannot be good for you. If you try to search any scholarly database for academic literature that makes a claim for a 70hrs + a week working schedule, I think you may find zero return? So, that said, how do you replace the extra dollars all these hours give you? That is the dilemma! What I can say is that this approach is gradually creeping into the UK police psyche also. But, as you may be aware, extra employ is not the norm in the UK police service, so this is largely achieved within the respected force areas. It being brought about by the simple equation that increasing workload and decreasing officer numbers results in only one thing. There is more than likely a mathematical equation model for this, but that is not my field so I won’t prospect! The outcome, however, is that we have overstretched cops trying to deliver a service designed for a considerably bigger workforce.
Having set the scene, we must now move on to looking at what we do about all of this, where can we make inroads to make life better for our people? Of course, I am going to propose that much of this can be improved by having better wellness interventions. I have always summarised three critical aspects, those being good effective leadership, a focus on personal resilience; and finally ensuring, as much as possible, that the working environment is such that we can lead a meaningful and purposeful life. That is, after all what we came to do, as they say! Policing, is at the very least, a vocation. Many see it as a calling and I have written about this also. I will pop some references at the end of the piece if you wish to read more about any of these aspects in further depth. However, I should give you a little insight into my thinking on these three areas.
First of all is the age-old issue of leadership. A Google search will leave you no better off I feel, but let me say this: for me, leadership is knowing enough about the people you lead to be able to spot when things are not right, seeing when your people are struggling, and have the knowledge, skills and ability to intervene both quickly and effectively. Simply put, it is about knowing yourself and how other people see you, knowing your staff, the people who work for you, and knowing your stuff, being operationally competent. All the other leadership skills can fall out of these three principle areas. My friend Terry Anderson has a superb book out called Every Officer Is A Leader, which is a digest of all you need to know about leadership within the context of policing.
The second area is personal resilience, which can be learned. The seminal work on this is by Southwick and Charnley, who developed a Resilience Prescription. Well worth a read if you get chance. This talks about Thinking Errors and concepts such as Bouncebackability, which suggests that we can consume trauma and hurt if we have enough in the tank. But be careful, everyone has a limit and I refer back to my leadership assertions that it is about others helping you along the way and spotting when you may be struggling.
My final area is that of creating the right working environment. Here I am talking about a multitude of things, from systems thinking to working relationships and engagement. To put simply I am suggesting we create a working environment in which officers can lead a meaningful and purposeful life. In essence this is why we all joined the police department isn’t it? If you take, for example the Engage for Success report, or Thriving at Work recently released in the UK, these points are well made out.
I will finish up by inviting you along to an IACP session on Psychological Risk Management I am doing in February 2019 in San Antonio, TX where I will speak about the journey of our UK Wellness program, which we call Oscar Kilo (OK). I will attempt, along with my colleague Andy Rhodes, the Chief with the unenviable task of landing all of this in the UK, about our journey from conception, gestation, and birth of the UK police Wellbeing Service. I will of course be tweeting about this, so you can follow that also if you wish.
I hope you have found this short blog interesting, and if you wish to read any of my work in more detail please find some references below. I will sign off by saying enjoy your time, in whatever capacity it may be, involved with this great occupation of policing and be careful out there!
Dr Ian Hesketh
FCMI (CMgr), FRSA, MSET (QTLS)
College of Policing
+44 (0) 7889 704370