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Policing by the book

Entry to the UK police force is changing. With Policing degrees are now available at over 20 universities and colleges across the UK – and the introduction of the direct entry scheme in a number of forces – fewer police officers are taking the traditional route into the force.

We spoke to officers, students, and course leaders to get their opinions on the relationship between theory and practice. Does a Policing degree make you a better officer?

On a personal level, a degree can help some students put their own career and practical training into context. Richard Honess had a “positive experience” in completing his Bachelor’s degree in Policing. “I now have a greater understanding of why we do what we do and the context of where our powers and policies originate; and why senior officers make the decisions they do. I have been able to merge my love of the job with my interest in science and scepticism with the development of ‘Evidence Based Policing’.”

“I have been bitten by the academic bug and I about to commence a Masters by Research in Policing, the ultimate in career development with a view to becoming a research ‘pracademic’!”

Experienced officers can also learn a thing or two. Darren Townsend operated as a Constable with 22 years’ service before deciding to take his degree. “The course opened my eyes completely around how policing worldwide operates, decision making processes especially in the wake of political interference, miscarriages of justice, [and] theory behind certain techniques of crime control.”

“In addition to all the operational aspects it has provided me with some fascinating ahandbook fro cademic reading which has generated an even greater interest in my chosen career which I believe will lead me to a greater professional performance and be far more open to opposing ideas, embrace positive change, and understand the difference academia and research can make to my already wide expanse of operational policing knowledge.”

However, some question whether academic study is really the best way to achieve the necessary skills. One contributor, who asked to remain anonymous, challenged the application of degrees in the field. “I personally do not possess a degree of any sort. My qualifications both within the police and previously in electrical engineering are more vocational. I have yet to see the benefit of policing degrees within policing and will be interested to see if, over time, they do improve policing. At lower levels of policing (up to inspector) I cannot foresee their worth: it is about communication and common sense at the front line.”

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Police line, by Ray Forster. CC-BY-SA-NoDerivs 2.0, via Flickr.

Paul Connor is series editor of the Blackstone’s Police Manuals and is a Police Training Consultant offering support for those sitting promotion exams. “Possession of a degree in any subject illustrates an ability to apply oneself and to learn but this does not equate an automatic right to pass every examination that follows in your life. This certainly applies to the OSPRE® Part I examination.”

“College of Policing research indicates that there is a correlation between the possession of a degree and success in OSPRE® Part I but a significant number of candidates without a degree pass the examination just as a significant number with a degree fail.”

The relationship between university research and its application in the field has also been put under scrutiny. Emma Williams is the Programme Director of the BSC Policing (In Service) degree at Canterbury Christ Church University. “Conversations about collaboration between universities and policing have never been so rife. Austerity and the need for resources to be used effectively have resulted in the College of Policing supporting the evidence based policing agenda and the commissioning of research by universities. Having spent eleven years in the Metropolitan Police as a senior researcher I am fully aware of some of the barriers that prevent research findings being fully implemented.”

“Officers can sense a loss of professional judgement when research further drives operational delivery and it can be seen as prescriptive and top down. Our degree programme fully encourages officers to use research and academic knowledge to assist them in their own decisions but to use it alongside their own experiential knowledge. Having knowledge of both the political and social context in which policing has developed and an understanding of theory and how it can assist them in their roles is in my opinion critical for this relationship to develop.”

The variance between theory and practice also raises questions about the structure of the degrees themselves. Susie Atherton previously worked on a police and PCSO training programme at De Montfort University. “It was very clear which were the ‘academic’ modules vs the ‘police training’. I do think there could have been better integration. We had to adapt and respond to their needs to make sure the academic modules did fit with their role, but this weakened their credibility as academic social science modules.”

“The new BA programmes promise employability through combining a three year policing studies degree with the Certificate in Knowledge of Policing. My worry is students who want to be police officers could leave after gaining the CKP, as undertaking this alongside 4 academic modules will be onerous and challenging. Students will perhaps question why they need to gain a full degree to get a job as a police officer, incurring 2 more years of fees, unless they wish to take advantage of direct entry. I am also aware of how valuable life experience, working in schools, military service and other roles are to the police service – transferable skills and knowledge about the world which cannot be gained doing a degree.”

“Fundamentally, if such programmes are to work, like any programme, they need proper investment, leadership and to respond to student feedback. Any weakness in these areas would jeopardise the continuation of programmes, but I do think policing programmes are vulnerable, simply because there are other options available”

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