The Professionalisation of Policing - Part 3 of 3

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

College of Policing

In his 2017 paper, Justice Michael Tulloch indicated “Serious consideration should be given to establishing a College of Policing in Ontario as the professional body for policing.” (Tulloch, 2017)

Neither Justice Tulloch nor I are referring to a learning establishment like the Ontario Police College or another similar learning centre. Instead, we refer to a governing body of professionals who would guide policy, establish minimum training standards (significantly greater than current), administer annual exams, handle fees and dues, oversee professional and specialist designations, and supply oversight and regulation to the membership.

Becoming a member of the College of Policing would entitle the member to use of the professional designation of “police officer” or whichever title was ultimately chosen. The designation would follow that individual for as long as they were a member in good standing of the college, not for as long as a service employed them. This would mark a fundamental shift in current police practice and would enhance accessibility and opportunities for all officers and those that want to become officers.

Police Oversight

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There have been many calls for changes to police oversight. Some regions have a variety of bodies and agencies that keep watch over police actions; some have very little. The one major problem though is the make-up of most of these groups. Often, they are staffed by former officers, the family of officers, and government appointees. They may not be indicative of the communities that the officers serve. Properly created, the governing body itself would be made up of atypical members who had indicated a desire to be involved in the governing practice and who had passed a series of courses designed to assist them in governing police instead of “privileged” appointees. 

Training, discipline, commendations and any other records would become a permanent part of that individual’s portfolio. Those records would not be “expunged” the moment an individual left their current service but would follow them, just like it does with the College of Physicians, Lawyers, Nurses and other regulated professional bodies.

In his lecture, Heroes and Heartaches: Evidence-Based Policing of Rogue Cops, Professor Lawrence Sherman explored ways to reduce the impact of rogue officers and the harm they can do to policing legitimacy. He suggests the establishment of national oversight bodies and the creation of a registry of “struck-off officers” to prevent officers from moving from location to location. This would also create opportunities for evidence-based, data analysis of officers and would lead to better hiring practices through predictive risk analysis. (Sherman, 2020)

The College of Policing would not serve as a replacement for current oversight; rather, it would be seen as an enhancement and the body under which all other forms of oversight would be governed and held accountable. From the officers themselves to senior police command, civilian police service boards, police associations and offices of police complaint investigation. Strict rules, legislated training, methods of transparent governance, mandated meaningful annual reports and record-keeping would be required for all aspects of police activity and investigation, just like with medical practice and lawyers.

A College of Policing benefits communities and officers in other ways as well. 

Training

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In much the same way that other professions go to school to learn their trade, police would be required to do the same and attain a degree in “policing” at an accredited university. In the same tradition, they would be required to cover the cost (governments would be able to offer incentives, scholarships and grants to ensure accessibility to all). Because schooling would now fall solidly into the realm of post-secondary the time to become a designated professional police officer would increase from weeks to years. Courses could include as they do now, the law, arrest, use of force, and other standard courses, but they would have the time to go much deeper into the material. There would however be significant enhancements in training on mental health response, sociology, psychology, de-escalation, unarmed confrontation mitigation, understanding case law, legal research, technology, and other essential learning.

The Wickersham Report on Police in 1931 recognised the need for proper training of police (Monroe & Garrett, 1931). As a vocation, policing has come a long way from those early days. Many studies have been conducted, and certain benefits have emerged when considering higher education for police including:

· a greater base of information for decision making, increased maturity and experience,

· knowledge of history and foundational principles help inform decisions,

· increased creativity,

· higher tolerance for different ideologies, lifestyles and backgrounds and,

· Improved community relationships among many other benefits (Carter & Sapp, 1990).

Research has also shown that higher educated officers use force less (Rydeberg & Terrill, 2010).

Upon graduation from their accredited school of choice, provided they meet criteria, they would be entitled to write a “bar exam” allowing them to practice as a professional police officer. This would be a designation that they would have to keep up to date with current training (at host agencies and schools) and repeated exams throughout their career.

I would also suggest that there be mandatory baseline mental health assessments before hiring and frequent mental health checkups throughout their career.

Updating or Specialising

Officers would be responsible for their own upgrading and progression through ranks or specialising in different units. Qualifying as a detective would enable them to apply as a detective anywhere one was needed. Competition in the marketplace isn’t a bad thing. It produces better “products” and in this case, better qualified and more invested officers. The same would be true for those who wanted to progress through the ranks. Each increase in rank would require formal education. From human resources to finance. The higher a member progresses, the greater the required education. Again, a qualified member would be able to apply for an open rank/promotion anywhere because the training would be standard and recognised.

There are many more benefits to both the community and the officers themselves. Situations like direct hiring into special sections due to relevant training (like computer skills, coding or forensics) can become a reality.

Conclusion

There is much that would need to be worked out between communities and the government to enable changes like these to take effect. Obviously, these changes can’t happen overnight, but I could see the first graduates of the new policing programs celebrating commencement in less than five years. The new College of Policing could begin operations in less than a year, and an immediate, significant increase in mental health programming through the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team programs and hubs would go a long way to meeting some of the current demands. As previously mentioned, these are the programs the public want and that have shown great promise in reducing risk.


Technology also has a place. Use of programs like the Mental Health Screener developed by HealthIM for use by front-line police and MCRRT teams should become mandatory. We need to take advantage of the commitment of organisations like Axon by CEO Rick Smith to use their resources to come up with technical solutions to help facilitate meaningful change. (Smith, 2020)

As a society, we are at a crossroads. We either regress in our thinking and consign police to exist in the framework originally envisioned almost two centuries ago and expect nothing more than preventing and detecting crime.[2] Within the context of 200 years ago, the framers intent would have been patrols to catch people doing wrong and to provide a visible deterrent.These are precisely the police activities that are under review, and clearly, not the answer society is seeking. Reverting to this model would also leave considerable gaps in response to people in crisis from the defunding of mental health in the early 90s and defunding of many social service programs. The enhancement of policing through creation of a College of Policing and the application of education and regulation is one of the most viable options for improving community safety and seeing policing become a true profession.

[2] I will leave the discussion about the effectiveness of police at preventing and detecting crime for another day. In today’s context it is safe to say that crime prevention and detection is not the sole responsibility of police and relies heavily on the active participation of society, whether that means redesigning spaces to follow Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles or Crime Prevention Through Social Development, hubs and other community ventures.


Please find Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.


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Works Cited in this Series

Carter, D. L. & Sapp, A. D., 1990. The Evolution of Higher Education in Law Enforcement: Preliminary Findings from a National Study. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 1(1), pp. 59-85.

Gibson, V., 2020. iPolitics. [Online] Available at: https://ipolitics.ca/2020/06/11/ford-acknowledges-systemic-racism-in-police-argues-driving-efficiencies-different-from-cuts-to-police-budgets/ [Accessed 22 06 2020].

Monroe, D. G. & Garrett, E. W., 1931. Wickersham Report on Police. The American Journal of Police Science, 2(4), pp. 337-342.

Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, 2011. Ministry of Colleges and Universities. [Online] Available at: http://tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/eopg/publications/OALCF_GPD_Apprenticeship_Oct_11.pdf [Accessed 22 06 2020].

Peel, S. R., 1829. A Bill Intituled - An Act for improving the Police in and near the Metropolis. London: s.n.

Ross, N., 2019. Society for Evidence Based Polcing Winter Conference 2019. London, England, Society for Evidence Based Policing.

Rydeberg, J. & Terrill, W., 2010. The Effect of Higher Education on Police Behaviour. Police Quarterly, 13(1), pp. 92-120.

Sherman, L., 2020. Heroes and Heartaches: Evidence-Based Policing of Rogue Cops. London, Society of Evidence Based Policing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO1HuXsccGQ.

Slaughter, G., 2020. CTV News. [Online] Available at: https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/lucki-acknowledges-systemic-racism-in-rcmp-1.4982165 [Accessed 22 06 2020].

Smith, R., 2020. LinkedIn. [Online] Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6673630949739110401/ [Accessed 22 06 2020].

Tulloch, J. M., 2017. Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review, s.l.: Queens Printer for Ontario.

Ward, R., 2020. CBC News. [Online] Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-police-chiefs-systemic-racism-1.5610353 [Accessed 22 06 2020].

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