Home Case Studies Public & Government Sector Hero to Host: Developing Police Leadership in the 21st Century

Hero to Host: Developing Police Leadership in the 21st Century

13 min read

Authority and service on the beat

A host is clearly an authority figure – but one whose authority comes from personal connection and invitation, engagement, attention to detail, and being seen to be making the running. Hosts are both proactive and reactive – good planning is essential, but no plan survives ‘first contact with the enemy’ (or indeed the guests, who may be late, spill things, squabble with each other or turn out not to eat broccoli). In the same way police officers need to be both proactive and reactive – good policing involves the application of community knowledge and intelligence to events, which can be better resolved when those dealing with them are in sympathy with and understand the context. To put it more prosaically, police officers are rarely punched on the nose by youths that they know, if the youths knows that they know them.

Similarly wandering around at random, hoping to bump into something (and then reacting to it) is wasteful policing. It’s much better to go to places where there is known to be a problem. As we used to say, “Always drop into the local barbers – they know everything”. The issue is one of asymmetric knowledge: the community as a whole know everything worth knowing about crime and disorder, while the police start off knowing nothing. In order to use community knowledge to good effect, the police have to find ways of engaging the community – in particular those really in the know. That requires a lot of sophistication, patience and empathy.

Senior operational ranks

Superintendent and Chief Superintendents rarely deal directly with operational issues. Rather, they are oversee/lead those who are. A key focus for these roles is to oversee strategy, standards and day-to-day operational policy, and to lead improvement processes senior leaders set the tone for the units they oversee. A shift, say, towards or away from neighbourhood policing requires not just the commands “ do it” or “stop doing it” but a commitment to delivering change by getting buy-in and engagement with those who are going to deliver the new model.

Senior commanders also need to advocate for the police to senior public officials and local business contacts, while at the same time both appreciating those other organisations’ issues and refining police practice to reflect local concerns. One might say they are working ’on’ the police service more than ‘in it’.

Host leadership at these levels will include:

  • Using ‘soft power’ to draw people into engagement with new policies and initiative
  • Taking care that the spaces where work is done – physical and interactional – support the
behaviours and desired interactions
  • Gatekeeping – welcoming newcomers, seeing that boundaries of all kinds are maintained 
and enforcing (by example and in others) standards of behaviour and probity
  • Connecting – within the force and outside it, to build links and contacts for long term benefit
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