Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced that he intends to recruit 20,000 new police officers over the next few years, with the recruitment drive to start in mid-September.
Johnson first made the pledge during his leadership campaign and confirmed the plan in his first speech as PM on Friday (26 July).
The police force has faced severe funding cuts in recent years, with forces in England and Wales losing more than 20,000 officers between September 2009 and September 2017. The National Police Chiefs' Council said a "substantial" growth in officer numbers would help cut crime, improve outcomes for victims and increase diversity in the workforce.
However, while the College of Policing welcomed the recruitment pledge as a "huge opportunity", it warned that some forces are concerned about a lack of training instructors and police stations to support such a rapid expansion.
Mark Cunningham, the college's chief executive, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There are a wide variety of logistical challenges that come with the recruitment process." He said that while the plans could be a "huge opportunity", the new prime minister should consider "the assessment process, the attraction, recruitment campaigns, the vetting".
Also in the announcement was a requirement for all police force applicants to hold an undergraduate degree or to study for one on the job.
Fiona Deal, executive director of people and technology at Network Homes and former personnel operations manager at Kent Police, said that while this recruitment drive is sorely needed, this entry requirement is unnecessary and risks hindering social mobility.
“[This is] so needed and necessary. I just hope that it is a genuine increase, directed to where it is truly required, and not one that ends up being about headlines and recruitment. We need 20,000 more police not a recruiting target,” she told HR magazine.
She added: “Anything that increases police numbers can only be a good thing. [But] personally I think the requirement to have a degree or to study for one is ridiculous. From my experience of working with [the police] I’d say the most critical skill is the ability to communicate – it’s about being street-smart not necessarily academic.”
Requiring applicants to hold a degree risks excluding a large number of potentially very talented officers and leaders, Deal added: “Perhaps if you want to progress through the ranks into leadership positions a degree may help. But I don’t have a degree and it has never held me back. I’d say it’s enabled me to identify with staff in more junior positions throughout my career; as I remember what it was like to start right at the bottom, to do the filing and photocopying, and to make everyone’s tea.
“So I welcome the commitment from Boris, perhaps share the concerns over logistics for recruitment and training, and think the requirement for a degree – not Boris’ doing as I understand it – is unnecessary.”
Martin Tiplady, CEO of Chameleon People Solutions and former HR director of the Metropolitan Police, echoed these concerns. He added that the main requirement should be that police officers represent the communities they serve.
“It’s important to be thorough in the recruitment process, but I do not believe that having a degree will mean that you will be the brightest or the best candidate. The training to become a police officer is already thorough so it’s hard to see how a degree can add to this,” he told HR magazine.
“What I am concerned about is that we have police officers who are able to represent the communities in which they work. Does this mean that a white police officer could not understand the issues of working in a BAME community? Not at all, but it’s about building trust with those communities. In London 12% of the police force are BAME. That might not seem like a lot but when I started that number stood at just under 2%. We’ve made considerable progress, but we need to do more to keep increasing those numbers.
“I hope this is a genuine effort by the government," he added. "It can’t happen without enough investment, and it’s no good bringing in more police officers only to churn them out again. It’s no good saying that you’d like to have more police officers or a more diverse workforce – there has to be action.”
New home secretary Priti Patel, who is leading the initiative, said the rise in serious violence is "deeply worrying" and recruiting additional officers "sends a clear message that we are committed to giving police the resources they need". "This is the start of a new relationship between the government and the police working even more closely together to protect the public," she added.