Sir, The Police, and the Met in particular, have been subjected to a huge amount of negative criticism recently. By contrast the Army and Royal Marines, who are the nearest equivalent, are held in wide regard. Yet the Army has on a number of occasions killed innocent people in dangerous situations (although never against suicide bombers in Northern Ireland). The press has not clamoured for resignations of senior army officers or made undue fuss. The military is more successful in being detached from the political process yet faces far harder political tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the complex business of procuring new equipment. The Armed Forces appear to be less well paid. They do not earn overtime. So what is different?
Many of us in the military, when involved with the police, used to comment that they did not have an officer corps. The police riposte was always the same: all start from the same position, bobby on the beat and only by merit rise to higher rank. It’s a good argument but is flawed in two ways. First, senior police find it harder to take a detached view. So if a mistake has been made there is a temptation to cover it up or to be unaware that something is wrong. As an officer aged 20 I had independent command miles from my commander and on active service. I had to learn to think for myself from a young age. Police officers have to be much older to get equivalent responsibility. Second, the police do not recruit well from the professional classes. As a result they miss out on a wide area of talent. It also makes them culturally non-representative of the community.
I am not suggesting that the police adopt an officer corps system but a good start would be for the new commissioner of the Met to recruit a high-ranking soldier as one of his deputies. We have senior officers of high calibre. They have immense wisdom gained on long periods of active service. They would help a new commissioner regain the respect that our police deserve. They would help to restore a culture where senior officers do not bicker in public but pull together as a team.
Alastair Grant Lieutentant-Colonel, Royal Marines (Ret’d), London SW14
Sir, When I joined the police service 38 years ago most officers, senior and PCs, had military service by conscription. Each generation of officers is influenced by their time slot in history, and promote people like themselves. Maybe that is why there are now so many graduates in senior positions.
Postwar senior officers had leadership skills either as a leader or as a subordinate who had done well. What will be the next generation of senior officer skills? Focus-group interpreters?
George Wake (Ret’d PC) Swalwell, Newcastle upon Tyne
Monday, December 29, 2008
Has Sandhurst Anything to Offer the Police?
The following letters in today's 'Times' raise an interesting question. Many police blogs seem to suggest that front-line ranks have little confidence in the top brass, and the chaos in the Met speaks for itself. Can the police learn anything from the military?