Policing the crisis – a view from the top

Written by Ann Francke OBE Tuesday 22 September 2020
The police have faced dual leadership challenges during the Covid-19 crisis, says the president of the Police Superintendents’ Association: securing public buy-in to lockdown restrictions; and a ‘second national emergency’ of diversity and inclusion issue
Ann Francke

CMI has created a new Special Award of Recognition certificate for public-service leaders who’ve gone beyond the call of duty in the Covid-19 crisis. To discuss how leadership has manifested itself in the UK’s police force at a time of national crisis, I spoke to Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, for the CMI’s latest Better Managers Briefing.

Unprecedented complexity, pace and scale

There’s a wealth of experience across the police service’s senior operational leaders. Rigorous contingency plans are in place. Despite all this, Paul acknowledges that it’s been tricky adapting to the new normal. “It's fair to say we never anticipated some of the complexities and the pace and scale of this pandemic.”

Many police officers have tweaked their leadership styles to address the challenges of supporting the general public, the 43 Home Office forces and individual members of the police service who face risks simply by doing their routine jobs. In particular, the police have been aware of “the rise of vulnerability” in society and have had to create “networks of connection with people who are vulnerable.” The key has been to create “leadership of adaptability, ability and flexibility to try to deal with the many, many different problems we face during the pandemic,” Paul says.

Technological paradigm shift

It’s been particularly important for different parts of the police service to operate together in a cohesive way over the past few months. Paul describes a “technological paradigm shift” that’s enabled forces from around the country to connect. There have been innovations in how the police deliver services, including using social media and chat lines to support domestic abuse victims. “Getting a wider, richer team of different skill bases around the table is the big game-changer, Paul says, “whether it's within your own arena or working across public services.”

Because of a massive drop-off in incident reporting, it’s been important to highlight that it is business-as-usual for police services, Paul says. “We were still there, still delivering services and support, still caring for our communities, but doing so in such a way that minimises the risk and impact both on the communities and on our staff.”

A sharp eye on personal and collective wellbeing

While spending less time travelling to meetings is to be welcomed, there are downsides to fewer face-to-face interactions, Paul warns. Meetings have become “more businesslike and focused”, he says, but so you don't get “the nuances of the connections” and the opportunity to get business done on the sidelines. Good diary management has been vital, as well as incorporating wellbeing into your daily routine against a backdrop of mounting pressure and increased workload. “We're seeing a slow rise in cumulative fatigue. As an organisation, that is an area that needs a sharp eye,” says Paul.

Even before the pandemic, ten years of austerity was already increasing pressure on individuals. “We have seen a rise in mental health issues in police officers and police staff and the rise in PTSD,” Paul says. Fortunately, the support available has also developed in recent years but there's a lot more work to be done on ensuring the work-life balance of staff. “The wellbeing and welfare of staff is absolutely fundamental because otherwise they can't do a good job.”

Changing perceptions around D&I

George Floyd’s tragic death in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement has focused attention on race, community relationships and representation in the police forces. The police has a long history in relation to these issues, going back to the Brixton riots, the Scarman Report in 1981 and, of course, the murder of Stephen Lawrence in south London in 1993. Paul acknowledges that there has been some ‘tension’ between the police and the public during the pandemic. How the police deal with diversity and inclusion issues has represented a ‘second national emergency’ alongside the pandemic.

Paul admits that “we're still not getting it right in terms of disproportionality” but says he’s “seen a real energy across the police service that we need action as much as talk.” Crucially, the police have started again to “open up the opportunity for people to share their lived experiences from operating as police officers”.

He goes on to say: “You can have as many metrics as you want but listening to people's journeys makes the biggest impact, Paul says. “As leaders it's important that we create the right environments to allow these messages to get through so we can set the right strategy and action plans and make a difference.”

The evolution of leadership training in the police

Over the past 20 years, Paul says police training has evolved from being quite ‘didactic’ and ‘law-based’ to having an emphasis on the values that make a good leader and how to draw those out. The police are moving towards a CPD (continuing professional development) model like other industries.

How this training is delivered should depend on individual learning styles, he says. People learn in different ways, Paul says. Online learning may offer the benefit of flexibility but sometimes taking the time for a team or a group of individuals to learn together is more productive. “It's about getting the balance right.”

The impact of CMI’s Special Award of Recognition certificate

Many individual public-sector managers and leaders have risen to the challenge of the pandemic, which led CMI to create its Special Award of Recognition certificate. A number of police officers have been put forward for this. Paul himself has singled out an individual police sergeant for recognition who was working under incredible pressure but continued to go above and  beyond in terms of delivery. The officer’s response was “incredible, humbling,” Paul says.

CMI’s certificate focuses attention on demonstrating a genuine appreciation for what individual team members do. This is fundamental to leadership, Paul believes. A thank-you works whether it’s delivered by email, a shout out over a conference call, or a written letter.

Paul encourages other public-sector leaders to consider nominating their people for this Special Award of Recognition certificate. “I would encourage anybody to look out for those individuals who are deserving of this recognition from CMI because it really takes this whole recognition and support as leaders to the teams to a different level.”

If you work for the NHS, MoD or Police Service and would like to find out more about how to spread the word about the Special Award of Recognition certificate, please contact CMI at

You can watch the conversation in full here. Find out more about CMI Race and read our landmark Delivering Diversity report.

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