Looking for well-read men in blue

August 3, 2001

Has higher education crossed the thin blue line? Chris Bunting investigates the UK's first BSc in policing, while Liz Doig visits Bramshill's international training facility.

Anthony Forde looks like a curious hybrid of a police officer and an academic. On top, the buttoned-up blazer and tightly knotted tie wouldn't be out of place at a freemasons' lodge. Below, the jeans and deck shoes quietly hint at senior common room sociologist chic. It is an unusual combination, but, for some reason, it sits comfortably on the founder of Britain's first undergraduate degree in police and criminal investigation.

A collector of stereotypes would be disappointed in the University of Central Lancashire academic. A serving policeman until last year, he exudes the down-to-earth, professional affability of an experienced officer. Answers to questions are brief and to the point. But Forde is no Policeman Plod, blundering around the halls of academe. No sooner are we in his office, than he is talking, with arms gesticulating, on the causes of death of Lindow Man, a bog body dating back to the 1st century AD and housed in the British Museum. Forde dives into a half-hour exposition on why archaeologists' conclusion that the man died in a ritualistic killing might be just poor detective work.

"The archaeologists, who seem to find ritual killings whenever they find bodies, will tell you that this man was brought out, knocked unconscious, fracturing his skull, had a ligature put round his neck and wound so tight that it fractured his two vertebrae and then had his throat cut to ensure the blood was coming out."

Forde believes they have staged evidence to fit their hypothesis. "I think the evidence points to a suicide. Lindow Man has also got a wound to the back of his head, a sheared tooth and a wound to his chest that they haven't accounted for," he explains.

According to his theory, the cut to Lindow Man's chest is neat and it looks like he might have been trying out what it felt like to cut himself before cutting his neck. He then cut his neck but didn't get all the way across (a characteristic of suicidal rather than homicidal neck slashes). The ligature failed too (Forde claims the narrow cord used was highly unlikely to have had enough force to break the man's vertebrae). Finally, an increasingly desperate Lindow Man smashed himself in the head with an unidentified object, causing a massive impact that whipped his head back, sheared his tooth, broke the bones in his neck and caused the damage to the back of his head when he hit the ground.

"Although I must stress that we shall never know exactly what happened to this man, I think an awful lot of rethinking has to be done. When I talked to one of the people involved in formulating the original theory, I asked him how he came to his conclusion. He said he just made it up: 'We decided it was going to be a sacrifice because there had been lots of others and we made it fit them.' I was absolutely gobsmacked but he was quite happy about it," Forde says.

His willingness to confront accepted thinking has got him into trouble more than once in his life. After leaving formal education at 18 to follow his brother into the police force, he served in the special constabulary before joining the Metropolitan Police in the early 1980s, aged 21.

He was out again after just over a year. "Let's say the Metropolitan police and I did not see eye to eye on the way that police work should be done," he says.

Though Forde is unwilling to talk specifically about the "gross unprofessionalism" he witnessed, he does speak in the abstract about police cultures in which "it becomes acceptable to give members of the public a slap or more than that, if necessary, as a way of getting what you want". Forde found himself bullied and ostracised by colleagues because he would not fit in with the culture.

"For years afterwards I wondered whether it was my fault in some way, whether there was something I could have done, but in the end I decided it was their problem and I had to leave. It gave me an insight into what the police force can be if things go wrong."

After working as a legal executive into his late 20s, Forde resumed his search for a career in criminal investigation. He began training in forensic anthropology, the science of recovering and identifying human remains, at Sheffield and Bradford universities and later studied under the "high priest" of the subject, Walter Birkby at the University of Arizona.

"I was getting experience working with one of the most respected men in the field, assisting him to identify bodies in cases that were sent to him from across the United States. We were using bone analysis techniques that would be a mystery to many conventional pathologists trained in the use of soft tissue rather than bones. He describes the work as "the intellectual challenge of solving the puzzles at the core of a case".

When Forde returned to the United Kingdom, he found the law enforcement authorities unable to accommodate his new skills. The police forensic science service said that what he did was too close to a pathologist's line of work. The pathologists, however, said he needed a medical training to work with them. The Derbyshire police, who did express an interest in his experience, ruled he had to enter the service as a police constable and serve two years' training on the streets before he could work in his specialism.

It was a "slightly disaffected" Forde who joined the University of Central Lancashire last year after serving his apprenticeship at Derbyshire and being refused permission to travel to Bosnia to identify human remains after the conflict there because it would get in the way of his normal police duties.

Forde insists that he admires the competence and commitment to duty of most of Britain's police service, but he says that some of his experiences of inflexibility and conservatism among its officers have helped inspire his desire to reform their professional training. "Historically, the police have recruited people without any qualifications. There is research evidence and a fundamental feeling that police officers have a bit of a narrow perspective on life. They usually go into the police at a young age and they see nothing but policing. They are usually conservative in their attitudes, have not had a broad education and do not have a broad depth of understanding of society. I felt that by bringing them to university we could broaden their understanding, expose them to a lot of different cultures and different people and hopefully turn out police officers who were very switched on and aware of wider issues in our society."

While police-related university courses are well established at institutions such as Portsmouth University and the Scarman Centre in Leicester, none attempts the comprehensive practical introduction to police work that Forde's undergraduate degree at Central Lancashire will deliver, preferring to concentrate on specialised academic subjects such as criminology or investigative psychology.

The Central Lancashire course, which will welcome its first handful of students this autumn, will not only offer courses in specialist subjects such as forensic science and multicultural policing, but train all its students in the everyday skills of work on the beat. First-year students will be asked to don riot gear and tackle a man trying to knock their heads off with a baseball bat, while a house has been bought where realistic crime scenes can be created. An outdoor area has even been set aside for simulating the recovery of human remains.

"I do feel it will be revolutionary in terms of police training because we are offering a real and fairly comprehensive undergraduate training route to the police and other criminal investigative agencies in the country. The route into the police at the moment is still to do basic training in uniform skills and basic law at the internal police training centres. Then recruits are put onto the street for another 18 months. Courses are few and far between and tend to be short, although some people study beyond that.

"We are able to train students for three years. If you imagine how much information we can equip them with before they get into operational policing, then you will have people with a much broader knowledge about the discipline of police investigation entering the service. Hopefully, with those kind of people entering at the bottom it will increase the competition for higher positions and raise the standards in the whole service."

This was an alarming prospect for one detective who chief inspector Forde recently met. "All he said was, 'Oh my God! I'm going to have 21-year-olds coming in knowing more about police investigation than I do'," Forde laughs. "That would be nice, wouldn't it?"

Did you hear the one about the Israeli traffic cop, the Mountie and the FBI?

Has higher education crossed the thin blue line? Chris Bunting investigates the UK's first BSc in policing, while Liz Doig visits Bramshill's international training facility

About 30 uniformed men stride out of a seminar room into stifling mid-summer heat, debating the implications of their morning's lectures as they almost march towards lunch.

In the short time it takes to get between lecture and refectory, points of law have been clarified and scenarios from participating officers' forces are already being discussed.

Adam Speker - a barrister specialising in media law, and a guest lecturer on the human rights course at Bramshill National Police Training College - barely has time to stab a piece of lettuce with his fork before a railway police officer is seeking his advice about whether witnesses have qualified privilege to speak freely at interview.

"Increasingly," the officer says, "I'm getting people I've had in for questioning, but not actually charged, threatening to sue witnesses for defamation."

Lunch still untouched, Speker confirms that witnesses do indeed have qualified privilege - the right to speak freely without fear of court action for libel or slander. "Human rights legislation does not prevent lawful investigation of a person," he says.

Training in human rights is one of the many areas in which the college has gained international recognition.

The purpose of Speker's one-day seminar is to update senior officers on how the European Convention on Human Rights affects British policing. The broader aims of Bramshill's human rights unit, which is responsible for the seminar, is to establish a framework for a "human rights culture" within Britain's public-service sector, as well as police forces around the world. The subject, therefore, forms part of many of the courses run by the different faculties at Bramshill.

Peter Villiers, head of the unit, says it is particularly pertinent in Britain now that human rights legislation is incorporated into UK law. He calls the Human Rights Act "a subtle piece of parliamentary drafting. Only time is going to tell us how the legislation will work in the field, but we still need to examine its impact on police policy and practice."

A related area of study at the college is research into police leadership, which seeks to establish a philosophical framework for the role of police in society.

"We had a delegation of Spanish police officers who wanted to take these ideas back and make them part of the reform programme in Spain," says Rob Adlam, a specialist in the area.

Bramshill is surrounded by glorious Hampshire countryside. Its centrepiece is the oak-panelled - and reputedly haunted - 16th-Century Bramshill House, which is used for lectures and administration.

The private roads through the campus have signs to warn drivers of ducks crossing, and its tiny chapel has even been known to host a police wedding or two.

The site provides training for all ranks of police officer. The classrooms for rookie police officers are visible by the rows of primary school-type coat pegs fixed outside them that, instead of pump bags and anoraks, support neatly placed fluorescent bibs, hats and helmets.

It must present an awesome spectacle for the hundreds of international police officers who take part in courses and seminars at the college every year.

Since 1970, more than 1,000 high-ranking police officers from 83 countries have attended Bramshill's International Commanders' Programme (ICP) and the manor house is liberally decorated with gifts from their home countries.

The course, run by the college's new international faculty, takes in students three times a year and is accredited by the Scarman Centre for the Study of Public Order at Leicester University.

Successful participants are awarded the University of Leicester Postgraduate Certificate in Criminal Justice and Police Management.

Senior officers can also opt to extend their studies to take a masters degree - either an MSc in subjects including the study of security management, or an MA in specialist areas such as criminology, public order and comparative policing and social conflict.

Sue Roberts, head of the international faculty, says: "The ICP is seen as the international leader in the provision of management and operational command skills training for senior police officers throughout the world."

Participants explore British policing theory and practice (a crucial part of the course is a one-week attachment to a police force in England or Wales). Its aims include challenging participants' existing views, attitudes and behaviours and promoting international police networking.

The actual coursework is diverse and includes how British police officers respond to crime and the significance of crime prevention.

The ICP is mostly taught by college staff, with additional input from the Scarman Centre. It also draws heavily on UK police experts in fields such as public order, police-community relations and crime prevention through to managing the media, IT and strategy. Classes can take the form of lectures, discussions centring on case studies, and workshops involving role-play.

Bramshill staff are keen to promote a knowledge-sharing approach to training and say that they learn a great deal from the international police officers who come to study at the college.

Bramshill has links with organisations such as the US Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force, Europol and Interpol, and its various faculties frequently draw on their experiences when formulating training and policing policy.

For example, the world-famous national crime faculty, where studies including criminal profiling are carried out, often works in close contact with the FBI and is frequently called upon to offer opinions or advice on serious crime issues. And its work on geographical profiling - charting the areas where serial criminals attack - has been of great interest to the FBI, which sends its own officers to study at the faculty.

The college also advises criminal justice organisations in countries where there has been recent civil conflict and helps to devise training for them.

Recent travels have taken Roberts to countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Kosovo, where police forces are looking to the British blueprint as they restructure.

"We're a training organisation - we do not go in and tell people how to run their police forces, we offer advice and training on processes that underpin effective policing," she says.

Advice and training for police forces operating in difficult environments can include everything from how to recruit appropriately to how to integrate human rights into policing policy.

Roberts says that if a police force can integrate standards and procedures in its day-to-day activities, then democracy can ensue. But it is not just the high ideals and fundamental philosophies of policing that attract overseas interest.

One of Bramshill's most sought-after international courses, offered by the national operations faculty, in conjunction with the international faculty, has been in traffic policing.

Officers from countries including Vietnam, Pakistan, Israel and Portugal have expressed interest in the international roads policing and traffic management course, which uses the British model of traffic policing as a model for forces worldwide.

Here again there is a crossover between international and domestic training. Although initially designed for countries with few or no traffic regulations, some of the more innovative parts of the course are now also being requested by British police forces.

Bramshill's reputation for being on the cutting edge of international police training would no doubt be further enhanced if its bid to become the hub of a new European Police College Network succeeds. The European Union has agreed on the need for a pan-European police college, but has yet to decide on a location for its secretariat.

Deputy director of Bramshill, Ian McDonald, says: "This is not the start of a European police force. It is a measure that will allow a forum for the sharing of knowledge and information and one that will go a long way to ensuring that standards of policing practice will be at the cutting edge throughout Europe.

"Bramshill would be an ideal location for the secretariat. We have such a long history of international cooperation, developing policing theory and practice at international level. Our approach has allowed us to implement more effective, stable and democratic policing worldwide," McDonald says.

Roberts agrees. "Bramshill is fortunate enough to have the combination of many years' experience and a continued drive to be at the cutting edge of training in many areas of policing. Our international reputation is one we have worked hard to achieve and we shall continue to work hard to make sure we maintain it."

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