An arresting job

Sue Palmer is keen to work on improving police communications skills and to dispel the view that they are all 'thickies'.

January 17, 2008

With television portrayals of the "thick bobby" rife, it is probably fair to say that the police force is not generally known for its engagement with the latest academic research. But Sue Palmer, the new head of the Centre for Investigative, Security and Police Sciences at City University London, hopes to change that perception.

Dr Palmer has joined City from Edge Hill University, where she was associate dean in the faculty of humanities, management, social and applied sciences. She admitted that she was not sure what to expect when she first heard about the position. "When I saw the post I was a bit wary of it, but then I thought, no, that's a fantastic challenge - it's going to bring together everything I've done previously.

"My previous research was in communication and memory, and these are very important in working with the police - the ability to communicate properly, to look at the way evidence is used and the way police question both victims and perpetrators of crime. The language they use has a big impact, and we're going to be working with speech and language therapists and applied psychologists here looking at those things. We will be working with police at a very early stage in their careers to help them to understand the way to question people, the way to communicate to get the best out of them and how to build good relationships within the community."

Dr Palmer said commuting to London had been a shock to the system and confessed that she missed her regular walks on the beach near her former home in Formby, near Liverpool.

She read geochemistry at the University of Liverpool before teaching science at secondary-school level. She then took an Open University degree in psychology and completed a PhD in the subject at the University of Manchester. Her university career started at the faculty of education at Manchester, where she became faculty tutor before moving to Edge Hill University as an associate dean.

In her new role at City, she will aim to expand and develop police training opportunities offered by the centre, and she was quick to stick up for police against suggestions that they are an unlikely group of scholars.

"I think things are changing," she said. "Certainly a proportion of our students, by no means a majority but a fair few, come in with degrees in other subjects. A lot of shows on television portray the British police as being thick bobbies, but they aren't - they're intelligent people.

"The amount of law that they need to know is far greater than what a lawyer needs to know, and we need to change public perception."

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