Linking up with the long arm of the law

July 2, 1999

A police/higher education partnership is having mutual benefits. Jennifer Currie reports

If there is one phrase that characterises the relationship between the West Mercia Constabulary and University College Worcester, it is "must add value".

The two organisations launched the Shared Police and Higher Education Research Enterprise in March 1997 with the aim of developing a research programme of mutual benefit. Together with the Worcestershire Community Safety Partnership, Sphere quickly broadened its original research base, commanding more than Pounds 110,000 in funding to date.

Forming the collaboration was easy, according to Dick Bryant, UCW's vice-principal and Sphere group member. "We have found many similar interest areas."

David Herrington, a researcher with West Mercia Police, emphasised the importance of this interaction: "It is important for the police to be seen to think widely."

Jan Francis-Smythe, Sphere's director of research and head of psychology at the college, added: "It also means that the college gets plenty of research experience. The police can approach the college with a problem and choose the level of research they want - undergraduate, postgraduate or staff. Staff are realising that this is a real opportunity for their students to put skills into practice and are approaching the police with ideas of their own."

In a competencies project developed by Dr Francis-Smythe and researcher Matthew Jellis, the skills required in 15 different roles within the police were defined through a series of workshops and questionnaires. These models of best practice are now used during selection, assessment and promotion procedures. The initiative was praised in a study of police training by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Research proposals are discussed by an internal liaison group that weighs up the relative benefits for all those concerned. "It is important that project supervisors protect the creative freedom of their PhD students," said Dr Francis-Smythe. "You cannot have a prescriptive PhD, but because West Mercia are putting in half the money, they need to have some input into the project. They expect to see the benefits."

The tricky business of balancing academic freedoms with police confidentiality was tackled over a long period. "Where possible the college will publish, as we are keen to stimulate debate across the country," said Dr Francis-Smythe.

However, some projects must be treated with caution. Officers on the firearms instruction course, which encouraged trainee firearms instructors to use reflective practice as a teaching tool, were reluctant to be named in papers for security reasons.

This is something the college is willing to accept. "The police have been very helpful in providing information and sources. The police are very open to our ideas," said Dr Francis-Smythe.

The college won the tender to design an in-house management training programme that drew together all the elements officers felt were missing from national training courses. The course is accredited by the college and officers receive a certificate of management studies upon completion.

One of the lowest funded forces in the country, West Mercia was not able to invest any more money in new training programmes. The Sphere training schemes are proving to be cost efficient and popular with officers. Paul Collier, head of training and development at WMC, said: "We manage to train more people at no extra cost."

The benefits of the partnership have been felt on all sides. Both the police and the Community Safety Partnership have successfully implemented strategies designed as a result of the college's research. Codes of practice have been enlightened and the force now has a "useful toolkit" of research. Inspector Richard James said that this would give the police efficient and proven solutions, "instead of assuming we know the answers before we have the data".

UCW's research profile has also been given a boost while its academics and students now boast projects with tangible outcomes.

PROGRESS ON THE BEAT

Researchers from University College Worcester were commissioned by West Mercia Constabulary to evaluate the effectiveness of its beat managers scheme.

Beat managers are uniformed officers charged with improving the quality of life within a community by using proactive policing strategies that take into account the concerns and fears of local residents.

A self-assessment questionnaire completed by beat

managers in West Mercia revealed

an inconsistent approach to the scheme. This, the researchers advised, needed to be focused to allow

the officers to carry out their community policing efficiently. Berenice Mahoney of UCW said: "It was also clear from the survey that the beat managers were most effective when they were

not diverted from their task by other reactive policing tasks.

"Our overview

of how the scheme is operating will be fed into the WMC's overall plan."

Scheme supervisor Inspector Richard James said: "We now know what works best everywhere, not just what works a little in one place and not another. We can now standardise procedures."

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