IN THE 1800s police officers needed a strong disposition. Working seven days a week, always in uniform, officers would walk 20 miles per shift and take just one week’s holiday each year. Times have changed since Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force, not least in relation to the attributes required of an aspiring officer. More and more forces – including the Met – now require applicants to have completed the Certificate in Knowledge of Policing (CKP). Once this qualification has been obtained, aspiring cops then complete the standard force recruitment and selection process, with no guarantee of a job at the end of it.
It’s all part of ‘professionalising’ the police service: a term which increasingly seems to mean ‘hand out bits of paper which have no real bearing on the professionalism with which anyone does their job’. The CKP forms part of the new Diploma in Policing which police constables are expected to complete during their two-year probation, and feeds into a vast programme called the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) which requires officers to tick off a dizzying array of competences to prove they’re doing their job properly.
Like any paper-based performance check, it’s laborious and largely meaningless, having little or no bearing on how compassionate, tenacious or intelligent a new recruit is. The real salt in the wound is that the CKP – to be completed before a job offer is even on the table – must be completed at the applicant’s own expense. The course fees start from £700: a significant outlay for anyone, particularly a young person fresh out of college, potentially with several thousand pounds worth of tuition fees and student loan debt already under their belt. Unsurprisingly companies are cashing in on the desperation of aspiring police officers by adding optional – but apparently highly desirable – crammer courses, application form ‘checking services’ and a host of other options for even more money.
Can’t afford £700-£1,300? Don’t worry, because guess what? You can borrow it. Course providers are offering ‘attractive’ interest rates, and even the Met itself plans to introduce a loan scheme. Ironically, on the same web page as they inform potential recruits of the mandatory CKP they remind readers of their robust approach to corruption. ‘Police officers are in a privileged position with regard to access of information and could be considered potentially vulnerable to corruption. Applicants should not, therefore, be under pressure from undischarged debts or liabilities, and should be able to manage loans and debts sensibly.’
The Metropolitan Police Force has pledged to recruit 5,000 officers over the next three years, with a strong focus on applicants from the London boroughs they serve. The aim is to better reflect London’s diversity by broadening the force’s social and ethnic make-up. It’s a laudable aim, but requiring applicants to make up-front payments with no guarantee of a job completely undermines it. Coppers don’t need certificates in policing knowledge. They need strong values, communication skills and common sense. And those skills can’t be bought.
Clare Mackintosh is a freelance feature-writer, columnist and crime novelist, and a former Police Inspector. Follow her on Twitter @claremackint0sh or read her blog at www.claremackintosh.com/blog