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Partnership to policing

BILL KIRKMAN



Mr. Alan Bridge, Acting Chief Constable of West Mercia (first row, sixth from left) and Mrs Joyce Thomas, Chairperson of West Mercia Police Authority (fifth from left), with Indian police visitors.

EARLIER this year I was staying at the headquarters of the West Mercia Police — one of the police forces which cover the United Kingdom. I was there as one of the assessors on a selection board designed to identify young police officers, from the whole of the U.K., with high potential for promotion. The people at the headquarters — assessors and candidates — came from many parts of the country.

In fact, it was an international gathering, as at the same time some police officers from India were staying at the headquarters. They were participants in a partnership that has developed, under the auspices of the U.K. Department for International Development, between the Indian Police Service and the West Mercia Constabulary. Why West Mercia? In the words of Ric Wood, International Training and Development Manager of IODA (Individual and Organisational Development and Assessment): "West Mercia have consistently, over recent years, been considered one of the best police management models."

In India, the project has been centred on the National Police Academy in Hyderabad, and the police in two States — Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The main objectives have been to strengthen police training services, to develop the capacity of senior officers to promote strategic change and to help the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) develop its role as a training and consultancy resource. This is all set against the background of the Government of India's modernisation plans for the police service.

The West Mercia programme has operated at two levels; one designed to develop the leadership capacity of the two partner States, the second to train trainers. In the three years that the programme has been running, 40 police leaders and 80 trainers have passed through it, visiting West Mercia in four groups. In Britain, in addition to West Mercia the host constabularies, visited by the Indian officers, included Staffordshire, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Northumbria, Leicestershire, and various police training colleges. The visitors have been particularly interested in the partnership approach to policing which is now a feature of the U.K. police service.

The list of constabularies visited underlines one organisational difference between the police in the U.K. and in India, namely, the fact that in the U.K. there are separate, independently run, constabularies, in each of which the chief constable has autonomy in matters of operational control. That system — combined of course with national standards of competence and performance and selection (hence the national selection boards) — was designed as a safeguard against political interference. An apparent centralising tendency on the part of the current British Home Secretary (i.e. the minister responsible for internal affairs), worries those of us who see the independence, and local base, of chief constables as democratically important.

In the context of the U.K.-India partnership, organisational differences are much less significant than the professional issues which are being covered, not only in the West Mercia project but in a variety of other initiatives as well. IODA is involved with all of them, and has been working with police officers from Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, and from central police organisations.

Projects undertaken or planned include the management of persons detained by the police, investigation skills, the role of the police with vulnerable members of society, and the question of ethics in policing. A senior officer from Gujarat is involved in a scheme exploring issues of ethnicity.

As an informed outsider (an assessor on police selection boards for 10 years) I am struck by the universal nature of these issues. Certainly, in our selection of officers of promise we have been concerned to ensure that they have the kind of awareness and sensitivity required to tackle them effectively.

In this context, the training that is provided is clearly crucial. In the U.K., approaches to the training of those identified as leaders — future chief constables — have developed in recent years, providing much greater concentration on the ability to adopt a strategic approach, to think "outside the box", rather than on imparting a static body of knowledge.

Not surprisingly, the National Police Academy at Hyderabad is also developing its approach to leadership training, with an emphasis on strategic management. It will be reviewing progress later this month, and further collaboration with the U.K. police service may be one outcome of the review.

Crime knows no boundaries. The essential corollary is that police too need to draw on international experience. The West Mercia initiative and its successors are a good example of low-key, but practical, co-operation.

The writer is an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, U.K. E-mail him at wpk1000@hotmail.com

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