Transforming Police Education and Professional Development in Response to the Vulnerability Agenda and Covid-19

Dr Gareth D Addidle and Professor Joyce Liddle

Vulnerability, a complex ‘wicked issue’, is moving up global political agendas (Addidle and Liddle, 2020). It is a phenomenon resulting from a set of economic, housing, physical, family and cultural inequalities, as individuals and groups experience varying levels of disadvantage. It is also influenced by age, class, occupation, gender, ethnicity and disability, and can bring differential outcomes for individuals as a result of natural hazards such as floods, or other forces such as pandemics within broader social, economic and political changes. Vulnerability can manifest itself as poverty, marginalization and lack of assets, and arises at many levels and over time, as it renders individuals incapable of coping, or leaves them physically weak, economically impoverished, socially dependent, humiliated and psychologically harmed. This blog aims to highlight the increasing need for such issues to be contextualised and addressed in police education and professional development (as part of the broader professionalisation agenda). We argue that including vulnerability in education and development will also support the important growth in contemporary public health policing.

Ideas of equality, freedom and common good form the basis of social justice, often at variance with many injustices persisting across the world. Globally, vulnerable and marginalised communities face substantial barriers in their fight for access to quality and affordable healthcare and other services. COVID 19, a critical public health crisis, further exposed the levels of vulnerability across all societies, as the numbers of sufferers are found disproportionately in disadvantaged, impoverished or BAME communities, with rising levels of homelessness, crime and social inequality. In the UK, many of the social, economic and environmental impacts of COVID 19 remain to be seen in coming decades, but the challenges  are arising at a time when many deprived areas are yet to recover from the 2008 Global economic downturn and fiscal crisis, let alone those still reeling from the demise of traditional industries in the 1970/80s. In the past 2 years alone, Tees Valley lost most of its steel making facilities to China, and Middlesbrough, is not only ranked as the poorest and most deprived place in the country, it is also the most unsafe and insecure locality to reside in (Telford and Wistow, 2019).

Public health approaches in policing support the Policing Vision 2025 (NPCC, 2016), which focuses on: proactive, preventative activity; working with partners to problem-solve; vulnerability; building cohesive communities; improving data sharing; evidence-based practice; and, whole-system approaches (Christmas and Srivastava, 2019). Police and other statutory agencies have a duty of care to vulnerable individuals; and in order to seek appropriate solutions to the ‘wicked’ issues, suitable framing of situations can be reached by ‘holistic’ understandings on the political, social and environmental determinants leading to vulnerability, and how resources and capabilities can be used effectively (Brookes, 2019, in Addidle and Liddle, 2020). In keeping with the central theme of this blog, these duties and what they mean in practice must be reflected in education and training/development.  

Prior to the pandemic, the College of Policing, Public Health England, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and others had already signed up to the policing, health and social care consensus in 2017.  Thus, demonstrating a strategic commitment to working better together on prevention and early intervention, in recognition that the majority of police work is rooted in complex social need (College of Policing, 2020). Public health approaches, whilst different from traditional models of response policing with a focus on individuals and enforcement, build on police experiences of neighbourhood policing and problem solving. As a consequence, public health approaches to policing acknowledge the overlap between these various vulnerabilities and thus seek better crime and safety outcomes by addressing the roots of crime in social inequality and public health crises.

The pandemic has proven to be a crisis like no other, even for services like the emergency services, primed to respond to the most serious of incidents.  For all public managers these unprecedented times present not only a crisis but a continuum of crises pre-dating even the 2008 financial crisis. What the pandemic has done is hastened the need to further develop public health approaches to policing and the role of universities in this. Past and current University education and training provision in the field of Vulnerability has been fragmented across many disciplines including social work, probation policing, criminology, social policy, sociology, politics economics, business, for example. With respect to police education in particular, it has become more professionalised and governed by the College of Policing who continually strive to reflect societal changes in an evolving curricula. Likewise social work education and other disciplines are guided by national standards emanating from respective professional associations, as they too seek relevance to changing societal needs. What is perhaps now different (although has previously been acknowledged for policing generally – see Tong and Hallenberg, 2018) is the inter-disciplinary nature of the practice of policing vulnerability and how it needs to be reflected in police training and professional development.

Vulnerability is now a core area of teaching for pre-join degrees for professional policing, police constable degree apprenticeships (PCDA), degree holder entry programme (DHEP) as part of the police education qualifications framework (PEQF), and again in support of the Policing Vision 2025.These provide the means for closer partnership working and shared educational development between HEIs, College of Policing and police services across England and Wales.  Following approval and support from the College of Policing, Vulnerability is a key part of the educational curricula across all of the degree pathways in England and Wales.  Sitting alongside topics such as response policing, community policing and counter terrorism, Vulnerability is taught as both an individual unit/module/progression/evidence base and one which is interlinked with most, if not all, other parts of the police curriculum – thus reflecting the breadth, inter-disciplinarity and gravity of the issues.

From personal experience, both authors have been involved first-hand (at different levels) with curriculum requirements and educational developments in this area. A growing need for research informed teaching and evidence-based research must reflect the continuous development of these crosscutting and resource intensive areas for policing. ‘Partnership working’, as demonstrated by those as set out previously at the public health/policing strategic interface must respond holistically to a multitude of issues, concerns and priorities confronting each separate service.  The role of the police and policing is changing, therefore we contend that education and training must develop at the same pace, if not faster.

In terms of professional development, the College of Policing has a number of continuous professional development (CPD) training packages tailored to dealing with issues relating to Vulnerability.  These reflect the 13 strands of vulnerability as determined by the College of Policing: domestic abuse; adult sexual exploitation; stalking and harassment; the missing and absent; female genital mutilation; managing of sex and violent offenders; adults at risk; child abuse; honour-based abuse; modern slavery and trafficking; forced marriage; serious sexual offences, and child sexual exploitation (Cleveland Police, 2020).  These are broadly reflected in both CPD and the PEQF educational requirements and developments for police alongside the evolving Vulnerability Policing Strategies across Police Services in England and Wales. Adding to this, Chief Officers are encouraged to create and promote opportunities for officers and staff to enhance their knowledge and skills relating to vulnerability through various mechanisms, for example, briefing, policy, CPD and training (College of Policing, 2020).

Vulnerability and its associated issues are now part of all aspects of police education (and as a by-product) the work readiness of students/student officers to better deal with multifaceted and interconnected issues that they will contend with in the future workforce. Police training and education have both generally moved towards a focus on the needs of the service that reflects broader societal changes. With this in mind, it is clear that the impacts of the current pandemic and Vulnerability agenda are, and need increasingly, to be central to police education as we move into a new era of public health policing.  This is something academic education and training has the potential to address by contextualising policing for those who practice it.  This is an opportunity for the police-academic partnership to cement a ‘one for all and all for one’ relationship.

Dr Gareth D Addidle is a Senior Lecturer in Policing at Teesside University.. Email: g.addidle@tees.ac.uk

Professor Joyce Liddle is Professor of Public Leadership and Enterprise at Newcastle Business School. Email: joyce.liddle@northumbria.ac.uk

One thought on “Transforming Police Education and Professional Development in Response to the Vulnerability Agenda and Covid-19

  1. Pingback: Theorising ‘Digital Vulnerability’ in the Criminal Justice Process – The BSC Blog

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