21 AUGUST 1971, Page 6


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The police have always been funny about graduates. Even in those sadly far-off days when the big firms were queueing up to hire men with degrees the police stood back and waited for the graduates to come to them. They noticed with passing interest that the 1962 Royal Commission could find "no recent instance of a university graduate entering the service," but they did precious little about it. The result is that today out of a force of 94,000 in England and Wales there are about 190 serving policemen who have degrees. , It is true that in 1967 a full-scale working party was set up under Dick 1 Taverne, who was then an under-secretary 1 at the Home Office, to examine how the position could be improved. The working party laboured hard and finally produced a I scheme which aimed at attracting twenty ' men a year from the universities. The carrot they offered was that after only two years on the beat the graduate would be sent to the excellent Bramshill police college and pass out a fully-fledged sergeant. It is a measure of police attitudes to graduate recruitment that this plan was acually considered controversitl. In the first year seventeen graduates were recruited under this special entry scheme; but in 1969 this number fell to nine; and last year to three. No one shouts about this but the special entry scheme has been a pretty good failure.

Now I would be the last to argue that the acquisition of a degree is an automatic sign of undoubted quality. Some of the most stupid people I know are graduates and some of these come from the oldest universities. Some graduates could not direct a line of traffic down a one-way street let alone handle a demonstration.

Nevertheless, one or two facts cannot be denied. It cannot be denied, for example, that some of the best policemen recruited before the war would have gone to university today. Nor can it be denied that although there is still a chance of the boy with ability slipping through the net those chances have been reduced. For the number starting university courses has trebled since 1956 and is still going upThe point is not that university is the onlY pool of talent but rather that it is the largest and most convenient single source.

This may seem a fairly obvious point but it is necessary to mention it to counter the argument widely used in the service, This is that it would be better to concentrate upon training policemen as graduates rather than recruiting graduates as policemen. This argument is supported with figures which show that in the last three years fifty-three policemen have beer sent to university under the Bramshill scholarship scheme and a further twelve 3 year by local forces. No one can deny that this scheme has been far more success& than the special entrant scheme — and L gpod on the police for having made it work — but it should be kept in perspective.

It is certainly extremely fortunate for the police that this untapped potential has existed, but to rely on the supply continuing at its present level would go smack in the face of all the developments in higher education. By all means the police should be encouraged to send as many men as they can on university courses (here they lead rather than follow many industrial firms) but they should not be surprised if the numbers inevitably fall. Indeed there are already signs of this. Sooner or later, however, they are going to be forced to tackle the problem of attracting graduates into the service.

Of course we all know that memories of the Hendon scheme are still fresh in the minds of many policemen — albeit that it ended thirty-two years ago. We all know that this scheme for giving both serving policemen and direct entrants rapid promotion was wildly unopopular with many of their colleagues. But we all know also (or certainly we should do) that the Hendon , scheme was successful in that it produced the goods in the eventual form of chief constables and other high ranking policemen. Above all it provided inincentive and special treatment. Such has been the reaction against Hendon since then that there has been a reluctance amounting to a fear to provide either of these. No one is asking that every graduate should be offered a chief constable's baton. It is enough that he is given the assurance of a quick but not necessarily enormous shove up the ladder but that after reaching a certain rung progress should depend entirely upon him.

It is not even necessary to argue that the graduate should be spared the beat. The period on it should certainly be reduced — to say twelve months — but it is more important that during that time he should be accorded some kind of management trainee status. A further change which would cost the police very little is to ginger up their actual university recruiting effort.

In the past the problem of graduate recruitment hag been put off and it could be put off again. The results of the failure in the university market will not be felt at once but the danger is that there could be a gradual decline in the leadership of the police over the next twenty years. Such a decline would certainly affect the public but above all it would affect the serving policemen.