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Improving police wellbeing and inclusion

Improving police wellbeing and inclusion through research

By Professor Les Graham and Dr Sara Gracey of Durham’s Policing Research Unit - October 2020

A police force is a unique agency in that it is granted exceptional powers and plays an important role in society. Over the past nine years, police forces across the UK have faced large reductions in funding which has resulted in them having to reduce their number of employees and undertake significant restructuring. Moreover, deep cuts in other social agencies’ funding have resulted in policing, the service of last resort, facing increased demand and ever-growing complexity. These difficult circumstances, of having to do more with less, led to growing concerns for the wellbeing of police officers and staff.

In response to these challenges, Professor Les Graham and co-investigators Dr Sara Gracey, Marisa Plater and Natalie Brown, from the Policing Research Unit at Durham University Business School, have conducted extensive collaborative research with UK police forces. Over the past six years, the policing research project has expanded rapidly from impacting on a single police force, that of Durham Constabulary, to involve all of the 43 Home Office police forces within England and Wales, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the British Transport Police and the Ministry of Defence Police. The research will also shortly be expanded to include Police Scotland.

Body of evidence

The research investigated how public service motivation, organisational fairness, human resource management practices and leadership impact on police officer and staff wellbeing and their service performance. Working with force executive teams, senior leaders and staff representatives to discuss the research evidence and implications of the findings, effective interventions and changes to working practices and policies have been developed. The focus has been to build a shared body of evidence, based on rigorous research, which can be used effectively to inform both local police force decision-making and national policing policy. The underpinning research is recognised as having had a significant and extensive impact on working practices, procedures and policies within forces to achieve improvements in police officer and staff wellbeing and service behaviour. This has not only benefited the police officers and staff employed (approximately 215,800 individuals), but also the communities they serve.

On 23 May 2018, the then Home Secretary announced the need for police reform and that a review of policing would be conducted to improve wellbeing, efficiency and productivity of policing on a national scale. In acknowledgement of the impact of the policing research project, the Rt Hon Nick Hurd MP, then Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, appointed Dr Les Graham to the Front Line Review Steering Group. The research findings from the research project were used to inform the direction for the review and had a direct influence on the recommendations in the Home Office Front Line Review of Policing Policy report (July 2019).

More recently, working with the National Police Wellbeing Service (NPWS) Professor Les Graham and co-investigators have launched a three-year national research project. The National Wellbeing, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Survey for Policing is the first project of its kind in UK policing, drawing together many stakeholders to design and deliver research to address a variety of important topics for the lived experience of the workforce in all of the 43 Home Office police forces. With a dual focus, this research will provide evidence and insights to assist police leaders in their ability to improve the wellbeing of the policing workforce and in the development of inclusive and culturally sensitive attitudes in their work units.

Deeper understanding

The quality, importance and impact of this research in contributing to the achievement of a step change in context and conditions for the policing workforce are recognised by the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing.

As stated by Dr Ian Hesketh, the College of Policing’s National Lead for Wellbeing: “The key aspects researched by Durham University have undoubtedly deepened our understanding of the challenges policing has faced regarding maintaining the wellbeing of the policing workforce in a period of deep austerity.

“Further, the future challenges policing faces post Covid-19 will be unprecedented. An evidence- based understanding of our people will be critical as we navigate these difficult times. This three- year research project will provide an extremely important contribution to this goal.”

The excellence of the policing research project was formally recognised in July 2019 by the award to each member of the Policing Research Unit of Chief Constable’s Commendations by the Chief Constable Jo Farrell of Durham Constabulary.

For more information on Professor Graham's research with the Centre for Leadership and Followership click here.