Majority of police officers lack confidence in government plans - study reveals

Issue date: 11 February 2014

A new independent study of police attitudes and morale reveals a majority of police officers have a lack of confidence in government plans for police reform. Findings include:

  • Only 1.1% positively report confidence in long-term government plans for policing.
  • Only 1.7% agree or strongly agree that the changes being made to the police service are in the public's best interest.
  • 83.8% of respondents agree or strongly agree that the Winsor reviews will negatively impact on their ability to do their job.
  • 80.4% think current proposals will give criminals the upper hand.

One of the largest pieces of independent research on police attitudes in England and Wales has found that only 1.6% of the sample respondents agree the current government supports the police.

The research, led by Dr James Hoggett from UWE Bristol (the University of the West of England, Bristol), looked at police attitudes to current reform proposals that may impact on the profession. 13,591 police officers across 43 forces in England and Wales responded to a questionnaire into attitudes and morale amongst officers. The response rate reflects the views of about 10% of all serving police officers in England and Wales. The attitude and morale data provided consistent messages across the sample with only minor variations between ranks of officer or between police forces.

Speaking about the study, Dr James Hoggett says, “It is notable that the responses were consistent, despite the fact that forces vary in size and there are a wide range of policing challenges within and between forces. This lends added weight to the significance of these findings. Typical samples for surveys often rely on much smaller response rates, smaller sample sizes, and have less consistency in responses. The consistency of responses was very notable, leading us to propose that the views of the 10% who responded to the questionnaire capture the dominant views of the majority of serving police officers and show a large proportion are opposed to current changes.

“Some of our findings have particular significance for the public as well as government and policy makers. The survey used established measures from 'organisational psychology'. These measures have shown that the police service creates a strong sense of identity for its members and that being a police officer forms a fundamental part of an individual's self-concept. This is important because it means that what happens to the police service in general can have positive and negative impacts on police officers at an individual level. This sense of organisational identity also correlates with officers' behaviour and in particular their goodwill or willingness to go beyond the call of duty to get the job done.

“The research shows that over 79.6% of officers see policing as a vocation, rather than just a job and that 96% are willing to make sacrifices for the job, but only 18.9% agree that the sacrifices are still worth it. 64.9% of officers would consider looking for alternative employment and 44.2% would consider taking redundancy.

“Threats to police organisational identity, through some of the current and proposed changes, could result in a shift in police behaviour from that based on goodwill to that based on work to rule, which could damage the effectiveness of the service the police provide.

“However police officers are not against change. 84% agree reform is needed but 92.5% think change and reform should be independent of politics and 96.3% think change should be made in collaboration with the police.

“Overall these findings support a view that it is crucial to engage rank and file officers about proposed changes to the police. In addition, taking into account the sense of identity police officers have, and the goodwill they bring to their role, it is vital that any changes that are made don't damage identity and goodwill and do not threaten the relationship the police have with the wider community.”

Key findings include:

  • 95.8% disagree that cuts will not affect police resilience, 89.8% agree or strongly agree that the police are under resourced while only 6.4% of officers agree or strongly agree that the cuts will not impact on their ability to do their job. 83.8% of respondents agree or strongly agree that the Winsor reviews will negatively impact on their ability to do their job while 92.6% disagree or strongly disagree with the statement, “that the aim of the Winsor recommendations is not to save money but to create a more efficient, productive, motivated and highly skilled workforce.”
  • 80.5% of respondents agree or strongly agree that the support of the general public positively impacts on their job. However, only 8.9% agree or strongly agree that the general public understands what the police do. 81.2% agree that the proposed changes in the Winsor review will negatively impact on the police's relationship with the public.
  • Only 11.9% of the sample respondents agree or strongly agree that they would join the police today if starting from afresh.
  • Only 9.6% of respondents reported that their morale was high while only 1.9% reported that the morale of their colleagues was high.
  • Additionally 96.9% of respondents agree or strongly agree that officer goodwill is essential to the success of the police, while only 11.3% agree or strongly agree that the changes occurring to policing will not erode this goodwill.

To read the report in full, please visit the research repository

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