Fast track: Forces promote idea of a fairer cop

Despite recent scandals, the police are trying to drive out sexism and attract more women. By Meg Carter
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The Independent Culture
FANCY A career in blue? Some do, but many are put off - particularly women reluctant to invest their future career in what many believe to be a hostile, sexist culture.

Yesterday, The Independent reported that a woman Chief Constable was just one of a number of female officers who had withheld news of their pregnancies for fear that it would damage their chances of promotion. The news followed the criticisms government inspectors levelled last month at North Yorkshire police over its handling of a sex harassment case in 1996. The force demonstrated "little evidence of commitment" to improving equal opportunities, and employed no women officers above the rank of inspector, their report showed.

Even so, an increasing number of the police's graduate intake (one in five of all police recruits are now graduates) are women.

Opportunities exist for the brightest to be taken on to the police forces' fast-track career development scheme. There are 52 police forces in the UK: 39 in England, four in Wales, eight in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland. London has two forces: the Metropolitan police and the City of London police.

Graduates have a choice of three routes in. First, they can apply along with everyone else as a "standard entrant". Second, they can apply direct to the police forces' fast-track career development programme, the Accelerated Promotion Scheme for Graduates (APSG). Third, they can apply directly for a number of civilian support services jobs - such as in IT, personnel or finance.

The APSG is co-ordinated centrally by the Home Office. "Standard entrants" apply direct to their local police force. There is no central recruitment scheme for civilian support staff - jobs are advertised locally, as and whey they arise.

APSG is a highly selective scheme for graduates, able to demonstrate early potential for management responsibility, says Superintendent Patrick Stayt, police graduate liaison officer with the Inspectorate of Constabulary at the Home Office.

Ambitious graduates should be aware that, even if taken on to the APSG, all must serve two years as a uniformed beat officer. Essential basic qualities include a high level of aerobic fitness, keen observation skills, the ability to handle difficult situations with sensitivity and perception and apply sound personal judgement to any given situation.

"It is essential people are happy with the core of the job - basic policing duties," Superintendent Stayt explains. While there are opportunities to specialise, this will only be through temporary secondment to other departments.

Competition for places on the APSG is tough - fewer than two per cent of applicants make it through. Key demonstrable skills are strategic thinking and action planning, leadership and team-building abilities, decision- making and achievement objectives and strong interpersonal skills. Graduates are taken on from a broad range of universities and academic backgrounds. Health and fitness are stumbling blocks for many hopefuls - of more than 60,000 people who apply to join the police each year, only 5,000 or 6,000 make it through the door. Starting salaries are pounds 15,500.

Every successful applicant goes through the same initial training programme and two-year probationary period. Basic training lasts for around 15 weeks at a National Police Training Centre, followed by operational training. For fast-track graduate recruits, this period includes two residential phases at a regional training centre for basic training in law, procedures, interpersonal skills, social and community awareness, self defence and fitness. In the third year, participants must pass their sergeant's exams and take the Accelerated Promotion Course combining operational experience and a residential course at Police Staff College in Bramshill, Hampshire, where the focus is on self-development. The ACP is also available to non- graduates.

Inspector is the highest level to which the APSG leads directly. This is a middle-management position commanding a salary of between pounds 30,000 and pounds 32,500. For APSG recruits, sergeant level provides the first opportunity to specialise through attachments in different branches of the police service, such as Special Branch or Fraud Squad.

There are opportunities to join the National Criminal Intelligence Service, too, although Superintendent Stayt points out that specialisation is always temporary. Serving officers will be seconded to specialist divisions for a number of years, but most will be expected to return at some time to active duty.

Today, nine of the UK's chief constables are graduates of the APSG scheme. Only one of these is a woman - one of just two female chief constables in the UK. This, however, is an improvement on three years ago when there were none.

Some may still believe the role of women in the Nineties' police force is an inferior one but, Superintendent Stayt insists, no female officer will find herself restricted to back-room or "softer" duties. All recruits undergo the same training, face the same career opportunities and the same dangers. No formal obstacles stand in women's way of rising to the highest ranks, he claims, although he does admit not every force gets it 100 per cent right. "There is a perception the police service is male-dominated and high-profile discrimination cases don't do anything to help," he says. "But we are trying to improve the situation. And if you look at the success rates today, you will see that, in fact, women do better than men. In the last recorded year, we offered more APSG to women than to men for the first time."

While the percentage of female officers in the police force remains low, numbers are growing, he insists. Overall, the ratio of new recruits is 65:35 male:female; amongst the APSG intake the ration is marginally better - 60:40.

"Whether it will ever reach 50:50, we just don't know," Superintendent Stayt admits. As in the area of ethnic recruitment, it's an uphill struggle. But with initiatives ranging from the introduction of job sharing, career breaks to part-time working, he is confident the force can make further improvements.

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