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Cunningham's last shout
Fedster + posted a topic in Police Oracle FeaturesAfter a 33 year career, Mike Cunningham is signing off. The College of Policing CEO shares his own reflective learning with Police Oracle on leadership, change and a year like no other. Cunningham's last shout Date - 22nd December 2020 By - Chris Smith Moving exams online and rebranding the College of Policing to make it more relevant to front line officers would be big issues in normal times but even more so in the middle of a pandemic. This was also done while staff at the College were sat between government lawyers, Whitehall officials and frontline officers creating lockdown guidance with days or even hours to spare. Leading the College since 2018 has been CEO Mike Cunningham who is now counting down the days to the end of a 33-year career in policing. Earlier in his career he’s been a diversity champion and an enforcer of standards. All of that experience has been compacted into two hectic years that have not been without controversy. Yet a career that started in 1987 is ending with Zoom drinks. He tells Police Oracle: “It’s not how I would otherwise have gone but people are having to deal with far greater challenges than not having a leaving do. It will be a bit more sober than it otherwise would have been.” Mr Cunningham wants to talk about what’s changed during his time in the Service – and give a push to help what comes next. He reflects: “A lot has changed: the nature of demand has changed, the type of leadership has changed, police oversight and governance has changed, the funding has ebbed and flowed, the politics have devolved. “But what hasn’t changed is the fundamental policing mission of keeping people safe. I take a bit of comfort from the fact that a lot of people join and they are highly motivated on that mission. The majority want to do a really good job for the benefit of the public good. That’s the abiding thing.” This week has seen some big names in policing paying tribute. Those looking for regrets will be disappointed as he remains enthusiastic about policing. “I’ve had a very memorable career that I’d do again in a heartbeat. If I met my 27 year-old self, I’d totally encourage him to do it again without hesitation,” he says. As Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police, he made staff a priority, something he carried over to HMI. His assessment now? “All of my experience, operationally, as Chief Constable has all been channelled into the College of Policing. I’ve come to the conclusion that we have to do more to invest in the people who have to go out and do the policing. “People are the most valuable asset but I don’t think that we are at a place where we can say that we do sufficient to invest in people. The College is completely about investing in people,” he says. His decision to introduce degrees as an entry route for policing has been bumpy – including a legal battle with Lincolnshire chief constable Bill Skelly who thinks the change will be disastrous. But the CoP lead is convinced it is the right approach: “I know it’s been controversial, the changes to the entry route. I am still of the absolute belief investing in people is the right thing to do,” he says. COVID-19 has brought swift changes to how the College operates; years of discussions about online exams ended on the day of lockdown with computer assessments fully operational in weeks but there have been glitches. He says: “We did have a glitch but having quickly put that right – and got through the investigators and sergeants’ exams – we’ve enabled people to be able to continue. We’ve also been at the vanguard of helping officers to make sense of rapidly changing legislation. There are people who should be awarded for their efforts. I’m really delighted by how the Service has moved forward with that agenda.” Improving the opportunities and skills for frontline officers who are looking at specialist roles and long-term career prospects remains a critical issue. “It’s about developing people at all levels – and there’s more that can be done there,” he says. Wellbeing has risen up the agenda rapidly in recent years and although forces acknowledge it’s an issue, he believes they need to step up work. “It’s the other area where development has moved on, particularly helped by the NPCC. There has been a monumental change in my time in policing. Occupational health, understanding shift patterns, understanding staff surveys and what people are feeling. It’s been a huge development – and Andy Rhodes has done a lot here – and work needs to continue on that as planned,” he says. A the top of organisations, there also needs to be a big push on developing leadership skills. HMICFRS have questioned whether forces are getting it right and Mr Cunningham also thinks major changes are needed. “There’s a lot gone on with how we prepare people for senior roles. But my view is this still lacks the uniformity and coherency across the commands. We need a single, national approach. It shouldn’t be down to the work of the force that you work for.” He adds: “That work on leadership development is dependent on a defined approach to continuous development in policing. That’s really needed. Some chief constables need to adopt a much more supportive approach to development and CPD.” Senior officers will have no choice in taking these agendas on as the thousands of new recruits have different aspirations to past generations. He warns: “We’ve got a fantastic opportunity with Uplift; we’ve got a lot more officers coming into the Service and it’s not just tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.” Supporting LGBTQ+ officers as an early diversity champion has been one of his achievements but progress needs to be picked up again, he believes: “There’s obviously a challenge in policing around inclusion and diversity. To be absolutely fair, the Service is unrecognisable compared to the Service I joined in 1987. But this remains of fundamental importance. “The British Police model is driven by legitimacy and reflecting the community it serves. It’s still fundamental when you are trying to build trust with your communities.” The joint NPCC work on this is “fundamentally important”, he says. COVID has added to the pressure on officers but he is clear they have responded with professionalism. “We have seen the very best of public service during this period. I’m very proud to be a public servant when I see colleagues responding to what’s happening. I’m really proud of the role that the College has played in policing, particularly its work on creating guidance,” he says. The College’s response has helped the reputation of an organisation that was seen by many officers as not being relevant. Mr Cunningham says: “I’ve been open about this. There’s no doubt in my mind there was clearly a message that needed to go out that for people at all levels of policing, we needed to be much better at communicating with them. “There are brilliant people working at the College of Policing; I’m so proud to have led them but there was an issue. I’ve made a concerted effort here with frontline policing. People will not buy into what we’re trying to do, we want to take policing with us.” His successor, as yet unannounced, will be taking on a complex role: “It’s one of the things that people who have leadership responsibilities will know; it’s the most challenging bit of being a leader – taking people with you. Helping policing to continue to improve and develop brings its own challenges with it.” The College helps develop senior officers and he wants forces to think more deeply about the importance of leadership and its qualities. “I know colleagues who regularly remove themselves to consider what they’re doing. We recognise and reflect on earning the right to lead and on the confidence of the people who lead,” he says. He adds: “But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Today is very different to the monolithic command and control organisation that I joined. Leaders now want to actually connect with the people they lead, be understanding and be empathetic. These are characteristics that were not spoken about when I was new in service.” The development of facial recognition cameras and communities being enabled by technology is also an important part of the future he believes. He says: “We’ve actually done some work on this looking ahead to 2040. Police chiefs are using this to help them with their planning. One of the themes is how technology is keeping people safe and also dealing with threats from criminality. “We’re not just talking about serious organised crime, it’s also day in, day out ASB. Policing needs to keep abreast of that and maintain the trust of people. "That presents its own challenges, its own complexity. The use of technology brings a lot of criticism from people about the police watching them and catching their data. That presents its own challenges and we need to think more about it. The whole complexity of what technology brings is not only a fantastic opportunity but presents real challenges.” If he was to give advice to colleagues on things to think of what would they be? “Leadership and welfare,” he says. And what about his own future? He confesses: “I’m going to take some time out in January to spend with my family. I’m not a person to regret many things but if I would, it would be that I’ve met demands sometimes that have put my family in second place. Yes, at the time I did that and I need to think about how I put some of that right.” So that’s it then? Not quite: “I will keep close to policing; I hope I’ve still got something to offer – but that’s in the future.” View On Police Oracle