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Call to monitor emotions of roads policing officers


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Your emotional state is one of the biggest indicators of performance, insurance consultants argue.

Call to monitor emotions of roads policing officers

Police forces are failing to understand the “human factors” which influence specialist roads police performance in the real world after they leave training, insurance consultants said last week.

Alan Thompson and Stuart Gemmell, both former officers with MScs in driver behaviour, now work for the UK’s biggest blue light insurance firm Gallagher Bassett.

They called for a “culture change” in the way specialist officers are supported in the workplace urging supervisors to consider how fatigue, emotional and health stress may impact their officers' ability to work safely.

Speaking at the roads policing conference on Tuesday, Mr Gemmell said: “You’re responsible for your colleagues and actually recognising when people are tired when they aren’t fit to do something. It’s about having a voice. But we’re not good at that, we’re not good at challenging colleagues. We’ve got to change that culture."

According to Mr Thompson and Mr Gemmell, the latest figures show of the deaths following police contact six were fatal shootings, 14 were in custody and 32 (28 of which were pursuit related), were road traffic collisions.

Following National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing Chief Constable Anthony Bangham’s announcement that legislation to protect police drivers is in draft form, Mr Thompson warned that the number of traffic-police related deaths will come under the microscope.

Mr Thompson said: “We know from the government speech they want more for less, more for less. I’m sorry but the only thing you get for less is less

“And unfortunately we’re asking our drivers to perform at an even higher standard on a daily basis and something’s gonna give, hence the figures we currently see.

“We start talking about change to law which isn’t going to give offices just a get out of jail free card but it is going to go to some form of consultation when some pressures groups are going to be saying: 32 deaths.

“These are questions we’ve got to be candid about in answering and challenging.”

He added that as a training performance manager he had been asked by “very senior” police on both local and national levels whether driver training could be done on a week’s course or removed altogether.  

“In this day and age we're actually seeing more and more officers with problems whether it be health whether it be financially and it’s been happening for years- they’re coming more and more to the fore.

“What we don’t think about is when we’ve trained people how does that skill transfer to the workplace. In most other professional training programmes there is some form of workplace competency.

“There is no workplace competence which is assessing how they’re [roads police] coping with their training to the real world.

“I think we need to start thinking about if we’re going to raise our game, if we’re going to justify changes to legislation then we’ve got show we are ready for a new approach.”

Mr Gemmell spoke of how during his firearms training he was psychologically evaluated “to the nth degree” yet he was put in a high performance car without anyone ever assessing his attitude towards risk.

He urged forces to “look beyond the driving school” and endless sanctions for officers who are involved in collisions.

“Ultimately the training and skills input is fine, it’s good but when you look at officers who go out and then underperform who don’t apply that skill in certain circumstances- do we really understand why they’ve stepped outside that skill and what’s causing that?

“The research is quite clear that this is emotionally based. It can be the stress of the situation, it can be background issues related to health and I still don’t think we pay enough attention to that in terms of how we can manage and overcome that particular skill block if you like,” he said.

“You can all think of colleagues you don’t like sitting beside when you’re going out and pursuing. I certainly knew a couple that scared the living daylights out of me.

“So why is their interpretation of risk different from mine when we’ve had exactly the same guidance input?”

Over and over again in his work he sees drivers subjected to refresher training who drive well and “then they’re back out in the operational arena and the same problems re-emerge again.”

The problem is not being addressed, he said, because driving school is a sterile environment and because the problem was not a driving issue in the first place.

“Let’s actually have the mechanisms in place that are well researched and evidence based for encouraging and motivating good performance of skills despite the pressures that we’re under.

“Who knows the officers more other than that direct supervisor- who can see when there’s an emotional change? Their supervisor.

“Don’t wait until it goes wrong. We are more and more susceptible to these emotional influences because make no mistake about it, emotion is the biggest factor in driving performance and we don’t address it adequately.”

Mr Thompson echoed his colleague, saying British police driver training is “absolutely brilliant” but that there is a void between training and reality.

He said he had worked as a training performance manager for his force, “which is a fancy way for saying how do we cut training.”

He pointed out that officers are given up to 12 weeks initial firearms training and then about 15 days per year but now roads police get three-four weeks training to start with and then one day a year “if you’re lucky” and some may only be re-assessed every five years.

“Is that [firearms] any more risky than driving at 140 mph on the roads we’ve got today? Not only interacting with other members of the public who are somewhat erratic but dodging potholes and things like that now.

“How can we expect officers to operate under the pressures we are putting on them with that sort of level of training?” 

Jayne Willets, Police Federation roads policing lead, said that the federation is currently researching the impact of fatigue upon officers’ driving performing, using aviation practice as a basis.

“We have the best driver training in the world,” Mr Thompson said.

“We really believe with a passion we want that to remain, but we’ve gotta challenge ourselves to do more and not just sit back on what we currently do.

“How we’re going to get the additional time God only knows but we’ve got to.

“So that our drivers can deal with all of these problems at the same time as dealing with all these calls because at the moment we're not supporting them in the workplace.”

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