As a coach/mentor supporting police promotion candidates across UK forces to convert leadership aspirations into promotion success, I encourage individuals to reflect upon and consider the expectations upon them as supervisors and managers of investigations. Concerns raised in peer review processes across forces are often the level of supervisors’ knowledge and understanding of the requirements of investigation; particularly concerning the investigation of volume and priority crimes. This can have a significant impact on many victims around the UK and why investigation remains a recurring theme for improvement. This isn’t just an area for specialist detectives but is a massive opportunity for those aspiring to Sergeant and Inspecting ranks; i.e. to think about and convey how they can contribute to a brighter future for their force.

“Just one more thing…” – Columbo

The effective investigation of crime is a key driver of public confidence. With that in mind, it is unsurprising that there is widespread general interest and focus on police investigation of crime. In turn, this comes with significant levels of internal and external scrutiny.

Standards of crime investigation recur as a theme across generations of cops. This theme is often highlighted in annual comprehensive inspections conducted by the formal auditing bodies across England, Wales, Police Scotland and PSNI. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) cover England & Wales forces and PSNI, resulting in what are called PEEL inspection reports. This is a process in which forces are inspected under three pillars of effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy. HMICS (Police Scotland’s HMIC) also conduct a range of thematic reviews of efficiency and effectiveness. Find your force reports and areas for improvement below:

The value of these inspection reports as a helpful ‘overview’ is consistently overlooked by many aspiring officers, unaware of the insights they offer. Hence, I encourage promotion candidates to include them as part of the ‘depth and breadth’ of preparation for promotion processes. I cover this gold dust more extensively in this recent free video from my YouTube channel…

A Supporting Body of Knowledge…

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The College of Policing’s website is where the accumulated body of knowledge and professional policing practice can be found. It is called Authorised Professional Practice (APP. APP is a largely untapped resource for those seeking to improve and understand operational standards.

The Investigation APP is most relevant to leading investigations and consolidates information from various decommissioned documents. For example, including Core Investigative Doctrine, the previous source of guidance.

All of these provide a body of knowledge to support leaders in supervising crimes. Whether doing so directly at the rank of Sergeant, or overseeing more strategically at the Inspector and Chief Inspector level. Let’s dive in a little deeper and pick out the best from these resources for you…

Supervisors as Managers of Investigations

The following may help you think through how you could make a positive difference by taking ownership of investigation issues your force faces. It’s worth knowing that newly promoted officers have responsibilities as managers of investigations, including:

  • Clear leadership and direction at the very start of an investigation and at regular intervals throughout. 
  • A clearly detailed investigation plan on the force crime recording system or an up-to-date investigation log in place. 
  • The victim is updated in line with the Victims Code.
  • Regular review of investigations being conducted to ensure they are being progressed effectively, in a timely manner, and that legislation and Force Policy/Protocol are complied with. 
  • Each investigation has an identified OIC, especially where a case is handed over to another officer or department. 
  • Individual officer’s workloads are manageable and appropriate for their level of knowledge and experience. 

This supportive review function is even more critical at times of exceptional demand. 

The responsibilities highlighted are significant requirements. Therefore, many police supervisors are often working under pressure simply to comply with expectations around ‘volume crime’; let alone more serious/complex crime investigations. There are of course other role functions, dimensions and responsibilities for first- and second-line supervisors; it’s a tough job.

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The Process of Investigation

Stages of investigation for police Sergeants and Inspectors

What’s the difference between the role of Sergeant and Inspector, in a nutshell? Sergeant’s set, communicate and reinforce standards. Inspectors inspect standards, while monitoring the progress and quality of allocated work.

These roles and standards clearly apply to crime investigations. Both roles also have a responsibility for managing performance to ensure that proper investigations are conducted. Volume crime can be described as any crime which, through its sheer volume, has a significant impact on the community and the ability of the local police to tackle it. It includes priority crimes such as street robbery, burglary, and vehicle related criminality, criminal damage, and assaults. 

In addition to encouraging aspiring promotion candidates to think differently, one thinking aid I sometimes include to support thinking around stepping up to the next rank, is the process of investigation, or as it was formerly known, the ‘7 Stages of Investigation’. I still use that term as it works for me. The graphic below is a structured summary of information from APP. It is extracted from my Video Masterclass supplementary materials and helps to distil key elements in line with the role of Sergeant and Inspecting ranks. The tool helps in supporting workload reviews, discussing learning points, and as a reminder for supervisors of investigations of important aspects; for example including managing performance. The evaluation stage of the investigative process is repeated twice, first as an investigative evaluation, then as an evidential evaluation. That’s because both are key decision points, at which investigations can be stopped/finalised or continued through the process.

Stages of police investigation

This template helps facilitate discussions around specific role functions. For example, managing performance and working more strategically at Inspector. In addition, consider some of the other pushes and pulls of leadership in this increasingly VUCA policing environment

Is this process still fit for purpose? How do you believe this process might change in future? Or more importantly, in this vortex of change: What do you envisage will remain the same? This can provide a welcome, stable anchor for those you lead.

Into the Future…

Future of police promotion UK

“We’re not living in the 21st century in policing at the moment. For us to be a proper part of the future, we’ve got to get our act together on things like Artificial Intelligence, to use it to our advantage.” – Anonymous Superintendent

The future of policing has lots of questions and few definitive answers. Especially in the context of crime investigation. However, a lot of work is ongoing nationally to support policing as it transitions into what has been described as the fourth industrial age. This includes featuring “policing that harnesses data, strategic insight, person centred design and cyber physical systems to create seamless connectivity with the public and other agencies and transform public safety.”

With that in mind, here is a quick look at some of the focus of that work, which may contain answers or solutions to some of the questions being asked now about how policing can stay relevant. I respectfully suggest and recommend that the resources that follow are essential reading if you are an aspiring promotion candidate. As a future police leader, the ideas, technological and organisational changes alluded to, will become reality ‘on your watch’.

Candidates who prepare effectively are well read, well informed and confident to share their own thoughts and ideas with a promotion panel. This is something that shines through at a promotion board, reflecting the depth and breadth of preparation ahead of a valuable career progression opportunity. 

Before you glimpse what the future of policing might hold for you and the teams you will be leading, let’s prime you with a potential promotion board/presentation question to support, challenge and respectfully provoke your thinking:  

“As a newly promoted leader, what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities ahead concerning delivery of an effective policing service?” 

Note that these are just some of the resources I signpost aspiring officers to in my downloadable guides and Masterclass materials. See also this video I recently published on my YouTube channel, giving further information on future thinking…

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Future Operating Environment 2040

“This present moment used to be the unimaginable future.” – Stewart Brand

The College of Policing’s Future Operating Environment 2040 report provides an insight into the police operating environment as far as 2040, exploring aspects of the future that should be considered now to prepare the service for the challenges that lie ahead.

It includes three practical resources, which forces can use to develop plans, strategies and capabilities which are based on understanding the potential challenges and opportunities for policing in the future:

  • Ten trends identified as playing an important role in driving and defining policing’s operating environment over the next 20 years.
  • Four scenarios forcing us to consider how, and why, things could become better, worse or broadly stay the same. Using scenarios can increase our preparedness for the range of possibilities the future may hold.
  • Five future challenges which require policing’s attention today.

“These challenges will take up an increasing amount of policing’s ‘bandwidth’ over the next 20 years, adding new layers of complexity to existing demands and raising important questions about how policing is organised, resourced and governed. Yet they are also challenges, which can be met, so that threats are diminished and opportunities are capitalised on, if policing starts to prepare for them today.”

National Digital Strategy

“Change will never be this slow again.” – Hans Vestberg

The National Policing Digital Strategy 2030 has been developed by the service in response to the digital challenges facing policing, but ultimately for the benefit of the public being served. The police service is committed to its delivery and it will be at the heart of digital transformation locally and nationally. This Digital Strategy for policing builds on the 2025 Policing Vision to lay foundations for a police service which is fit for 2030. It sets out the:

• Ambition for how digital can transform key dimensions of the police service alongside the priorities that support this.

• Key data and technology enablers that will provide the foundation for digital transformation, with implications on people, ethics and policing capabilities.

• Considerations for how policing mobilises and organises effectively to deliver the strategy over the next five years

The Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales  

“The review aims to set a long-term strategic direction for the police service so that it is better able to tackle crime in an age where it is being transformed by new technology and wider social change.”

The Police Foundation is carrying out a Strategic Review of Policing due to report in Autumn 2021. The overall aim of the Review is to set the long-term strategic vision for English and Welsh policing. It will present substantial recommendations for a modern police service capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

More specifically, the Review will consider:

  • What the police mission should be, looking in particular at the public’s expectations of the police.
  • The capabilities and resources the police service needs to achieve this mission.
  • The future police workforce, including the roles, responsibilities, skills and knowledge of police officers and staff.
  • How the police service should be structured and held to account, locally, regionally and nationally.
  • How the police service should work with other sectors to deal with complex social problems.
  • How much funding the police service requires and how this should be allocated. 

The Director of the Police Foundation Rick Muir recently wrote a paper: Taking Prevention Seriously: The Case for a Crime and Harm Prevention System in which, it is argued that far too little is being done to prevent crime and wider harm. It seeks to answer the question – What would it take to shift our approach to crime and wider harms firmly in a preventative direction? The paper is essential reading for leaders and aspiring leaders in public authorities.

It examines what role society as a whole (including non-policing public agencies, the private sector and local communities) should play in promoting public safety and security, a necessary step before the Strategic Review of Policing can be clearer about what should be expected of the police.

The report highlights a core challenge in making a shift to a more preventative approach to crime and public safety. That is to make sure there is clear ownership of the problem at all levels, which is currently lacking. It also suggests a national crime and harm prevention strategy. The Police Foundation suggests that the UK could become a world leader in crime prevention if it took the same systematic approach adopted towards preventing accidents at work or in the aviation industry.

“By delivering better targeted preventative interventions, it is suggested we can expect to see reductions in crime and other forms of demand that currently have the police ‘run ragged’.”

That sounds like good news for investigators and those charged with supervising and managing investigations at all levels. As an investigator, manager of investigations and as an aspiring leader, Unleashing the Value of Digital Forensics by the Police Foundation, is also highly valuable as an aid to understanding some of the challenges of the future operating environment.

“It is hard to imagine a crime where digital evidence does not play a role in its investigation. This poses both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is that there is now more potential evidence that may be relevant in a criminal investigation and that could help to secure convictions. The challenge is getting policing into a position where it can access, process and examine such large volumes of data in a way that meets the standards we expect from criminal investigations.” – Stephen Walcott 

The report identifies five key challenges facing digital forensics that need to be rapidly addressed if policing is to make the most of this potential, and ensure crimes are investigated to the standards society expects. It also considers long-standing ethical debates on ‘privacy versus security’, which remain a challenge for digital forensics. The answer is often framed around proportionality, but police struggle to navigate unclear legal frameworks, including guidance on data retention. Recent rape trials have highlighted a serious tension between a victim’s right to privacy and a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Such debates will only intensify as new technology emerges. 

“It’s now mainstream policing and not a specialism.” – Digital forensics practitioner

The report makes recommendations including increased investment and that, “All frontline officers should receive digital investigative training and as part of this some basic training in digital forensics, so that they are able to do more of the less complicated examinations themselves”. There clearly needs to be some balance, which is why I liked this particular quote in the report from a digital strategy advisor:

“Any sort of future legislation should be friendly enough so we can still do our jobs properly, but robust enough so people can be sure we’re going to look after their private data.”

That seems like a good point for me to say farewell for now, so I’ll leave you to start thinking about boldly going where no cops have gone before when investigating the future.

Kind Regards, Steve.

If you found this blog helpful, you can hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, attend or download my Police Promotion Masterclass, or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a bunch of free videos, guides, a podcast, plus free blog content both here on my Rank Success Blog and via my Police Hour articles.

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