On my travels last week, I popped into Thames Valley Police (TVP) headquarters, for an exclusive interview with Assistant Chief Constable Katy Barrow-Grint. Katy kindly agreed to share her insights and perspectives on a range of policing issues and was very generous in answering questions I posed. Questions included of course current police promotion and selection processes, what the ‘Holy Grail’ might be, and various leadership matters.
If you aspire to Sergeant, Inspector, or higher ranks in policing especially, you’ll find valuable tips, guidance and food for thought here. There’s something for everyone, including if you are just interested more generally in policing issues.
I’d like to thank ACC Barrow Grint again for setting aside some of her valuable time to share her thoughts on police promotion and leadership with you. If you want to share my platform (blog, podcast) with your views and/or story, as so many others have, please get in touch and make use of this open invite.
I’ve embedded our podcast conversation below. This blog provides a summary of some of our conversation, along with some additional context on TVP.
Enjoy the audio and make sure you have a pen to hand! We cover the following topics:
- Her new ACC role and responsibilities in TVP.
- Defining moments of her career to date, as she progressed through the ranks.
- Her thoughts on the fairness or otherwise of current promotion selection processes, especially when competition is an unavoidable factor.
- How might forces do better with promotion processes?
- Advice for aspiring leaders
- Stepping up from Sgt to Inspector!
- Leading investigations and standards
- Progress of ‘We Cops’, the police discussion forum.
- Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)
- Barriers facing women in policing and promotion
- Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
Katy’s responses are informative, insightful and interesting, particularly if you have a promotion opportunity or selection process ahead yourself, now or in future. They include tips for aspiring police officers and police staff, whether you seek progression through the policing ranks or lateral career development.
Before we dive into some of my personal highlights, here’s my video summary of the latest PEEL assessment for TVP. It provides useful context for anyone interested in the force, but is particularly important for police promotion candidates here to be aware of. Not least, for when you communicate a brighter future under your leadership!
Katy’s Career Highlights
“I know I’ve saved children’s lives as a result of the interventions and investigations I’ve done. I’ve put people in prison for life through that job and you know… that kind of work stays with you through your career.”
First off, Katy shares her career to date and personal pride with her legacy to date impacting on people’s lives, her position as a role model, and focus on VAWG. For example…
“For me I’ve been a detective at every rank apart from Chief Super my last one, but I suppose the career highlights are, my favourite job was child abuse investigation as a DC where I learnt my skillset about being a detective and you know as many of your listeners will probably be in some of those public protection units, you know you save lives. I know I have saved children’s lives as a result of the interventions and investigations I’ve done. I’ve put people in prison for life through that job and you know that kind of work stays with you through your career. I’ve been public protection chief Inspector and I’ve now got it in my command as Assistant Chief Constable, so for me I’m public protection, safeguarding through and through, and those investigations have stuck with me since I started.”
“I’m the most senior female police officer now in Thames Valley Police and with that I know I’m a role model for others and I take that very seriously around making sure we take people with us, that I am supporting colleagues as they move throughout their careers and for me that is one of the things I love about this job, is how you bring people through the ranks, staff and officers, and get the best out of them.”
“The thing I suppose I’ve enjoyed most is over the last 18 months is the work around violence against women and girls (VAWG) and leading the force in relation to that.”
“We know not everyone can be an acting sergeant or an acting inspector there isn’t sufficient possibilities for that, but for me you don’t need that necessarily, you need to have the opportunity to learn and to understand different ways of learning and the organisation providing that is really key.”
On the fairness (or otherwise) of current promotion selection processes, Katy alludes to procedural justice and fairness of systems and processes. She describes these as being absolutely essential, recognising however that with any sort of selection process there is always going to be some subjectivity.
“They can never be completely objective. Intrinsically there is going to be some unfairness and our role as senior leaders is to try and make sure we do the best we can to have that level playing field, so everybody gets the opportunity.”
With that in mind Katy says, TVP are setting up a ‘Leadership Academy’ to ensure support and guidance is in place for each rank and level, both for officers and police staff.
Improving Promotion Processes
Every officer has a view on how promotion processes can be improved, all have contrasting perspectives on this matter! Here, ACC Barrow-Grint gives some insight into her own views on creating better processes and indeed what TVP are actually doing.
“Firstly, it’s about understanding what you want from your leaders, so for me if you look at Casey and if you look at some of the work that’s been going on nationally, what we really need to be explicit around is standards and making sure we have real clarity around expectations there. By default, leaders need to have that understanding.”
Interestingly, TVP are introducing ‘Healthy Team Culture’ training, including:
- How to lead a team
- Being ethical in your decision making
- Giving people the tools they need to be good supervisors to start off with
She outlines several things relating to transparency of the process, an important factor in perceptions of fairness. These include:
- Giving people information about the promotion process
- Providing promotion interview questions in advance to individuals going through processes
- Preparation time ahead of interview
Police Promotion: Holy Grail?
“There will always be different ways of doing things, every force is different, every chief is different.”
As in my interviews with other senior police leaders, e.g. Chief Constable Lee Freeman KPM, and former metropolitan police commander Simon Foy QPM, I asked Katy about the ‘holy grail’ of police promotion processes. In particular, the value or otherwise of interviews as part of that.
Katy explained, TVP haven’t used interviews as part of the sergeant promotion process for a while. They also tried that with sergeant to inspector promotion processes initially, but found that was ‘a gap’, and so reintroduced interviews for inspector promotion.
Organisationally, TVP wanted to test candidate’s ability to…
- think under pressure
- be able to perform
- be able to speak to others
She explains that’s because “the force is going to put you out talking to communities and needs to have that reassurance.” So, the force has cut down on bureaucracy at sergeant level but reintroduced interviews for inspector level.
Guidance for Aspiring Officers
As an active coach and mentor for police promotions, Katy offers recommendations to aspiring candidates. She outlines her thoughts on how to prepare effectively for a promotion opportunity “really early on”, including working out where your gaps are compared to the Competency and Values Framework (CVF) used to assess you.
“Doing this allows you the time to fill those gaps if you see that there is something, that doesn’t quite work. I would always say, write your top ten examples and then go through the CVF, go through the detail of the CVF, does example no.1 fit any of the boxes for that CVF? And it will probably fit quite a few, and example no.2 will be similar. Example no.3 might fit very few and all of a sudden you probably think, well that example is not hitting the competencies and I either need to reframe how I discuss it or I need to think about something else.”
“But what you’ll also see is some bits of your CVF framework have got nothing in them, because none of your examples fit, so it might be working in partnership, or analysing critically and you can see quite quickly that you are going to have to think of other examples or activity to fill those gaps. So for me it’s always around initially, understanding your evidence and what that looks like, in terms of your ability to present.”
She then outlines and explains the importance of practice in verbalising your evidence, even if it involves the excruciating exercise of recording and listening back to yourself! She advises candidates to think about the wider context of interview questions in their answers; this is very much aligned with my unique, bespoke interview response structure, ©ENAMEL which I freely share (and expand upon in my premium materials / masterclass).
Katy also alludes to and provides guidance around context, models and options for answering promotion board questions. For example, ensuring your responses are aligned to the expectations of the rank you aspire to (something I cover in my exclusive Promotion Masterclass!).
She explains the complexity of your responses needs to increase as you ascend the ranks. So while more tactical responses are acceptable and expected for sergeant and inspector level, the higher up the ranks you go, you need that ability to look across the organisation, assess impact, reflect on yourself as a leader, and understand and show how you can learn/develop.
I also ask Katy what she believes is the most important thing sergeants should be thinking about when stepping up to the more strategic rank of Inspector. She responds with her personal view around why she believes the step up to inspector is more significant than the step up to sergeant. I found this really interesting, as other senior officers have emphasised the step up to sergeant.
Leading investigations is an important aspect for promotion candidates to consider, so I asked her views on this. Katy stated TVP had just set up a strategy focused on 3 key themes of crime investigation:
- Serving Victims
- Fighting Crime (all 3 points interlink in how TVP investigates crime)
- Improving Trust and Confidence
There is also a new crime management framework for oversight and grip, which Katy expands upon, especially in relation to their less experienced workforce arising from Uplift…
“We’ve noticed that particularly with our young-in-service workforce with the police uplift it’s something like 80% of our workforce in response is going to have under two years’ service by this Autumn. So it’s a really significant new workforce, and with that comes new supervisors because a lot of sergeants are going to have less service than historically we might have assumed sergeants would have, so we’ve got to be really clear around the training and the framework that we expect them to deliver on in terms of investigations.”
The force has quite a lot of direct entry detectives too, who are staying with the force, attrition rate is very low, they enjoy their roles, come with different backgrounds, and the diversity cohort is much better than via general recruitment. The force works closely with the company Police Now in relation to that. Thames Valley has also set up a Crime Academy to make sure the force is recruiting the right people and that they get the right training including the professional development of detectives.
We then spoke about Katy’s involvement on Twitter (or X as it is now!) and the ‘We Cops’ online forum and topical debates. We Cops has been running for 8 years and has had over 150 online ‘chats’ to date. Serving officers, the public or anyone can contribute and share their views on issues. Discussions are often chaired/run by prominent people previously including Chief Officers and more recently even a policing Minister. Work is ongoing to develop this platform to reach more people and allow access across different platforms as one vehicle for helping to build trust and confidence.
Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)
I asked Katy, “Given your research on the subject and your own ‘Policing Domestic Abuse’ report, what can policing do to tackle these apparent societal problems? What best practice exists to tackle attrition rates in DA investigation and maintain the support of victims?”
Katy replied that she had an academic passion in domestic abuse, having written a book on policing DA with some academic and former policing colleagues.
Katy explains that Domestic Abuse is a pandemic and issue for society, which still remains quite hidden in terms of the conversations people have. Police deal with it day in, day out and “the majority of the work that our officers are doing relates to domestic abuse.”
Katy clarified it’s getting more and more complicated, with new legislation, cultural changes in society, plus the expansion of technology used by perpetrators.
“I’m doing quite a lot of work in this space around adolescent domestic abuse so if you’re aged 14, 15, 16 and you are in an intimate partner relationship, and we know from research that 25% of 11-year-old boys have seen extreme pornography, what does that mean for the future of our teenagers in terms of what they understand to be relationships? And what does that look like in terms of the criminality we are starting to see in some of those younger relationships?”
There’s a lot to do in this space and “the only way we keep on it, is by talking about the fact it’s not just a policing issue, we are not going to police our way out of domestic abuse. It’s got to be a societal issue where it’s unacceptable and people have the confidence to speak up, but also that we as a society invest appropriately in support for victims in particular, support for perpetrators in terms of re-engagement and all of that kind of activity, as well as the policing piece around how we deal with individuals.”
Katy covers lots of other interesting points including attrition and speeding cases through to court, so listen to the audio for more.
Barriers Still Facing Women in Policing & More…
“The organisation has got a lot better.”
We then move onto discussing barriers still facing women in policing, including aspiring leaders. Katy shares some of her personal experience and insights around how TVP deals with this, including a strong women’s support network (led by superintendent Liz Knight).
And for the one best piece of CPD or career advice Katy has to give to officers aspiring to a leadership position?
Make sure you listen to the end!
Wherever you are in your policing career or promotion journey, I hope you found this blog and the podcast helpful.
Finally, and as mentioned before, consider this an open invitation to share my platform and reach 1000’s of officers around the UK and beyond with your passion. Whatever your rank or position, whether your interest is support for neurodiversity or leading an entire force, get in touch. We can have a respectful interview like this, you can write a guest blog, or even record yourself talking for a future podcast episode.
Kind Regards, Steve
Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast.