What CAN you do? Changing police culture


By Jamie Mills
DPA General Secretary

For the past three years the DPA have been working hard to change hearts and minds to change the culture in policing for disabled officers and staff to a culture that first considers what disabled officers and staff can do rather than what they can’t do.

This ethos must also be mirrored by disabled officers and staff themselves, as arguably we have a greater responsibility for our own career and career development than does the police service.

By focusing on what we can do, rather than what we can’t, managers and employers are much more likely to find a person well suited to the gap they are trying to fill. They will also be making best use of that person’s skills, abilities and training, reaping the reward of the investment they or someone else have already made. Its a ‘no brainer’ really!

But, all too often over the years, even today, we hear from some leaders who freely admit that they “don’t want the sick, the lame or the lazy on their team”.

Too much time has been spent thinking about and developing strategies to get ‘that’ individual “moved to another team”, rather than looking for their strengths and developing them.

If only these efforts were put towards being creative and making the best use of that individual, they would soon realise what a blessing, rather than a burden that person truly is.

Hence the drive to shift policing culture from “can’t do” to “can do”.

As mentioned previously, the individual in question must also adapt to this cultural change. Disabled officers and staff are the true leaders of this change. Adopting an approach of telling a senior officer how you can solve their problem, rather than the problems you want them to solve for you, will inevitably lead to an increased demand for what you have to offer.

After all, you wouldn’t go to a job interview and tell the interviewer about everything you can’t do and expect to be given the job, would you?

This cultural change is starting to slowly embed, with regular references to the “can do” phrase now being made by Home Office policy makers, Chief Constables, HR professionals and the Police Federation of England & Wales. The Limited Duties recommendations by Sir Tom Winsor have ironically provided the perfect platform to ‘turn the tide’.

But is it working?

Plenty of people are now saying it, but how many are actually doing it?

Momentum is building, but we are far away from the tipping point whereby it becomes embedded as ‘normal practice’ in policing.

Sadly, stories are already emerging from forces trying to implement new Limited Duties policies and struggling to get it right, causing disabled officers to feel undervalued and in fear of being pushed out of a career they once loved.

As if having to live with the challenges of a disability wasn’t enough.

Officers are already being told by line managers, senior leaders and even HR professionals: “that’s not an adjusted duties role so you can’t apply for that”, and “we only have one role available for a limited duties officer”.

These conversations aren’t malicious, well not as far as I can tell, usually just misguided and insensitive.

It must not be forgotten that people, human beings, come in all different shapes and sizes, its commonly referred to as ‘diversity’. So too do health conditions and disabilities. We were all made different to the person standing next to us, and so to that difference and variation exists amongst illness, injury and disablement.

For example, one person with an ileostomy (an abdominal stoma) may have a totally different level of ability to the next person with an ileostomy. One may have suffered surgical complications, or practical difficulties based on their size or stature, or any number of other factors. They may not even be able to be able to continue in employment. The other, may have no limitations whatsoever and is now defined as being ‘fully deployable’.

So, taking account of this level of difference in one single medical condition, not even considering the many hundreds, thousands or even millions of other health conditions in existence, how can it possibly be said that a policing role has been classified ‘suitable’ or ‘unsuitable’ for an officer on adjusted duties (an officer with a disablement)?

The message is getting out – not quickly enough, but it is starting to permeate with those who are more open to change and dialogue.

We are seeing some great examples of this cultural shift, with key people in policing and stakeholders asking the right questions. For example: where could the skills of disabled officers be best utilised in modern policing?

However, these questions and conversations don’t yet appear to be translating into actual strategy.

How can we truly understand the needs of the communities we serve when we don’t even understand our own staff?

It takes good leaders to see potential. It takes the best leaders to turn it into something.