Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Following reports of a culture of bullying, harassment, racism and misogyny at a London police station, Avon and Somerset Constabulary Chief Constable Sarah Crew felt compelled to write a blog for her officers about the critical issues facing policing right now and the culture she believes must be embedded to address them.

Feb 16, 2022
Chief Constable Sarah Crew

I believe what we are seeing now is a critical incident for the whole police service.

You only have to look at the headlines and hear the media commentary, to know that public confidence is waning. And as it increases in the public consciousness, we will see more and more cases being brought into the light. We need to act collectively to respond and deal with this critical incident as we would in any other crisis.

As I have said before, I truly believe that for policing the threat we face to our legitimacy is as significant now as that we faced in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the resulting Macpherson report. However, as difficult as this is, it also presents us with a moment of great opportunity.

Strategy is nothing if the culture is not right. It is my job as chief constable to define the culture that the public need us to have. It is my job and that of the chief officer team to equip, enable and ensure leaders at every level create and maintain that culture.

It is the job of leadership to create a policing system which supports and reinforces that culture, embracing everything from how we recruit and promote, to confidential reporting systems, to the size of our counter corruption unit, to the type of behaviours we reward and recognise and the ones we do not.

So I am going to bring our culture intentionally and overtly to the centre of our organisational focus. I am going to start by defining the desired culture and I am going to do this right now.

Our values define us and provide a foundation for all that we do. However, I want us to have a culture built upon two pillars which complement these:

  • Courage – courage to confront uncomfortable truths, to confront what is wrong within policing and to be honest with the public when we have got things wrong; and
  • Empathy – and specifically empathy that requires us to listen deeply and to create space for people to tell us things they think we might not want to hear.

I am going to embark on a programme of work which equips our leaders to create, role model and deliver this culture and which creates a policing system which supports and reinforces it.

I am 100 per cent behind the 99 per cent of our officers and staff who do everything in your power to do the best by the people we serve. I have given 27 years of my life to policing and to this force and there is no greater privilege for me than to be your chief constable.

But I need everyone to know that I will never condone the one per cent who believe they can rely upon their colleagues to look the other way while they place at risk the bond of trust we have with our communities.

There will be no rogue sub-cultures on my watch.

There is no neutral ground in this war; there is no option to sit on the sidelines. You must choose which side you are on and, if it’s with the 99 per cent you must act now with courage and with empathy to root out the one per cent that cause so much harm.

This post first appeared on the LinkedIn page of Avon and Somerset Constabulary

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