The Good Life: Policing and Virtue Ethics.

virtue ethicsThis Summer saw the first Policing Governance Summit from CoPaCC and Policing Insight. I am not one for the Conference circuit but I was honoured to be asked to present at this one as it was an opportunity to be heard by a range of PCCs and OPCC staff. I have reproduced my speech in full here, in the hope to continue the conversation. The book I refer to is Policing and Public Management: Governance, Vices and Virtues. Whilst it is an academic offering, I found it engaging and inspiring enough to recommend it to everyone with an interest in future Policing. Professors Kevin Morrell and Ben Bradshaw have taken modern examples of UK Policing and managed to discuss them around a Virtue Ethics approach – no easy task, but a wonderful springboard for my mind – perhaps for yours too?

I should add, the thoughts around HMIC, tick box governance and the National Decision Making model are all my own, so don’t seek out Kevin or Ben to berate them, please!


Hi. I’m Cate Moore and amongst other things, I am the Independent Chair for Lincolnshire Police Ethics Panel. I am also an ex Police Officer, a writer,  a mother, a friend and a member of the public. It is, above all others in that last role that I stand before you today.  I’m going to keep my contribution here very short but before I begin, I want to tell you all something. I don’t do Conferences. When the opportunity to be involved with this particular Conference came about, I didn’t hesitate. I knew I wanted to be part of this. Governance in Policing is a greatly overlooked yet powerful tool. The potential to effect good change is enormous but, for the most part, not recognised.

I knew I wanted to be part of this and I had so many strands of thoughts on what I would like to say to you all. Then I read Kevin’s book and there was no question in my mind – all I want to do is talk to you about what I have taken away from that first reading.

Firstly, it is really useful to think about what we are trying to achieve through governance of Policing. As Kevin points out, good Policing is not about an outcome – it is about ongoing activity. That’s a simple statement but actually quite a difficult concept in today’s Policing environment. Policing has become bogged down by extrinsic motivations. Negative praise, if you will. Inspecting bodies like HMIC insist on using old frameworks which may hold Forces back and discourage innovation. How can we encourage new and better approaches when so much time and effort is thrown into ticking boxes for HMIC reports which ultimately do nothing to contribute to the Public Good. Surely the point of Governance isn’t to enforce unthinking compliance, it should be to support and stimulate innovation and quality of service for the public good.  If the answer to what are we trying to achieve through governance is the production of order, but we accept there is no end result, just an ongoing state of activity, we free up our people from having to justify every single decision and having to pay individually for every lack of positive result. We take away the negative working environment and allow intrinsic motivations to take centre stage.  Intrinsic motivations are difficult to measure so they are probably quite scary for a lot of people. Autonomy, self determination, enjoyment, meaningful tasks, social environment. These are intrinsic motivations but perhaps of particular interest to the room today, so is the latitude to make informed decisions based on positive organisational principles rather than strictly enforced compliance to policy and procedures. How organisational policy and practice are constructed and enforced has a direct impact on how people can Police the public and therefore how the public allow themselves to be policed. Governance really matters. Public good is dependent on the link between the public, front line officers and governance of police organisations.

And of course, we are all the public. We all want to live The Good Life – actually, I really did want to be Felicity Kendall when I was younger, but that’s another story! A Good Life might well be a suburban semi with pigs and chickens in the back garden but it might be a myriad of other things too. It is the essence of what it means to be us. How we live, who we are – the public, a police officer, a parent, a friend….the one thing we all have in common is that we are seeking a Good Life.

If I was talking to a room of operational police officers someone would probably be heckling me by now for my evangelical preaching. And I get that. Whether you call them Wicked Problems or Impossible Jobs or some other title, we all know Policing is unique in that it faces daily dilemmas that cannot be fixed by simple application of a proscribed procedure. What I would say to our frankly exhausted friends who are at the business end of all of this, dealing with the fall out on a daily basis, is this: Policing is becoming too dependent on the National Decision Making model which is formulaic and whilst suited to critical or tame problems, it is unsuited to complex and ambiguous problems that spill forth from the lives of living humans. People’s lives and communities are messy. Simple tools bluntly applied will not address complex problems. It is right to give our Officers back some autonomy within a legal and ethical framework and stop trying to police by rote. I imagine some of you feel uneasy with this notion –  but then there has been more than a generation of tick box governance. The challenge is that governance may need to be less one size fits all and more about the freedom to operate within well defined ethical and legal principles. I think this is more a leap of faith rather than a blind step. Perception of organisational justice is powerful and instead of always being sorry for not solving the unsolvable dilemmas inherent in the fabric of society, it is time to support Officers to work towards creating conditions for the public to flourish. Did anybody watch Star Trek years ago? Not just me, surely! I was a bit of a Next Generation fan, myself. Some episodes would be set in alien communities where they were living the Good Life. They. Were. Such. Boring. Places. I don’t want to live in a perfect society where individuality and choice has all but disappeared. I want quite the opposite. I’m fairly certain that’s the same for most people. In which case, we have to accept that some dilemmas just have to be lived with. To Police successfully then, is to Police in an environment of continual ambiguity – and to accept it.

I am, as you may have picked up, so enthused by the stuff I read in Kevin’s book. I would like very much to offer you all a challenge. The book ends by saying the authors are hopeful they will contribute usefully to conversations about Policing and the Public Good. I’d like to start a conversation with any or all of you who are interested in moving Policing forward for a new age. And most of all, I really hope to be back next year and hear how some of you have become early adopters and are trying something new. You cannot avoid the straight jacket of inspections and expectations but you can put the Public Good above all of that.

Thank you for listening.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s