Events, Psychology

Learning from success, near miss and failure: A psychologist at the Centre for Policing Research and Learning’s annual Conference

Dr Zoe Walkington from the School reports on a conference on policing research.

This week I attended the annual conference for the Centre for Policing Research and Learning. This conference invites police officers and staff to come out of their work place for two days to engage with talks and workshops alongside academic colleagues, and this year the theme was about how we can learn from successes, but we can also learn from near misses and failures.

There was a lot of content that would interest psychologists, some delivered by academics, some by police practitioners, and some drawn from other settings entirely (e.g. healthcare).

Firstly, Professor Laurence Alison, a psychologist from Liverpool University talked about people making decisions during critical incidents. He argued that when things go wrong in dealing with critical incidents in policing and other services, this often arise from failures to act. By that he meant that when people are trying to deal with high consequence decisions, that must be made quickly – the main problem is NOT that people make a bad decision, rather the problem is that they fail to make a decision – a phenomenon he referred to as decision-inertia. He talked about the importance of using frequent and fast training interventions to help people make decisions regularly in training environments (i.e. train hard, fight easy), and pointed out that thinking about ice skaters is a good way to visualise how we should improve our ability to make critical decisions. Ice skaters, when practicing, spend a lot of time falling and hence sitting on the ice. When performing though – they rarely fall. So, he argues, we need to provide the police with training environments in which they can fall, in order to allow them to improve in making the real-life decisions.

Dr Stephen Chase, who is the Director of People at Thames Valley Police gave a personal and reflective talk about being resilient in policing (and indeed other stressful working environments). He spoke about the need to preserve energy within demanding roles in order to perform effectively. As a psychologist I was interested to hear his reflections on how we can carve out our own wellbeing practices, even when working in complex organisations.

Dr Lis Bates, a newly appointed research fellow at the Centre for Policing Research and Learning facilitated a fascinating workshop about gender-based violence which was very thought provoking for all involved. Within the workshop we covered a variety of types of gender-based violence and police practitioners were able to raise some of the issues involved in trying both to police and also to support the victims involved in these difficult crimes.

These are just a small selection of the talks and workshops that had psychological content, but what I really took away from the conference was how important it was that we all listened to one another’s perspectives during the two days. In many applied areas of psychology, there are the practitioners and the academics, and lines are drawn between the two. One comments on the other, and yet there can be surprisingly little collaboration. It strikes me that the main success of the conference was in bringing people together, not so much to talk, as to listen. To consider things from a different viewpoint. This was particularly salient in workshops, where I can’t help but see things with my “psychology” head on. Yet the perspective taking that can be gained from “trying on someone else’s shoes” is incredibly helpful and refreshing.


Picture: from left to right Chris Naughton (Vice Chair of the Centre for Policing Research and Learning & Chief Inspector Dorset Police), Professor Jean Hartley (Chair of the Centre for Policing Research and Learning), Professor Jason Leitch CBE (National Clinical Director for the Government of Scotland),  Dr Steven Chase OBE (Chair of the Centre for Policing Research and Learning & Director of People at Thames Valley Police) Professor Graham Pike (Director of Research at the Centre for Policing Research and Learning) and Dr Zoe Walkington (Deputy Director for Learning at the Centre for Policing Research and Learning).

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