Move will bring police forces into line with other public sector employers such as in education, with 28 year old headteachers
A fast-track system of accelerated promotion in the police for the brightest recruits is being announced on Wednesday by the home secretary, Theresa May, as part of a radical overhaul of recruitment.
The package, which could see the first chief constables appointed in their late 20s and early 30s, will also open up the senior ranks of the police to outsiders for the first time and allow senior officers from abroad to apply for the top job of chief constable in each of the 43 forces across England and Wales.
The introduction of direct entry by outsiders to the senior ranks of inspector, superintendent and chief constable will end a century-old tradition that those who run the forces outside London have all started as constables pounding the beat.
The introduction of the fast-track promotion scheme will mean that a recruit who joins a force at 18 will be able to reach the rank of assistant chief constable and above within 10 to 15 years instead of the 20 to 25 years that it currently takes.
The move will end the scenario where nobody under 40 is able to occupy the 334 top positions in England and Wales of assistant chief constable or Metropolitan police commander and above. It will also bring the police into line with some other parts of the public sector, such as education, where there are headteachers as young as 28.
Wednesday’s consultation paper will also detail the conditions for the recruitment of foreign senior police officers to the post of chief constable but it will make clear they can only apply if they have worked in a force that operates the British traditional model of “policing by consent”. This will in effect limit recruits to those from the old “white Commonwealth” of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
The former New York “zero tolerance” police chief, Bill Bratton, 66, has said the only job he is interested in Britain is that of Met commissioner but the Home Office is expected to endorse the view of its current holder, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, that no vacancy exists.
Despite being the top job in British policing, the Met commissioner’s post was not filled by a police officer for its first 129 years, when it was filled by army colonels and generals, air force chiefs and senior civil servants. The first career police officer in the post was Sir Joseph Simpson in 1958 who graduated from Hendon police college as a station inspector after joining as a constable.
The package follows the review into police pay and conditions by Tom Winsor, now Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, who recommended that able people of high achievement from every section of society should be able to join the higher ranks of the police as long as they can meet rigorous standards of attainment.
“The infusion of people of high ability from outside the police service, who have perspectives and experience which the police service lacks in sufficient measure, and needs, should improve significantly the efficiency and effectiveness of modern policing,” he said.
It may also improve the “stubbornly white” make-up of the police leadership with no minority ethnic students on the current police strategic command course.
Those who join at inspector rank from business, the military, the security services or elsewhere under the direct entry scheme will have to go through a 15-month basic training course before they assume command.
But the move has been highly controversial within the police. Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has recently said he doesn’t want to see “people on work experience taking high-risk decisions” in riot or kidnap cases and has stressed the “strength in depth” of the current police leadership.