Selection and development of senior police officers is inconsistent and often ineffective, warns report

Police forces do not always identify the best candidates for senior leadership positions because of questionable selection procedures, according to a new report.

In addition, current training does not equip chief officers with the knowledge and skills they need to perform at their best.

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Leading Lights: An inspection of the police service’s arrangements for the selection and development of chief officers

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) carried out a joint inspection to determine how effectively police forces select and train candidates for chief officer roles.

The report, Leading Lights: An inspection of the police service’s arrangements for the selection and development of chief officers, found that a lack of consistency, fairness and transparency is having a detrimental effect on police forces’ ability to identify and support those with the most potential to become chief officers.

The report highlighted three major areas of concern:

  • Police forces are not able to identify potential chief officers as quickly and effectively as they should be.
  • Training and development opportunities for chief officers are not sufficiently comprehensive or coherent.
  • The appointment of chief officers is managed in an often-haphazard manner.

The Inspectorates identified a variety of factors contributing to these problems, including the following:

  • Different forces apply selection and assessment guidelines in different ways, leading to large-scale regional variations and inconsistencies.
  • The Strategic Command Course (SCC) contains modules which may not be relevant to all forces.
  • Too often there is a shortage of applicants for chief officer roles, and officers do not move between forces readily enough.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said:

“Chief officers are responsible for setting the overall strategy of a force, as well as directing its day to day operations and organisation. It is crucial that we have the very best people on those roles.

“Unfortunately, we found that the current processes used to select and develop senior police leaders are sometimes inadequate. Additionally, they are generally applied in a very inconsistent manner, leading to variations in ability and experience between different forces.

“The weaknesses in the system mean the playing field is unlevel and unfair, which means it is impossible to be sure we always have the right people leading police forces. Ultimately, it potentially means less capable applicants being selected over better ones and those applicants then receiving sub-standard training.

“We also identified a lack of diversity amongst chief officers. We know that women and BAME individuals are underrepresented at chief officer level, but we also determined that there is a lack of diversity of experience.

“For example, many chief officers have only ever served with one force. This means that they may not be equipped to deal with challenges not traditionally seen in the regions (for example, dealing with rural crimes in an urban locale).

“It is clear that the selection and training of chief officers needs to be examined in further detail. Our report concludes with a list of recommendations designed to strengthen and standardise the approach to selecting and training chief officers.”

The Inspectorates issued several recommendations to help improve the selection and development of chief officers, including the following:

  • The College of Policing (CoP) should commission independent reviews of the SPNAC and SCC.
  • The professional reference group, which advises the CoP on the SPNAC and SCC, should be expanded to include figures outside policing.
  • The CoP should draft new regulations, and provide comprehensive information, on the conduct and procedure for selecting which candidates will attend the SPNAC.
  • The CoP should, with the support of other relevant organisations, devise a new framework for continuous professional development (supported by a new national workforce planning function).

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Leading Lights: An inspection of the police service’s arrangements for the selection and development of chief officers


  1. HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing and fire and rescue services in the public interest. It assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and fire and rescue services.
  2. HMICFRS inspects all 45 fire and rescue services in England. It also inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies. It also publishes data and thematic reports on areas of particular interest.
  3. HMICS provides independent scrutiny of both Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA). Its role was reaffirmed by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, which gave HMICS wide ranging powers to look into the “state, effectiveness and efficiency” of both Police Scotland and the SPA.
  4. This is the first time that HMICFRS and HMICS have undertaken a joint inspection into the selection and development of chief officers in police forces in the United Kingdom. The inspection took place from January 2019 to May 2019.
  5. For further information, HMICFRS’s press office can be contacted from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  6. HMICFRS’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217729.