Walking the talent tightrope : becoming a 'top cop' in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)

Heritage, Tamsyn J. (2018) Walking the talent tightrope : becoming a 'top cop' in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Chief police officers represent a small cadre of individuals who have risen to occupy some of the most important and, arguably, testing roles within modern British public life, wielding a powerful influence over crime, security and safety in the UK. However, although there is now a significant body of research on policing, very little of it has focused on examining those who occupy the top ranks of the police service and the processes by which they are identified, selected, assessed and appointed.

The purpose of this study is to consider what constitutes a ‘top cop’ within the modern Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and to review the key steps in the chief officer selection and appointment process. Based upon an extensive literature review and confidential interviews with a sample of chief officers in the MPS, the research examines the backgrounds, experience and leadership qualities of the MPS chief officer team. It also explores their views on the challenges of modern policing, on key policing debates, such as direct entry, and the ‘system’ and processes that got them to where they are.

Building on the works of Reiner (1991), Wall (1998) and Caless (2011), it is intended that this research study will shed some new light on this elite, but relatively undocumented group, which will be of interest to academics and practitioners alike, and also encourage others to undertake further research in this field.

The study concludes by highlighting some key aspects of the chief officer selection and appointment process that are worth revisiting and refining in the face of the growing leadership challenges that policing faces at the top of the service. Specifically, the thesis sets out five recommendations for wider consideration by the police Human Resources (HR) community. These include:

- The need to establish a national talent management approach to support the appointment and ongoing development of chief officers;
- Commissioning research to define the leadership skills and experience that are required at chief officer level;
- Introducing more robust evaluation and external validation into the chief officer selection and appointment process;
- Reviewing and repositioning Direct Entry within the police service;
- Reviewing the chief officer structure within the MPS

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