Looking out for law and order

Ian Hesketh

25 August 2016

For some, a career in policing would be enough, but Ian Hesketh also finds time to research police well-being at Lancaster University. 

When police officer Ian Hesketh first joined the Lancashire force in 1989, DNA was a sci-fi concept only encountered on Star Trek, but now it provides the evidence to solve even some of the most pedestrian crimes.

This recent knowledge explosion means a need for better education for the police, and the down-to-earth officer from Blackpool is a bit of a role model for this view. Having started as a beat bobby in Skelmersdale, with an apprenticeship as an electrician under his belt and 9 O Levels, he has added an MBA (2011) and a PhD (2015), -both from Lancaster-  to his name, plus a teaching qualification. He is also an Honorary Researcher at Lancaster University Management School, with a focus on police well-being.

However, Ian is clear that all this learning only feeds his essential role as a police officer. As Senior Policy Advisor to the College of Policing’s Organisational Division, he champions his view of the need for a better-educated police force, as does the College itself.

His argument is that policing is changing rapidly, with crimes becoming increasingly complicated and new responsibilities for protective roles in the community against terrorism, sexual abuse, domestic violence and hate crimes. Lack of a proof for action adds stress on a police force, still responding to cuts and re-organisation.

He says: "We have been a bit finger-in-the-air in the past. As officers, we lead other colleagues into some pretty tricky situations and for that to happen without evidence is not good enough."

That does not mean, as some argue, that a chief constable should have a doctorate, a superintendent a Masters and entry level should be only open to those with an undergraduate degree. Ian says: "I think that officers need to have an understanding about how research works. But I worry that with the increasing emphasis on qualifications that we will miss out on really practical police officers. There is no degree in common sense."

Ian joined the police at the age of 20 in 1989, having completed a British Aerospace apprenticeship as an electrician.

His thirst for knowledge and new experiences took him into community, traffic and even the police armed response team, until the opportunity cropped up to join the UN’s International Police Task Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1998. Part of his work was to set up the infrastructure for a new police force there following the civil war, working with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

"It was just fantastic," he recalls. "It was a massive test of personal resilience and a big opportunity to get to know yourself under nearly every conceivable circumstance."

On his return, Ian’s lively mind turned to new horizons in his own Lancashire Police force, which began to undergo changes. Through this, he began to develop an interest in police well-being and also the impact of leadership.

While working in the city of Lancaster in 2008, he felt the need to ‘better himself’. Studying near home made sense given Lancaster University Management School’s world-wide reputation, and he started his Executive MBA a year later.

The part-time, two-year modular Masters - covering strategy, leadership, accounting, organisational behaviour and marketing - was an eye opener. Ian says: "The secret was the academic supervision, which was what helped me to carry on. I enjoyed it all - even the exams. My cohort still keeps in contact - we were a real band of brothers."

NHS staff, electricians and teachers met for a week’s study at a time on each module and then kept in touch by phone and email on their return home.

Being thrown in with a range of different professions clarified for Ian that good management is about applying theory to a specific environment. He says: "A lot of it is about how you treat people, coupled with good marketing and good finance. I cannot separate leadership from the psychological well-being of officers."

As part of his MBA he did a study on Advanced Strategic Leadership with course director Steve Kempster, which led to work with Assistant Chief Constable of Lancashire Police Tim Jacques to develop modelling tools to apply the leadership techniques to the force.

Such was his enjoyment that he decided to carry on with a PhD on well-being in policing, focusing on the efficacy of personal resilience programmes and the role of leaders, supervised by distinguished academic Professor Cary Cooper and Dr Jon Ivy, both of whom he speaks about with the highest praise: "The secret was in the supervision, it was superb. I know people studying at other universities who were abandoned to their own devices."

Out of this research emerged his new concept of ‘Leaveism', describing the phenomena of employees using flexitime, annual leave and rest days, rather than taking sick leave. Since then he has written a series of papers with his former supervisor developing the concept.

It was not only about study. As a member of Lonsdale College, Ian threw himself into being a Student Ambassador at the University, a Management School PhD Representative and a mentor.

Although his PhD research is finished, he continues to expand the boundaries, with an enhanced confidence to speak on subject areas with authority. He often works with Cary Cooper and has published a number of academic papers. His current research interest is to look at empathy in policing and whether it can be taught, given that police are considered to be cold, he says. The policing and the research complement each other, with the latter being carried out in his spare time.

He has also worked with police bosses interested in well-being, to set up a police leadership course at Lancaster University, to give senior leaders an evidence base from which to operate. He wants to see it extended across the country. Says Ian: "We need to prove the optimal way forward, not having the highest-ranking officer making a decision on little evidence."