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Police leadership: the challenges for developing contemporary practice

Claire Davis (Liverpool Centre for Advanced Policing Studies, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK)
Di Bailey (Department of Social Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Article publication date: 24 November 2017

Issue publication date: 7 March 2018




In recent years, police leadership integrity and standards have been positioned as central to the professionalisation agenda of the police service England and Wales (College of Policing, 2015). The purpose of this paper is to explore the challenges for developing innovative, more people-oriented approaches to leadership in a command environment like the police.


A case study approach in one UK police constabulary was adopted. In all, 38 semi-structured interviews were conducted with senior police officers from chief constable to inspector rank. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed.


Police officers drew on managerial and command discourses in their understandings of leadership. Perceptions of the situation, particularly in terms of perceived risk and visibility, influenced leadership practices in the constabulary.


Current research and policy places emphasis on “what works” in police leadership; the meanings of leadership to police officers is overshadowed by a focus on effectiveness. Through the use of semi-structured interviews, this research captures police leaders’ understandings of themselves and their leadership. The findings reveal that, at a time when police leadership needs to become more innovative and people focussed, the pressures and complexities of contemporary policing mean that police officers retreat to leadership that is command-based and driven by the primacy of business needs.



Davis, C. and Bailey, D. (2018), "Police leadership: the challenges for developing contemporary practice", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 13-23.



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