Professional capability: Professional capability of police officers
Nina van Loon, i.c.w. prof. dr. Mirko Noordegraaf, prof. dr. Wilmar Schaufeli, dr. Maria Peeters, dr. Antoinette de Bont
A police officer is running towards the crime scene. A victim is lying on the ground bleeding, the offender is trying to run away. By‐standing citizens are screaming directions to the police officer, and in a split second her training, protocols, rules and supervisor orders have to accumulate in a decision how to act. Public service professionals such as police officers, teachers, social workers and nurses have to be able to handle pressure, as it is inherent in their jobs. They have to deal with multiple, sometimes conflicting, interests from direct users, citizens and government (Brewer 2006; Rainey & Bozeman 2000). They have to deal with the complexity of everyday life while they are asked to account for whether what they have done concurs with the rules and protocols that are set by society (Rainey 2009). They have to deal with the control that society wants to hold over them through inspection, regulation and oversight (Rainey 2009; Walker et al. 2011).
According to some, these public service employees suffer under these pressures. They cannot deliver the quality they were used to anymore, and suffer from alienation and burn‐out (Ackroyd et al., 2007; Exworthy & Halford, 1999; Jansen 2009; Noordegraaf & Steijn 2014; Tummers 2011). The only solution to the problem is to change the system by decreasing control and ‘giving back’ autonomy to the work floor, it is argued (Jansen 2009). This view is problematic as it depicts public service employees as passive victims whereas many of them are able to do something if they encounter too much pressure. Moreover, in current society it is unlikely that citizens will become less impertinent and public service employees can give unidirectional orders, which are obeyed without questions. Finally, full autonomy of such public service employees is not only unlikely, but also undesirable from a legal‐democratic perspective in which employees that execute public functions have to account for their actions to a forum of stakeholders (Bovens 2005; Noordegraaf 2005).
Instead of focusing on the problems, pressures and negative way of dealing with this that appears to be dominant in the current literature on public service employees (Lipsky 1980; Tummers et al. 2015), this study aims to redirect attention towards how these employees take charge by proactively dealing with their situation using professional strategies. Taking charge means that the employee proactively identifies potential pressures and dilemma’s and aims to tackle them. The employee takes independent choices in which the various stakeholder interests are balanced. Moreover, the employee is actively involved in setting standards for the field with co‐workers and maintaining a high level of knowledge to deal with pressures in the future. Such professional strategy is called professional capability (Noordegraaf et al., 2015): proactively coping with – and at times resisting – work‐related expectations, challenges and burdens that dynamic environments and stakeholders pose upon the professional.
Professional capability is seen as a proactive type of dealing specifically with the pressures specific to public work. This study aims to provide insight in how such coping strategy influence the behavior and performance of these employees. Since various stakeholders can have different opinions on what constitute good quality, this study aims to include multiple perspectives on quality in answering the question:
How does professional capability of policemen relate to police performance as seen from various stakeholder perspectives?