Exploring the experiences of sergeants in response, neighbourhood and investigative roles

Research Institution / Organisation

College of Policing

Principal Researcher

Emily Dryer-Beers

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

October 2018

Research Context

Frontline supervision in the police is embodied by the sergeant, which is often described as ‘the most important rank’ because of the influence that sergeants are reported to have. As supervisors, they are responsible for line-managing the vast majority of officers and staff, ensuring the quality of their work, and supporting their wellbeing and development. Their wider roles include funnelling organisational messages to the frontline, taking important risk-based operational, command and resourcing decisions. Despite sergeants being ‘linchpins’ within the police, very little empirical research exists, particularly in England and Wales.

The most recent detailed picture of sergeants in England and Wales was presented ten years ago in an HMIC (2008) thematic inspection. Drawing on surveys, site visits and focus groups, it found there was a lack of understanding, clarity and cohesion about sergeants’ roles and enormous variation in working practices. It also highlighted some fundamental skills gaps (eg, command skills) and under-investment at the sergeant level.

Little is known about what has changed for sergeants over the past ten years since HMIC’s inspection, during which time there have been marked shifts in policing.

To help fill the gap in the evidence base, an exploratory study is proposed. The overarching aim of this study is broad in that it seeks to develop a better general understanding of sergeants and frontline supervision in policing. The planned research will feed into the design and development of the College of Policing’s programme of activities to develop leadership and management capability and capacity, which has received Police Transformation Funding (PTF) and aims to support the continuing professional development of officers and staff at all ranks and grades, providing specific development opportunities to frontline leaders.

The research will be interview based and focus on the following questions:

  • What experiences do sergeants have of being promoted into the rank?
  • How do sergeants go about supervising and leading their teams?
  • What challenges do sergeants face?
  • What support is provided?
  • What is seen to make a good sergeant?

Research Methodology

A total of 45 face-to-face interviews are planned with sergeants across five forces between Nov 2018 and Jan 2019, with the first force acting as a pilot for the overall approach.

The interviews will be divided equally across the three main sergeant roles – response, neighbourhoods and investigations – to ensure a range of experiences is captured in sufficient detail. The number of interviews carried out in each force may also enable provisional force-level findings to be drawn out, though of greater importance will be to understand how organisational structures and processes – which may be similar or different across forces – affect sergeants and their work experiences.

A small number of interviews with chief officers (one from each study force) are also planned to learn more about these local structures and processes, and provide context.

The main output from the research will be a practitioner focused report that summarises the aims of the study (including the methods used and their limitations) and the existing literature. The report will also seek to draw out the implications from the research for policing policy and practice.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

February 2022
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