I first stumbled across the concept of a Fulbright Scholarship three or four years ago. It seemed like something that only ‘other people’ did. So despite my interest, I didn’t proceed with an application. I have a long held ambition to work abroad, but with my chosen profession (policing) not being particularly transferrable on the international stage, in the same way that perhaps medicine or engineering might be, and with a mortgage to look after in London, it seemed that working abroad was an ambition that was never likely to be realised. That was until summer 2017 when my employer, the Met, invited applications from serving officers to be considered for a five-month scholarship in the United States. With the promise of a modest bursary and a commitment to continue paying my salary, the practicalities of continuing to service financial commitments at home, whilst working abroad, started to look more feasible.
With the support of my boss I was able to produce a proposition which secured me the nomination of the Met and the Fulbright Commission – five months in the USA, working with academics at the world renowned John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York. With the NYPD also being extremely helpful in agreeing to host the practical element of my research, the stage is set for a big adventure.
For those not in the know, William Fulbright was a United States Senator in the period after the second world war, when conflict was still fresh in the memories of people on both sides of the Atlantic. He wisely recognised that:
“Our future is not in the stars but in our minds and hearts. Creative leadership and liberal education…are the first requirements for a hopeful future for humankind. Fostering these – leadership, learning, and empathy between cultures – was and remains the purpose of the international scholarship programme” (William Fulbright).
There was only ever really one candidate city where I sought to undertake the scholarship. The policing landscape in New York and London is so similar, with arguably only one or two other US cities offering anything like, amongst other things, the same diversity of population, international scrutiny, crime profile and size of workforce. For very good reason, the Commissioner of the Met is looking beyond London, beyond the UK and indeed beyond policing to soak up new ideas and extend the influence of the Met into an organisation with a truly global reach. With a stated ambition to make London the safest global city, the need to build comparative and supportive relationships with our global peers is more pressing than ever. Active steps are now being taken to establish a recognised ‘two-forces’ model between the Met and NYPD, where relationships are established at all levels of the organisation. It is, therefore simply the natural place to re-locate and undertake research that will, hopefully, be of benefit to both forces.
As someone with a social media reach that doesn’t really extend beyond a bit of ‘twitter-ing’ and ‘linkedin-ing’ this is my first foray into world of blogging. Firstly, to provide family and friends with some anecdotes and news from across the pond and secondly, to provide regular feedback into the Met and the Fulbright Commission, who have so graciously supported this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Having spent the last three years working as a Business Change Manager on a digital transformation project, I have established a firm interest in this discipline. Much of my previous research has explored organisational culture, police reform and police leadership – so I’ve got a background in these disciplines, upon which I hope to build new knowledge and understanding in the US. The scope and pace of change in policing is of a magnitude that is without precedent. The financial drivers are clear to see. An ever-reducing budget is forcing the service to work differently. Crime trends are shifting. Public scrutiny is, rightly, ever present. Cyber threats are placing demands on policing that, just ten years ago, were unheard of. Terrorism remains a global challenge which so often plays out on the streets of London. Safeguarding of vulnerable people requires new and innovative approaches to working with partner agencies. Within this complex and ever-shifting context, it is clear that transformational change is not just a short term need to which policing can respond in a superficial way. It is a new dimension to policing and to police leadership. It is here to stay. To that end, the sharing of ideas between global law enforcement agencies, to compare and contrast ways of working, is a valid and compelling discipline in need of extensive research.
So with the support of the amazing team at the US-UK Fulbright commission, I have navigated the complexities of visa applications, health screening and the eye-wateringly expensive NYC property market and have now settled into a small but perfectly formed studio apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The chaos of packing up the house ready for our friends to move in next week can now be forgotten and with the sore heads caused by last week’s leaving dos now starting to ease, attention can turn to the adventure that lies ahead.
A very busy first day is now coming to an end. Bank account opened, mobile phone sorted and the fridge is now full. Helpful people all day: the woman at the Bank of America, the chap on the subway, the fella at the fruit stall – all chatty, energetic New Yorkers who were open to conversation and doing all they could to make us feel welcome.
Beyond the academic and professional development that is the obvious outcome of this programme, Fulbrighters are also encouraged, indeed expected, to immerse themselves in the culture of their host country and enjoy the fun stuff too. The New York Comedy festival starts next week. Seven days, over 100 shows. Stand-up always provides such an insightful window on what a nation is talking about. I guess the Brexit narrative might be a little less prevalent than what we have been used to at home over the past few months, but no doubt there will be similar levels of interest in relation to US political life. The mid-term elections are just around the corner and a certain US president will, no doubt, be a point of much discussion here, just as he is back home.