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Innovation in policing
Innovation in policing

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5 Failure – a key element of innovation

On a certain level, nobody wants to fail. When failure happens in organisations there are a multitude of potential consequences, both for the organisation and the individuals involved. This is particularly so for public-sector organisaations such as police who arguably ‘face greater scrutiny of their risk taking and their failures than private firms’ (Hartley and Knell, 2021, p. 3). Bayley and Bittner (1984) further emphasise that those in policing typically have limited scope to make mistakes or ‘fail’:

Police, unlike workers in most other jobs, are constantly being reminded of the fatefulness of their actions to themselves as well as to the public. They believe their jobs are on the line daily. So for police to avoid what would be viewed as a mistake by the department or the courts is an imperative.

One aspect of what police learn on the job, then, is what not to do. As an officer remarked, ‘In policing, don’ts are often more important than do’s.’

Bayley and Bittner, 1984, p. 43

The reality is, however, that even in policing failure – if managed carefully and consciously – has the potential to support innovation through the learning opportunities it provides. For policing organisations, two specific approaches to failure are worth considering: intelligent failure and vicarious failure.