Former Police Commissioner enlightens academics on leading cultural change within an organization

28 May 2012
Simon Overland

Simon Overland has spoken publicly about his experiences for the first time since leaving the force. Last Friday, the former Victorian Police Commissioner addressed academics at a UQ Business School seminar entitled "Lessons from Leading Cultural Change in a Large Police Organisation."

Simon Overland asserted that, to change an organisational culture, leaders have to establish legitimacy. Recounting his own personal police experience, he described spending a quarter of his time in face-to-face contact with his officers and even “going out on the beat in a divvy van with a junior constable.”

Quoting 17th century philosophers to explain his approach to healthy policing, Overland highlighted that the existing frameworks range from Hobbes's notion of needing the threat of force to behave appropriately to Locke’s notion of a social contract between citizens and government.

“When Sir Robert Peel set up the first police force in England in the 19th century, he adopted Locke’s philosophy of a police service who serve rather than enforce,” Overland explained. “This form of policing service is inclusive and tries to understand, rather than creating simplistic ‘us and them’ caricatures used in the thin blue line approach.”

Overland highlighted how such an approach has led to huge improvements in responses to domestic violence in Victoria and how the cycle of crime and violence can be broken by understanding the psychology of a criminal and using procedural fairness. He disputed any claims to call this approach “soft policing.”

Overland stepped down as Police Commissioner when it became obvious that he was not going to get the support of the state government to maintain the cultural changes he felt were necessary.

Attendees with an interest in management and organisation theory found Mr Overland's unique perspective and reflections invaluable as they drew on his 30 years’ experience within the various ranks of the Police Force.

Associate Professor Bernard McKenna stated that “Simon is keen to maintain a strong relationship with the UQ Business School and the school is keen to draw on his experience and intelligent analysis again in the future.”