This is the official blog of ex-Sgt Ellie Bloggs. I was a real live police constable then sergeant for twelve years, on the real live front line of England. I'm now a real live non-police person. All the facts I recount are true, and are not secrets. If they don't want me blogging about it, they shouldn't do it. PS If you don't pay tax, you don't (or didn't) pay my salary.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

A Routine Call

Whenever I was called to a job involving someone armed with a firearm, machete, or other weapon of lethal force, I used to be fairly relaxed. 
"Are you wearing PPE?" Control room ask.
You have time to stop, put on your body armour or tighten it up, give your PAVA gas a shake and think about how you're going to approach the address, what cover you will use to hide from harm, and how you and your colleagues may subdue the offender. 
Inevitably, on arrival, the weapon is nowhere to be seen or is thrown down quickly.
It's the "routine calls" that get you.
The domestic that turns into an officer fighting for her life against an axe-wielding maniac.
PC Lisa Bates lost a finger and sustained a fractured skull in the attack
The vehicle check where the offender suddenly pulls out a handgun.
To guard against this type of incident, you would have to train officers to risk-assess like soldiers in hostile territory.  To assume every house, every car, contains an enemy tooled up to the eyeballs.  You would need four times, or ten times, the number of armed officers, to ensure you don't have the ludicrous situation where the police are no more equipped than the public to deal with these incidents.
The government wants police officers to now pay to put themselves through a policing degree, and is leaning towards recruits and senior officers with higher level exams and civilian business experience.  How do you reconcile the true nature of policing, the blood, the guts and the ignominy, with the government's view of the white collar police academic?
Yet more evidence that the government is not on our wavelength when it comes to police reform.
Yet more evidence that the sacrosanct British bobby is on the way out.  How many will continue to do their job, under these conditions?

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

It's still the police's fault

Even though the IPCC concluded that Lee Birch was hell-bent on killing ex-wife Anne-Marie, the papers still report this as if it was the police's fault.  No officers had to answer for misconduct and there were "learning points" only, which is effectively when the IPCC tell you to assume every future call will be a potential murder.
Domestic murders are particularly grim, and no police officer wants to think they had a chance to intervene in one.  But the papers (and public) repeatedly fail to grasp key facts about this type of crime:
  • It is not news that domestic incidents had been reported to the police before.  Very few people wake up one day and become psychotic murderers with no previous pattern of violent behaviour.
  • If there was insufficient evidence to prove previous reports, then no charges could have been brought.
  • Non-molestation/Prevention against harassment orders are only as good as the sentences given for breaching them. 
  • The police do not make court bail decisions, nor sentencing ones.
  • Family, friends and neighbours are quick to blame the police post-death, but may not have been willing to give statements or intervene before the murder happened.  They should not be blamed for wanting answers as they deal with feelings of guilt and bereavement, but they may be no more or no less culpable than the police.
It is an eternal frustration to read headlines like the above, especially in a case where the police really did very little wrong.  Of course, when the police do get it wrong, the case should be highlighted, and any officers who messed up through laziness or incompetence should be duly dealt with. 
In all such cases, it would be nice if the press would remember that in every case of domestic violence that does NOT lead to a murder, there is the possibility that the police did something right. 
Which doesn't make for such a snappy headline.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Off with Stress

At last, some concrete figures to support what front-line officers have been feeling over the last few years: police officers off sick with stress is up a whopping 35% in flat numbers despite a decrease in overall police numbers.
When I joined Blandshire Constabuary in 2003, there was never a shortage of people putting their hands up for voluntary overtime, to stay on dealing with shoplifters, doing scene watches, or just covering shortages on the next shift.  In recent years as a sergeant, trying to find people to stay on was like pulling teeth.  In the end, we'd just draw straws.  Gruelling shift patterns, reduced staffing levels and reduction in rest day working payments, have all contributed.
All these measures were designed to save money and alter police conditions to bring it more in line with a "normal" job.  Instead, they are forcing overtime budgets up and now we are seeing the consequence of trying to treat police officers like any other employees. 
Police work is not "normal".  That's not me having an inflated view of myself or my colleagues.  That's fact.  In any other job, if someone swears in your face and threatens you, you call a manager or for the police.  If there's a fire alarm or bomb alert, you evacuate to safety.  If a colleague is attacked and seriously injured, someone else will come to help you and deal with it. 
In the police, you are the one that deals with these situations.  I have tended to injured parties while fights go on around my head.  I have been assaulted and threatened on numerous occasions.  I have dealt with defecation and vomit, and still done my job.  I have reassured people who were dying, even though it was hopeless.  I have crept alone through darkened houses looking for intruders, because the householders were too afraid.  I have been the only thing standing between a woman and the husband wanting to smash her face in.  I have taken decisions that no one else wanted to take, when all my managers were asleep in bed.  I have been blamed for mistakes I've made and the mistakes of others.  I have seen good men and women drawn to desperate acts that lost them their jobs, due to a lack of supervision and support.
Policing is not a normal job, but it is done by normal humans.  The moment you forget that, police officers will lack the support and respect needed to stay motivated, healthy, and honest.  If you think that's an excuse, show me that you would be any different. 
Like it or lump it, we will get the police force we pay for.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Facebook Faux Pas

Stories like this, in which a judge recalled two drug dealers for sentencing because they bragged on Facebook and were abusive about her, will bring a smile to most police officers' faces.  In fact, I would hazard a guess it was the officer in the case who highlighted this, unless the judge happened to be friends with the males.
My question is, should your sentence go from two years in jail (a healthy chunk of time for most adults), to zero, just because you told the court you were sorry?  Justice Lunt originally suspended the sentences due to the contrition shown.  She overturned it because that contrition was proved false.
Of all of the factors in an offence, especially one like drug-dealing which requires some forethought, I would have thought contrition would be the least relevant to sentencing.

Daniel and Samuel Sneddon.  Oops.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Uncommon Sense

Since my earliest blogging days, and before, we've been reading about how the police should have more Common Sense.
I've bewailed the loss of commonsense from the start.  But here's why I cringe when I hear police commanders and politicians using the phrase as if it represents some brave new world of policy surrounding the police.
A few years ago, Blandshire Constabulary trained us all in Professional Judgment.  This was the politically correct term for Discretion, something that is inherent in the office of constable.  Discretion is the ability of the uniformed bobby to listen to the individual circumstances of the human being facing them, and take a decision based on their own moral judgment, with regard to the needs of society, rather than based on any performance target or edict from above.  The fact that the management thought we had to be trained in this was disturbing enough, but the training itself was farcical.
I sat for several hours while a trainer and a superintendent told me in exactly what circumstances I was able to use my discretion and when I wasn't.  Not based on the law (as there are some situations where an officer is duty bound to act a certain way), but based on Blandshire's risk assessments and policies.
By the end of the training, it was clear that the purpose of rolling out Professional Judgment, was to make very clear to all officers and the public (as well as the media and the IPCC), that officers of Blandshire Constabulary made their own decisions, and therefore it would not be their sergeant, inspector or commander's fault if they happened to make the wrong one.
PC Kevin Duff and PCSO Andrew Passmore have been jailed for failing to prevent the murder of a vulnerable man.  The judge blamed the wider failings of the police.
Whilst there is no excuse for the sloppy judgment shown by the officers in this case, how many times had they neglected their duty without action from above?  How do we get into a situation where a man's life can depend on the character of the police officer called to help him?  How many lives have been saved because an officer used their judgment to go above and beyond what their manager had required?
It's all very well preaching about commonsense and discretion, I'll endorse it when I see that officers truly are able to do their jobs without "fear or favour", and that is going to take more than fine words.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Disappearing Reappearing Cop

I haven't blogged for a while.  There are a number of reasons, but I am still here, sort of.
I've been spending some time this week reading back through my blog in the early days, trying to figure out why I stopped writing it.  To my amazement I started the blog nearly TEN YEARS AGO!
It's clear from my early posts that there was a lot of fun to be had at the government's expense.  The Labour government was a delightful source of entertainment for this police blogger, from its wonderful ideas on legalising parenting, to its devil-may-care attitude to spending on operations like Overt and Safeguard, to the all-encompassing Home Office Counting Rules.
Things changed in 2010.  The Coalition (or let's call it the Conservative) Government, added a sinister dimension to what had been, up until then, playful tinkering with the police.  Of course, I had not thought of it as playful, but it seems it in retrospect.  Oh, how I came to long for the days when Tony McNulty would exhort the public to "jump up and down" to deter crime.
The Clegg/Cameron reign gave rise to Tom Winsor and the infamous "reforms".  The Home Office had declared all-out war on the police.  This was not the stuff of comic light reading, but of deep-rooted concern across the board in the police.
It was hard to know how best to tackle it.  The Police Federation were saying some sensible stuff, but also had problems of their own, leading to a number of high profile cock-ups.  The tide of public opinion had changed.  With the 2009 recession, the public did not want to hear coppers whingeing about their pay and conditions, or about whatever piece of legislation was doing what, or even to hear light-hearted stories about officers having far too much fun at work.  The public had their own concerns.  The age of the public sector whistle-blower was drawing to a close.
I still think there's room for measured debate on police reform, and decisions about what kind of police force we want in this country.
I also still think there's room to poke fun at those in power, even if there aren't many left with a sense of humour.
I have sheathed, but not unloaded, my satirical handguns.  (For which, I might add, I would very likely be struck off the Firearms department, had I ever been on it.) 
As for my next move, that's still under review...

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cartoon Police Turn Violent

There are some things you simply cannot make up.  Devon and Cornwall just circulated this poster, before retracting it when someone pointed out that it depicted a riot officer bludgeoning a person lying on the floor.
D&C's response:
Clearly the graphic designer working at the force headquarters thinks that drunk people all dress like Jason Voorhees.  Alternatively, he was sniggering, "Let's see if anyone notices this" as he forwarded the jpg.
Personally, I think the more shocking aspect of this poster is the claim of a 45% reduction in violent crime, as if this is some kind of achievement.  It is in fact a meaningless statement on its own: if violence was up in every other month, the drop in January is hardly something to brag about and is mostly likely the result of natural variation.  Crime ebbs and flows like any other phenomenon, even if the police do nothing.   
In Blandmore, I'm afraid we are judged in a similar way.  The Chief Inspector points at a graph of last year's crime overlaid with this year's, and if the spikes this year appear in different places, he claims it a crime-fighting success.
I am no statistician, but it's no way to do business.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Rude and Lazy or Rock and a Non Soft Place?

Nothing is more likely to trigger The Daily Mail Headline policy than the thought of a complaint against police.  In fact, an incident log need only reference in passing that the caller is minutely displeased with the service they are getting, to result in a flurry of priority-setting and diversion of resources. 
Senior (and some junior) police officers react this way because they fear headlines like this, which damage the reputation of the police. 
As a sergeant, a complaint from a caller is probably bottom of my list of reasons to prioritise a case.  That's not me being contrary.  Not that I can't be contrary too.
When I am sitting behind the duty sergeant's desk at Blandmore nick, scanning the Incident Control System to decide which of the five pages of outstanding jobs to send my one available officer to, I have a checklist.  Is anyone in danger?  Could anyone be in danger very shortly if we don't attend?  Is someone very worried, scared or vulnerable?  Is it a serious crime?  Is there evidence to gather that could be lost?  Are they waiting in an inconvenient location for us to attend?  Beyond that I might consider how close the available officer is, how long each job might take and whether he/she could attend a few if done in a certain order.   If the caller could come to the police station later, then maybe a restricted officer (injured, pregnant etc) could deal with them, thus making best use of resources.  I then prioritise the jobs regardless of whether the caller agrees with my conclusions.  The angry caller isn't sitting in front of the same screen as I am.
Don't let the above make you think I don't sympathise with a burglary victim who has waited in all morning for us, desperate to clean up and change the locks.  If I have to ring them to apologise, I will even encourage them to make a complaint, to their MP or the Chief Constable, to highlight our lack of resources. 
But I also have to take a view.  The nature of policing is unlike any other customer-based business.  If you run an IT company or retail business, all your decisions will be aimed at pleasing as many people as possible, and providing everyone a good service.  In the police, sometimes you have to make a choice between pleasing one person or another.  In spite of the way we often refer to them, criminals are not our "customers", they are our targets.  And in the grey areas of neighbourhood or family disputes, and youth crime, it's not always obvious who the target should be.  Is it both sides, or neither?  I've had cases where a victim has complained about one of my officers for carrying out a slow investigation in which a suspect ultimately got acquitted at court, and had the suspect for the same case complain that they were locked up and charged with something they claim not to have done.  Which complaint should be upheld, or neither?
Tomorrow, I will no doubt sit through another morning meeting where the Superintendent In Charge of Being In Charge will tell me to make sure someone is convicted for a case where there is no evidence, or throw all my resources into finding someone who got drunk and stayed out all night with another man/woman, because their partner is a local Councillor and will complain if we don't investigate their missing person report. 
And I will nod and agree, and continue to do my duty in exactly the same way as before.  Because the day we let the fear of complaints tell us how we should be policing, is the day I hang up my boots and leave the job of police work for the politicians.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

No Yes Means No

I've blogged about rape repeatedly over the years.  It nearly always results in a fairly heated debate.  A lot of men (and probably some women) think that if you are female, support Rape Crisis, and emphatically state that rape is under-reported and under-convicted, you must be a man-hating, blinkered feminist who is blind to the reality of false rape reports. 
Now the DPP is announcing measures to tackle two key rape myths, both of which I have blogged about before.  The core of the measure is placing an onus on the defendant to prove, if it is an issue of consent, that the victim consented.  This could be construed as effectively making it the defendant's job to prove their innocence, which would fundamentally oppose the essence of the British Criminal Justice system.
I don't believe it does that.  I am female, I donate my book royalties to Rape Crisis, and I believe our national record on rape is pretty woeful.  I don't hate men, and I've dealt with more than one false allegation of rape.  (I've also dealt with dozens of genuine ones.)  I therefore like to think I am fairly rational about the whole subject, not that that is for me to judge.
I support the new measures.  I don't think they are likely to make a huge difference, as I don't believe there is ever really any confusion in a man's mind over whether his actions are consented to.  Which is why I don't think this measure is asking someone to prove their own innocence in an unfair way.  If he's lying about consent, he will lie about how he knew she was consenting, and it may be equally hard to prove.  But it's one more way he'll have to craft his story, and therefore one more chance to show a jury he's not telling the truth if it doesn't add up.
It remains to be seen whether the rape conviction rate will rise, if that's even a sensible way of measuring success on this issue (a whole other debate).  But this blinkered feminist is glad to hear about it all the same.

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Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Things of the Past

A hot potato of recent months is the use of police cells to incarcerate the mentally ill.

What intuition and foresight the Care Minister Norman Lamb has, to suggest today that the NHS, local authorities and the police, have pledged to stop locking up these mental health patients in police cells.  It's not as if anyone knew that this was a problem before last year, when ACC of Devon and Cornwall Police Paul Netherton tweeted about a 16-year-old being held in custody due to a lack of beds.  Well, not since the matter was reported in 2013, or when it was blogged about in 2012, or just about every year before that for ten years or more.
What we'll do, Mr Lamb, is just leave you here for the average time it takes to get the police doctor, followed by two mental health nurses and a psychiatrist, to assess you, then for the time it takes them to find a bed for you.  If you weren't crazy before we started, you will be by the end.
It took the tweet from the ACC to prompt serious attention on this subject despite the fact that Theresa May addressed the Police Federation on this subject in 2013.
I am sure the scores of agencies waiting to take these mentally ill patients off the police's hands, would fill an elevator.  It's not as if the NHS is feeling the effects of cuts on other agencies.  I am sure they won't mind finding a few more beds for depressed drunks who are suicidal for the few hours it takes them to sober up.
Maybe in some areas there is a robust system in place, but in Blandshire there is rarely a day when a mental health patient is not brought into custody.  The minimum wait to get an assessment done is about six hours, and sometimes the Mental Health Team simply refuse to come out, because from the description of the person over the phone, they don't think the person is mentally ill, even though the force doctor thinks they are.
Forgive me if I don't leap for joy that yet another politician is bandying around "pledges" on the subject.



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