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, May 30, 2008

One Person's Word

Thanks to a reader for this article, in which you can see how the British justice system is famed throughout the Western world. The article is about, yet again, the rape conviction level in this country.

Unfortunately there are some hysterical quotes such as: "rape cases are 'not a priority' for busy police and prosecutors" and "But what is the point... [when] the defense contends that the sex was consensual and the jury is told to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt?" The first is simply not true and the second is somewhat unavoidable.

Crown Prosecutors are loath to charge rape in my area if one of the following applies:
  • The woman was drunk.
  • She was seen kissing him earlier in the night.
  • She has communicated with him before/after the offence.
  • She voluntarily went with him somewhere private.
  • She is uninjured.
  • She delayed reporting it.
  • She isn't sobbing when she speaks to police.
In the last few months, I have dealt with two cases where a Crown Prosecutor has refused to charge a suspect because "it's one person's word against the other". However in the past I have also gone to court for cases where it is one person's word against the other and had the offender plead guilty, or be found guilty on the compelling evidence of the victim.

Our court system was founded on the concept of one person's word against the other, to be aired in front of a jury of their peers, who decide who they think is telling the truth. If there is other supporting evidence such as witnesses, CCTV, bad character of the defendant, there is always going to be a better chance of conviction. But just because there aren't these things, does not make the allegation untrue, nor does it mean you won't get a conviction.

How many rapes do you imagine take place where the victim has not voluntarily gone somewhere with the suspect, where she does not know him, has not communicated with him? How many where she isn't drunk? Sadly this is the reality of rape.

I await the slew of commenters asking me how I expect people to be found guilty based on the above, whether I recommend reducing the burden of proof, whether I think all men are rapists. I don't.

But I do expect Crown Prosecutors and courts to have a vague glimmer of understanding of the circumstances under which rape occurs - where a woman (or man) has perhaps considered sex initially, been flirtatious or at the least naive, and then been raped. These victims (the majority of rape victims) don't have injuries because the attack has been insidious, with intimidation or the situation used to control them rather than force. It isn't the same as being snatched off the street - which frequently results in serious injuries or murder. It shouldn't probably be sentenced as severely. But it is still rape.

If it is one person's word against the other, you may not get a conviction at court. But if on the face of it the allegation appears consistent, surely the decision should be made by a judge and jury and not by one Prosecutor in a dingy office on their own? At the very least, the next time the offender rapes somebody, you will have the whole evidence of the previous case against him.

The stories quoted in the article make me angry: not because the defendant wasn't found guilty or because I believe that the investigations were as sloppy as is suggested. But because of the fact that these victims were made to feel worse than if they had never reported being raped at all.

Then again, maybe that is the real crime of rape. And maybe it is those who commit rape who should be blamed for it.

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Say Cheese:

Yet again, PCSOs are being criticised, this time for enforcing parking in the town of Cheddar and threatening to arrest people who stop them issuing tickets. Yet again, I am astounded at the attitude of PCSOs, thinking they should be allowed to do their job without interruption, when they are clearly just picking on people who have parked illegally for twenty years and should be allowed to continue doing so.

I should imagine that the decision to focus the PCSOs of Cheddar on parking enforcement down the High Street stems from one of the following causes:
  • Serious problems with antisocial parking creating a dangerous environment for pedestrians.
  • A Neighbourhood Action Group meeting in which the three zealous residents who showed up designated parking as their major gripe.
  • The High Street being near to the police station.
  • The High Street being near to a tea outlet.
  • Cheddar being a remote Somerset village where zero crime happens.
But the PCSOs are playing a vital role: I am sure that before their arrival, the local police were just snowed under enforcing parking regulations and had no time to fight crime whatsoever.

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

Monday, May 26, 2008

Goodbye Paperwork...

... Hello, handheld computers.

We are saved.

Thank GOODNESS for Police Minister Tony McNulty, who has made some sterling comments today regarding the new handheld computers that will cut, CUT, 99 minutes of paperwork from each of my shifts. I am thrilled to know that the 99 minutes I used to spend writing out witness statements or pocketbook entries can now be spent typing them instead. I am also delighted to see that, following a £423m journey, Mr McNulty has finally landed safely on Mars.

Until this important moment, police have been completing all work on small scraps of paper shoved into their pockets. In fact, very few of us even knew what a computer was until Gordon Brown told us we were getting them last year.

On the downside, this announcement does seem to suggest that Labour are delivering on their promises for the police. Oh dear.

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boo Hiss

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of the day I would grow up to protest for police industrial rights and fair pay.

I dreamed of arresting children for slapping each other in the schoolyard, of filling out five-page reports about a five minute conversation. I longed for the time I would be allowed to generate reams of paperwork covering a 13-year-old boy's "disappearance" to go out drinking with his mates. I aspired to achieve the highest detection rates for my force, to tick the greatest number of victim satisfaction check-boxes, to attend community meetings about dog mess and to prevent children playing on every street corner. I also hoped very much to learn lots of new legislation to make illegal stuff even more illegal.

Somehow, in the last ten years, somebody has persuaded the British public that police officers grew up aspiring to all this. That we didn't join the job just hoping to catch baddies and lock them up. That we somehow agree with the mass of legislation, policies and Home Office targets that has been inflicted on us over the years.

Do our Chiefs and senior officers take some responsibility for that - for silently accepting the burden and casting it downwards? Do frontline officers take some responsibility, for not speaking out loudly enough for what we believe in?

Well now the Federation is butting heads with the Home Secretary over pay. Since it has failed to bother over legislation, policies and targets, I doubt the public will have much sympathy with this particular fight, however justified it is (and it is).

When I grow up, I hope I don't stop standing up for things, and not just when they affect my pay packet.

Quote of the week
Jan Berry: "Home Secretary, what is it Mr Balls has but you do not?"
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in all good bookstores and online.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Did you vote?

60,000 police officers have voted on our right to industrial action, with 86% in favour. This landmark occasion signals the start of a period when the Federation will consider starting to begin to signal the start of lobbying for police industrial rights, initially.

Dan Collins rang to ask which way I'd voted. I told him I did vote, but due to an administrative error whereby our ballot papers arrived two days after the deadline, no one in Blandshire Constabulary has had their vote counted. We really are our own worst enemy sometimes...

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

Monday, May 19, 2008

Don't be Squaddist

Gordon Brown has today silenced his critics and proved he is a true 21st Century Politician.

Discrimination against military personnel in their uniforms is to become a criminal offence. In true 21st Century fashion, this decision follows a report commissioned by none other than Prime Minister Gordon Brown. I am pleased to see that the PM is happy to follow advice he approves of, whilst ignoring advice that is a bit inconvenient.

I fully support this new law. It is only a small step for the public from victimising squaddies to protesting against wars they disagree with, and THEN where will the government be? I mean, it isn't as if it's already illegal to beat people up just because of how they are dressed. ** I do, however, think it should also be made illegal for armed forces personnel to discriminate in a drunken way against people NOT wearing military uniform, especially on a Friday and Saturday night in Blandmore town centre (or anywhere else).

In future, I hope to see laws making it illegal to discriminate against police officers. The term "PIG" should be outlawed, and "Assault Police" should be made a specific criminal offence. Er...

Anyway, I digress, it isn't as if there's a problem with people hating the police.

** I apologise for the use of the word "Squaddie" and eagerly await government guidance on the politically correct term to use.

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Good Plan

The Chief Constable of Blandshire Constabulary is leading the way on matters of police pay. **

In general, pay is graded accorded to levels of service, so the newest police officers get paid the worst. To address this inherent unfairness, my Chief Constable plans to abolish pay for the newest police officers altogether. He will then cunningly compensate them by paying random sums of money into their accounts, which they will be unable to predict and may not even know they are receiving.

In other news: fears that Blair may have left behind two clones to spy on the new Prime Minister are compounded when Gordon Brown orders Jacqui Smith and Harriet Harman to be sure they are wearing different colour suits at all times, so he can tell the difference between them...

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

** He isn't really. It's an "analogy". Or something literary.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Police brutality on the streets of England:

I have read today in horror about a poor plumber thrown in jail for dropping an apple core.

It is an absolute disgrace that PCSOs are out there trying to prevent littering and antisocial behaviour when clearly they should be catching burglars. It is even more disgraceful that when the offender refused to pay the £50 ticket, the Police Community Support Officer took the draconian step of having him arrested. If people refuse to pay fines given to them by the police, they should just be forgiven.

But the tale of police brutality does not stop there. Once in custody, the offender spent 18 hours there, DESPITE HAVING A HEART CONDITION. He was seen twice by the doctor. Vulnerable people like this should not be arrested at all, and if they are in custody they should be dealt with immediately regardless of whether or not they have seen a doctor. If the police do cruelly insist on having prisoners checked out medically before interviewing them, there should be a doctor allocated to every patient, installed in custody for 24hrs and standing by with a stethoscope at the door to each cell.

As you can tell, I have strong feelings about this story. But all my angers melted away when I heard the BBC Breakfast's guest commenter say:

"I mean, this guy who stopped him was a PCSO - you know, just someone like in the Territorial Army doing police work on his days off. He probably works full-time round the corner from the plumber."

I am so glad that the government has explained the role and purpose of a PCSO in a manner explicable to intelligent broadcast journalists.

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

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Why grief-stricken parents should not make laws...

Point of View 1:
"He was definitely mumbling stuff like a drunk person would but he wasn't shouting or being aggressive apart from when he was shooting. The shots were very loud. They were absolutely terrifying."

" I just ran for my life and my passengers all did the same. Everyone was completely terrified."

"There was a man opposite my house shooting into my daughter's bedroom. We thought they were firecrackers. He was at the window with a shotgun... an armed officer went straight to the broken window and the gunman fired at him. You could see the guy directly across the way, aiming. The policeman crouched down and returned fire, but I don't think he hit him."

Point of view 2:
Mr Saunders' father questioned why police had needed to shoot his son. Rodney Saunders said he did not believe the lawyer necessarily posed a lethal threat. "We will want answers as to why police shot him."

It must be the police's fault.

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

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The truth... revisited

As a follow-up to the NCRS scandal, now the Daily Mail is reporting that police officers in Norwich are being told to under-record offences like criminal damage.

I want to move to Norfolk. Here in Blandshire, we pride ourselves on being one of the best forces in the country on ethical crime-recording. I can barely attend an incident of dog barking without coming away with three crime reports. Far from being told to consider whether smashed car windows are really crimes, we are frequently asked to consider whether lost wallets and dropped phones ARE actually crimes. They nearly always are.

In case you missed it, yes, that's right, police forces are MEASURED on their ability to MEASURE crime, and it is one of the factors taken into account in their yearly rankings. You cannot fault the thinking in Blandshire's Senior Management Team: they've given up actually preventing or detecting crime, and instead are sinking all their money into just recording it bloody well. Which means ensuring that every caller to the police, however frivolous or time-wasting, is given their very own crime reference number and sent away happy.

Incidentally, I am pleased to see Norfolk DCC Ian Learmonth using the saga as an opportunity to speak out against NCRS. I mean, what is a Deputy Chief Constable for if not to stand up for the Home Secretary's beliefs?

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

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Truth About NCRS

A few days ago I talked about National Crime Recording Standards and how they directly affect the work I do each day. If the phrase NCRS is new to you, it is the government ruling that if someone phones up to report a crime, we are obliged to record that crime in line with strict rules, however trivial or whether we think it actually happened or not. It was brought in to counter claims that police officers were deliberately under-recording crime to make them look better, or because they couldn't be bothered.

For those of you who like statistics,
here's a report produced in 2001 predicting the effects of NCRS. The bit that interests me is here: "Assuming the effect of NCRS to be an increase of between 10% and 20%... a 10% increase in crime recording amounts to an additional 80,000 hours or 3333 days of police resource time." Let's be clear, this statistic is based only on the INPUTTING of crime - ie the time spent on the phone to the crime inputters. It takes no account of the extra investigation or prosections which will ensue.

A police officer works approximately 1920 hours per year, not allowing for overtime. Therefore the introduction of NCRS requires 40 extra police officers to do the same job. When the government boasted about all the extra police officers they have employed, they never boasted that 40 of them would be on the phone recording crime every hour of the day.

But I don't think these figures show the true picture. The fact is that a good half of these "extra 10%" crime reports will end up being investigated, because if they sit undetected they count as negative statistics for the force. Most will have suspects who could be arrested, because the type of crime that used to go unrecorded were the petty "he said/she said/he hit me/she stole from me" squabbles. Using the 107,000 extra estimated recorded crimes from the above report, and assuming that half of these have suspects to prosecute, it doesn't take long to realise that NCRS could result in as many as 530,000 extra police hours, and most will never result in a useful prosecution because they weren't useful crime reports to start with (for the breakdown in how long it takes to deal with a suspect, see Wasting Police Time). **

My question is, if the government knew this in 2001 before NCRS swept the nation, where are the extra 300 police officers needed to cover the impact of NCRS, let alone the hundreds more required to do actual police work?

Of course, what it means in reality is that the few of us who are left spend more of our time on less important jobs, and aren't able to deal with a large chunk of important work that we would have been before. Cue slews of unhappy victims and a police force in ruin.

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

** If you're wondering where my estimate of hours has come from, I have used my own team as a sample and worked out how many offences we are investigating that we would not have investigated pre-NCRS, and half of these have required an arrest or prosecution. Here's the breakdown:

Between five of us (yes, my team has dwindled somewhat since the book), we have the following ongoing investigations:
These are all jobs with suspects that need arresting. Knowing the details of all of them, pre-NCRS, neither of the harassments would have been recorded, nor 2 of the thefts, 2 of the assaults, the racist incident nor the perverting the course of justice, nor 2 of the dog bites. That's a third, 33.3333% (note how this is not 10%, nor 20%).

I've applied these figures conservatively (halved them) to produce the estimate of 530,000 hours nationwide. Yes, it's just a snapshot of one week, but I reckon you could pick any week at random on any team in any town in any force, and the figures would be similar.


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