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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Sunday, August 03, 2008

From Chapter 6:

Fear For Welfares come in at a rate of between one and five a day, and they range from elderly neighbours who haven’t been seen for a few days, to lost children and suicidal relatives. Our job in such matters is to locate the relevant party and solve whatever crisis led to the concern for their welfare in the first place. This is usually fairly simple and can be achieved by a quick snap of the fingers and muttering of some magic words.

The incident at 14 Bishop Drive is the sort of thing which will be attended daily in each police area across the nation.

The controller elaborates. ‘Caller is from the Mental Health Team. They’ve received a call from a patient saying she is going to kill herself. Could you attend to check on her welfare?’

The Mental Health Team is part of the local authority’s Social Services Department. They have a Crisis Team on duty 24/7. Despite that, it naturally makes sense to send us: after all, police officers have the psychotherapeutic training to counsel a suicidal woman and the necessary legal powers to deal with her. Don’t we? The answers are, ‘No’ and ‘Sometimes’. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act allows us to detain a person who might pose a danger to themselves or others if they are in a public place. In the privacy of your own home, however, you are free to be as mad as you please. People can be sectioned from their own homes and locked up against their will, but this is done by doctors and social workers (such as members of the Mental Health Team). But they have far more training in Arse-Covering than we do so, as here, their back-up plan is to make sure it is the police’s fault (see Victoria Climbie).

Being a cold-hearted public servant, I’m generally not too fazed by these calls. You turn up, find the crying person, comfort them for a short while and then phone the Mental Health Team back and say, ‘Are you on your way?’

The answer is invariably ‘No’, which leads to the customary batting of responsibility between us and them. This can take up to an hour. Sometimes the problem can be solved by phoning the person’s estranged mother who now lives abroad, waking her up and blaming her for her daughter’s imminent suicide if she does not immediately get on a plane and come to her side.

Failing that, the Ambulance service is always there to take final responsibility should we leave and the person tops herself later. ‘Well, she was checked out by paramedics,’ we say, with a regretful shake of the head. ‘They refused to take her to hospital so don’t blame me.’

It turns out we have been called to Colleen Moore, a manic depressive anorexic in her late twenties.

When we arrive she answers the door in her underwear, which is one of the signs I look for to identify a ‘maddie’. Rich doesn’t do skinny women in grubby underwear, so I have to ensure Colleen is wrapped in a curtain before he can enter. Once inside, she moves out of the curtain and into the lounge virtually naked, which means that Rich says very little for the rest of our stay. I think I can safely say that Colleen is the saddest woman I have ever seen. The sadness just pours out of her; it is suffocating. She is clearly starving herself, her bones sticking out under grey skin, her lank hair just hanging off her head. The whole impression is of a kind of deflating soufflé. Within three minutes, I almost want to kill myself.

Usually, a suicidal person will happily tell you all their woes – about how their sister just killed herself, their brother is in jail for rape, their parents abused each other and her... in a way, it’s actually quite reassuring. You think, You don’t end up like this unless you are extraordinarily unlucky in life, so maybe I’ll be OK.

Colleen, however, says not a word. She just sits in the corner, with her back against the wall, thin knees pulled up to her chest, and sunken, red-rimmed eyes staring into space. She’s immune to my questions about medication, alcohol, illnesses and the like. Rich and I stand off a little and go through the various parties we could pass responsibility to, discounting ambulance, mental health, social services and family. Finally the time comes when we have to leave, the prospect of her suicide looming. A quick phone-call to the sergeant ensures that this, if it occurs, will be his fault.

I try a last-ditch effort. ‘Colleen, is there anything you want from us... even something you might not think the police can do?’

Tears rolling down her face, she looks up at me and whispers her first words. ‘Just a hug.’

I don’t hug people much, and certainly not members of public. This isn’t because I don’t care, nor that I don’t sometimes want to. I just don’t. So I take her hand and pat it, feebly.

‘There, there,’ I say.

She looks up at me and nods; I think she understands my inability to do the one thing she needs.

‘Thank you,’ she murmurs. ‘God bless.’

And we leave.

We wander in for some tea and sandwiches and the rest of the night passes at a crawl. It gets to 07.00hrs and I’m ashamed to say that I have not affected Positive Intervention once in all of the nine hours I had in which to do so. I’ve returned a drunk home, reinforced street discipline in a wayward teen and spent fifteen minutes holding a lonely woman’s hand.

I haven’t met a single target, or filled out one form. As far as the Senior Management Team is concerned, I may as well have stayed at home.

Maybe tomorrow night I will.

God bless the police.

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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

At this rate bloggsy i wont have to buy the book. great work as always

03 August, 2008 14:08

Blogger jerym said...

This world needs more people like you Bloggs

03 August, 2008 15:38

Anonymous Mac said...

AS Inspector Gadget and you have made the point before, usually the most impactive stuff we do isn't measured anywhere and if we spend too much time doing it we are 'inefficient'.

03 August, 2008 20:20

Anonymous MarkUK said...

Unless you have a good tolerance of invective, don't ask the Ambulance Service about Mental Health Teams or the "back-up" they get from hospital psychiatric departments. Check out Random Acts of Reality on this one!

03 August, 2008 21:01

Anonymous Ryan Paul said...

Sorry but I think that's tripe - you could quite easily have given her a hug. From your account of the situation, it's not likely she could have pulled at a steak knife and tried to decapitate you.

You should have given her a hug. You would've felt like crap if she'd wrote a note saying she couldn't get a hug from anyone and topped herself.

04 August, 2008 01:11

Blogger PC Bloggs said...

Ryan paul - I don't disagree with you. Which was kind of the point of the extract.

04 August, 2008 07:28

Anonymous XTP said...

ryan paul - have you any idea what some of these people carry? Some of us have families and would like to return to them in the same state that we left them.

I baulk at hand-shaking personally unless they look reasonably clean and I bet I'm not alone.

04 August, 2008 08:11

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont know about bloggsy but I did not join the job to become a social worker. The MHT should be the ones giving out hugs. If there is no immediate danger to the public or the person in the house then our involvment should end. The police get called to EVERYTHING, we are not trained and should not have to deal with it all.99% of police will feel for the girl, but a hug?
I dont hug people nor do I shake many hands. But I am profesional and impartial.
The country has to decide what they want from the police, a vast social service or a force to combat crime and disorder.

04 August, 2008 09:42

Anonymous TheBinarySurfer said...

From your post though Ms Bloggs, it sounds like you were trying to keep that mental distance necessary to not empathise too much with her.

It's just another coping mechanism for a stressful situation, as nobody likes seeing another human being in that state, even the most cruel among us.

If you get home at the end of the shift still sane, anything else is a bonus.

04 August, 2008 13:11

Blogger kingmagic said...

Mental Health Teams in my area are useless. The 'client' calls them and says that they are going to kill themselves or self harm and its your goodselves or us in the Ambulance Service that are called to deal.

I have no problem with that. Sometimes its easy to just have a chat or to reassure them, or worse case scenario we do literally 'pick up the pieces'!

What gets me, and you pointed this out in your post, is that the 24/7 Mental Health Response Team will not turn out to help their client when we have calmed the situation down.

Its all about passing the buck, batting it to some one else or just simply not being arsed to turn out!

And as you again quite rightly said in your post, we end up having to cover our arses due to others not wanting to take responsibility for their own job.

The Mental Capacity Act 2007 is now giving us, and your good selves, the powers to remove someone from their own property for their own safety if a 136 cannot be enabled.

05 August, 2008 18:33

Blogger staghounds said...

Sometimes it's hard to keep the human being inside the uniform from getting out, isn't it?

You helped her. And I'll bet there came a time later when you drove by and said hello even though there wasn't a call.

And if nothing else, she didn't kill herself that day.

Great post full of truth.

05 August, 2008 20:28

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Blogger FVB said...

Dont get me started on "The Crisis Team".
I had issues a while back, separated, living away from my ex and kids, in a shitty temporary council place, had a breakdown, lost my job etc, i was discharged by the mental health team after the 2nd visit due to budget restraint, told it was OK as the crisis team would be there 24/7, all they EVER do is say go to A&E, if you cant phone 999, an automated service could do that for a hell of a lot less cost.

So i go to A&E, sat there 12 hours waiting for the mental health team to asses me, gave up and went home.

The next time i phoned 999, police came and enforcered my door, handcuffed me, asked me to come out to the street to talk to the ambulance guys, section136ed me once i was in the street and escorted me in the ambulance to A&E, sat there 9hrs waiting, got bored, went home....
No follow ups from any agency after just walking out.

15 May, 2011 08:30


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