This is the official blog of Sgt Ellie Bloggs, a real live police sergeant on the front line of England. It's not the official opinion of my police force, but 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 pay my salary.


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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Invisible Police Officer

The house is a bungalow, but has been extended with a large conservatory: I’d guess the couple have lived there for some years, having retired with reasonable pensions and grown-up children who work. In the conservatory, beside two dog beds and a plush sofa, is the old lady I have come to see. She’s in an armchair, supported by five cushions, TV controller in hand. One of the dogs is lying at her feet, whimpering. It’s a scene of idyllic middle class lifestyle: well-off, comfortable old age. There’s a big garden, beautifully-tended. I think there might be herbs.

The only thing amiss is that the old lady isn’t just sitting there waiting for This Morning to start; she’s dead. Her husband tells me that he got up to make her a cup of tea and when he came back with it she’d died. The family arrive and sob as I fill out the paperwork. I am not sure whether to refer to the dead body as "your wife" or "your late wife".

Another morning, another sudden death: this time an old man. He went out for his daily stroll; forty minutes later his wife looked outside and saw him lying sprawled across the garden fence, still warm but absolutely gone. Children in the neighbouring garden are jumping on a trampoline, their faces flashing in and out of view as they peer at what we are doing. Because he’s in public, and has fallen oddly, the inspector wants to send detectives, spotlights, and a tent. I’m the senior PC on scene, and on arriving I made the decision there hadn’t been foul play. I don’t tell the inspector, but I’ve already had the body moved inside where his wife wanted to sit with him alone until the undertakers come. She couldn’t bear him lying out in the cold, with kids and strangers staring at him. In something of a panic, I persuade the inspector we don’t need to send detectives and he gives in. The post mortem proves me right – luckily.

Again, a death. A young man, in a multi-occupancy room, asleep in bed with two other people present who claim not to have noticed him die. The first young body I’ve seen, it looks too young to be dead and I keep thinking he’ll get up every time I turn my back. I imagine reentering the room to find the sheets pulled back and the bed empty. We secure the house and wait for scenes of crime and the police doctor. The doctor thinks he’s overdosed, so we let the other occupants go.

The next one, a woman with MS, whose health has deteriorated for twenty years. Her husband tells me she had gone blind that week and had been in severe pain all day. The family don’t want a post mortem done, they don’t want the police there at all. They just want the body blessed by their priest. Paramedics think she might have been dead for a while before they were called. I glance at the mug containing the dregs of her final dose of medication. Perhaps it contains an overdose. Perhaps her husband helped her die, hence why they won’t cooperate. Perhaps he’s just grief-stricken. If we create a crime scene, and we’re wrong, what damage will be done? I speak to the inspector. We quietly seize the bedclothes, and the mug, and tell the family this is normal. It isn’t normal, but telling them we’re suspicious could be catastrophic. The post mortem shows the lady died naturally of heart failure.

A toddler, killed in a freak accident by a piece of furniture. I don't have to see the body, but I see the faces of officers who have. We're told to arrest one parent for murder, but later, they're released without charges.

A fire, a child trapped. Charred bodies and wails coming from the street. Fire investigators, CID, chief inspectors. I’m not needed, and I leave.

The people I met at these incidents won’t remember my name, or face. But they’ll remember every word I said and every action I took.

Is it policing, if there’s no way to measure it? Is it policing if there is?

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

37 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it policing, if there’s no way to measure it? Is it policing if there is?

16 words that sum up everything that is so wrong with performance led management in the Police.

16 words that sum up why I am so frustrated with the job at the moment.

16 word that should be at the very core of a fight back against government interference and public apathy.

Well done Bloggs, I take my hat off to you.

07 October, 2008 22:29

 
Anonymous LordFlash said...

Top post.
Important work and not able to be 'measured' at a performance meeting with the SMT.

07 October, 2008 22:43

 
Anonymous pzgirl said...

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Some things just can't be measured.

07 October, 2008 22:45

 
Anonymous Dr Melvin T Gray said...

A disturbing poignancy integral to these events placed them outside the callous framework of work measurement.

I am more sorry for your response than your experiences, Ellie. Should the events be factual, grief must be spared any knowledge of this political manipulation.

07 October, 2008 22:51

 
Anonymous CB69 said...

I hate dealing with a death, it always reminds me of losing my dad as a 9 year old to a heart attack, nothing makes it easier, time nor experience but I always give it my all and deal with it as best I can.

Two wpc's in my nick had to deal with a rather unpleasant death today - 35 year old alcoholic female, not seen in two months, found in the bathroom, in a semi-dissolved state, maggots seeping through the floorboards into the flat below. No contact with her mother in 2 months, not seen by her 12 year old son or ex partner either. Another lost soul in todays British society, another 'wasted day' for those officers who spent all day dealing with it.

They'll probably get criticised now by SMT for failing to achieve targets as deaths aren't measured................I live to fail to achieve targets, I joined this job to help people in times such as this......in the eyes of the SMT, if I do this I'm a failure........I can live with that!

08 October, 2008 00:25

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Post, but few like the truth unless its dramataized and pasteurised and made interesting.

08 October, 2008 07:26

 
Blogger Metcountymounty said...

good post bloggsy. When referring to the deceased I always go for present tense with the family, it will always take time to sink in and for the few hours that we are with them they don't need any more of a reminder that their loved one isn't with them any more.

I remember the details of every sudden death I've attended except for some reason, their names. The two infant deaths I've dealt with haunted me for quite a while, the SIDS more than the rta. I can't imagine the trauma the parents of the twins you wrote about went through. You leave a piece of yourself with each one, some get to keep more of you than others, but we still have to go.

When I was a probie I used to get sent to all of them, but now I will readily volunteer for them if I can, it's one of the areas of policing that absolutely must be done properly, the family deserve no less. As you said they will remember it for ever.

To quote Einstein, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

08 October, 2008 09:16

 
Anonymous PC Michael Pinkstone said...

Death is no respecter of targets. Or, should we say, targets are no respecter of death.

08 October, 2008 09:32

 
Blogger Shornoff said...

Thank you for doing what you do.

08 October, 2008 09:35

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I had to deal with a sudden death in the family some while ago the officers who attended could not have been more professional or kind.
Afterwards, when things had calmed down, I wrote a letter of thanks to them for helping us through a difficult time; I know this was appreciated, and I would hope more people would take the time to appreciate good work.

08 October, 2008 10:27

 
Anonymous Retired Sgt said...

Just two words-Thank you

08 October, 2008 10:56

 
Blogger Hogday said...

A Nation, as well as individuals, can often be judged by how they deal with death and the bereaved. At the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, it was a Kent Police team that took the lead in the procedures, had they not done so it could well have all been written off as a mass drowning. Well done PC Bloggs and your colleagues everywhere, for rising above the target setters, clock watchers and bean counters. What are they thinking?

08 October, 2008 11:57

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not your usual ironic posting but more powerful because of the contrast.

I hope someone "up there" sees it and actually thinks about what's happening to our Police service.

08 October, 2008 12:16

 
Blogger The Black Rat said...

A very good blog, a sensitive portrayel showing the confusion, upset and problems we as officers have to deal with in balancing up the potential of crime whilst trying to think of the poor victims struggling to cope. So, an officer doesn't meet their target for that day, big deal. At least they will sleep slightly better for having tried to be human and caring officers rather than the idiots who are our masters.

08 October, 2008 17:04

 
Anonymous 20-1 said...

Re: MCM and his photographic memory: Which of us is the most fcuked up, you for your strange information retention or me for having lost count?

I've seen a huge number of dead people in various scenarios, from the very recently and gruesomely murdered to the long time ago peacefully deceased. The type that I find hardest to forget is the elderly man/woman who has passed away peacefully but that passing has shattered their wife/husband's life. I found it very hard as a single bloke in my early 20's trying to deal with those.

08 October, 2008 18:56

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should have been in the RUC GC. in the 70s and 80s.

We were so good the terrorists won and the job was disbanded into the PSNI.

Crap or what.

08 October, 2008 19:15

 
Blogger Busy said...

You hit the nail on the head. Sudden deaths are the strangest of jobs where the worst recidivist filled family of knackers can turn round and give heartfelt thanks if you give them the dignity everyone (almost) deserves at such a time.
It's just a shame that my experience tells me that my chances of being found on the loo with my trousers round my ankles are pretty high! The Reapers got a funny sense of humour.

08 October, 2008 20:08

 
Anonymous Oi said...

I thank God, that time has drawn a somewhat gauzey veil over most of the death I have seen in my career.

Like MCM, Infants were the ones that always got to me - especially the 2nd SIDS twin that was my first job after returning to work from burying my own stillborn daughter.........

08 October, 2008 20:17

 
Anonymous MarkUK said...

Well done Bloggs!

08 October, 2008 21:11

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sudden deaths are one of the few aeas in policing i dont enjoy attending but i will readily call up for them and do my upmost to make sure the job is done professionally and i will take my time in doing it.

can remember every one, the good the bad and the ugly. they all mean the same to me and i wish the families well. at times i have doubts as to weather i could answer all the questions put to them in the darkest hour

09 October, 2008 11:14

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done Bloggs.

09 October, 2008 12:40

 
Anonymous mac said...

I now live in the town I first policed, and regularly see a lady (elderly now but middle aged then) who I passed my first ever death message to (son in 20's killed in RTC in another police area). Every time I see her I mist up at the memory of being present when her world caved in.

09 October, 2008 13:05

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Angels come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes in uniform.

09 October, 2008 13:21

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not everything that can be counted counts. And not everything that counts can be counted

Einstien (and that bloke knew a thing or two)

09 October, 2008 17:25

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Proper policing at it's finest.

Tony F

09 October, 2008 21:01

 
Blogger Paul said...

My late father was on Thames Division. He used to have to deal with attempted suicides, successful suicides and people who though they could swim the Thames after a bucket of beer.

He said that fishing dead bodies out of "the drink" was horrible (the ones found after a couple of weeks at the bottom of the river were worst) but he preferred dealing with them than dealing with people dying on land.

Hats off to all our policemen. Some of us appreciate the "old time coppers" than the "process pillocks" you have in charge these days.

Thank you all.

09 October, 2008 22:50

 
Anonymous sarah said...

Indeed this is real policing
God bless you all
and Thank you
xx

09 October, 2008 23:01

 
Blogger Max said...

I hate sudden deaths with a passion. My first experience with a body was me finding a much loved family member dead one morning when I was 16.Now, 13 years on I still remember it with complete clarity. I can remember every body I have ever seen especially the looks on their faces, so I make a point of not looking at the faces If I can get away with it.

I sometimes envy those members of the public who live in their protective little bubbles and have very little knowledge of the world around them.



MAX.

10 October, 2008 11:50

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ellie,
Of course it's policing. Who else could guide grieving relatives through the process of death but the police. Despite the inevitability of death, it always seems to come as a shock to those involved.
Just because it can be measured doesn't mean it isn't important.
Einstein knew his stuff (apart from his comment on drill which I loved when I was in the Army).

10 October, 2008 19:02

 
Anonymous TheBinarySurfer said...

I don't always agree with all your posts or sentiments Bloggs, but that post is spot-on.

12 October, 2008 11:29

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well put Bloggsy. Its one of the rougher sides of the job that we all have to do but we put the professional face on and bare it for the sake of the grieving familys.

Its also one of the multitude of none quantifiable aspects of police work that is forgotten by SMT and the politicians alike as its not in black and white on a spreadsheet collum.

Imagine what will happen if policing goes the way of the Nulabour "vision" and its semi trained teenage civvies dealing with these "none warranted" jobs. I shudder to think.

GEORDIEPLOD

12 October, 2008 21:03

 
Blogger SwissToni said...

Hi,

You've just been voted Post of the Week!

Many congratulations.

No prizes, I'm afraid, although we do cordially invite you to take part in the judging process at your convenience. Click here for more information.

Well done again.

ST

12 October, 2008 21:18

 
Blogger Zoe Brain said...

Bravo Zulu.

Yes, it's policing. But you knew that. It's what you do.

You might spare a thought for someone else though, I mean, apart from the victims and the families.

I mean the person who does the policing. You. Now it may not be terribly macho, but you should think about getting some counselling from a professional about this. Letting off steam on your blog may well be enough, but sometimes just talking with another human being who gives a damn will work wonders.

You see, you'll be doing this again, and again. It's what you do. So we, the public, need you to remain functional.

And yes, we, your occasional readers, do give a damn about you, and appreciate what you and your colleagues do. We should tell you that more often.

13 October, 2008 03:49

 
Blogger PC Bloggs said...

Veritas - your posts have been deleted because you are unable to remain on topic. Not everything is about you.

16 October, 2008 12:10

 
Anonymous CrazyHorse said...

Real policing, by real police. No amount of box ticking strategies, performance management or other nonsense can make up for it.

05 January, 2011 14:57

 
Blogger Kaela said...

well written Ellie, thank you.

11 May, 2011 16:23

 
Blogger Kaela said...

Well written Ellie, thank you.

11 May, 2011 16:24

 

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