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 29, 2009

If you didn't believe me...

One of the eternal frustrations of being a police blogger is that no matter how often you say front-line numbers are at an all-time low, it always seems to be a surprise to the public when no one turns up to their call of distress.

Well now Surrey Police are effectively sueing the government by seeking a Judicial Review on the budget cap on the force which is causing a reduction in front-line resources.

This is highly unusual. Chief Constables require the backing of the Police Authority in their area and - to some extent - Whitehall too. A CC who becomes too vocal in the media with anti-government sentiment may well find his/her force subject to a "coincidental" review by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. A negative review could result in HMIC coming to take over the force, or the enforced replacement of the CC. It is not necessarily a bad thing that CC's cannot just run wild with their personal opinions, and have to tread a path of compromise. But for the last five years, police bloggers have been increasingly noisy on the subject of front-line numbers. Numbers have always been low, but goodwill no longer carries us through in an environment of worsening pay, erosion of privileges and deteriorating public image. A self-reinforcing cycle, you might think. Us bloggers have been wondering how bad things had to get before senior ACPO ranks would lay their necks on the block to do something about it. Enter Mark Rowley, Chief Constable of Surrey Police.

I don't know CC Mark Rowley, so I don't know how this move is being received within Surrey, but I do know that if the Chief Constable of Blandshire Constabulary were doing this, s/he would be fully supported down on the front line. I'd hazard a guess that the Chief Constable of Blandshire Constabulary will not be following suit. Unfortunately the full support of the front line means more to some than others.

Policing starts and ends on the streets of Blandmore. Whatever model you use, squads you set up or disband, bureaucracy you adopt or surrender, the uniformed response officer remains. Now somebody with longer legs is making a stand for us. Let's see how far he gets.

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Going Off Half-Copped

I have read in the papers this week that officers in the Met can earn up to £52,000 in overtime (on top of their basic salary). Just two questions:

  1. Do Met officers actually have lives?
  2. How do I transfer?
In truth, this isn't just the case in the Met, as discovered by the Daily Mail. Leaving aside officers on special assignments, such as Family Liaison Officers or undercover agents, most of my colleagues take home a few hundred quid in overtime every month. For the single ones living in police housing, they're saving a packet and will be able to afford a deposit on a house soon. For the ones with families, they're able to pay the mortgage, but have forgotten the names of their kids.

Overtime is a double-edged sword. As soon as you state the amounts officers are earning, they are labelled money-grabbing whingers. But if they say they want to go home on time, they're considered to "lack dedication". It is written into police regulations that officers MUST obey an order to stay on duty, return to work or abandon leave if there is an operational requirement for it. It used to be the case that "operational requirement" meant one of two things: either a resource-intensive incident has occurred spontaneously, or a high number of officers on another shift have called in sick and cover is needed.

But in the Twenty-First Century world of shoe-string policing, overtime is now being worked forcibly for any of the following reasons:
  • An event is coming up that has been known about for months, such as a football match or royal visit, and there is no resilience in police numbers so officers are "offered" rest day working.
  • There's a shoplifter at Boots and no one to arrest him.
  • The next shift has an officer in court.
  • It's quite a busy day in Blandmore.
All teams are working at minimum levels, so if even one officer calls in sick or has a court case overrun, the team before and after will have to cover the shortfall. Likewise if officers are committed at a lengthy job there is never any hope of being relieved at shift changeover because the shift coming on duty is immediately committed with all the jobs the earlier shift never got to.

At this point you might be thinking "well that's the job of a police officer". In actual fact there is no shortage of volunteers most days when the inspector tells us someone has to stay late to cover the next shift. There is also no shortage of officers working two out of three rest days to cover other teams, and thereby ending up doing 100-hour weeks. By extension, no shortage exists of officers attending jobs tired, driving around in breach of all kinds of safe-driving policies and making elementary mistakes or showing lapses of attitude/professionalism.

To the untrained eye, the numbers might not be adding up. There are more police than ever before, so why is all this overtime needed? The trouble is that all resources have been stripped from the front-line to meet with the government's vision of "Neighbourhood" and "Strategic" policing. No longer is it acceptable to have shift officers just going spare in case of emergency, they must all be assigned to squads and units. There is a glut of officers in special teams who do all kinds of good work when they're on duty. But they don't work 24/7 shifts and so they can't be called on so easily to cover shortfall. It is the front-line shift officers who work overtime, and we are now each doing the job of two police officers. Which is how police forces are routinely disguising just how unmanned the front-line really is. It also effectively means Blandshire Constabulary is paying time-and-a-third to an officer instead of employing another one at flat time.

In the wacky world of 21st Century Policing, this is how we save money.

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tough on the Causes of Crime

Inspector Dick Aistrop: "We are basically at the end of our tether. We have tried absolutely everything to get people to take heed of our advice but they just don’t seem to be listening."

"Motorists must take responsibility."

"People ... continue to leave themselves and their property open to burglars and thieves."

In a stroke of Twenty-First Century genius, Northants Police have hit upon the main cause of crime: THE PUBLIC! It appears burglary is caused by people's inability to live in an airtight box, and car-crime is largely down to the same people's selfishness in wanting to take possessions with them when they go out. If people would just lock themselves in a hole with their valuables around them and call for a police escort to venture out, there wouldn't be any crime at all.

For some reason Inspector Gadget is embarrassed by Northants' discovery, but I say anything that means the Criminal Justice System can avoid dealing with more of those pesky criminals the better.

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Siege

Believe it or not, I have actually taken part in dozens of police "sieges". A siege is triggered when someone announces that a person is barricaded in somewhere and won't come out. The situation can be further complicated by the presence of weapons, hostages, and onlookers, but in any event the police response is generally the same:
  • Before doing anything that might involve an armed officer doing some work, an unarmed officer (me) will be told to "debrief" the caller. This means going round to check that the caller says in person the same thing they said on the phone. The unarmed officer will have a list of questions such as, "Are you sure he said he'd kill himself if the police turned up?" and "Are you really an expert on handguns? Could it in fact have been a wooden spoon?" This is to ensure that armed officers are not dispatched pointlessly across the county when they could be far more usefully occupied providing "reassurance" outside important buildings in the north of the force.
  • Once the unarmed officer (me) has confirmed that the witness has not invented the whole thing, an armed officer will be sent to do the same thing. This is because unarmed officers are morons and are likely to have asked the wrong questions.
  • If the powers-that-be are satisfied that an armed unit is required, unarmed back-up will "contain" the area - which means cordon it off and try to keep onlookers out. The armed officers will then attend a rendezvous point, where the hot tea will be brought as the siege goes on. The unarmed back-up will be kept as far from the hot tea as possible.
  • Next will start the Negotiations. If we are lucky, trained Negotiators will be called out from bed. If not, it will just be the bloke from the crime reduction office, who's the only person not on a cordon.
  • If conversation can be initiated with the nutter in question, negotiations will go on for as long as needed to avoid shots being fired or civilians being harmed. This could be hours, or days. In some cases, I've been involved in sieges where we've carried on holding a sterile cordon in place for hours after both axe-man and hostage had both fallen asleep. The point is, we do everything we can to avoid this situation, where the madman who caused the whole thing ends up dead.

These officers were criticised for wearing balaclavas, without anyone bothering to find out why they were necessary. Apparently they look too scary. Which the guys with guns don't?

There seems to be an assumption am
ong the public that if the police shoot someone dead it must be either an accident, murder, or gun-toting recklessness. Obviously cases like Jean-Charles de Menezes don't help the police's image. But if people think we turn up guns blazing to a siege or hostage situation with the aim of taking out the perpetrator as soon as possible, they should join me on a cordon one night and watch.

If you feel inclined to try suicide-by-police and think that locking members of your family in a room and telling the police you plan to kill them should do it, think again.
There are some things that will, however, guarantee you an early demise:
The only thing that should surprise the public in all of these cases is how long the police waited BEFORE firing the fatal shot. Respectively five hours, three hours, fifty minutes. I may be simplifying things drastically, but consider: if one of these incidents was taking place in the house next to yours, how long would you want the police to wait?

Then again, in today's litigious environment, if I ever find myself as the officer making that decision, I might be better off not firing at all. Someone innocent might die, but I would be far less likely to be criticised for failing to shoot. If that is what the public want from the police, they may get it.

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

Friday, May 08, 2009

Damned if we do...

On glancing at the headlines today, I thought that the police had been called in to investigate the verging-on-illegal expenses claims being made by - it seems - most of Brown's government. But no, it appears I was mistaken. In fact
the Met have been asked to investigate the leaking of MP's expenses which has caused much embarrassment to Brown.

Without wishing to sound like I don't care about pen-pushing or mindless bureaucracy, since when do we launch police investigations into embarrassing stories about the government? Obviously a disgruntled civil servant, or for all I know a thoroughly gruntled one who just thought we deserved to know, has passed the information to the press and the press have printed it. How exactly does that differ from every other major political news story of the last decade?

Of the many responses the Metropolitan Police might give to the complaint from the Commons' Authority, I am guessing that "sod off" isn't going to be one of them. In case any of my readers have been living in Canada for the last ten years, here is what happens when someone, anyone, makes a complaint of crime to the police:
  • A crime report is generated by the civilian call-taker.
  • Depending on the category of crime, it is handed to a police officer to investigate, given to a PCSO to give "reassurance", or kept within the civilian crime desk for a slow-time office-based investigation.
  • Regardless of which of the above is selected, the crime report cannot be ignored and must be resolved either by detection, filing (unsolved), or no-criming (decision that no offence has taken place after all).
The basic thing to grasp is that if someone calls the police saying a crime has been committed, then one has. If the person calling the police is the House of Commons, I am guessing the Met will struggle to write the complaint off without a full investigation. Which is how they got themselves into the Damian Green mess.

Further to my post on the perils of being a whistle-blower in Brown's Britain, my qualms no longer centre purely around my off-duty activities. I have already carried out trivial warrants, arrests and prosecutions as a result of the stringent National Crime Recording Standards we work under. How long before I am passed a package asking me to knock on a political rival's door in the Blandmore area, and take him/her into custody in front of partner and children? No doubt the arrest will be sanctioned as necessary for matters of national security. Will I know enough to know I have become a political pawn? At what point do I dig my heels in, and how many people will be waiting in another part of the station to do the deed if I won't? Can you keep your integrity if you are willing to "just follow orders"?

I still think 90% of what I do is worthwhile. I don't want to give that up to avoid the 10% that isn't.

If the Met launch this investigation, the question must be asked, just who exactly is the police serving in this country?

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


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