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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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

There's no such thing as a caution

(By the way, you can read an interview with me in The Sun today. Haven't seen the print version yet so it might be longer.)

One of the greatest calamities brought on by the
National Crime Recording Standards is that it has utterly deprived police of discretion, especially in cases involving children. This week I was standing in custody looking at the "whiteboard" (the board showing prisoners details) and was amazed to discover that ten of the twenty prisoners were juveniles, most aged 13-14. Custody was swamped with crying/shouting/sullen teenagers and their crying/shouting/sullen parents. Most of them had never been arrested before and were there for shoplifting or criminal damage.

As the kids and parents paraded past me, variously claiming their angel wouldn't hurt a fly/their little rascal was going to get it when he got home, they had to duck out of the way of Kenneth Wilkins, a nasty convicted rapist here on suspicion of trying to kidnap a woman and having to be taken everywhere in the company of two gaolers. In the holding area were four coke-ridden burglars demanding to see the doctor, and from the cell-block a variety of screams, howls and crashes as the who's who of Blandmore's under-class performed their weekly cabaret-in-search-of-acquittal. Not surprisingly, a lot of the kids were pretty scared.

Don't get me wrong, Jason Rogers and Luke Durning were in custody too - they're 15, require Social Services to represent them because their parents are sick of spending the entire evening in custody, and this is their fourth arrest this month for theft from motor vehicle. They weren't scared.

But the regular kids probably shouldn't be here, their parents and the custody sergeants know it. They get interviewed, admit their various crimes, and get bailed off to receive youth reprimands or warnings (ie they have to return to the station another day to get a lecture from someone qualified in telling off kids). Rogers and Durning deny everything, and the case is dropped because a granule of glass was seized from the wrong part of the window they broke into.

Never mind the farce that is adult cautions. NCRS has meant that we can no longer attend a crime and write it off with the words "advice has been given to all parties". * If there is a suspect, for any offence no matter how minuscule, we are expected to arrest them, log their fingerprints and DNA, and "dispose" of them in such a manner that it causes a detection for the superintendent's monthly figures. Many adults unused to the criminal justice system believe that if they cooperate, everything will be all right. In fact if they cooperate they receive a Caution, supposedly a warning that drops straight off your record and has no effect on your life.

Wrong. A police caution can and will stop you getting jobs, travelling abroad or being involved with children. Even a common assault where you've had a scuffle with your adult brother can preclude you from a job as a teacher, police officer, or even taxi driver.

The result, the criminalisation of a vast tract of society who should never have seen the inside of a police cell. While the real crooks play the system with their entourage of Mr and Mrs Loopholes, and walk out laughing.

* For a fuller explanation of this, see here.

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

Monday, July 20, 2009

Just a Substantial Threat



The threat level in the UK is now only Substantial, having been officially lowered from Severe by the government.

This is greatly relieving, as the level hasn't been that low since 2005, and if things follow the same course as they did back then, we can only expect one or two major suicide bombing attacks to follow imminently.

You will be gratified to know that the police respond to the changing threat level with well-rehearsed procedures. For example, now that the threat has decreased, the following can be expected within the week:
  • The superintendent puts all his red pens away in a drawer and gets out his orange ones.
  • Someone changes all the notices in the entrance hall to remind us not to be vigilant and challenge all strangers, but merely to keep an eye out and politely enquire what strangers are up to.
  • All overtime for operations run by the Home Office decreases from double-time to time-and-a-half.
As you can see, it is vitally important to have a national threat level and it has nothing to do with national reassurance, national panic, or any other political motive whatsoever.

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

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Big Decisions

I once went to an incident where someone had set off some kind of flash-bang explosive on a dance floor. No one was hurt, though a few students had the bejesus scared out of them and some peroxide hair-tips singed. The remains of the explosive was lying in a flower pot, where the fire brigade had left it. My sergeant asked control room whether he should seize the remains, or if the bomb removal squad would come and do it. The controller discussed it with his superior, and the response came:

"It's up to you. If you think it's safe to touch, take it back to the bomb bin at the police station. If not, the army can come out in the morning."

The army coming out in the morning was another way of saying the premise would be shut down for ten hours, 3-4 police officers left there guarding it, with the risk that the army bomb man just came out and chucked the inoffensive explosive into a plastic bag and handed it straight to the police.

On the other hand, if my sergeant picked it up, there might be enough explosive in there to carve a small passageway in his hand. The fire fighter said it was safe, but he wouldn't pick it up. My sergeant thought about it for a few minutes, picked up the explosive, put it in his car, and took it back to the nick.

If and when I get promoted, this is the kind of decision I will have to make. Those presiding from afar rely on the local supervisor for accurate information, and more often than not your opinion about the level of danger will make up their mind for them. If you give them the choice, they will always be cautious, because that's the only way to be covered if the job blows up in someone's face.

You might think if it's a choice between risking your team's lives or being castigated for being over-cautious, caution would win. But caution is slow, time-wasting, and if it were the only consideration nothing would ever get done. So a good sergeant takes calculated risks, makes the big decisions so that PCs don't have to.

Sergeant is the only rank where I think that happens on a daily basis. At least, if anyone of a higher rank has ever agonised over a decision like that, I haven't seen it.

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

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The world of the news

At last, the police have been brought in to investigate the press.

I think it's fair to say that the nancy-pansy liberals have had their own way for long enough and it's time to CRACK DOWN. First, there's Damian Green, endangering NATIONAL SECURITY by blabbing embarrassing secrets to the press. Then, an upstart blogger deigned to win the Orwell Prize by TELLING THE TRUTH. But they were soon shut down.

I am gratified to see that the Criminal Justice System is finally putting its well-practised machinery into use to stifle the voices of dissent that plague our country. If only everyone would stop complaining, everything would be just fine.

Now is the chance for the police, acting as the long arm of democracy, to put down problematic investigative journalism once and for all. All those years spent building up a web of tangled bureaucracy to shield our operations from scrutiny can be put to good use.

As a police officer myself, you might think I'd be confused by the increasing use of our powers to tackle the inconvenient things in life. You might think I'd be alternately angry, resistant, and terrified, that one day I'll find a search warrant or arrest request, put in my docket by a politician and followed up on by a bureaucrat. If you think that, you've forgotten that police officers don't have brains, principles, or the tools to make their own decisions. We don't understand the big important things anyway.

The fax machines in the Ivory Tower are whirring with messages from Whitehall. From the balcony, great golden fingers pinpoint at random the priority for the day, or year. The hands that bear them are lost in the clouds above.

And down on the streets of Blandmore, there are drug-dealers, armed robbers and relentless burglars, going about their day-to-day business untroubled by the machinnations of the state.

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

Monday, July 06, 2009

Recoil from Prison

Every other day in Blandmore a fax is received at Headquarters announcing that someone somewhere on our "patch" has been recalled to prison.

A person is released early from prison when they've been extra good and managed not to stab anyone during their jail term. They are recalled back again if they misbehave when out, the way they did to get them put in jail to start with. To put things in perspective, it's pretty difficult to get yourself locked up nowadays. So if you manage it, it's quite likely you're going to keep doing whatever you did to get put inside.

In case you were wondering how the probation service decide who gets released early, they weigh up all kinds of factors such as likelihood of reoffending, history of offending, severity of crime, etc, and then kick them out anyway because they need the cell for someone else.

As a police officer, I get passed the fax telling me to go and bring someone back to prison. Usually with their address given as the bail hostel they are supposed to be living at, and which they aren't living at, hence the breach. I go to the hostel, find that they aren't living there, and put the fax in the bin. If the person never commits another crime and so never comes into contact with the police again, they will never, ever be caught. Funnily enough, we're not too bothered about locking up people who haven't committed any more crime. A prize for the reader who guesses how often that happens.

The stupidest, most idiotic and troubling thing about the whole laughable charade is that nine times out of ten the probation service know full well that these people are going to breach their conditions when they release them. But they do it anyway, because they need the cells.

We all know that ridiculous sentences are being handed out daily for crimes as heinous as rape and murder. We all know that in most cases the offenders will not serve even half of the time announced. And yet we are surprised that thousands of people are at large who shouldn't be, and that they're out there repeating the crimes that sent them to jail in the first place.

I'm aware that I sound somewhat like a Daily Mail reporter. I'm not devoid of compassion, and believe it or not consider myself fairly liberal. I just have this old-fashioned, backward attitude that the Criminal Justice System might run more effectively if the police didn't have to do every job twice.

Apart from saving money, we might even- gasp- save lives.

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

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Abyss of Nights

One of the little-discussed stresses of being a modern police officer is that of working shifts. In the past, as long as you picked up a paper once a week or met up with friends on a day off, you could keep abreast of current affairs pretty easily. Now with the fast-moving Twenty-First Century media, it is possible to fall far behind in just a few days.

When I work a week of nights I often surface to discover I have missed out on an entire news cycle and the rest of the world appears to be on a different wavelength to me. This is exacerbated during the summer, because even if I do wake up in the day and turn on the TV for half an hour, I am confronted either with a civilised flashback to the 1930s, or a house full of people who have no more idea of current events than I do.

Here are some things I missed while I was working nights:
  • The London Bombings
  • The Buncefield depot explosion
  • Michael Jackson's death
Obviously I discover about the events later on, but by then you can only piece together information from snippets such as, "the de Menezes are demanding a full enquiry" or "Karen Matthews looked a shadow of her former self as she was led away". It loses its immediacy and you are forever catching up with people who saw it unfold live.

As a police officer, let alone as one who blogs, I need to have my finger on the pulse of modern thought and feeling. Instead, sometimes it's a struggle to feel my own pulse.

Still, the joy of the modern media is that whether or not you have missed out on a juicy news story altogether, you can be sure that an identical one will come around within the year.

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


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