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, 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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched my Inspector (now alive and retired) open the rear of a Hi-jacked van which had been abandoned at the International airport in Belfast, pull the `wheelie bin` out of the back of it and open the lid to find it was a hoax device. This was in 1991 and the shooting war was still on.
Back then it was impolite to call him a dick, but he was.

19 July, 2009 20:05

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone with three pips or above would have to have a meeting about 'risk assesement' before touching it! It would have still been there three days later.

19 July, 2009 22:05

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just pray that thee have an angel on thy shoulder and a good dose of good luck equal dollop of common sense plus that the top of thy spine is working and good at warning you of potential dangers, which I am sure that you have had ring the bells in thy Belfry. [gut feelings works for some]

You will get dumped on by the over cautious using the "Regs" for their back up.
Remember those PCO's that followed procedure and those customers of yours that rated them as un-Police worthy.

20 July, 2009 01:42

Blogger Hogday said...

Another well observed quandary, Ellie. I remembered
this as a result.

20 July, 2009 12:03

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good skipper makes a shift, no two ways about it.

20 July, 2009 12:07

Blogger John Q. Publican said...

First off: thank you for the work, I'm enjoying your writing and learning things I didn't know.

WRT Sergeants: it's always nice to see someone appreciating them as a class. It is long received wisdom that an army is really run by sergeants (also, police forces!) in much the same way that a village church is really run by the WI rather than the vicar. My favourite representation of this so far comes from Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon:

Sergeant: "What I do is make things happen. Deciding what things should happen is someone else's job; unless there isn't anyone else."

Injured lieutenant: "Sergeant? Sweden is that way. Take us there."

20 July, 2009 14:13

Anonymous Retired Sgt said...

To be a succesful Sgt you need to force policies the law and all the stated cases you need to know the area you police and the individuals you are policing.You need to know how your troops think and operate and they need to know how you think and operate too.One good bit of advice I was given by a very old sweat was-as a Sgt you need to know how your Guvnor operates what makes him or her tick and how to make sure they keep their nose out of your team-never ever give them options-Go to them with the solution presented in such a way they think that its their idea-that way you are covered both ways!
So you still want to be a skipper?

20 July, 2009 14:40

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My last shift went from being a really good laugh with high moral and a low staff turn over to zero moral, little craic and everybody diving out of the windows. The reason being that the 2 old sweat Sgts who ran the shift retired and a pain in the arse young one with 4!! years in the job coming in.

She decided that it all had to change and if you spoke up you were "intensively supervised" (i.e. bullied, nagged and made miserable).

A good Sgt makes a shift. Simple.

PC A.Hunn

20 July, 2009 16:37

Anonymous Retired Sgt said...

And I forgot o mention that you also need to be a relationship guidance counsellor a personal financial expert and the fount of all knowledge about everything

20 July, 2009 18:04

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Retired Sgt should blog on the subject of leadership.
The most misunderstood subject.

"solution presented in such a way they think that its their idea-"

absolutely essential.
no credit given but enjoy the silent chuckle of seeing the AH's self delusion.

Most outfits function well when the leader leads and not shoves.


20 July, 2009 20:33

Anonymous Brian E. said...

I have generally respected Sergeants and other NCOs in the uniformed services for the reasons you state.
That is all except one MOD Plod Sergeant.
I was the Senior engineer on duty at a certain government establishment, and he comes to me and tells me that he's found one of the emergency doors open. My reaction - thanks for telling me, I'll log it. The response "But do you want it shut?", taught him that engineers, when pushed, have a far bigger vocabulary than police sergeants!
Trouble was, I guessed who'd left it open having gone out for a quick smoke and would now have to give him a bollocking. If the sergeant had shut it, the miscreant would have had to go to the front entrance and explain why he was outside when the computer showed him as being in!

20 July, 2009 22:27

Blogger Hogday said...

Re Dungbeetle's "Retired Sgt should blog on the subject of leadership.
The most misunderstood subject".

I spent 7 weeks at Bramshill on a `command` course and at the end (which couldn't have come soon enough for me) I asked the question `why, in this entire course, the word leadership has not been used once`? I got a lengthy reply in nebulous academic non-specific-speak, which I didn't understand. - but the tench fishing in the lake was pretty good.

21 July, 2009 10:04

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once saw a cop pick up a distress flare that had been washed up on the beach in front of my caravan and throw it in the back of his landrover. Where it prompty exploded and set the landrover on fire............

22 July, 2009 20:23

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hang on a minute, you have a *bomb bin* at the station?

Is that anything like the recycling bins we've had inflicted upon us and do you get fined if you put the wrong sort of explosive in there?

22 July, 2009 20:28

Anonymous Anonymous said...

But caution is slow, time-wasting, and if it were the only consideration nothing would ever get done

Excellent point


23 July, 2009 16:52

Anonymous Anonymous said...

at least they aint getting blowjobs in the local boozer

23 July, 2009 22:33

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Sereant, I'd have picked up the flowerpot. It would've looked nice in the parade room :)

25 July, 2009 15:11


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