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.

(All proceeds from Google Ads will be donated to the Police Roll of Honour Trust)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Just Lock Up Baddies

I am relieved to find out today that according to Jack Straw, I am not overworked after all. It turns out I rather like staying indoors tucked up in the warm with my paperwork.

The evidence for this is that "some forces do very much better than others" and it is therefore a matter of "culture and discipline" if we're snowed under with paperwork. As it happens, I totally agree with Mr Straw. My force, for example, is one of the best in the country at recording crime, auditing custody records and thinking up new ways to keep criminals out of court. The culture of Blandshire Constabulary is to meet targets, provide a never-ending audit trail of everything we do, and produce endless reports and policies explaining how it's never our fault if someone dies. All under the banner of "No Targets. Just Lock Up Baddies." * As a result of our efforts, Blandshire is rated pretty highly at the moment.

Funnily enough, what activities do you suppose are the ones that keep police officers tucked up indoors in the warmth? Might they perchance include auditing/audit-trail-creating and policy-writing? Might they include attending strategy and risk assessment meetings, pie-chart creation and poster design?

Police officers don't care about having to fill out forms, complete files and write lengthy statements, where they are clearly vital pieces of evidence forming part of an investigation. We care about having to do these things, plus a dozen others, for no good reason whatsoever. We care about doing things in order to tick boxes that trick people like Jack Straw into thinking that our force is one of the ones that is "up for it... really motoring".

Here's an officer who nicked someone to get tucked up in the warm.
(Scroll to about 3min in if you get bored)

I know where the Justice Secretary drew his conclusions about police officers wanting to stay in the warmth. All over police blogs, in the papers and in the canteens (the ones that are still open), officers have a language that includes talking about "nicking someone to get back inside in the warm", or "tucking ourselves up with a file for a couple of hours and a cup of tea". My book is full of anecdotes about trying to get off the streets and into a plate of cookies. Well there's one anecdote like that. These stories and this language are part and parcel of a job that should entail being 90% ON the streets and OUT in the cold - that's why we talk about it so much.

So Jack Straw's comments are insulting on a number of levels:
Because they infer that his government's way of measuring successful forces bears an actual relationship to reality.
Because he has utterly missed the point of what frustrates officers about the bureaucratic culture in Britain.
Because he has inferred that front-line police officers have some kind of control over how they spend the majority of their time.
Because he has unwittingly (or God forbid wittingly) echoed the deep feelings of a portion of society who always suspected police officers might secretly enjoy paperwork.
Finally, because he seems to have no clue, despite his position, what life is really like for a front-line bobby under his government.

If his are the words of the man partly responsible for choosing the way forward for the British police force, what hope is there?

Happy New Year, Mr Straw. I'm working.**

* This slogan has never and will never feature in a Blandshire Constabulary propaganda campaign. Because there are and we can't.
** By the words "I'm working", one should not infer that I am, at the time of writing, working. Merely it is meant to imply and inform my good reader that I will be, over the festive period, working some or all of the hours of the bank holiday day/days/nights.

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

I Wanna Be Like Richard Reid

Another wannabe terrorist has failed to detonate his bomb on an international flight. This time, the device was hidden in his pants. Apparently.

The fear of being blown up on board a plane is not new. And every time there is a near-miss, nations fall over each other to announce new ways in which they will heighten security. On this occasion, there will be more body searches, passengers will only be allowed one item of hand luggage, and people who are wearing bibs emblazoned with the words "DEATH TO THE WEST" will not be given seats over the wing.

I'm a big fan of not dying on my next transatlantic flight. I'm also a big fan of not having to wait in line too long, not having to watch my carefully packed luggage being stuffed back together without so much as an iron in sight, and not being interrogated under spotlight because I'm not carrying enough stuff, or too much stuff. It's not necessarily as obvious as it sounds which right is more important.

Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was about as close as you can get to being a terrorist without actually being arrested. He was being watched by the world's intelligence agencies, his father had reported him twice out of concern, and he had known links to Al-Qa'eda. He wasn't on a "no-fly" list - fair enough you can't stop everyone with extremist views from flying - but is it rude to ask: if this guy was of such interest, WHY ON EARTH was he not called into the security office as he checked in, grilled about the reason for his visit, and searched from head to toe? Am I being dense in drawing that the conclusion that there is little point in having lists of suspected extremists, little point in the vast array of intelligence work going on behind the closed doors of MI6, MI5, the CIA and every other anti-terrorism organisation, if on identifying said persons of interest they are waved to their aisle seats with an extra packet of salty snacks? And if foreign airports don't have the up-to-date body scanners and security systems that would have stopped Mutallab (and we're not talking rocket science here) why are we allowing people to fly into our country from them?

None of us mind the extra checks if it really is going to avert a tragedy, but it seems it is just the innocent who will be subjected to them. An outcome familiar to those unfortunate enough to wander into any of Blandmore's "dispersal order" zones on weekends when The Inspector In Charge of Counting Dispersals in the Dispersal Order Zone is on duty.

Fortunately, we can all draw comfort from the fact that modern day terrorists, whilst ever more ambitious, appear to be increasingly incompetent.

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

PC Snow

This is a funny take on a politically correct, health-and-safety conscious Christmas.

Officers of Blandshire Constabulary have bigger problems right now than worrying about being politically incorrect, so we can get away with policing in tinsel epaulettes and accepting the odd sip of mulled wine as we attend the usual burglaries, car accidents and domestics that adorn this time of year. For those of us who can actually get into work with this bizarre white stuff clogging up the roads, we find an unusually clear car park, empty offices where the senior management team once were, and twice as much work for half the number of staff. There are some members of the public who do not choose Christmas to phone in their ten year old dispute with a distant cousin, but an equal number do. At other times of year they might get a PCSO coming round to chat about it, but right now I'm the only one visibly in charge, and I put calls like this at the back of my team's queue. Without the presence of the Superintendent Responsible For Prioritising Unimportant Jobs, there's no one to prevent my machinnations. At this time of year I also stop expecting my team to urgently arrest juveniles for offences committed six months ago, advise them not to bother with any file work because no one will read it until the 6th January, and take the opportunity to file a number of crime reports that have been being blocked by someone in a specialist department who's never read the paperwork.

You can bet, despite the empty offices upstairs, that when the SMT do return from skiing/golfing/wherever it is they go at this time of year, they will be scrutinising what the front line has been up to while they were away. No doubt there'll be some religiously aggravated snowball fights that APS Bloggs incorrectly updated as "not a priority", and some extremely aggravating emails will be sent to me about these and the other ways in which I have brought down Blandshire Constabulary during the festive season.

One of my priorities: to avoid this over Christmas.

In case you're wondering what I DO prioritise at this time of year, the list includes:
  • Calls asking the police to check someone's elderly relative is still alive as they haven't heard from them since the the police attended last New Year's. Whilst the question "Don't you think you should go round yourself" is always valid, at least if we attend I'll know that the relative in question will have one visitor on Christmas Day.
  • Finding and locking up recidivist acquisitive or violent offenders and getting them remanded until after Boxing Day. Sounds like persecution? Good.
  • Making sure my officers are off on time. We're working part of Christmas this year, so they've only got a few hours to snatch with their families as it is.
  • Double-checking everyone's overtime and Special Priority Payment forms to ensure they go through ok, and hand-delivering them to the finance department before they go on holiday.
It all sounds rather selfish, but it's the one time of year when we can police as we choose with little interference from above. As you might imagine, things work rather smoothly most Christmases.

Until New Year's Eve, that is.

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

Don't panic, but you're all going to die

Here are some things I am NOT trained to say when taking charge as Bronze Commander at the scene of an emergency:
Fortunately, as passengers languished trapped in the Eurotunnel, three British bobbies came to their rescue: PC Chris Sedgwick, PC Caroline Lowe and PS Anton Menzies took control and began to evacuate people who thought their train had been hit by a bomb. At one stage one of them may or may not have shouted "women and children first" (just what you want to hear at a time like that). Although if you check out web forums it appears that may have been shouted by a random passer-by. So what do I know.

As an Acting Sergeant, I may well be called upon to take initial control in situations ranging from bridge collapse to explosions to hostage-takings. I will be surrounded by the panicking public, all eyes looking to me to solve the crisis. Perhaps relief even in the eyes of my PCs as I roll up. On the plus side, having something to do will prevent me panicking, and I do like being the centre of attention. On the negative, I have no extra training whatsoever to equip me for this challenge.

All one can do in this situation is hope that I make all my mistakes at the incidents where no one dies as a result, so that when the true disaster strikes, I am ready. In my endeavours I will rely on the experience of my senior PCs (some of them have a whopping three years' service!), and the backing and back-up of my inspector. I'll learn, on the job, in the only role in the police where that still applies.

Of course, seeing as my senior managers have been police officers themselves for years, and understand fully the pressures on new inexperienced sergeants on the front-line, I'm sure I'll have all the support I need...

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Police Kill Again

Yet again the police, this time Greater Manchester, have brutally murdered a woman in her home. Katie Summers was stabbed to death by her ex-partner and the family state "It is a police officer's job to notice when someone is in danger... and scared for their life". They believe the police thought Katie was wasting their time.

The IPCC concluded that GMP did not properly identify the risk to the victim. What this means is that on each visit by the police, a risk assessment was filled out, and when the Domestic Violence Unit (or Public Protection Unit, or Unit for the Protection of Vulnerable People, or People's Front of Protective People) received the risk assessments, they failed to put them in a "High Risk" blue folder and instead opted for the less effective grey or green (Medium, Low).

The importance of these coloured folders cannot be understated. Had Katie Summers been in a blue folder, various policies would have kicked in, including:
  • DVU (or PPU, UPVP, PFPP) to deal with the offender each time he was arrested, instead of local shift or prisoner-handling officers.
  • Overtime to be authorised to deal with any incident involving the couple.
  • Mention in the Morning Meeting of the latest incident, with an edict by the Superintendent to "see that he's locked up for good".
  • A remand in custody to be sought by police following interview.
  • DVU officer to attend court in the morning to pressure the prosecutors into seeking a remand in prison.
Without the special colouring of the folder, Katie Summers would have been dealt with as any other victim, meaning that busy shift officers would have the job of interviewing the offender, would be unlikely to push for a remand in custody and if remanded, would not be working the following day to attend court. It means police alarms and address flags may not be put on the address, and less effort put into finding safe housing for the victim if required.

All of this leads one to conclude that GMP is directly responsible for Katie Summers' death, as they attended on eleven occasions that year and should have identified the risk as BLUE.

Unfortunately, real life isn't as simple. Blaming GMP for wrongly classifying the risk fails to take into account the following "real" issues that face the police in dealing with domestic violence:
  • Nearly all domestic violence situations involve dozens of previous calls.
  • There is not enough staff in DVU to deal with every high risk offender.
  • Unless there is a history of extreme violence, evidence of a serious offence (GBH or worse) and the offender has told police officers and the court that he intends to murder the victim, the court will be unlikely to remand him in custody. This is because most people don't go onto murder their partners following a criminal-damage-to-mobile-phone or text-message fiasco, and we can't lock them all up just in case.
  • Police officers are not psychic. If someone says they aren't afraid or in danger, it is valid to take that into account when assessing their risk.
  • Domestic Violence officers are not psychic either. Every single case they deal with could end in a murder. 99% don't.
  • If a victim does not support prosecution against their partner, a prosecution in 99% of places can simply not take place. Most forces now try to prosecute regardless of whether there is in fact any evidence of any crime, with the result that a lot of non-murdering spouses find themselves going through the court system for the pettiest of domestic arguments. The courts will not and should not convict a lot of these people.
Most officers are so terrified of the situation GMP finds itself in that they arrest people at every domestic they attend. Very often they arrest both parties, just in case. The senior management team can't understand why so few of these arrests result in prosecutions. And they don't seem to understand why all potential murderers aren't in prison. They seem surprised that DV murder victims have had contact with the police a dozen times before they died - as if people wake up one day after twenty years of being a normal person and suddenly stab their partner to death.

I dread the day that a domestic I attend evolves into a murder. But I'll go on dealing with each incident, and supervising my officers at them, in the way I deem to be moral, compassionate and right, and not because I'm worrying about the colour of a folder.

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upside Down Law

Believe it or not, I'm not a great fan of new self-defence laws. I think the original legislation and common law, stating that a person may use reasonable force to defend themselves, is pretty satisfactory.

I don't even fully object to the sentence handed out to businessman Munir Hussain, who bludgeoned a burglar with a metal pole, fracturing his skull. Mr Hussain had been subjected to an ordeal, but where he went wrong was gathering a posse, chasing the offender outside, and then continuing to beat him until he was almost dead. Worse still, he made up an array of lies but was found out by independent witnesses. He was tried by jury, who if they had felt enough sympathy with his plight could have acquitted him. Following a guilty verdict the judge had little choice but to jail him. As we keep saying on these blogs, GBH with Intent is a serious crime that should attract jail. And what isn't revealed in the attached article is whether Mr Hussain had previous convictions for violence. I sympathise with his situation, but surely a few kicks would have done the job and they could have then detained the burglar for the police.

What baffles me, and most sane members of the British public, is how Mr Hussain can face just over a year in prison when the man who broke into his house and threatened his family at knifepoint, walks free with a "supervision" order.

When you look at the two sentences alongside, the mind boggles. Judge John Reddihough may well feel it his public duty to jail Munir Hussain, to make it clear that retribution of that nature is not acceptable. Why did the judge in Walid Salem's trial not feel a similar public duty, to punish those who commit aggravated burglaries of such a severe nature? This was a man with fifty-four previous convictions. Who, after all, is the greater threat to society in the long-term? And who should we really be trying to deter?

Why, despite uproar after uproar, do unrepentent criminals walk out of our courts laughing on a daily basis? In light of it all, perhaps 30 months is a decent trade-off against giving an armed burglar a punishment he won't laugh at.

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cutting off our nose

The dust has settled on the announcement that police forces will have to cut £500m in total. A few of my readers may remember that around the time I started this blog seven figure police budget cuts were being announced nationwide. The main impact this had on front-line response officers like myself was that we had to fill out two forms instead of one to claim our overtime.

Insidiously, other practices were brought in, and the management started to harp on about "single-crewing policies" and other such measures. It wasn't overtly linked to the budget, although we had our doubts that single-crewing could possibly benefit the force in any other way.

As I've said before, I consider myself an avant-garde lone rangeress of the Twenty-First Century. The day I was declared "independent" I tore out of the police station leaving my colleagues for dust and raced about town on my lonesome targeting the lawless evildoers of Blandmore with my stern arm of justice. Or at least I collared a few detained shoplifters. When I got my blues-and-twos ticket, it was all my sergeant could do to stop me haring into every dangerous situation without a shred of back-up. To be an independent-thinking, mistress-of-my-own-destiny, single-crewed saviour of society was why I joined the job.

But you learn early on there are some things you just shouldn't do single-crewed. And if you're on the front line as a response officer, everything your job encompasses is done better with a colleague. Moving into office-based roles, best practice interviewing techniques of victims, witnesses and offenders all recommend double crews. Certain traffic offences have to be corroborated by two officers - and ALL stand a better chance of prosecution if they are. The list goes on.

So when I read in an announcement about budget cuts that single-crewing is supposed to increase visibility and make the public feel safer, forgive my cynicism. When I go onto discover that more money is being ploughed towards victims of anti-social behaviour, it is almost beyond response. If you had a gang of violent teenaged yobs outside your house, throwing bottles at your car and threatening your children, what would make you feel better: to know lots of money will be spent on the poster campaign to catch your killer when you go outside to tackle the kids; or to know that a vanload of officers is available to scoop up the perpetrators and lock them up for the night?

Alan Johnson hastens to reassure us, of course, that he doesn't expect single-crewing to happen in areas where it could be dangerous. Like George Street, Luton? Universal Express travel agent's on Morley Street, Bradford? Lenton, Nottingham? River Derwent, Workington? Cuckoo Road, Birmingham. Elizabeth Avenue, Stalybridge. Most of these officers weren't single-crewed. God help the public if they had been (in the Luton case, for instance).

The job of a police officer is to go to situations where someone has called for help. If the 999 call sounds risky, a single-crewed officer will not be sent, and will be told to wait for back-up nearby. Believe it or not, many of us didn't join the police to hide round the corner while a member of the public screams for help. The "risky" calls do not just come from those drug-infested city centres or "problem" housing estates. They come from homes and streets up and down the country. Many cannot be predicted, nor prevented.

We have a single-crewing policy in Blandshire. My single-crewed shift officers spend a great deal of time waiting for back-up before making arrests/attending domestics, or shuffling between marked cars with prisoners so as not to transport on their own (a very high risk enterprise). I spend all day juggling what jobs they can and can't go to, and trying to find units to assist those who need help. All my officers are willing to go to incidents alone, but they shouldn't have to.

At least, they shouldn't have to under a false pretext. If we can no longer afford to police this nation safely, let's at least be honest about it.

There shalt not be two officers. Two is the number there shalt not be.

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

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Robot

We're into the six-week countdown before Christmas and the locals are celebrating Blandmore-style. For some reason burglaries apparently always rise during November/December. Our Superintendent thinks it's to do with Christmas presents, but so far the main increase seems to be in aggravated burglaries on the elderly, and balaclava-wearing, gangster-type jewellery heists on private dwellings.

My personal theory is it's the probation service and courts letting lots of criminals out early "in time for Christmas". For some reason I can't get anyone to give me figures to substantiate that.

Anyway, November and December are "very bad" for our figures apparently. Which is surprising because only a few weeks ago I attended a special training day in which I was told that we don't have numerical targets any more. So I can only assume that by "bad for our figures" the superintendent meant that we are eating too many mince pies and puddings. And I can only assume "our" refers to specialist departments, because down on response we certainly haven't got time to gain weight, let alone jump on the scales to find out either way.

I do wonder how long we can go on for with the current level of staffing. It seems to me there is a certain amount of time it takes the average PC to deal with an incident of some seriousness, and that whatever pressure the area is under, that time should never and can never be reduced. And yet when the senior management team send out emails that we should be dealing with more and more incidents, arresting more and more offenders, getting more and more successful convictions, with fewer and fewer staff, there is only one place this extra work can come from and that is by each officer doing more. So my PCs rush from job to job, half-taking a statement here, half-seizing an exhibit there, and wholly reading the emails they get about their shoddy workmanship. Plus they've got me, like Marvin the depressed robot, constantly railing against the establishment and encouraging them to ignore the radio, forget the targets, and concentrate on what they're doing in spite of all other voices to the contrary.

There are two kinds of front-line sergeant. Either you are an automated server, passing on text written by someone else with no input into the content. Or you are antivirus software, vetting, scanning and scrutinising everything you are given and deciding what is safe to pass on and what should be labelled as Junk. I know which kind of sergeant my force would rather I were. And I know which kind I am.

I'm finding out at the moment why sergeants are paid more.

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


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