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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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Class of Its Own

Let's hear it for the triumphant return of Cannabis to its former Class B Glory!

For those of you new to the wild and wonderful world of drug classification, Class B drugs achieve slightly higher sentences in court than Class C drugs. When cannabis was de-classified to Class C in the first place, Blandshire Constabulary acknowledged the reduction in severity by lightening the penalty for those found in possession of it. The following options became open to us:
  • Anyone who hadn't been caught with cannabis before could receive 2 informal street warnings before being arrested.
  • Negligible amounts could be just disclaimed and destroyed by the police without any penalty.
  • Quite large amounts could be written off as "personal", even with a grinder and a few sets of scales present (for weighing the drugs).
Under the harsh criteria applied to Class B drugs, Blandshire Constabulary has issued the following strict guidelines:
  • Informal street warnings can still be issued.
  • We are not interested in negligible amounts.
  • Unless it's a big-time drug dealer, a few wraps will just get treated as "possession" (rather than supply).
I am not a magistrate, but I have little doubt that the sentencing criteria will undergo the same radical changes, and that it will be applied in a similarly severe manner.

The government's decision on re-classification was not taken lightly. A great deal of research was commissioned into whether cannabis should be a Class C or B drug, and I think you'll agree the conclusions spoke for themselves. Whatever you think about the merits of such research, at least the government is consistent in how it approaches such serious matters.

The War of the Words continues.

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

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Update

Sometimes I wonder whether the recession prompts depressing news, or whether it's the other way around. Do we really need to read day in day out about which companies are cutting jobs and which classic British institutions have died? And by the way, did we know that suicide is pretty cheap nowadays and only slightly painful?

Meanwhile, bloggers like myself rely on news for inspiration, subject matter, and any possible success. I don't make any money out of my blog, and so far all proceeds from my book have been given to charity, so "success" for me isn't really defined financially. But it's nice to have it all the same: see here for some updates on the progress of the book through the public-sector-like bureaucracy of another great British institution that shows no signs of dying just yet.

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

Monday, January 19, 2009

Our Own Worst Enemy

Occasionally a brainstormer at a police headquarters somewhere comes up with a wacky scheme to reduce crime. Gadget describes the campaign, waged by numerous forces over time, to stick notices on cars with valuables on display, just so the thieves know which ones to break into.

As a front-line police officer I spend most of my time trying to respond to schemes like this. I find myself treading a path of compromise between what I'm being told to do and what my commonsense is protesting. But that's always assuming that I'm told about the scheme in the first place. I often fall foul of senior managers by failing to adhere to a new policy that I know nothing about.

For those of you new to the crazy world of British policing, a Crime Reduction scheme is usually brought into being by the following simple process:
  • A Superintendent somewhere identifies a crime wave consisting of two or three similar offences in a month.
  • He or she delegates the problem of solving the wave to an ambitious Chief Inspector.
  • Rather than pointing out that the crime wave does not exist, the C/I instigates a new operation, naming it after a word that no one understands like Adoxography.
  • Resources are diverted to Op Adoxography, front-line PCs are invited to work overtime on rest days, someone devises a ten-page document describing the aims and actions of the operation. These differ in no way from day-to-day policing except for the occasional extra annoyance to members of the public trying to get home/to work/to the pub.
  • A front-line sergeant is put in charge of the operation, and uses all the resources to attend the outstanding domestics, robberies and distraction burglaries that normally get left for a few days until all the evidence has rotted away.
  • All arrests, charges, tickets and cautions resulting from the officers on the operation get flagged as down to Op Adoxography.
  • Meanwhile the officers involved remain blissfully unaware that they were ever involved in an operation to start with, and fail to fill out their overtime forms correctly resulting in delayed payment.
  • The Chief Inspector hails the op a stupendous success.
  • The Superintendent gets promoted.
  • Back on the streets, crime waves that aren't very interesting, or can't be allocated an unusual word, continue unabated.
This really is my life. Occasionally there really is a crime wave that really can be solved by an influx of officers devoted to its cause. More often, there is just crime. If we had these kind of resources everywhere, every day, maybe there wouldn't even be that.


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

Friday, January 16, 2009

Working 9 til 5, then 6 til 2

Shadow Police Minister David Ruffley doesn't think police officers should have second jobs. He doesn't have a reason for this view, other than thinking "the prime responsibility of an officer of the law is to have all their focus and attention on serving."

I quite agree with Mr Ruffley. I think it's a disgrace that officers are just allowed to book off-duty at the end of the day and go flouncing off into society buying groceries, picking their kids up from school and playing war games online. Moreover, they should not partake in sport, read books, fall in love, nor drink beer with their pals.

Instead, I would like to see officers sitting at home bolt upright with Blackstones Police Manuals on their laps, focussing 100% of the time on how gratefully they serve their country.

Mr Ruffley, whose guiding principle of how to be an MP is to "take on anybody in authority", has clearly done his homework on the matter. Homework which he will have manfully squeezed in around his Consultancy roles with Partnership Group Holding, Dentons Pension Management and Lotus Asset Management, all worth over £60k to him in secondary salaries.

I look forwards to seeing more of Mr Ruffley's tackling of authority when he announces his policy that firefighters shouldn't be allowed to go to the gym in their spare time, and that doctors shouldn't be able to run businesses.

In actual fact, police officers ARE restricted on whether we can work a second job. We have to declare secondary employment or business interests to our Chief Constable and have it approved. This is mainly to stop corruption whereby police officers have an interest or stake in local businesses that will then affect how they police. It is always expected that those working a second job will put their police work first. If they do, how does it differ from having a passionately-pursued hobby?

It seems people don't like the idea of police officers using skills or knowledge they acquired on the beat elsewhere, especially if it means making money out of it. Which is a bit like saying that a mountain rescue expert shouldn't be allowed to work as a professional rock-climbing instructor, in case he starts to see his mountain rescues as publicity, or practice. I have a simple question: so what if he does, if he does them right?

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two, Three, Four Persons' Words

I've blogged before about how the Crown Prosecution Service are loath to send anything to court if the evidence consists of "one person's word" against another. In this case of Robbery, the judge threw it out because the victim was "too believable". In other words, she had no reason to lie, therefore the jury was likely to believe her, and this therefore made the trial unfair.

In this case, there will have been other factors that brought the robber to court, for example how did he come to be arrested in the first place? He was near the scene, matched the description, had stolen property on him? Was he named by an anonymous caller, was there CCTV, did his mother bring him in, did it just match his modus operandi? The victim had a broken nose, and her car will have been smashed - these things are both independently verifiable pieces of evidence. Somebody robbed her, and she has picked out this offender, out of a video ID parade. Just to clarify, we don't do video ID parades unless the person has been arrested for some other reason first, and the suspect is then one of twelve similar-looking faces shown to the victim some days or weeks later. The chances of a false-positive identification are minimal under this system.

It concerns me greatly if we can't take cases to court under circumstances like these. If the jury cannot be allowed to hear the victim's testimony and make a decision, we may as well say goodbye to an adversarial court system and try things based on whether or not there was CCTV. If a victim has no reason to lie, on the face of everything seems credible and honest, those are all things that the jury can legitimately use to find the defendant guilty.

How should police officers respond to this kind of decision? Most of my job consists of assessing one person's word against the other. We go to a domestic: "He hit me", "I was defending myself", we have to make a decision who to arrest: both, neither, either? To some extent every crime is the same, and the point is to weigh up one side against the other and come to a conclusion. But there are now half a dozen people to convince of the suspect's guilt between 999 call and court. It is no longer a case of: we think he's done it, let's see what a jury of his peers thinks. Each crime now has to pass through the threshold of the attending officer's view, the custody sergeant's opinion, a Gateway officer's assessment, CPS's scrutiny and a judge's decision. If there is a scrap of evidence missing, a minutiae that doesn't add up, a speck of doubt in one witness's statement, someone along the way will spot it and put a stop to things before it has a chance. This kind of rigour is nonsensical in real life. Crime isn't cut and dried, it's fast, furious and confusing, and if on the face of it the case seems deserving, it should have its day in court.

The Daily Mail is up in arms about the above robbery case, but the fact is that it merely represents the state of the Criminal Justice System now. Crime and Punishment no longer reflect the values and beliefs of the British public. Mrs Dawson should console herself that even if the youth had been found guilty, he would have been back out in a few weeks none the worse for his ordeal.

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

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

If you haven't done anything wrong...

A phone-calls/Emails database has been considered for a while. It would contain details of numbers/emails called/sent by everyone in the country, but not the content. No doubt trying to slip the news in during the festive season, the government has now stated this may be handled by the private sector.

There's a general attitude if you haven't done anything wrong, why would you mind. Unfortunately, "done anything wrong" has a rather wide meaning, as any police officer or anyone who reads police blogs will know. In today's Britain, as soon as your ex, neighbour, enemy or total stranger points at you and says you have committed a crime, you have. This is because, thanks to NCRS, as soon as your name is given by the victim, you are recorded as a "suspect" by most police forces. If you are not then arrested, you become an "unactioned suspect", which is seen by Senior Management as the greatest sin since Eve thought "what's the worst that can happen...?" This is because it is a missed opportunity to improve the force's detection rate, or, as my Area Commander puts it, "Provide a top quality service to a traumatised victim of crime."

A supreme amount of pressure is brought to bear on PCs to arrest their "unactioned suspects". I have actually been to a disciplinary interview over my refusal to do so on one occasion. Most officers, myself included, don't want to fight these battles on a day-to-day basis, and just do as they are told.

Of course, as soon as you are arrested, you enter the dream machine that is custody, the criminal justice system, Crown Prosecution Service advice, etc. Your fingerprints and DNA are taken and held forever on the national database. Your photograph is recorded, you are given a Criminal Records Bureau number. "Bad character" evidence is created in that you were once accused of this crime, and the police must have thought there was enough evidence to nick you for it. This can be used against you in a future prosecution.

It is the introduction of these policies and rules that has led to the total abuse of legislation such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Introduced to protect victims from the twisted and murderous stalkers of the world, it is now used to prevent Kyle texting Sally that shes a stpd btch. Harassments are recorded at a rate of 5-10 a day in Blandshire Constabulary, and most will result in someone being arrested for something pathetic.

Applying this to the new glorious database of all phone-calls and emails, while initially it will be used to investigate the most serious of organised crime, terrorism, blackmail, murder, rape, etc, over time it will be used in the trivial inter-domestic/neighbour disputes that the police deal with all the time. Essentially, we will get to the stage where someone can point at you in the street and say "that person's been harassing me", and the police will be able to pull your email, phone and text records.

Apart from the frightening invasion of your privacy, this will all take weeks or months of police work, and will be a supreme and utter waste of everyone's time.



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

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Another Year, Another Blandmore





(Not Blandmore.)








How do I know the New Year?


Not by the countdown, the chanting, the cheering. Not by fireworks on the river, nor bright city lights, nor hugs and dancing. Not by my boyfriend's kiss, nor Auld Lang Syne, nor families and fires.

I don't know the New Year by my short skirt, silly hat and aching heels. I don't know it by the stagger down the road for a cab, nor by my vomiting on a police officer's boots, nor the stranger who takes me home. I don't know about the fumbled struggle at someone's house, nor the phone-calls asking where I am, nor the wandering through town laughing at passing cars, wearing only one shoe.

For me, the New Year doesn't start with screams, shouts and accusations. Nor broken crockery, raised fists, knives taken from drawers. I don't know the New Year by the police at my door, nor the blood on my hands, nor the day I'll always remember.

I know the New Year by an overtime code, a scramble for custody spaces, five missed calls from my boyfriend. Relatives asking what my plans are and shaking their heads. Twelve hour shifts, other people's blood, driving from town centre to town centre. Going home, curling up and sleeping. There is no celebration, no fireworks, no song. There is just me, and those like me, surviving the New Year if we can.

Another year starts, and Blandmore is the same.



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

 

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