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, April 22, 2009

Sigh
















Is anyone else depressed? The Budget shows our country spiralling into a cesspit of debt,
everyone thinks the police are a bunch of morons, the police ARE a bunch of morons, and no matter how much bloggers harp on and on about the insidious bureaucratic ways in which the government has ruined our police fo
rce, nobody ever seems to hear us.

For example, last week I responded to a commenter referring to the lack of epaulettes worn by some officers at the G20. To quote Nick Hardwick, the general consensus is that officers must have been "
expecting trouble". I cannot deny, I have come across one or two colleagues in my career who deliberately fail to put their epaulettes on, or cover them with a coat, as they are fed up of people taking down their collar number to complain about them. A tiny proportion of those colleagues are aware that they consistently behave in a bullying manner and are hoping to avoid complaints by concealing their identity. Most of them are just fed up of being the one whose number gets nabbe
d when they had nothing to do with it. However I have never met a colleague who will not give out his/her collar number if requested by a complaining member of the public. We all know that it's a no-brainer - you have to give your number out unless you have a VALID reason to fear terrorist reprisal.

But what the media/public/Nick Hardwick seem to fail to understand, is that I have simply dozens of colleagues who repeatedly fail to wear their collar number for one of the following reasons:
  • The epaulettes are on their other jacket.
  • They have just taken their body armour off and have not transferred the epaulettes onto their shirt yet (it's uncomfortable to wear both sets at once).
  • Blood/urine/faeces spilled onto their coat including shoulders and they are awaiting a replacement.
  • They rushed straight out to a job and forgot them.
  • They threw on a coat as it started to rain and the epaulettes are on the garment underneath.
A glaring recurrent theme in the above is that most forces are too cheap to buy their officers enough pairs of epaulettes to cover these eventualities and we change garb so often throughout the day it's easy to leave them on the wrong thing. None of the above are good excuses, but if you foster a police force where discipline is considered bullying, drill/parade are banished as politically incorrect, there are no penalties for misdemeanour until you are suddenly fired for a minor error, morale is at an all-time low due to pay dispute, the role has been emasculated and we are dejected at the utter lunacy of the tasks we do day on day... well suffice it to say that it isn't at the forefront of my mind whether my epaulettes are in place when I rush out to do battle.

Of course the sergeants and inspectors should have lined up their serials before attending a high profile event like the G20, and checked they were all presentable with epaulettes in place. But the fact that they didn't does not reflect some sinister intention to beat up innocents and hide from justice. It just reflects the standard of the training and motivation we are given. Apart from anything, there's always someone in your team who will see you on TV up to your antics and phone the anonymous Corruption Line. Or a few dozen friends and family who will readily identify you. So just covering your shoulders is not going to prevent your prosecution.

Let's face it, the press don't care about the above. And nor, it appears, does Sir Paul Stephenson, who has jumped on the bandwagon with all four feet.

A similar recent story is that of poor little Bethney Townsend, who died after a kidney disorder was not diagnosed. In all the headlines, the GP is blamed for "failing" to do a blood test, but if you read on, the GP referred the child straight to hospital. When the hospital sent the child back, the GP tried to do the test herself but couldn't, so she referred her to a specialist, who wasn't available for a month. In that month, Bethney died. The GP's fault? Or a catchy headline?

In a side-note, this blogger freely admits failing to wear her epaulettes before blogging, in a deliberate attempt to conceal her identity and that of her force. Perhaps the offending officers at the G20 were simply trying to save their force embarassment...

And finally, it isn't all bad news. The below picture would have been unthinkable 10 or 20 years ago. So we are getting somewhere.









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

Friday, April 17, 2009

Big Half-Brother

Last week Dan Collins mused about whether police/public service bloggers would ever have started if the EU Directive about Internet data storage had been in place.

I can't speak for all bloggers, but the Directive doesn't concern me, for the following reasons:
  1. Internet data has always been stored, for about six hours. So if my force knew who I was and had it in for me, they could get some hard evidence anyway.
  2. In order to access this stored information, a force will have to fill out a RIPA application. This has to be signed by an inspector, certifying that the information is needed in order to investigate crime. I wouldn't be blogging if I thought I were committing a crime.
  3. I blog using Blogger, an American company not covered by the Directive, and I email using Yahoo, likewise. This causes all kinds of problems for anyone investigating.
  4. In order to ask for my Internet records, the force investigating would have to know what ISP I use to log on. I don't plan to reveal this deliberately.
  5. Any investigation is expensive. It takes up man-hours, and potentially involves paying fees for information to be disseminated or experts to decode it. You should see the arguments Blandshire Constabulary has just over who is going to attend a car crash on the Blandshire/Midshire Border, let alone who is going to investigate the matter of a lorry stolen in Northshire, driven through Blandshire and found abandoned in Westshire, having committed robberies in Eastshire on the way. No police force is going to launch an investigation into me unless they already know I work for them.
  6. If my computer is seized, there is an eighteen month waiting list for hi-tech crime to decrypt it. Plus I've interspersed blog-related files with a lot of illegal porn, just to confuse everybody.
  7. Finally, if I am uncovered, I'll survive. I wouldn't be doing this otherwise.
I don't really consider myself to be a whistle-blower, because I've never named my force and anything I expose isn't a secret anyway, not really. But it may not be long before it is the government that employs me, rather than my own force. The new police regulations make it misconduct to discredit "the police" as opposed to just my own force. Looking ahead, it is likely that individual police officers will end up accountable to a central body with the power to hire, fire, and invoke RIPAs to investigate us directly.

The prospect is frightening. We are heading towards state-run police, where officers are less and less able to raise concerns, challenge bureaucracy, or even blog about it anonymously. The good news is, the state will be so mind-bogglingly incompetent that it won't even be able to enforce its own autocracy.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Death in Custody

FACT: a death can be treated as "in custody" indefinitely after any period of detention by police, if the death is related to the time in custody. It used to be twenty-four hours, but the police can now be investigated for killing someone they arrested a year ago, if the two events are shown to be related.

A police surgeon once told me about a prisoner she tended to in custody who was having a heart attack. He had been brought in having struggled violently with the arresting officers, was covered in scratches and bruises, and was an alcoholic asthmatic diabetic epileptic. With a weak heart. He complained of chest pains all the way in - not surprising as he had been handcuffed tightly due to his struggling, and had probably taken a few knee strikes or baton blows to the chest to accomplish this. Aside from that, he was bellowing loudly enough to convince most of the custody suite that he was not in serious danger. Once he had been restrained in the cell to perform a "cell exit" technique (whereby the officers place someone in a position where they cannot leap up and attack the police before the door is closed), the man grew quiet. He was under constant supervision, and medical help was summoned immediately when his shortness of breath and chest pains were apparent.

Believe it or not, some days 90 or even 100% of prisoners arrested in Blandmore require a police doctor, or Forensic Medical Examiner (FME) to examine them for one or more condition. If they aren't alcoholics, they are drug addicts. "But drug addicts are ok," the FME told me. "Drug addicts might withdraw, but alcoholics can just die on you."

In custody, deprived from their usual diet of white lightning, detained alcoholics can literally just die. Many of them are diabetic as well, which doesn't help: without a meal or their insulin, diabetics can slip into a coma causing brain damage or death. Heroin addicts can become depressed or manic, banging their heads off the walls, biting at their wrists, or wrapping the elastic of their hoodie or tracksuit around their throats. Extreme claustrophobia is common among addicts of any kind - they feel out of control without access to their substance, and often need urgent medical care or prescriptions if they are to be kept in custody. On occasion, a prisoner's high blood pressure, lack of access to medication or serious alcoholism, can mean the doctor will designate them "not fit to detain". It is still the police's decision whether to detain someone or not, but I wouldn't want to be the custody sergeant who went against the doctor's advice.

FMEs have training in custody issues and are therefore specialist doctors. They have inputs on evidence-gathering and police procedure, and their job is to advise the police. It is rarely the doctor's neck on the line if a prisoner were to die.

Despite this recipe for disaster, Blandshire Constabulary hasn't had a death in custody for some time. Some people think we're about due. Which is cheerful. It is probably every PC's nightmare to hear that the prisoner they fought with earlier is now fighting for his life. The prospect of immediate suspension, clothing seizure, protracted investigation and press coverage aside, nobody wants to kiss their partner goodbye in the morning and find out that they've ended a life in the afternoon.

Even so, it's hard to really grasp the enormity of a death in custody unless you experience one. Especially for medical staff who save and lose lives on a daily basis.

The FME told me: "He had been given oxygen, ambulance called, the defibrillator was standing by. When he sat up and opened his eyes, and stabilised, I left him to the paramedics. I stepped out of the cell and saw the forensic teams standing by at the end of the corridor in white overalls, ready to cordon off the cell with police tape if he died. That was when I realised."

I have no idea whether Mr Tomlinson was wrongfully assaulted by a police officer, or whether his heart attack had anything to do with it if he was. I have no idea if he was an alcoholic, diabetic, epileptic, or any of the other frighteningly life-threatening conditions that people walk around with for years before keeling over one day.

I do know what the officers involved are experiencing. I'm glad I'm not one of them.

We tread a perilous path where wrongdoing means the same thing as mistake. You can't think about it when you draw your baton in the face of violence. But you must think about it before you strike. You must be absolutely in tune with your moral fibre, be utterly confident of your self-control, and be prepared to answer questions about both afterwards.



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

Thursday, April 09, 2009

My Arse... Revisited

Back in December 2007 I said I had no idea how Secret and Top Secret documents are handled, in comparison to the shoddy effort at confidentiality the police make with less sensitive documents.

Now I know:

















And the answer is, in exactly the same way.

"Fired" is a strong word. So is "plonker", and "total utter".

Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick didn't just show a secret document to the press, he showed one so sensitive that an anti-terror operation had to be brought forwards. One can only assume, thereby jeopardising months of work and meaning there may not yet be evidence to prosecute the suspects. A situation, perhaps, where the consequences are far higher than the crime.

That said, it was most likely Bob Quick himself who decided to bring forwards the operation, and it is also quite possible that if asked, the journalists would not have published pictures other than as above - with the details blurred out. But I do know that if I had done that, I would be facing a misconduct hearing at the very least.

I also know that if the Met Authority doesn't fire people for letting their force get into such a shambles that they are prosecuted for killing someone under Health and Safety laws, they are unlikely to fire someone for holding a piece of paper the wrong way around.

I wonder at what point in your career you stop being castigated for every minor mistake, and instead become impervious to the major.



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

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The "major crime" gap

If you are lucky enough to be subjected to a serious crime in Blandmore, you will receive an unparalleled level of service from your local police. Those who have been raped, beaten up by burglars, half-strangled or stabbed can expect the following:
  • Police to divert from whatever they are doing to come to help you.
  • Traffic to be halted, roads to be closed, houses to be evacuated, all to preserve your crime scene.
  • Specialist officers and detectives to drop their paperwork to look after you and take your statement.
Should you fall prey to a REALLY serious crime, however, things are slightly different. Otherwise known as Major Crime, these include kidnapping, stranger rape, and murder. In these cases it is recognised that care of the victim is not nearly as important as Force Policy. For example, should you be raped in your home by your ex-boyfriend, police will be straight round. But if you are dragged into your ex-boyfriend's car and driven away to be raped, that is a Kidnapping and no one can do anything to help you until a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) has been woken up and told about it.

The SIO will go through a checklist to make sure that the police swooping to your door is not about to get you killed. All very handy if you're bound and gagged in the back of your ex's car. Not so handy if your ex let you go about an hour ago and you're at home desperately waiting for the police.

Likewise with assault versus murder. Should you be stabbed in the back and require operations and stitches, the police will get straight on the trail of your attacker. Should the knife strike an inch further over leaving you dead in an alley, no one can chase anyone until a massive cordon has been set up, officers brought in on days off, and a budget request made for floodlights, tents and white overalls.

We're actually very good at these investigations. But I do wonder whether the desire to think two years ahead to court or an IPCC investigation is taken rather more seriously than the needs and fears of the victim at the centre of it all.

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

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Elusive Form

One of the reasons I joined the police was in order to fill out forms. In fact, I can recall many a happy hour spent as a child sitting at my mini-tea-table with pens strewn around me and pages of dotted lines before me, dreaming of the day I would join the police.

There are basically two kinds of form available to the modern police officer:
  • The personal details form - just containing spaces for name, address, etc
  • The arse-covering form - a form that contains justification for why the personal details form needed to be filled in
The famed "stop & account" form is really a combination of the two, which is why it is so long and important.

But there are some forms so powerful, so legendary, that their role is arcane and mysterious. These Elusive Forms pepper police files, crime investigations, and court documents, and yet if asked, no one is actually able to pinpoint a time when they have been used at any time other than when they were first filled in. One such example is the Bad Kid Form (the BKF).

A BKF is filled out whenever a child under eighteen is arrested. If the child is bailed and later charged, a VBKF follows (Very Bad Kid). The form is submitted to four places via the twenty-first century medium of carbon-copy, and three of those places are the Youth Offending Team (YOT). The government says that Blandshire is not a Strategic Force unless it has a YOT,* because a large part of crime is committed nowadays by youths, and this is unacceptable. Children are our future, plus the little bastards make our figures look bad.

As you can imagine, the BKF is therefore a potent piece of paper. Its very existence prevents a child somewhere from falling into a cycle of crime and violence. It will contain the child's name and address - as copied from the custody record; the parent's name and address - copied from the custody record; the offence arrested - copied from the, uh, custody record; the final decision - copied... Basically it is vital, because without it the officers working in the YOT would have to log onto the custody system to view the record, or the crime management system to look at the crime report, and that just won't do.

Once filed, the BKF has played its part and will never be seen again. I have never yet witnessed the need for the BKF to be exhibited at court, referred to in a future investigation, or indeed ever produced from the file into which it is shoved on its inception.

About 10% of my time is spent filling out elusive forms such as the BKF. And I think you will agree, quite right too.


* In case you can't make out the relevance of the links, if you're not considered a "Strategic Force", you get a smaller budget.

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

 

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