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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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Banging my head...

In my book, I describe the bizarre and inexplicable situation of Colin Roach, a 14-year-old sex offender being housed in social care accommodation whereby he lives in a room next to other 14-year-old sex offenders and is free to barge past the staff and leg it through the "secure" door any time he wants to buy cigarettes or prowl into the park and start grooming his next victim. We're not talking about minor sexual assaults on same-age kids by a mixed up teen. This is someone who rapes eight-year-olds.

This kind of "secure" housing isn't widely reported on in the press, nor is the fact that Colin Roach goes "missing" from his secure accommodation approximately 10 times a month and takes up as many hours of police time on each occasion.

There has, however, been some press on the equally pathetic state of the country's bail hostels. These are places where people pending Crown Court trial, or released on licence following jail sentences, can be housed to monitor their activities more closely than just letting them free into society. Bail hostels tend to have rules, such as:
  • Residents must live here.
  • Residents must not abuse staff.
  • Residents should not commit crime.
If the rules are breached, the resident can potentially end up remanded in custody pending trial, or back in prison serving the remainder of their sentence. Which is great, because at the moment the resident disappears from the hostel with all his/her possessions to an unknown location, the police can immedaitely spend the next few weeks looking for them in said (unknown) location.

Blandmore has several bail hostels, the main one being North Ridge. The residents are mainly convicted robbers, burglars and violent offenders out early before the end of their sentences to make room in prison. There isn't any room for the kind of "low risk" offenders that are supposed to be housed in the hostels, so they are just released without any residence conditions at all.

With a building stuffed full of society's most hardened felons, is it any wonder that we are called up there twice a week to take people back to prison for breaching the rules and/or threatening/assaulting staff? Why are people surprised that convicted recidivist offenders carry on committing crimes when housed (free) in accommodation little different to a cheap roadside hotel? In what way can the residents' crimes be blamed on the bail hostels expected to restrain them with no staff, no powers and no support from the Criminal Justice System?

If the prison system and courts tolerate violent and persistent offenders being freed to offend again, then it makes no difference if they are housed in a bail hostel or next door to you in a three bed semi. If they want to offend again they will. By the same token if someone's time has been served and it was deemed appropriate for their crime, there is no choice BUT to free them into society.

The trick is getting their sentence right in the first place. It's not rocket science.





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

Friday, November 27, 2009

I thought we had it tough

Last night in custody I faced the polite question: "R U a dyke or wot?" [written as spoken]

No, it wasn't the PACE Inspector coming to ask why I was perched behind the custody sergeant's shoulder shadowing her for the day, but a female being booked in for obstructing officers trying to interview her children about alleged sexual abuse by a relative. Yes, you did read that right.

To some of our customers, the concept of a female police officer is still most surprising. Which in itself is surprising given their profile in television dramas and on the streets. Somehow people seem to imagine that we are given the uniform and all the gear, but still don't do quite the same job as the men.

Admittedly, most female officers police in a slightly different way to males. Partly because we're able to: believe it or not there are still some guys out there who are loath to punch a girl in the face. Partly because we have to: believe it or not there are still some guys out there more than willing to punch a girl in the face. I get hit by a guy, I'm going down. Therefore I don't get hit.

But in all honesty as a 21st Century Acting Police Sergeant, I can say with 100% confidence that there is no job I wouldn't give to a female on my shift - at least not just because she's female. I'd go further and say there isn't a sergeant at Blandmore who would consciously discriminate in what he/she expects of his male and female officers. For one simple reason: he can't. We don't have enough staff to cover the bare essentials expected of us, let alone if we start worrying about what gender we send to what.

That's not a good thing: sometimes it's nice to have a range of sexes and sizes to choose from when assessing who to bosh in the next door when the enforcer's not available, or who to deal with the serial complainant who makes sexual advances on all male officers.

But if nothing else, at least it's given women on the front-line a chance to evidence for themselves that they really are capable and incapable in the same measures as their male colleagues.

And when I look at the job Isabella Mcmanus is doing in Afganistan, I count myself lucky just to be called a dyke every other week.




Quote of the week: "I saw a man carrying a handgun in the beer and wine aisle... I went to pay for my shopping and then to buy cigarettes."
Then again, if she'd run away from the gun-toting maniac without paying, she'd probably have been arrested a month down the line after a civilian investigator sent the arrest pack down.


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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What, you really mean "all" crime?

All-Crime has been coming to Blandshire for some months now.

I first heard about All-Crime Attendance on a Quality of Service input (part of the proces of turning me from a pretend-sergent into a real one some day). "Soon," intoned the trainer, "Blandshire Constabulary will be sending police officers to attend reports of every crime."

It turned out that by "soon", he meant next year it will be piloted in a couple of areas. By "police officers" he meant PCSOs or civilian investigators. And by "every", he meant criminal damage.

Now Alan Johnson, crime fighter extraordinaire- er I mean Home Secretary- thinks it would be jolly nice, in principle, if we tootled off to every report of a bally old crime, what.

I think it would be jolly nice if we had marked police cars with the fluoerescent stickers not peeling off, hats that don't make us look like German strippers and enough blankets in custody to comply with common human decency in housing prisoners. If money were no issue, no doubt the Senior Managers would like us to have all that too.

So my questions to Alan Johnson are:
1) If he would like the police to attend all victims of crime, what would he like us NOT to do instead?
2) On exactly which planet is the Home Office based?

There's also the small matter that not everyone who thinks they are a victim of crime actually is one. And at the moment we spend more time visiting people who were looked at funny in the street or sent racist Bebo messages, than we do commiserating with the owners of smashed up cars and ransacked houses. And we still don't have time to get through them all.

Don't get me wrong, Alan Johnson has not yet made this "gut reaction" of his into a mandatory requirement to be measured with a brand new mandatory key performance indicator. But it's jolly nice that he had the idea.

Now perhaps Mr Johnson could get some gut feelings about violent thieving thugs going to prison for just two or three years, or police forces parading more than the bare minimum of officers required to stay alive from day to day.





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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When we heard the news about Harriet Harman...





It may not be professional to take pleasure in others' downfall.

But sometimes what goes around...


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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's in a grade

A few years ago Blandshire Constabulary got pretty fed up of front-line officers not attending incidents like they were supposed to. It got pretty fed up of the complaints from the public which made its victim satisfaction figures look bad. So measures were introduced to curb this front-line neglect.

We already had a grading system of 1, 2, 3, where 1 is "we're on our way", 2 is "someone will be with you in good time" and 3 is "er... we'll get back to you". A few tweaks were therefore made as to what constituted a Grade 1, 2 or 3 and bingo, now we attend almost everything in line with our target times.

An example: it used to be that if you had just had a villain in your shop stealing stuff, we would attend with blue lights blazing to scour the town for him. Now, the job is graded 3 - suitable for slow-time investigation (as the crook has left) - and if you're lucky a civilian investigator might come and take a statement the day after you've deleted the CCTV.

Another way of meeting our Home-Office-set victim-satisfaction targets is by ensuring that all gradings are adhered to rigidly and no commonsense is applied at any point. So if you've been assaulted in town the night before, just got home from hospital and want to give a statement, the job will go over to the slow-time appointment terminal EVEN IF there's someone available to attend now. Whereas if you've had a couple of 12-year-olds call you a racist name and you're not that bothered, we'll be straight round.

As a response sergeant, it is my job to produce front-line officers for Grade 1 and 2 jobs whenever they are required. I am not supposed to have any input into the grading of jobs, and am incentivised in this way by the mere fact that should I upgrade a job from 3 to 2, I will then be held responsible if I don't have any police officers to send to it.

Of course, front-line officers have their part to play, mainly by ensuring that they don't waste time having cups of tea with victims of domestic violence when they could be hauling their husbands off to custody and getting back out meeting Blandshire Constabulary's attendance targets.

We've got this non-existent target-meeting down to an art.

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Now don't do it again!... Oops.

Topic: Criminal Justice
Question One
In what country does the rapist of a seven-year-old child fail to receive a prison sentence, and then go onto rape a younger child within days of his 'community order' starting?

Answer
Surely nowhere in the civilised world.

Well done, Judge Adrian Smith, who thought it would be a good idea to let this depraved sex offender back onto the streets because the parents of the victim "forgave him".

Could this be the same judge who sentenced three teenagers to six months in prison for accidentally setting fire to a charity in 2000, when the charity did not want them jailed at all? He said to them, "Young people on estates and communities up and down the country must realise that the courts view their activities very seriously indeed."

The same Crown Court judge who jailed a man for 40 months for stealing cash as a customs officer, telling him, "You have committed the greatest possible breach of trust when dealing with members of the public"?

The self-same Judge Adrian who put a woman inside for five years for smuggling drugs to her boyfriend in prison, her main crime appearing to be her "type" (ie middle class)?

Or the one who imprisoned a man for just a few months for recklessly endangering an aircraft saying, "This was a serious offence that could have had fatal consequences"?

It's pretty clear that Judge Adrian Smith and myself have a very different interpretation of the words "serious", "greatest" and "very seriously". How can we hope for consistency in sentencing if one judge isn't even consistent with himself?

Then again, there is some consistency. Back in 1999, Judge Adrian Smith sentenced a 12-year-old girl for sexually assaulting a number of very young boys over a period of time. He said the following:

"The courts always take a serious attitude view when someone sexually interferes with children. Normally adults appear before the court, but sometimes other children interfere with children as well. The difference in age between you and these children was a big difference. They would have looked at you and thought of you as a very big girl and that's important, because why the courts take a serious view is that this sort of behaviour is very, very confusing to young children."


She got a 12-month supervision order.

Comments? Questions? Confusion?




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

Monday, November 09, 2009

Out-of-court Review

I am thrilled to read that Jack Straw is going to review the use of out-of-court disposals.

The Justice Secretary quite agrees that it needs looking into that people are being cautioned, ticketed or warned for over half of all violent crime. Never mind the fact that it was this government who implemented Speedy Summary Somethingorother Justice earlier this year, along with a vast range of out-of-court disposals introduced over the last five years with the aim being to unclog our weary court system.

I seem to remember that a few people pointed out that maybe criminals should go to court when they commit crimes, and that they might not pay their fines or listen to warnings, and that the victims might not feel justice had been done. But now Jack Straw has pointed this out it turns out he was actually the first person to realise it.

I'm ambivalent about cautions themselves though. In order to caution someone in Blandmore you have to show:
  • the offender admits the crime
  • the crime is of a certain standard appropriate to caution
  • the offender has no cautions in the last few years for that type of offence.
Occasionally a victim wants an offender "done" in court when it was a low-level misdemeanour and they have never been in trouble before. Most people would say that everyone deserves at least one chance, and so the police sometimes issue cautions without the victim's support.

But the most common use of the caution is when the victim has made a complaint and then refuses to follow it through by attending court or providing a written statement. They might have very good reasons why they don't support proceedings. Or not. Either way, it is rare to consider it worth prosecuting someone if the victim will not attend court, as it seems like adding insult to injury that they have first been subject to a crime and then forced to go to court against their will. Hence if the offender admits the crime, a caution may be offered. Which is how you end up with cautions being issued for GBH, sexual assault and rape.

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

Friday, November 06, 2009

We reject these slurs and anyway if they're true it's not our fault

I would like to take issue with the quite frankly ludicrous claims made on a notorious police blog about Blandshire Police, whereby it is stated that "Such-and-such-shire has less violent crime than [neighbouring county]".

First of all I utterly reject that Blandmore is "neighbouring" in any way with the afore-mentioned shire. Secondly, you will find that Blandshire Constabulary is rated among the best in the country at recording crime figures. When it comes to measuring the way that we measure crime, there are few to rival us. So it is no surprise that our crime figures appear higher than other nearby police services. Clearly those services are under-recording certain crimes for their own ends.

Here in Blandmore we believe in the strictest and most literal interpretation of the Home Office Counting Rules, and in general err on the side of recording a lot of crimes that never actually happened. We even have whole operations whereby PCSOs knock on people's doors and ask them if they'd like us to record any crimes. And a whole department of auditors to make sure that for every crime recorded in this fashion, someone's fingerprints and DNA are kept forever on a police database. In Blandshire, rather than going on and on about crime reduction, our superintendents take time personally every morning to scrutinise the crime figures and make sure there isn't one incident of an officer incorrectly listing a burglary as a criminal damage, or an ABH as a common assault.

Perhaps, instead of spending their time reducing burglary, auto-crime and violent crime figures, Ruralshire might invest some more money in actually making sure these crimes are recorded properly in the first place.

That, after all, is what the public wants.

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

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Less dangerous than lumberjacking

I have discovered a shocking truth: more people die lumberjacking every year than die through cannabis use. We must therefore ban all forms of tree-felling and make it compulsory to feed weed to schoolchildren.

You would think an expert would have a better grasp of meaningful statistics than to compare recreational drug use to a healthy outdoor hobby. But it wasn't his comments on horse-riding that got Professor Nutt fired. In fact, the sacking appears to have followed hot on the heels of a grilling received by Jacqui Smith on Question Time whereby members of the audience and panel asked why the government continued to hire an expert of whom they had such a low opinion. Perhaps the thought that they could replace an advisor they didn't trust had never occurred to them.

Forgive my cynicism.

As a police officer, I see dozens of teenagers with severe behavioural problems verging on schizophrenia, who are heavy users of cannabis. But no one's ever shown me that the cannabis use isn't DUE to the the oncoming mental health problem, rather than the cause of it.

Either way, to be blunt, I couldn't care less whether cannabis was Class B or Class C. It was with great surprise that I heard Jacqui Smith announcing on the same Questiontime that the police would take a much tougher stance towards cannabis if it were a higher class. She seemed to believe that we would revert to our pre-Class-C policies of instant arrest and higher charge rate. The problem is, in Blandmore, a good proportion of our detection rate comes from "street warnings" for cannabis, whereby an officer can fill out a quick questionnaire and claim a sanction-based detection towards his area's performance. Have street warnings been ditched to reflect the greater emphasis the government wants placed on cannabis? Have they heck.

People are more confused than they ever were before cannabis was reclassified by the same government a few years ago. The war on drugs and drug-dealers is raging as hard as ever. The chasm between politicians' words and the reality of front-line policing is as great.

And an outspoken, principled servant of the nation has fallen by the wayside. Whether or not Professor Nutt spoke sense, at least he spoke.


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

 

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