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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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cutting the right things

In Blandmore there will be a couple of ongoing Major Crime investigations at any one time, either into sex attacks, murders, or other highly serious incidents. At least one or two will involve fast-time unfolding intelligence and a glut of information to be sifted through. For example, a media appeal into a serial sex attacker might result in 150 calls reporting suspicious vehicles, named weirdos and dodgy premises. One such call might involve an eight hour day of hunting down the lead to eliminate it or provoke further lines of enquiry. And one named suspect will involve 2-4 officers for up to thirty-six hours to secure forensics, search houses and conduct interviews. If it sounds cheap, it isn't.

Even where the offender is known and has been charged, these leads need to be followed to iron out any possible defences for the suspect or accusations of "tunnel vision" by the police, and to keep an open mind that we might have got the wrong guy.

All of this means that detectives will be seconded from all over the force for weeks at a time, to tackle this veritable onslaught of minor enquiries. A lot could be done by civilians, but if you use trained detectives they're more likely to pick up on the one snippet of information that opens a new line of investigation, and as police officers they are more accountable if they fail.

It is quite clear that the Met's investigation into serial sex attacker Kirk Reid did not follow this "gold standard" of investigation. Whoever allowed targets and minor offences to distract them from hunting down this scumbag is rightly now in the spotlight of the IPCC.

But what is also clear from the IPCC's findings is that no matter how much of a stranglehold the number crunchers of the Home Office gain over the police, no matter how much government pressure is loaded onto us, no matter how trivial and how wrong the focus of those holding the purse-strings, nobody in Whitehall will ever be prosecuted for a failure by the police to do our job.

If budgets must be cut and resources limited, as a citizen of this country, I know where I want the police's attention. Not on my Neighbourhood Action Group or the endless spats between mutually abusive families. Not on brawls between drunks in their own home, or the one-up-manship of a street of neighbours. I want it on vile domestic abusers, recidivist robbers or burglars, and the taxi driver who offers me a lift home, only to take another route.

If the police are to deal with any of the above in these hard financial times, it is time for us to say "No" to some of the people at the other end of the phone. That means upsetting a good proportion of the public, and attracting some negative victim satisfaction surveys from those who think the police has nothing better to do than stand outside their house protecting their parking space and trimming their neighbour's privet hedge.
It also means ignoring unachievable government pledges and taking direct control of what, how and when the police approach the tasks laid at our door.

If I were a Chief Constable, I'd run my police force exactly how I saw fit. And I'd take anyone to court who tried to stop me.

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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Blandmore Conundrum

Many of my non-police readers will imagine that kidnapping is a rare occurrence, and that it is dealt with by a team of crack plainclothes officers with phone taps and stubble. I invite those readers to take part in a small survey about kidnapping.

Imagine that your ex-partner has pulled up beside you on the street and bundled you into his car, locked all the doors, driven out to a remote spot and told you he is about to kill you. Would you:
A) Scream your head off, throw yourself from the car, run to safety and call the police. Move house, cooperate with every police enquiry, be relieved and grateful when the ex-partner is locked up and do everything you can to go to court and have him sent to prison.
B) Manage to sneak a phone-call to the police expressing your absolute terror and conviction of your imminent death, then get out of the car, go home and forget all about it. When the police keep calling refuse to answer the phone or door, then go on a shopping spree to London, whilst firing off a few abusive texts to some other people you don't like, resulting in them calling the police about YOU. When the police finally do catch up with you three days later, hurl abuse at them and deny anything ever happened, and express horror that your ex-partner has been arrested.

Once or twice a year, somewhere in the country, those who answer B end up dead and the police get held responsible. Which is why every call is investigated to the fullest extent it can be, often requiring half a dozen officers for a few days. No matter what you believe about police accountability, I don't really see any other option.

The rest of society doesn't really care about these hopeless cases that suck in endless supplies of police resources, just as they don't really care about drug gangs, domestic abusers and child trafficking. Instead they prioritise dog-fouling, speeding and youths in the street. And at the moment, we pander to their priorities, instead of telling them about the true filfth festering just out of sight around their street corners.

Now that budgets are tighter than ever, the police will have no choice but to choose where to target their resources, and we simply can't drop these massive, resource-intensive sagas no matter how futile our efforts. There just isn't room for "Neighbourhood Policing" any more. Perhaps communities will have to start taking responsibility for their own problems.

But then, that wouldn't be Twenty-First Century Policing.

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

Friday, June 18, 2010

Persons with Clipboards

Sitting at my desk yesterday basking in the legitimacy of my previously borrowed sergeant stripes, I suddenly became aware of a looming shadow. A bespectacled figure, clutching a clipboard, was scanning my office. As my mouth opened to ask him what he wanted, he muttered the words:

"Six filing cabinets, three computers, one officer..." and in a tone of absolute horror, "AND one printer!"

I laid both hands on Sergeant1 protectively and tried to look like at least two or three officers.

Clipboard Man moved off down the corridor and I radioed up all my officers to get them back inside to make the report writing room look occupied.

"And you say this purchase will replace at least four printers... marvellous!"

In these days of budgetary constraint, an
ything that isn't being used 100% of the time is liable to get cut. Even if that does mean seven different departments printing everything off on the main photocopier in the broom cupboard down the hall where the cleaning lady can therefore read the contents of my complaint investigation into PC Knowles...

Not to mention the absolute nightmare that ensues when that one printer explodes through over-use. I never did understand how removing printers is supposed to save money. Perhaps they think we print off these reams of papers for fun, and if we have to walk down the corridor to get them we won't bother. Trust me when I say the printers in use by Blandshire Constabulary would not be worth more than a fiver on Ebay.

The Government's made clear that The Budget will hit all of us. Apart from the NHS, of course, which is allowed as many printers as it wants. The police will be expected to cut down on sickness, overtime, and unnecessary departments, whilst still ring-fencing neighbourhood officers, attending every report of anything that has upset anybody, and of course concentrating all our efforts on our policing priorities of all crimes that make our books look bad.

I've yet to hear a convincing argument of how these cuts are NOT going to affect front-line services. Anyone?

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

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The lighter part of a policeman's lot

You'd have to have a heart of stone for this not to bring a smile to your face.

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

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Matrix

In every other job they are called Interviews. The police call them Boards.

The process of getting promoted took me two years.

I had to persuade my inspector to let me take the exam, which took a year.

I had to study and pass the exam: six months.

I had to fill out an application form covering more than five pages - a month.

Then there's "board prep", in other words more study, this time of vital policing matters such as the name of the Six Strands of Diversity and the acronyms denoting how to improve my own or someone else's performance. This filled another few months, and will never be used again in the course of my policing career.

The Board itself I can't tell you much about, because it's Secret. Not because there's anything untoward going on in there (I promise), but because apparently they use the same questions again and they don't want anyone to know them. In fact I am led to believe they use the same questions year after year, and everyone knows them anyway. But that doesn't mean that your carefully crafted answer will tick all the right boxes on the complex matrix in front of the board.

At the end of it all, a Fed Rep, an HR manager and a Superintendent decide your fate. Technically if you tick the correct parts of the matrix, you can't fail. In actual fact your overall appearance of competence will guide whether the board think you are suitable for promotion, and I can't help but think that guides whether or not they tick certain boxes. Which is, perhaps, how it should be.

Either way, I passed it.

And I didn't get a question regarding what I'd do if I found out a PC on my team was a secret internet blogger. Phew.

Update: Goodness me, thank you for all the unexpected support. My SMT didn't seem so thrilled. Which I suppose is why boards are held centrally in my force...

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

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Armed Police: How Why When

In this country, in order for a trained armed police officer to take out his gun and carry it with him as opposed to locked away in his vehicle, he has to follow a set policy.

The population of Blandshire far exceeds Cumbria, and I can guarantee we suffer more gun and violent crime. But it would take 2-3 hours or more to gather this many armed officers in one place.

This varies from force to force, but in Blandshire an authority has to be given in every case for an armed officer to draw his gun. There's an exception to cover the rare eventuality that an armed officer stumbles across a spontaneous situation and has to whip it straight out. I don't know why, but some control room inspectors are loath to give the authority to arm, and frequently go for taser or baton rounds instead, even when the offender is clearly armed and dangerous. Others will authorise arming at the merest sniff of a wielded screwdriver.

Some of us are fiercely opposed to being permanently armed. Others welcome it.

Perhaps there's some middle ground available: if all police were trained and carried guns in their vehicles (in locked safes), they could access them if authorised in cases like the Cumbrian massacre. There would still be fully trained armed units but who would possess a permanent authority and would carry their weapons on them at all times.

I like the idea of the unarmed British bobby. I'm proud to be one. But if I was standing in Whitehaven on Wednesday morning watching pedestrian after pedestrian getting gunned down before me, I'd like to have some options.

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

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Newsflash: new law to save all lives!

In a bold move, the new Government has responded to recent events with the swift enactment of the Protection From Insanity Act 2010. Already being fondly referred to as the "Losing It Law", the new act outlaws certain behaviour, and puts in place safeguards to protect society from violent criminals.

Just some of the new laws are:
  • All allegations of a threat to kill must result in someone being incarcerated indefinitely in prison.
  • Those who shy away from regular social contact shall be required to sign the Loners' Register for life.
  • It is illegal to use your legally-possessed firearm to kill another person.
  • Before issuing any person with a firearm certificate, they will be made financially insolvent, diagnosed with a terminal illness, divorced by their partner and made subject to a distressing course of harassment. They will then be carefully monitored by a GP and Member of Parliament for any telltale signs that they are prone to stress. Only those who do not react will be permitted to possess a gun.
The Government is confident that the new measures are necessary to put an absolute stop to all murders, forever.

What a relief.

This article is in no way intended to distress those affected by the terrible massacre in Cumbria this week. Or to rub salt into the wounds of those who knew Rachael Slack. Or to excuse the police where their negligence or incompetence leads to preventable tragedy.

But there is a trade-off. Every step towards protecting people from the unrestrained acts of others is a step away from the same people's freedom from restraint.

We can hold authorities accountable, and call for new laws, and decry negligence. As long as we understand what is at stake on either side.

David Cameron: "You can't legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone's head and this sort of dreadful action taking place."

If Bird hadn't been licensed to possess a .22 rifle and a shotgun, he would have murdered his victims some other way.

Having said that, as Gadget says, perhaps he would have been stopped quicker if the gun laws surrounding the police were not so rigid. The public don't want the police to be armed. But it's still our fault we didn't stop Derrick Bird sooner.

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

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Dial Embassy For Murder

Amid the terrible breaking news story of Derrick Bird apparently going on a crazed shooting spree in Cumbria, the BBC chose to give several minutes' coverage to the tale of Edmond Arapi, wanted for murder in Italy.

Poor old Edmond was convicted in his absence in 2006 and now states the murderer "couldn't have been him" because he signed a receipt in a cafe in Staffordshire on the day. Which is evidence the Italian courts could probably have done with in 2004, and isn't a great deal of use to them now (continuity might be a small issue). His defence also argue that Mr Arapi couldn't leave England at that time "due to his immigration status". He now appears conveniently married to a British woman. Finally, there was no "forensic evidence", therefore clearly Mr Arapi COULDN'T have been the offender.

As with the cases of Andrew Symeou or Gary McKinnon, the British media are always on hand to defend those due to stand trial abroad, regardless of the likelihood of a pretty fair trial in the country concerned, or the weight of evidence against them. Of course, when foreigners are accused of killing Brits in the self-same countries, our stance is quite different.

I am sure that miscarriages of justice occur in other European countries and the US as frequently as they do here. But if we expect those countries to send criminals back to us to stand trial for crimes on British soil, the least we can do is return the favour.

I did wonder today, reading this story and the one of the shootings in Cumbria, just where the line should be drawn on press coverage. The Daily Mail seems to have put together an entire time-line and reconstruction of Derrick Bird's rampage, less than an hour after his body was found. And within minutes, eyewitnesses were spilling their stories to live television.

This is all natural, spontaneous reportage, but it does involve broadcasting the free recollections of witnesses who have not been
interviewed cognitively in line with procedures for major crimes. It therefore leaves the door wide open for the defendants in such cases - should they be brought to trial and not found dead - to question the accuracy when witness statements are finally taken.

It also makes for somewhat melodramatic news
coverage, such as when the in-studio reporter throws to "a live eyewitness" who adds the vital information: "I was nowhere near the scene, heard and saw nothing, but I was terrified!"

According to the Beeb, a police officer raced towards the gunman. When he fired again and made off in a Citroen Picasso, the bobby flagged down a nearby car, dived into it and ordered the driver to give chase.

But far more importantly, WHY aren't those officers all wearing their hats?

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


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