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.

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

Monday, March 29, 2010

Legal, decent, honest, truthful

A Home Office advert for the police has been banned because the Advertising Standards Authority branded it lies. Of course, the ASA doesn't actually brand things as "lies". But it does say that they "break the rules" on being legal, decent, honest and/or truthful. Ie, lies AND immoral.

The key "lie" in the ad was that police officers will spend 80% of their time "on the beat". The ASA pointed out that this only included a fraction of police officers and anyway "the beat" actually includes being in meetings, offices, and doing related paperwork. For example, if a neighbourhood officer attends a report of burglary at a local supermarket, they may spend an hour at the premises looking at CCTV, writing a statement and checking out the scene of the crime. The government would have you accept that time as "beat" time. Worse, they want you to accept that being in a three hour Neighbourhood Action Group meeting is pounding the beat.

"Don't look round. If one of them talks to us we might have to leave our beat."

The public thinks that being on the beat means walking around local streets available for questions, problems, and on the lookout for crime. The government knows the public thinks that.

In fact, most police areas are so busy that a neighbourhood officer will never spend 80% of his or her time pounding pavements unless he is to completely ignore all crime going on around him. Either he will attend reports of crime in his area, and spend 1-2 hours dealing with the resulting paperwork (assuming there's no arrest to be made or ongoing enquiries with witnesses, in which case the time spent will be considerably more). Or he will hear reports of crime from nearby areas, or areas more distant, and not to attend could be neglect of duty, or just plain lazy.

So there is no such thing as being on the beat 80% of the time, unless you staff a police force so vigorously that there are armies of officers walking around with nothing to do. Nobody thinks we should do that, I don't think.

Perhaps, instead of releasing adverts full of deception and untruths, the government should try to push the message that we should not ask for police officers to spend 80% of their time strolling about town when there are unattended reports of burglary, robbery and assault.

Perhaps the government should admit how seriously under-staffed towns in Britain are, and do something about it. Then there would be something worth advertising.

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

Thursday, March 25, 2010

An Orwellian Twist

Welcome to all those new readers reaching me via the longlist for The Orwell Prize, you can see the full list here.

Already the blogosphere has come out in whole-hearted support of this blogging policewoman:

"This year bizarrely PC Ellie Bloggs (who is to literature what Mother Teresa was to cage- fighting) is in."

Which I think is recognition of the lauded status of the female and/or police satirist.

Other commentators point out that the longlist tends to include left wing opinions. I would not necessarily put myself in that category, although given that one of the purposes of political/social satire is to highlight folly in the establishment, I suppose it isn't surprising. I've also noticed a suspicious number of candidates called David. Hm.

I didn't know much about the blogging world when I started, and I don't have time to read as many other blogs as I'd like. But it's nice to see blogging rising in status as legitimate journalism, although I still believe it should remain a fairly personal enterprise.

The shortlist is out on 15th April. I'll keep you posted.

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oh to be Area Commander

My area is run by a Chief Superintendent, with two or three superintendents under him running the individual areas directly. Below that, chief inspectors run certain departments, inspectors run response and neighbourhood teams, and sergeants in different stations run portions of said teams. PCs just run.

Of course, the verb 'to run' means something slightly different to each of these people.
  • Sergeants run the small matter of policing, making instant decisions daily about well over half the incidents that come in. They attend incidents, review and direct their officers' investigations, and make quick decisions about things happening straight away. There is also a sergeant in the control room doing this. Between them, they get it right most of the time.
  • Inspectors run anything to do with the force's priorities, which means they directly review PCs' investigations if they involve domestic violence, race hate, or something the chief inspector has emailed about. The interested ones also manage resources across the area and take control of more serious incidents. Again, there's another inspector in the control room who directs spontaneous unfolding incidents from afar, while the local inspector does it on the ground.
  • The chief inspector runs around, mainly doing what the superintendent asks. This largely includes sending out emails that are beneath the superintendent's job role, such as nagging emails to PCs asking why they haven't arrested such-and-such or complied with the race hate policy in this-or-that. In this sense, the chief inspector's role is pretty much degraded to that of a sergeant who is perhaps holed up in an office with a broken arm, or something.
  • The superintendent runs a complex email system. This involves weekly emails highlighting How We Could Do Better and Why Force Policy Matters, and also redefining the law where necessary to make it fit better with local policy. For example, recently our superintendent redefined the law regarding arrest and detention in custody. It now turns out we can arrest anyone we want, and keep them in custody as long as we want.
  • The chief superintendent runs a blog, which is very cheerful indeed.
I'm in the wrong rank.

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

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A police farce

According to this article, the following phrases are forbidden in various forces:
  • Evenin' all.
  • Christian name.
  • Gang rape.
  • Child, youth, youngster.
  • Mixed race.
As well as some of the above, Kent Police also asks officers to remove their shoes when they enter someone's home.

I may not be an inspector, and I may not deal directly with formal complaints to the police, but I can guarantee you none of the officers on my team or in my station have ever been complained about for using any of the above phrases, or for wearing their shoes. They HAVE been complained about for:
  • Rudeness.
  • Lack of consideration.
  • Leaving mud all over someone's floor.
It seems to me that senior managers and chief officers are unable to take responsibility for disciplining those officers who repeatedly cause offence - not by any particular phrase but by general behaviour which may include one or other of the above phrases used inappropriately (such as calling an eighteen-year-old "child", or saying "Evenin' all" when someone has just died horribly, for example). And so instead of taking the problem of supervision and discipline in hand, guidelines get issued so that forces can say "Since this incident we have amended our policy".

In my limited experience as a front-line PC and sergeant, all the public want from the police is to be treated as human beings. They actually don't give a damn what words come out of our mouths, if they come out embued with compassion, patience and a willingness to help.

If you make people afraid to open their mouths at all, nothing can come out, good or bad.

PS The only time I'll take my boots off in someone's house is if they are (a) muddy and I'm going to be sitting taking a statement, (b) I am 100% totally utterly certain that no one is going to stamp on my toes before I leave and (c) there are no lego pieces lying around.

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

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Stern Reiteration

Baroness Stern clearly understands the issues surrounding rape. She seems like a pretty reasonable woman in her report on the subject today. And any sane voice on the matter is to be welcomed, given that when it arises all commonsense usually goes out of the window on both sides.

I won't reiterate what I say here on Channel 4's website, but unfortunately I don't think the Stern report has much to do with the problems surrounding this particular crime, even though a lot of what she says is right. And the cynical attitudes I talk about often on this blog are only a symptom of far wider cynicism within society: as a group the police are probably more educated on the subject than the wider public.

What I find strange is that when it comes to serious assault, kidnapping, child abuse or armed robbery/burglary, everyone is happy to accept that the victim may be traumatised and therefore present a confusing account, that they may delay reporting the crime, and may exhibit inappropriate emotions/behaviour. When a victim of rape does the same, she is making it up.

It is doubtless down to the fact that rape is the only crime I can think of that hinges on consent (the word 'consent' actually appearing in the statute). The existence of consent or otherwise is actually what criminalises the act, rather than the act itself. But I am not convinced this is such a grey area as people think. Baroness Stern points out that 60% of rapes charged are convicted. In specialist rape courts this is somewhere between 70-80%. Which suggests that in fact the matter of consent can be proven simply by listening to both sides of the argument, backed up by circumstancial evidence of distress, background, etc. In the cold light of a court-room, rape does not come down to a fumbled drunken mistake, but juries feel able to make a clear distinction in a majority of cases.

Should we therefore be charging more rapes, or is it because we are selective in the ones we charge that the conviction rate is reasonably high? My opinion is that where there is a basic case against the defendant swinging only around the issue of consent, and the victim desires a prosecution, then if there is no obvious evidence to indicate the allegation is a lie, the case should go before a jury in a specialist court. It is not for a prosecutor in a dusty office to bury him/herself with his own moral fibres and condemn a victim to the archive without due process in a court of law.

The conviction rate might go down, but it would take away the element of one man/woman's personal prejudice. And if police officers saw more cases going to court, they might not approach them with the resigned attitude that they "aren't going anywhere" before they have even tried.

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

Friday, March 12, 2010

How is it not murder?

Khyra Ishaq's mother and stepfather will serve about seven years in prison before being released on license. Khyra was seven when she died of starvation following years of obscene abuse by these people, who have been convicted of manslaughter. Following on from my last post, their defence against murder probably ran something like:

"Anyone who treats children like this must be mentally ill, therefore not capable of murder, so it should be manslaughter."

Either way, they won't have access to kill any of the surviving children. Well, not unless the mother's psychiatrist writes a report saying how her health has improved in prison.

This case disturbs me greatly, because it appears that social workers failed to actually view the child despite repeated visits to the house. In response, the new idea is that social workers MUST view every child reported to them as being neglected/abused. Perhaps it is just me, but have social workers really been dealing with cases WITHOUT seeing and interviewing the child? I do not see how any child abuse case can be dealt with in any way, even a totally utterly groundless one, without the child being spoken to on their own or with an independent adult present.

When police officers attend these incidents, they are in a better position. If I ask to speak to someone's child alone, and they refuse, I can arrest them for Obstructing Police or suspicion of Child Cruelty (assuming I've had a report of child abuse/neglect that has brought me to the address). Or I can take the child into temporary police protection, which can be done by force (although force is rarely used).

I have a great deal of sympathy for over-worked social workers, and the pressure they can come under from bullying or dissembling parents. I can understand how Khyra's file went back onto a tray after each failed visit in order to be tried again, and that things move slowly in terms of gathering evidence of abuse like this. I imagine on the tray were files relating to children who were not being abused, which had to take equal priority until the truth was known about either. But the powers are there to deal with child abuse. If the social workers or police had seen for one moment how these children were living, no one is suggesting they would not have acted.

As with the police, it all comes down to resources. Something the government is doing everything it can to reduce even further.

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

Monday, March 08, 2010

Mitigation/Aggravation? YOU decide

As a defence solicitor/barrister, one of the most important skills is that of presenting aggravating factors of an offence as mitigation. Here are some of the arguments I have heard offered by defendants or their representatives either to get bail granted or to reduce their sentence:
  • I'm already on bail for several other matters.
  • My client now has a girlfriend to keep him on the straight and narrow. (Girlfriend aged 15 and arrested for shoplifting with him.)
  • I hit him because my brother was hitting him.
  • It is clearly unreasonable to expect my client to keep this aspect of his ASBO as he has proven himself unable to do so.
OK, technically the last isn't one of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe's reasons why he should be granted parole. But it appears to figure in his treating physicians' analysis of him.

Sutcliffe isn't out yet, and quite possibly he will not actually be released until he comes down with cancer and is permitted to die in the comfort of his own murder scene. But it disturbs me that the courts seem to operate in a world apart from the rest of us, with no accountability whatsoever when flagrantly ludicrous decisions are made and a nonsense made of facts. I have sat in court and heard a defence solicitor telling a magistrate that his client had not been in trouble with the police since the incident in question, with no recourse whatsoever for me to leap to my feet clutching the defendant's police print screaming "Damned lies!" If a police officer falsely presented facts in court, regardless of whether through ignorance or malice, they would be rightly investigated and potentially prosecuted.  

Likewise, if a police officer attended a report of child rape and decided to leave the offender wandering free to attack his next victim, he would probably be jailed for neglect. This judge remains free to continue unchecked. It appears that in the interests of a fair trial, anything goes.

So should the Yorkshire Ripper achieve his parole and go onto offend days, weeks or months later, the judge who frees him would at the worst face removal from office via an internal process. More likely, they would merely be villified in the press but no actual sanctions brought, largely because there are no serious disciplinary or criminal measures that can be brought. I am not suggesting we can or should realistically prosecute masses of judges for manslaughter or neglect for every offender who reoffends under their grammercy. But why should those options be ruled out when they weigh on the minds of every other member of the criminal justice process? Why should accountability fall at the last hurdle?

I'm not a fan of extra public bodies, public inquiries or public hangings. But if the rest of us are subject to them, why should judges be any different?

Of course, the natural progression of this idea is to prosecute and publicly shame jurors who acquit those who go onto be proven guilty, or who reoffend...

Well no one said reform was easy.

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


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