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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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Serious Stuff

As an Acting Sergeant on shift, I could be and frequently am in charge of my team's response to any of the following incidents:
  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Terrorist attack
  • Fatal car accident
You will be comforted to know that at all hours there is a highly-trained specialist on hand to have an input into these incidents as early as possible, to negate the chance of APS Bloggs blundering in and activating the Possible Daily Mail Article Policy. This specialist in question is very often the Duty DC - the detective constable covering the night shift when most serious incidents happen. The Duty DC may well have half the service I do (trust me, that's not very much) and could even be in their first week of an attachment to the Negative Statistics Crime Team (a team nominally consisting of detectives, but who mainly deal with auto-crime and burglary). Of course, the DC has the phone number for their DS and DI, and someone somewhere has the key to the cupboard wherein lies the book that contains the password to unlock the phone number for the superintendent's personal landline. Which is a lot of help when you're standing staring at a dead body and wondering what to do next.

The fact is, many murders and - I imagine - bombings, are initially reported as "Neighbour heard screaming next door" or "There's been a loud bang up the road". It is therefore usual for uniformed response officers to toddle along to the scene to find themselves faced with something quite outlandish. For example, not so long ago a team at Blandmore attended a "Sound of breaking glass in the alleyway" job to find a dismembered body smeared over ten metres of said alley. And I once turned up to a "Disturbance at a school" to find myself facing a masked man with supposed explosives strapped to his back.





"PC Bloggs, can you attend Eyjafjallajökull? There's been a report of a loud bang and some smoke."











So it's all very well having these highly-trained specialist probationers on standby, but for the first 5-10 minutes of the melee the decision-maker is quite often either a PC with six months' service or, if he can get in on the radio, yours truly. Truly.


One of my first thoughts when I read newspaper articles like this is often to wonder what scene the police turned up to, and whether they were prepared. What it must have been like to try and prosecute a man for sexual offences against a child, to have it dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, and to turn up to the man's murder less than a month later. To then go out and arrest a child for the murder.

If you swap the sexual offence for a minor theft, and the murder for a black eye, this case sums up a large number of the incidents my team attends. In the odd case, the offences are rape and murder. The officers attending, their training and their mindset, and the content of the call to the police preparing them for what they will find, are the same.


Which is why the only 'real' policing is response.



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

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Volcanic Anticlimax

Apologies for the absence, I have been stranded by a cloud of fetid outpourings from the centre of an archaic and gargantuan geological feature: yes, it is PDR review time.

This is the time of year when all supervisors, even just pretend-supervisors like me, have to assess and rate their underlings. I have been reliably informed by someone who has never worked with anyone on my shift, nor any police officers, that most of my team are pretty average. To be precise, about 60% of them are average. Further to that, 20% of them are under-performing, 15% of them are doing better than average, and 5% are truly gifted. If I grade my team in any other proportion, the chances are I don't know what I'm doing and my gradings will be rejected by someone in an office forty miles away.

Over the force as a whole, just 10% of staff are graded with the top rating - Fabuloso. It may surprise you to hear that most of the Fabuloso staff are Superintendents or above.* Which is reassuring, except that the rating is supposed to be according to your current role and not as some kind of measurement of your worth against all other human beings. It seems likely there might be some Fabulous PCs, quite a lot of Darned Good ones, a high number of Reasonably Competents or Somewhat Strugglings, and a scattering of Total Nincompoops. But no, according to my trainer, a startingly high proportion of senior officers are performing very highly, which means a frightening number of PCs should really be facing inefficiency regs**.

In actual fact, it is almost impossible to grade a PC as anything other than Reasonably Competent, without the full wrath of the PDR system bearing down on me. I try to explain this to my staff, but they can't help being suspicious that I'm just using bureaucracy as an excuse. And so I am forced to write things like: "Lloyd is a potentially Darned Good officer" and "Becks is almost Somewhat Struggling". At least it puts into context some of the end-of-year reviews I have received in the past.

I am still waiting with bated breath to find out what my own review will say. In fact, no I'm not. The rules state that if you've been doing a job for less than three months, there is only one grading that can be chosen. That's the only fair way.

Then again, the only time anyone ever reads your PDR is if you're about to be kicked out of the job, and then your series of "Reasonably Competents" looks a bit less demoralising.


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

* These figures are based on the trainer's input, there is no way to actually establish their accuracy without seeing my senior managers' PDRs.

** This is how you get someone kicked out for under-performing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Iron-clad Compassion

PC Jason Hanvey and PS Andrew Kennedy are currently facing about nine months in prison for assaulting a teenaged female prisoner.

When shaking one's head at how two experienced officers find themselves in this predicament, it is worth considering the following:
  • As a custody officer, PS Kennedy was well aware of the CCTV live and recording in his suite.
  • Two other PCs and a Gaoler were acquitted, so it seems likely the jury considered the case quite carefully and did not brand all five as automatically guilty.
  • One of the acquitted PCs stated "I wish we were trained better" and that she had no idea restraining someone's arms in the position used was not acceptable.
Overall, I think it can be concluded that no one present thought anything was amiss with the situation until they were prosecuted.

One of the challenges I now face as a sergeant is taking a step back from fraught situations and assessing what my team is doing. When you attend a fight and end up rolling on the floor, a crazed drunken assailant using every muscle in their body to lash out and kick at you - or their intended victim - adrenalin shoots up. It takes considerable presence of mind and more training than one day a year to keep a grip of your sense of proportion.



This prisoner is fighting with every inch of his breath.







This one is dead.

It's not as easy as you'd think to tell the difference.




Which is why, as a sergeant, I will often stand back from the struggle (unless my colleagues need help, obviously), and give instructions to release holds or move the prisoners' arms into a different position. Not because my PCs are deliberately roughing the person up, but because in the melee they may not have registered when the shouts of "FUCK OFF COPPER" changed to "OWWWW OK LET GO I'LL STOP". I am no better trained than they are, and I'm just as human, but I have the privilege and responsibility of being the cool head amid the panic. If I've had to get stuck in, I'll get unstuck as soon as I can, catch my breath and have a look at what I've got.



Ugly but justified on the street.

Maybe unacceptable in custody.





The above is why you have a custody officer at the police station, in case there's no cool head left in the chaos. The custody sergeant is independent from the investigation, not involved in the scuffle on the street, sitting behind an unmoving and objective desk, in a cool air-conditioned (er, maybe) office. When the street-fighters erupt into his/her suite, the sergeant should immediately take control. If he/she thinks that the officers are still affected by whatever violence they have faced outside the door and may be overreacting to the lesser violence offered in the safety of custody, the sergeant should interject. It is even appropriate to send away the arresting officers and try to find another officer to book them in, to give the prisoner a chance to calm down. In the case of Amy Keigher, the sergeant's job was not only to protect the prisoner, however vile she may have been, but also to save PC Hanvey from himself.

Unfortunately, Sergeant Kennedy chose to tell Amy Keigher she should expect to be hurt, and hence faces the same jail time as the officer who threatened and restrained her excessively. He also falsified custody log entries and failed to give either of two prisoners their rights. Which can't have helped his case.

I am sure that there was another side to Amy Keigher- though it's worth pointing out she didn't want the officers prosecuted. Either way, once in custody and without her liberty, she was vulnerable, and that requires iron-clad compassion from her detainers. The hard thing for the front-line police officer is not to hold the un-detained side of someone against them once the prisoner has lost the fight. It is a fine line, because if you relax your guard too much, you may be assaulted. (It is probably fair to say, however, that there aren't many situations in which threatening to rip off someone's skull whilst they are in the grip of 3-4 officers is going to be acceptable.)

It is easy to toss around words like 'professionalism' and 'objectivity'. Most people have no idea whether they have those things or not, because they have never had to test them in a heightened physical situation. As a police officer, at some point in your career you will discover what qualities you possess. Hopefully you find out soon enough to obtain whatever it is you are lacking, and before you land yourself in prison.

I have no sympathy for the convicted officers, but I feel sorry for the police.


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

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Class of Its Own

On Friday Mephedrone will become illegal. At least, it will become as illegal as Cannabis, which according to most of the under-18s in Blandmore, isn't actually illegal any more, innit?

When cannabis became a Class C drug, this enabled Blandshire Constabulary to scale down its response to the discovery of said drug in possession of someone. We started giving out 'street cautions', which is when you take the cannabis off the person, get them to sign an admission that they had it, and count it as a positive statistic towards Blandshire Constabulary's CRACKDOWN on illegal drug use. This was acceptable because Class C drug possession on that scale would attract such a small sentence it was considered better to deal with it without wasting hours of everyone's time in custody.

Now that cannabis is once again Class B, we deal with it in exactly the same way, because the alternative would drastically reduce our efficiency at dealing with drug offences.

Mephedrone has been classified as Class B. I'd like to tell you whether we plan to deal with it as a cannabis-sort-of-a-Class-B (confiscation and warning) or as an amphetamine-sort-of-a-Class-B (arrest and prosecution). But I can't tell you, because no one's told me. At least, if the email doesn't come tonight, they won't have told me. I don't even know what it looks like.



It's white powder, sarge, but I'm damned if I know what type.





I have however witnessed a wide variety of drug abuse, and the only drug that has ever scared the proverbial out of me is mephedrone. We once brought in a user roaring, foam sticking his hair to his head and splattered over his chin, his eyes lurching wildly like a caged creature. He wasn't drunk. He variously screamed, cackled, glared and relapsed into silence as he was booked in. During his constant supervision in custody, he screamed death threats to the sergeants, stripped naked and mimicked the movements of various sea creatures, and then got dressed again and abjectly apologised to everyone before threatening to rip out their throats once more. Several doctors despaired, saying he could not be mentally assessed until the effects of the drug were out of his system (mephedrone is supposed to last under an hour). Seventeen hours later, when I came back on duty, he was in exactly the same state. Apparently, he was quite a nice lad before that night. His parents were beside themselves.

I'm willing to bet if some of the proponents of mephedrone had seen this unfortunate boy, their views might have been a bit different. As usual, defence of the drug compares it to other more harmful substances, such as peanuts, alcohol and horse-riding, as if that's a basis for measuring all of life's hazards.

As usual, no one talking about it has actually experienced it at all. Except for this guy, who took his research to the logical extreme and quaffed a line of it in the name of science.

Having said all of that, I'm cynical about a knee-jerk law-change just weeks before a General Election. I'm cynical about the random classification of these drugs, and the lack of any real deterrent or sentencing if people do choose to use them.

If you're going to ban something, at least have a plan of how you're going to stop people using it.



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

Friday, April 09, 2010

Public Interest, Victim Disinterest

Oops, this post didn't post when I thought it did. Never mind, here it is anyway.

2nd April:

PS Delroy Smellie has been cleared of assault by a District Judge. Reading the DJ's comments, she clearly accepts that small snippets of CCTV do not always give an accurate picture, and finds the sergeant's evidence compelling.

I was also interested to see that Nicola Fisher, the victim, did not show up at the trial either to watch or give evidence. Apparently she was depressed. In the past couple of years, I've been called to court 15-20 times and in a good 50% of cases, the victim has not shown up. In 100% of those cases where the victim has not appeared, the case has been discontinued - not by the court but by the prosecution. That includes cases where the victim has been in hospital, in prison, just had a baby, and high risk domestic cases where she/he is just too scared to come. And one case where no one had told the victim the court date until the day before and she was abroad. The prosecution lawyer argues, well if we try to prosecute too many cases without a victim, the courts won't take us seriously when we really mean it.

Fair enough. However, in cases where the victim doesn't appear by their own choice, they are usually relieved when the case is dropped or defendant acquitted. They are not normally "very disappointed" and blame it all on police corruption (indirectly: "He is a police officer, she is a protestor..."). Ms Fisher had unrealistic expectations if she really thought the police officer would be convicted without her crucial victim evidence. Then again, reports I've read state she did not show up because she was worried her background - whatever it is - would be brought up on the stand.

Her background did not stop her selling her story to the tabloids for £26,000. Which in most trials would prompt the swift binning of the whole prosecution on the argument that nobody could possibly try it fairly.

As usual, a raft of Guardian commentators have denounced the acquittal as a sure sign of police corruption. When in actual fact, as with most cases reported in the media, unless you sit through the trial and have access to the same evidence as the judge/jury, you can never really make an informed decision.


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

Thursday, April 08, 2010

May the Sickth

As usual the media machine is fully in motion after the announcement of the upcoming election. Hardcore election politics has very little to do with the work of a front-line police officer. It's safe to say we all agree the current government has undermined, diminished and degraded the role of constable to within an inch of our sworn status. It's safe to say the next government will do nothing to reverse it.

The Election General will have three main effects on my life:
  1. I will be unable to take leave on May 6th.
  2. I will probably not finish work in time to vote on May 6th.
  3. I will start to resent and loathe those people who are off work and voting.
In Blandshire, morale is rock bottom. In fact, we've hit the bottom so hard that pieces of us are spread all over our two counties.

Thank goodness for criminals and the quirky hard-working public they target. If it weren't for good honest police work, I wouldn't bother turning up.

The Election? I can take it or leave it.

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

 

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