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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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Real Police Woman

Every time I try to describe what it's like to be a police officer, I think about PC Sharon Beshenivsky. She was shot dead as she attended a routine panic alarm activation at a travel agents. In Real Crime on Monday night, they showed how police tracked down the killers.

Somehow the case sums up exactly what it is like to be a police officer in modern Britain, it's simply a
matter of degree.

As a woman, you patrol with a female colleague, or a male one, or alone, with no distinction.












You patrol with officers of just a few months' service, when you only have a few yourself.







You are called to an emergency when you're trying to get off on time for your four-year-old's birthday party.











It's always a false alarm when you zoom there with heart racing. When you go expecting apologies, it's never a false alarm.







The crime is nearly always solvable, and it always comes down to CCTV, car registrations, random fortuitous eye witnesses, and DNA. How many vans you get to pick up your suspects may vary.











Somewhere along the way, the case will involve someone who should or could or would have been deported, only wasn't.





As a police officer, you think that no one outside the police can understand.










But actually, they do.











I don't why PC Beshenivsky's death seems so important. It could be because she was so young in service, on such a routine call. It could be because members of the public were the first to run to her aid, and later left tributes, flowers and even a sculpture at the site of her death. It could even be, dares admit this hardened feminist, because she was a woman, crewed with another woman, shot to death in the street on her child's birthday while her husband made the party preparations at home.


Strangely, the fact that she was female was actually the least relevant factor in the entire case. The robbers ran out armed, within seconds discharged bullets at the sight of the police. They would have had no idea they had killed and injured two women until later. Sharon was not even the first female officer to be murdered on duty.


But for me, the shooting of Sharon Beshenivsky and Teresa Milburn came early in my career, when I was at a similar level of service, and was attending panic alarm activations on a weekly basis. It was a time when I was
clamouring about female equality, and expected to do exactly the same jobs as the boys I worked with, and to do them just as well or better. I suppose it summed up just what equality could really mean.

As a female sergeant now, and one of many in my area, I don't have a moment to think about PC Beshenivsky when working out my crewings. I don't have enough officers to be picky about who they work with, and I wouldn't be even if I did. There is literally no time or money for sexism in my day-to-day job. My female officers do exactly the same work as the men, and they are equally likely to get gunned down in the street on their way to a routine commitment.

Which is why I never miss an opportunity to spend a few minutes in a briefing talking about cases like PC Beshenivsky, and thinking about how we drive by, where we park and how we approach the most routine of calls.

If one of my shifts ended the way Sharon Beshenivsky's sergeant's did on 18th November 2005, I am not sure I'd ever go into work again.


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

Monday, August 16, 2010

Helmet and Safety

It is not news that police officers generally are not allowed to chase motorcycle riders who are not wearing helmets. In many forces, we are not allowed to pursue motorcycles at all. The fact is, in a crash involving a motorcycle, there's only one person bound to be seriously hurt or killed. There's also one person who is extremely likely to get away by passing between close-set bollards or onto a footpath/cycle track, so it's pointless chasing them anyway.

But there is something distasteful about the police publicly announcing that they will not chase motorcycles, or motorcyclists without helmets. It seems akin to saying, "If you're going to commit crime, you may as well do it in the most dangerous manner possible because then we won't be able to stop you".

I think what grates most on the public is the thought that individual police officers do not have discretion to act on their own initiative. That we may see something happening in front of us and the first thought is not what the best reaction might be, but "What does the force say I must do about this?"

Force policy is nothing new, and it's often in place as a reaction to an event that the force anticipates being criticised about. This means eighteen months later when the media or investigation panel publishes their conclusions, the force can respond by saying they've already fixed the problem. Plus they might actually fix a serious problem, which is a convenient side-effect.

The public know all this, and yet the physical enactment of force policy in front of their eyes can be a shocking experience. Although they will be the first to clamour when it isn't followed in a case relating to someone they heard about last week. Which is really about communication: the difference between, "Thank you for stopping, sir, as it happens there's just been a nasty robbery and you look just like the description I've been given, I won't hold you up for too long" and "Oi, you, where've you just come from?"

In any event, when it comes to the pros and cons of wearing motorcycle helmets, yes it may be true that without one the police will not chase you from the scene of your crime. But if you wear one, you can rely on the defence used by a youth on whom I recently served papers for an identification procedure:

"How can they describe my hair as brown, if I was wearing a motorcycle helmet when I did it?"


Perhaps we should just deal with motorbiking criminals like they do in Spain?



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

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Common ABH

One of the genius parting blows of the last government was to change how police forces record certain crimes (again). Now instead of recording Common Assault, Actual Bodily Harm, Grievous Bodily Harm, in that order, we are obliged to record Assault Without Injury, then ABH, then GBH.

The thinking behind it was that police forces were recording rafts of minor injury assaults as Common Assaults, because they didn't count towards the statistics for violent crime. Technically, an assault with a minor injury is an ABH - because the legal definition of ABH is pretty much any "actual" injury that is more than transient. But in reality anything less than stitches, extensive severe bruising, extended unconsciousness, broken nose, etc, will be charged as Common Assault when it goes to court. So the police were skipping out the charging decision and listing the assaults as slightly less serious than they actually were.

Lo and behold, the introduction of a new kind of crime: Assault Without Injury. No longer can minor bruising and grazed knees be recorded as Common Assaults. They clearly involve injury, so they must be recorded as ABHs even though they will never be charged as such, if they are even serious enough to be charged at all. When the case is then filed with no action, or charged as Common Assault, the ABH will lie on the system undetected - unless someone can persuade the auditors to reclassify it as an Assault Without Injury... which it isn't because there WAS an injury, just a minor one.

If you're still with me, I suggest you join the Civil Service.

The result of these presumeably well-meaning shenannigans: statistics for violent crime are through the roof and Chief Constables are wringing their hands, "WHY?"

No wonder we're all confused about whether violent crime really is going up or down.

The good news is, if you're a violent criminal, whether your crime is recorded as Assault Without Injury or ABH will not make the blindest bit of difference to your sentence: you'll still walk out of court laughing.


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

Monday, August 02, 2010

Perjury, or just Guilty?

SC Peter Lightfoot has been convicted of perjury and assault following this incident back in 2008. We all had our opinions at the time, mostly guided by the CCTV, which is not pretty.

An appeal may be pending, but either way a jury was convinced. I could raise all the usual police responses when something like this occurs, but we've heard them all before and in the end it comes down to the individual situation and what exact evidence was put before the court.

I am quite surprised to read however that the convicted officer has also been convicted of Perjury in relation to the evidence he gave at the aggrieved's original appeal hearing in 2008. Every time I try to get a defendant charged with perjury for lying in court, the CPS tell me "it's only to be expected" that a guilty man would lie about his actions. And yet if someone makes a frank admission, we give them credit for it.

I also wonder, in cases like this, how much evidence the court is allowed to hear regarding resourcing levels, the officers' training and experience (especially given this was a volunteer Special Constable - which is not an excuse, but their training does vary), and what else those officers had dealt with in town that night.

David Cameron's Big Society will encourage a greater percentage of police resources to be created by volunteers.

Would you?

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

 

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