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, September 30, 2010

Extreme Terminology

I was horrified to discover yesterday in briefing that a mob of crazed doctors are on the loose in the United Kingdom targeting any public or government location.  We have been reminded to be vigilant for signs of doctor-related activity and report it if we come across literature in people's houses suggesting that they might be sympathetic to doctors.











This extremist cult is more prevalent than I had realised. No sooner had I been given this information I came across signs of doctors everywhere. Even at a house search on Blandmore's Porle estate I tripped over a half-concealed stethoscope whilst looking for stolen mobile phones.

It is probably fortunate that, before I submitted the intelligence report, I glanced at an entry on the force intranet.  It turns out DRs are in fact Dissident Republicans, and nothing to do with the medical fraternity whatsoever.

However I have now become more perturbed at the possibility of a catastrophic homicide to be committed by VETs.



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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Go I

Listening to Pamela Somerville, a dreadful mistake led to her wrongful arrest. On arrival in custody she was then shouted at and abused, for absolutely no reason, before being horrifically assaulted causing possible sight problems in one eye.

As a police sergeant in this country, I found the story unsettling and the CCTV unpleasant. (and incomplete)  There won't be an officer in the country who does not suspect there was more to this than has been reported.  More unpalatable yet were the words of Assistant Chief Constable Patrick Geenty who was quick to brand Sgt Andrews "a disgrace" and then spent a few minutes lauding how "proud" he was of the officer who reported the incident - I'm sure she was grateful for his public support.  Will he stand by his words if Sgt Andrews wins his appeal?

I will no doubt get roundly abused for suggesting that I support Mark Andrews in this case.  But if you believe the Daily Mail, you have to believe that Ms Somerville was arrested for no reason, without being told why, was told to "shut up" when she wasn't saying anything, was taken forcibly to her cell for no reason, pushed back in when she perfectly reasonably tried to leave, and was left lying on the floor in an act of malice.

Perhaps Ms Somerville was paralytic in a vehicle, unable to provide a breath sample, would not cooperate with booking-in procedures or breathalyser, and refused to go to her cell.  Perhaps the sergeant was unaware of the injury until spotted on CCTV, or a gaoler checked the prisoner's welfare shortly afterwards. In custody, it is acceptable to use a certain amount of force simply to keep the suite running safely and efficiently. Sometimes that means using force on people who are not themselves being violent, just uncooperative.

What is not acceptable is:
  • For the sergeant to have to come around the desk to take hold of someone, because the arresting officers are not controlling their prisoner.
  • For the sergeant to be left taking a prisoner to a cell on his own, while everyone else looks on. 
  • For not one gaoler or officer to assist the sergeant in restraining the person properly to shut them into the cell. 
Sergeant Andrews went about it all wrong.  He should have persisted in dealing with Ms Somerville no matter how uncooperative, because any breach in booking-in or breathalyser procedure will result in losing the case.  He should have removed Ms Somerville before he got to the point of having to shout over her.  He should have asked officers to restrain the prisoner and take her to the cell. He should have overseen a proper cell exit, if she was indeed trying to walk back out of the cell.  By no means was it acceptable to drag her in the manner shown down the corridor and push her into the cell without supporting her.  By no means was it acceptable for an officer to watch this happen without stepping in to help carry out the procedure in a proper manner, to prevent the injury that occurred.

Of course this incident needed investigating, and at the very least disciplinary proceedings needed to come out of it because force was not used in the proper way.  But perhaps the conclusion is that Sgt Andrews was not confident enough in the role of custody sergeant, to deal with an incident like this in the correct way. He felt in the position of having to deal with it alone, with catastrophic consequences.  Perhaps he is not a criminal, or a thug, but a flawed supervisor, who reacted badly when circumstances conspired. 

Does that make him "a disgrace", or should that word rightly be directed elsewhere?

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scrap Paper

If you needed proof that the police service is 10 years behind the rest of society when it comes to modern technology, walk into the File Quality Room at Blandmore Police Station.  The need for an entire department to quality-assure and build case files was identified a few years ago as part of Blandshire Constabulary's move over to a specialist structure.  The pettiest of shopliftings can generate a case file 30 pages long, hence the FQR is stuffed to the brim with exploding cardboard boxes full of paper.

Likewise my inbox is some days inundated with polite requests that if I see such-and-such vital important prosecution file relating to so-and-so hardened criminal, could I please ensure it finds its way to court before he is released due to its loss. Before my readers jump up and down, don't worry, these lost files are not being left on trains or being stolen from car boots, but are actually safe within the walls of a police station somewhere in Blandshire. We just don't know which one.

Well if the police service is ten years behind, the Criminal Justice System is another twenty.  Here the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) announces they are hoping to trial something called "computer" to manage their case files.  This mysterious technological device will remove the need for erstwhile young barristers to traverse the seven floors of Blandmore Crown Court clutching copies of files totalling hundreds of pages.

Electronic case file management actually arrived some years ago. But we couldn't use it because none of our computer systems will talk to each other, let alone the CPS or the Court. If the Court even has a computer system.  It has taken five years for DVD technology to be playable in court - we were copying high quality CCTV footage onto VHS tapes a decade after the rest of the population were buying Blu-Ray machines.  We still cannot take photos of crucial evidence before it disappears using a mobile phone because apparently we might be accused of fabricating or modifying the picture, and will have to hand over our mobiles as evidence to prove we have not.

Anyway, I welcome the arrival of "computer" in the courts with bated breath and wonder how long it will take before we learn how to lose electronic case files too. And at what point will a canny defence lawyer demand the main server at Blandshire Constabulary Headquarters is seized to prove that the police evidence was modified since its creation?

The problem is, as long as judges in white wigs believe that the pen-generated word is somehow more reliable than that appearing on a screen, witness statements will still have to be hand-written.  And if you have to handle paper statements, you may as well print everything else out too.

And there's the biggest downside of moving over to electronic files: if something is on a database, it's easy to monitor.  If it's easy to monitor, by the law of police bureaucracy, it MUST be monitored.  If it's monitored, it equals performance.  And if it's performance, it will grow.

Bring on the Twenty-First Century.




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

Monday, September 13, 2010

Full Circle

When I joined the job there were enough of us on a response team for my sergeant/s to do the following:
  • Assign 2-3 of us to deal with handover prisoners at the start of the shift.
  • Assign 1-2 of us to catch up with enquiries from the day/week before.
  • Assign 2 of us to plainclothes patrol in crime hotspots.
  • Have a couple of us mentoring/tutoring new PCs.
  • Make sure a double-crewed unit attended every violent incident, with another double-crewed car floating nearby.
  • Rarely, if ever, allow us to transport prisoners single-crewed.
The setup was simple: if a job was called in by a member of the public and my team was on duty, one of us would attend it. My sergeant would oversee what we were doing, and my inspector would probably have a chat to me about a job or an incident every other week or so - and crew up with one of us to attend incidents every day.  We had quite a bit of discretion, and a lot of low-level crimes were probably never solved that could have been. Most of our prisoners were charged by the custody sergeant, but a lot of the cases failed at court due to the total lack of specialism of the officers dealing.

In the last decade, partly driven by government targets and performance culture, partly by high profile disasters and cock-ups involving the police, things have changed. Departments have been invented to take on vast amounts of what response teams did, for example:
  • There is a prisoner reception team to deal with prisoners.
  • There are civilian statement-takers to do our enquiries, and a department to prepare court files.
  • The only officers in plainclothes are on special operations and come from departments of detectives investigating auto-crime, burglary, robbery, or trained surveillance units.
  • New PCs are mentored in a special unit where they are protected from anything too nasty.
  • Back-up comes in the form of neighbourhood officers (if help is needed between 8am-midnight), or force roamers - traffic, dogs, and armed units that might possibly hopefully be where you need them, when you need them.
  • Officers transport prisoners single-crewed constantly, using caged vans to make it slightly safer, because they get bored of waiting at the roadside for assistance that never comes.
The officers to staff the squads and units have all come from response, so our numbers are a third what they used to be and safe minimum staffing levels have been hacked down with no scientific or methodical risk assessment as to whether this is actually safe. One inspector  now covers multiple stations, which means he can't crew up with officers on a regular basis and has no day-to-day supervision of the team.  Custody has become a tangled mess, with at least three decision-makers in every case disposal, if it's hate crime or domestic this goes up to five.  Far more people are arrested to try and meet targets for auto-crime and assault detections.  Fewer prisoners are charged due to high evidential standards, but the cases are better quality and many succeed at court.

All of this means we are a force with the ability to churn through vast numbers of investigations.  It is expected that every single job attended will be pursued to the nth degree, however slim or remote the chance of a positive result.   If performance and risk aversion are all you care about, we are a machine.

Well performance and risk aversion are expensive, and the money has run out.  Suddenly discretion is back and front-line response is being lauded as the only "real" policing.  Squads and units, civilians and specialists, are all fair game for cuts.  And when they go, the number of staff that return to front-line policing will be 10% of that which left it: partly because they are staffed by people who couldn't wait to get away from front-line policing and will do everything in their power to avoid going back, and partly because the specialist nature of the squads meant they were functioning on a tenth the staff, so natural wastage has not been replaced.  Unfortunately, nobody has told the senior management team that detections don't matter any more, or that the policing pledge has gone.  And so we are still expected to produce better and better performance.

We have gone full circle, and arrived back where we started with half the manpower.  As a sergeant now, I am faced with dilemma after dilemma, and no one upstairs is giving the answers I need:
  • I will have handover prisoners and bails to deal with, but assigning the 2-3 officers needed will deplete my shift by a third. So one officer will have to cope, and he will have three months service and will never have dealt with a prisoner on his own before.
  • I won't be able to spare 1-2 officers to catch up on their enquiries, as they'll be needed to pick up new ones.
  • My officers won't be in plainclothes, as I need them all on uniform response. No departments will be either, so who will be out turning over drug-dealers, monitoring prostitution, or catching burglars in the act?
  • I will have to tutor new PCs with staff still in their probation themselves.
  • Every officer will have to be single-crewed to maximise our numbers, which means two cars attending every violent job, with two more for backup.  Force roamers won't be able to help as they'll be spread over a wider and wider area, and we can't use caged vehicles for safe single-crewed prisoner transport as vans are expensive and are gradually being phased out.
I hope some of this is comprehensible to people who aren't in the police, because it isn't to those who are.  The message is, do ten times the work with no extra staff, and no helpful suggestions how.  And somehow, front-line services will not be affected by these cuts.
On the plus side, we are now being forced to cut much of the bureaucracy and target-chasing that has hamstrung the police for the last decade.  Somehow it appears we can do without these vital and cherished performance drives and risk policies after all.
On the downside, being a police officer on the front-line at the moment is a bleaker and bleaker prospect.  Just how exactly I am going to motivate my team when I brief them tomorrow I have no idea.







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

Friday, September 03, 2010

One Rule For Us

Apologies for the absence: I blame my computer.

Three years for the Special Constable convicted of beating up an off-duty soldier is fairly hefty, in my opinion.  Regardless of what one thinks of the actual assault, SC Lightfoot probably shouldn't have followed up his use of force by lying in court later, which no doubt added to the judge's irritation at the man's actions.

Nothing I've read or seen so far provides convincing proof of SC Lightfoot actually assaulting the victim in this case, however given the number of trials that have taken place (a conviction and appeal for the off-duty soldier, then the officer's trial), it's probably a pretty safe conviction and he probably did use excessive force.  Although in of themselves hitting someone repeatedly on the ground, pushing their face into the road and restraining them with several officers may all be justifiable under certain circumstances - and in fact are all trained as approved techniques in officer safety training.

But I do question the sentence given.  When recidivist burglars, repeat violent offenders and child abusers walk out of court without gracing the steps of their local prison for even a few moments, two years for an assault with no lasting injury is substantial in itself.  And to add a year for the officer lying in the previous trial seems a double standard when we are repeatedly told that it is only to be expected that a guilty man will lie to get out of his crimes and it does not normally constitute a second offence.

Suffice it to say, Peter Lightfoot won't be assaulting anyone else any time soon.  But the case has made it harder, and more frightening, for young officers to use the force they need to, when their colleagues depend on it.





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

 

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