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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Saturday, October 30, 2010

This Time Last Year

Crime reduction is measured on the number of the same crimes on the same day the previous year.  This is because certain times of the year are peak for certain offences in certain areas, eg Halloween = Criminal Damage, New Year = Affray/fights, Summer = burglary, etc.

The brilliance of this system of measurement is that those seeking promotion to the lofty heights of Chief Inspector and above can use random fluctuations in weather or local events to claim grand successes in their operations to reduce crime. 

For example, last year October 31st was a Saturday, this year it's a Sunday.  Blandmore's Inspector In Charge of Being In Charge has drummed up some resources and an Op Order targeting antisocial behaviour on and around Halloween.  What's the betting that occurrences of late night teen drinking and criminal damage are right down this year, given that the big event is on a school night?  Likewise should it pour with torrential rain on Bonfire Night, what are the chances that levels of arson and fireworks in the street are a fraction of those last year?  Let alone massive factors such as the economy, or the holding/cancellation of local events that attract disorder and crime.

These minor factors should never get in the way of a good write-up, however, and I expect to see several inspectors gaining that happy extra pip as a result of fortuitous winds and FTSE indices.

Of course, it works the other way too.  Due to the budget restraints, there may be half the staff to resource these operations, just like nightclubs will have half the doormen and the Council no bank holiday contingency for taxi marshalls or road closures in problem areas.  So this year, we may be declaring an unusually high number of proactive operations as total failures and cancelling them forever regardless of their merits.

Welcome to Twenty-First Century Policing.



The problems faced by police officers on Halloween:



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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Brave Old World

"A good leader at Aldgate would have assumed authority and ordered his crews in to help injured passengers on a bombed Tube train."
So says David Gilbertson, ex Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard.* 


The delay in rescue efforts by emergency services on July 7th 2005 has been roundly labelled as Health and Safety culture gone mad by the media this week.  The assumption is that because fire crews and ambulances were standing by waiting orders to proceed with rescue, instead of racing headlong into the tube tunnels, they should feel wracked with guilt and are personally responsible for any deaths that happened while they waited.

As a front-line police sergeant, reading these articles makes me profoundly angry.  We are not talking about a situation where a simple and obvious act by one person could save a life. We are talking about a treacherous and difficult rescue, with extreme hazards to emergency workers, and a situation totally beyond the experience of any of them.  I have no doubt that the units on scene were frustrated and impatient to get on with the rescue, regardless of the risk of secondary devices or any hazards. I know for a fact that young officers on my team are not Health and Safety conscious, and are impetuous and risk-taking far more often than they are cautious - see me quoted in the Daily Telegraph here.

The truth is you don't save a drowning person from a river by diving in without thinking.  You wait for backup, get emergency kit ready on the shore, and then make the decision to dive when you are in the best possible position to save the person, otherwise everyone who turns up to help will be in the same half-cocked position that you were when you first arrived on scene, and the river will soon be jammed with the writhing of would-be rescuers.

In the situation where you have no equipment and no backup (such that of as PC Elizabeth Kenworthy), each individual must make a decision about how far they are willing to risk themselves.  I know that for the majority of my team, there is no hesitation and they will go all the way - sometimes simply to arrest a car thief, let alone for a dying man.  My job, like an anxious parent, is to berate them roundly for the peril they put themselves in, whilst secretly proud inside that my kid done good.

To suggest that firefighters in London on July 7th should feel "guilty" for their failings is to totally misunderstand the position they were in, and what their job actually involves.  Do we want an emergency service that is no better than a heroic passer-by, or do we want one equipped to help and with a strategy in place to do it well?  A paramedic with no defibrillator or oxygen bag is not a paramedic: he is a good Samaritan.  It's easy to rush blindly towards danger with flailing arms; it's harder to take a deep breath, walk slowly up and look it in the eye.


There are innumerable situations where I am happy to hold the public sector up to scrutiny over risk-aversion, but the day of the London Bombings is not one of them.


* Note on David Gilbertson. As well as decrying the lack of "Blitz spirit" in officers nowadays, the ex-Commander (and HMIC inspector) regularly expounds his view that officers view themselves "as combatants in the war on terror", "at war" with the public, and speaks of the days of "policing by consent", when officers went out without stab vests and batons.  Apart from the innate contradictions in these views (either we are at war, or we're not: we can't just invoke the Blitz when we feel like it), he appears to yearn for a bygone age of policing.  I meet a lot of Commanders like Mr Gilbertson, who come into briefings and tell my young officers about the days they used to face down the world armed only with a short stick, and berate us for our cowardice wanting to be double-crewed and wear body armour.  The thing is, Mr Gilbertson may well come from a braver age of policing, but he also comes from an age when girls made the tea, you used to travel free on the bus, queue-jump almost anywhere, and middle-aged white males spent their evenings in Masonic lodges lapping up the cheap beer in police bars.  The age of police privilege is past, and with it the age of mindless bravery.  I don't say which is better, but it is a new world now.


(Added 19:49 25/10/10)
A final point to consider: the debate is not about whether we should risk our lives for the public or not, but whether it is automatically doing our job better if we risk our lives.  Not whether the emergency services were afraid to rush into the tunnels, but whether waiting to plan a rescue strategy was more sensible and stood a better chance of saving life.  What folly to race in en masse and miss half the dying people because you don't have the right breathing/vision equipment.  When the emergency services first deployed, they did not know what kind of incident they were dealing with.


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

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Targeted Lie

According to Nick Herbert MP, the police's targets have been abolished. Someone should tell HMIC.  Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is the body that visits and holds failing police forces to account.  It functions almost solely by monitoring data and statistics, basing its reports on the results of polls and then producing recommendations.

As a Chief Constable, failure to follow recommendations by HMIC can have significant results: in extreme cases HMIC can refer a poorly-performing force to the Home Secretary, and Home Office intervention in running the force can follow.  If you think this is ever allowed to happen, think again.  So HMIC's assessment of a force is crucial.

Here you can find HMIC's "report cards" (their overall findings about each force).  A quick scan through shows that, like it or not, HMIC is monitoring detection rates - that is, the force's ability to "solve" a crime by charging, cautioning or reporting someone for it.  Here are some phrases that appear:
  • "Results for solving violence with injury and vehicle crimes are deteriorating" (Dorset)
  • "reducing such offences together with improving the number of offences detected and improving the confidence people have in GMP to deal with crime and ASB, are priorities for the force" (Greater Manchester)
  • "Leicestershire solves less violent crime than peer forces and the detection rate for violence and car crimes deteriorated last year... more needs to be done to bring crime rates in line with similar areas" (Er, Leicestershire)
I could go on.  But what is significant is that each of these criticisms about detection rates is coupled with a line or two describing what the force has done to tackle it.  In most cases, a re-structure, or a new system has been brought in. And so Chief Constables preempt HMIC's conclusions and thereby preempt any action they might take.  Regardless of whether or not the Chief was actually doing a bad job before, or if the poor crime statistics were the result of data-handling, outside influences (eg the economy in that area) etc. HMIC makes it clear that each force is to be compared to others "similar", drawing over-arching conclusions about what the "correct" crime and detection rates should be for that force.

Nick Herbert MP and David Cameron PM can expound until they are blue from head to tippy-toe that they have abolished targets and pledges.  But HMIC still assesses forces based on these things, and requires them to produce statistics about it.  In light of that, what Chief Constable dare not have a target for reducing crime areas that are above the average for their "type" of force?  What Chief dare not endorse "best practice" as defined by HMIC?

Until HMIC's stranglehold on the police is released, all the Government's words are just that, words.  Do not expect to see a tidal shift in the way we police Britain any time soon.


NB: As a side-note, what an incredibly good website HMIC has. Some talent's being wasted somewhere.

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

Friday, October 15, 2010

Assault is Our Number One Priority

Blandshire Constabulary's priorities are hard to keep up with.  If you visit our website from one month to the next, you may be confused as to whether we are Together, Driving Car Crime Down (notice clever pun on drive/car), or if we are in fact Working As One Against Antisocial Behaviour (no clever pun this time - budget cuts in the media department).  

This month, we are Number One Focus on Assault.  No pun, not even proper English.

If you think these ever-changing priorities have little to do with the job of a front-line response officer in Blandmore, you'd be utterly wrong.  Our working lives are entirely governed by the force's priorities.  Teams and squads emerge in their name, inspectors are promoted off the back of them, emails are sent and spreadsheets drawn up.  Every action from every morning meeting, every audit by every civilian scrutineer, starts and ends with the priority of the month.

Right now, my officers Must Investigate Assault Thoroughly.  This means scribing lengthy statements, taking swabs and seizing clothing, promptly arresting any named offender and on no account bailing them before the full twenty-four hours of their PACE clock has been well and truly used up, whether or not there are realistically enquiries going on that justify it.  At the end of all this, the CPS will be consulted and in about 30% of cases, a charge or caution for assault may materialise.  This astonishingly low percentage - astonishing when you take into account that most assault victims know the name of the assailant - is largely due to the fact that having phoned the police and named their attacker, most assault victims want nothing further to do with the investigation.

A good proportion of cases are of course domestic violence, and in those cases the prosecutions are pushed forwards just in case one or other party kills the other next time.  But an equally large number of cases involve squabbling schoolchildren, immature neighbours and drunken scuffles.  No matter how many swabs we take, or how much we spend on DNA analysis of hoodies and tracksuit trousers, regardless of reams of CCTV we have viewed or statements taken from passing witnesses, if the victim does not want a prosecution it is highly unlikely that one will occur.  Call me an old-fashioned relic, but I say, quite rightly.  If you don't give a damn that someone's lamped you whilst bickering over the yellow line outside your house, why should I?

Now Lord Justice Leveson has announced that assault charges will rarely result in prison sentences.  Which is the same thing as saying that assault will not be punished at all - when you consider that alternative sentences now more and more consist of writing letters of apology and attending a couple of meetings further iterating how apologetic you are.  Oh and the fact that breaching these alternative orders will not result in prison either.

We in the police service are not surprised at this news. Indeed, we are only surprised that Lord Justice Leveson thinks that anyone is sent to prison for assault at the moment.  And we are cynical about the claim that the announcement has nothing to do with budget cuts.

None of the above has affected Blandshire Constabulary's website, or the emails coming out daily pushing Assault down our throats.  Because the drive to investigate and detect more assaults has nothing to do with suffering victims or bringing people to justice, it is based in its entirety on the fact that our current detection rates for assault are worse than some other forces.

In a few months, the laws of fluctuating crime rates will determine that assaults fall back in line with the rest of England and Wales.  At that point, you may well find Blandshire Constabulary Locking Down Burglary or Saying No to Sex Crime.

Which is why no force priority will stop me spending the time I want on the investigations I choose, where the victims are deserving and the offenders scum.  The day they turn that into a strap-line, I'll close this blog.

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

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Overtime: Just Say No

As a police officer, you get double money to work at short notice on a rest day, time-and-a-half for a bit more notice, and time-and-a-third for "normal" overtime.  In many forces, you still get a Special Priority Payment for being a 24/7 response officer, or a custody officer, or various other roles that have unpleasant working hours or conditions.  This can be withheld if your sickness level is too high.

The result of these payments is a queue of people with their hands up to bail the force out on days when the minimum resourcing levels have backfired.  A list of people who struggle in when they are genuinely sick to keep their Bradford score down.  A glut of people volunteering for every operation and to stay on late (pre-planned) to cover for the sickness of other officers on other teams.  There's good money to be had, therefore someone can always be found for the task.  Police officers might be thick but we're not stupid.
Theresa May's pay review will consider getting rid of "double time", cutting the notice required of shift changes from three months, possibly addressing overtime altogether (a move to salary-based pay a possibility???). In return for these changes, which could cut several thousand off some officers' paychecks, yippididoodah: the right to strike.

Unfortunately, in the face of a sub-inflation pay rise for the next few years (effectively a pay cut), the loss of our SPPs - which is now accepted force wide in Blandshire as inevitable - and further cuts to pay and working conditions, the right to strike simply won't cut it.   

At the moment, a Chief Officer can order a police officer to come to work if they are operationally required.  Most forces have a policy of starting with officers due at work later that day, then ones on rest days, then ones on leave, which means it is rare to get called into work when you were on holiday unless something explodes.  But it does happen, and you have to obey. A Chief Officer can also change an officer's shift pattern without permission, including creating a 65hr working week, can alter any shift with 14 days notice to cover absences/sickness, can post an officer to any part of the force within 20 miles (as the crow flies) of their home, and can move an officer to any department with no consultation whatsoever.  A refusal to come into work when ordered, or to work the extra shifts, may result in disciplinary proceedings with the possibility of fines, demotion, etc.

We put up with all of the above because we are well paid when we are inconvenienced.  The combination of the extreme squeeze on resources anticipated by most forces, coupled with the removal of our perks, will not be pretty.  I predict a spate of mobile phone battery outages, plenty of off-duty drinking, and last minute trips abroad on days off, to areas without transport links.

When people describe policing as an unpleasant job, they are usually referring to the blood and gore, the violence and hatred, the possibility of death on duty.  These things set the job apart from others.  Our inability to refuse certain duties or overtime is, however, a far greater burden.  If you stop compensating people for this, you stop recognising its significance.

Police officers don't want this to change.  We want to work in an unpleasant, burdensome job, we are proud of it.  We don't want the right to strike: we want to work and be paid for it.




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

 

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