This is the official blog of ex-Sgt Ellie Bloggs. I was a real live police constable then sergeant for twelve years, on the real live front line of England. I'm now a real live non-police person. 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 (or didn't) pay my salary.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Real Whodunnit

You've probably noticed the eerie silence from police bloggers on the topic of Joanna Yeates' murder.  It's not because we don't have an opinion on the investigation, the media handling of the murder, nor that we don't have our own theories on whodunnit and how and why.

It's because when it comes to murder, you're into a whole different ball-game of policing.  If I attend a nasty assault where someone's been hit with a baseball bat and is unconscious in hospital with concussion and a brain bleed, that's serious stuff.  I'll be expected to provide an officer to secure the scene, another to travel with the victim and seize his clothing, another to arrest the offender and seize HIS clothing.  CID detectives may do some of this, and will probably poke around the scene and do house-to-house enquiries. They may look at CCTV, or take statements from witness, but more likely they'll ask uniformed response to do it.

If the unfortunate in the above example catches the bat a millimetre higher or lower on his skull, however, and life-changing turns to life-threatening, and then to fatal, the scenario changes.  Major Crime will now oversee the investigation as they make their way from bed, or from the next county over.

I'll now need 3-4 officers to secure an enormous scene, moreover, they'll need to be wearing hats.  I'll need at least 2 officers to arrest every person who's had the vaguest trace of contact with the victim, or anyone who doesn't give a good account of themselves.  If arrest attempts are to take place at addresses, we might need armed support, with roads policing standing by in high-speed cars in case of escapees.  If contact is made with a suspect, the same armed units and roads policing cannot then attend the next arrest attempt, as the defence will allege cross-contamination of DNA evidence.  So this might mean 4-6 officers per suspect.  The same vehicles cannot be used twice either, including ones that have transported officers contacting the victim, or witnesses.

  Real murders are solved like this.

The suspects will need to have their hands taped up in bags, their phones seized, as well as blood samples, photographs of them dressed, then full clothing seizures, swabs from every part of them exposed to the air, hair combings, the lot.  In the example of a street fight, we could be talking 12 uniformed officers and 5 specialist support units absorbed into the job, before you start counting the detectives who turn up to do house-to-house and statement-taking.  On a normal night in Blandmore, that is more than likely my entire shift.  There's an SIO (Senior Investigating Officer) somewhere changing out of his pyjamas in the far south of the force, asking for this and that and the other to be done, and he doesn't care much for the response "Er, we've run out of officers" or "But now there's an armed robbery happening at the Co-op and I need to send someone there".  So my inspector will have to find the troops, whether it means we call on the towns either side of us, or start waking people up.

They are rarely solved like this.

This is a murder for which the suspects are pretty obvious, for which the witnesses are waiting to be spoken to, and where we know what has happened.  The difficulties spiral when the suspect is unknown, there are 5-6 or more scenes of interest, and the media are crawling all over it stamping their feet for immediate results.

So there isn't much for a police blogger to say about the events in Bristol, other than that  I believe over 90% of murders are solved eventually.  You can be sure that whatever resources are needed to investigate it will be found, somewhere.  And whatever secret deals ACPO are pursuing to curb overtime and unnecessary expenditure will fall by the wayside.

Unfortunately, the Real Whodunnits take more to solve than a moustached Belgian with a good gut instinct and an assembly of middle class suspects in a sitting room.  Although perhaps we could look into that as way to save money...

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

Friday, January 07, 2011

What was he thinking? Probably about himself.

Det Ch Supt Jonathan Hesketh got a special mention in The Daily Telegraph today after sending out a PSD version of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Most officers are fairly wary of the Professional Standards Department at the best of times. Despite knowing it is largely staffed by cops who were PCs once themselves, we all suspect that the superintendents there get a secret kick out of bringing one of us down.  In truth, for the most part, PSD tends to protect police officers against spurious complaints, and acts as a helpful filter for those complaints that are never going anywhere because they are based on misunderstandings of the law: the "wrongful arrest" complaint being a good example*.

Well thanks to Det Ch Supt Hesketh, officers in West Midlands now know with what casual scorn their disciplinary matters are met by the head of their PSD.  I am sure his 'carol' was supposed to act as a cautionary tale to officers that they could have disciplinary findings against them for any number of things.  In fact it appears to have gone down about as well as the head of Major Crime sending out a song filled with all the serious crimes W.Mids failed to prevent, ending, 'a rape victim suspended in a pear tree'.

Anyone who has the full text of the offending poem, please email it.  Whilst being sure not to breach your force's strict rules on confidentiality, of course.  I wouldn't want anyone being called up in front of a certain Det Ch Superintendent...

* Please note, I'm not saying Chris Jefferies did it, or didn't do it, or might not would have should have could have not done it not, only that his arrest was probably lawful.

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

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Brought to Justice

Crispin Blunt, the prisons minister, whose name sounds like a character from a Restoration comedy, tells us that the rioters in HMP Ford "must be brought to justice".  Presumeably he means they must be sent back to prison to continue drinking and rioting.

I once dealt with an absconder from another open prison, who we arrested on the streets of Blandmore following a fortuitous person check by a PCSO.  The paperwork faxed through from  Leyhill contained the following phrases: "The prison is surrounded by a low three foot wall that can be easily jumped" and "the prisoners know they are not allowed to jump the wall".  This useful information enabled us to interview and charge the absconder, who was shipped off to a higher security prison pending his removal back to Leyhill once he was due to be released soon again. 

The above link informs us that Leyhill is home to 532 prisoners, 110 of whom are "lifers".  The only thing that a life sentence is given out for in this country is murder, or attempted murder if the offender has a LOT of violent previous.  Which means that 110 would-be killers are wandering around the grounds of Leyhill Prison with just a rulebook standing between them and society. I've been a police officer for a while now, but I honestly had no idea that this many prisoners were kept in what could more accurately be described as a hotel with rules.  If you look at HMP Ford's rulebook, it sounds more like a private boarding school than a prison.

The fact is that there is no such thing as Justice any more.  The most you can hope for if you are brutally raped, or a family member murdered, is that the culprit will be held out of reach of society until he/she's forgotten whatever urges prompted him/her to attack.  You will have to accept that the perpetrator is probably wearing his own clothes, watching TV, going to the gym and getting access to all the contraband he wants.  If he ends up in Leyhill or Ford as he nears the end of his determinate sentence period, you could even go and wave at him (or shoot him) over the three foot wall.

Believe it or not, I am a fan of rehabilitation.  But the point about prison is that the person has received a custodial sentence because voluntary rehabilitation has not worked.  It probably has not worked 20 or 30 times.  We are dealing with people who have never heard the word "no", who never accept they have lost, who always manage to wriggle out of the wrong they have done and have no empathy with others, nor any scruples.

The only option is therefore to either accept they are not fit to live in society, or inflict a  prison regime that acts as both deterrent and encouragement to truly reform.  Incentives should be linked to gaining qualifications and learning to turn up for work reliably.  Punishments should be uncompromising and with no right of appeal.  They need to be lined up and told "no" again and again until they listen.  And if they don't listen, they don't get released.

I'm not authoritarian.  I have great empathy for the kids I deal with aged 11-14, on the brink of criminality, and I know the dreadful home lives they have experienced.  But the truth is that all effective discipline and guidance has been taken out of the Criminal Justice System. We have no means of deterrent or control.  Crime has won.  It's time to take back the streets.

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

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Very Blandmore New Year

To a police officer, the festive season tis the season to be alcoholic and violent.  In the past fortnight my shift have dealt with repeated robberies, domestics and deaths - both natural and un.

Does this depress us, and turn us into a bunch of compassionless, hardened cynics?  Well, in actual fact most of the young officers on my shift love this time of year.  Every day another senior manager brings in a tub of Roses or Quality Street before scuttling off home to spend the holidays with their families.  Every day the briefing room table is littered with sausage rolls and doughnuts.  Every day inexperienced PCs get to deal with serious crime far beyond their remit, with half the number of detectives and specialists on duty to help.  Stressful?  They love it.

On a late or night shift on a regular Christmas Day/Boxing Day, there are no Priorities of the Day, no race hate crime targets, no Antisocial Behaviour Nominals.  There are just policemen and women, doing the job they joined up to do, with the added bonus of a kitbag full of chocolate and pastry treats.

Not so in 2010.  I was astonished to discover that the Senior Management Team had this year arranged daily management meetings on every one of the bank holidays.  One day we had a priority of attending a report of a minor robbery where the victim had not been contactable for four days and did not even know the police had been informed.  Another day it was a minor injury assault between a brother and sister who had lost their father on Boxing Day and who had withdrawn any complaint.  I, er, omitted to pass on these top priorities to my shift.  So forgetful...

It isn't as if we haven't got plenty of genuine serious crime to be getting on with.  Which is hard enough when we have one Scenes of Crime officer per county, who is booking off at 4pm and won't stay on late for anything less than a Joanna Yeates-style murder.  Not to mention the on-call DI who hasn't slept in three days, and the two CID detectives who don't have families, who have offered to work every bank holiday to cover for their colleagues.

"Snowed under" aren't the words to describe the festive season on Blandmore's front-line - however apposite a pun.  "Clinging on for dear life" might be more appropriate.  The only thing softening the blows, bringing in rows of volunteers to cover last minute absences and calamities, keeping the town's head above water until 4th January, is the double pay police officers get for working bank holidays.

If Sir Hugh Orde and the Association of Chief Police Officers have their way, there won't be many hands up in 2011 when the inspector puts out the call, "I need two PCs to pick up a prisoner from Scotland", "Four officers for a scene watch", "A sergeant and six to go to Bigtown for a high risk missing child".  Names will be picked from hats and resignations will follow.

Here's to 2011: to more domestics, more robberies, more real police work and fair compensation for giving up a normal family life to do it well.

A very Happy New Year to my colleagues and all my readers.  This blogger isn't quite done yet.

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


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