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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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shoplifters of the World

I just watched The One Show complaining about shops using civil recovery to claim costs back from shoplifters.  According to Sheila Hancock, this is "outrageous" and "the police's job".  She thinks this because Sheila Hancock hasn't the first clue about the reality of shoplifting and what it involves for the police.

Most shoplifters arrested in Blandmore have at least a dozen convictions, and some have literally hundreds.  They are mostly on heroin or crack, and steal to fund the habit because it's a risk-free choice of crime, with two possible outcomes:

(A)  They get away with it, sell the booty and get their heroin/crack.
(B)  They get caught, get arrested, get free food for the night, as much diazepam and methodone as the police doctor can prescribe, go to court in the morning and try again later that day.

It is truly a no-lose scenario.  Moreover, a shoplifting is not always the most straightforward crime.  Usually it is only witnessed on CCTV, and there are gaps in continuity of the evidence. It takes time to build the case and may need referral to the Crown Prosecution Service to charge.  Several shoplifters are detained every day in one 24hr Blandmore supermarket, and they are very often "high maintenance" in custody, requiring increased monitoring for withdrawal or self-harm tendencies.  They need officers to go to pharmacies or their homes to collect prescriptions, just to keep them alive whilst in the police's care.  They get remanded due to their prolific offending, and languish in the traps all weekend consuming tax-payer's money at a staggering hourly rate.

All this, and the likely outcome in court is a drug rehabilitation course to ensure they are prescribed enough free methodone that they don't need to steal for a while, a fine they can't pay, and community work they will claim they are too ill to do.

There must come a point where you simply have so many convictions that you are to be considered a one-person crime wave, and draconian action should be used to quell your offending.  Options might include:
  • Six months in a special drug free prison.
  • Withdrawal of all benefits.
  • GPS tagging to identify you every time you offend, and bar you from certain premises that have simply had enough of you.
In the absence of any hope of even a watered down version of the above, what choice do stores have but to try and claim some compensation back from the few shoplifters they catch who do actually have the means to pay?

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

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Invisible Scourge

Government pledge, May 2010: "Any cabinet minister … who comes to me and says 'Here are my plans' and they involve frontline reductions, they'll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again.

Labour, February 2011: "...over 10,000 police officers are being cut in the next few years alone."

Government response: "There is no simple link between police numbers and their impact; what matters is how the police are deployed."

The government's position is a bit like saying, "We've thrown away all the eggs, flour, butter and sugar, but I want that Victoria Sponge on the table in time for tea!"

If we believe that David Cameron meant his words back in May 2010, it means that he thinks that 20% of what the police have been doing can be cut. Funnily enough, I actually agree with him. The truth is we haven't been making Victoria Sponge simply with eggs, flour, butter and sugar. We've been making it with all of those things plus salt and pepper, marmalade and ham. I for one would be happy to go back to the classic recipe.

As a frontline sergeant at least 30% of my day is spent on one of the following mind-boggling tasks:
  • Checking my officers have filled out a variety of forms correctly, in order that the force will not be sued if someone one of them spoke to that day is found dead.
  • Reading through pages of incidents and crime reports that were read through by someone else the day before, and making the same decisions that they did, because day on day none of us have any resources to actually deal with the jobs.
  • Acquainting myself with every crime that my team are currently dealing with involving one of the force priorities (robbery, burglary, assault, etc), in time for the 9am morning meeting, so that I can justify why we haven't dealt with it differently. It's worth mentioning that while I'm doing this, the superintendent is also reading through them all so he can come into the meeting armed. Because he reads them all, so does his PA, and the three detective inspectors or sergeants of various departments who have to come to the meeting just in case the superintendent decides one of them should deal with a job instead.
The other 70% of my day is spent trying to ensure that my team is policing as effectively as they can. If I could do that 100% of the day, there probably wouldn't be a need for so many people to check and review the work my team has done over the last 24 hours, because we'd be doing it properly to start with.

Problem solved: the 20% budget cuts coming our way can be directed towards cutting all that crap.

Unfortunately, the reason I spend 30% of my day in the above manner is because of the any number of targets that my force may fail on if I stop doing it: crime detection, crime reduction, custody process, victim satisfaction. In fact, all of the things you'll find measured here, at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.

HMIC is not the only body behind the scenes holding the reins of Blandshire Constabulary, but along with the Police Authority and the European Court of Human Rights, it is the biggest barrier to implementing meaningful budget cuts without impacting on frontline staff. As Police Authorities are going, and we're stuck (for now) with the ECHR, why isn't anyone doing anything about HMIC? This is a body that hands out advice to forces on how they should be providing spare knickers for prisoners, and how they should be paying £35,000 to sergeants to phone people up and ask them if they got given a little green book when they reported their crime.

Cameron can blame Chief Constables (and local Councils) all he wants for the inevitable service reduction, but until his government tackles the malevolent force responsible for police bureaucracy, there is only one place for his budget cuts and that's down here on the frontline.

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

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Minority Rules

If you asked most people what democracy means, they'd probably say something along the lines of free elections.  What "free elections" actually means is that the majority voice will govern the country.  He who shouts the loudest, etc.

The Daily Mail is today outraged at Surrey Police's rolling road block that allowed Katie Price to get home unimpeded.  A lot of people will no doubt read the story and be equally outraged. On Breakfast television today a commentator speculated that the police must have been "star-struck" and that was the reason for the "waste of resources".  On the face of it, any decent tax-paying citizen would quite rightly be appalled.

How does the road block for Katie Price compare, however, to some of the following uses of resources recently by Blandshire Constabulary and other forces: 
  • Four PCSOs doing high vis patrols for a week due to "kids gathering" outside a local shop. 
  • A marked car being left outside an address for four days because the female occupant has been receiving nasty texts from her ex-partner.
  • A witness for a drugs trial being housed at public expense in a hotel for the duration of the trial, and being given a uniformed escort to court each day.
  • One social worker being given the protection of four armed officers, two traffic cars, four local officers including a sergeant, in order to go to an address and tell a mother her child was going to be taken into foster care.
  • A six week operation involving more than thirty officers, undercover surveillance, search warrants and high-tech equipment, all to find out which white van driver has been approaching schoolgirls and offering them a lift.
  • Two years spent bringing to justice the six or seven thugs who subjected one family to a reign of racist harassment, at a cost nearing hundreds of thousands to the tax payer.
All of the above are important to some degree.  All of the above involve a staggering expense and use of police resources on the needs of the few.  But how does that differ to the use of two dozen different medical staff to respond to a car crash victim with a badly broken leg, or six fire engines stuffed with firemen for one small house fire where no one is even trapped?

A true democracy is not about the view of the majority, but representation of the public- ALL of the public.  If that means Katie Price, perhaps at risk of being terrorised in her car by the dangerous driving of photographers, then the use of one single traffic patrol to ensure her safe passage home is a pretty efficient way of resolving the issue.  Who knows what information or intelligence led to Surrey's decision - after all, they don't escort her home with a rolling road block every day.

There are many occasions on which police officer waste their time chasing trivial offences to satisfy bean counters in their Headquarters.  Or jump through hoops to cover their backs against litigation or disciplinary action.  But the weighting of resources towards the minority in our society at greatest risk of harm is not poor judgment, it's our job.

Having said that, maybe Miss Price phoned up the Area Commander, and maybe he just wanted her autograph.

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

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Alexander's Ragtime

Blandshire Constabulary is slowly unveiling its plans for the new tax year.  Half a dozen Chief Superintendents and Superintendents will lose their jobs, even more Chief Inspectors, and the prospects for promotion to Inspector are bleak for 2-3 years.  Of course, all those who lose their jobs in the restructure will get new jobs, in the same rank and on the same pay, within the new improved Constabulary.  But we're all assured that despite this, a lot of money will be saved.  Honest.

Here are some of the main ways that money will/might be saved in the new era:
  1. Implementing a one-size-fits-all shift pattern across Blandshire's regions: response and neighbourhood teams will work the same hours whether they work in rural North Blandshire, or the heart of Blandmore town with its humming night-time economy. Much less paperwork for the duty planner, you see.
  2. Making inspectors responsible for twice as many teams, and ensuring they never work alongside the staff they are managing.  Sickness and complaints should plummet, because no one will know who to report them to.
  3. Combining all kinds of local services and delivering them "from" Headquarters.  The staff allocated to the departments won't change, nor will their pay or conditions, or the remit of the work they do.  But it will save loads nonetheless.
  4. Freezing recruitment until staffing levels have fallen to dangerous levels, like they did 2-3 years ago.  It saves a fortune, which can be spent on the  massive overtime bill for the staff you've still got.
  5. Stop spending money on absolutely everything: if officers have to fill in a budget request to their second line managers to order a new biro, they'll probably start buying them with their own money.  This policy can then be extended to headlight bulbs, replacement uniform, food for police dogs and perhaps, one day, police cars.
 Of course, residents of Blandshire should not panic that front-line services will be reduced.  Even as we speak members of the Chief Constable's Management Team are working hard overhauling policies that are fine how they are, introducing new tiers of risk assessments in areas that are already risk-assessed to death, and holding training days for hundreds of officers as advised by our valued partner agencies.
Come 1st April, the deckchairs will levitate and slowly come to rest in new positions.  And the Titanic will soldier on towards that iceberg, those of us down in third class oblivious to everything other than our impending doom.

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


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