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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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Problem with the Public

It's often perceived there's an Us and Them attitude by the police towards the public.  It's partly true: in the sense that any close-knit group defines itself by those who are not in it, whether it be accountants, scientists, soldiers, or the police.  This is exacerbated by the fact that the police's job is very often to meddle in other people's lives, and accommodate two views that will never coincide.

Labour came up with the idea of Neighbourhood Policing, whereby the community could set priorities for their local police teams.  Now the Home Office is backing elected police chiefs, and attacking those who criticise the plan as "elitist" - a title members of this Government can fully appreciate.  The idea is to promote the view that the public will have "a say" in what their police force does.

There are two problems with this concept:
  1. There is no sign that the Government plans to withdraw the vast array of measures and statistics used to grade police forces, nor provide legislative backing for forces to bin lengthy and expensive risk management systems.
  2. The public do not have the time or inclination to comprehend a vast amount of what the police actually does, but if they stopped doing it, there would be an outcry.
Here are some examples of things the police chief or local community is unlikely to ask their force to prioritise, either because they don't want us to do it or because they don't know that we are doing it:
  • Searching for 14-yr-olds whose parents can't be bothered to look for them.
  • Ensuring paralytically drunk teenagers who've spent their taxi money on booze get home safely.
  • Picking up vulnerable old or ill people from the street, spending hours ensuring they receive medical treatment, taxiing them between different institutes who can't or won't take care of them, and then searching for them again when whichever institute finally accepts them phones to say they've walked out the door.
  • Bringing to justice armed hitmen who target drug dealers who have reneged on debts.
  • Counselling and intervening in broken relationships.
  • Setting up teams to monitor high risk dangerous offenders, gathering intelligence, visiting them regularly and gaining court orders or filing reports to probation when their behaviour becomes worrying.
  • Allocating dozens of detectives to visit thousands of addresses until every last person in each house is spoken to, to investigate serious crime.
  • Keeping custody suites secure and safe, ensuring prisoners are treated correctly and dealt with expeditiously.
  • Compiling rock-solid evidence files for court.
  • Transporting prisoners to and from hospital, court and other forces, as well as back home again, using caged vehicles, a mass of diesel, and at least two officers a time.
  • Training officers about discrimination and Health and Safety.
We do the above either because it has to be done and no one else will do it, or because we are liable to prosecution or civil suit if we don't.  No police officer ever got prosecuted because he didn't prioritise dog-fouling or speeding in his local street, and yet from next year elected officials will be able to fire Chief Constables if they don't do exactly that - if that's what the public request.

Without a massive overhaul of Health and Safety, civil litigation, the European Court, and a number of other public services, the accountability of police forces will be wholly unaffected by the election of police chiefs.  All that will happen is that uniformed officers and hard-working detectives will be trying to do the same work with less time, money and resources.

It's a bit like plugging a hole in a boat when the whole thing is underwater anyway.

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


Blogger Blue Eyes said...

"a title members of this Government can fully appreciate"

Did you prefer Fettes-educated Blair? There's nothing quite as unpleasant as a bit of inverted snobbery.

I am coming around to the possibility that the government is wrong on directly-elected "chiefs" (whatever it means exactly) but there is definitely room for more local accountability, perhaps from the existing local decision-makers. I would be very much in favour of American-style local directly-elected prosecutors.

28 March, 2011 14:27

Anonymous A.J. Wimble said...

What the public want is for the police to do something about the people who can make living in some areas so unpleasant. What they actually got was community policing which meant that there was now a police officer specifically tasked with explaining to them why nothing could be done. What they want is more police on the beat trying to make things better not more police attending endless meetings and filling in endless forms.

28 March, 2011 15:18

Anonymous Mac said...

Ultimately the local community and elected chief can do what they want.
HMIC set the priorities and will continue to do so.

28 March, 2011 21:05

Blogger English Pensioner said...

We all accept that the police do the tasks you mention, although I'm not too sure that I'd worry about drug dealers getting shot, and drunken teenagers should be run-in, as they would have been in my younger days.
But as the report in today's Telegraph quotes HM Inspectors of Constabulary as saying a third of police are not on front line duties, perhaps a police chief who is elected, and has to stand for re-election, might decide where his priorities lay.
Most of the front line police do a very good job, unfortunately they don't get the support they need from those who prefer to put paperwork, political correctness and their career ahead of real policing.

29 March, 2011 15:13

Blogger Stressed Out Cop said...

Very much depends where you live and police with elected commissioners.

I've done bottom up tasking on community and the self interest groups soon drop away. Dog Poo and the usual stuff that came up I would say NO to as a working priority but we'd do some local problem solving instead.

You get it in the ear listening to their "know all" solutions but when it comes down to it - the policing should be dictated by what is happening on the ground.

I policed where the intell took me locally, which was often against SMT priorities. You also reacted to the community demand which on the whole was nuisance kids and low level anti-social behaviour.

If you get your communication right and were visible, even the most anti police people would come round.

As for the graphs - I just recorded what we did. If they didn't see us because we were dealing with things in your list .. they got told that.

I think community was OK till the centre got involved and tried to dictate (that's when I left) but overall has worked where the PS's took the ground. Others of course had been put out to grass.

I'll be interested to see how this works - but rather they tried elected Magistrates first.

29 March, 2011 15:32

Anonymous MarkW said...

Hey! Don't go knocking Health & Safety!

You not only practise it, you enforce it. What is a driving licence if not a certificate of competence in driving safely? (The fact that many people then ignore the training is irrelevant to the concept.)

Police officers, just as much as anyone else, deserve to go home fit and well at the end of their shift (even if they are a little more tired!).

What would you prefer? A Disease and Recklessness Act?

H&S need not be a major issue provided that it has been thought out thoroughly. Should you need someone to help with sensible H&S, I may well be available. (g)

29 March, 2011 22:23

Anonymous NottsSarge said...

Part of the problem is the perception that the Police are the right people to go to in any given situation. In actual fact, the Police have given up enforcement of a great deal - or were never actually responsible for it in the first place. Parking enforcement, dog poo and noise are all local authority issues. The DVLA are able to deal with 'there's a car on my street with no tax' and nuisance neighbours should be dealt with by the local Housing department.

Depending on whether you are a boss or a Response officer, this is either a blessing or a curse. Does it flatter us that the public come to us, or is it another burden that we've taken on in the absence of any other 24/7 cover from our so-called partner agencies?

I've long thought that the Local Authorities should provide some sort of cover - as they do with EDT for Child Welfare issues - whereby they can log the calls out of hours and arrange for the appropriate department to pick the job up during normal hours. If there is anything requiring immediate attention, and if the Police are empowered to deal with it, they can always refer it back to us.

Great play is being made about reductions in front-line Police numbers, and more than one senior figure has suggested that the public need to consider what services they could live without from their local Police. Maybe if our 'partners' pulled their weight there would already be less demand and we could get on with the business of law enforcement. The public are still served, but by the right agency for the job.

30 March, 2011 12:11

Anonymous Sgt Knothead said...

.... and if I were on the front line I would be crime busting too.

Instead, I sit in a back office tallying homophobic traffic offences.

30 March, 2011 20:59

Anonymous TheBinarySurfer said...

I would suggest it needs to be taken even further than that.

Steps needed to make locally elected police chiefs effective IMO:

1) Bin ACPO
2) Bin HMIC
3) Bin stats across the CJS
4) Bin sentancing guidelines
5) Bin EU H&S legislation
6) Make prisons unpleasent again.
7) Introduce accountability for judges and CPS.

Thing is, i see locally elected police chiefs as one step closer to privatisation personally, which i'm not keen on.

03 April, 2011 11:14

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote AJ Wimble - 'What the public want is for the police to do something about the people who can make living in some areas so unpleasant. What they actually got was community policing which meant that there was now a police officer specifically tasked with explaining to them why nothing could be done'. THE POLICE DO AS MUCH AS WE POSSIBLY CAN - GATHER EVIDENCE, ARREST, INTERVIEW AND REMAND TO APPEAR BEFORE COURT. The judicial system then fails the public by releasing the offender with a despicably minor community order, fine or suspended sentence et cetera ....... People need to learn not to shoot the messenger and instead complain to their MP.

03 April, 2011 16:24


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