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, November 24, 2011

A Reasonable Response

Inspector Gadget's got a good post up about response times, and a video of one of our regular customers.  The video could be from any supermarket up and down the country.  Well, apart from M&S.  M&S shoplifters are not just any shoplifters.

In Blandshire, we've invented a brand new classification that has an open-ended response time, so anything we're not likely to be able to attend soon, gets reclassified as "non-urgent".
Other methods we use to meet targets for attending and closing jobs:
  • Arrest requests from other forces get printed out and left on the desk in Blandmore's main report writing room, then the log closed.  If a sergeant forgets to write it up on the board, the arrest may never get done, and the force never updated that it will never be done. There's no sensible place to log arrest attempts and there's a small chance that if it isn't rubbed out when the arrest has been made, the person could be arrested again. But on the plus side, the job gets closed within 5 minutes of arriving.
  • Jobs that can be dealt with by way of appointment get logged in a separate diary and closed.  If the appointment is never dealt with, due to redeployment, victim forgetting, or outside circumstances, it can be days before it is re-booked because there isn't a "live" job on the computer any more.
  • Crimes that are not "priority crimes" (these are crimes with a much more important target than the response time target) do not even go onto the computer.  They find their way through various departments and offices, before being allocated to whichever sergeant happens to be on duty that day.  If and when the sergeant notices the crime has been allocated, they will allocate an officer to deal with it.  It can be 2-3 weeks before the victim is contacted, and that's for cases with named suspects and outstanding property to find.  It's a helpless feeling when you ring up the victim to say, "I know, I wish I'd come straight round but your report was in the ether".  Other examples of "slow-time" crime reports can include shopliftings where the offender was still outside for 20min consuming the goods he had just stolen, but the job went "slow-time" because he had left the store - meaning it never went onto the Incident Control System to dispatch a unit.
On the plus side, Mother Theresa has abolished all targets for the police, so no one can do anything if we ignore the above system and use commonsense to resource jobs.
The truth about systems like these is that it is not just about targets, although they do figure.  If every crime requiring a physical presence and investigation appeared as a "live" job, response teams would simply drown under the weight of them.  Yesterday in Blandmore we had in excess of 40 jobs requiring attendance by 10 officers at one stage, and that's WITH a system that diverts a lot of jobs elsewhere.  Under the above system, a lot of investigations are closed that were solvable, and a lot of victims lost interest who would have provided evidence.  While we run around attending reports of racism and domestics where we are not wanted.

As with everything, it's all an excuse to make less officers do more, without any lessening of quality.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fictional Grannies and Guardian Readers

My article in The Guardian online today has caused some consternation.  You can read the debate in the comments, so I'm not going to go into it here, apart from to say that the grannies are not intended to be fictional!

As an undercover police writer, you suffer from two contradictory presumptions by non-police readers: 
  • Half of them think you are touting the party line, and condemn you in the same breath as the police establishment you are trying to satirise.
  • The other half think you are a whistle-blower and must therefore hate your colleagues and be on a mission to expose their corruption.
What I really try to write about is good people trying to do a good job, strangled by a detrimental culture of target-chasing and risk aversion.  I am not speaking for front-line officers, but I speak as one of them.

Personally, I try not to get hung up on which judge has made what ruling, unless it is on a point of law that materially changes how I can legally do my job.  I have learned over the years that it is possible to police sensitively, morally and bravely, but the more you do so, the greater chance there is that you will make a mistake. Hopefully, the mistake will simply lead to someone being acquitted for a trivial offence.  If you're unlucky, it might lead to an innocent person's death.  Because the stakes are so high, I harbour no resentment towards colleagues who err on the side of caution, who follow force policy in blinkers, obligingly fulfill targets and avoid risky decisions at all costs.  They are still good coppers with their hearts in the right place, but some of us have a different opinion of risk, or have more to lose.

Most of us are somewhere on middle ground, making a risky decision one day and playing it safe the next, according to how much we know and what we think is right.  When people ask me what is the hardest thing about my job, I think about that balance, and how close I come to getting it wrong, day in, day out.

If you haven't worked in a job like that, it's hard to grasp how that feels.

Corruption is a strong word.

For those of you who have commented on the CIF article expecting a response - I don't have an account.  If you want a more detailed response as to what I meant by the article, feel free to email me. It really wasn't anything sinister and I'm sorry for how it's being interpreted!  My commenter at 15:29 has it about right.

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Real Enemy

The secret workings of the Police Arbitration Tribunal continue behind a rosewood panelled door somewhere in London.

Meanwhile, in another part of London, a 32-year-old man has been taken into custody for trying to kill four police officers who were trying to arrest him.  Two have been seriously wounded.

One story pretty much sums up the other.  For as long as I've been blogging, police officers have been chasing the elusive figure of the Health and Safety-conscious, Home Office-approved, Twenty-First Century Police Officer.  Pulled in different directions by the government and the press, our senior managers and the public, we've struggled to pin down our true identity.  The truth staring us in the face - a truth we've always known - is that we will never win the chase.  Just as we seem to be getting there, our prey turns dirty, and stabs us in our faces and in our stomachs.

You don't have to be a police officer to sign Sergeant Nigel Tompsett's e-Petition on fair treatment for the police.

Nor do you have to be to pray for the officers lying in hospital tonight.

However you say it, however much Theresa May wants you to believe it, being a police officer is not like any other public sector job.

It is not Arbitration going on behind those sheets.

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

Monday, November 07, 2011

"Hello Pot, It's Kettle - You're Black!" *

I am staggered to read today that more than half of crime is detected out of court. Since the introduction of what affectionately became known as "Triple S-J", or "Simple, Speedy, Summary Justice" in 2006, the Home Office has been shoving the police bodily towards out-of-court disposals for a wider and wider array of offences. It is therefore pretty disgraceful that we're only managing to dispose of 50% of offences that way.  By "we", in this case I mean West Mercia Constabulary, the latest "victim" of a Freedom of Information request by an anonymous magistrate.

What is perhaps more staggering is the fact that this has been reported as news.  The phenomenon is no newer than it was in 2010, or 2009.

The Magistrates Association is now up in arms, because the year on year rise in cautions and warnings is seen as the police "acting judge, juror and executioner" all in one.  (A more appropriate comparison might be to say that it's the police acting junior clark, rookie solicitor and probation officer all in one.)

Magistrates hate the idea of offences being dealt with out of court, as does a large proportion of the public.  The HMIC reported this year that a third of out-of-court disposals were found to be inappropriate - ie the offence was too severe or the offender not eligible to be warned/cautioned.

Yet the police continue to give out cautions like Halloween chocolate, the moment a whiff of an admission is detected.  In fact, it's the first question most solicitors ask when they arrive at the police station: "Is the custody sergeant considering a caution for my client?"

For a hardened wife-beater, car thief or fraudster, a caution is neither here nor there.  It has no effect on their lawless, unemployed life, and does absolutely nothing to repay the victim of their crime.  But in actual fact, cautions are not generally administered to this type of criminal.  The majority of repeat offenders DO go before the court, and to what end?

Magistrates fail to recognise that the majority of recidivist criminals who pass through police stations every day are unaffected whether they go to court or not.  Their diaries are peppered with bail dates, court appearances, probation appointments and baby-mother due dates, none of which they plan to turn up to anyway.  If they do make it behind the doors of the local Mags' Court, they will stroll out laughing a couple of hours later and flick the V sign at the victim who came to see them convicted.  Cautions are never handed out to these felons, and nor is any other kind of justice.

Cautions are reserved for those people who, far from deserving to be shoved before the court, probably don't deserve to be arrested in the first place.  Just occasionally, a first time wife-beater or drunken squaddie will be cautioned in what is probably an appropriate response to their first offence, expression of remorse, and lack of support from the victim.  But most cautions stem from jobs where officers turned up with their hands tied by local positive intervention strategies and senior management pressure in certain crime categories.  They're given out to ten-year-olds for antics in the park, neighbours for muttered swear-words, students for alcohol-induced stumbles that they would have paid for anyway. If you're a teacher or doctor, a criminal caution is a kiss of death.  You will never work with children again, in fact you'll be lucky if you can even babysit your next door neighbour's kids, or your own.

So the song and dance that Magistrates make about the world of out-of-court disposals is misdirected.  Instead of asking whether the police should have placed these people before the courts, they should be asking whether these people should be anywhere near the Criminal Justice System at all.  

I suggest that Magistrates concentrate on those who DO make it before their bench, and ask themselves why they keep coming back, if IN-court disposals are so effective.

SOON: this anonymous police officer plans to place Freedom of Information requests with her (or somebody's) local Magistrates' Court.  Any ideas anyone?

* For those of you offended by this caption, and who brand it a racist epithet, you may be interested to know that race crimes are considered an absolute priority in Blandmore at the moment.  A caution would not be issued for a racially aggravated offence, but if it were, I would lose my job immediately.  If that's not Simple, Speedy and Summary, I don't know what is.

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


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