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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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Front, Middle and Back Line

At last, media outlets are printing that one-fifth budget cuts "might" affect the front-line.  For some reason it took Sir Dennis O'Connor (Chief Inspector of Constabulary) to say it before anyone took it seriously, perhaps because he isn't normally heard backing the lowly street bobby.




"Do you know why I've stopped you, madam?"








What outrages those of us who can describe exactly how budget cuts are affecting the front line is the eerie silence from most of our Chief Constables.  Which is the biggest indicator of all that the Home Office has systematically taken control of the nation's police forces and an environment has sprung up in which it is impossible for dissenters to make their views known.  In Blair's Britain, if you spoke about issues that you couldn't solve, you were an incompetent - after all, no one else was whinging about the problem.  And now, under the new Coalition government, any Chief Constable who moans that the cuts will affect how his/her force delivers policing is clearly still spending too much on bureaucracy and performance measures.  This mantra is trotted out regardless of whether or not it is the case.

Sir Dennis also raises the issue of what is the front line?  He even suggests, shock horror, that those back-room roles that enable police officers to work on the front line should be considered vital themselves.  This might even mean custody sergeants, gaolers, case file builders, etc.  It's almost as if the concept of a front line is that it's actually the SMALLEST part of a police force, just the visible tip, and that in fact an effective back office means that a force can run with a very tiny proportion visible to the public.  

For example, if a police officer can arrest a shoplifter and hand them straight over to someone to book them into custody, process and charge them, while someone else seizes CCTV and takes statements, that police officer can go straight back to the next shoplifting.  Meaning that 3-4 other officers are needed back at the station to enable him to use his time the most efficiently on the front line.




"That is correct: you were going too fast, over a stop line, and you weren't wearing your seatbelt."



"Shouldn't you be out catching burglars and rapists?"






This debate has to continue: it has been a sacred cow that the front line must be untouchable.  Is it possible- gasp- that it has all been political smoke and mirrors?  And that maybe, to run an effective police force, what is actually needed is to preserve the front, middle and back line?

Time to think again, Theresa, or shall we just push on regardless?  Let me guess...



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

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.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

On Your Head



 NB*











The story of two Northants bobbies who "refused" to attend a stabbing should be a cautionary tale.  Before condeming the PCs concerned, it's worth mentioning some salient points:
  • There's no information about how much detail was in the call. It was initially shouting and screaming, then a mention of stabbing.  At what point were they asked to attend?
  • In Blandmore, there is at least one "stabbing" a week, sometimes several over a weekend.  About 10% actually involve a knife, and 1% serious injury or death.
  • There is a duty sergeant and inspector, plus control room sergeant and inspector, who should be making resourcing decisions and challenging any officers who they believe should be using their time differently.
  • Everything is more important than prostitution, in terms of immediate unfolding crime.  If officers redeployed from an operation to cover all of these incidents, they'd never identify any repeat offenders or deal with them, and local residents do appreciate these operations.
All of that said, I am in disbelief that any sworn officer would rather spend his or her time trailing prostitutes around than going to a stabbing.  Er, well, almost in disbelief.  The point at which my goodwill evaporates entirely is where I read that a single-crewed colleague had to disarm the suspect AND deal with a dead body.  Did those officers still not redeploy?  The article isn't clear.

The pairs' defence was that their inspector would not have liked them to abandon the operation they were on.  In front of the IPCC, and in the pages of tabloid newspapers, that sounds like a flimsy excuse.  However, it is not uncommon for Operation Orders and emails sent out by both DIs and neighbourhood inspectors in Blandmore to include one of the following phrases:
  • Officers will not be redeployed from this operation without direct authority from the inspector/superintendent.
  • Any officer redeploying from the operation will be in my office the next day to explain why.
  • Response inspectors are under no circumstances to redeploy officers from this commitment for emergency commitments.
I for one am glad this case has hit the news.  It provides protection for my officers, committed on hi-vis foot patrol for this or that CID investigation, or on one of the DI's performance-enhancing assault/robbery/burglary drives, to pull themselves away from that if something more important comes along.  It is now plain, in black and white, the IPCC (not to mention the public, and the grateful duty resourcing sergeant) expects officers to attend emergency incidents happening nearby.  If that sounds absurdly obvious, that is the stage we are at.
 
In fact, in the above scenario, had they attended and found a minor wounding requiring a few stitches, their inspector or DI probably WOULD have been irritated to lose his staff to another job.  He/she'd probably even send out one of the above phrases in email form, to make sure it didn't happen again.  If anything similar had been said in this case, whoever said it was careful enough not to put it in writing and has consequently been able to deny it.  If that sounds cynical, consider the fact that I have a special folder where I save emails that my senior managers might later regret sending.  In a culture where performance is based on numbers and promotion on write-ups of operations like these, real live policing is more an inconvenience than our purpose.
 
I'm not defending the disciplined officers.  Nothing was preventing them popping down to secure the place for paramedics, and then returning to their operation - had it turned out to be minor - once local units were on scene.

But it's worth considering the context in which their laziness arose, and the decade of performance culture that has allowed it to breed.  Either way, I'll be storing the newspaper cutting in a back drawer, and pulling it out every time I need to drag officers away from vital operations to attend the next violent domestic.  
 
If nothing else, it's proof of the fact that those at the top can say and do whatever they want: at the end of the day, the decisions of a front-line police officer are the officer's, and the officer's alone.
 
 
* Before anyone writes in, these aren't the bobbies in question.


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

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Comment is Free, Popularity Priceless

The problem with writing for The Guardian is that I have to brace myself to read 200 comments about "poor police" and "those ketttling thugs".  These comments appear regardless of the subject matter and bias of the article.  Indeed, I could write a piece entitled "Why I hate The Police, by a Police Officer", and I would expect to see the same remarks.


 

We're all feeling a bit like this.





On the plus side, a near-decade of policing in the UK has inured me to the bulk of wildly-aimed criticism.  The frustration is that the purpose of being a police blogger, and writing the odd article, is that I too am unhappy about the direction the police has been taken in the last fifteen years.  I too wish to expose folly and malpractice.  It just so happens that I also support the rank and file.  The two concepts are not contradictory.

Unfortunately, many of my colleagues still think there is sympathy waiting out there for the police.  That might be naive, but it's as it should be.  My young officers may be cruelly shocked by their reception sometimes, but I never sit in briefing and tell them to hate the public.

 

Images like these are hard to take for some people.



 

We still police by consent in this country.  It might not seem like it, if your weekend hobbies include throwing fire extinguishers off inner-city rooftops, but it's a fact.  The only way that rank and file officers will overcome performance culture and internal back-stabbing is by keeping the public on side.  I can't do that by writing for The Guardian, but I can day in, day out, at work.

















Update: for those who asked, my fee for the Guardian article was donated to the Police Roll of Honour Trust.
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'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Bloggs Review

If the Winsor Review is implemented in full, I will be less well off to the tune of about £1200 after tax, which when allowing for inflation of 5%, is significant, but not devastating.  However, the real issue that police officers have with the approach to reform is the attitude that it is acceptable to cut perks without giving anything in return.  Here are some ways that reform could both give as well as take away:
  1. If rest day working with less than five days notice is reduced to time-and-a-half (from double time), regulation could be changed so that officers can refuse to come in with less than five days' notice for anything less than a national emergency.  Having the rule about double time has forced forces and the court system to plan ahead, which is the main benefit for officers.
  2. Bank holiday pay could be similarly adjusted, but forces failing to plan their bank holiday staffing six months in advance should have to pay a higher rate.  Christmas and New Year staffing should be organised the January before, with volunteers requested before enforced working is implemented.  This would penalise those forces that constantly shuffle staff around at short notice and fail to remember when national holidays are until a few days before.
  3. My next suggestion was going to be about replacing Special Priority Payments with bonuses for those who genuinely work antisocial hours and are exposed to daily confrontation and unpleasantness, but Tom Winsor's already thought of that.
  4. Housing/living allowances could be means-tested (although it could be more expensive to means-test than just to pay everyone).
  5. Inspectors - who don't get overtime - should have strict rules on the number of extended shifts and cover shifts they have to work, and forces should be made to implement these fairly across all inspectors rather than weighting the hours to those on response.
The above wouldn't please everyone, but it would seem fair to the public.  Here are some more ideas that could also be implemented, that might change ACPO's view on the "antiquated" overtime rules:
  • All superintendents and above should have to work a shift in custody every month and a shift as duty inspector.
  • All superintendents and above should have to attend a domestic every three months and do all the relevant paperwork.
  • All superintendents and above should have to phone CPS Direct once a year for a charging decision. 
The problem with police officers jumping up and down about pay is that the Federation have consistently failed to jump up and down about bureaucracy and injustice, and the public are unlikely to have much sympathy.  Why should you care what the officer is being paid who turns up to arrest your twelve-year-old for a schoolyard scrap?  Or gives you a penalty ticket for chasing yobs out of your back garden?

Young front-line officers are still being pressured by management to police in a way that massages crime figures and props up the PDRs of senior ranks.  Our performance measures have not changed, regardless of what the Home Secretary may claim.  Until the police put up sterner resistence to that, no one's going to jump on our pay and conditions bandwagon.

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

Monday, March 07, 2011

Are we at war?

Since the announcement of the Winsor Review of police pay and conditions, there had been a steady release of stories undermining public support for the police (at least, what is left of it).

This week we see the Taxpayers' Alliance in Wales criticising the police for one in ten officers being on some form of restricted duties.  You can also read today about police officers "pocketing" £3.8billion in overtime over the last ten years.  The terminology tells you just how unbiassed the media are in reporting police-related stories.  Then again, it wouldn't be much of a headline if it it read "Police officers have been paid for necessary hours worked in the last ten years".

The timing of this latest study should trigger reflection.  The figures have come from The Policy Exchange, a supposedly independent, charity-funded think tank.  Its previous directors have gone onto become Conservative MPs, Tory advisors, Parliamentary aides, etc.  Is it any surprise that they choose to release this particular piece of analysis right now, when Home Secretary Theresa May is garnering support for her reform of police pay and conditions?

As for the data itself, why are people surprised that the overtime bill has been so high?  Police bloggers have been talking about the ever-thinner blue line for the last decade.  When front-line resources are short, your only option to cover all outstanding emergencies is to pay overtime.  Indeed Blandshire Constabulary has gone through periods when over 50% of my team was on a daily basis being made up of officers working rest days or extended shifts, because we just didn't have enough staff to police my town.  If that doesn't scare the bejesus out of any member of the public, it should.

The simple answer is that there's one way to cut down on overtime and that's to employ more police officers.  Cameron can bleat about back-office cuts as much as he wants, and he was absolutely right eighteen months ago.  

But the back office is being stripped bare.  Yes, many totally unnecessary roles are finally being binned.  But also going is much of the support system that has been propping up the front-line for the last decade.  In a couple of years, when the cuts take effect, overtime will once again be the only way we can actually survive.


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

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Top Down Betrayal

To add to yesterday's post on pay, the point here is nothing to do with sympathy for the front-line, giving officers "what we're owed", or any other such propaganda.  It comes down to basic hard facts:
  • The thin blue line is dependent on overtime, expenses and bonus payments simply to cover emergencies.
  • Without healthy enough compensation for working conditions, people will stop doing the work.  Not overnight, but over a decade.  Which is the reason the bonuses and pay rises were introduced to start with.
After this decade, one of three things will have happened or be about to:
  1. The British police as we know it will no longer exist: we will no longer deal with mental health patients, lost children, the lonely and dying.  It will be a civilianised force, the bulk of whom will have inflexible powers that allow them to do one job and one job alone, with a few "soldiers" who can put in doors and use force.
  2. Officers will be reverting to the every-man-for-himself days of the 70s, because it isn't worth their while to abide by the regulations.
  3. Service to victims of crime and crime stats at an all-time low, the government will have to shell out a fortune as they did in the 80s, to keep people in the police and encourage them to join.
For front-line police officers, I think the most distressing part of the current political climate is the betrayal by our senior management.  We can understand and accept the epithets spouted by the Home Office - of course the government wants to save money, of course politicians think they understand the problems facing policing, that's only natural.  We all knew that our Special Priority Payments would not last, and anyone who didn't was naive.

But then we read about the fundamental role of constable being diminished and undermined, and hear not a peep out of our chief officers.  We hear about our compensations being eroded, and no one is defending us - even if they lose, you expect your bosses to fight your corner.  

Money-saving measures by our CCMTs (Chief Constable Management Teams) take no account of the welfare of their officers.  We see shift patterns introduced that suit everyone except those working them.  Officers are pulled between stations to save money.  Inspectors are given more and more line management responsibility with no extra motivation or compensation, and are still expected to implement massive increases in performance.

And suddenly our senior managers have forgotten that they too started out at the sharp end, having to stay on to guard a scene in the pouring rain when it's their kid's birthday tea, having their leave cancelled because a foreign royal decides to visit their town, being hauled over the coals for every little mistake and subjected to intense scrutiny for every lapse in judgment.  We're not asking for that to end, we're asking for our own managers to take it into account and support us.  Instead, they're asking for our pay and conditions to be cut, to make their lives easier, and in fact are already implementing nonsensical changes that protect themselves at the expense of their troops.

My Chief might want to remember: without an army, you aren't chief of anything.
 


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

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cut Pay, Cut Regulation


What this actually means is that NEW police officers must accept cuts to their pay, if they want to become police officers.  Current officers do not need to do any such thing, as quite frankly it isn't the place of a front-line police officer to express any interest whatsoever in how many jobs are lost.  There will not be police officer redundancies on the front-line, the cuts will come through natural wastage and lack of recruitment.  Where the cuts will have effect is in the quality of recruit, as less applicants are attracted by the pension and pay.

No doubt police chiefs are happy to jump on Theresa May's bandwagon to save their jobs, as they fight to agree how much money can be saved by cutting overtime and bonus payments for things like bank holiday work or jobs with more responsibility.  But the generous overtime and bonuses some officers get is in direct compensation for two fundamental regulations that we adhere to:
  • We can be prosecuted criminally for neglect of duty.
  • We must work the days and hours we are told to, according to operational need.
Blandshire Constabulary could not function without overtime: most of my colleagues do not particularly want the money at the moment, they'd rather go home on time.  But the need for overtime to cover essential police tasks is daily.

Few of us who live in Britain would disagree with another fundamental principle: that people should not be forced to work without pay, and the more inconvenient/difficult/distressing the work, the more they should be compensated.

It seems there is a choice looming: cut our pay, and cut the regulation forcing us to work against our will, in conditions that most of us would not choose.  Alternatively, leave us alone, and we'll bust a gut to do our job, and take home a healthy pocketful of cash in return.  If the Home Office goes with the former, I'd like to get a peek at the duty roster in London for July and August 2012.

 

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

 

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