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 26, 2012

The Elusive Bobby on the Beat

Why is it you never hear MPs extolling the virtues of "doctors on the wards" or "firemen in their engines"?  It is accepted that as well as being seen quickly when you turn up at hospital, and having water sprayed on your house as soon as it catches fire, other factors come into play.  For example it's helpful if the doctors that treat you are trained in the latest equipment and medical knowledge, are awake enough to perform your surgery, and can be on standby for the life-threatening emergency that might walk in behind you.  And for the fire crews to arrive with working hoses, well-oiled teamwork and an experienced chief.

But it's easy for a politician to harp on about bobbies on the beat, because of programmes over the years like Dixon of Dock Green and The Bill, that frequently show officers stumbling across live crimes every five minutes they are on the street. And the Tories have been scoring political points off the idea for the last fifteen years.

David Davis, in 2007, laid into the then Labour Government for the fact that only 14% of officers' time was being spent "on the beat".  And now Nick Herbert (Policing Minister) is using the same argument to belittle Chief Constable Tony Melville's announcement that his Gloucestershire force is "on a cliff edge".

Still fits into his old stabbie... good man.
(Although that jacket looks suspiciously clean.)

Only last week the Chair of Greater Manchester's Police Federation wrote about being "stretched beyond capacity" and being "barely able to function".

Now a Chief Constable is saying the same things.  When a Chief goes on record and sounds the death knell of his own career, you should be afraid.  The residents of Cheltenham and Stroud will be quaking in their beds tonight.  That isn't undermining public confidence, it's telling the truth.

Police Minister Nick Herbert has trotted out the old excuse that it must be the Chief's fault if the money he has isn't going far enough.  Will Tony Melville invite the Home Office in to do better?  Just what exactly would Nick Herbert cut, if he was given the same budget?

Well, Theresa May says that policing is about cutting crime, "no more, no less".  So the first thing to go would be our response to missing persons and those self-harming or threatening suicide.  No longer will we deal with traffic collisions or close roads while firemen evacuate buildings.  We'll stop sectioning people barking at their own reflection on street corners, and ignore the request from Social Services to check on three vulnerable children because the mother's threatened to knock them out if they go round again.  We won't help scared victims collect their personal belongings so they can leave their violent partner, nor make those night-time visits on behalf of a doctor or coroner, with our hats in our hands.

And that's just the stuff that doesn't relate to crime.  I can't wait for Nick Herbert to get his big red pen on Gloucestershire's criminal justice departments, to see him announce just which tape summariser, file admin support worker and witness liaison officer can be done away with, and who is going to get convictions at court without them.

But more importantly than any of the above, will he cut those back office staff whose role is simply to massage crime figures and generate slews of pie charts, reports and policies?  Will he make good on his own rhetoric, and extinguish paperwork relating to risk aversion and the fear of litigation?

My guess, is that were Nick Herbert in any Chief Constable's position, in any force in the country, not only would he find himself unable to do any of the above, he wouldn't have the guts to do what Tony Melville has done, and put his neck on the block to make it public.

When will the next member of ACPO follow suit?  And who will be first to join PC Nick Manning in front of a disciplinary panel for it?


How many Chiefs feel unable, or unwilling, to speak up?

It's all very well to harp on about the sacrosanct front-line, but before Chiefs can make the cuts in the right places, there has to be fundamental change to the infrastructure holding it all up: the Criminal Justice System, Health and Safety, and the law itself.  There's no point in telling someone to run their car with eco-fuel, if none of the filling stations around them provide it.

Of course, most Chief Constables aren't talking about any of this.  They're just piling more and more work onto fewer and fewer people, and blaming their own staff if they can't bear the load.  Come on, ACPO, let's hear a few more of you clamouring for a better deal.

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

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Curious Incident of the Blog in the Night-time

The revelation of celebrity hacking at the News of the World has opened a plethora of worm-cans, one of which has ultimately lead to a report by Elizabeth Filkin warning against the 'cosy' relationship between the press and the police.

As both a police officer and a type of journalist - albeit an unregulated, unedited type - this latest move is of interest, and suggests an imminent tightening of the net in regards to police blogging.  But the general public view is unclear.  There's a juxtaposition going on: the same people who bemoan the lack of information given by the police are also asking for us not to have close relationships with journalists.  The same voices crying out against hacker-gate are also calling for more freedom of the press.

So are we supposed to be giving information to journalists or not?

If you were to ask Blandshire Constabulary's media officer, the answer would be about as clear as mud.  What's more she'd have to write to the Chief Constable's Management Team before using the word 'mud', and to ensure the font size was not discriminating against anyone.  In the world of Twenty-First Century policing, we're very confused about the media.

And, as can be seen in the case of the blogger Nightjack, the media are very confused about us.  When The Times set out to 'out' Nightjack, on the spurious grounds that 'he might not have been a police officer (but was)', they seemed confused between the concepts of a corrupt police officer, a vigilante member of the public, and an anonymous source.  As a whistle-blower into the inner workings of the police, he should have been the latter.  As an independent journalist requiring no editor, or payment, they went for him the former.  And interestingly enough, this article suggests they actually outed him by way of computer hacking.

Perhaps all of the above is an indication that relations between the police and the media are a complete mess, and that we do need some form of guide-lines.  But if the result is a greater breakdown in communications, not only will it further harm the public image of the police, but it may actually damage our ability to handle a massive investigation such as the Soham murders, or a Madeleine McCann on British soil.  When it comes to the crunch and a child is missing presumed-about-to-be-murdered, a strong pre-existing relationship with the media is vital to ensure the right information is released or withheld.

The above is an extreme example, but there are day-to-day concerns too, and Elizabeth Filkin's report talks largely about senior officers, rather than the likes of me.  No doubt the reaction of Blandshire Constabulary, to my regular conversations with journalists and editors, would be one of horror.  But why should good media relations be the remit only of the highly-ranked?  Is a senior officer's lunch with a journalist any more or less corrupt than the neighbourhood bobby's coffee with a councillor?  Or my phone-call with Radio Five Live?  If the police is to truly connect with the media, and the public, we need to start giving more information, from a wider range of sources.  The era of Twitter is not that of the carefully-worded press release, but the off-the-cuff witticism.  Done without prejudicing any investigation or trial, naturally...

Of course, there is one problem with the vision of openness and transparency, and it's a problem that means such a vision will never be realised.  If you embrace the concept of total transparency, it means you actually have to be carrying out your role with integrity and principle. Perhaps PC Nick Manning can raise this when he faces Professional Standards for his Tweets on Dorset's staffing levels. Is it his Tweeting that has undermined public confidence in his force, or is it his force's severe under-resourcing?  Or as I will respond in my pre-prepared statement: 'If you don't want it blogged about, don't do it.'   

Perhaps, one day, Blandshire Constabulary will have its own blog, that actually tells you the truth about Twenty-First Century Policing.  Until that day, some of us will have to have beer with journalists.  Or cappuccino, in my case.


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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Truth About Police Pay

When I joined the police in the Twenty-First Century, any request for someone to work overtime was met with a barrage of "Me me!"  Rest day working was pounced on and you couldn't fight bank holiday volunteers off with a stick.

Christmas 2011, on a variety of bank holidays, I had cause to phone a number of officers asking them to come in early, or stay late, for double time.  An hour at a PC's wage might be worth anything up to £30.  Was I batting away eager money-grabbing officers left, right and centre?  Was I heck.  I found not one single volunteer for a couple of hours' overtime, and out of the fifteen officers I phoned to come in early, five answered their phones and only three were available.

When we get to Christmas 2012, and the latest pay recommendations are imposed, those three will be one, if we're lucky.  If someone is the other side of the country, has had a drink, or isn't well, they can't be made to come into work.  Which makes you wonder just what Chief Officers were envisaging when they signed their names to the infamous "forty-nine recommendations" letter that in 2010 signalled the decline of police pay and conditions.

I predict the following moves by Blandshire Constabulary to counter the demotivation and apathy that will accompany the slashing of our pay and perks:
  • They will investigate those officers who say they are away or ill when asked to work on a rest day.
  • They will start to discipline officers who refuse to work overtime or rest days.
  • They will put in place an involuntary overtime system. 

The response will be a gradual challenge by individuals or groups, about whether you can force people to work and place restrictions on their personal lives, in the Twenty-First Century.  The governments of today will see those changes they appear to desire, in the form of:
  • Police officers will become like any other employee.  They will not be able to be forced to work, and will not put themselves out to do so.
  • With no privileges, prestige or perks, or any possibility of self-advancement, new recruits will fall into two categories: those with no real prospects of a promising career, and those desiring to get ahead at all costs.  The concept of the vocational police officer, who has dreamed of wearing the uniform since childhood, will be gone.
Perhaps I'm being melodramatic.  But the police force of this country has been unique, in that university graduates, squaddies, plumbers, lawyers and doctors can all announce their change to the role of police officer without any shame.  It is a career that enables upward mobility, and embraces philanthropists.

The future is uncertain, but it will take giant steps to recover what we are losing.

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

Friday, January 06, 2012

Headline Famine

The first week in January generally brings a lull in the madness that has been Blandmore for the last few weeks.  This year, it seems, there is also a lull in news.

At least, that's the only explanation I can find for the ludicrous headline: "Police called to killer's house" which has been used to head a number of articles today about the fact that police had visited Michael Atherton's house "four times in just two years".

Whoever signed off on the use of the word "just" in this sentence should be brought before the Press Complaints Commission.  For starters, the two years in question were 2002-2004.  Secondly, four times in two years is not an inordinately high number - at least, not by the standards of families that have the type of domestics resulting in police attendance.  There is a couple in Blandmore who have police attendance twice a month, usually because she's refusing to let him pick up the dog for his weekly access visit, or because he's sent her a text saying she's a 'hoare'.  He might kill her one day, but so might I.

There is a relevant piece of information in today's news: that Atherton in 2008 threatened to shoot himself.  In Blandmore, in 2012, if he did that, his shotguns would be removed.  However, if he saw a doctor and showed that he had made the remark in an intoxicated state, and was not suicidal or crazy (which I would guess Atherton was not when sober), the guns might be returned.  This is because we do not live in the world of Minority Report, where you can be arrested and imprisoned for crimes you are yet to commit.

By contrast, unlike the media, and no doubt the IPCC, the government, and a slew of people with two slews of opinions, the Bidve family has been conducting itself with the utmost dignity, following the fatal shooting of their son.

Said Mr Bidve: "The only person we blame is the person who was responsible for taking Anuj away from us in this senseless act of violence on Boxing Day morning."

If more victims and families took this approach, the law in this country would be a lot simpler.

That said, a blogger will be the first to admit that the police always have room for improvement.  It might be interesting to compare the 2012 investigation and trial of "Psycho Stapleton", for the Anuj Bidve shooting, with the utterly botched investigation into the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, that has finally reached some sort of resolution.  Whatever your view on institutional racism and the lorry-load of bureaucracy the phrase has brought about, the Stephen Lawrence murder has fine-tuned our approach to scene management, exhibit-handling, and identification matters.  I don't know what part these played in the Bidve investigation, but I imagine the approach was thoroughly professional.

Whatever the outcome, the headlines today show that in the years I've been writing this blog, two things have not changed:
  • Murder is always tragic.
  • The culture of blame is alive and well.
It is 2012, and this Twenty-First Century Police Officer is still wringing her hands.

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


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