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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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.


 

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13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having had some problems with the press in the past i find treating them as the enemy who will twist your words and make things up works quite well.

20 January, 2012 18:11

 
Anonymous Ben said...

I agree. Police are being criticised for giving information to the press which should be available as a matter of policy.

The police should be giving out more information to the press not less.

In most of the US, arrest records are public documents for example, and local journalists often drop by the station to see who has been arrested. As a consequence everyone knows that most arrests in high profile crimes are of people not involved and don't hiss about it. Plus they can then drive over to the arrestee's house and ask what he made of it, how he was treated, etc.

In this country we have a very odd, and indeed increasingly odd, attitude to such things. Even actual criminal convictions are treated in many cases as sensitive personal information, rather than being available on a public website. It's a criminal offence for example under the DPA to require a job applicant to submit a Criminal Conviction Certificate to back up his statement that he has no convictions, unless there is a specific public interest justification. The prevention of crime is specifically excluded as a justification.

Everyone is familiar with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Who can be against rehabilitation?

Of course there have been many holes smashed in the Act - exceptions for medical and legal professions and for the police of course. We want to know that these are not dishonest or with a propensity to violence.

But don't we also want to know that our general manager is not a fraudster? That our warehouseman hasn't got convictions for theft in breach of trust? That a ticket collector hasn't got convictions for sudden outbursts of violence? That a heavy machinery operator doesn't use drugs?

And of course the whole purpose CRB checks is to drive a lorry through the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

And now we have proposals for allowing women contemplating a new relationship to enquire about their paramour's offending history. (I have no problem with that - except that the information should be freely available to us all.)

One can understand that for minors, but for crimes committed as an adult surely the right way to rehabilitate oneself is to **live it down**.


There is no reason for the criminal convictions of adults to be anything other than an open book.

Likewise the activities of the Police, including arrest records, should be open to scrutiny.

20 January, 2012 21:01

 
Anonymous painauchocolat said...

Not sure I agree with Ben that "the activities of the police...should be open to scrutiny" - there are some "activities" which are best kept secret, to avoid jeopardizing an on-going case.

And the US policy, of showing pictures and names of arrested SUSPECTS doesn't sit easy with me either - just look at the media circus that whipped up around Jo Yeates's landlord Christopher Jefferies when he was arrested. Parts of the media were practically foaming at the mouth about him, just because he "looked odd" and had been arrested - and following media logic of "there's no smoke without fire" he was obviously a Wrong 'Un. Now the poor guy has to rebuild his life, and some people will still have prejudices against him.

I believe that if we go down the US route, this kind of thing will happen more often. That's not the fault of the police, it's the fault of the media in the UK.

21 January, 2012 16:28

 
Anonymous Z. Constantine said...

Had a close friend who was being stalked - you can imagine how frustrating the police's subdued laughter was at the idea she "receive protection".

Was listening to the police scanner, there's an unmistakable note of sarcasm when dispatch is advised "So he hasn't actually threatened or hit her yet? Call back when he does."

How do you reconcile the fact of policing - much as police would love to protect citizenry from criminals, they're really functioning in the capacity of maintaining the image of law and order so society at large can continue conducting business - with the public's inculcated perception that the police really should be protecting citizens?

Transparency would ruin the illusion and obviate peoples' perceived dependency on police - for protection, at least.

21 January, 2012 22:30

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with what painauchocolat has said above. Spot on. One only has to think long and hard about the McCanns experiences of the press, to come to the conclusion that the media are out of control in many ways.

The McCanns, thinking that they were doing the best thing to help find Madeleine, went to them for help. It wasn't long before people were being falsely accused and condemned as "guilty" by the press, including one poor guy who had acted as an interpreter for the Portuguese police! Then they turned on the McCanns and accused them of kidnapping and harming their own child, which was very nasty, and untrue. The press don't give a toss about who THEY hurt and harm with their lies and twisted stories. They can be the cause of considerable distress to innocent people, who often cannot fight back, nor afford to put the record straight.

Even a grudging apology from the press, for having got their facts wrong, and probably ruined someones life, is tucked away in small print, which could be missed by many who just wouldn't bother to read it, as they concentrate on the main articles and big headlines. The press are unfair.

People remember the negative stuff written by the press, and form fixed opinions that are often based upon lies or biased and misleading reporting.

The potential for abuses of power, by the press and by police officers, is considerable. It has happened many times in the past, when some with an agenda to hide the truth of a matter, feed misinformation and red herrings to the press as as anonymous source.
That can drive public opinion and result in witch-hunts of innocent people who are deemed to be "guilty", because the press had dug the dirt and printed every negative bit of tittle tattle and nonsense they could get their hands on, by hook or by crook.

Both the press and the police have the power to do great things when it comes to campaigns and actions for the improvement of bad situations; however they also have the power to totally destroy people's lives, with lies, and can be nasty and vindictive as they do it.

Something needs to change, because once the untruths and malicious backstabbing stories are out there in the public domain, many people continue to believe the worst of others, even if the facts prove otherwise. That RUINS lives.

This I know from personal experience as a child. YES, that's right, as a child and a victim and survivor of very serious abuse, who was lucky to have escaped a paedophile ring. The press wrote some very nasty things because they didn't know the full story....So they made a victim of abuse and attempted murder the convenient scapegoat, fed by anonymous 'police' sources.

There are still some folk even today, who would like to use the incorrect press articles from over 50 years ago, to proclaim my so called "guilt" and to justify THEIR unfair treatment of me.

However, I'm not bitter.

I'm a "Special"! :-)

21 January, 2012 22:57

 
Anonymous Paysan said...

Two things spring to mind here, (1) The press exist to sell newspapers and that means writing up stories that people want to read. Reporters are continually reminded to write up stories in the idiom of their readers. Also, on a slow day they are not above mendacious reporting or making something up; remember David Mellor, the football shirt and his then current mistress? It sells newspapers. (2) Regarding Nighjack who, in my view, wrote very well and was picked off by the press, well no professional ever likes enthusiastic amateurs

24 January, 2012 13:32

 
Blogger Ciaran Rehill said...

Police blogs seem akin to the chatter of nonces, lots of reification. You are not respected by "MOPs" and then whine endlessly in canteen culture talk about what ****ers we are. Plod spend time on MSM and far left sites trying to troll (Derek G Haslam is a case in point). Odd how far right plod are not arrested for doing a lot more than "Lets have a riot in Dundee" bloggers do. Stay warm;)

24 January, 2012 13:34

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ciaran,
Are you in fact a troll? You clearly have no concept of 'police culture' except what you may have picked up in the Gaurdian. There is no 'canteen culture' as there are no canteens, indeed it is rare these days that you'll get the same shift of officers working together due to current working patterns. Most officers I know really can't be bothered to 'troll' others and if you have some evidence of 'far right plod' please out with it. If not I suggest you take your naive attitude back to the Gaurdian where you can live in la la land.

24 January, 2012 14:31

 
Anonymous uniform said...

the facts are that those that control the message , and it's distribution , used to control the agenda.

what the nightjack episode tells us is that newspapers , and TV , want to be paid for their art

the editor who says he disciplined the journalist for hacking into his Hotmail account has had is cake and eaten it

the temerity of an unpaid person winning the Orwell prize huh?

24 January, 2012 15:07

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ciaran, Derek G Haslam trolls on police bloggs too. He sometimes calls himself DCI Haslam VC, for some reason.

Its nice to know that he shares his lunatic ravings to a wide audience.

24 January, 2012 17:47

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ciaran,
I am not wholly convinced that the Derek Haslam trolling on gadget isn't you ;-).
As for your bitter and repeated diatribes against Haslam himself - it appears he may have been in the police for a couple of years, maybe you know more? If you have actual evidence of him committing offences then please pass it on - unsubstantiated allegations, other than being libellous, are no use to anyone.

As for the similarity between police blogs and paedophile chat - do you have any particular reason to be familiar with paedophile websites?

Tang0

24 January, 2012 17:53

 
Blogger staghounds said...

"maintaining the image of law and order so society at large can continue conducting business"

And maybe always has been.

24 January, 2012 18:04

 
Anonymous Mrs Doughnut said...

I think any police officer needs to be EXTREMELY careful before speaking to the media and / or trying to use the media during an investigation.

Chris Jeffries is currently claiming police leaked information about him to the press (to ruin his reputation before a possible trial among other things) and I believe he´s correct in his assumption.

After it became clear he had non, in fact, murdered Joanna Yates, there was no way to take it all back, was there?

So, one innocent man´s reputation down the drain, and for what?

You sometimes write in the Guardian, a risky strategy to get your messege out indeed, and I hope for your sake that your id is well hidden.

I´m waiting for a conclusion of Nick Manning´s hearing with interest, as it no doubt will be used as a precedent on police blogging.

Be very careful, is all I can say...

26 January, 2012 13:11

 

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