Burning questions

Morning log count – 2550

One fringe benefit, if I can call it that, of terrorism is an increase in armed response vehicles, such that they are usually much more readily available for non-terrorism incidents. Although as detailed before, they have a wide variety of lethal toys on board, an ideal scenario is one where they finish the day with the same number of bullets as they started. 

So meet Bob. Bob split up with his wife and moved out, and retained access to their child, Bob junior. One day, bringing Bob junior back to his mum, Bob lost the plot completely about his forthcoming divorce, and the soon-to-be ex-wife rang hysterically as he had locked himself and Bob junior in the car on her drive, after pouring petrol over the car, and was now sat in the front with a lighter, Bob junior strapped in his car seat in the front, and the petrol can on the back seat. 

An armed response car is sent along with everyone else, including the Fire Brigade, and having heard the job over the radio, request authority from the inspector to take a critical shot when they get there, i.e. shoot Bob through the head with a rifle before he starts trying to light the lighter. The boss considers it, but declines at this stage based on the grounds that : 

*The petrol sloshed around was on the outside of the car, not the inside, and will be difficult to ignite from inside the car.

*Bob has had several minutes to try and light up should that really be his intention, and has not done so. 

*Petrol burning on the outside of a car will not be immediately dangerous to the occupants. 

*Fire Brigade are on scene and in a position to drench the car in foam in a couple of seconds, should Bob be so silly. 

An officer, armed or otherwise, can always use lethal force despite lack of such authority, if such a situation changes and there isn’t time to discuss the changes with anyone, largely common sense, but also national police policy, thank God, but there turns out to be no need. Although a negotiator is called, Bob is talked out of the car fairly shortly and arrested. Good luck trying to get access to your child through the courts once you get out of prison. 

Anyway,  as always, there is a debrief after an incident where we’ve come close to shooting someone. Questions raised : 

If the petrol had been sloshed around INSIDE the car, would they have been given the authority? Yes. A bullet passing through glass is very unlikely to cause a spark. It will, however, then pass through  Bobs skull, and cause him to stop doing what he’s doing. 

Would a bullet have been deflected by the glass enough to endanger Bob junior? Almost impossible. A bullet going at 2,500 feet a second will not be deflected much in the 1 or 2 foot gap between the window and Bobs head. 

Once the bullet had passed through Bob, would it have caused harm anywhere else? Very unlikely, we use hollow-point bullets which fragment on impact for that exact reason. He was parked near to a wall which would have stopped any fragments going further. 

Unpleasant questions to ask, but necessary. Some of the questions asked have to be answered at the scene in a few seconds, some after the event, we have all day, but we would prefer to learn from success as well as failure.

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Are you trying to be funny?

This just in…Dame Caroline Spelman, MP for Meriden in Solihull, is launching a petition for an increased police presence for her constituents.

I have it on reliable authority from someone who works in that force (West Midlands) that Solihull is the quietest area in the whole force. I also have it on reliable authority that the minimum staffing levels for Solihull are so low, if you go there shopping and stop in McDonalds for lunch, there will be more staff behind the counter than there are response officers on duty. Despite this being the case for a long time, their workload does not spiral out of control, suggesting the number is about right.

Dame Caroline is a Conservative MP, and has been for 20 years. 

Who has steadfastly voted to support the austerity measures that have led to reduced staffing levels. 

In the same week that an unnamed Conservative MP told officers at the Conservative Party conference that she wasn’t impressed with the numbers of officers on duty to protect them. Funny that, given what austerity has done to staffing levels. Last year, an MP was struck by a protesters flying egg, hence her concern. Eggs aren’t generally dangerous if thrown, and this one wasn’t even hard-boiled, so my sympathy-o-meter is firmly sat on zero. 

There are domestic assaults reported in my force, and doubtless every force round the country, that are a week old and haven’t been seen yet, largely due to staffing levels. Most domestic murders in this country (3 a week on average) have a long domestic history to them before the final episode. Lack of prompt police attendance makes both parties think the police won’t come out, encouraging one to do it again and the other not to ring when it does happen. And we’re supposed to be concerned about eggs. 

Reap what you sow. 

Groundhog Day

Every day I attend a meeting shortly after the start of each shift, where the duty superintendent liaises with various department reps via internal Skype. The format is the same – recent serious incidents, high risk missing people, current threat to life jobs, then the staff / workload position (my bit) and so on. It can tactfully be described as 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. As most people do in most meetings, I try not to let my eyes glaze over during the bits that don’t apply to me, and summarise my bit as quickly as possible so others eyes don’t start to do the same. 

 The meeting inevitably ends with the Supt’s summary, the mission statement for the day, if you like, which is always ‘Our priorities are gun crime and demand’ (i.e. the constant flow of incoming 999 and 101 calls). So much so, I can recite each meeting virtually word for word, the way cinema buffs can for their favourite film. And the film is Groundhog Day. 

 Earlier this year, our live jobs total was around the 1,200 mark. For as yet unknown reasons, given that we have essentially the same population as last year, over Summer the total climbed to 2,500. Twice the workload. Twice as many people requiring some form of contact with the same number of police. With a hint of panic in the air, training courses were cancelled. Overtime was thrown around like confetti at a particularly extravagant wedding – on one day last month, we spent £70,000 in overtime in ONE DAY, to try and get the total down. 

Beat officers stopped walking the beat, detectives stopped detecting jobs handed them by other people and started picking up routine jobs, so did the child abuse and adult abuse specialists. All hands to the pumps, you might say. Stubbornly hammering away at the list, it gets slowly battered down to 1,600 jobs over the course of Summer, at the cost of a great many other things, and plans were made to gradually start tapering down the extra support.

 Then the London Tube bomb happened, a combination of the twitchiness after that and a busy weekend, and we’re back up to 2,300 jobs again. Summers hard work undone in a weekend. We’re failing, as simple as that. No fault of the staff, they work non-stop 24/7, but if you’re in a queue to see the police, the queue is nearly twice as long as it was 6 months ago.

The 1%

A list of the most recent ten jobs in force: 

1. Domestic abuse. Caller reports his mother is being verbally abused and threatened by estranged husband, who wants money for prostitutes. There is already a restraining order against him, and he’s stated that the prostitutes ‘manager’ has threatened to harm his estranged family unless he pays up. 

2. Elderly male, reporting £300 stolen from his address overnight, he found the door open this morning and the money gone and his chequebook missing also. There’s a hint of alzheimers about it, as there’s no damage to his door, but no previous history to the address to support this or to rule it out. 

3. Caller reporting someone going through black bin bags, concerned about ID fraud. 

4. Silent 999 call, no reply on callback. 

5. A repeat shoplifter violently resisting staff who are detaining him. 

6. Male with apparent mental health issues being very angry in the middle of the road, throwing bins around, and last seen heading into an off-licence. 

7. Caller at a petrol station reporting a bilking (drive off without paying) last night, £112 worth of diesel fuel taken, and the registration plate given says the car is a Nissan Micra. I used to own one, there is NO WAY you can get that much fuel into a Micra unless you’re pouring it in the boot. Either the registration taken is wrong, or it was a false plate. 

8. Contact from a triage car – several forces are trialling these, it’s a vehicle jointly crewed by a police officer, a paramedic and a qualified mental health nurse, streamlining the process of getting mental health patients into care. They contact ambulance service over a patient and log it, he is taken straight to a hospital for his own safety, and doesn’t have to come through a custody suite first. 

9. Front window to a Pizza takeaway smashed in by a large rock, which is still at the scene, making the premises vulnerable to being burgled. 

10. Semi-abandoned 999 call from a hairdressers, the number has previously been used to report a domestic assault, as the female caller this time sound confused and distressed and can’t really tell us what is going on, it is initially treated as a domestic assault this time. 

The next ten are similar. A fairly typical random survey of response work. We have over 2,000 such calls in the system at present, so that’s less than 1% of the total, and around 160 officers on each incoming shift to deal with it all. All this against a backdrop of massively increased workload after last weeks failed bomb attempt on the underground, plenty of officers are taken off normal duties to patrol (i.e. stand around visibly) nearby certain public locations to reassure people. All response officers are moving onto 12 hour shifts for at least a week. 

More routine work will inevitably have to wait longer, and the overtime bill will go through the roof. Thanks to last weeks payrise, the money we as a force have to spend on overtime has just gone down. As an individual, I’m glad to get a 2% payrise this year, not the usual 1% and there’s no point in saying otherwise. But as a taxpayer, knowing that government imposed the payrise on forces but didn’t give them any extra money for that payrise, means I know the money has to be cut from somewhere else. As around 2/3 of force budgets are on wages, which have gone up by 1% in real terms, this means a roughly 2% cut in everything else our money is spent on to balance the books. So cars will take longer to get fixed, uniform will take longer to arrive, when computers break, they will take longer to get fixed. Maybe less officers will be recruited in future.

So the 1% isn’t really an improvement from your point of view.

La la, la la la la, la la la la la!

smurfTaking the train to work for a little bit as my car’s off the road, I was not best pleased to get half-way in one day and realise I’d neglected to pack a work-shirt in my bag. Especially as I was wearing a Smurfs t-shirt for the journey to work, that won’t be appreciated in the afternoon strategy meeting. Thankfully I manage to find a spare fleece hung up somewhere and conceal said Smurf.

Last week, I had to help the conductor throw an angry woman off the train for shouting abuse at random passengers because the compartment didn’t have fitted TV screens. Like you do. We get free rail travel in this force area as long as the journey is to, from or during work, on the understanding that you get involved in something like this if you have to, this was the first time for me in 20 years, so I haven’t done bad.

I mention the Smurf episode as talking to the duty Chief Inspector yesterday about why so many of his staff were on restricted duties, normally due to injury/pregnancy etc, one of them is restricted purely because he’s transferred from another force, and he hasn’t been supplied with uniform yet. It’s strange how I can find spare uniform when required, but the force who’s supposed to supply it to me can’t. I’ve got new trousers on order, and I’ve been waiting 2 months so far for them to arrive.

Incidentally, ‘Smurfing’ is a phrase used in financial crime. If you’re a drug dealer, and you have lots and lots of paper money to bank, you can’t just turn up at the bank and drop 5 carrier bags of £20 notes on the counter and not expect to get remarked upon. There are limits above which any financial transaction has to be reported to the authorities in one form or another, to try and identify suspicious transactions.

Let’s say the limit is £10,000. You employ lots of minions to take £9,900 each and go transfer it by Western Union, bank and then eBay, bank it etc, to go just below the trigger level for reporting. As this can involve lots of little people running around like lunatics to get a job done as efficiently as possible, it became known as Smurfing. Perhaps we should employ some of them to run the stores?

Variety is the spice of life…

A quick chat with a friend on one of the control terminals, while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, yields a disgusting sight. On a council CCTV monitor on the wall, on a busy Saturday night, a close in view of a couple sitting on the pavement outside a pub, clearly off their faces, and trying to prepare some kind of powder for consumption. It’s comical in a sad sort of way, watching them barely able to sit without falling over and trying to do something requiring fine motor skills with an expensive substance. I don’t know what it is, obviously, it could be cocaine, could be spice, but I know it’s not sherbet. 
One takes his phone out and they use the screen as a flat surface to line up their purchase. One quick snort each and you’d think it would be all gone, but no! Even drug takers are reacting to austerity and adapting. The female takes the phone and licks the screen to get the last of it. Eeeew. As we’re simply overrun with pub violence at kicking out time, we can’t send anyone before they’ve finished taking it, at which point they’re more likely to be an issue for the ambulance service than us. 

This squalid little scenario is probably repeated a thousand times across town on a Friday or Saturday night, but rarely quite so publicly. Sad that four billion years of evolution leads to this occasionally. I spoke to a friend at work recently, who’s wife qualified as an accountant, but moved to teaching as after 6 years of working with spreadsheets, she decided she’d prefer to deal with human beings. Unfortunately, after 6 years of dealing with human beings such as these, I long ago realised the opposite.

A fare cop, AKA buffoon of the week VIII

Taxi drivers get some stick from passengers, it’s fair to say. If a passenger runs off rather than pay the fare, inevitably time spent dealing with it costs the driver more in lost fares than the original fare, even assuming it can be recovered, so very few bother. Which sucks, because it just encourages people to do it again. Principle’s all very well, but they have to put food on the table, just like everyone else, and time is money.

Which makes this buffoon of the week winner all the better. Bob the taxi driver picked up a couple in town and took them to their home address. At which point they got out and ran. Bob is now down about £10, and is annoyed about it quite rightly.

Until, that is, he spots the woman’s handbag on the back seat, where she has left it. Quite within his rights, Bob takes money out of her purse equal to the fare, then heads off to the local police station to report it. In a stroke of genius, he leaves the meter running and when he gets there, helps himself to the fare from their house to the police station as well.

In a stroke of luck, he can be seen immediately. He checks that what he’s done is ok, and is reassured its fine, he’d have been within his rights to bill them for the time spent reporting it too. So he does. The feckless owner of the handbag is rung and invited to come to the police station to collect it, and is duly knocked off for making off without payment when she arrives.

Not only that, but she’s also down about £15 MORE than if she’d just paid up in the first place.

Well played, sir, well played.

(This kind of stupidity is very common. Years ago, one of our prolific vehicle crime offenders, Barry M, broke into a car right in front of two plain clothes officers on a football match day, when the villains know no-ones going to be coming back to their car for a while. A foot chase ensues, Barry goes onto a wheely bin and over the roof of a pub, and to change his appearance without being seen, ditches his jacket on the pub roof while temporarily out of sight.

With his immaculately filled in jobseekers application forms in one pocket.

Again, well played sir, well played)