Market forces

There’s a pub just off my old area with the wierdest licensing hours I’ve ever heard of, it opens from 4am until lunchtime. Yes, you read that right. Not lunchtime until 4am. It serves the major market just off the city centre, and caters for those who get there at stupid o’clock in the morning to set up their stalls. They could probably open for longer, but the regular clientele are notorious for not causing problems, so why risk it with more conventional drinkers?

One pleasant Monday morning, Bob and I were sent to a guy who’d rung up to confess to a theft. More specifically to the theft of a dozen wooden flowers from said market, spray painted gold, which he’d stolen on the way home from a night out. He told us the story when we got there.

He’d been in town the night before, was ambling home in a pleasant alcohol induced haze when he wandered past said boozer just as it was opening.

He popped in for one for the road, so to speak, entranced by a pub that opens just as the nightclubs are kicking out, and the bar staff explain why the hours are so bizarre. It gets to about 7am and he realises that one drink has turned into several and the girlfriend will be cross. Realising he’s in trouble and in the market, both problem and solution are magically in the same place.

He staggers off round the market, looking with increasing desperation for something to disarm the girlfriend related wrath. Eventually, running out of ideas, he sees the gold painted flowers, and salvation is at hand. Unfortunately, his last pennies had already been spent on lager, and in his confusion, he grabs an armful and runs.

He gets home, but is struck by guilt at depriving a hard-working person of their income. In his confused state, he asked the girlfriend what to do, who said ring the police and get it sorted.

Bob and I tootled over, and spoke to the still inebriated chap. He ‘fessed up, but couldn’t exactly describe where the stall was. Admittedly not our brightest move with the benefit of hindsight (it was a technical breach of PACE) but to clarify who the victim was, when he offered to try and find the specific stall, we accepted. We put him in the back of the car and drove off to the market.

Although he was genuinely trying his best, we just couldn’t find anywhere selling gold flowers, or indeed flowers of any colour other than what nature intended. Due to his inability to stand for long periods and the fact he was in custody, we’d have been in a lot of trouble if he’d fallen over and hurt himself, so we gave up fairly soon and took him in.

When the doctor said he was sober enough to be interviewed, it was done in record time, and then the duty inspector, Mr Onions (another old school legend like Bob, albeit with a Welsh accent so thick he was difficult to follow sometimes) authorised a caution. Another technical breach of PACE, I found out later, as without a victim we probably didn’t have enough evidence to charge him, and cautioning someone can only be done if you do, but that one was down to the boss, not me.

I asked Mr O. why he did this, as he was notorious for always choosing to charge if someone had previous convictions, and our man had plenty. His reply taught me a lot – “It’s the right thing to do” – legally we should have bailed the guy, then left him on tenderhooks for a month while we went back to the market and made further efforts to locate the stall in question. Only by this point the market was shut, so if we’d gone back the next available day, there’d be no guarantee the stall holder would be there again, and from the lack of pursuit at the time, they almost certainly hadn’t seen the theft anyway, so wouldn’t know they were a victim. Not an efficient use of public money to spend all that time for £5 worth of tat.

Our drunk friend had lots of previous already, so one caution on top of that wouldn’t have ruined his life or anything. He’d been silly but done the right thing ultimately, and the boss wasn’t going to screw him over for it. We drove him home to his girlfriend, and left him with it. We only had the flowers left to get rid of then, the boss signed the form to authorise disposing of them and suggested we give them to the nearest charity shop. Job done.

Buffoon of the week VI

There hasn’t been a buffoon of the week for a while, I’ve not seen anyone who I think really qualifies.

Until now.

Young Saddam Miah, drain on society that he so clearly is with 25 convictions on his CV, was lucky to get a suspended sentence for supplying class A drugs. In places like Thailand or Iran, he’d be hanging from a crane before long, and in the USA, he’d be in for so long, he’d forget what the sun looked like.

But here, he gets away with a suspended sentence. While it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and rant about the judiciary going soft, I obviously haven’t read the judges summing up or any pre-sentence reports, so I’ll refrain. But it’s fair to say he was happy with the outcome.

So happy, in fact, that he went out, got blind drunk in a hotel to celebrate, then threw a vase round reception to get the staffs attention. When they objected to his behaviour, he went outside and smashed up someones car, for reasons best known to himself.

That being naughty, he went back to court, and was promptly sent to prison for celebrating NOT going to prison.

The irony made me smile, but I doubt it had the same effect on him.

It’s not how many police officers you’ve got…

…it’s how you use them that matters. Yeah, right. While the Queens Speech meanders its way through Parliament, we meander through another day.

The total of outstanding 999/101 calls to be dealt with is around 2100 (having been down to 1200 only a month ago), thanks largely to cheap alcohol, plus hot weather and stupidity, which are free. For this week, neighbourhood policing basically stops and it’s all hands to the pumps to bring the workload down. Not out of concern for the response staff, (someone will always find us something to do whether it’s 999 calls or getting cats out of trees – true story), but the longer apparently inane calls go unseen, the longer the occasional one that’s actually really nasty goes unseen too. As mentioned previously, I’ve been to rapes and murders that came in as ‘we’ve had a bit of a row’ and minor verbal arguments over a garden fence called in as ‘The neighbour is killing my husband’, and I’m pretty sure every cop around the world has had similar. Until you’re actually there, you just don’t know for sure. 

As the Prime Minister said, “It’s not the number of MP’s you’ve got that matters, it’s how you use them that counts”. Oops, I meant to say officers, not MP’s. Silly me. Apparently if you’re in government and some of your MP’s are taken away by the electorate, you get to negotiate the issue to get new ones, even if they are someone else’s. if it happens to public services, not so much.

Looking at the Queens Speech, the draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill illustrates the point perfectly. It will be welcome, but like any legislation, it’s futile unless the staff are there to enforce it. After having the obvious pointed out to them, again, by Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley of the Met police recently, that moving staff to counter-terrorist functions moves them away from other areas of work, such as domestic abuse, child abuse and so on, the Home Office response can be summarised as 1) Overall police funding will be protected in real terms and 2) Counter-terrorism funding will increase by 30% over the next five years. 

So where’s this 30% increase coming from? If your salary doesn’t rise but your mortgage does, a small child can work out that you’ll have to cut back somewhere else. So whatever good work is required by the Domestic Violence bill will simply enter a queue, that will just get longer and longer. As you’re far far more likely to die at the hands of a violent ex-partner or a drunk driver than a terrorist, I’d question the logic of such a disparity in funding. 

Governments and propsective governments love trumpeting new legislation, but we don’t need new laws, we need the resources to enforce the existing ones. It’s quite simple, but from a government where the Home Secretary doesn’t even know the starting salary of police officers, a figure set by the very Winsor report that they commissioned, I’m not holding out much hope. 

Our queue of jobs has gone up 60% in the last 2 months, even with drafting in almost all beat officers for the forseeable future, the staff level has not. Notable jobs in the last few days are a teenage boy drowning whilst swimming in a local lake, a tragic sign of the weather. One idiot with a firearm chases another idiot (presumably without a firearm) through a school grounds, taking potshots at him, thankfully hitting no-one but terrifying children in the process. A call about a possible helicopter crash thankfully turns out to be a false alarm. We plan for a far-right protest march at the weekend, taking a number of officers away from attending 999 calls for the day. Football season is thankfully over for a couple of months, otherwise we’d be planning for regular weekend matches on top of marches. 

To add to the fun today, one of the radio servers fails due to the heat. Our radio and telephone traffic is handled over three redundant servers, each sited in a different building, and one of those starts dropping out radio traffic and telephone calls. So we’re proof against hacking, car bomb attacks and the like, but not the sun. Hmm. There was a news article on the BBC a couple of days ago, about certain airline flights in the USA that were cancelled due to the heat. 

Without going into the tedium of fluid dynamics too much, air changes its behaviour as it gets hotter, both as it flows over the wings and goes through the engine, and above certain temperatures, some models of plane cannot safely be flown. Which begs the question of why our computer servers aren’t tested through a proper temperature range, and fitted with adequate cooling systems. Imagine having something like July 7th or any of the more recent attacks happen, and 1/3 of your radio coverage being taken away at the same time, it doesn’t bear thinking about. 

On the plus side, due to a sudden resupply of plastic forks (thanks mum!), I am no longer reduced to eating my dinner with teaspoons. So it’s not all bad.

Cutting comments…

The blog is a year old, as this week, yay me! Moving on…

Having had a fun time in Wales at a friends stag weekend, as you might expect, most of the participants were police connected one way or another. Much was made of the fact that the two advanced grade drivers in the group did very badly in the go-Cart racing. More to do with body-weight and power-to-weight ratios than ability, I think.

Slightly more serious was chatting with one of them at breakfast, a traffic officer in a county force. Five years ago, his department had 60 officers. Now they have 17.

But they’re not expected to cover the same area any more. Oh no. They have to cover the neighbouring police force as well, due to a sharing arrangement, that sees their responsibilities double, and their staff cut by nearly 75%. They still have the same number of fatal or serious road accidents to investigate, as well as normal duties.

But a cut in budgets doesn’t mean a cut in front-line numbers. David Cameron said so. 

Guess he didn’t know what he was talking about. If we cut the cabinet down to about 8 cabinet ministers and told them to run France as well, I wonder how they’d do?

Playing to your audience

Many moons ago, when I lived in Police Quarters (think halls of residence for coppers), as the new boy on shift, I was responsible for keeping the tea kitty stocked. Quelle surprise. One sunny day, I drove down to the local ASDA on my day off to stock up on coffee, teabags and UHT milk. And custard creams.

As I got out of the car, I saw a car with several security guards struggling with one of the occupants. Approaching one of them who could actually talk, I flashed my warrant card and enquired. It was a shoplifter who’d gone out with lots of spirits and was having a fairly determined attempt at not being detained. They’d already called the police, as he wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry, I rang up and got control to slow the car down, so they weren’t risking a bump on the way, then joined in the fun.

With a bit more of a struggle once they, I and the arriving bobbies got him out of the car (this was pre-leg strap days), we got him cuffed and into the panda car. It would have been obvious to anyone that his chance to get away had passed, but he kept fighting like a good’un. I’ve never understood why people do it personally, once there’s no benefit to be had, but some demented kind of pride makes some people keep going for hours, long after common sense or self-interest has left the building.

The best bit was this was just about the time that Disney released The Lion King, and as part of the publicity they commissioned a number of Disney themed play-buses to public spots, which included the local ASDA. The compere, for want of a better description, was in costume and giving a running commentary via microphone while all the fisticuffs was going on, an entirely supportive one I hasten to add, and we had somewhat of an audience. When he was finally contained in the police car, still shouting and swearing and bouncing round on the back seat like an angry wasp, the compere insisted we all bow for the crowd, who gave us a round of applause into the bargain. It has to go down as one of the more surreal arrests I’ve been involved in.

I was feeling most amused at this point, agreed with the bobbies to meet them at the custody block, grabbed the tea fund supplies quickly, then motored over. This was pre 9/11 days and the IRA had given up by this point, so station security wasn’t as rigorous as it is now. Once you were inside in civvies, no-one challenged you and crucially no lanyard with your ID was required. I got the pin code to the cell block as it wasn’t my station, got within sight of the desk and waited for my man to get to the head of the queue.

Just as the previous prisoner was taken to his cell, the custody officer, angry little dwarf that he was, looked at me and said, quite sincerely, ‘Who brought you in then?’.

Time to buy better clothes, apparently.

Still, that didn’t take the shine off a day where I’d been cheered on to do my job by a crowd whipped up into a frenzy by Simba the Lion.

Do you want fried rice with that? II, AKA photobombed by rats.

Not exactly austerity policing here, but due to workload at the time, it felt like it. A while back, my division had a long bad period, it worked out at a murder/suspicious death every 2 1/2 weeks and a serious shooting around once a week, for a year. By serious shooting (as opposed to the comical variety), I mean either someone was wounded or automatic weapons were used.

A friend of mine did a 3 month CID attachment at the time, all he did every day for 3 months was go to work for around 16 hours, come home, occasionally buying food on the way, eat, sleep and occasionally run the washing machine/tumble dryer so he had more clean shirts. The three months paid for a new car.

So. Busy busy. One evening during this time, Bob and I got sent to a fight outside a Chinese takeaway, only about 200 yards from the station. Get there quickly and find two drunken idiots, one of whom had a serious head injury. We left him with ambo and got a description of the offenders from the other.

A little bit of a drive round, we spotted one of them, a quick foot chase and a bit of a scrap in an alleyway and he was in cuffs and in the back of the car, with a bit of gravel rash into the bargain. What can I say? If you will fight the police whilst face down on the pavement already, it’s not going to end well for you. Bob lodges the prisoner and as he’s now behaving, I amble back to the scene.

In short, two drunken idiots picked a fight with two other drunken idiots outside the Chinese  takeaway. One of them went into the Indian takeaway next door, took a stool out and clattered another over the head with it. Once he was released from hospital, he suffered with permanently severe epilepsy.

In the meantime, his box of sweet and sour chicken balls had fallen to the floor, and whilst standing there, I watched as rats ate it. Nice. Even if I did go onto the crime scene and chase them off, they’d only come back the minute I stopped, so the simplest thing to do was leave them to it. The scenes of crime guy was too busy to wait for them to bugger off, and as they effectively indicated where the ‘victim’ had been standing anyway, they ended up in the photos.

At Crown Court, I was asked by the judge to explain why we only had one defendant in the dock, not two, despite the fact he was named and identified. I had to plead our collective workload at the time, that identifying gunmen and murderers meant the CID didn’t have the resources to chase the relatively less violent too long, we had to settle for 50% of the results for 2% of the effort it would have taken to get 100%. Sad but true, and it happens more and more these days. His Worship seemed content with the answer anyway. I just wish the Daily Fail, oops, Mail was too.

The amusing postscript to the case was when the now epileptic victim refused to come to court. His honour threw his judicial teddy out of the pram and directed us to arrest said victim and drag him to court. Of the two officers who went, one was Bob of email prank fame. Bob and mrs Bob had just bought a house together, in the same town as me, and Bob was not best pleased to suddenly find the defendant lived 3 doors away from him. In a town 20 miles away. I mean, what are the odds? Anyway, we somehow choreographed it so they didn’t meet.

The less amusing postscript is when the victim (who was also a repeat offender, as is often the way), years later moved in with a woman in the same town, within a five minute walk of where I live. The probation service spoke to her due to his record, obviously I don’t know the exact content of the conversation, but it would have gone along the lines of ‘You do know that he’s a violent impulsive psychopath, don’t you? And that they don’t ever change?’.  She thought it would be fine, and found she was wrong when he stabbed her to death in front of her ten year old daughter for no real reason.

Once I heard that, I couldn’t repress the wish that the guy with the stool had hit him just a little bit harder.

It comes at the same time every year…

And yet bizarrely, it always seems badly run. On Christmas Eve late shift last week, the force ran at 20% below minimum staffing levels. BELOW the minimum acceptable safe level, not below maximum. Imagine if you will, your favourite football team only fielding 9 players, not 11, on one of their most crucial matches of the year – would you still bet on them? Not a plea for sympathy, it was just like every other day, we did the best we could with what we had, then went home at the end of the shift, put the bins out and walked the dog, just like everyone else.

The postings for nights going onto Christmas morning were similarly well below minimum. On what is usually one of the busiest shifts of the year. I’m writing this just before New Years Eve, where on the evening/night we sometimes get a ‘slight’ increase in alcohol-related silliness, and the position is similar, 10% under minimum. And no-one can find the plan for the extra staff on tonight for pub/club violence, who’s working where, and what we have in place to prevent a repeat of the Berlin Lorry attack. There undoubtedly IS a plan, but what it is? Who knows?

One is bemused.

I for one will be at home for New Years Eve, and won’t be answering any calls from work.