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. 

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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.

We hate to say we told you so…

Actually, no we don’t. We tell you, Mrs Prime Minister and Ms Home Secretary, because. some of us are still deluded enough to think that it may sink in eventually. We tell you, mr and mrs public, and have done for the last 9 or 10 years, because it’s your protection that’s suffering, and we’re increasingly tired of being ignored.
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Repeatedly warning about police cuts is not about protecting my pay packet against sub-inflation pay rises. We’ve been stuck at 1% for the last few years, when I remember the days of 2.5% payrises. That 1.5% difference on a salary of £37,000 for top-rate PC is about £550 a year, nearer £350 after tax and other deductions. That’s one less chinese takeaway a month, I’ll live with that, and just be grateful that I’ve got a secure job.

It’s about the fact that cuts in staff mean less can be done. Each successive increase in efficiency brings less and less of an improvement, all the easy fixes, the low-hanging fruit, have already been done. The fact that we had to have the army on the streets 2 months ago, and a deputy commisioner in the Met is begging people to come back, surely demonstrates that budget cuts have gone too far?

I know full well other public services suffer the same, this is not asking to be treated above the others. Just asking our lords and masters to be honest about the effects their policies are having. Residents of London in particular can’t fail to be aware that moped/motorbike based robberies are massively on the increase and have been for a while, for example. The public are getting increasingly frustrated with lack of support.

There’s always an undercurrent of people who sort their own problems out, usually involving very very unpleasant things happening to the people they suspect, such as Ryan  . While their standard of proof before they act may or may not be as high as ours, that’s not really the point. Currently the people who do this are doing it on their version of principle, because they don’t like the police and the courts. When it gets to the point that suspects start getting beaten and start dying at the hands of people who do like the police, but are desperate because they never see them, will our lords and masters listen then? Or will they continue seeing roses until such time as even this stops being newsworthy?

(Current outstanding jobs, 1615. Last week the high tide mark was 2,500. Last year, 1,500 was seen as a tragedy, now it would be nirvana)

Overpaid.

The list now has to expand.

Philip Hammond is under the impression that public sector workers are paid better than the private sector. When pressed on whether he’d said in private that they were overpaid, he refused to answer, instead saying private conversations shouldn’t be discussed.

In other words, yes I said it, no I don’t want to admit it, but I don’t want to be accused of lying later on either if someone says it openly.

And this from a man ho earns £140,000 for what is essentially a desk job. And has numerous outside business interests that mean he could comfortably forego his salary and not even notice the difference, such as over £10,000 a month in rental income.

No general in the army would dare to speak of those under their command like that. But then that’s because they’re generally not hypocrites – they lead by example and they understand how to motivate people. Not things Hammond could ever be accused of.