We will fight them on the beaches, we will, er, oh, erm…

Earlier this year, a little weekend jolly down to London chez wife took in Winston Churchill’s bunker under Whitehall. Well worth a look if you’re even vaguely interested in 20th century history. Far more spacious than I’d expected, the contrast between that and Hitlers rather squalid equivalent in Berlin is vast.

Anyway, quite apart from WW2, it’s fair to say Winston was a remarkable chap. Not without his flaws, but remarkable nontheless. He has a namesake at work, however, who cannot claim the same status.

His namesake was a custody sergeant when I first met him, and had a knack for moving incredibly slowly. I’ve known officers take prisoners to other cell blocks than theirs if he was on duty, it was that bad. A pleasant guy, but moved like a heavily sedated snail.

Fast forward a few years, in our latest austerity induced game of musical chairs, my team ended up controlling a different area, and he was now a response sergeant on said area. The contrast between him and the other sergeant on the team was as vast as the bunker version of keeping up with the Jones’. When his oppo is on duty, life is great, things get done. When he’s in charge, it’s a nightmare.

Basically, he is what’s known as a decision-free zone. I realised that while in custody, he was probably just struggling to decide what to do next. He frequently can’t be got hold of on the radio, his office or mobile phone either. Normally a pain for a supervisor, but occasionally a blessing when we had to make decisions in a hurry that should have been run by him first. Simple questions often produce rambling answers that don’t address the question, but just raise more.

One time, my friend Bob sent a car to a domestic assault, as it was a repeat address, he sent Winston as well, force policy dictates sergeants should go to repeat domestics. It sounds nasty, so they’ve making on blues and sirens. Winston shouts up to say he’s going too, a few minutes later the unit updates via radio that they have arrived, then there’s the wait for their initial update…is anyone hurt/dead/running away/armed/fighting/under arrest etc.

About 5 minutes later, Winny pipes up, with his sirens blaring in the background, and asks what road it’s on again.

So he’s been blue lighting to a job, and he doesn’t even know where it is. Turns out he’s not even blue light / siren trained. In fact he’s failed his response driving course 3 times. If he’d had a crash, there’s no getting away from the fact his sirens are on tape and his GPS history is likewise recorded, proving his speed, dropping him in it big time.

His GPS is a blessing though, as occasionally he gets lost and has to be spoon-fed directions. Somehow, I have no idea how, he has qualified as an inspector, and when the boss is away, he takes the helm. It’s like having a dementia patient in charge.

I feel awful saying it, as he’s not unpleasant, he’s just useless. I used to wonder if it was just me being intolerant, but recently I was privy to a conversation between two sergeants where I now work, and one of them mentioned his name. Straight away, the other said ‘Oh god no, not that f*cking idiot!’, and they reeled off a list of fresh idiocy.

It’s not me.


Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…

Harking back to yesteryear, I often hear of people bemoaning the lack of the good old Beat Bobby, they knew everyone, they clipped you round the ear if you were bad and if you told your dad, it happened again, etc etc. Beat bobbies, or neighbourhood officers as they’re known more and more, do valuable work (though I’d never give them the satisfaction of saying so to their faces, nothing wrong with a little rivalry). A lot of intelligence comes from them interacting with people and hearing or being told little snippets, or simply building good relationships with people long-term, so that when someone’s got concerns about a relative who’s got obsessed with Jihad and has started buying enough peroxide (a component of home made explosives) to keep the local Supercuts in business for months, they feel comfortable telling you.

But it’s sad to say, they’re not a deterrent to short-term crime in itself. People may think they are, but they’re not. There’s very few Mensa members involved in low-level crime, but even the most illiterate, brain dead criminal knows if a beat officer is walking by, all you have to do is wait for them to go, or just walk in the other direction for a bit, then you can carry on looking for cars or houses to break into with impunity. If you get caught, it’ll be by officers sent by car.

It sounds like a cop-out, but the subject is well-researched. The average officer on foot will stumble into a crime exactly once in 8 years of foot patrol. I’m normally loath to refer to anything to do with American policing, as the country and its policing mentality is so different to here, but one thing I’ve found is interesting and relevant.

The Kansas City Police decided in 1972 to assess whether routine patrol, a fundamental part of police processes since policing began, actually worked in deterring crime or not. In essence, they divided Kansas City into a number of zones, and assigned each zone to one of three groups. The assigning was done so that as far as possible, each group had an identical balance of reported crime beforehand, to make it a fair experiment.

One area had the normal level of police patrolling, between actually going to incidents called in by the public, one group has three times the normal patrol level, and one had no patrol – between going out to calls, officers waited in the station or did other tasks, but performed no routine patrol. This was done for a year, and the crime figures and residents reactions researched extensively. The full report is freely available on the internet, should you choose to look, but in essence :

The public didn’t notice the difference when the frequency of patrols was changed.

Increasing or decreasing the level of patrol had no significant effect on residential and commercial burglaries, car thefts, theft from cars, robberies, or vandalism/ASB crimes.

The rate at which crimes were reported did not differ significantly across the experimental beats.

Public reported fear of crime was not affected by different levels of patrol.

Public satisfaction with police did not vary.

And yet still, people who should know better trumpet the idea of more bobbies walking on foot, because they think it’s what you want to hear. To the best of my knowledge, no-one in this country in any position of authority has ever even suggested that the experiment be replicated here in any form, to see if it’s still valid. The days of Dixon of Dock Green are long gone, but it was perhaps telling that in the original 1950 film ‘The Blue Lamp’ which led to the series, Dixons life on the beat ended when he was shot dead by an armed robber.


(Morning log count, 2375)
A tremendous piece of ‘journalism’ from the Daily Telegraph yesterday, amongst other ‘newspapers’. Apparently the police arrest half as many people as they did ten years ago, despite crime being higher. Lazy police.
Equally lazy would just be to sarcastically point out that that’s a strange coincidence, given the drop in police officer numbers over the same period, and then move on. But although that’s relevant, it’s not the whole truth of it either.
About ten years ago, the laws on arrest powers were changed (PACE 1984, code G, for those who struggle to sleep at night). In essence, for an arrest to be lawful, there has to not only be a suspected offence, but also a necessity to arrest. Arresting someone and taking them to a police station is basically an incredibly expensive method of asking someone some questions about their alleged involvement in a criminal offence. With a few exceptions far too tedious to go into, if the offence had a maximum penalty of 5 years or more, you were coming in. Less than that, and the power of arrest only existed if reasons of public safety or potential loss of evidence applied.
Since then, the necessity test applies to everything. If you thump your wife/husband, you’re coming in for their safety, but if you thump someone in a pub fight and get identified days afterwards, and there are no forensic reasons to arrest you (to seize your clothing etc), then why not just interview you at your house, save hours faffing around in a cell block, then just summons you to court if the evidence justifies it? Same end result, and arrest is just a means to an end. I’d like to think a major national newspapers legal correspondent would be aware of this.
So an intelligent test of police efficiency in prosecuting people would be prosecutions, not arrests, right?
So I went on the Home Office website, which I’m pretty sure is available in the offices of the Daily Telegraph, and it took me about 5 minutes to find the following. Notice how the number of Crown Court cases seems to drop almost exactly in line with the drop in officers since 2010. Funny that. It’s almost as if cutting the number of officers reduces the police services ability to fight crime.

crown court

mags court
I’m intrigued as to why the number of fresh cases dealt with at Magistrates Court hasn’t dropped, perhaps more cases are being held there as opposed to proceeding on to Crown Court, but that’s a question for another day.
Maybe the Telegraph could devote 5 minutes to it.

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?