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.

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It’s a good start to the day when…

You’re three hours late to work, because of someone threatening to jump off a motorway bridge and kill themselves. I’ll be bringing the cakes in tomorrow for lateness, courtesy of the Independent Cake Punishment Commission, the ICPC. Any similarity to any genuine independent organisations who investigate the police is a pure coincidence. The ICPC don’t take 4 years to investigate something, the decisions are quick, just and final.

Or you get in the door at work to find your sergeant struggling on the floor with a geriatric having a paranoid mental breakdown through too much cannabis use. As one half of the fracas is trained, half the age of the other and twice the weight, it seems rude to get involved, so you just stand and watch in amazement.

On the plus side, it gets better. I’ve made myself semi-redundant today. Normally, my job consists of listening to peoples request for more officers, looking sympathetic, then saying ‘no’, as there’s no-one available I can suggest moving. Today I passed a milestone, when someone actually assessed their situation for themselves, came up and pretty much asked and answered their own question all in one go. With the word ‘No’. I didn’t even have to speak. So, back to the crossword.

I don’t take joy in not being able to help, I just refuse to feel bad about it either. It’s not my fault there’s so few toys in the box. And this is when we’re 12% over minimum staffing today on earlies. Lates, when we’re predicted to be 10% under, will be a nightmare. I’ll be in the garden with an iced lolly or two by then, listening to my son tell me about the last day of his SATS.

Total jobs ongoing just now, around 1300. It’ll hit 1450 or so by 9pm tonight. With less than 200 officers to deal with it all. Not my problem.

What is my problem right now is an eternal one, namely “Why can I never find a bloody fork in a police station when I want one?” There’s thousands of spoons in the various kitchens round the building, enough knives to carve Michaelangelos David out of the nearest tree, but can I find a fork? No. I’m reduced to eating a reheated Chicken Fajita with two spoons. Paranoid thoughts start creeping in about which one of my colleagues has opened a highly profitable second-hand fork shop, until the fajita is gone.

 P.S. finishing this off the day after it happened, I found out why the woman wanted to jump. She was a single mum who’d met a new fella, who moved in and months later murdered her child. Grief and guilt being what they are, I’d probably want to jump too. My son got an extra big hug before bed tonight. 

Care in the community

Tonights most random call ‘Come quick! There’s two Asian men in my back garden, setting up an anti-aircraft gun!’.

Not the wierdest I’ve ever heard or been to. That prize goes to the lady who rang to report her ex-partner had abducted their child and was going to take him out of the country. On speaking to her, in her rather dingy flat, it was a perfectly plausible tale of boy meets girl, boy moves in with girl, boy and girl have a child, then all of a sudden, boy moves out for no reason, then a short while later, boy takes child out for the day and plans to abduct child back to America.

Although I was mildly intrigued as to why you’d come all the way from the US of A to this particular tobacco-and-cheap-cider reeking ghetto hell hole, no actual alarm bells were ringing at this point. This was a while ago, I’m far more cynical now. Then I asked for her ex’s details, thinking we’d need them if he needed stopping at the airport etc etc.

Her reply? ‘It’s the Hollywood actor Brian Dennehy!’. And she was being sincere. Although he plays a good serial killer, he was just acting in a film – I don’t think he abducts people in real life.

The more I asked, the more it appeared that her grip on reality was tenuous, to put it mildly. But as long as there’s no harm in being mad, it’s not really a police matter. Referring people to the mental health services is what we mostly do. Not that we think they’re perfect, any more than they think we are, but that’s how it works.

Good old Sn 136 of the mental health act gives us the power to detain people for assessment if they are a) exhibiting signs of a serious mental disorder, b) that disorder appears to be putting either them or someone else at risk and c) they are in public. Only a) applied in this case, so I said we’d look into it, left sharpish and referred her.

But back to Asian men and anti-aircraft weaponry. I sent a crew out to this – it wasn’t long after September 11th, and we’re under the flight path for the nearest airport, so who knows? They get there soon, and it immediately becomes apparent the poor caller is riding the crazy train. There is no anti-aircraft weaponry there, no burn marks from the backblast of a shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile, and definitely no Asian men either.

His back garden is like a jungle, you’d need a strimmer to get more than 2 feet from his kitchen window, if they had been in his back garden, he’d never have seen them. Somewhere in the local mental health system, there is a syringe of haloperidol or something similar with his name on it.

This is not a criticism of the mental health services, merely a criticism of the system they have to operate and the resources they’re given to do it. If a family member of mine suffered a dangerous mental illness, I’d rather they were treated in hospital than in the community, as from what I’ve seen, the latter leaves too much to unmonitored chance. I’ve been to, or sent units to, too many incidents involving care in the community patients where either they or someone around them have come to harm.

A number of years ago, a colleague of mine was murdered by a psychiatric patient who was being monitored in the community. It’s the only time I’ve ever cried in this job, ringing my parents the moment I saw it on the news so they’d know it wasn’t me, then feeling guilty that I was able to. The offender was visited weekly by his CPN (community psychiatric nurse) and given his anti-psychotic drugs to take, when they searched his flat after his arrest, they found 6 months of the drug neatly stored in his bathroom cabinet alongside the aspirin and toothpaste.

Frequently a limiting factor on patients like him being hospitalised is bed availability. You have to have a bed available, the mental health team available to actually assess and section them, the police there in case it gets physical and an ambulance there to transport them to hospital. Four groups from four different agencies, getting them all in the same place at the same time is like herding cats.

Despicable Me…

The camera never lies…
But it sometimes shows the strangest of things. Like many control rooms around the country, we have access to a variety of CCTV cameras, some council provided, some provided by us. A useful piece of kit, for a variety of reasons.

We can view an incident and filter out and ignore the calls that are exaggerated or frankly complete fantasy. Accurate descriptions of offenders to improve on those provided by people who couldn’t describe their way out of a brown paper bag. Following an offender and identifying where they hid themselves or ditched stolen property, drugs, weapons etc. Rapidly identifying where a suicidal person on a motorway is. The list goes on. And on and on.

I don’t buy the civil liberties argument that they’re a needless intrusion into peoples lives. Invariably they cover public places, where there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy anyway. Inevitably the operators are far too busy to mindlessly watch people because they look fit or their car is nice. And even if there was an intrusion, it’s much less than that of getting robbed, raped or assaulted by a criminal whose chances of evading justice are higher because there’s no cameras in the area. There’s a reason the brighter element (still not very bright) in the criminal fraternity wear hoods and scarves over their faces – they don’t like CCTV, and anything criminals don’t like is good.

Rant over.

They also let you see things you rarely see in your everyday life, people who have no idea they’re on camera. To quote Richard Burton in War of the Worlds : “No-one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” Some of the ‘creatures’ do the strangest of things.

There’s been a run of wierdness on CCTV this week. Job one was a man with mental health problems arguing with passers-by and then officers, very agitated and bouncing round like Zebedee on crystal meth. And wearing a full length Minions outfit. I kid you not.

The officers had the patience of Job, listening calmly to delusional paranoid rantings from a 6 foot tall bright yellow cartoon character while waiting for an ambulance to come and transport him to a secure mental hospital. I hoped the cuffs would go round his big bright yellow wrists if necessary.

The poor man is believed to be homeless – his other belongings look as if they are gifts from a homeless charity. This begs the question of did he have the Minions costume through choice, or was that the only option from a clothes bank? In December, to be fair, if you’re homeless and it’s a choice between dressing as a Minion or walking round in your pants, then it’s yellow cartoon fun every time, but you won’t pass unnoticed. Anyway, the ambulance arrives eventually (strange though the patient is, he was no immediate risk, so not top of the queue), and he is taken off for treatment.

Job two was a strange man trying and failing to cross the road. Backpack on and his pants round his ankles, although he has trousers on under the pants, like some kind of dirty homeless Superman. He was clearly either drunk, on drugs, mentally ill or some combination of the three. He was constantly trying to reach down for something on the floor, but our concern was he was by the kerb and in serious danger of toppling over in front of traffic. A car gets sent for his safety, before they get there he manages to get down off the kerb into the road without falling, and starts obstructing traffic.

After a couple of near misses, we are pleased to see him walk back towards the kerb, trip on it and fall flat on his face on the pavement. A rough landing to be sure, but he landed in a safe place. Picks himself up and bizarrely is much more stable now, but he too is carted off in an ambulance.

Wierd job no 3 is a male threatening to jump off a multi-storey car park. CCTV picks him up sitting on the edge of the paraper, legs over the wrong side and hunched over, like some kind of suicidal garden gnome, minus the fishing rod. His details are gathered from the phone he used to ring us, and it transpires he too has a long mental health and suicidal history – he previously stepped off a building 60 feet up and survived somehow, but from the 8th floor of the local NCP today, he has no chance.

Officers get to him very quickly, and engage with him. A negotiator is called out, when I finished my shift he was just about to arrive, I didn’t look at work the day afterwards what happened, but there was nothing on the local news about him jumping, so it must have ended well. Although bobbies aren’t trained in how to talk to suicidal people, it’s amazing how well you can do by just talking and being non-judgemental. Most people consider suicide as they think no-one gives a shit about them, that’s why only 2 out of 5 suicides leave a note, the other 3 think no-one cares enough to read one.

The key thing in all these three jobs is that the CCTV was used for people’s benefit. While I felt slightly guilty at the amusement factor in the first two jobs, the people in question in all 3 jobs benefited from prompt attendance, which was made easier by CCTV.

Last Friday night

“Last Friday night 

Yeah we danced on tabletops

And we took too many shots

Think we kissed but I forgot

Last Friday night

Yeah we maxed our credit cards

And got kicked out of the bar

So we hit the boulevard…”

Katy Perry’s last Friday Night is quite a catchy little number, the kids love it apparently. My last Friday night was a little different. Here’s a list of the jobs on screen at 11.30pm:

1 – A fight in the street, between two different groups of eastern European males, possibly Poland v Lithuania.

2 – A domestic assault, girl getting battered by her boyfriend.

3 – Caller rings in, having seen a male collapsed in the local park. He shone his torch over the guy briefly. Didn’t check his pulse, didn’t look long enough to see if his chest was rising and falling, and then walked off some distance before ringing. Let’s hope he isn’t dead when ambulance get there. He’s probably just drunk and sleeping it off in the park, like you do, but the trouble with relying on ‘probably’ is it doesn’t always work.

4 – Callers daughter sending him 50 + text messages today, all threatening to kill or otherwise harm him, for no apparent reason.

5 – An abandoned 999 mobile call, a woman shouting for the police, then hangs up without giving us the address. The phone isn’t answered when we ring back, and the grid reference of the call is only accurate to within 500M or so. It simply isn’t practical to search that area for a disorder, especially as the lack of traffic noise suggests it’s happening inside a house. The phone has never been used before to contact us, and is a pre-pay mobile phone, so we’ve no address to go to. Let’s hope he doesn’t kill her.

6 – Strange one. A guy rings us. As he was walking home, part of his route involves going down an alleyway. As he approaches the alleyway, a second guy comes out of the alleyway, says ‘I wouldn’t go down there, there’s a guy down there with a knife’. Guy two then walks off. Guy 1 has a think about it, then walks down the alleyway anyway. Like you do. Ahead of him, he sees a guy dressed all in black, with a white face mask on. You’d think this might seem just a little strange, when considered together with the warning, but no, he just walks right past and then goes home. And rings us to tell us. Two hours later. Uberweird.

7 – Female caller, whos ex-partner is outside. She has a restraining order against him, but he doesn’t seem to understand it, he’s been here three times today, so we’re looking to get there and arrest him.

8 – A stabbing. Ambulance call us, as they rightly always do when going to stabbings. It’s a 24 year old male who has mental health issues and has been trying to cut his own head off. He has numerous serious stab wounds to his neck, but has somehow managed to avoid hitting a main artery. Not a superficial attention seeking attempt, these are deep wounds. He is carted off in an ambulance, we will sit with him while his wounds are treated and dressed, for his and the staffs safety, and when his other injuries are dealt with, he will move departments for a psych assessment, and will probably be detained under the relevant section of the Mental Health Act.

If he’s got no prior mental health history, they’ll look at section 2, allowing up to 28 days detention for assessment and treatment, if he has prior history then likely looking at section 3 – 6 months detention (maximum) for treatment alone.

9 – A pursuit. a dodgy looking vehicle fails to stop. Traffic chase it, almost certainly either he’s drunk, uninsured or wanted on the police computer, or he’s stolen the car and the owner hasn’t realised yet, but they call the pursuit off due to the level of danger his driving causes.

10 – A girl attacked in the street by two other girls.

11 – A foreign sounding male, rings screaming as his daughter is going crazy and attacking them. Due to his language difficulties, we can’t clarify any more than that – the daughter could be 30 and she could be 9 – we get rung about violent children as young as 7 or so, so 9 would not be impossible.

12 – A missing person (MISPER) check for another force, for a vulnerable kid who may be subject to child sexual exploitation (CSE).

13 – Domestic violence. A Pakistani male rings as his brother is attacking him and his wife. No apparent reason, at least no reason that anyone wants to tell us about.

14 – Domestic threats, by mobile phone.

15 – An abandoned 999 call, a female crying down the phone. Again, no previous history of the phone being used to ring us, it’s an unregistered pre-pay phone. She could be blubbing over the closing scenes in Bridget Jones Diary and dialled 999 in her pocket by accident, she could be crying her eyes out after any number or domestic disasters, assaults, deaths in the family, anything, we simply don’t know.

16 – Another domestic assault.

Bizarrely, none of these calls are drug related, which is very unusual.

The reason there’s more information on some of the calls than others is we only have enough staff to be at about half of them.

This is busy, but it’s a long way from being the worst. We peaked at 22 urgent logs tonight, so being down to the 16 above is an improvement. Last month, a colleague of mine hit the high tide mark at 43 urgent logs. With the same number of staff as we have tonight.

The closing line of the Katy Perry song is ‘This Friday night, Do it all again’

She got that right.

Tasers

A departure from my normal witty titles, respecting the fact this post is about the recent death of a specific person. (It’s also a work in progress).

The death of Dalian Atkinson after being tasered during arrest has hit the headlines. As with any death following police contact (which includes if you were in contact as a suspect, prisoner, victim or witness and if you die up to 48 hours after your contact), it’s automatically referred to the IPCC for investigation. Doesn’t matter if the police shoot you as you rob a post office, or if you walked into the station for 30 seconds to hand in a lost wallet then dropped dead of a heart attack 2 days later, it’s a death in police contact.

No sane person can object to the basic principle that any death at the hand of the state should be fully and openly investigated. Although I would be wanting answers too if it were a member of my family, much of what they’re asking for is already out there, freely available.

So, the medical evidence:

1/ Taser does not affect pacemakers or implantable defibrillators. The manufacturers designed it not to, and independent tests confirm it.

Oxford Journal

2/ Taser is a far far safer way of stopping people than the more traditional methods, largely involving simple physical violence.

The LAPD studied the effects of taser use and the risk of hospitalisation or death versus other methods, namely physical force, going hands on, batons or firearms. Taser caused 0% injuries (beyond the two puncture wounds caused by the barbs, which only need an Elastoplast), the other types of force caused between 45%-78% risk of hospitalisation, some of which caused death.

A study in the States, with a much bigger sample size than is available in the UK, concluded that the risk of of a taser contributing to death when appropriately used was around 1 in 1,000. They suggested that the true risk of a taser causing death in itself was nearer 1 in 1,000,000, but let’s go with the lower figure. And remember there is a significant difference between causing death and contributing to death.

There’s also a report from the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology indicating that at the worst possible placement of the two taser barbs near someones heart, there is less than a 1 in 200 chance of the taser discharge affecting the heart in a healthy individual, and such interference would normally be resolved by the next routine heartbeat anyway.

There’s also a sample of 1,000 random taserings in the Journal of Emergency Medicine here which recorded 997 of them as having no injuries beyond the barbs needing an Elastoplast and the usual scrapes and bruises associated with falling over. The other 3 were one injury and two deaths. It does not cover the cause of death, other than to say effects on the heart were NOT the cause.

Please also bear in mind that all these reports are written by American doctors, all members of the American Medical Association. The AMA ban their members from taking part in state executions on ethical grounds, clearly demonstrating their independence from both state and federal government.

It’s actually difficult to find statistics on the levels of injury caused by Taser use in the UK as opposed to other forms of force, believe it or not. The Home Office has reams and reams of studies about how it has been deployed, and how many people have complained about it, but very little on the injuries it does or doesn’t cause. So I cannot give anything more specific as to the medical effects here. Like many other people, I will await the results of his autopsy at the inquest with interest.

As they may have a conflict of interest, I have pointedly avoided using any information provided by Taser International themselves.

The taser unit itself records the time and date it is fired, the number of times it is fired, and times out after a 5 second discharge, forcing the user to reassess if it is needed before they reapply the trigger. It will be interesting to see if the witnesses perceptions of how many times it was fired is accurate. They also drop hundreds of miniature ID tags on the pavement to show exactly where the user was when they fired. 

I’ll also address the frankly insane suggestion from Sophie Khan, a solicitor who makes a good living in chasing down claims in situations where police have to use force, and regularly criticising police actions from her comfy airchair, without having the first idea of the practicalities of it, or coming up with any better suggestions. Her latest suggestion is that police should be able to shoot people in the legs with a taser to disable them. Lets start from the point that a firearm is a much more precise tool than a taser, and that it’s impossible to shoot a firearm with that level of precision, and knock out one or two more myths along the way

A bullet in the arm is highly unlikely to make much difference to a physically fit and deranged male in the scenario we’re discussing. A bullet in the leg is slightly less impossible in practice, but shooting a small pointy piece of metal at 2,500 feet a second near to someones femoral artery is not the safest suggestion I’ve ever seen.

Let us grant the following extremely unlikely possibilities :

A firearms unit is available and gets to the scene at the same time as the normal response unit. Highly unlikely – to give an example, my force puts out about 120 or so response cars on a late shift, and only 6 firearms cars.

The officers get there, see the suspect and in the heat of the moment, can fire with sufficient certainly to hit an arm that is flailing about on a male running at them. No army or police force in the world trains people to try this, for the simple reason that it isn’t physically possible. Even the SAS don’t do it. The leg is only slightly less impossible to hit.

You’ve then got several problems. Firstly, the bullet will go right through their arm or leg and you’ve got to worry about where it goes next. It still has enough force to kill someone else, and it will be tumbling by now, heading off in a random direction.

Secondly, it won’t stop him, he’s just more angry now, and if you shot his arm, his legs still work fine. I’ve seen people have their arms broken by a baton strike and not even notice. He’s still coming, and your only way to stop him getting to you and grappling with you for your gun now is to shoot him in the chest, exactly the type of serious injury we’re trying to avoid. If you shoot him in the leg, you may disable him, no matter how angry or insane he is, if his nerves aren’t connected to his muscles any more, he may fall over. But, as above, you may well sever his femoral artery and kill him, or permanently disable him, if you’re lucky. Again, what we’re trying to avoid.

Now a taser works by landing two barbs into the subject, which have to be a certain distance apart to work well. The weapon is designed to spread the barbs to achieve the distance, the problem being with shooting at someones leg, it is highly likely that only one of the barbs will make contact and because of the spread, the other will shoot harmlessly past. Assuming that you can even hit a smaller target such as the leg in the first place. There are cases where the weapon misses. If one of the barbs hit a hard part of the body the kneecap say, it may not penetrate far enough to stay in, same problem.

Sophie Khan is either genuinely ignorant on the subject, or she’s being dishonest because it pays the bills, I cannot decide which is worst. I would invite her if she’s reading, which I highly doubt, to actually attend a taser training course to have some practical idea of what she’s talking about, clearly she has none so far. I am sure in the interests of openness that the police would welcome the chance to show her.

Incidentally, I’ve posted a link to a YouTube video of the only occasion I’ve ever heard of where someone has been able to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand, the level of precision she thinks is possible in real world conditions. Please excuse the cheesy voiceover, but don’t let it distract you from the obvious – the suspect wasn’t moving, the weapon wasn’t moving, the weapon used by police was a scoped sniper rifle and the shooter had time to choose his position to get the best shot, and also make sure that there was nothing behind the target that might be hit as well. These are luxuries that will never be present in our scenario, whether we’re talking about tasers or real guns.

No-one is suggesting that using a taser on someone is risk-free. If there was a risk free way of detaining angry violent people, we’d do it all the time, and the world would be a better place. But there isn’t one. Taser comes pretty close however.

I would invite anyone who disagrees to consider what other alternatives are available and read the annual reports on deaths in police contact, and see how many of them involve more traditional means of restraint.

Yes, it may have been misused. But so can anything. Yes, the officers may have been excessive. I’m not blinded by my police service into thinking we’re all perfect, far from it. That is what the IPCC is there to examine and it’s fair to say there’s not much love lost between the IPCC and front line officers. But fair and open investigation is a necessity. 

To argue for taking away such a vital tool because of individual mistakes, whether they happened here or not, forces officers to use more violent, more damaging methods of restraint, and will ultimately lead to more grieving and more autopsies. If it was a relative of mine having a mental breakdown and needing to be stopped for their safety and/or other people’s, I’d much rather they were tasered than anything else.

Peter and Paul

No, I’ve not suddenly caught religion. There’s robbery afoot.

Tonight starts well, with a control room team strength of 11 and a minimum acceptable staff level of 8, the force can field 5 members of staff. 5. This is 3 below the accepted level at which we can provide a safe service to the public, especially on a busy Friday night when all the drunken idiots come out of the woodwork and try and kill each other. I cannot remember the last time we had more than the minimum on duty. I am reminded of a spoof school report entry I read once ‘Johnny sets low standards then consistently fails to achieve them’. We are not provided with enough staff to do the job safely. Someone working overtime takes us up to 6, costing the taxpayer approximately £250 to plug 1/3 of the gap.

And there’s plenty to keep us busy. We walk straight into 27 jobs on the main terminal, and only 11 cars to go round. 6 of the cars are double crewed and 5 single crewed, and most of the jobs require two officers, not one. If you’ve been burgled, one officer will do, but if you’ve thumped your missus in a Stella Artois induced rage, then two officers are needed to drag you off into custody if you’re going to kick and scream like a spoilt child when the consequences of your actions come home to roost. Upshot is some of the jobs take two cars off the road, or they wait. The high tide mark drops from 27 slowly as jobs are either dealt with or deferred for the morning (who wants to discuss the neighbour giving them mucky looks at 4am?).

The duty inspector is required to review each report of a missing person to see what actions are or are not required. There’s a standard set of risk profiling questions to ask, like have they ever done it before, what have you done to locate them already, are they suicidal/depressed, are they vulnerable to child sexual exploitation etc, once those questions are asked, the boss has a review. One of the responsibilities that mean he gets paid £15k more than me every year.

Only at one point he had 9 in the queue. So rather than leave him to sink, we go through and feed him the most risky-looking first, in essence doing some of his job for him. Not a complaint about that in itself, we’re all there to get the job done, but if the duty inspector needs his minions to do this, that suggests his role demands more than can be squeezed into a 9 hour shift.

Also, if I have to spend half an hour reading through them all, then that’s half an hour I’m not doing my normal job, not sending people out to burglaries, robberies, suspicious folk, not doing address history checks for officers etc etc. I don’t mind doing whatever needs to be done to make the next 9 hours as safe as possible for the residents, to keep the 99% safe from the 1%, but minimum staffing levels are there for a reason.

It works on a larger scale as well, tragically. As a force, we started cutting down on the number of dog handlers a while ago. They are an expensive resource, to be fair, they are trained pretty much from as soon as they can walk, which takes time, but they are an awesome tool in the box. They find burglars hiding in bushes in the dark. They jump fences and catch 17 year olds in tracksuits and Nike Air Max trainers who can outsprint a 40 year old Bobby in stab vest and full equipment whose running days are a distant memory.

For holding back a baying mob at a football match gone bad, EDL march or a major street disorder, there is simply nothing like a line of 5 or 6 landsharks snarling at the leash, clearly ready and willing to sink their teeth into the first person their handler lets them near. As Kyle Reese says to the heroine in ‘Terminator’ : “Understand…It can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be bargained with…it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear…and it absolutely will not stop. Ever.”

The prevailing logic seemed to be that a certain cut in numbers would be put into place, and the effect on results would be studied. Seems reasonably scientific? Yep. However…as there’s now less dog units scattered around the force area, they usually have to come further to each job. Meaning quite often the need for the dog has passed, either urgency dictated we had to solve the problem in a more dangerous way, or the offender is long gone.

There are occasions when officers request a drug sniffing dog, and there simply isn’t one available. Not ‘it’s busy at another job, you’re next’ but ‘there isn’t one on duty’. In one of the biggest forces in the country. So the smirking unemployed 21 year old in his £30,000 BMW, mobile phone going constantly and £2,000 in his back pocket goes free, as he knows without a drugs dog going mental when it smells his car, we can’t take it to a garage and completely disassemble it to find his stash of heroin.

So Bob the dealer goes free, there are more and more burglars NOT in prison with bite marks on their arse slowly healing, and due to the increased average distance to jobs, the percentage where a dog is used goes down, suggesting to some in command who struggle with basic maths that dogs are less effective than they once were, vindicating the decision to lower their numbers.

(This observation on maths is not a backhanded ivory tower swipe up the rank structure, incidentally, I’ve met some superintendents and above whose grasp of such things is razor sharp, like PhD level. But equally well, I’ve sat in meetings before and been stunned to meet one or two, paid twice as much as a minion like me, who simply couldn’t grasp that three random samples of staffing levels over a month was less helpful than an average if you wanted to see if those minimum set levels were being achieved. I got a C in A-level maths, I’m no Albert Einstein, but Jeez Louise! If you’re going to handle a budget of £15 million a year, you really should be trained in how to understand numbers. If anyone at ACPO is reading, which I doubt, sort it out!)

You can step up a level and see the same picture. The NHS have to make certain cuts, so certain things they used to do no longer happen. But the problem they were addressing is still there, so it manifests itself somewhere else. Maybe for us, maybe for social services, or housing, or education and so on. They have to make cuts, we accept that. So do we. Children’s homes don’t generally get to use us as a free taxi service like they used to, so we save resources and they have to find more staff, or pay for more taxis themselves. It works in every direction.

But next time you read of a public body that has cut their budgets and still achieved their objectives remember – for every Paul like that, there’s a Peter lying bleeding in the gutter somewhere, minus his wallet.