Monday, 30 December 2013

Contact Points

One disgraceful facet of Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model is how people are being mislead in relation to access to the police.

Under the LPM, the closure of half our police stations should create no problem for public access because there are now 'Contact Points'.

Let's look at this. On my borough six months ago we had four stations open to the public – two of those 24/7. There was no problem with public access. Now there is only one station open for the public.

To replace this shortfall we now have 'Contact Points'.

These are half a dozen locations around the borough where, in theory, you can speak to a police officer. However, these Contact Points are open only for one hour at a time: two evenings a week, and one afternoon. So that's three hours each week they are open. Also they are staffed by PCSOs, not police officers. Police Community Support Officers do not have access to most police systems and so cannot create crime reports. There is almost nothing they can help you with. A PCSO told me:

“It's frustrating – when somebody comes here, the only thing I can do is apologise and send them to the main station.”

The public don't even seem to be aware of these contact points, so nineteen times out of twenty nobody turns up.

The Borough Commander has seen fit to place some of these Contact Points in unlikely places such as our local hospital. Firstly, the PCSO doesn't know where to go, so she ends up loitering in a corridor. Second, you arrive thinking you can report your crime, but then have to search the entire hospital to find the PCSO. Third, she then tells you she can't do anything, and suggests you go to the one station that's open 24/7.

The waiting room of that station often now has a queue stretching out of the building on to the street and a very stressed receptionist behind the counter.

Some Contact Point locations are neighbourhood police offices, where there is no public entrance, so the PCSO has to stand outside on the pavement, shuffling his feet.

The purpose of Contact Points is analogous to being in hospital waiting room when a nurse says 'Hi!' to you so she can record that you've 'been seen', and so help the NHS performance indicators.

It's the same thing – a Contact Point cannot actually give you any service, but Sir Bernard desperately wants to be able to hide the problems.

But this is a lie. There are problems. Appalling problems. Worse, it's a betrayal of trust. Why can we not instead be honest with the public? – everybody knows our budget has been cut. If only police senior managers weren't so terrified of criticism. At least in the UK, this is a trait they all seem to share.

Instead of telling people the truth, we are insulting their intelligence and wasting their time – they make a trip to a Contact Point only to be told we can't help and are directed to the only station that's open.

Again, it's policing by the performance indicators. I find it disgusting, and it makes police officers and PCSOs look like fools.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Disappointment Car

The Commissioner has had officers working his Local Policing Model (LPM) for a few months now. I can't keep quiet about what I've seen. This is the same system that failed so utterly when he introduced it in Merseyside.

Constables on the LPM spend every day running from one appointment to the next at one hour intervals. They can't all be dealt with in five minutes, and so the officers inevitably have to cancel some appointments. They then get disciplined. Also, they accumulate crime reports which they never have time to investigate.

Colleagues have brought this to their Chief Inspector's attention, and she appears only to care that:
  1. The PC has visited the caller rather than dealt with his problem by telephone. Let's remember that 90% of calls to police are either trivia or not police matters. ("I'm upset that my local post office is closing.")
  2. The PC has handed the victim a 'Victim Card'. The number of these given out is a statistic the senior managers can trumpet around as an achievement.
  3. The PC has ticked the 'Victim Card' box on the crime report.
There is nothing 'local' about the 'Local Policing Model'. The Local Police Team PCs I see are starting to show signs of stress. It's relentless work. They have to explain to angry members of the public – who are sometimes shouting at them - why the police station front counters have closed. Ironically, it's because the public can no longer pop into a local station that the officers are now having to run from appointment to appointment.

The sergeants, inspectors and upwards seem obsessed only with attending all the appointments. They give the Borough Commander the names of the officers who miss appointments. The quality of the work and victim focus doesn't interest them. But a pensioner who has been burgled, and is crying her eyes out, will need an officer to spend a few hours with her. The PC can't be looking at his watch, thinking about the next one. Nevertheless, the inspectors and Chief Inspectors keep sending emails: "You have to deal with each one properly, but if you cancel any you may be subject to disciplinary action." So much for victim care. The system is so driven by inflexible rules and the computer diary system, that even if the officer is early for an appointment it counts as a 'miss'.

If the Borough Commander put enough officers on the LPM teams perhaps it might work, but they are appallingly understaffed. The LPM teams are also expected to resource all the crime scene cordons, constant-watches in custody (sitting with self-harming prisoners), temporarily replace office-bound PCs who are sick, and anything else that requires a pair of hands. 

Sir Bernard has closed the specialist teams that dealt with the prisoners ('Case Progression Unit') and incidentally provided excellent training for new officers and trainee detectives. So now the LPT officers are expected to be a Jack-of-all-trades. They attend appointments, arrest and deal with prisoners even though they are alone and on foot, and fill in any other temporary gaps in the organisation, despite that there are hardly any of them. The Met being the size it is, and the level of crime we have in London, we need specialist teams to deal with the prisoners. If an LPT constable deals with her own prisoner she will have to cancel the day's remaining appointments and will not be able to patrol.

Supposedly these former-CPU officers are now freed up and able to patrol, but where are they? Sir Bernard's brave new world - the Local Policing Team - has pulled an almost unbelievable achievement - overnight it has magicked all the resources away into the ether.

The LPT constables all have crime reports piling up but never any time to investigate them. They describe daily irate emails from understandably frustrated victims wondering what is going on with their crimes.

Taking into account travelling time, and the time needed to create the crime reports in the station, each victim who has booked an hourly appointment gets less than ten minutes with an officer. The appointment car is now referred to as: "Disappointment Car".

Many of the appointments seem to be jobs that the response team should have attended. I can illustrate this best by giving you an edited excerpt from my book. This chapter describes the experience of an LPM officer in finding one of his appointments was a gang rape that occurred the night before. Because of the pressures from management to achieve the attendance targets (15 minutes for an I-grade, and 60 minutes for an S-grade), paradoxically the response team didn't go to the the call. In fact many calls are passed down to the LPM teams in this way.

He went to an appointment without first checking the details and found himself the first officer visiting a victim of gang rape. The victim had called 999 last night, the moment she woke up after having been drugged. A car was sent, but had to deal with something it came across.

An I-grade must be attended within 15 minutes, but all officers were tied up with prisoners and other calls. The patrol sergeants and teams inspectors have been told that at all costs they must hit these attendance times. So a moment before the 15th minute expired the rape was downgraded to an S-grade (60 minutes).The sergeants and inspectors' attention then switched automatically to the next I-grade that was closest to running out of time. The rape victim was still waiting to be seen, and as the 59th minute ticked by with no unit available the call was downgraded further to an E-grade, so that the 60 minute target was not missed.

Now that the incident was an E-grade it was completely off the team inspector's list – just another appointment for the LPT to deal with the next day.

This common practice is an unintended result of the absolute obsession about making the 15 or 60 minute times. Surely the rape victim would have preferred to be visited that day even if outside the 60 minute target?

I recently heard an inspector telling a reporter "Under the LPM we now have more officers out there." She was lying, but that inspector's boss - our Chief Inspector - would have been furious if the inspector had spoken the truth. It's all about maintaining the fiction.

Officers have fed these problems and many others up to the Borough Commander, but she is frightened of reporting these issues upwards. They know that the top bosses in the Met – the Commanders and Deputy Commissioners - do not want to hear about problems. They want to be able to tell Mr Hogan-Howe that the LPM is an unmitigated success.

Officers such as Chief Inspectors and Borough Commanders are by definition very ambitions, and unfortunately their promotion prospects depend largely on implementing new systems and bringing the performance figures back to the Commissioner. If they report to their line managers “The LPM isn't working, and these are the reasons...” they can kiss goodbye to their next promotion.

So, as usual there is little interest in receiving feedback from those officers actually on the ground doing the work. Senior management say “The LPM isn't going to change in the near future.” In their normal way they continue in denial, losing precious opportunities to iron out problems.

The system functioned unimaginably better when the LPT officers were Neighbourhood Teams – genuinely working in and around communities.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

More on Fiddling the Crime-Recording.

BBC News: Police fix crime statistics to meet targets, MPs told

This BBC article has it almost right. All the activities it describes are mostly correct. It isn't quite right on burglaries – these are actually recorded as 'criminal damage plus a theft'. But it's a good article mostly.

Where it misleads is that like all tendentious writing about the police, the rank-and-file have been lumped together with senior management in an amorphous mass, as if we're all equally to blame. I wish that author understood that the constables have no power to self-determine. We simply have to do what we are told.

The way the crime mis-recording works is that senior officers set the targets of 'reducing crime by 20%' and the chief inspectors, inspectors and sergeants lower down the hierarchy realise that the only way of achieving this is by changing the way crime is recorded. The chief inspectors and inspectors are looking for promotion, and that is what motivates them.

The article states that hitting targets is linked to officers' promotion. This is not quite how it works. There has been no promotion for PCs for almost three years, and there is unlikely to be any for the foreseeable future, as the Met is trying to lose sergeants. The PCs aren't motivated by self-interest to record crimes in a certain way. They simply have to do what they're told. We work inside a uniformed quasi-military organisation based upon the following of orders. Any attempt to negotiate or ignore a supervisor's order will always result in disciplinary proceedings.

Ultimately the targets are to blame. Police cannot reduce crime. We investigate it afterwards, but we cannot control how much crime happens. So a crime reduction target unavoidably results in chiefs forcing the PCs to adopt unethical crime-recording practices.

Friday, 27 September 2013

'Return' of Police Targets...

BBC News: Police forces facing dozens of new performance targets
BBC News: Theresa May warning over police targets 'comeback'

At a conference for the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales Theresa May told 250 senior police managers that targets are “making a comeback”.

I feel compelled to explain how this statement signals that the Home Secretary – who has been in post three-and-a-half years - knows little of the functioning of her own police forces.

I have been working for the Met for the last umpteen years and targets have never gone away. On the contrary they dictate my colleagues' actions ever more relentlessly. And Mrs May will surely soon blame the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) for the police targets.

At the conference she claimed that her government has removed the bureacracy that previously “turned police officers into form-fillers rather than crime-fighters.” I know that was her intention, and an honourable one it is, but we have always been form-fillers and Social Workers.

Sometime around 2010 the Met's senior officers told us “There is now only one target: public satisfaction.” This objective seems so vague as to be meaningless: which public? How is this measured? How can it be usefully quantified? If we ask a hundred people and generate a decimal between 0 and 10 how is easy it for managers to apply spin? My point is: that's a good objective, but we can't measure it so let's not try.

Theresa May's statement unfortunately made no difference to the targets and pressures imposed on us. During my time on various teams, my managers have always required every team member to submit daily returns summarising stop-and-searches, arrests, and so forth. My inspector would then submit this data upwards through her managers.

Irrespective of PCC expectations, the Commissioner's 'new' Local Policing Model (LPM) only heightens the use of targets.

The key to understanding the LPM is that the response team now deal only with I-grades (Immediate – 12 minutes attendance) and S-grades (Slow – 60 minutes). The new local policing teams only deal with E-grades (Eventually – 48 hours). The result of this restructuring has been a drastic reduction in victim care.

I must explain. There is now one sole objective amongst the sergeants and inspectors running the response teams and the local policing teams: attending these I, S and E calls within the attendance targets. When I am on duty and listen to my personal radio all I ever hear is:

“How many minutes are left on that one?”
“It's about to run out? Okay let's downgrade it...”
“We're out of time for that call - forget about it. What else have we got that's still within time?”

Borough senior management tell us that hitting these attendance targets is imperative and that message is passed down through the hierarchy. Prior to LPM the response team were able to resource all the calls. Since the introduction of the LPM the response teams run out of units an hour into each shift. The result is that when the response team are about to miss an I-grade - perhaps 11 minutes has elapsed - a sergeant speaks up on the radio:

“We're about to run out on that one. Can we downgrade it to an S?”
And then when they're at 58 minutes:
“Can we downgrade this to an E?”

Even though an S-grade might (downgraded from I-grade) be in its 61st minute, it could still be very important. Perhaps Mrs Miggins has been burgled or mugged. She needs a police unit, but because we've missed the hour, she goes to the bottom of the pile and the resourcing sergeant turns his attention to the next call still within time. Mrs Miggins' burglary, now an E-grade, has now to be attended inside 48 hours.

Victim care has gone out through the window. PCs have no choice - their sergeants are frightened of missing the attendance times and rush them from one call to the next that's still within the deadline - 12 minutes, or 60 minutes. Each day I-grades are missed and end up as appointments.

A gang-rape by seven males was recently missed, turned into an S, then missed again and consigned to the local policing team's diary as an appointment the next day.

About us being Social Workers, government do not seem to realise that whereas the roles of the ambulance service, fire brigade and social services are well-defined, this is not the case for the police. Everybody likes to imagine we fight crime, but actually we do everything that isn't under the remit of the other services. Everything that falls between the cracks. The managers at all levels are so afraid they'll be blamed if somebody is harmed that they send a pair of police officers to everything. Half the jobs we attend are not police matters. Landlords have complaints against their tenants (and vice versa), but don't want to pay a solicitor, so they call the police. However there's nothing we can do about a civil matter. We waste an hour or two going to this.

So we are Social Workers. Police have to pick up everything turned away by the other services, therefore when Theresa May tells police she "hadn't asked the police to be social workers... I've told them to cut crime" (BBC News: Police forces facing dozens of new performance targets) it's just hollow words. I know she has the best intention, but it has had no effect. If senior police officers can ignore her, they will. Police managers at all levels are so frightened of criticism that they never say “That's not a police matter” and a police unit gets sent to almost everything “just in case”. This is why a constable colleague recently visited a woman who called police because there was a dead pigeon in her garden.

The pressure to get an officer to every call, irrespective of it's details, has resulted in a loss of victim focus. Partly this is because every moment of the day is under pressure. Local Policing Team officers continually have to visit a local mental hospital where every patient has a mobile phone and calls the police constantly.

“Another girl calls me names.”
“A guy threw a sausage at me.”

Either the calls aren't a matter for the police because of their triviality or because the allegation is delusional or fabricated. A quarter of the E-grades are calls from such patients.

The hospital has a special secure ward, male-only, for extremely delusional patients. One of these called police: “There are dancing girls here and all the nurses are raping them.” The officer spoke with the Control Room sergeant to query whether she really needed to attend - the sergeant said, yes, she would have to go to because the LPM dictates that an officer MUST be sent to every appointment within 48 hours.

So, irrespective of the PCCs, the targets have never gone away. If Mrs May believes that thanks to her diligence and forcefulness with police chiefs she made the targets vanish, she is trying to deceive us.

This is all, I suppose, only the latest manifestation of police leaders' need to control everything tightly because they believe that if the system fails it is because officers are not doing what they're told or are not working hard enough. On the contrary, the LPM has had the effect of halving staff and increasing the number of calls. Because of this bankrupt LPM system we constables are all flat out just keeping up with the workload.

Mrs May, you've told us to “reduce crime”, but that's the one thing police cannot do. When we're not acting as social workers we are mopping up after the crime has happened. The only chance of deterring crime is by being out on patrol, but the LPM has officers running from one appointment to the next. The LPT officers I know haven't patrolled for months. They haven't the time.

Apologies for the length of this blog. If any reader could shed light, I would be very interested to learn details of the consequences when Sir Bernard introduced the LPM in Merseyside? I have heard that was also a disaster.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Meaningless UK Crime Statistics

My previous post coincidentally sheds light on the BBC News article by Dominic Casciani (BBC News. Analysis: Is the thin blue line thinner?) published shortly thereafter, on 18th July. My primary point was that the rules governing crime-recording change frequently, depending on whichever particular crime about which the police senior management happens to be panicking. When the number of robberies, or burglaries, for example, becomes higher than the Commissioner wants them, an edict goes out to all of us to stop recording that type of crime.

Robberies are then recorded only as thefts. Or burglaries as criminal damage with theft. If frauds or rapes are too high, the burden of proof that must be satisfied before a crime can be recorded, increases.

The obvious consequence of this lack of consistency is that comparing this year’s crime figures with the year before is a meaningless exercise. And that of course undermines all the very serious debate going on over police effectiveness.

Dilbert says it best:

Arbitrary Crime-Recording

I am mystified as to why this article (Kent Police 'inaccurately recorded crimes') has appeared only now. It seems always to have been common knowledge amongst my colleagues that the crime-recording policies under which they labour change almost on a monthly basis. Police constables – even those not responsible for police blogs – always grumble and joke whenever management issues the latest arbitrary instructions on crime recording.

There exist Home Office rules for recording crimes (Counting rules for recorded crime). However, missives from the senior management of the Metropolitan Police Service are instead in the form of emails cascaded down from on-high.

The way this crime-recording tomfoolery manifests in the day-to-day activities of cops is as follows. For example a year ago we were told we were recording too many robberies. Consequently officers were instructed that when a person’s mobile phone or handbag is snatched on the street they were no longer to record this as a robbery but as a simple theft. They were also never to create a crime report for robbery without authority from the sergeant of the robbery squad. Another time, they were told that the burglary figures were too high. Then followed instructions on how burglary reports were no longer to be created. Instead officers were to list them as a criminal damage (e.g. a broken window) and a theft (jewellery stolen).

Another factor is the ‘not our remit’ culture: investigative departments such as robbery and burglary squads are always under pressure. A robbery squad will always try to downgrade the snatch-theft of a mobile phone to a simple theft because they can then pass it to another team or officer. The same happens with frauds, sexual assaults and other crimes. If the media understood that the definitions of crime types are so malleable and arbitrary perhaps they might publish fewer misleading articles.

These perpetual changes in crime recording are all part of the job – not corruption per se, and not even considered secret, which is why in the first instance I pondered the newsworthiness of the above article about Kent Police. No, the contortions in crime-recording are simply a management tool for bringing the crime stats in under the target. It enables senior managers to make occasional media-worthy pronouncements (see below), and more generally to satisfy the Home Office and so have their budgets renewed annually.

Paradoxically, forces must support the Commissioner’s claims by showing low levels of burglary and robbery, yet constables are pressured daily to maximise their arrests and detections in order that forces can hit their Home Office targets. Similarly, corporate propaganda on police station walls always trumpets ever-increasing detection and arrest rates, but also ever-decreasing recorded crime. Both cannot be true. The only way both these conflicting objectives can be achieved is by continually altering the way these crimes are recorded.

Massaging of statistics will happen in any system driven entirely by targets. (Consider the ever-mutating rules for calculating unemployment or inflation). Anybody who thinks otherwise should wake up to our modern state directed on the basis of simplistic numerical models.

It’s important to realise that no constable has the standing to question any of this – at best he would be rudely ignored, at worst disciplined and sacked for insubordination. We are just numbers and must do what we are told. And mentioning any of this to people outside the job is of course another sackable offence. Heaven forbid there should be any transparency or genuine dialogue between the public and Scotland Yard.

Knowing all of the above lends a certain context to the Commissioner’s statements last year, when he insisted that burglary was lower than any time during the previous 27 years:

Burglary victims hit back as top policeman says: You're safest for 27 years at home

Likewise for his proclamations since then – that the statistics prove crime has reduced significantly under his stewardship.

Policing the UK.

Enlightened reader, welcome to my first ever blog. I have been driven to this, kicking and screaming, by the passion and anger I feel over our Criminal Justice System. Our police is in a terrible state – not only for the constables quietly suffering daily insults and abuse from their own management, but also for the public. I am a constable and I passionately want a career where I feel respected and properly utilised by my employer. I am also a member of the public and so deserve a properly functioning police service. Police senior management, in the furtherance of their own careers, are laughing at all of us. They are taking the mickey and getting away with it.

It’s convenient for them that constables have no right to strike, no protection by employment law, no personal life that the job can’t invade, no control over their working hours or workload, and are forbidden from speaking out without the certainty of being sacked.

My career includes both county forces and the Met, and I simply cannot any longer give support to such organisations. I have to communicate my experiences. My criticisms aren’t against the constables, who are almost entirely decent hard-working folk who make the job work. The constables accept almost unbelievable intrusion into their personal lives, but they keep making it work because they still think it’s a good job and an important one. Despite the recent erosion that has turned a career for life into a job, the rank-and-file still care about their professionalism.

We need a management who get out of the way and allow the PCs to do the job they love. Managers must also start communicating with the public. If we're not allowed to speak, and the only information comes in the form of management sound-bites and propaganda how can people know what we do and what can go wrong?

In the hope of bringing about a fruitful dialogue, I intend to share here some of my thoughts in the lead up to the completion of my manuscript. I hope you will find some of them interesting.