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.

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- Justice and Chaos