Sunday, 27 December 2015

Shoot to Kill?

There's currently a vogue for news articles about armed police in Britain:

(1) Why do they keep shooting people?
(2) We need more of them to fight the terrorists, don't we?

I'd like to dispel one recent piece of misinformation.

The Guardian: Corbyn against 'Shoot to kill' policy.

At the G20 Summit on 16th November a 'Whitehall source' said that British security chiefs will adopt a strategy of taking swift action “to neutralise terrorists, rather than cordon and negotiate.”

This word 'neutralise' was ill-chosen and ensnared Jeremy Corbyn in a misleading debate. To me it's unclear whether 'security chiefs' means police or army, but anyhow, the Guardian then mentioned that both British special forces and the police have a 'shoot-to-kill policy'. Mr Corbyn allegedly said that in his view such a 'shoot-to-kill policy' should not be pursued. Who said what, isn't really important to my point here.

I can't comment upon the army, who probably use different rules, but British armed police has a very specific firearms methodology rooted firmly in the common law of self-defence, which allows police (and everybody else) to use reasonable force to protect themselves or others.

Let me emphasize: police use of firearms isn't governed by policy, by by common law. So how can there be a shoot-to-kill 'policy'?

There can't. It doesn't exist.

The newspapers of course, instead of making the effort to check and correct Mr Corbyn's mistake, eagerly seized upon the opportunity to fill column inches.

I don't know where Mr Corbyn gained the idea that such a thing as a 'shoot-to-kill policy' exists here in the UK, but it's an easy mistake to make, especially if politicians talk about 'neutralizing.'

The thought process that British firearms officers use is very strict, and quite complicated. The circumstances under which they can and cannot squeeze the trigger are drummed into them during weeks and months of intense training.

A British police officer can't even put his finger on the trigger unless there is an imminent threat to life.

For example, a person is brandishing a gun or knife, or has a gun close at hand and is likely to use it. If the officer can feasibly stop the threat by other means, such as a baton, Taser, incapacitant spray or police dog, then those have to be tried.

Put bluntly, if there isn't an imminent threat to life, cops can't shoot.

Above I wrote 'stop' the threat, but the police terminology is 'neutralise', and it seems to be around this word that the problem has arisen. Mr Corbyn has assumed, as a reasonable person well might, that 'neutralise' is synonymous with 'kill'.

Actually, 'neutralise' is a specific part of the firearms lexicon – it is used because it does not mean 'to kill'. An armed officer's objective is not to kill, but to neutralise. i.e. to stop a threat.

The Commissioner did quite a good job explaining this recently:

Guardian: Shoot to kill. What is the UK's police?

However, he could perhaps have pointed out that 'policy' doesn't come into it. It isn't possible to have a policy around this, because what police officers can and can't do is spelled out by the law, as I've stated above.

There's no wriggle room, where policy might apply.

Recapping: it isn't about killing a person, but about stopping them from murdering innocent people. If the violent thug happens to be killed because he stops a police bullet, then that's that – if you live by the sword, you must expect to die by the sword.

However, the point isn't to kill, but to stop. To neutralise. Cops aren't terminators sent from the future.

If there indeed exists a UK police firearms policy, it's 'shoot-to-stop'.

The writers of the Guardian article, Rowena Mason and Patrick Wintour, obviously didn't research this, probably because they wanted to hammer the piece out in under five minutes.

Police officers have a duty to protect life, which is why armed cops put their own bodies between the terrorists, and other violent people, and the public. This brings us to another point about this supposed 'shoot-to-kill policy'.

That duty to protect and preserve life extends to everybody, including the terrorist. So the moment the bad guy has been stopped, the cop will drop to his knees and start administering First Aid. If an ambulance isn't already waiting nearby, he will call for one.

Interestingly, it's because an armed cop might shoot somebody that they are all taught a much higher level of First Aid than normal street cops.

It's regrettable that the debate that enmeshed Mr Corbyn could have been avoided if the word 'neutralised' either hadn't been used, or hadn't been seized upon by the media and by Mr Corbyn.

Also disappointing is that the Metropolitan Police did not bother sending a spokesperson to clarify this error. Any officer from an armed unit could have explained this erroneous conflation of police and army methodology.

Even now, two weeks later, why hasn't a correction been written? It seems to me rather pathetic that the Met Police senior managers welcome the creation of TV documentaries about themselves, yet won't allow ordinary cops to speak their minds, leaving it to bloggers to state the facts.

Also, just because a person in the public domain uses the expression 'shoot-to-kill policy' while talking about the British police, why do the media and everybody else simply assume that such a thing must be real?

Our armed police are paid the same as any other copper – they volunteer for the responsibility or bearing arms. The role carries great responsibility, and an awareness that there might only be a split second for a decision that will dramatically change lives. The training, which many do not pass, is gruelling, and involves stress and extreme pressure.

Perhaps in 2016, British people and politicians might stop thinking that policing here is like an American TV show.

This is the reality: the moment a British cop does her duty by putting a bullet in someone, she is then under arrest and investigated for murder. Additionally she will be tried by the court of public opinion...

She has done her job, for which she is paid not a penny more than the bobby on the beat, and yet officers still apply for this role and put themselves through this!

Well, I would like to thank all armed cops for doing the role. Thank you guys and girls!

Happy New Year everybody.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Simple Arithmetic...

A two-part post today, but not too long.

Firstly, reading about Sir Bernard's intention to double the number of Met firearms officers to 3000, I was reminded of Concorde.

When the fleet was mothballed, engineers removed the oil and coolant with the deliberate intention of preventing the planes from ever being restored to airworthiness. Of course, there is now a substantial will to do that, but it can't happen because of the short-term attitude taken when these beautiful aircraft were retired.

I'm repeating a point made in an earlier blog post, but here it is: we might now have 2000 authorised firearms officers (AFOs) in the Metropolitan Police, but we had more than 3000 until five minutes after the Olympics ended.

The Met, under pressure to make cuts, dimissed them:

"Guys, thanks for policing the Olympics. Bye!"

Until that moment there were well over a thousand AFOs working on boroughs, who were called up from time-to-time, but generally worked in standard borough policing, rather than armed protection roles.

Those guys and girls carrying guns, whom you saw standing at the entrances to the Olympic sites, were these 'Borough AFOs'. They worked sixteen hour days, six days a week, for five weeks.

9mm bullets cost around eleven pence so, for the sake of saving a few tens of thousands of pounds each year on the cost of ammunition, the Borough AFOs were dispensed with. Their authorisations were taken away. They stopped attending three month refresher days and classification shoots, and are now not available for firearms duties. To be used again, they would have to be completely retrained.

Sir Bernard has been telling LBC radio:

"What I’ve said is … we’re working on plans now so that in the short period of time we’ve got an extra third on top of the core provision."

The third that we already had until the moment the Olympics ended...?

He goes on to say:

"…we need to have a mobile reserve. And I’ve got a good idea how that can be achieved."

Oh, he has a 'good idea' does he? How about the armed officers Sir Bernard and his entourage decided to discard after using them at the Olympics?

It was the short-term view, as always seems to be the case with police managers.

I can still hear Sir Bernard's cronies: 

"We won't need them again. Look, we can save eleven pence a bullet!"

So now, only three years later, we again need firearms officers to protect the realm, but we could easily have already had more than 3000 available. Why are police managers always interested in no more than the flavour of the month?

It's disappointingly predictable.

I once worked on a tasking team, dealing with shoplifters and drug dealers on one of London's less salubrious high streets. We brought in a lot of arrests, but we were disbanded the moment the level of shoplifting started to reduce.

"Not so many shopliftings reported this month? You guys have solved the problem! Thanks, bye!"

Of course, within a few days of us leaving, the shoplifters returned. No doubt our puzzled chief inspector and superintendent were scratching their heads.

To train up new AFOs, or retrain the discarded Borough AFOs, will cost millions of pounds. It costs several thousand for each AFO. All this cost, when the Borough AFOs could easily have been maintained as a standby, as they had been for decades until September 2012.

There's another point I want to make in this post:

According to the newspapers, the use of stop-and-search has dropped by 40%, although they don't make clear with reference to what time period.

It's also stated that the proportion of arrests has increased, from 12% to 14%. To my mind this is a negligible increase, and yet Theresa May considers this significant enough to justify saying that stop-and-search is therefore "more targeted, fairer on communities, and leads to a greater proportion of arrests."

Let me make a simple point of arithmetic.

A year or two ago, for every 100 people searched, 12 were arrested. (12%)

If we're now searching only 60 people, and 14% of those are arrested, this means the following:

For every 100 people who would have been searched a year or two ago, only 8.4 are now arrested.

100 x 60% x 14%  =  8.4


12 - 8.4  =  3.6

Out of 100, we used to arrest 12, but now only 8.4.

For every 100 stop-and-searches, there are 3.6 people who should have been arrested, but weren't because stop-and-search 'has become more targeted...blah blah...'

Let me repeat this: nowadays, with pressure on officers to not stop-and-search, 3.6 suspects are out there with knives, guns, drugs and stolen property, NOT arrested, who should have been.

They would have been searched and arrested prior to Theresa May's anti-stop-search crusade, when officers were allowed to use their search powers.

Now, in a time of worse gang and knife-enabled crime than ever, more violent criminals are slipping through the stop-search net.

Far from being 'more targeted...' blah blah, the Home Secretary's public-pleasing stance on stop-and-search means that we're less effective.

Thanks, Theresa! Good work.

It's simple arithmetic, clearly beyond cabinet ministers. Or, the likes of Theresa May would prefer that people don't look too closely at the figures.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Pink and Fluffy

Sorry this post is a little late. It's been business as usual: ticking boxes, updating spreadsheets to cover my boss's backside, and being forced to work late shifts even though most of the work happens behind a desk.

The Guardian: Police Officer Shot

So, another British police officer has stopped a bullet fired by a thug brandishing a gun. A scumbag has so little respect for society that, to him, it's acceptable to kill cops. Thankfully the officer survived.

However, why are the streets not filled with people up in arms about this?

That's what happened in 2011, when a man with a history of violence and criminality refused to cooperate with police and was shot by an armed officer who had reason to believe he was in possession of a gun. Most of our violent and drug-dealing criminals then rode the wave of chaos by running amok in the streets.

Policing has its upsides, but it can be a dangerous occupation. Even during my career I have known two colleagues killed on duty.

Part of the problem is that British police officers are expected to be all nice, pink and fluffy. We can't use the robustness that, frankly, is the only thing the worst criminals respect.

We arrest violent offenders, and yet the Crown Prosecution Service is always reluctant to charge unless the evidence is overwhelming.

A colleague recently caught a drug dealer in his house surrounded by crack cocaine and cash, yet the CPS refused authority to charge, telling the officer, “But how can we prove that it belongs to him?”

Tell you what, Mr CPS, how about letting it go to trial and giving the judge and jury a chance to make that decision, instead of you?

There is good reason why we call the CPS the 'Criminal Protection Service'.

Those rare occasions when an offender is actually charged and convicted by a court, he might be awarded a sentence of two years for a knifepoint robbery, but he'll always be out within a year.

The sentence is usually halved, or less, ultimately because of the scarcity of prison space.

The drug dealers know this, and they smile at us in court, tacitly mocking everybody present – the jury, the bench, the police, society.

If it wasn't for the cost of trials, and the entrenched CPS target culture, I could well imagine that the conviction rate would be much greater.

Many is the time I've heard people tell the police that we're useless. Well, I always like to remind them of two things:
  1. We catch nine out of ten murderers.
  2. We put so many behind bars that the prisons have to let them out early.
I am not hopeful for the future safety of the public. One reason is the current police training regime, whereby new police recruits, in the College of Policing, are taught that they should lay hands on a person only as a very last resort.

The reason for this attitude: senior officers' fear of criticism by the media and the public.

If officers go into every situation having already decided that they won't put hands on a person, this creates a serious risk for us. Each person on the streets is an unknown risk to me. If he appears to be concealing something, it could be a knife or gun. It's therefore imperative that I grasp his wrists immediately and, if necessary, handcuff them. Then the person can be searched calmly, without using force, and without him suffering an injury.

This might occasionally upset lobby groups, who like to think that when an innocent person has been stop-searched, something deeply unfair has happened but, if I follow police corporate policy and give the person the benefit of the doubt, it is only a matter of time until I am stabbed.

A police officer will speak with thousands or tens of thousands of people over her career, so it's a numbers game. If you take risks there will be a near certainty that you will eventually be assaulted, injured or killed.

I have been slapped and punched, but fortunately never stabbed. I'm aware of the threat all officers face, so when I'm in uniform on the streets, my eyes continually scan the people around me. We can't afford to ever truly relax, once we've left the safety of the police station.

The responsibility for the disease of this self-deluding pink and fluffy attitude doesn't like only on the shoulders of our senior cops. If the media and the public didn't reflexively criticise the police, but instead supported us, the senior officers wouldn't feel such pressure to create their bizarre policies preventing constables from using force.

Police management are now desperate to replace every experienced cop with a brand new, cheaper, recruit. Response teams and Local Policing Teams seem now to be staffed entirely by 21 year olds. The pink and fluffy disease is now the norm.

Let me paint a picture, so that you might understand some of the people we deal with. In one part of London there is a canal where most nights you will find five or six lads skulking in the shadows. If you are foolish enough to use the towpath, they will jump down and ask, “What have you got for me bruv?”

They'll then punch you and take everything you have. Just for fun, they might slash your face with a knife.

If you're a female they'll instead say, “Walk with me,” and will march you to a bedroom where you'll be raped by each of them.

They'll wear condoms, but not through gentlemanly concern. It's because they know police forensic processes.

To one of these guys, you are no more than an object he can either rob, stab, or insert his penis into.

Meanwhile these people will be running a drugs distribution system that earns them thousands of pounds a week. And when they feel like a change of pace, they'll knock on doors and rob residents at knifepoint.

We identify and arrest them from time to time but, because the Crown Prosecution Service are so ineffective and hidebound, the suspects are more often released than charged.

Being drug dealers, the suspects' mobile phones are seized and their contents downloaded. Officers sort through the data downloaded, and some truly appalling material is often found. There might be footage they've taken themselves, and other little films copied from the internet.

Amongst the media files downloaded from drug dealers' / gang members' mobile phones, we find beatings, rapes, and African warlords executing prisoners by blowing their faces open with shotguns.

Presumably this sort of video titillates London's violent criminals.

The officers who investigate drug dealers have to sort through this kind of material, and it isn't healthy viewing. Likewise material relating to child abuse, animal cruelty and all manner of other human foulness.

Cops are normal people, and at the end of a shift we have to return home to our loved ones and our cats and try to forget about this, even though we know that the next day we will be back in the fray.

This is of course the origin of the famous police black humour, shared also with undertakers and medical professionals. It's also why experienced police officers often display an absence of emotional affect.

To combat this gang drug-dealing and violence, countless hours are spent by cops and council community intervention officers. Police officers visit these gang members weekly to check on their welfare, and to try to draw them away from criminality. The gang member / drug dealers are told:

“We can help you.”

“Is there anything we can offer you?”

The council gives them holidays abroad, recording-studio time, youth club membership, motorcycle maintenance courses and anything else you can imagine. This is called 'Engagement', and is obviously purchased using public money.

Steering groups and committees are formed: Bronze Groups, Youth Intervention Support Panels, and others, where each teenager or twenty-something, is discussed regularly.

We talk about them being 'victims of their circumstances' and 'trapped by their friendship groups.' All the numerous professionals involves are concerned with designing a 'pathway out of criminality.'

These criminals are listed on spreadsheets. They are telephoned daily by numerous professionals: social workers, case workers, psychiatrists, counsellors, child sex-exploitation workers, and others.

Should we really be humouring these criminals with all of our time and resources? Those gang members and drug dealers who genuinely want 'Out' simply make the decision to leave. They don't let their 'friendship groups' trap them.

But as for the others, public money is hurled at them, and all we can do is cross our fingers and hope they will decide to leave their multi-£1000/week lives as drug-dealing gang members.

This is the pink and fluffy nature of 21st century policing in Britain.

I'm not suggesting we should ever use anything other than measured and proportionate force. But really, haven't things gone too far?

No wonder these people laugh at us.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Twits Brought Tweeting to Policing

BBC News: Leicestershire Police ignore burglaries at odd-numbered houses

A trial scheme to send police forensic experts to only even-numbered houses, obviously this tickles me hugely, but it's a fishy piece of writing.

Police forces send a civilian forensic investigator (SOCO – Scenes Of Crime Officer) to every burglary except those where there is absolutely no opportunity for forensic evidence. They look for fingerprints, shoe-prints, fibres, blood, anything that might provide a lead to the offender. They are not police officers.

Indeed, every crime that has potential for forensic evidence receives a visit from a SOCO.

If it didn't, the senior officers up the chain would be exposing themselves to disciplinary action.

The Leicestershire Police director of forensic sciences, Jo Ashworth, seems to admit that this pilot scheme did happen, although it surely can't be that only burglaries of even-numbered houses were investigated, for the reason I've stated above.

As much as I enjoy fair (and amusing) discussion of police mismanagement, the writers of these kinds of articles often rely heavily upon the prejudice of police-hating readers. This author has chanced his arm by writing a piece with almost no details or verifiable facts.

Much more clarity is needed. What exactly is it that the even-numbered houses received that the odd-numbered ones didn't?

If Leicestershire Police only investigate burglaries on one side of the street, we desperately need to open that can of worms. So, how about some proper investigation before publishing?

One thing though: if senior managers fail to realise how a pilot scheme such as this might appear to the public, we can see the level of thinking of the managers in today's police forces.

Moving on, this interested me too:

The Guardian: Today's police officers dream of going viral

It's an attention-seeking Wiltshire Police superintendent – broadcasting footage of himself in uniform outside Ted Heath's house. He mentions possible abuse allegations against the former PM and asks that viewers phone in with any information they have.

To me this seems odd and inappropriate. It's very easy to stand outside anybody's house idly wondering about their misdemeanours, soliciting allegations and tittle-tattle from the world at large.

Let me get something out of the way: the piece is laden with supposition, and the Marina Hyde's tone is predictably and boringly caustic and biased. It's lazy writing, and one of a thousand similar police-bashing pieces.

If we want a better criminal justice system we writers need to publish reasoned and constructive arguments and discussion. Not sabre-rattling polemic.

She implies that 'the police' are abusing social media. The managers – such as the Wiltshire superintendent – may well be, but even the title of the article is based upon an assumption that constables and senior managers are a homogenous mass with equal responsibility for police practices.

The reality is that the chief constables and Commissioner decide the practices their officers will follow. The constables have no power to do more than roll their eyes and do exactly what they're told, if they want to keep their jobs. 

Over the last couple of years I have certainly seen Twitter rear its head in policing. Chief Inspectors eager for promotion have been forcing their sergeants to open Twitter accounts, as if they don't already have a hundred tasks to do each day. No doubt the pressure has originated much higher; far above my pay grade.

People complain that the service is failing, but yet we're drawn into ever more demands on our time.

On Neighbourhood Policing Teams, the policy is that the sergeants, PCs and community officers must now habitually issue bland tweets.

For example: “We're on the High Street right now. Come and say hi!” 

Giving officers' locations and activities creates risks. Burglars and drug dealers can now follow the movements of the cops, and avoid them.

And if a person wants to assault an officer - and plenty of people do - it won't take a lot of work to locate one cop on her own.

The tweets sometimes show the officers taking a break in a cafe, and the responses from local residents inevitably include helpful statements such as:

“Haven't they got better things to do? We don't pay them to drink tea.”

Does policing really need to jump on every fad and passing bandwagon?

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Drowning in Criticism, as Usual

Daily Mail: Police refused to save drowning teenager

A teenage boy, Jack Susianta, drowned in the River Lea last week, and the press responded with their usual lazy and predictable police criticism.

Let's remember that the Metropolitan Police always refers itself to the IPCC after incidents like this. So perhaps the newspapers might refrain from spitting their tedious bile until after the IPCC have clarified events?

Many papers stated that the Met allowed the boy to drown. However, It's already been established that an officer entered the water, which, as I explain below, isn't something we are required to do.

I can't help wondering why a seventeen year old boy would flee from the police if he didn't have anything to hide? We can't prevent a teenager's unpredictable behaviour, nor use telepathy to instantaneously teach him to swim.

The police is specifically NOT a rescue service. We receive First Aid training, but that's all. No firefighting, no swimming, no climbing skills.

Police are a microcosm of society, and so some cops can't even swim. We're instructed that, if a person is drowning, our procedure is to throw flotation devices to the person, if there are any, and a rope if possible. Standard police cars carry neither. The radio operators have normally called for the Marine Unit, and so the officers at the scene manage as best as they can.

We are however allowed to enter the water if we can argue that it would be reasonably safe to do so.

But this isn't a requirement. Water in and around London tends to be dangerous, containing submerged objects, cold and disease.

Every uniformed officer on the streets, by simply being there and doing her job, puts herself on offer for threats, violence and disease, every single day. This is in addition to the daily occasions of officers facing confrontation, or taking risks to help people.

Interestingly the 2014 round of training at Hendon included a session considering a drowning scenario. At my session, half the class agreed that, even if it was clearly pointless, or they weren't able to swim, officers would nevertheless enter the water simply to protect themselves from criticism.

This seems to be the nature of the blame society in which we live.

Senior cops' normal response to criticism is to feed us to the wolves. What interests me here, is that at long last a senior cop, Commander D'Orsi, has taken the trouble to stand up for her officers.

This is so rare. Normally we have Sir Bernard busy agreeing with journalists that his constables are all racist.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Episodes 2 & 3 of The Met: Cannon Fodder

The BBC's reality TV show about the Metropolitan Police Service seems refreshingly free of propaganda. Doubtless the Met provided abundant soundbites, but the producers mercilessly edited these out.

I've watched episodes 2 and 3, and here's what I think. Do let me know your thoughts too, if you wish, by writing a short comment.

Episode Two:

I worry that showing such detail of the murder investigation will give too much away to criminals planning violent attacks, however the programme showed that excellent police work is taking place.

Met detectives catch 9 out of 10 murderers. How good is that?

Many times I've heard people say “The police are useless” but we're good enough to fill the prisons so full that they are forced to release people early.

This sends out the right message to criminals – we are good, and we will catch them.

The sex attacker interview is good, accurately showing what we face during what seems like almost every interview these days: a guilty-looking person murmuring 'No comment' after every question. They say this because they know how the system works, and that they'll receive no greater punishment if they refuse to comply.

I know from experience that they can leave changing their plea from 'not guilty' to 'guilty' until the very day of the trial and the court still won't impose a more penalty for wasting public time and money.

Even the professionalism of the Territorial Support Group has been shown on television, at long last! The TSG receives nothing but criticism from human rights groups, but they are cops doing hard and thankless work. It's the nature of their tasks that nobody will pat them on the back, or even see their work, but it's essential and dangerous.

The TSG seem fearless. Escorting a prisoner through the Notting Hill Carnival, they were faced by groups of gang members who wanted to fight through the officers to reach their captured comrade. But they stayed on track and dealt calmly with the situation.

Episode Three:

Again, there's good police work taking place, and we see that. Borough Commander Richard Tucker is shown as sincere and concerned, despite flak from despairing residents at a public meeting.

He pointed out that we can't pursue thieves on mopeds because we are accountable for the robber's safety. Victims don't want to hear that we have a duty of care towards the criminals – but this is the truth of the risk-averse Britain in which we live.

Unfortunately we didn't see whether Tucker expanded on this point, explaining that it's the culture around us and our legal framework, that forces us to be pink and fluffy. We can't deal with criminals as robustly as we would like. That point really needs to be made.

It's no use criticising the police. If you want change, you must lobby your MP and force a discussion at government level.

The residents didn't understand, and probably weren't told, that a borough commander has no power to influence the way policing is conducted. Even a borough commander is really only a leader of a team, not a policy-maker. Policing is micromanaged from the centre by New Scotland Yard – the likes of Mark Rowley and Sir Bernard.

Two years ago we had neighbourhood teams of five to eight officers. Under Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model, those teams were replaced by one constable and one community support officer. Those two officers are now busy writing newsletters, 'good news stories' for the local newspapers, and updating spreadsheets.

But even so, the BBC programme proves good police work is taking place.

Although the show appears to take a neutral stance, the writers still can't resist every now and again getting in a little dig at the police. For example, the narrator stated that Victor Olisa is 'one of only five black borough commanders.'

Well, there are 32 boroughs, therefore 15% of borough commanders are black. The 2011 census showed that 13.3% of London residents are black. So the Met's 15% is more than representative.

The Met has an online forum on its Intranet, where officers are invited to post their views. In general the comments from officers are negative. The greatest disgust seems to be around Sir Bernard saying, or implying, that officers are racist.

I find it regrettable that the programme gives the impression that response policing is constantly exciting – that every day you're locking people up or trying to resuscitate stab victims. I spent many years working on a response team, and the excitement was infrequent at best.

I'm guessing the film crew has taken two hundred hours of film, from which they've distilled the most thrilling incidents to piece together a one hour programme.

I mean no criticism of the two PCs, Tim and Steph, but this footage of them seems to suggest that policing is all light-hearted chat and laughs.

That simply isn't representative. Coppers are culturally preoccupied with putting the world to rights and discussing how 'The job's fucked' – a stock phrase we use.

It's part of police culture that we spend half our time complaining, and the BBC documentary-makers have clearly chosen their footage carefully to avoid this, instead showing the carefree Tim and Steph cheerfully discussing their dietary habits.

There's no mention of the fact that neither of them have probably had a decent nights sleep for five years. Nor that they never know if/when they will leave work. Nor that their hours and and days are constantly changed at short notice – which happens because the law allows it...because we aren't employees and aren't protected by employment law.

I'm around police officers all the time – I am one – and we never stop talking about the venality of managers, and how the job is in the doldrums. We talk about how the bosses design the inane practices we have to follow, as if they're running some sort of video game, up in their remote Scotland Yard ivory tower. That's the conversation that takes place inside police cars.

Because of it's unrealistically rosy tint, this series is likely to improve recruitment. This is unfortunate because the senior officers can continue to ignore our welfare and careers as long as the cannon fodder keeps coming – the endless queue of willing twenty-somethings, desperate to apply...

“As long as I can remember I always wanted to be a police officer. I can't wait to put on my uniform. Look how shiny my shoes are!”

Senior manager are apparently too busy working on public relations, as we saw in episode one. And what a great job they make of that.

The programme doesn't show the hours we spend each day duplicating paperwork, ticking boxes and adding to spreadsheets. It doesn't show us standing on cordons for hours. It doesn't show our health suffering from the hours we work, or the aggression the organisation expresses towards us.

The cannon fodder won't want to see that, of course. Give those young people a few years however, and they'll be looking for an 'out', like the rest of us.

In general I approve of this television series. The overt propaganda, that the senior management doubtless provided, has been left on the cutting room floor, and we see something of the dichotomy between, on the one hand – the nonsensical and enormously time-wasting system under which we struggle, and, on the other hand – the activity of day-to-day policing, where officers are doing great work.

Two very different things.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Episode 1 of The Met: Muppets and Moomins

I was astonished to find that the new BBC documentary about the Metropolitan Police Service isn't simply unrelenting propaganda. I expected the usual soundbites about how crime is down, there are more officers on the street than ever before blah blah blah...

But it isn't bad. I have mixed feelings about it.

I have no doubt that Sir Bernard and his senior management team attempted to dictate the content, in order to show the Met in the best possible light, but the BBC edited heavily. Let's take a look:

Episode One:

Mark Rowley at a public meeting – I do feel for him: it's hard taking that abuse from people, but also I can't help but feel rather embarrassed at seeing him and his colleagues – our bosses – sitting there like imbeciles, unwilling to stand up for themselves or for us.

They seemed to do nothing but keep avowing: “...we're listening to you and we know we have more work to do...”

Rowley and the others utterly failed to get across to people the crucial point, that if a person gives reason to believe he poses an imminent threat to life, he is likely to be shot.

It's easy to NOT be shot, for goodness sake. You simply don't evade police and you don't carry a gun or threaten violence. Most normal people don't struggle with this.

The critics seemed fixated with the question of how can a person be shot if he isn't holding a gun, which is missing the point.

It isn't about possession of a gun.

For example, if I'm beating a person to death with a rolled-up newspaper, because I can't afford a gun, and the only way to stop me is with a bullet (perhaps I'm on the other side of a fence?), then shooting me is justified if it's the only way to prevent an 'imminent threat to life'.

We heard Rowley make no attempt to respond to the heckling, to defend himself. I would like to think that our managers could at least affirm “We aren't murderers, and we aren't racist.”

But he didn't say that, or at least it wasn't shown.

Instead, these officers, with their crowns and goodness knows what else on their epaulettes, are paid a lot of money for mouthing a tedious litany that they obviously practice, and is probably part of a mandatory online training module for Assistant Commissioners.

Rowley could have tried to explain the reasoning process of armed police, and the framework they work under – that if a person gives us reason to think they pose an imminent threat to life, they are likely to be shot.

As a recipient of the Met's leadership courses, he should know that he needs to allow angry people to sound off, that it's after they've expelled their bile that we can make our points.

The decision that the shooting was lawful, was a verdict by the High Court, not the police. Did Rowley and the others explain that? No.

Even if the Metropolitan Police wanted to alter a court's decision, it wouldn't be able to do that. (Do you remember being taught at school the 'separation of legislature, judiciary and excutive?)

Our most senior managers appeared like a bunch of muppets, laughed at by the public. And when Rowley stood at the door of the High Court reading the Met's statement to the press – I have never seen a person with less presence...

Back in their office at Scotland Yard, it was interesting to observe the normal business of the Commissioner's senior management team. Public relations, unsurprisingly.

You might ask, if they believe their core responsibility is deflecting criticism, why is there so much public dislike and suspicion of the Met Police?

It doesn't seem that they're very good at it?

I'm glad to see that at least one borough commander – Victor Olisa – is a sensitive and respectful leader. He impressed me with his intelligence and sincerity.

I would choose Victor for our next Commissioner.

Sir Bernard comes across as a genuine, personable, and quite thoughtful person, but his monologue about the Met being institutionally racist is confused. He starts by implying that the public are mistaken, and that the term is bandied around with little understanding, but then actually states that the Met IS racist.

Sir Bernard himself seemed confused, saying:

“Society isn't fully representative of the people it's made up of.”

This makes no sense at all.

I believe he's well-intentioned, but certainly seems to have no loyalty to his 39,000 officers, nor to be able to generate intelligent comment or ideas – look at Sir Bernard's solution to the cuts: the Local Policing Model, a reorganisation that two years ago turned policing into an abomination.

The Met is a microcosm of society, therefore it's sadly unavoidable that there is bigotry and prejudice. However, as Steph pointed out to one of the youths, there is a tendency to generalise police officers, as if we are one homogenous mass. We are no more all the same than all office workers are the same.

It's a mistake of lazy thinking, to which all human beings are prone.

However, no matter how low my opinion is of some of Sir Bernard's decisions, during a walking interview with a journalist he was faced with a crime and he acted upon it.

Good work.

Well, Mr Journalist, that's policing. Unlike other folk, we are on duty 24/7, and if we encounter an incident, we are duty bound to deal with it, whether in uniform or not. And that includes the Commissioner. Unlike employees – or journalists – we can never claim that we are outside office hours.

And it's because of that 24/7 obligation that everybody else can sleep safe in their beds.

Sir Bernard has his faults, but let's be fair with him, instead of these constant implications of incompetence dripping from the lips of the media – implications that implicitly extend to the rest of us.

The firearms officers appeared extremely professional and level-headed. Those men and women put themselves at risk of being shot, and at risk of having to pull the trigger, knowing that it will change many people's lives.

They do the job knowing they will have only a split-second to make a decision that will result in years of torture, media attention and possibly imprisonment. They will spend the rest of their lives knowing they've killed a person. They and their families will be under a spotlight forever thereafter.

How many of us would really like to work under that kind of pressure?

Unfortunately, by not showing any of the training the firearms cops undergo, the programme allows viewers to conclude that any of us can carry firearms. Actually all firearms officers undergo at least four solid weeks of intense training, exhausting physically and mentally.

The firearms courses are so stressful that candidates regularly drop out. Some are reduced to tears. Not everybody passes but, having passed, officers continue to be reassessed and trained at least four times a year.

Rounding up, at least the overt propaganda and soundbites have been discarded on the cutting room floor. We're given an inkling of the bizarre activities of the Met's senior management, and some limited insight into what it is to be a police forearms officer.

But I need to see more. Watch this space. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Cold Six Thousand

After reading Alex Stewart's poignant piece how can anybody doubt the decay of police management?

The Guardian: Why I quit the thin blue line: a former Met police officer on a service in crisis

And things have deteriorated a good deal since late 2014, when Alex left.

This week I was out on patrol in my borough and my inspector brought me up short. He ordered me to don my high-visibility jacket and cited the current 'Severe' threat assessment. The Metropolitan Police Service currently has a standing policing that constables patrolling on foot must wear these scruffy ill-fitting jackets. They are untidy yellow zip-up sacks that make us resemble dustbin men.

“But guv,” I said, “how will my hi-vis protect me from a gunman?”

“Protect you?” he said. “It's not about you. Nobody gives a fuck about you. This is about reassuring the public. About making them feel there are plenty of coppers around.”

But the terrorists have stated that they want to kill soldiers and police, not members of the public. So, the threat isn't against the public. It's me and my colleagues who need reassuring.

So when the crazy guy is walking around looking for a cop or a soldier to shoot or behead, he'll spot me a mile away. I'll be the sponge soaking up his bullets.

Nobody gives a fuck about you.

That's just it. I've been in this job a long time and have NEVER felt that constables' welfare means anything to local or senior managers. Like many of my colleagues, the heavy kit and sometimes inhuman hours have damaged my health. When I bring this to the attention of my managers, they say:

“Yes, me too. Oh well, if you don't like it you could always stack shelves in a supermarket.”

Lately I've noticed a subtle change – colleagues no longer contemplate the departments where they would enjoy working, but instead try to determine which are the least unpleasant – where they could tolerate working.

It's interesting what Alex says about the inability of the organisation to embrace meaningful improvement, unless the suggestions originate centrally. It's only when senior managers are able to claim credit, that initiatives are supported.

I've experienced this myself and mention it in my book, which will hopefully be published this autumn.

The Met is currently amidst a round of training days for sergeants. The content of them is very telling. After one such day last week I spoke with a sergeant with twenty years of service. He told me:

“There was no training, only browbeating. For the first couple of hours we were criticised mercilessly for our failings. But there are a thousand things we're told we must do perfectly, and there simply aren't the hours in the day.”

“As for the rest of the 'training', we were told that the
Met needs to lose six thousand officers to make the necessary savings, and that means replacing experienced people – who are expensive – with brand new probationers – who are cheap.”

“We've been told that from now on we must take every opportunity to put sick or recuperating officers on a disciplinary. With can use any excuse to stick officers on for gross misconduct or unsatisfactory performance.” 

“The worse part is the organisation is simply going to start dismissing officers with no reason. They'll be told 'You are leaving on such-and-such a date. Thank you and goodbye.' As we don't have contracts of employment, the law doesn't protect us.” 

Personally, I think this is a disgrace and a revelation – an official Met policy of quietly decimating police numbers. An enquiry should be held.

My team already consists of only two experienced constables and six probationers, none of whom have more than six months experience. I spend all my time simply hand-holding the new guys and girls.

They're rushed through training so quickly that many of them barely know how to carry out a respectful and lawful stop-search. The traditional mode of learning – watching and listening to experienced colleagues – almost doesn't now exist.

Theresa May is correct when she states:

“...there is still wasteful spending in policing and that resources are still not linked to demand.” 

But her mistake is that she believes these gaps have been partly closed and can be narrowed further. The reality is that over the last couple of years there has been no reduction whatsoever of 'wasteful spending'. Ask any officer and she'll just laugh. Contractors are still charging the Earth for outsourced services.

All that's happened over the last couple of years is that our managers are more frightened than before, and so to protect themselves they have introduced ever greater accountability. Hence more spreadsheets and report-writing.

The application of yet more pressure will only further escalate the very problem that has knifed into the heart of UK policing since the 1990s.

Managers will be more fearful for their jobs and pensions, and so will create more accountability. This will increase pressure around work returns and performance figures. Officers will spend even more time than at present listing how they've spent their time each day.

And spend fewer hours serving the public. So rolls on the ever-downward spiral...

Monday, 18 May 2015

Boiling Frogs

Today I went to work as normal. I stepped into the lift on the ground floor of the police station, and pressed the button marked '2'. While the lift descended to the basement I admired the generously applied duct-tape holding the wall panels in place.

The door opened, the digital display showed '8' and the voice said 'You are now on the second floor'.

No need to spend money on the infrastructure. Cops can always climb the stairs, right?

When we see a police officer out and about in her clean shiny uniform we tend assume she is a reflection of the modern technological police force, with its police stations gleaming and filled with the latest crime-fighting technology, yes?


It's a appealing fiction.

I've just returned from a week off, which I used for a course. I spent an intense week in a normal office with a dozen non-cops. This is part of my exit plan.

During this week moonlighting in the outside world, what things struck me?

Quite a lot actually.

The absence of urine leaking through the wall from the adjoining gents toilets. That was notable.

I'll get to the facilities later. First let me describe how I felt, briefly sampling a normal lifestyle after years in the  Old Bill.

My alarm woke me each morning at a leisurely 7.30am and I was home by 5.30pm. What a contrast to my usual fourteen hour day where I'm either getting up at 4am or getting home at 1am.

By police standards I felt I was working a half-day, and my body clock even began to grow back, like a liver after part of it has been amputated.

By the end of the week I had more energy than I have felt for years. I saw sunlight at both the beginning and end of each day. I experienced regular daylight and my body wanted to get out of bed. It wasn't the usual numb struggle at 4am. I wasn't trying to force heavy uncomfortable pieces of police equipment on to my body. I felt positive about the future. I like a normal human being.

But back to the state of the offices last week, compared with the condition of a typical police station.

The kitchen had running hot water and was clean and tidy. There was a cupboard full of clean mugs, teabags and instant coffee, which we were encouraged to use. The fridge contained amply fresh milk replenished daily, and neither the fridge nor the cupboards were fastened with padlocks. There wasn't a hand-scrawled A4 sheet on the cupboard stating:


And a dishwasher for dirty mugs.

A dishwasher, and all of the above is unimaginable in any typical police station. Management spend not a penny on anything that might add to officers' quality of life. They'll consider a change only if it's free. For example I have never seen a water cooler in a police station. Never.

A typical police kitchen lacks mugs, cutlery, kettle, cooker. There isn't even hot water in the kitchen at my station. Food items left in cupboards will quickly disappear, so the cupboards are invariably empty and unused, or padlocked shut. A refrigerator, if it exists, will be unusable because, again, it's locked with a padlock to which nobody has the key.

I once donated six mugs to a police station and within two days they had all disappeared and never returned. One or other occasionally surfaces briefly then vanishes again, presumably into somebody's desk or locker.

Part of the problem is the lack of ownership. Officers work shifts and hot-desk. Apart from a few cubic feet in our lockers, we have no space/desk/drawers to call our own.

The other part of the problem is a completely uninterested management that worries only about the facade presented to the public.

So, back to my recent course. The classroom was filled with comfortable adjustable chairs. By contrast, almost every chair in my police station is broken. None have working height-adjustment and the backs swing freely, providing little support.

The office building, where I undertook this course last week, was nothing special – a run of the mill steel and glass construction renting space out to companies. One of dozens like it in my town.

The cops share the main office in our station with three or four mice. I didn't see any creatures running around under the desks when I was doing my course last week.

I enjoyed spending a week amongst a diverse group of normal people, mostly professionals. What a breath of fresh air – people who aren't browbeaten, who aren't institutionalised to accept any insult, justifying it with a resigned, "At least we're being paid." Cops tend to accept things and get on with the job – they grumble, but don't let anything stop them doing their job.

Probably the worst aspect is the toilets in police stations The cleaners do their best – they work very hard and remain cheerful – but many of the toilet seats are broken, some taps are permanently stuck in the 'on' position and either the paper towel dispensers are empty or the electric blowers are permanently turned off. There's always water pooling on the floor and the surfaces are ancient and discoloured. Cubicle locks don't always work, and there's a heavy reliance upon duct-tape, which at least covers some of the graffiti on the walls.

By contrast the bathrooms last week were clean, elegant and pleasant-smelling. Nothing special – just decent and sanitary.

For five glorious days I was spared having to struggle with the Metropolitan Police Service's computer system: Windows 2003.

Yes. The Met's IT, which is key to all our work, runs on a Windows operating system twelve years old.

Twelve years old.

The main office in my station has three large modern photocopier/printers, all of which are usually non-functioning. Most have been in that state for months. This means I can't print out my pay-slips.

The only police offices I have seen that are fit for humans are New Scotland Yard and Empress State Building – two vast administrative centres for the Metropolitan Police Service – where, naturally, the senior management are based. Try any operational police station and it's a different story – as long as the public sees a professional facade it doesn't matter what the officers have to endure.

It's exhausting sometimes. Nothing seems to function in the Met. I search in the Met's 'Directory' to find a person's internal telephone number and the one given is always wrong. Finding these details can cost me a lot of time but there is no system – no person employed – to maintain the Directory.

I'm reminded of when I worked at the London Olympics in 2012. The temperature was 32C but there was no shelter, no water, no food, nowhere arranged to store our kit. Fortunately the military kindly helped us, but our senior police managers who had been planning this event for eight years, simply didn't think to organise any facilities for us. The International Olympic Committee didn't want police present, so for the first week we were forbidden from even purchasing food or water.

I spoke with a chap recently retired from the RAF. He was involved in organising the military Olympics logistics.

“If your managers had simply asked us to set up a couple of tents for the police, it wouldn't have been a problem at all.”

So why didn't our senior officers ask for this?

My retired friend added, “In the military every officer is constantly reminded, 'You have to look after your people.'”

Whereas in the police...

Last November my male colleagues grew beards for Movember. But when December arrived most of them let the growth continue. Now they all resemble Santa Claus. I almost have the feeling that everybody is in the trenches, hiding behind their beards.

My station is teeming with new recruits and today I asked one why she joined. She said, "Dunno. I just always wanted to be a police officer."

She added, “I've been here only three months, but everybody with a few years in seems to hate it.”

Fodder. Another innocent buying into the mythology. The job relies on the good nature of such people.

Until the queue of these sacrificial victims dries up, the job will continue to treat its constables with complete disregard.

"Give it six months, then you'll understand," I told her.

They say you can boil a frog by warming it gradually.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Sir, Can I Please Blow My Nose?

These days police officers can't blow their noses without authority from an inspector or chief inspector. The micromanagement continues and the Metropolitan Police senior officers go on rewriting the rules as if they think the law doesn't apply to them.

They're like bonobos in a cage - throwing their excrement at one another.

There's currently a serious problem with the decision to grant bail to a suspect. Let me explain.

After a person has been arrested and interviewed she will probably enjoy a custody meal – perhaps a delicious gluten-free chicken korma or a low salt all-day breakfast, usually accompanied by a cup of tea containing three or four spoonfuls of sugar.

Then, one of several things will happen. If there is outstanding evidence to be collected (CCTV, statements, phone records, bird entrails consulted), the suspect should normally be released on police bail. This means that she is given a date to return to the police station three or four weeks in the future, during which time the investigator will have hopefully obtained all the remaining evidence.

After the interview the custody sergeant can decide to keep the suspect in custody during the rest of the investigation. The sergeant has to believe there's good reason, for example, that the suspect has a history of threatening witnesses.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and the Bail Act designate the custody officer (usually a sergeant) as the person who makes this decision. Not the inspector, not even the Commissioner on a day when he's eaten three shredded wheat can overrule the custody sergeant.

If the suspect is bailed and there's still outstanding evidence when the suspect returns, she can be bailed again. ('Rebailed').

This bail/remand decision used to lie within the auspice of the custody sergeant – the officer who meets every prisoner, evaluates her welfare issues and learns the nature of the criminal allegation.

Since a few months ago however, senior officers have decided to ignore the Bail Act and PACE.

The bonobos in the board rooms of New Scotland Yard took it upon themselves to decide that a suspect cannot now be bailed without an inspector's authority.

Seriously do these dudes just make it up as they go along?

This is unlawful because it's contrary to PACE and the Bail Act. Bail/no-bail is a decision for the custody officer only. Keeping a person in custody cannot be legally justified if the custody officer has made the decision to bail.

It's also completely impractical. During a night shift it might be impossible to find an inspector. They are very busy people and not usually very approachable. Running around trying to find an inspector is one more hoop to leap through, in addition to the hundred an officer already has.

And if evidence that might take weeks to collect is outstanding, and there is no clear justification for keep the person locked up, shouldn't the prisoner be released? It's ethical and it's what the law tells us to do.

Charging someone quickly is thought to be good for the performance figures and the bonobos believe that the only way to achieve this is by making it difficult for officers to grant bail.

Instead of creating resistance, they could have decided to make it easier to charge prisoners – to actually assist constables by providing resources: perhaps detectives to help uniformed officers with their investigations.

But no. As usual the carrot wasn't offered. It's all about the stick.

This isn't the first time that Met police bosses officers have created unlawful policy. For example they are still trying to pressure constables to arrest at domestics, insisting that we MUST arrest because there is a 'positive arrest policy'.

There is no such thing and there never has been. The original ACPO policy was for 'positive action', i.e. separating the two parties. 'Positive arrest' and 'positive action' - similar wordings. The bonobos believe that if they say it quickly enough the constables won't notice the difference.

So, back to bail and this policy of pressuring constables to charge. Suspects are now being charged in a panic before the investigating officer has obtained all the evidence and concluded his investigation.

The problem here is that (1) suspects are being tried in court without all the evidence available, (2) some of that evidence might exonerate the suspect, and (3) again this is unlawful.

PACE states that charging (or issuing a ticket, caution or unconditional release) must take place AFTER all the evidence has been gathered and considered.

Ahh, the obsession with centralising control.

It's only a matter of time until this bail policy is the subject of a civil court case against the Met. I look forward to that.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Change The Light Bulbs

During a recent training day I was given a three hour input on 'customer satisfaction'.

Apparently the senior managers have noticed that the Metropolitan Police Service is the worst in the country for customer approval. No great surprise.

The people who were contacted by the Public Attitude Survey told the pollsters that it often isn't what police officers say, but how it's said that upsets people. People will report a crime and sometimes the officer taking the report will say something like “You'll be ripped apart in court.”

Another common complaint is that officers don't regularly update the victims.

We all know that people remember when things go wrong, not when they go right. I'm not excusing it, but I understand why some officers might casually say things that upset victims – we are under pressure and harassed by our sergeants and inspectors for performance figures.

Also our perspective of the job is the mechanics of investigating the crime. For us it's a process – a flowchart of activities to carry out before the crime can be closed down. A detective might have forty crimes that she's working on simultaneously. Updating every victim weekly would mean forty ten minute conversations. How can the officers therefore keep every victim regularly updated?

People need to have reasonable expectations. A weekly update isn't going to always be possible.

Anyway, I'm off-track already. So the Met senior management have decided that this three hour teaching package is the answer. This will solve the problem and turn every conversation with the public into a positive experience for them.

The point made was that retail businesses can do it, so why can't cops? (I don't mean to undermine every officer who, like me, strives to spread a little joy during the day. There are plenty of us, but apparently the Met senior management expects perfection).

Well, John Lewis is a bit different from the police service.

John Lewis and Waitrose are renowned for enthusiastic and helpful staff. If you ask the employees (who are all also partners in the business) about their jobs, as I have done, they embrace the organisation. They are treated well and know it.

Thing are a little different in the police.

On my first day in the Met my new supervisors weren't expecting me, I wasn't given a locker and waited weeks for my kit to appear. I had to find my own locker and organise my own access to the computer systems. There was no guidance, no instruction, no induction, no tour of the building, no explanation of Met systems or policies. I wasn't introduced to my inspector, borough commander or any other bosses.

In short, the organisation didn't give a shit.

I met my new team-mates and they looked after me. But no representative of the Metropolitan Police took any responsibility for settling me in.

That's one example, but the point is that in the police you are tacitly made to understand from day one that your welfare means nothing at all to the organisation. This message is hammered into you again and again.

You're a pair of hands. Nothing more.

Quite different from John Lewis.

There's also something else. Police culture has an innate meanness about it. You're often treated by supervisors with suspicion or contempt. It's unpleasant at times, and difficult for a normal, intelligent or sensitive person to accept. And I'm not referring to dealing with the offenders, but the way you can be treated by sergeants and inspectors – your own colleagues.

The dysfunctionality of the system means that you are continually banging your head against brick walls. Any time you need something from somebody, there are always unnecessary obstacles.

There's a feeling of defeat that you have to overcome every day, just to keep going.

Not great.

My point is this: with this context – so different from John Lewis – how can we easily spread joy to the public? Every officer could certainly be positive, energetic and giving of themselves towards the public...if they felt some regard from their employer other than pure contempt.

And I'm not referring to the changes made during the last few years – Tom Winsor's retrospective changes to police pensions, the cuts, the calamitous Local Policing Model, and so forth.

The friction and exhaustion from simply trying to do your job, has been the case for decades both after and prior to Winsor's reforms.

The police service contains officers with a range of personalities, and friendliness doesn't flow naturally from everyone. But there are simple techniques officers could be taught, to avoid complaints.

However, a few hours of teaching 'customer service' won't remedy the problem. We need a total change of culture. We need the constables to start to feel that their careers and and welfare actually matter to the organisation.

Such a change would have to originate with the Commissioner, because a manager is more likely to treat his subordinates with concern and respect if he feels the same positive regard emanating down from his own boss.

I know it will never happen, but I say it anyway. If only to undermine the ineffectiveness of thinking that the poor customer service problem will be solved by merely making constables watch a Powerpoint.

I'm reminded of a friend telling me about a company she worked for. Morale was extremely low because of the management culture – the supervisors were perceived as idle, feathering their nests and benefiting from the hard work of their subordinates.

Staff were leaving in droves, and so the senior management discussed the problem with Human Resources.

HR interviewed employees and looked around the building. They decided that people were leaving because there wasn't enough light.

They changed the light bulbs.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A New Year – Moving Forward With The Metropolitan Police

I've been running this blog nearly a year and a half and we're now well into 2015. It's probably time for a recap and to remember where we're trying to go with this. Perhaps even to work up a statement of basic goals. This post is a bit miscellaneous, with a kind of list of points.

My motivation: within two weeks of probation I realised the job was nothing like the fiction that was peddled to me in the promotional literature. Instead of catching bad guys it was all about targets; all about managers hounding you for performance figures, using the public like a resource to hit their targets.

The tail wagging the dog. I found that constables had the lowest imaginable status in the organisation, lower than the most junior clerk.

I'm in the Metropolitan Police Service and the management of this shambolic force is riddled with broken thinking. The problems don't start between the inspectors' and chief inspectors' ears, but those guys certainly buy into the target-chasing and all the rest of the lazy management techniques.

We all need to keep working to raise awareness of the dysfunctionality that saturates the UK police service.

I applaud the awareness-raising work of passionate people like Tony Munday at Police Choice (Police Choice), working to reform the system.

My aim is to serve you – to serve the community of people who care about policing.

When you read a post, please do leave a comment, good or bad. Blogger doesn't allow me to respond, but I'm trying to work around that. As soon as I can, I'll get back to you.

If you want more of something – more facts, less whining, or whatever – do let me know, and message me with any suggestions.

When I write I assume you probably aren't a copper, and so try to show you the reality behind the soundbites and journalistic speculation. I hope I hit the right level of detail. I don't tell you everything, because that would tend towards unreadability. So there is simplification involved, but the facts are there.

As for tone, the distressing state of the police service and the management thinking, in particular the Local Policing Model, makes me very angry indeed. You are probably angry too, and that's why you are reading my blog.

I want a really effective criminal justice system – we're paying £3billion a year for it, so let's start asking for one. And let's keep on asking until our government starts to listen.

I want a criminal justice system that functions properly, instead of decisions made on the basis of optimising managers' promotion prospects and protecting them from criticism.

We need a happier organisation, with trust, good regard and loyalty between the managers and the constables.

How about the officers' careers and welfare featuring somewhere on the force's list of priorities? Will managers please stop mistreating them simply because you can – because they aren't protected by employment law and can't withdraw their labour. Better morale will feed into a better service for the public.

I want a better career for my colleagues and myself, but also for the public (which includes all cops).

The spirit of policing in the UK is hideously perverted by a management whose management decisions seem to be dictated solely by their desire to protect themselves from criticism and gain promotion.

It is never my intention to criticise the rank-and-file officers, who tend to be normal folk doing a difficult job. They are working to pay their mortgages, and trying to make the job work as best they can, despite the barriers put in their way.

My commitment to you for 2015 is that I will keep blogging and updating you with relevant information that enters my awareness. I don't always have the most interesting or well-written material, but I'll do my best.

I really think we can eventually remedy this disgraceful state of affairs, but it has to start with full awareness of the true picture. It needs a public with their eyes fully open – which is where bloggers come in. Not only me, but the many other wonderful police bloggers.

If we persist we can cause a gradual evolution of attitude. We've seen this already, in that the public distrust claims that targets have been banished.

I hope that it won't take a national disaster to prove the full extent of the travesty. If something happens, for example a plague like several we have narrowly averted during recent years - such as bird flu - what if we can't adequately respond because we're too busy ticking boxes and chasing targets?

History shows that it will happen. Commissioners' knighthoods won't protect them from fatal viruses.

Let's stop the senior officers from treating British policing like it's their own personal play thing.

Here are some goals we might try to work towards:
  1. The creation of a government committee working on a plan to reboot the UK police. Such a committee must include experienced serving constables.
  2. Legally-sanctioned media access to constables without fear of disciplinary proceedings against those officers. At present no journalist can speak with a constable without exposing that constable to threat of dismissal. Sir Bernard has clamped down on journalists' access to cops - what is he afraid we'll say?
  3. A government investigation into police promotion methodology (inspector rank and upwards) and a programme to redesign the promotion process.
  4. Explicit inclusion of officers' careers and welfare in force policies.
We have to keep going; there's no other choice. I intend to start regularly Tweeting though I prefer spending my limited time and energy working on my book, which still isn't ready for publication, but should be up on Amazon in the summer. The book will be the story of my career experiences. You'll enjoy it.

Here's to the next year, which will hopefully see more eyes opened, and will I'm sure yield more amusing yet sadly predictable police mismanagement.

And thank you so much for your support since August 2013.

Together perhaps we can save the criminal justice system, one blog post at a time...

Justice and Chaos

Friday, 30 January 2015

Blue Cards

This article by Justin Davenport appeared in the 29th January Evening Standard:

Evening Standard: Hundreds more gun police to be trained to combat London terror threat

In the current atmosphere of hostile terrorism, Sir Bernard, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, wants to create a 'reserve' of more firearms-trained officers. He intends to bolster the Metropolitan Police's firearms-carrying officers, presently numbered around 2,700.

Now to the point of this blog. Let's imagine we had, say, a thousand officers on London boroughs trained to carry the standard Met firearms – MP5 carbine, Glock pistol and Taser. Those officers might work in normal borough roles but would be available when needed.

What a valuable resource that would be?

Sir Bernard, in this Evening Standard article, fails to mention that until September 2012 we already had exactly this resource. Let me explain.

During the decades up to the 2012 London Olympics each of the 32 London boroughs had dozens of firearms-trained officers. They were experienced coppers who had spent time in the past on armed units, working in areas such as royalty or diplomatic protection, airport security, close-protection or armed response. They moved to borough teams but were encouraged to keep their firearms status.

The 'borough AFOs', as they were called (AFO – authorised firearms officer) were used heavily throughout the 2012 London Olympics, working twelve to sixteen hour shifts in the Olympics venues.

The moment the Olympics finished the AFOs were all dropped.

All AFOs carry small blue cards showing their firearms authorisations. A decision was taken to save money by losing the borough AFOs.

“You still got your blue card?”
“Nah. They've taken it. And you?”

This was the typical conversation between borough AFOs in late 2012. Maintaining firearms officers' skills costs money. To be precise – eleven pence.

£0.11 per bullet. That's roughly what a bullet costs.

So, for each Borough AFO you're looking at roughly two hundred bullets each year – £20 a year. All the Borough AFOs – let's guess a thousand – lost their blue cards, so the Commissioner probably managed to save the Met £20k, ball park figure.

That seems cheap to me, for the cost of maintaining an armed anti-terrorist team who usually work on normal police duties.

Management's thinking:

They've been useful, but we can't afford to think more than a few months into the future. There might be a terrorist catastrophe in the future, but the important thing right now is that we save a little bit of money. 

Now, paraphrased in the Evening Standard article, Sir Bernard says we need more AFOs and he's going to train some up. Has he forgotten that he already had a thousand Borough AFOs, but casually discarded them after the Olympics to save a few thousand pounds?

People! Why do we allow these police decision-makers (Initially I had a pejorative word here, but substituted 'decision-makers'), like the Commissioner, to think this way? Always looking only to the short-term?

That's my criticism here – always always short term thinking.

Ooh we can save a few pennies by doing this. When I've left this job – my knighthood intact – it'll be someone else's problem. 

Instead, we should be future-proofing the police, buying decent equipment and buildings. If we have a resource, such as thousands of expensively-trained firearms officers – why throw that away simply to save a few quid now?

I could go on, and describe how all the police buildings on my borough are unfit for humans, and that raw sewage leaks into my locker room from the toilet next door.

But that's another story.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A Police Force Stressed

Guardian: Met police stress-related illnesses

This article by Ashley Kirk follows the usual media tendency to assume that the 'stress' police officers are suffering is a consequence of staff reductions and changes in pay & conditions.

If that were true it would nicely lets the Commissioner off the hook – placing the blame upon the financial crisis and Tom Winsor.

Unfortunately this 'pay and conditions' excuse isn't the main reason cops are now falling sick with stress and resigning in three times the numbers they used to.

We might complain from time to time about retrospective closure of our pensions, increased retirement ages and pay cuts, but we always get on with the job.

Policing is necessarily a stressful career and is so intrusive that a normal life is barely possible. It's always been a hard career, but the additional 'stress' of the last couple of years flows from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe's Local Policing Model (LPM), under which we have now been struggling since 2013.

The LPM has created a system that almost seems designed to fail the public and make officers miserable – and that's quite an achievement because, despite everything you might think, cops like to work hard and play hard. Ask any copper and she will tell you she joined up to 'make a difference'.

Teams have drastically shrunk, but that is because of the LPM, not because of staff cuts. In fact the total number of Met officers – around 31,000 – is within a few hundred of what it was in 2011, and large numbers of recruits are coming through every few weeks.

From the inside, it's quite clear that the restructuring of teams has halved the resources. Additionally, the way the officers now work under the Local Policing Model, they are working in what I can only describe as extremely joyless circumstances.

For more details feel free to read some of my posts decrying the LPM:

Only Five Minutes Left On The Clock!
A Convenient Bottleneck
Your Local Station Has Closed? Hey Presto! – A Reduction In Crime
The Figures Prove It's Working!

The Local Policing Teams at my police station are formed from a mixture of brand new officers and officers with twenty to thirty years service. Officers with tremendous specialist expertise have been forcibly moved to the Local Policing Teams and all are now expected to be Jacks-of-all-trades, instead of being used for their specific experience and skills. They are under pressure to attend calls, deal with prisoners, investigate crimes and mentor new officers, and do all this on the rare occasions they aren't dragged off to fill in behind desks or stand on crime scenes.

Members of the public rightly ask, “This burglary hot-spot is a local problem, and you're the Local Policing Team, so why aren't you doing something about it?”

The LPT is 'local' in name only. It's actually a mini response team and a general pool of officers available for crime-scenes, prisoners and filling-in.

Even the highly pro-active cops are disillusioned because they no longer have time to go out looking for crime. Our bosses don't support that type of policing now – when cops stop-search ethnic minorities the Commissioner comes under criticism. He then passes the punishment down through the hierarchy.

As always, every LPT officer is under pressure to produce the performance figures to make the inspectors and chief inspectors look good. They use us to achieve their promotions.

Several of my former colleagues have quit this year, saying they could no longer stomach the way the organisation is lying to the public, the demoralising solo working and the constant pressure from supervisors frightened of criticism from their bosses.

Since days of yore, officer's careers and welfare have been low priority. But now they are completely irrelevant. My welfare means nothing to my sergeant, inspector or chief inspector. Our careers and health have never interested our employer – the great Metropolitan Police Service – but it's now worse than ever. That again is part of the real reason why officers are stressed.

'Pay and conditions' is simply an easy excuse grasped at by journalists' and police bosses.

There's so much stress in the system now because of the LPM. Shortcuts are constantly taken. We're all under pressure and pass it on to others whenever we can.

For example CID officers often have to carry out some enquiries that response officers should have made at the initial incident. But they can't be blamed – the response team are under enormous pressure to reach every call within 15 minutes (immediate grades) or one hour (slow grades), no matter what.

But this means extra work for detectives. A detective with twenty-eight years service told me last week:

“This Commissioner has destroyed the force with his Local Policing Model. I'm carrying twenty-five investigations and my sergeant is breathing down my neck to clear these – because he has been told there are too many outstanding crimes. How can I give any of my victims a decent service?”

She added, “Thank God I'm leaving in less than two years.”

If you read the Guardian article you'll see it finishes with quotes from a Met mouthpiece giving the party line. Here's my response:

Reducing red tape: Year on year the layers of duplication multiply. See my most recent post about a new 'streamlined' system for issuing dispersals:

Slash That Red Tape

Targets: Theresa May might have scrapped targets but Met officers at the inspector and chief inspector level have ignored her:

Channel 4: Police arrest targets do exist despite denials

Police managers don't know any other management styles, so they invent their own targets locally. This is in addition to centrally dictated targets. In effect, the local chief inspectors are trying to 'add value', and boost their hopes for advancement.

Targets In Through The Back Door

Discretion: When since the 1980s have we been allowed discretion?