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?