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.