“If it isn't one target, it's another,” explained Paul. “Senior managers have told the world that there are no targets, but Sir Bernard now has everybody panicking over attendance times.”
Paul is a dog handler in my old county police force.
“As a dog handler, my bread-and-butter is burglaries. I go in with my dog, and he sniffs out anybody who shouldn't be there. We're a specialist team, but there are so many burglary calls that we have no shortage of work.”
“But since Bernard's Local Policing Model started a couple of years ago, the response teams are running on a shoe-string and can't cope with the number of calls.”
“So I arrive at a burglary and the control room shows me on-scene. However, before I get a chance to go in with the dog, the control room always calls me up. They say 'We've got a domestic around the corner.'"
"'Could you just pop over there first, so we can show you on-scene and get that call off our screen?'"
For the control room operators it's all about what's on their screens – the list of calls awaiting attention. They have an ever-growing list of unattended calls, and the moment they can show an officer on-scene at one, it's off their screen. That's their priority.
“'Just square away the domestic as quick as you can, then you can go back to the burglary. Okay?' That's what the control room says to me – as if any domestic involves less than two hours of paperwork...” he says.
“Achieving the attendance targets are treated as more important than catching burglars. If I do as I'm told, and go to the domestic –which is normally pointless, and a mere paperwork exercise – the burglar will escape. But the control room doesn't care about catching burglars. Their only responsibility is clearing their list of unassigned calls.”
A bit of background – attendance targets are the rules governing the maximum number of minutes officers should take to arrive at a call:
999 calls – 'I grades', also called 'Immediates' – are generally 15 minute targets.
Less urgent calls – called 'S' for 'Significant', but widely known as 'Slow' – are allowed 60 minutes.
For example: “There's broken glass outside my door.” “I'm feeling depressed.”
These would both be 'E grades'. Supposedly 'E' means 'Extended', although in reality officers refer to them as 'Eventually,' as in "Your call is of little interest. We'll get to you eventually." The attendance target for E-grades is 48 hours.
These times are sacrosanct under Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model.
“When I refuse the control room's request, they then say to me, 'Well, tell you what, can we just put you on-scene anyway, to reduce our call list?'”
The response teams are so stretched now that traffic cars and armed response vehicles are being used in the same way:
“When they're not at firearms calls, the ARVs are now staying in their bases instead of patrolling, to avoid being sent to calls about dog muck and lost handbags.”
I'm reminded of a conversation with a paramedic, who told me: “If we're not on-scene within twenty minutes we are considered to have missed the target, even if we have saved the person's life.”
It was quite a moment when I discovered the Contemplation Room in my old station. Upon seeing the door-sign, I gingerly pushed the door open, and found two PCSOs and a sergeant, with their feet up on the chairs.
“Shut that door before anybody spots us in here.”
The sergeant said it as if there was shame in taking a breather, in pausing to gather ourselves, and reacquainting ourselves with the fact that we are human beings.
I knew the man – a decent intelligent chap whom I like and respect. Nevertheless, he was as brainwashed as many others in the job – good people who occasionally need a bubble of space and quiet during the day but, within the macho police culture, are ashamed to admit it.
There was no bulb in the light and canteen noise penetrated the paper-thin walls, but still it was a space to sit, read, think. To find a little peace during the police day.
The only such space in the station.
Everywhere else is proudly open-plan, and usually a member of the 'Senior Leadership Team' is able to watch you from where he or she sits.
The sergeant pointed at a handwritten note on a wall: It is against the law to sleep here.
“Well, apparently we're all lawbreakers.”
I smiled. Police management seem often to believe they have the power to invent laws. A couple of years ago they were telling constables that it was illegal if we didn't make an arrest at a domestic incident.
Most people, when thinking of a 'contemplation room' envisage a
Zen garden, or a simple chamber or chapel. Perhaps a pond or elegant
architecture. Certainly a clean tidy space.
No police building in London has any of these. At least the room didn't smell of urine and wasn't piled high with decomposing paperwork.
I took a seat and blissfully enjoyed a few pages of the novel I always carry in my pocket.
Thereafter I visited the room two or three visits a week, whenever possible. Only once did a manager burst in, interrupting my tranquility.
A sergeant with the shoulders of a bull, but the height of a labrador:
“Just looking for an idiot on my team. I've searched the canteen, and he's obviously not here.”
“Yup. Obviously...” I added. “He's probably in the bog.”
It was only then that the bull-labrador realised there was a Muslim in the room, prostrated across a prayer mat. The sergeant gave a grunt and the door banged shut behind him.
Over the next few weeks I began to cross paths with the others who used the contemplation room. They were all either Muslims, most of whom were pleased to discuss their faith, or quiet atheists like myself, there to enjoy a moment of peace.
We would make eye contact in the corridors, smile cautiously and give a little nod. Signals between human beings who understand that, unlike most police officers, we shared something – an appreciation of an inner life, a world of the mind or the spirit.
Eventually I was moved to another station where it took me months of searching to find the contemplation room. the problem was that the door was locked.
Where was the key?
I asked staff in the Building Services, the public-access officer behind the public counter, the building manager, and anybody else who might know. I emptied and tested the 150 keys in the building manager's cabinet.
I drew a blank.
I even asked my inspector, who replied: “Let me know if you find the key. I'm looking for somewhere to hold meetings, or to put the filing cabinets. What the hell do people need with a 'Contemplation Room'?" “Exactly what I was thinking guv.”
Having almost given up, I noticed the contents of a drawer in his spare desk:
A large bunch of keys.
The next time he wasn't at work, I wandered in and borrowed the keys. And at the third key...the door clicked and swung open...
The room was a space barely larger than a cupboard, the only contents being a shelf with a Bible, Koran and prayer mat, a few rat droppings, carpet stains and a mouldy coffee mug. Still, it would be large enough for me to stretch and have a little sit down. I transferred the key to my house keys, and replaced the bunch back in the inspector's office.
I use the room from time to time, and I'm undecided as to whether I should create a copy for general use, or keep it for myself. The issue is that I do not want the only peaceful space in the station – a room supposedly designated for prayer and thought – turned over for meetings and storage.
The space should be used for prayer and contemplation! Cops are people, and people are entitled to somewhere they can decompress, sit and think. Or even pray, if they're religious.
Perhaps not everybody wants to work through their lunch, continuing to tap away at their keyboard while forcing a sandwich into their mouths...
People who work behind the front counter of a police station do it with the purpose of helping people, right? That's ultimately why anybody works for the police – it's a calling, a vocation.
My friend Janine works as a civilian Public Access Officer behind the public counter. She's a compassionate soul and, frankly, a legend.
Like all my police officer colleagues, I've spent many nights working at the public counter. The civilian PAOs only work daytime hours – they can't be forced to work nights. British cops, on the other hand, are not protected by employment law, and are denied employment contracts. So, when this police station was 24/7, the Public Access Officers would clock off around 8pm, and be replaced by one police officer until 7am.
It's a tough job. The queuing public have high expectations, but there is a limit to what we can do for people.
We can't give tourists money for a hotel when they lose their passports and wallets. We can't repair a broken marriage. We can't turn back time and make a person live her life differently, no matter how much she might sob and implore us.
But we are genuinely here to help, and that's also our professional duty.
Recently Janine told me:
“I have realised that I am an accomplice to insurance fraud. People come here and claim their expensive mobile phone has been stolen.”
In the past, when people wanted free replacement mobile phones, they would fabricate cock-and-bull stories...
“Err, two guys jumped me and took it. There's no CCTV in that alley. No, I have no visible injuries.”
We wouldn't create a crime report unless there was at least some evidence. Now, however, the alleged victim doesn't actually have to give any explanation at all:
“I put it in my pocket, then later it was gone – it must have been robbed.”
If we're told this, the crime-recording policy obliges us to create a crime report for theft.
“They tell me 'The insurance company said I need a crime reference number', so they invent a theft, and waste half an hour of my time. Each day I probably report ten just like this,” said Janine.
“I find it upsetting,” she continued, "that the whole purpose of my role is perverted by this policy that says we have to believe everything that people tell us. We have to create a crime report even when there's no evidence, and I know they're lying to my face."
The police force is a public service, and some people are ruining it for everyone else.
“These people are stealing our time, and that of the ten other people behind them in the queue. They're lying to us and the insurance company to obtain a free mobile phone. I feel dirty, being used like this.”
I remember one particular callow youth at the counter: “Err, hi mate. My phone was, err, robbed.” His eyes scanned around nervously.
“You want to know how it happened? Um, I was using the phone and a guy appeared and took it. No I don't remember what he looked like.”
I asked him for the phone number then dialled it.
“Mate, can I have the reference number now? The insurance company have asked for it.”
RRRING! RRRING! RRRING!
“It's in your pocket!” I shouted. He quickly left, before I could give the piss-taker an £90 ticket for wasting police time.
This crime-recording policy is a perfect example of police management rolling over for the critics. Our managers, and the Commissioner especially, are always looking for a nice pat on the head from the public or the media.
And in so doing, they create inefficiency, wasted time, low morale, and fraud...
The policy exists because there was a feeling that the police under-record crime. Well, now we have a situation where there is vast over-recording of crime.
As a cop, I know that 90% of crimes go absolutely nowhere. After taking a nonsense crime report, like I've described here, an officer's intention is then to shut it down at the earliest possible opportunity. Otherwise he will soon drown in unnecessary work.
Well done police policy-makers! You're doing a GREAT job!
The Metropolitan Police – the one that all the others look up to, right?
It seems that almost any absurdity you can imagine has been perpetrated by the Metropolitan Police. Conjure something crazy to mind, and well...the Met management has probably already implemented it...quietly...
Especially if it saves money in the short-term.
So what's the latest?
Until recently student officers spent their first year, on and off, learning law and procedure. In my day it was a twelve week residential course followed by six months of intermittent courses. We were totally immersed in learning during that period.
And there's a lot of material – I had to absorb something like the contents of a six inch pile of A4 paper. Some people actually failed the exams.
And what is it like today, dare we ask? My friend Steven has recently been through the process at world-famous Hendon.
“On the first day,” he told me, “the instructor said 'Don't expect any input on criminal law.'”
“Those were the first words that came out of the instructor's mouth.” “We weren't exactly impressed,” he continued. “What then followed was weeks on victim care, diversity, and a whole load of other nonsense likely to be useless on the streets.”
“We were told that as specials we should already know the legislation, even though we were taught less than half of the relevant material in our special training. As a special I worked only two or three shifts each month, and needless to say, I used very little of that knowledge. The staff even admitted that this was poor, but told us 'Shut up and get on with it. You chose to be here.'”
Steven told me that there is even talk of offering specials direct entry into the regulars – with no extra training:
You've done two hundred hours as a volunteer. Well done! Here is a proper warrant card. You're now a full-time constable.
I would hope that police officers know their powers – that they know when they can and can't arrest, otherwise, what is the point? Will we see a rise in arbitrary arrests for made-up offences? By junior officers who aren't certain of their powers?
It would appear that Met senior management have twigged that most applicants are former specials – volunteers – who must have received a rudimentary coaching in the basics of criminal law (theft, assaults, criminal damage), although years before.
Sir Bernard and his entourage have realised that this might be an opportunity to save a few pennies on training.
Bringing specials in directly, with zero extra training, would certainly reduce costs.
From the point of view of senior management, it makes sense to emphasize diversity and victim care, and de-emphasize the need to know your grounds to arrest.
Because arresting criminals is a source of criticism and complaints. And police bosses cannot abide criticism.
Prisoners routinely claim they have been assaulted, wrongfully arrested. They claim that officers have lied or stolen from them.
Therefore new coppers are taught to avoid getting hands-on and only stop-search when it can't be avoided. Sir Bernard and his team are desperate to avoid complaints and media attention.
Hence the abundant training in victim care and diversity. It's an arse-covering and craven methodology of police training. It is training with the purpose of winning popularity contests, as if cops are sales assistants.
Incidentally, police specials do a great service. Full-time coppers appreciate having a second pair of eyes, hands, and a different brain focused on a problem. Specials work for free, so they are motivated and keen by definition. Additionally, I always enjoy the opportunity to chat with a person from the outside world, fresh and lacking a copper's cynicism.
Even within the mindset of police bosses, a new generation of constables are on the streets now, who have less knowledge of their powers and responsibilities than ever before.
Every day I see this change in the rank-and-file: the young boys and girls now out there are full of enthusiasm, but they know they'll only stay for two or three years. The pension is poor – they would have to chase drug dealers until the age 67 before they can collect the pension – and their starting pay is so low they may as well work in Burger King.
Under Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model, every Local Policing Team sergeant is actually a constable acting as a sergeant, hoping for promotion. And many are under 25 years old.
Last week I overheard one of these acting-sergeants running his team's morning briefing. He seemed more suited to leading a boy band than a police team. His people spent more time talking about WhatsApp, and the pretty girls and boys they're stalking on other teams via Facebook, than about policing.
We're looking at a scary future: management have dispensed with experienced cops, and replaced them with completely new and, most importantly – cheaper, officers fresh out of school or university. Although enthusiastic, they receive little or no training in criminal law, and plan not to stay longer than a year or two.
I've seen many quit after only a few weeks on the streets. They are graduates and expect supervisors to treat them civilly. Quite reasonably they expect the policies and guidelines to make sense. But it doesn't take them long to realise that they've been conned by the Met's marketing department.
I really do think Met Police senior managers are glad for the relief provided whenever an issue like this arises. They get a little respite from the criticism and constant embarrassments of target culture, figure fiddling...and so many other avoidable problems that I can't be bothered to list.
Anyway, Sir Bernard is riding the tide of media opinion by creating more armed officers. But hang on, until 2012 didn't we already have a thousand more armed cops than at present?
Which, according to the article linked to above, means that we're now going to spend £25million that we wouldn't have had to spend if Sir Bernard hadn't decided to penny-pinch in 2012.
Those firearms officers we 'lost' those after the Olympics: what happened?
The moment the event finished, the Met's reserve of local
firearms officers were thanked for working 100-hour weeks, then disbanded.
Met had spent millions training those officers, and maintaining their
proficiency, only to discard them. And now Sir Bernard is
talking about creating more firearms officers...
we probably do need more armed cops, yes, but it might be nice if they
were allowed to perform their jobs without the certain knowledge that
they will be arrested for murder the moment they make that critical
decision to shoot a suspect.
decisions will then be picked apart very carefully, over months and
years, by barristers earning hundreds of thousands of pounds for the
But for a change, let's talk about another question:
Should all British police officers be armed? This question keeps cropping up.
“Do you know why we aren't routinely armed?” asked my first Officer Safety instructor, back in the county force where I began my police career. We were in the gym and had just finished handcuffing drills.
“How many of you have used your spray?” Most of us raised our hands.
“And has anybody used his spray and not accidentally sprayed a colleague in the face?”
We all lowered our hands. Everybody had managed, at some point during a scuffle, to give a friend a dose of chemical in face.
“That my friends,” he said, “is why we are not routinely armed...”
I'm not trying to argue in favour or against, as I don't know how it works in nations where cops are routinely armed. I simply want to present some points that, as is normal, are omitted from the usual emotion-charged newspaper articles.
I was recently talking to a detective about his time in the Flying Squad many years ago.
“We kept our pistols in our desk drawers. It was a good time in my career.”
I asked him why he left the Flying Squad.
“My sergeant shot me.”
The sergeant had been playing with his pistol which had turned out to be loaded. The bullet had bounced off the ground and gone through his leg.
Admittedly some cops are simply infantile idiots who act without thinking, who believe they're still in the school playground. But this happens in any workplace.
Training an officer to handle a firearm takes weeks and costs a lot of money. Half the Met's firing ranges have been closed in recent years, to save money. It would take 5-10 years to train up every constable in London, never mind the rest of the UK.
Many would not want to carry a pistol, and some would not be capable of passing the course, which is extremely hard work and very challenging.
If politicians apply pressure to create more armed cops, of course our senior managers, like Sir Bernard, will give in and make it happen, whatever it takes. It seems likely that recruiting 600 more will be achieved in the normal way - by lowering the standards.
In the same way that the fitness test now consists of reaching level 5.4 on the bleep test – effectively a gentle jog. There are now no tests for strength. Those might exclude women, and...well, anybody with insufficient strength to pass the test.
And if the decision is someday taken to arm every bobby, I for one do not want to be shot by my manager.
I don't know whether blog etiquette allows me to mention my book, published last week, but I've been blogging since August 2013, so perhaps I've earned the right?
Please indulge me. It's amazing what fifty chimpanzees can achieve if they spend a decade hitting random keys...
Those apes - perhaps representing my own personality disorders :-) - have managed to create a 330 page frolic through my police career. The Accidental Copper
This is how the book was born:
When I was a new recruit I saw systemic dysfunctionality that was obvious to anybody with half a brain, and I quickly realised that the job was nothing like what I'd been led to expect. Over the following months and years, as the job closed around me – micromanagement, obsession with performance figures, aggressive and dimwitted bosses, hundred-hour weeks, no control over work load, sleep deprivation – I began keeping notes of everything I found amusing, angering, bizarre, inspiring or sickening.
It was my coping mechanism. Most cops have one.
I knew that normal people had a right to know to how things go wrong (and right) in policing. And to understand how hard their police officers work, and the impossibility of them maintaining any sort of a normal life.
Police management are in no hurry to raise the issues, nor to allow officers to speak freely. I had always enjoyed writing, and it now became my purpose to compile my scribblings into a book, and to blog.
And so I strive to put the facts out there in an entertaining fashion - to make people laugh and open their eyes.
Do please click on the link and tell me what you think. My purpose certainly isn't to make money - I've priced it almost as low as Amazon will permit, and have already written off thousands of pounds spent on bananas...
Think of police managers as greedy bonobos throwing their excrement at each other. My fifty simians are on the side of truth and integrity.