Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Special Constabulary

Who in their right mind would give up their precious days off and weekend evenings to stand around in the cold and rain, be targets for verbal and physical assault, be at the beck and call of many undeserving, battle with mind-boggling paperwork, be ordered from pillar to post, treated with disdain my their paid compatriots, and all without financial remuneration yet still under the same intense scrutiny of the local and sometimes national media as those that are?

The Special Constabulary is a part-time volunteer section made up of British citizens who do just that. In 1673 Charles II decreed that members of the public might be sworn in and attested as temporary constables to combat outbreaks of public disorder. But it wasn’t until the early 19th century that Specials became more official and commonplace (thank you Wikipedia).

Special constables aim to work a minimum of 16 hours a month and usually fit these hours around ‘proper’ jobs that pay their bills and mortgages. They receive no salary for their time serving the crown but are reimbursed expenses. They are all sworn officers and hold the office of constable; meaning they hold the same unique police powers of any ‘regular’ paid officer and can arrest without warrant. Some members of the public confuse them with PSCO’s who are by contrast civilians paid to provide a high visibility presence on the streets and deal with community issues and nothing to do with the Specials. All the UK Forces have them and in March 2010 there were 15,000 in England and Wales and 1,600 in Scotland – however this number is greatly on the rise and the reasons why form the purpose of this blog.

Firstly, I have the utmost respect for those madmen/women who give up their time for free to do a job that so many paid regular officers feel by contrast does not receive sufficient recompense or recognition as it is. Specials are of great support to the paid ranks and benefit the country as a whole. In fact, without the Special Constabulary, I am of the opinion that the UK police service would now struggle to cope; but this is part of the problem.

Traditionally sufficient regular officers starting a shift would be deployed to their patrol areas and tasked with their duties. A Special Constable (SC) might wander into the station and be crewed alongside a regular and conduct normal patrol. Or a small group of Specials might book on and help out with simple jobs. The more the merrier. Someone to talk and moan to about the latest injustice bestowed down by those up on high at HQ perhaps. SC’s abilities tend to vary greatly from those that say very little and are capable of even less when dealing with members of the public, to experienced Specials who are more than capable of appeasing disgruntled domestic partners, finding lost children and handling road traffic collisions. Irrespective of their skills, regular officers were usually grateful for the help, even if their new crewmate offered nothing more than a viable target for a drunkard’s flailing fists! SC’s are often individuals who are interested in a full-time police career and there is no doubt a stint in the Specials is the best way to derive an understanding of police life. Sometimes SC’s are used independently of the regulars to police local events and functions, thereby removing the burden on the regulars, as well as placing uniformed members of the community within their own community, showing the police service is approachable and made up of those they serve – many would have been on duty up and down the country at Remembrance Services on this week. When called upon for more taxing jobs in partnership with regulars, Specials always rise to the task at hand. For the most part Special constables were a luxury but a very welcome extra addition to supplement the regular officers.

However, this is now changing. Many Forces have been actively and persistently swelling their Special ranks. Indeed some Forces have or intend to double their contingent. You might ask how this can only be a good thing – these people are happy to do the job and more sworn officers can only be a good thing, right?  This is in part true – on the surface more Specials on the streets is a good thing and should be warmly embraced by the policing family. It also makes good business sense to tap into a free and enthusiastic workforce – but the police service is not a business. It must be considered that this surge in their recruitment by no coincidence coincides with a vast decline in the number of paid regulars as a result of well publicized austerity cuts. Do not be fooled when the government tells you front line numbers will not be compromised. This is complete tosh! Ask any serving police officer in any Force and they will tell you there are far more empty seats in the briefing room than ever before. Three years ago at my nick we had a shortage of police panda cars. The number of vehicles in the station yard has not changed, yet now many lay dormant most days now.

The Forces are being compelled to recruit Specials to do the roles left void by a declining number of regulars. This is not what the Special Constabulary is intended for. Most SC’s do not have the experience, training or skills to do what regular officers do. This is ‘policing on the cheap’. I must stress this is not the fault of the Special Constabulary - they work hard and endeavour to do all that is asked of them – but it is unfair and irresponsible of the Forces to place them in the situations they increasingly find themselves in. If deployed correctly SC’s are a fantastic resource capable of marvellous things, but in the last few years policing has been all about cost cutting and public perception, with keeping crime down a desperate second. Forces are using Specials as cardboard cut-outs to plug holes in a vanishing front line.

A regular police officer spends at least six months training and is only confirmed in post after at least two years full service. They then spend forty hours a week honing and perfecting their skills, whilst undertaking constant and on-going refresher training. They are then (sometimes) given ample recovery time between shifts and do not have the added pressure of another vocation like Specials do. It is of course true Specials are given the same equipment as their regular counterparts and relevant training, but usually the training is diluted and certainly not reinforced by regular undertakings in real life situations.

Forces are abusing the privilege of the Special Constabulary. Thrusting them into situations not suitable for them as a consequence of budgetary constraints bestowed on them by the government. Members of the public place huge demands and expect high standards of service from their police officers. They do not care if the officer in front of them has an ‘SC’ on their epaulettes (signifying a Special Constable). They expect the same level of service from the uniform. Public and media scrutiny of the police service as a whole has never been greater – not one day passes without a tabloid bringing police ethics into question – and I worry it is only a matter of time before a well-meaning but ill-equipped Special Constable falls foul of the frequent pitfalls placed in their way and becomes the subject of a mass media inquisition and persecution.

Once again I would stress this blog is not intended to belittle the Special Constabulary who are indeed a national institution to be cherished; it is instead to share the concerns I have about the usage of Specials in modern policing. I want to see some of my Force’s Special Constables shoulder to shoulder with me in the fight against crime and disorder. But I want them to be earning a police salary along with all the training and experience that comes with it – not being used and abused by cash-strapped Forces. The majority of regulars are grateful for the assistance of their Special colleagues, and only a misinformed minority feel they are taking regular’s jobs. The Specials do sterling work and are true local heroes deserving of admiration. The Special Constabulary have a very important and valid role to play in the modern police service. But I fear they are no longer being fairly utilized in it.   


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Top 10 Police Myths Uncovered

The silver screen and domestic idiot box alike would have you believing all manner of fiction and unashamed exaggeration concerning police practices and procedures. Who can blame scriptwriters for using their artistic license to bend reality for the entertainment of millions and making the secret and covert world of crime fighting a more interesting theatre. However, certain impressionable (or downright gullible) members of the public still believe that that what they see on the screen must be true. In this blog entry I shall set about dispelling some of the most common misconceptions. If you are a cop – or indeed interact often with officers and are a regular guest at the one the police service’s fine all inclusive guesthouses, all en suite, found up and down this wonderful country of ours - then much of this you will of course already know.

1.       You can’t come in without a warrant.

The myth: a defiant unemployed deviant stands smugly in his doorway, arms folded, safe in the knowledge that the police cannot step foot within his humble abode without first obtaining a piece of paper from the courts saying they can. “You ain’t coming in without a warrant – I know my rights.”

The reality: oh yes they can. Police officers have all sorts of fantabulous powers that allow them to stroll right into your living room. In fact, on some occasions they can get a great big 15kg steel battering ram and smash your front door into tiny little splinters, run in shouting all kinds of colourful language, before they walk their muddy boots all over the pristine carpet. These powers of entry relate to arresting wanted people at large, saving life, protecting property and good ol’ preventing breaches of the peace to name but a few. I’d stand aside if I was you.

2.       Telecommunication devices

The myth: “Keep him on the line for another 20 seconds for us to get the trace,” the detective hisses discreetly to the desperately rambling call taker. Alas, invariably the villain hangs up just seconds before the special police computer can trace the caller’s location. Damn.

Or, conversely, police can instantly track the subject’s phone with massive great big satellites in the sky and pinpoint their exact location to within 3mm.

The reality: land line numbers can be traced within minutes, regardless of how long the caller was on the phone. Likewise mobile phone numbers can always be captured and subscriber checks do not take long. If the mobile is unregistered, police intelligence checks can glean if that number has ever called the police before, and who was on the other end at that time.

Via clever triangulation and with the assistance of the mobile phone networks, police can determine a phones approximate location – as long as it’s switched on; but, depending on the vicinity to cell sites (aerials), the accuracy can be over a wide geographical area, particularly in rural areas. ‘Pinging’ phones (as this process is called) is usually only resorted to when there is a perceived serious risk to the wellbeing of the phone holder. It is very rare that police will ping a suspects phone purely to determine their location for investigation purposes – this would be a terrible breach of the scallywags privacy!

3.       Cop cars are really fast

The myth: “Kieran, your Citroën Saxo would, like, never outrun the Feds, man. Their cars is well fast with like 300bhp and like superchipped and stuff, you-get-me, blood.”

The reality: I’m afraid young Kieran is being lead up a long and winding path of fabrication. Traffic and area cars are indeed usually high powered saloon or estate cars, piloted by highly skilled officers with faces fit for TV documentaries. But the common, all-purpose, lesser-striped pandas on the other hand that are most frequently seen on the High Streets of the United Kingdom are in fact nothing more than economical family hatchbacks with 200k miles on the clock and insides that smell like old MacDonalds. The boot is full of all sorts of heavy crap and copious paperwork, not to mention the rotund stab-vest clad officer (or very, very rarely officers) sitting up front. Other than reinforced undersides and modified electrical wiring looms to accommodate the mobile disco facilities on the roof, they are no different to the Astra’s and Focus’ that mere civilians do battle with at over-crowded Tesco car parks on Saturday mornings. Even police pursuits are less common and - it is with much shame I must admit - I am yet to perform a J-turn in the line of duty either. I hang my head.

4.       Forensic science

The myth: after finding only a nostril hair or discarded fag butt left by the crook, a man/woman in a white paper suit can instantly determine the identity, address, sexual orientation, star sign and brand of aftershave of said crook, and all before the first ad break.

The reality: forensic science is one of the most powerful tools in the police arsenal. Clever scientists can do amazing things in their sterile laboratories. Fingerprints, DNA, clothing fibres, accelerant gasses, glass fragments, penal swabs – all can be analysed and used to screw down hard on the suspects… that is of course assuming that you have a suspect’s DNA/prints in the first place. And if the Force can afford it. And as long as you can wait a few days… or weeks. Maybe one day there will be the technology to allow an officer at a crime scene to place a lump of earwax into a special device and have the offender’s name, address and recent photo emailed straight to their PDA, but not any time soon.

5.       Just gimme’ my phone call   

The myth: when Tony ‘Tight Lips’ Deluca gets his collar felt and hauled into the station, all he needs is the custody sergeant to throw him a 50p and point him in the direction of a wall mounted payphone where he can privately call his hot shot attorney and he’ll be outta there in no time and the desk Sarge will be busted down to a PCSO for his insolence.

The reality: PACE (a set of rules the police abide by at all times) states that a prisoner may have someone informed he/she is in custody. Usually this is in the form of a phone call, however it is at the police’s discretion when and how this call is made. On some occasions to prevent loss of evidence or still outstanding suspects, or stop the intimidation of victims/witnesses, a police Inspector may hold a prisoner ‘incommunicado’, meaning that no-one will be notified of their recent incarceration.

6.       No comment

The myth: “If I just don’t say anything in interview then they can’t prove I done nothin’.”

The reality: increasingly solicitors skilled in the dark art of criminal defence are advising their clients to keep schtum in interview for fear of them saying something stupidly incriminating. Or occasionally the mastermind criminal will decide for themself to deny absolutely anything the police put to them – even their own name! Even CCTV footage that is a better true likeness of them than their own passport photo! It is true that anyone under Caution has the right to not say anything. However, what some fail to see is that the Crown Prosecution service and/or court of the land may draw inference from their silence – i.e. innocent men usually have nothing to hide and will give an account, whereas the guilty say nothing. ‘No comment’ interviews are not always the best tactic.

7.       Police line-ups 

The myth – you know the scene from the usually suspects: “Hand me the keys you flipping mother hubbard…” or something like that. “I think it was number two… or maybe number four… although it could have been number three…”

The reality – the police don’t do physical line-ups like this and haven’t done so for years. The police now do something called a VIPER, or Video Identification Parade Electronic Recording. The authorities hold pre-recorded images of thousands of faces. A witness or victim will be shown an image of a suspect in custody (or more likely on bail), mixed in with several other images of similar looking people unconnected to the investigation. This saves resources and also prevents any intimidation or outside bias on behalf of the viewer. If the suspect had bright green hair, then the viewer will be shown several images of others with bright green hair – or, if this is not possible due to a lack of green haired nefario, the hair might be digitally removed from all the images.

8.       Undercover cops have to identify themselves if asked

The myth – if a suspicious ne’er-do-well asks an undercover officer if they are on the police payroll, that officer must immediately and spectacularly reveal themselves and blow months of hard work and planning, otherwise it’s entrapment.

The reality – this is an Americanism. I have found it nearly always preferable to disregard anything you hear on an American cop show or film as the truth usually couldn’t be farther from the iced doughnut and Starbucks coffee cup. Even in America this is utter rubbish! Undercover cops, in the line of duty, can get away with all sorts of borderline deviant behaviour in order to preserve the investigation and their personal safety.

9.       Everyone has to be Cautioned

The myth – unless an officer tells you his name, collar number, time, date, offence and grounds for arrest, before Cautioning you (i.e “you do not have to say anything… etc), and only after singing the national anthem, then any arrest is unlawful and you’ll walk scot free.

The reality – Whilst you will have to find out much of the above soon after arrest, an officer is obliged to ensure you are aware you are under arrest – those shiny silver bracelets on your wrists are a giveaway – and why, but only at the earliest practicable time do they have to say those magic words. If at the time of arrest you are rolling around the floor in your own urine whilst high on narcotics, outside a night spot in front of a baying crowd, trying to kick and spit at the officers of law enforcement, then don’t be surprised if you’re not immediately informed of the unfortunate series of events that landed you in custody.

10.   Police headwear and pregnant women

The myth – you know the one. I’m not going to dignify that most scandalous myth of them all by typing it.

The reality – NO! You can’t; with child or otherwise. Never.

I am a serving police officer and author of moderately humoured police themed books. Please check them out on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and other online retailers.

If you can think of any other myths, or would like clarity on a rumour you’ve heard, please leave a comment below.




Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Looking on the brighter side...

There have been a fair few more blog readers of late, so please allow me to introduce myself to the new ones so as to give some semblance of credence to that what I write: I’m PC Surname – a font line response officer (probably like many of you reading this) and a part time author. For those that don’t know, response officers are the 999 responders at the beck and call of anyone capable of dialling a three digit number on their phone – and they do call; some time and time again, believe me! I’ve been in the job long enough to know better, but not so long that I’m completely bitter, twisted and warped all out of shape, both physically and mentally. I extend a warm welcome to all the policing family, as well readers from the other emergency services, armed forces and, of course, members of the public alike – for without you guys breaking the law, crashing your cars and losing your children I’d be out of a job! The purpose of this blog is to entertain you with light hearted stories, intriguing accounts of policing at the sharp end, interesting insights into incidents my colleague and I attend, and humorous banter about all manner of police matters. Where possible I will endeavour to keep the topic and content as upbeat and positive as possible. Not saying I won’t have a moan once in a while though; after all, complaining is one of the things coppers’ do best – that and dry, patronising sarcasm; as well as being able to spot a wrong’en at 200 paces.

For this blog entry I wanted to talk about the current state of British policing and speculate about what the future holds for the ever thinning blue line. ‘But hang on a minute – didn’t he just say he wanted to keep it positive?’ you might be asking yourself. Okay, so it’s not been a great year so far for ‘da Feds’: policing in the United Kingdom is going through the greatest period of upheaval and change since the introduction of PACE in the 1980’s, moral is at an all-time low, according to the national media we’re all corrupt, reticent and self-serving, we haven’t had a pay rise for ages, the pension has gone to pot, front line numbers are dwindling faster than your average crack-heads life expectancy and the government seem to think we’re all plebs (or perhaps they don't - ahem); but, is it all doom and gloom? Like I always say: there’s no point in being a pessimist, because it probably wouldn’t work anyway…

Even the most optimistic would find it hard to argue that these are not tough times for the police service. But then these are tough times for the whole country; in fact these are tough times for the whole Westernised World. The public sector has been hit hardest of all in the current financial climate and reform is being forced upon us so that we can conform to new enervating budgets as a result of ‘austerity cuts’; not to mention greater cuts still await in the next two years. Despite what Westminster say, you only have to look around the briefing room at work to see that the front line is being affected. Whilst in the doldrums, where most find themselves, it is hard to look to the future with much expectation and take any positives from the current situation.

However, who would argue that the police service - along with the entire criminal justice system actually - was not in dire need of an overhaul anyway? Many of the antiquated procedures, legislation, processes and systems deployed in this once great country of ours have been allowed to stagnate. For far too long we have rested on our laurels and proudly boasted that the British police service model is the finest in the world and to be imitated by other countries – but never truly replicated. This is credit to the diligent, increasingly few officers up and down the land that continue to work hard and risk their lives daily for the greater good. But a commendable compliment of rank and file officers can only achieve so much. Despite our efforts the fact of the matter is this: reform is not only necessary, it is essential if we are to go on improving the service we provide, as well as keep up-to-date with the changing needs of the public, technology, social trends and the ever evolving methods of criminality.

Some might say that Tom Winsor, David Cameron and Theresa May are buffoons... and some might be right. I am certainly not defending the Winsor report – to contrary, like everyone else I think much of it is unfair, unrealistic and unreasonable - but there’s not a lot we (or the Federation apparently) can do about it. Anyone working in the police service could see that for years money and man-hours were being wasted, frittered away by Forces up and down the country on ridiculous and failed ideas, both at local and national levels. Then the bright sparks that thought up the ultimately futile ideas, or bolding reinvented the wheel, would still gain an extra pip or crown on their shoulders for trying their best though - no longer, however.

There are positives on the horizon:

Firstly the financial crisis will not last forever. The country has been strangled by such recessions before and bounced back. The police service will learn, evolve and grow stronger. As a consequence of the cuts the service is tightening the belt over its ample girth, trimming the fat, being forced into efficiency. The wheat is being separated from the chaff and those who cannot fulfil their roles effectively will be removed from their position. Whilst maintaining warranted experience is absolutely essential in certain positions, no longer will an experienced, well-paid, ten year PC be able to hide away in an air conditioned office, behind a desk, doing a role suitable for a civilian employee on half the money. That experience will be moved back to the front line and police officers will now have to justify their salary - which is absolutely correct.

Despite the falling officer numbers crime is down - we know not to the extent of the fudged figures spouted by the government, but despite all the negatives above we are still performing. A reason for police officers to hold their heads high and something that cannot be lost on those who stroll the corridors of power at Westminster. Apparently we are achieving more with less.

Expertise and personnel from other industries is being introduced, fresh thinking integrated. Reluctantly the police service has to now be run like a business, not a charitable entity bailed out every year by the taxpayer. Whilst the short term burden placed on the service will heighten anxiety at ground level, long term pressure to now succeed and achieve will hopefully eradicate the complacency of before resulting in efficiency and effectiveness i.e. more baddies off the streets, happier victims and less crime overall – what we all strive for. It is also worth mentioning the hard work shown by ‘Police Scotland’ – gradually proving that collaboration might bear fruit and an example to some south of the border.

Although Reg A19 (the enforced retirement of long-serving officers, for those perhaps not in the police) has diluted overall experience, Forces are slowly beginning to recruit bright, enthusiastic new officers. Desperately needed fresh blood is being injected. Finally the importance of front line policing is being acknowledged, appreciated and rewarded – and there’s the 10% shift allowance for unsocial hours (the only positive I’ve noticed so far as a result of Winsor)! Cautious murmurings, again from Winsor, imply that promotion will now be based on genuine aptitude and proven ability, rather than having a face that fits coupled with the ability to brown nose the way up the rank pyramid.

And, although public opinion in low in some quarters, the impeccable way we policed last year’s Olympics and Jubilee still lasts in the memory, the dignified and resilient response to the police shootings in Manchester (12 months ago already), the way we continue to effectively fight domestic terrorism and the fantastic job the men and women in PSNI do are all further reasons to hold our heads high. Whilst it is easy to believe we have lost the trust and respect of those we serve, you only have to look across the channel to other European nations to reaffirm that in fact we still have the support, appreciation and devotion of much of the general public – and still without the need for the routine arming of our bobbies.

We must remember that we are the police. Some love us, some despise us, but we perform our duties with pride and a steely determination in the knowledge that, despite the obstacles put in our path, ours is the good fight. We will come through this testing period even stronger, leaner and better than before. Why did we become police officers? Because we want to protect, serve and stand up for those who cannot do so for themselves; because we care enough about the injustices in the world do to something about it, and the cuts will not alter this. The British police will not be defeated in their on-going battle against bureaucracy, austerity, crime and disorder. We are family. We are protectors of the Queen’s peace. We are, and always will be, police officers!

Sorry, I came over all Gene Hunt in that last paragraph. Keep your chins up. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Besides, who wants to go back to their boring 9-5 job anyway…

Thanks for reading the blog. Please check me out on Facebook and Twitter. I am the author of two police books: ‘I Pay Your Wages!’ and ‘Upholding Law and Disorder’ that are both available in ebook and paperback form through Amazon and other retailers.

PS. We got a 1% pay-rise last month!

PPS. If the above didn’t have the desired effect and cheer you up, here’s a cute picture of a some dogs…

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Police Love Drunk People

Have you ever been to a party and you’re the only sober person there and you feel slightly uncomfortable as you don’t know anyone else? It’s a slightly unsettling atmosphere and time is dragging as you look at your watch for the seventh time since arriving. In fact you’re not really sure why you’ve been invited or agreed to go in the first place and now people keep staring at you. You knew the party host from school but if honest, you haven’t properly kept in contact and their new friends just seem weird and childish. It’s awkward and really you just want to be at home watching Match Of The Day or a show presented by that delightful Ant and Dec. Any of this sound familiar? Well that’s the feeling every police officer has, standing outside licensed venues at the weekend.

As I once again find myself on public order duty on Saturday night, standing outside Lava and Lights night club – waiting for the inevitable fight to happen in front of me, whilst at the same time attempting to reassure the public they are safe – I see him. Him being the drunk male with the gormless smile across his sweaty face. He’ll wander around outside the club with the smokers who are busy chatting and swearing away at each other. It is obvious he has no mates of his own, no money left, but although it’s 3:45 a.m. in the morning, he also has no intention of ending the evening until everyone has got in taxis and the streets are awash with Subway wrappers and bodily fluids. I watch as he bumbles around, desperately trying to find someone to talk to and show interest and/or take pity on him. My ‘scroat-dar’ is going haywire.

But then I make the ultimate mistake! I’ve made eye contact with him! I see his grin swell and his eyes cross as he tries to focus on me before he begins to stumble in my general direction.

“Oh no, please leave me alone,” I mutter to myself as he approaches.

But just as the youth is about to open his mouth and utter something enlightening, I am afforded a brief respite: a little blonde, barely wearing a skirt and top despite the near sub-zero temperature, projectile-vomits just a few feet away from me. The crowd turns to look at the young girl and cheers before returning to their socializing. My ‘buddy’ PC Knightly (officers always stay in pairs on public order duty) goes over to see if she is OK ... and gets a second burst of sick over her boots for her trouble.

“She is well fit,” slurs the male youth at the puking blonde before turning his attention back to me as he remembers why he started the intoxicated and therefore perilous journey across the pavement.

He is just a few feet away now and only a miracle can save me from having to interact with him. I know what’s coming so with a deep sigh I prepare for the witty banter that’s bound to shortly spew forth from his noise hole.

But suddenly, as he makes his final approach, a feeling of personal disappointment comes over me: maybe, despite my months of training and years of experience, I prejudged the youth and he has a serious legal question to ask and needs my assistance. A distant memory about why I signed up for this job in the first place comes back to the forefront of my mind – to help the public! As a protector of the Queen’s peace and public servant, I have a responsibility – nay, duty – to aid this inebriated citizen. I straighten up, puff out my chest, turn my ear to him, and wait to hear what the tanked-up gentleman has to say...

“If a woman’s pregnant, yeah, do you have to let her p*ss in your hat?”

My heart sinks and a little piece of me dies inside. I should have trusted my first instinct. I tell the male to clear off before I lock him up for the night for a public order offence. He wisely heeds my advice and once again shuffles off into the crowd to find someone else whose evening he can enhance as he has done mine. I used to at least try to engage revellers and make polite conversation when I was new. Now I just manage to resist the temptation to hand out Section 5 warnings to anyone who dares come within 5 metres of my proximity.

PS. By the way, no woman, pregnant or otherwise, has ever urinated in my hat either with or without my consent. Another police myth dispelled.

Top 10 Things Drunk People Say to the Police:

As well as asking about the legal rights of expectant women using police headwear as potties, inebriated party people jump at the opportunity to babble on to the men and women in blue about all manner of nonsense at the weekends. The officers are actually there to protect the nation’s high streets and nightspots and not provide entertainment for club-goers. In fairness not every boozed up person is a menace; from time to time, whilst on duty it is possible to have insightful and intelligent debate with people on a night out which makes the shift pass quicker as well as helping portray the police in a friendly and approachable light. This is often not the case though.

1. “Do you know my best mate Steve? He’s a copper.”

Despite only knowing their good friend’s first name, members of the public expect a police officer to know every other police officer in the country – irrespective of whether Steve even works for the same force as them. No, I do not know Steve.

2. “I fancy a bacon sandwich.”

The old ones are not necessarily the best ones. This one is slurred with a broad smile across their face and usually precedes a public order warning being issued by the less-than-amused officer. A very predictable and disappointing effort from the boozed up amateur comedian.

3. “I didn’t do it! Ha ha!”

Comedy gold. The drunken and over-excitable person will humorously insinuate that the officer standing outside the pub or club is there to arrest them. Sometimes there is a little variant on this classic when they laugh and shout “OK, you got me, I did it!” offering out their hands to be arrested. One day I might just call their bluff by deliberately misinterpreting their poor attempt at humour and take their joking as a genuine confession and slap the cuffs on them, thus improving my arrest figures and clearing some of my crime reports.

4. “It took 18 officers to arrest me last time!”

This is a lie; with budget cutbacks, most police forces couldn’t muster 18 officers being in one place at the same time without a meticulously, pre-planned operation being in effect. Undesirables take great pride in gloating about how so many officers were present in order to arrest them last time. The truth is that the more officers there are to arrest a subject, then the less likely that person is going to be subjected to injury. Officers train to work as a team to restrain villains with as minimal an amount of force being exerted as necessary.

5. “Will you give me a lift home please, I’ve lost all my money?”

No. 999 Taxis only drop off at one location – the rooms are free but sparsely furnished with no minibar. Usually when they say ‘lost’ they actually mean ‘spent’ their money on copious amounts of alcoholic beverages.

6. “You wouldn’t be saying that if you weren’t in uniform!”

Possibly not, because then I would be some weirdo vigilante out bossing about members of the public. But since I am wearing the uniform, and someone has to keep the peace, I will tell those that need telling to behave or suffer the consequences.

7. “Have you found my bike yet? It got nicked ages ago and you lot have done nothing!”

I didn’t even know I was supposed to be looking! I’ve never met you before or know anything about your stolen bike. I’m very sorry we have failed you thus far, but I’ll now drop everything and make it my top priority! I sympathise with victims of crime and wherever possible my colleagues and I will do our utmost to reunite them with their property, but sometimes it is just not possible.

8. “Why don’t you go and catch real criminals?”

Because we’re too busy dealing with drunken idiots right now.

9. “That doorman has just assaulted me! I want him arrested!”

It is true that some door staff are overly heavy-handed and when they cross that line they should still be dealt with by the law; but if the police arrested every security officer following a boozy complaint from a recently ejected customer, then soon no venues across the country would be able to open. Actually, that doesn’t sound such a bad idea…

10. “You’re right officer: I’ve had a lovely evening, but as you suggest I’m going to go home now before I do something silly and spoil it all as a result of my intoxication. Keep up the good work. Cheerio!”

NB. One of the ten above I made up and has never been said to a police officer ever before. Can you guess which one?

This is an excerpt from my book - NOW UPDATED FOR 2014 -  'I Pay Your Wages! A Beginners Guide to the Police Service' that is available HERE from Amazon on Kindle and paperback, and also on iBooks and many other ebook sites.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps

Before I start, let's get one thing clear: mental illness is a serious matter and blights those from all backgrounds. I am not too proud to confess that I myself have suffered with mental illness to some degree.

I recently watched an interesting Panorama documentary about people suffering with mental problems and the police. Although short (only 30 minutes) it was an accurate and surprisingly pro-police (not always the case with these documentaries) insight into how the long arm of the law is twisted behind its own back and forced to care for sufferers (it’s on the BBC iPlayer if you want to check it out).
The police have two main powers in law when it comes to people they believe are displaying signs of a mental health issues:

Section 136 of the Mental Health Act - This gives them the authority to take a person from a public place to a ‘Place of Safety’, either for their own protection or for the protection of others, so that their immediate needs can be properly assessed.

Mental Capacity Act 2005 – If someone lacks the ability to make decisions regarding their own wellbeing, then an officer can in effect make that decision for them, such as to insist the person in need receives relevant treatment, even if it against their wishes at the time.

Section 136 is the power most commonly invoked by me and my colleagues. It is no exaggeration to say on average, in the medium sized town I police, at least one member of the public is every day Sectioned 136 by the police (cue the joke “…and he’s sick of it!”. I mean at least one different person).
‘Public Place’ is highlighted above as this power cannot be used in the afflicted’s home address, or anywhere else the public doesn’t have access to, free of charge or via payment. How to get the troubled individual into a public place is an ethical conundrum that many a police officer has faced  (often the person who is self-harming, overdosing, threatening suicide is the same person who dialled 999 in the first place from the comfort of their own sofa!). Generally this either involves tricking them into coming outside with you, perhaps for a cigarette say, and then quickly slapping the cuffs on; or arresting them for some other offence, to prevent a breach of the peace maybe, before surprising them with a quick ‘sectioning’ just as they’re about to get in the panda car. Neither of these methods is ideal, and certainly would not be condoned by those in their air conditioned offices in HQ, but sometimes needs must and not many experienced officers could honestly deny ever using a ruse to cajole their subject outside.

When under ‘a 136’, the person is in the custody of the police and, until a mental health professional is convinced to take them off their hands, the officers are responsible for their detainee. What happens next (if the detainee is not intoxicated or violent) is they will be taken to a ‘place of safety’, which is usually a specialist secure unit at a hospital or other NHS building. Now, the next step depends on the Force responsible and their arrangement with the local health authority: some Forces I’m lead to believe are allowed to leave the detainee to wait for their assessment and carry on hunting for their next potential 136 candidate as long as they are ‘low risk’; however most Forces and health authorities require the officers (because ideally they’ll be two for safety reasons) to wait with the detainee until the assessment team is ready. And this is where the system falls down. In my county the mental health team (comprising of doctors, social workers and other health care professionals) aim to make the assessment within four hours. Four hours. That’s four hours! And that’s if you’re lucky - I’ve waited over eight hours for an assessment team to materialise! The whole time waiting is spent in a sparsely furnished room, complete with décor consisting of wipe clean walls displaying inoffensive pictures of flowers, a sink, kettle, no milk or tea bags and plastic cutlery. Naturally the detainee slowly becomes agitated, probably disillusioned, almost certainly irritable, inevitably more depressive, likely a little claustrophobic, definitely emotional, before all this culminates in a violent outburst and a roll around the floor with the two officers who are by now an hour late of duty.

The above is actually a best case scenario for the mentally challenged individual. If they are intoxicated and or violent – which unfortunately most of them are - then the assessment team will not see them. So instead they are taken to a police station custody suite where we have nowhere else to put them but in a cell, so they can spend the next few hours bouncing their head off the steel door until they lapse into unconsciousness either because of concussion, or sheer exhaustion. Only then will they been assessed either at the police station or via the disparaging cycle at the hospital (see above). Police stations do not have padded cells, despite what you’ve seen on TV.

Getting back to the content of the Panorama episode, the problem is the buck stops with the police. If a member of the public doesn’t know what to do with a person or in a certain situation, they naturally call the police. The front line police – who ultimately have to respond to the public’s calls – have very little training in dealing with sufferers of mental health. And, even if we did have the training, we still wouldn’t be the right people to remedy these poor, unfortunate souls – have you seen a front line copper lately? We look increasingly like paramilitaries dressed all in black, with webbing style tac-vests, combat trousers and an array of weaponry strapped to the front of us. More ‘Call of Duty’ than call for help. Hardly conducive to relaxing therapy.

To summarise, the police do not have the time, resources, training, equipment or facilities to deal effectively with the sufferers of mental health issues. But, despite pledges by various governments, there seems no indication that anything is changing for the better any time soon; in fact, due to austerity cuts, things seem to be going in the opposite direction.

On a brighter note, my new book is starting to take shape. Below is a short excerpt from it if anyone’s interested:

I hate foot chases. They’re so undignified and I always look ridiculous when I try to run after someone with these great big clumping boots on, stab vest and appointments flapping, whilst sweating profusely in the hot weather and unforgiving black uniform. It’s not like on TV when the handsome, athletic machine of law enforcement leaps over boxes, hurdles fences and scales walls in a single bound, whilst the fleeing villain bowls down passer-by’s and pulls over stacks of market merchandise in a vain attempt to inhibit his pursuer’s path.

I’ve only been running for a few hundred metres and already I’m knackered and blowing out my arse. I’m just lucky that as a result of years of substance abuse, the scrawny, heroin riddled, little thief I’m chasing is equally as poorly conditioned as me, otherwise he’d be long gone with the ladies purse. Neither of us can manage much more than a brisk jog now as we leg it down the pedestrianised section of the High Street, past Debenams and that weird modern art sculptor that looks like King Kong’s hand. It’s only public perception preventing me from stopping to take a breather whilst allowing the CCTV camera operators to keep tabs on his movements.

Whilst desperately trying not to sound on the verge of a coronary episode I pass updates to my colleagues over the airwaves: “He’s going along the High Street, past Subway, turning right onto Alexander Place, over…” before releasing the transmit button on my radio as well as the lungful of air I was holding in.

Rounding the corner I must confess a feeling of relief that I have lost sight of my prey and there are several directions he might have departed in. I can finally slow to a walk to consider my options, proudly in the knowledge that I gave it my all and chalk this down to bad luck that he got away – not a complete lack of fitness.

“He went that way,” a helpful member of the public points, realising the perspiring officer must be chasing that man he just saw dart off, “down the alley.”

“Thanks,” I reply, cursing his damn intervention, whilst trying my best to sound grateful as again I call my tired legs into action and reluctantly set off once more.

Following the contours of the alleyway I catch sight of him again, now just a few metres away from me. As he sees me he shakes his head unwillingly, having hoped like me the chase had ended, before turning on his toes and setting off away from me.

“Stop! Police,” I futilely yell.

This has now become the slowest foot chase in policing history. Both of us stumble along like asthmatic zombies, arms flailing and legs faltering. It’s only a matter of time before one of us gives up and collapses in a heaving, sweaty mess on the ground beneath.

“Alright, alright; I give up!” he yells, petulantly throwing his arms up in the air and coming to a halt just as we enter another shopping parade. Members of the public turn to look at the commotion and pay homage to the daring, resolute lawman who so courageously chased down his suspect. Little did he or they know that had mere seconds more passed then I was about to theatrically grab the back of my leg and feign some sort of hamstring injury and let him become the one that got away.

But I have somehow managed to maintain some semblance of decorum and, even more surprisingly, win the war of attrition as the thief cannot go on any longer and surrenders himself.

I think I might throw up.

“You… arrest… purse… nicked it… yeah?” is all I can stammer, gulping for oxygen as I come to rest next to him. Bradley, like me bent at the waist and gasping for lungfulls of air whilst wheezing like Darth Vader after the one hundred metre dash, nods in acknowledgement. “You… do not have… to say anything…” I start, before giving up on the Caution. “You know the words,” I sigh, flapping a dismissive arm at him.

Again Bradley nods as I place my handcuffs on his wrists. Indeed he has heard the words - probably more times that I’ve said them. There’s no fight left in the prisoner, resigned to the familiar fate, he slowly walks back with me towards the High Street.

“One in custody,” I announce down the radio, oxygen slowly returning to my blood stream. “Where’s the purse?” I ask Bradley.

“What purse?” he less than convincingly answers.

Just as we lumber back onto the High Street a police van in the distance negotiates some bollards before pulling up next to us.

“Been for a jog?” asks Cam as he steps down from the driver’s seat.

Still not fully able to reply, my mate takes the prisoner from me and escorts him round to the back of the van and the awaiting cell.

“Been out on the rob again, Bradley?” Cam asks as he opens the van door, but Bradley observes the right to remain silent.

“Put your arms up,” instructs Cam.

Bradley complies and lifts his still restrained arms up above his head as Cam thoroughly searches him; no sign of the missing purse though.

“He must have chucked it somewhere when you were chasing him,” Cam turns to me. “D’you wanna go back and have a look for it and I’ll meet you in custody with him,” nodding towards Bradley who is now in the back of the van.

I agree and set off to retrace my steps.

My books are still available from Amazon and a few other online retailers. Please click HERE to check them out. Thanks and stay safe!