Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Can't you just have a word with him, officer?

No we can't.

We don't do that.

Not any more.

Time was - we used to - we used to give out a lot of advice - we remembered who we'd spoken to, and what we said - we could even tell if they were listening and if they were going to take it on board.

But not now. It all changed - about ten years ago - but it was underway before then.

So no, we don't have a quiet word - there are forms to fill in, cases to build, partner agencies to consult, reports and files and memos. The paperwork's a nightmare. More than my job's worth not to do it properly.

So, as one of my team recently said, very wisely I thought:

Going to the Police is like going to a shop. Except our shop only sells convictions and prosecutions. Look around the shelves, and that's all we stock.

Convictions and prosecutions, and nothing else.

Now ask yourself, before you go any further -'Am I in the right shop? Is this what I want to buy?'

If not, walk out, because that's all we have on offer.

I think that sums up UK policing at the end of 2008.

Sgt C.

and a Happy New Year...

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Silence is golden...

Well done to Merseyside for getting a set of convictions, including the murderer in this case, not an easy task given the doctrine of omerta that is de rigueur for the crime infested council estates that are spread across the UK.

'Nightjack' - a detective, and compelling blogger, has written many times about the 'evil poor' - added to this are copious amounts of 'stupid poor' - nowhere as morally corrupt as the out and out villains -for whom crime really is a lifestyle choice - just the kind of people who are wilfully blind to what goes on around them. These are the kind of people who think nothing of buying razor blades, bacon, cheese, large jars of branded coffee, large bottles of branded shampoo and the like from hollow eyed, sunken cheeked heroin addicts. These are the people who complain 'the police do nothing', yet know all about who does what, when, where and how - and somehow always neglect to tell us. These are the people who can ignore the shouts and screams from next door - who don't know where their children are - but who definitely know they weren't near a smashed window or damaged car... - the people who stare blankly back when you ask questions about the man who is now sitting in an ambulance while the paramedics staunch the flow of blood from his head - the people who 'saw nothing' despite the broken glass and bloodstains and upturned furniture. These are the people who will look you in the eye - tell you you are crap at your job - that they know who burgled the house - yet will absolutely refuse to put a signature to a statement - even when it's their own house. The frustration you feel taking a crime report from someone who says 'I know who did it - but I'm not telling youse lot' is enormous. At this point my sympathy does tend to take a bow and exit stage left. Even on the occasions when I've worked a beat for a while, it takes a while to build up the confidence and trust of the locals - and to reach the point where they tell you juicy nuggets of intelligence 'off the record, officer...' is satisfying - but still leaves you feeling very powerless to put the bad guys away. Very often this is the reason the police do know what goes on - yet without a witness, it all falls down - and sadly the world isn't like the Bill , where cheeky crims almost always admit the crime, and follow it up with some more information 'off the record'.

The fact that Rhys Jones's killer and his accomplices have been put away is testament to a lot of hard work, the high stakes in a murder case, and even a sense no doubt that this was a 'crime too far', and for the low lives of Croxteth and Norris Green, the murder of an innocent boy was beyond the pale.

Had Rhys been merely winged - then I have no doubt the shooter would be still at liberty. The acceptance of 'less serious crime' on the sink estates is rife. Let me explain by way of example. Back in the day, I worked in... let me call it 'Miff Moor' - and there was a small estate - let's call it 'Mucklethwaite' - a small hillside council estate, of about a thousand inhabitants. There were at least two drug dealers I knew of - mainly supplying heroin and amphetamines -with links to another who mainly sold cocaine and cannabis.

One of the ne’er-do-wells was 'Fred' - likable enough in person, when sober - but less pleasant when he was after a fix. One day, I went to a domestic burglary. The occupants had not lived there long - having returned from a long stint overseas - but with teenaged children, they had come to know most of the local faces. For the estate, it happened to be quite a high value burglary - it was in the days when computers were large beige boxes costing about a thousand pounds - and with a PC, printer, screen, hifi, and some other bits and pieces - the total value came to two and a bit grand. I submitted the crime report, and the distraught victims told me that 'Fred' was responsible - not that they'd seen it - but they knew him by reputation - he had been hanging around - and someone - anonymous - told them on good authority 'Fred' had done it.

Needless to say, and keeping this to myself to save CID snaffling a good lock up - Fred was duly arrested. Needless to say - he denied it - so confident was he that he didn't even want a solicitor.

Bail for further enquiries followed - 'Mr. anonymous' was identified - and he gave a statement - which later - at Crown Court - during the trial of Fred's co-accused, turned out to be lies - but that's another story.

N0 - the ace up my sleeve turned out to be a single fingerprint - at point of entry - and Fred crumbled during the interview, coughed the lot - and got two years for the break. Result!

That said - I knew beforehand Fred was a burglar - I knew he had a habit - but not who his fence was - any more than he would tell me who his supplier was, or how big his habit was at the time. It turned out that Fred had been seen by quite a few people - only my 'Mr. anonymous' fabricated his witness testimony to bring his step father into the story - and to stop me from sussing this out - swore to me he was by himself when he saw Fred - and hated step-father making off with the loot. You can imagine I was slightly less than impressed when my star witness admitted making a lot of it up under cross examination at Crown Court...

I don't think my experience there was untypical - I can think of similar cases - so when a conviction stands against real threats of witness intimidation - I take my hat off to the investigators - I truly do.

See ya later.

PS 749 Custerd.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Flameproof Teletubbies

MAS training is upon us again. For the uninitiated, this means an early start, into work wearing our finest trackies, and rummaging through a dark, cold and dusty store cupboard for a large unwieldy black holdall full of pieces of kevlar, leather and plastic. After this, the game of 'find the van keys'. This is a search for the keys for the 'carrier' or 'funbus' - or as the public know and fear it - the 'riot van'. The keys could be anywhere from where they should be to hanging off the belt of the last officer who used the van, then hung up his belt, leaving it safely in his/her locker.

The phrase 'riot van' creates all sorts of mental images, but in reality this tends to be a long wheel base Ford Transit, with its magical police enhancements - some brightly coloured stickers, two tone sirens, some extra lights, and possibly a rusted grille, perched above the windscreen. This should, in direst of emergencies should drop down like Batfink's wings and guard the driver and sergeant with a shield of steel. That, or remain stubbornly rusted into position, as it's not the kind of bit of kit that gets regularly used. Not like a pen for instance.

This van will usually be knee deep in sweet, chip and pie wrappers, and with any luck, have a good half dozen empty coke tins and water bottles to roll about the floor as the van goes round corners. (This is the result of something called 'fleet mentality' - or why the fantasy and reality of a ride in a police car tend to be so far removed from each other.) A veteran van should also smell slightly musty - of damp - old farts - takeaways - and that odour of staleness associated with places that go from days of abandonment to short bursts of intense use by a close press of bodies.

Once 'bussed up', it's time to head off to the Public Order Training school - generally - this tends to be a large metal shed on an industrial estate. And so the fun begins. Once upon a time, this kind of treat went with a meal ticket, the incentive for turning up/volunteering to go/going at no notice with minimal grumbling was a packed lunch, or copious amounts of hot stodge served up with the traditional maxpax. Arrival at the school was followed by claiming a set of meal tickets - divided into the appealing choices of 'hot', 'vegetarian' and 'salad'. However, much like in the armed forces, the prospect of free food creates a level of excitement not found anywhere else in life, so this was one of the highlights of such a day.

Now, in these cash strapped times, pre-credit crunch, but certainly about the time that police training managers started talking about business plans - you bring your own food - so that what was once a trip out with a picnic, feels now more like hard work with your own sandwiches.

But I digress... on arrival at the 'school' it's time to meet the trainers. These are all PC's who have achieved that holy grail of police jobs - a Monday-Friday job with reasonable hours, and the opportunity to earn some reasonable overtime at the weekend. On the whole, they are a jolly bunch, always with an encouraging word for the hapless, and endless reserves of patience so that they can explain the same tactic over and over and over to ranks of blue-clad figures.

The training has a 'groundhog day' quality to it - everything is taught from a national manual - the tactics are pretty much the same everywhere - to allow for those occasions when bus fulls of bobbies are requested by another force to assist with trouble - real or anticipated in other bits of the country. The novelty does wear off fairly quickly - so after rehearsal of the same manoeuvres time and time again, the 'exercises', or 'scenarios' take place. Here, disbelief is suspended while we imagine that our riot suited comrades, now wearing coloured bibs, are in fact nasty rioters - and they are to be chased, harassed, and penned in all round the big metal shed, until they 'disperse' - or wander off for a maxpax - or else hide inside a pretend building within the big metal shed, where they have to be winkled out by a different set of tactics.

The kit used is amazingly low tech - shields, helmets and armour - and sometimes a big stick. I imagine the tactics are not so advanced that a Roman legionary would have trouble understanding them - but they are repeated until they become almost second nature.

At some point, there will be an 'angry man' - a trainer playing the part of a large cross man, who has decided to barricade himself into a windowless, furniture less room, armed with a bad attitude and a pick axe handle. Our job is to disarm him with charm, wit, two big bits of perspex and some grunting and heaving. We usually win.

The peak of the day is the petrol reception. Think champagne reception, but using petrol instead of champagne, and milk bottles instead of dinky glasses, and the bottles being thrown at you - on fire - instead of being handed a chilled glass of bubbly and some nibbles. The reason for doing this is to build confidence in the kit - running through fire for real shouldn't be too bad if it' been done in a practice arena. So the thinking goes.

The selfish reason for doing all this is that for most of us is that it is an opportunity to earn some overtime for the big public (dis)order events like football matches and demonstrations and the like - but it is also at the heart of what the police need to be prepared to do. At some point, sometimes, things break down to the point that people have to be moved off the streets - and ask yourself - would you rather the army did it? or the self same police who will have to come back and police the same streets when the fuss has died down, without hundreds of extra helpers, dogs, helicopters, horses and such like - and armed only with a stick, radio, a set of pens and an ability to talk a situation down?

Generally, PSU/MAS/public order training is a break from the routine of pushing a pen and a panda round for eight to ten hours. Certainly not glamorous, certainly not too exciting - and the kind of thing I hope I don't have to use for real, in a real live riot. Riots themselves are odd things - UK law says that 12 people are needed for a riot - using or threatening violence for a 'common purpose'. A large scale pub fight would meet this criterion - certainly if the 'common purpose' was to tear Wayne's head off for sending threatening texts to our Tracy. In reality, the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 means that the local police could be liable for compensating for damage caused due to riot - so strangely enough - despite once backing up to a pub fight which turned out to be two groups of drunken revellers throwing pint pots and bottles and threatening terrible things to each other - this wasn't a riot - which was good as all I had was my stick, radio, and pens. Sadly, talking the situation down wasn't an option - and only the sounds of more sirens coming to assist was able to separate the warring parties and see them melt away - leaving a small number on the ground, nursing their wounds.

Like so many things in the police - it's something we train for - but the reality of having everything in place when it all goes wrong is usually lacking.

Bye for now.

Sgt. C.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Another day dawns...

The loud thump you heard was the sound of me jumping on to a bandwagon.

There, I've done it now.

There is nothing new in Police blogs - certainly not in the UK, but with a few notable exceptions, most of the bloggers are PC's - or Police Constables, the starting rank for all Officers in the UK, and apart from inspector gadget and a long suffering fellow sergeant there don't seem to be many of us beyond PC level who are blogging. The reasons for this are varied no doubt.

But I don't care.

Anyhow, I've decided to start - and like most things Police related in the UK, I'll no doubt cover crime, diversity, the great British publicTM and all the other things that grind my gears...

So - first post - an anticlimax - apart from reviewing what others are posting on:

Shannon Matthews - (and the horrible sense of inevitability - it was always going to happen - somewhere and soon)
Knives - (war against sharp implements anyone?)
Police Standards of Behaviour (I love the last one... striaght from 1984 )
Community Payback for which, read this...
Free flip flops - (but what if we get sued for frostbite on little tootsies)
Baby P - (for which, I refer you to Nightjack's rule 4)
BNP... - - which caused me to chuckle looking at their list of hobbies and interests - I mean, when you look at the motley bunch of hucksters, snake oil merchants, self deluded egomaniacs, and downright idiots who are good enough to get into Parliament, regardless of their own personal beliefs, set against the party line - then think about the ones involved in politics at the regional and local council level - who does that leave for the BNP to recruit. The noise you hear is the sound of fingernails scraping the bottom of a filthy barrel.

the list goes on - I'll no doubt return to some of these topics when I'm calm enough to stop shouting at the telly...

Be safe out there.