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The Police Who Cried Wolf

Amended title of the popular tale told to every child by parents and teachers alike and intended to warn them about the dangers of telling lies. It is one of Aesops fables and defined as giving a `false alarm` and even included in the Oxford English dictionary meaning to make false claims.

This was the allegation directed at the Police service and specifically the Police Federation by the then Home Secretary Theresa May at the annual Federation conference in May 2015. She pointed out that reported crime was falling and in a simple analogy explained that as there was less crime then obviously we needed less Police. She went on to inform the Police service that more cuts would follow in the next five years and that their `scaremongering` had to stop. Mrs May evidenced these supposed false claims by highlighting quotes attributed to the federation that the government cuts led to officers being demoralised and angry and that the public were being put in danger. All of this was allegedly scaremongering and the Police Federation were `crying wolf` and this had to stop, they were wrong, she was right and so was the government.

Two years later and we have just seen the latest crime figures showing serious crime is on the increase, violent crime increasing and traditional crime such as robbery and vehicle crime is also rising. There was a half-hearted attempt to explain this increase due to the fact the Police service are now more efficient at recording crime and the suggestion was the increase is partly due to better reporting and recording. This defies the true picture and as any serving officer will happily inform you, crime is on the increase, demand on policing is increasing and the number of Police officers is decreasing. Despite Mrs May now being the Prime Minister, there appears to be no change to the approach in funding and resourcing for the Police Service by her successor.

Policing now faces a crisis that has been a few years in coming due to the imposed budget cuts and resource cuts imposed predominantly by Theresa May as home secretary and continued under her leadership of the government. The dissenting voices were many but unhelpfully they were predominantly amongst the serving rank and file and former or retired officers including myself. I spoke many times on Sky News about the impact of the cuts and the risk to the public if police numbers continued to be reduced. Less crime means that less officers are needed was the government mantra and the imposed cuts were designed to reduce Police numbers. The real missing voice was from senior Police chiefs and chief constables who were noticeable in their silent acquiescence of the imposed cuts on their budgets and inevitably Police numbers. Their political masters had spoken and many ambitious and career driven Police chiefs nodded their heads, wagged their tails and kept their counsel whilst abdicating their sworn duty to public and colleagues alike.

The whole situation began to resemble a personal crusade by Theresa May against the Police Service and the Federation as she challenged various police tactics and insisted on reforms specifically around Stop and Search and Police bail. Various sections of the main stream media joined this negative rhetoric against Policing which was clearly being directed from a higher authority to justify these stringent cuts and attacks on Policing. Many continued to `cry wolf` and `scaremonger` as we warned that the fact crime was falling was proof that Policing had the required numbers and budgets to meet the increasing demand but on we went towards crisis.

Crisis – Crime starts to rise and violent and serious offences begin to steadily increase. Less officers available to deploy on the street so less visible deterrent, less chance of being caught and less chance of the offender being detected.

Crisis – Demand on Policing increases at the time officer numbers are decreasing which means more required from less and increased stress and strain on the thinning blue line. Mental health and well-being of officers starts to become an issue as they suffer under the strain of policing and many go sick increasing the demand on those left at work.

Crisis – Increasing numbers of officers decide to leave the service as pay and conditions become an issue with the Public sector restricted to 1% pay increases and private sector noticeably overtakes Police pay and conditions. Many leaving cite personal demoralisation and the lowest morale ever in policing as one reason for their decision to leave a job they joined as a vocation.

Inevitably and undeniably, the Police Service and the Police Federations warnings and concerns have been vindicated in recent weeks. Many officers are reporting sick with mental health and stress related illnesses, whilst scores of officers are leading a dash for the door and leaving a job that used to be a vocation but is now becoming a stepping stone to better pastures. The private sector has better pay and conditions with less stress and scrutiny and arguably better support from management. There has been a reasonable and justifiable claim by the Police pay negotiators for a 2.8% rise this year but any official decision has now been delayed until September. I am sure the recent report citing crime is on the rise, demand is increasing and police numbers at the lowest level since 1985, had nothing to do with that decision.

Speak to any serving officers and front-line response teams and they will tell you they are continually working with less numbers than they should have. The term minimum strength is still used but frequently across the UK, that figure is far too often not achieved by teams required to respond to the most urgent calls from the public. The risk to the public is clear and present, and the British Police service, renowned the world over, is now far less than effective in their primary objects of preventing crime and detecting offenders if crime is committed. The policies of the Home office under the command of Theresa May have created this `perfect storm` for crime and criminals and as you would expect from opportunists, they are taking complete advantage of visibly less Police on the streets.

This was not just crying wolf or scaremongering, just honest and experienced opinion from a group of people who joined a vocation not just for the pay and conditions but because they want to serve and protect the public. At some point, someone needs to accept responsibility for this ill-conceived and personal crusade against policing and reverse the decisions made. Invest in Policing with money and increased resources before the situation really goes beyond retrieval, although in some places it is perilously close to that now.

This crisis is your creation Mrs May and the solution lies within your grasp if you would only sit down, really listen and then act on the advice from actual police officers experienced in Policing.

 

Arming the Police

 

Once again routine arming of the Police is being discussed after the recent terror attack  at London Bridge. Unarmed police officers were confronted by attackers, who had large knives and were wearing `suicide belts`. The officers had only a baton to defend themselves with as they faced life-threatening violence. Inevitably, serious injuries were sustained and despite the brave and courageous efforts, the attackers could move on and continue their murderous assault. There was even an off-duty officer who ran towards the potentially deathly assault with none of his protective equipment available to him and yet he still challenged the attackers. He too suffered serious injuries as he placed himself between the attackers and bravely fought them to defend the public he has sworn to protect.

In the aftermath, we are now debating once again the issue of routine arming of every UK Police officer which would be a fundamental and pivotal change in our policing approach and style. I am not going to regurgitate statistics and figures about how many are currently trained, how that number has declined in recent years or the reasons for them. This is not the format for a political debate although there are clear underlying reasons and at some point, those questions need to be answered and accounted for.

Together with many other former Police officers I have commented previously and given my opinion on TV news channels and radio talk shows. It occurred to me as I started writing this that my view, and those of any retired officers, are largely academic as we will never answer an emergency call again.

I joined in 1979 and the only parallel I believe I can draw with such a fundamental change in policing was the introduction of personal radios. They were effectively brought into more widespread use in the 1960`s and I can remember working with experienced officers who resented this innovation.  It was often referred to as the `bat phone` by this older generation who hankered for the old days when they were largely left alone to walk their beat and phone into the station via police phone boxes at periodic intervals. They felt that fast cars and these radio calls would change their link to the community and remove them from the essential daily interaction with the public.

Policing survived this so-called change in approach although there was inevitably some of the iconic `Dixon` type policing contact with communities lost for ever. One argument against routine arming is that it will negatively impact on community engagement and involvement but at what price do you place public and officer safety? There may come a time when officers carry a gun as readily as I used to pick up my personal radio and they will feel it is equally part of their essential equipment.

The key contributors or decision makers to any such change should be those it directly affects and that means the police officers currently serving and more importantly the public. This is where we need the `silent majority` of the public to speak up and tell us what sort of Police service they want to protect and serve them. There will always be those who are against such a move and quote notable incidents where in their view, Police use of firearms has been wrong. To date, no jury or court trial has agreed with this view and this is after they have examined all available evidence. The detractors use these tragic but exceptionally rare incidents to justify the view that the police should have no guns at all. I have yet to see or hear an alternative tactical option that police officers could use to deal with the type of terror attack seen at Westminster or London Bridge or even Manchester, if that attacker had been noticed as he approached the venue.

I asked for views from former police colleagues and those currently serving as to whether they wanted to be armed. I asked them if they had always held that view, had they now changed their view due to recent events and if there was an incident that they would have wanted or needed a gun. I received several interesting responses and numerous incidents where a gun would most certainly have been used had the officer been armed.

  • The TSG officer who chased a suspect and as the suspect turned to confront him he found himself facing a 9mm handgun. Luckily, he managed to vault a nearby fence and only because an old abandoned fridge was left there and as he reached the top four shots rang out. He hit the ground and four more shots flew towards him before the suspect continued to run off and then hijacked a passing moped. Luckily a passing unmarked car managed to `deflect` the suspect off the moped and he was quickly restrained before he could use the gun again. The same officers’ carrier crew was also subject to a drive by shooting a few months later when a machine pistol was fired at the police vehicle and it was struck by about twelve bullets and one officer was injured. Two incidents when an armed officer would have been more able to deal with the threat yet his view remains – no routine arming yet but significant uplift in numbers of armed officers needed. NO to routine arming.
  • My colleague who chased a vehicle across South London and then had an AK 47 fired at his police vehicle and watched as the bullets tracked up the bonnet of his vehicle and across the windscreen as he drove at 60mph. He wished he had been armed on that day and his view has been reinforced after recent events. YES to routine arming.
  • I can remember being about to do a stop and search near Clapham Junction and as we exited our carrier I saw the suspect reach behind to his waistband. Luckily my partner Wes and myself had just reached him and grabbed an arm each. Wes put his free hand towards the area we saw the man reaching for and then shouted `gun` and we both quickly pushed the suspect to the ground. Wes secured the gun and our colleagues rushed to help restrain the suspect. The gun was loaded and ready to be used and I have no doubt that a step or two slower by either of us and he would have pulled it out and pointed it at us. I am still not in favour of routine arming of the police although that incident happened in 1994 and times are very different now. I fully support a significant increase in armed units and would go as far as to say across the UK at least one vehicle armed per shift per station.  NO to routine arming.

The real challenge here is the officers’ ability and willingness to carry a gun and the amount of training required which will involve a significant investment in staff and funding. There is also the underlying issue of what happens if an officer fires his weapon and the subsequent trial by opinion and also lengthy enquiry conducted by the IPCC. Every officer knows they must justify every use of force and fully understand they will be investigated in the same way that they investigate allegations of offences. It is the manner, conduct and length of these police involved shootings that deters many from wanting to carry a gun in the first place.

I believe there is an inevitability about arming the police in the coming years as they face an increasing threat and unprecedented levels of attacks on our society. I do not believe we are ready or need to move to routine arming of the Police at this point in time, but we most definitely need a significant increase across the UK of armed response vehicles and armed officers routinely patrolling with firearms.  I would at this moment, support a full roll out of taser to all front line operational police officers and that would give them another tactical option as opposed to just using a baton or incapacitant spray.

A very recent Police Federation survey found that the majority of officers who responded would not want to be routinely armed. I wonder if that view is now different as a result of the significant change in the threat operational officers now face. The ultimate decision should be by the Police service and its leaders as it is their officers who will be asked to confront any attacks. There is a pertinent approach which I loved whilst policing and supervising staff, never ask someone to do something you would not be prepared to do yourself. The question for everyone is, would you face a terrorist attacker intent on killing you and/or dying in the process with just an extendable metal baton?

So, what do the majority of the British Public want? If you want more Police and more armed Police available to protect you then speak up and tell your elected representatives. They are the ones who allegedly represent your views as security and policing has become the one major issue in the general election. Let`s hope your local MP or government minister doesn’t accuse you of scaremongering or crying wolf and actually listens to the valid and important concerns you have. The Police service tried to inform them so maybe now is the time for the people to speak up and be heard, it`s called democracy.

Policing – A blunt solution to knife crime

There has been much written about the increasing problem of knife crime from a variety of sources in recent weeks. There have been figures and statistics supporting and disproving the impact of various methods from more stop and search by Police to just increasing police numbers and also the need for more `role models`.

The one area where there has been very little constructive input is from politicians who seem far too preoccupied with seeking to secure their own future. The worrying fact is that many young people will have no future at all unless something is done to reverse this trend and stop young people carrying and using knives.

I am not going to repeat the statistics or highlight a specific incident as both have been done to excess in recent weeks. A quick glance at the news or speak to any police officer or paramedic and you will be informed unequivocally that knife crime is increasing and it is a serious problem. The politicians repeat the mantra that crime is down and overall crime is down but remember, that is reported crime and serious crime including knife crime has increased significantly.  I served as a police officer for over 30 years and was threatened with a knife on several occasions and dealt with a few stabbings. I speak to former colleagues and knife crimes are now weekly incidents and in some parts of London it is becoming a daily occurrence. Remember again, those are only the ones reported to the Police or ambulance service and undoubtedly there are knife fights or incidents where the emergency services are not informed. It is becoming as common a habit amongst some young people to carry a knife as it is their mobile phone or door key, and for some it is solely as a means of defence as everyone else is allegedly carrying a knife.

The main problem appears to be centred on London although it is likely to spread around the UK as other groups of youths mimic their capital city counterparts. These days they all engage and converse via social media and post videos of their disputes with rival groups and gangs where knives are often used to settle the argument. The newly installed Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, has recently announced an increase in the use of stop and search. This has already attracted criticism from some quarters that the use of stop and search will further alienate communities and young people from the Police.

Some have described stop and search as a tactic that can be used by Police to help them deal with this knife crime problem. I understand the terminology used but it is much more than just a tactic, it is a legal power and when properly and correctly applied it helps prevent and detect crime. Prevents and detects and those two words are key to indicating the limit of effective police involvement in knife crime. I often tell prospective police recruits that policing can be a blunt tool or implement in dealing with crime and offenders. The Police can identify or detect that a crime has taken place and then arrest or report the offender and effectively that is the end of their role in decision making. The Crown Prosecution Service make the decision to charge or proceed with the case NOT the Police and the Criminal Justice System then decides on any punishment if the offender is convicted. The effect of any sentence is not really monitored or assessed and if you speak to any of the young men convicted or arrested whilst carrying a knife they do not see conviction or any of the likely sentences as a deterrent. They would sooner carry a knife and be able to defend themselves than be the victim of a stabbing and if they are arrested and convicted then at least they are still alive. That is the stark reality of the problem we now face and it is a problem that isn’t just for the Police to solve.

The same critics of stop and search are the same ones demanding action from Police to eradicate this knife crime epidemic. They rarely offer any alternative viable options and from a policing perspective the issue is quite straight forward, carry a knife on the streets and you commit a crime. The way to find out if someone is carrying a knife is to search them as no one ever walks up to a police officer and announces that fact. Why do Police stop and search so many young people and why is there a higher proportion of black males? The answer is supplied by those same critics if you listen and read what they are asking for. Stop and search should be more targeted, directed and based on intelligence and not just randomly applied to anyone walking in a certain area. In my experience, those three things were applied and are still being done when using stop and search. When you are dealing weekly or daily with knife crime committed by young males and in some areas, frequently by young black males on young black males, then your focus for any searches will be in those social groups. That is intelligence based on your own knowledge and experience in the area you are working and you target those you know or suspect of being involved in crime. You cannot `balance the books` or make the figures look better by searching elderly white females or carrying out a knife crime initiative outside the Bank of England with a stop and search operation. The primary option for the Police to use in preventing and detecting knife crime is by carrying out more stop and search. It needs to be correctly and properly applied and if you have nothing to hide then why argue or complain? Should you not feel safer and reassured that the Police are taking positive action to make the streets safer?

The other methods or tactics in dealing with knife crime are not solely left for the Police. What have communities done to prevent this problem escalating? Are the parents of these young people sufficiently involved in their lives to know that their son or daughter is carrying a knife? Are they offering an alternative for these young people or are they just glad to have them out of the house for a while?

These methods are not within the remit of the Police service. Diversion of these young people away from crime and to find them something else to focus their energy on is for others to initiate. The problem is that initiatives cost money and they provide little or no tangible profit. The Metropolitan Police used to allow officers to set up and run sporting activity clubs within duty time and there were similar schemes across the UK. The budget cuts put paid to any `non-police` type activity and reduction in officer numbers meant you needed `PC Bloggs` driving a response car as opposed to holding football training or boxing training in a local youth club. It might just be another coincidence that closing many of these activity clubs involving and engaging with young people, together with the coincidence of reducing officer numbers and then reducing stop and search that has created this `perfect storm` and allowed knife crime to flourish…….or maybe not if you believe the political rhetoric.

I applaud the stance taken by Commissioner Cressida Dick by encouraging her officers to use the legal powers afforded to them. This is not just a Police problem to solve and after these young men have been arrested and convicted and sentenced then what happens? Policing has a limited impact on this type of crime and if a young person wants to carry a knife then they will unless their own families, community, friends and neighbours encourage them not to. In my view, the main issue here is deep rooted in society, in peoples’ values and by taking responsibility for your actions and behaviour. If you do not want your son or daughter convicted of a knife killing and imprisoned for years then stop them carrying a knife. If you do not want your son or daughter to be responsible for ending the life of another young person then stop them carrying a knife. If you do not want them to become the victim of a knife attack then encourage others to stop carrying knives and report anyone that is. The Police will work hard to prevent these tragic incidents taking place but they cannot do it alone and on occasions, need the public to act as the Police. Be a part of the eyes and ears the Police have lost in recent years and help prevent young people carrying knives in the first place.

This problem needs more than just an increase in stop and search or a specialised police squad to have any long lasting and constructive effect. The Police have given an indication of their intent to deal with the problem but communities and society need to do their part as well. Arrested, charged and convicted is only part of the solution or else the whole process is just repeated over and over again. That’s the limit of Policing and the blunt fact that all they can do is arrest those carrying knives. What happens next in court and at home is out of the hands of the Police service.

I took it home

An interesting phrase and it seems to have resulted after some ill-advised comments from the head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), Sir Thomas Winsor. He gave a live interview to Sky News on Thursday 20th April and was discussing the difficulty some Police forces are facing in recruiting and retaining detectives.

It is a remote possibility that the widely-viewed clip may have been out of context in respect of the whole interview, however the actual words he used left no doubt. Mr Winsor first stated that one of the problems is that detectives are not paid any more despite the fact they have specialist skills. I will come back to that issue later but he then went on to make an unbelievable statement. Detectives have a more stressful job than response or neighbourhood officers because in the main response officers do not take their work home with them.

This prompted a response the like of which I have rarely seen on social media, from public and police officers, both response and detectives, who were all astonished at the naivety and disrespect Mr Winsor was showing to Policing. To make such a remark demonstrates his unsuitability for his current role far better than I could ever achieve in any blog. To think that any emergency service worker, and especially Police officers, do not carry with them the memory of every tragic and awful incident they deal with is hugely derisive. If you have access to twitter just search the hashtag #itookithome and I defy you not to be moved by some of the accounts. I can picture and remember numerous fatal accidents I dealt with including my first in 1980 in Mitcham Road, Tooting at 0200 when a mustard coloured Austin collided with one of the old concrete lampposts. The driver was not wearing a seatbelt and the drivers’ door was the point of impact meaning the driver collided head first with the lamppost. Then there was the child that ran out from their school gates between parked cars in Mitcham and was struck by an old Ford Granada. I didn’t receive a call to that one but drove around the corner to be met by the car sideways on and the child lifeless in the road.

Obviously, I never took either of those incidents home or the four suicides by hanging I dealt with, the stabbing victim I cradled as he died in Tooting Bec or the lady who took her own life by pouring paraffin over herself in her front room in Balham New Road. Obviously If I shut my eyes, I cannot see the childs face or the lady in her pink nylon house coat that had melted onto her, because I didn’t take the incident home with me. So many more I could recount but then so could every Police officer, response officer, neighbourhood officer or detective.

Every Police officer can recount similar traumatic incidents and events that are buried deep in their minds but can be triggered by driving down a road or someone mentioning an incident. You take all of them home with you and carry them with you for ever, and for someone in a position as Winsor is to make such a disparaging comment, is highly disrespectful and shows his contempt for policing.

I have always acknowledged and commented publicly, that investigative work is a specialism but then again so are many other areas of policing and none currently attract an additional payment. The issues around lack of detectives and recruitment largely centres around reducing numbers meaning those in the role have increased workloads. There are currently policies in many forces where response officers are now responsible for investigating the crimes they report so not only do they respond but they also investigate. Do they fall into this `taking the investigations home ` category that Winsor finds so convenient to use as an explanation for lack of detectives?

It was always the case that moving into the CID (detective branch) was seen as a bonus, it is not a promotion despite what some seem to think. It inevitably takes you off shift work and more importantly no night duty. You tend to react to crimes and investigations after the uniformed response teams have attended and dealt with the initial call. It is frequently slow time policing as opposed to the fast moving and decision making role carried out by response teams. I have worked alongside some outstanding detectives and excellent Police officers and respected their role and work, but I never wanted to do it. By the same token, they acknowledged my role in policing but never wanted to return to response policing due to the demands of the work. Waiting for that emergency call and not knowing what you may face or the risk to yourself or your colleagues.

It seems strange timing that Winsor should make his comments so soon after the Westminster attack and the day after three Met officers were injured running into a house after a 999 call and the house then exploding in a fire. I am sure everyone in both incidents is still taking it home with them and running over every millisecond in their heads.

The clip from Sky News ends with him mentioning that detectives carry a risk if they make a mistake and miss something. This suggests detectives have more stress because of this risk factor of making a mistake however I would suggest that front line operational officers face a greater risk. Think of the pursuit driver and the risk assessment they are conducting every second of a vehicle pursuit. If they get it wrong they will be under the microscope of an investigation by the IPCC and possible criminal charges, imprisonment and loss of a job and career. The same can be said with firearms officers and the inevitable investigation if they make the decision to discharge their weapon. Mistakes in either role would cause just as much stress and arguably more than it would in any detective based role.

I interpreted the interview as another divide and conquer tactic that has been so typical of everything Winsor has been involved in since he was appointed to review Police pay and conditions. I have no idea if he has ever actually experienced a working week with either response officers, neighbourhood officers or detectives but I suspect not. He strikes me as the type of person who would run away from exactly the types of incident that many of my former colleagues continue to run towards. He would not take them home with him because he would never have to experience them, hence his inexcusable choice of words during his interview.

There are issues with recruiting and retaining detectives but some of the main ones have resulted because of the very cuts in pay and allowances and reduction in officer numbers that he instigated. Every Police officer faces stress during their career and every one of them takes part of the job home with them every day. That’s why it’s a vocation and not just a job………

 

When I grow up I want to be a…..DE?

Direct entrant as a senior Police officer ………said no one ever!

How on earth did we reach the stage where one of the most committed, dedicated and arguably, demanding professions became one you can step into at a senior level with no previous experience?

Direct entry started a couple of years ago originally as a home office proposal but the process was managed by their own creation, the College of Policing. The College replaced the aptly named National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), more lovingly referred to by many serving officers as `no point in asking`! The College of Policing` intention is to eventually function independently of the Home office, but it is pivotal in understanding the history of the Direct Entry (DE) scheme to realise that this was one of the first major changes in Policing that the College managed. For many serving officers this type of suggestion for people to join policing at a senior level with no previous experience, can only have come from outside the service and this seemed to have a political hand behind it. The college, being new in existence, appeared keen to achieve their first major task set by their creators and significant effort was put into the recruitment and the training programme. Only 7 Police forces opted to take part in the first DE scheme for superintendents held in 2014 and there were 867 applicants for those posts. The applicants were asked to apply to the force of their choice and 46 were chosen out of the 867 applicants to go forward to the assessment centre. Five applicants withdrew before the assessment leaving 41 to be assessed and eventually only 13 were chosen to enter training as a superintendent. Only 13 out of 867 applicants shows the rigorous nature of the assessment centre and the quality of the applicants which must indicate and assist in the `success` of this new scheme? Question is, the longer the scheme continues and the wider it is accepted does that naturally reduce the quality of the future candidates?

The successful applicants have an 18-month training programme which includes a 10 week `operational rotation` in their home force experiencing the role of a Constable and a 15-week similar rotation as a Sergeant/Inspector. Normal entrants have a probationary period of two years as a Constable followed by a year or two as a Sergeant & then similar time as an Inspector. It takes a highly capable and driven Police officer to pass all their assessments at the first opportunity, taking anything from 5 – 7 years at best, before they can become an Inspector. Even that could be considered as being too fast but at least they have had significant experience at each rank in years/months as opposed to weeks. My experience of these types of `rotations` is that you never really experience the actual real role because you know its only for a very short period of time. Those with you know you are only there for a short time and Police work is so unpredictable it is highly unlikely you would fully experience all the aspects of each rank.

There is a fast track option for promotion available in most if not all Police forces, and highly motivated and ambitious police recruits can accelerate through the ranks without using a direct entry scheme. I have no doubt about the sincerity, aptitude and commitment of those who have applied and are currently performing the DE roles. To some extent I can see the benefit and need for relevant experience in policing at senior levels but I would question the requirement to employ people directly as senior police officers and leaders. There is a need in policing for experience in business management, managing people and improved use of technology but surely the individuals with those skill sets could be employed as senior Police staff or consultants?

What does this scheme communicate to an experienced officer who wishes to seek promotion and then sees someone join directly three or four ranks above them? Is the service really valuing its own staff and making the most of the investment they have placed in them during their formative years as a police officer? There are only so many senior ranks across the UK in policing and the more you make available for people to apply from outside the service, then the less there are for experienced and serving officers. Who do you think the direct entrants go to for guidance or advice when a situation or incident happens that was not covered in training or in legislation?

Policing is often about knowing what you can do legally but then applying common sense, a practical approach and discretion in making your decision. That is gained by first-hand experience and dealing with a variety of incidents and honing your people skills and situation skills which you do not acquire from classrooms or rotations. I am sure that many of the first few cohorts, as they like to call them at the college, are highly competent and capable individuals fully committed to policing and as I said I can see some benefit at a very senior level for their kind of knowledge. My point would be, do they need to be warranted officers for the service to benefit from their knowledge and experience?

The one aspect of DE I will never accept is having direct entry for Inspectors and I really cannot see the need or requirement at that level of policing for direct entry. There are numerous capable and experienced sergeants ready and willing to be promoted and the Inspector rank arguably needs the most highly experienced and competent officers. The recruiting advert from the college of policing website states `The direct entry programme opens up the Police Service to people who can bring new perspectives and diverse backgrounds to support the continuous development of policing`.  I am not sure what new perspectives or how being from a diverse background would benefit a critical incident on a Saturday night? You cannot buy or teach experience, you can provide the foundation training but then you learn whilst doing the actual job itself.

In many places around the UK at about 5pm on a Friday until probably 7am on a Monday the policing area is left under the sole command of an Inspector. There are senior officers available on call but the immediate management of an incident or situation rests solely on the shoulders carrying those two pips signifying the Inspector rank. In my view, you cannot identify or select someone from outside policing who would be competent or capable to perform that role irrespective of their background or perspective without experience.

For me then the actual concept of DE has been wrongly applied and the initial intention was probably sound to improve policing by attracting dedicated and committed individuals with the right skills. The fast track scheme was more than sufficient to accelerate these applicants through the ranks after a suitable period of experience. This just seems to be a political proposal to further diminish the role and vocation of Police Officers and make it a `part-time` job that you do for a few years and then move on.

2014 programme figures Source :  http://recruit.college.police.uk/Officer/after-I-apply/Documents/DEResultsAnalysisReport2014.pdf#search=direct%20entry%20superintendents

Direct Entry Training programme source

 http://recruit.college.police.uk/Officer/leadership-programmes/Direct-Entry-Programme/Direct-Entry-Superintendent/Documents/Direct_Entry_18_month_programme.pdf#search=direct%20entry%20superintendents

Heroes to Villains

Like many, my thoughts are with all those affected by the terrible event on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 when a cowardly and selfish man killed four people and injured many others. Some of those injured may never fully recover and the lives of many will have changed forever by the actions of one individual.

As ever, the Police service were at the forefront of the incident and ran towards the danger whilst moving others away and shielding some from the attack. Standing between society and this type of evil cost one Police officer his life and three others were victims on Westminster Bridge when they were run over after attending a commendation ceremony. The conduct and actions of the officers at the Palace of Westminster and on Westminster Bridge, were rightly recognised and reported as being heroic and representative of Policing in the UK. They upheld the finest traditions of the service and the swiftness and professionalism of the response was acknowledged and praised almost across the board.

There was genuine shock and horror amongst most of society and the outpouring of gratitude and thanks to the thin blue line was extremely welcoming and needed. I spoke with many officers working there after the attack and they were all genuinely moved by the show of Public support but also devastated by the loss of one of their own.

Public Perception

The danger is that people may start to really believe what they see and read in the press, some of these reports quickly become the accepted account of what happened regardless of whether there are any facts contained in the story. These stories or reports are frequently opinion based and may contain conjecture from many who have an issue with policing. The public reaction this week shows that the majority do support their Police and are grateful for the work that is done. They understand the sacrifices being made, the long hours being worked and the fact that it remains a very dangerous profession with the unexpected or occasionally terrifying incident likely to require Police to step forward and deal.

Police reaction        

This continual negativity has an understandable effect on the Police service and there are very few weeks go past without some form of critical report. Within a day of Wednesdays attack there were already debates and discussions around the extraction of the Prime Minister from the Palace of Westminster and whether her Police security team had made mistakes. The overall issue of security and why Police officers at the entry gates were not armed was questioned and was this another Police error? There were also questions about why the acting Commissioner was not speaking to the press and why he had left the scene of the attack. He was reportedly a `significant` witness and had been present as the attack at the gates of Westminster took place. In the last day, more footage has emerged and questions raised about a gate being left unguarded whilst officers ran to the aid of their dying colleague. It took just one day for the critics to resurface and start minutely examining every action by Police during the attack.

Assessment

Mobile phone footage taken by people hiding in offices whilst being protected by Police, emerged from a couple of sources with their commentary highlighting the `errors` identified by these instant security experts. If you wanted to be hyper critical, and knowing the Police service and those involved I know they will be, there are a couple of points that could have been better. The car for the Prime Minister could have had the driver ready and waiting but again, it looked like the back-up car was ready to go hence the slight movement in that direction first. In any event throughout that evacuation, she was under control and safe with her team around her ready to confront any attack from any direction. These officers are from the same department as the protection officers that moved forward and dealt with the attacker so quickly and effectively.

The question about easy access for the attacker through the gates was also raised. There used to be a fixed armed post on the entry gates but my understanding now is that it was removed a couple of years ago, due to cuts in the Police resources. It was also felt by many working at the Palace of Westminster that it was not the image they wanted to portray and having a gun toting Police officer on the entry gate looked oppressive. That is why the officers on that gate were unarmed and not because of a policing error but from a change in policy, influenced no doubt by the views from Westminster. There will no doubt be an intensive review of security and probably a return to the armed post that seemed to be effective in previous years.

The acting Commissioner was a significant witness but he is also a very important figurehead and his presence in the midst of a crime scene would have been more of a hindrance than a help. His protection team did the right thing to remove him as quickly as they did.

Lastly, the issue of the unattended gates and remember one of the officers posted to those gates was now lying fatally injured in the courtyard with his colleagues ensuring the threat had been dealt with. They would also have been assessing any further threat whilst rushing to provide emergency first aid to the officer and the suspect who had been shot. In situations like these you must prioritise and they would have been aware of the gates and ready to deal if another attack took place. Their priority was now emergency first aid whilst assessing any further threats which would have included the gates being open. An armed response vehicle was on scene within seconds and would also have been able to deal should the open gate pose an additional threat. It was closed just over a minute later and at no time escalated as a potential threat.

I could write so much more on every single aspect but it is indicative of the agenda by some in this country to look for criticism in policing at literally every opportunity. The Met seemed to go from heroes to villains in some peoples` eyes overnight and I imagine the possibility of further criticism of the Police and security services has not vanished as we learn more about the attacker and his life. No doubt, someone somewhere should have read and assessed him as being capable of this action and predicted this would take place.

My real concern is the lack of balance in some reporting and the effect this continual `police bashing` has on the public and the very officers tasked to protect society. To me, Police officers are heroes every day in dealing with everything society demands of them. The villains are those who have the luxury of being able to criticise without ever having to face the situations Police officers deal with. If you see a Police officer over the next few days go up and thank them for their work, I know it will make a difference to their day and restore their faith in the public.

The Three P`s – Perilous Precipice of Policing

When I first joined the Police we were warned about the three P`s. They were highly likely to get us in trouble and we should be very careful and cautious in dealing with them. They were Prisoners, Property and Prostitutes and although I doubt current front line officers have much to do with the last one, the first two are still areas of concern for most Police officers.

Today, the HMIC have published their own report highlighting `areas of concern` for Policing and identified 13 forces who require improvement and one that was assessed as inadequate, out of a total of 43 Police forces. The media and possibly the government will use this as a negative to indicate failings in policing and the `perilous` state it is in. There are clearly improvements to be made and some failings that need to be addressed but out of 43 forces 29 were found to be good or outstanding. If that was my childs` school report I would be very happy but maybe that’s taking a positive approach as opposed to looking for the negative and yet another opportunity to attack policing. Two thirds of Police forces are good or outstanding and that’s on the back of the most stringent budget and resource cuts ever seen in Policing. Police forces are also being judged against their performance in times when they had more officers and money to fight crime and deal with victims. It is true to say though, that Policing is indeed in a perilous state and facing its own precipice.

Perilous

Let’s look at the new three P`s & the perilous state of policing. I would agree that overall the situation could be described as perilous when you look at the cuts in budgets and resources and the increased threat that will bring to society. The public are being put at greater risk than ever before because we have less Police officers available to protect them or answer their emergency calls. Policing has become a reactive service where the officers spend the majority of every working day, going from call to call and just reporting incidents. There is little time to investigate or empathise with your victims or offer them what we may view as a reasonable service.  The Police are fast becoming firefighting crime fighters with little or no time available to either prevent or detect crime and that inevitably means crime will rise and suspects will escape or evade detection.

The lack of experienced or properly trained and equipped detectives, means detection is likely to fall and persons suspected of offences may not be identified or traced. Speak to any serving detective and they will explain their current case load is higher than it has ever been and it is increasing daily. They spend every day trying to keep on top of ongoing investigations and updating victims and witnesses which often means several lengthy and separate phone calls or visits. The number of working days are steadily increasing with court trials on allocated rest days and the hours increase with the work load as there are not enough hours in the day to meet the demand. It is no surprise that some aspects of investigation or detection are overlooked or opportunities missed. Officers are being pushed into detective roles and some are even being invited to be detectives straight from initial training with virtually no policing experience.

Precipice    

We are on the edge here and something needs to be done to protect our Police service before it becomes too late to save it. It used to be a vocation and a job for life for most who joined but there does appear to be an agenda to implement shorter contracts and direct entry schemes. The phrase that was used to describe many Police officers was `job pissed` which effectively meant they loved what they did despite the challenges. I am not sure that is the case these days and it is mainly due to the frequent criticism from government and by default some sections of the media, and the lack of support from senior police leaders.

There are too many experienced and previously dedicated officers ready and willing to leave policing for what they view as a better life. The precipice that policing stands on is becoming just another job, something you do for a few years until something better comes along. Society deserves the Police service it wants and by all the comments today, it wants a professional and dedicated Police service. That is exactly what most officers want when they join policing, to be able to dedicate themselves and protect the public and prevent and detect crime. To do this they will need sufficient funding and sufficient resources to meet the increasing demands being placed on Policing.

 

 

Policing       

What can be done then to pull our world recognised and renowned Police service back from this perilous precipice it seems to find itself on? Is it just more money and more officers?

That would go some way to redressing the balance which has now gone beyond the reasonable and required austerity cuts that the Police service accepted and implemented. The cuts have led to many policing services being outsourced to private companies and that has not always led to an improvement in the service received. There are still improvements to be made and best practices that can be identified across the 43 Police forces and then shared. Remember, you cannot apply the same policing principles in a rural county force as you can in a force that Polices an inner-city area. Procurement for uniforms, vehicles and IT equipment could probably be improved with costs saved and some merging of specialist units between some county forces could prove beneficial.

Policing can do some more but there is very little if any `fat` left to trim if we are still to have a Police service that functions as we want it too.

The bottom line is that something needs to be done and I welcome the `red flag` example used by the HMIC and their report. Police chiefs and politicians need to have a healthy and honest debate about the real costs of policing and decide where it sits in the importance of a service to society. In my view health and then safety of the public are the two key issues and the essential role of a government. The HMIC report is not all doom and gloom and there are many positives contained in it when you consider what has been achieved by policing in the face of such dramatic cuts and increasing demands in recent years. Do not judge current policing on what was achieved 5 or 10 years ago, the world has changed and government and society has forced changes onto your Police service. What do you actually want from the Police? Is that reasonable and achievable with the resources and demands they have? Some harsh truths need to be communicated and the reality of policing in the current financial climate needs to be acknowledged by those in charge of the finances and then by society.

 

The time for political point scoring has gone as has implementing new austerity measures just to achieve a personal career ambition as some police leaders and others appear to have done. We deserve a better funded and resourced Police service and one that has the capability to meet the demands that society places on it.

Britains` Top Cop…Evening Ma`am

History has been made and I wonder what Sir Robert Peel would make of his Police Force 188 years on from its inception? I hope he would approve and realise as many do in Policing, that Cressida Dick was the best candidate for the important role of Commissioner of the Met and its associated title of `Britains` Top Cop`. The Metropolitan Police will therefore have the first ever female Commissioner in its history but is it such a big factor that a woman has been selected? Frequently criticised for lacking diversity in recent years, the Met will now be led by a female officer and when you consider what that means in terms of advancement, maybe it is a big thing.

I joined in 1979 and although at that stage women were allegedly integrated into policing, they were still treated slightly differently. I can remember experienced Constables refusing to have a woman as the radio operator on the emergency cars and this attitude continued until well into the 1980`s. I qualified as an advanced driver in 1985 and can remember being asked if I was `ok` to have a female partner for my one month posting on the emergency/pursuit car. Personally, I found my female colleagues highly competent and capable and never had a problem working alongside them. On many occasions, I found it a positive advantage to be accompanied by a female officer when dealing with domestic incidents and allegations of assaults. They could calm down a potentially confrontational situation when two male officers may have had a totally different reception and outcome. To think there would be a female Commissioner within 30 years would have been unthinkable in the 1980`s given the male dominated and misogynistic view of the Police hierarchy. This would have been a tough path for any woman to tread in that policing era and the successful ones really had to prove themselves above and beyond many of their male colleagues.

Cressida Dick joined the Metropolitan Police in 1983 and would have experienced some elements of this male dominance in policing roles but her natural ability and enthusiasm for the job has clearly served her well. I never worked directly for her, but I have been present at several intelligence meetings and Police operations which she has been involved in and found her to be highly impressive. We even shared the occasional bus ride to New Scotland Yard from the train station and she always had time for a quick chat and cheery smile. Clearly someone in love with the job and her role and she was already noticeably different from some of her senior management colleagues. I have spoken to many serving and former officers over the last few months since Sir Bernard announced he was prematurely retiring. The consensus was almost overwhelming that Cress was by far the best candidate for the job but by this stage she had left the Met for a role at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. It was unknown at first if she would throw her hat in the ring, especially after it appeared she left the Police when she was moved from her much-loved role as head of Counter terrorism. That decision was made under the leadership of the Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and it was never really explained or justified. Once it was announced that she had applied for the job, almost everyone I spoke to believed she was absolutely the best person for the job.

She had started the hard way by spending her first ten years learning the basics of operational policing before applying for the Met accelerated promotion scheme. Who needs a Direct entry scheme? A sound operational policing basis and then accelerated through the ranks based on her ability and aptitude, what is wrong with that as a policy?

I think she will be exactly what the Met needs right now as they are at an all-time low in respect of morale and will face significant challenges in the next few years. Further budget cuts, reduction in the property estate and issues with retaining staff and attracting specialist officers will all need to be addressed. That is notwithstanding the crime issues they face from increasing knife incidents and the threat of terrorism. The tenure of the outgoing Commissioner has been riddled with rumours of a bullish management style and dogmatic approach to junior ranks. Cressida Dick does not lead in anything like the same style judging by everything I have heard and know about her. She has been described as the type of boss that you are willing to go the extra mile for and her staff put in that bit more when asked to do so. She will also give confidence to many of the young women now joining the Met that there are opportunities available to them if they have the ability and desire to succeed.

She has a sound policing background founded on time well spent at the front line and a calm head coupled with a documented support for those working for her. Her testimony at the inquest into the tragic shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes gained her increased credibility within policing and government circles. She withstood the pressure and gave an honest account of one of the most challenging operations and the decisions that have ever been made by a Police Commander. Whatever your views on that policing operation, Cressida put herself in that difficult leadership position and her decision making on the day has been vindicated at a trial.

I wish her well and hope she has a long and successful tenure at the head of the Met and restores the morale and belief in the men and women that serve the capital.

It is The Job not just A Job

Write a blog some wise people suggested. You have enough to say on twitter and on the telly so writing a blog will be easy for you, but where do you start and what do you write about? I looked for inspiration and maybe the best way to start your own blog isn’t by advertising other articulate and experienced bloggers but…..Nathan Constable, love his work and his writing. Never met the man, (is he a man? It’s a pseudonym so who knows!) but in any event, an experienced Police officer writing from the heart and an inspiration for me in taking this on. Someone I have met and worked with, John Sutherland aka Police Commander, which is a bit of a misnomer as he is a Chief Superintendent, but someone I trust and hold in high regard and an avid blog writer. We met recently and John encouraged me to dip my toe into the blogging world and write about Policing. Apparently, I have an audience primarily due to my numerous tweets about Policing issues and my occasional appearances on TV giving my opinion on the latest Police headline stories.

It surely cannot be that difficult then, find a site to host my blogs and then start typing? There is the inevitable `settings` tab to negotiate from your site host and a myriad of themes and colours to choose from for your blog site. That was a challenge for me and as my wife will tell you, I am not authorised to choose colours or themes or make any decisions around `settings` and after half an hour searching I just picked the next one and hoped for the best.

The first topic then and I pondered over Stress in the Police service that has apparently led to an increase in sickness absences? Maybe keep that for the second or third one as that subject is likely to be ongoing. Maybe the current popular debate on my twitter timeline, which is about direct entry detectives as some forces are advertising for people to join as detectives. I could definitely write about that but again, maybe for another time.

I thought I should start at the beginning and a debate currently being held in Police stations across the UK over whether it`s worth staying in the Job or leaving? Morale is reportedly at an all-time low, stress is at an all-time high and serving officers are questioning their sanity about continuing in a Policing career or maybe finding another job. I know the job has changed before someone points out to me that it is nothing like it was when I joined in 1979 and there are now greater demands on Policing.

The scrutiny has significantly increased and the policies and guidelines are constantly changing and evolving, so modern day Police officers need to be walking encyclopaedias in respect of laws and offences. The demands on Policing are increasing whilst the numbers appear to be decreasing and I do not need a degree or think tank to work out that means the less are working more. The pay and conditions have changed for the worse with existing officers now paying more into a pension for a longer period of time and will receive less at the end than they were initially promised.

Why stay then? Surely it`s just a job and if you are committed and experienced enough you can find a job where you are likely to receive more appreciation and respect than policing appears to currently receive.

That’s the point, it isn’t just a job and for many they still see it as a vocation and it is `The JOB` they just want and need to do. It is why I joined and committed over 30 years of my working life to despite the fact I am sure I could have found something that would have paid more. I could also have done a job that didn’t require me working three weekends out of every four and inevitably having the one weekend off cancelled to Police the latest march or protest in central London. They were not always on overtime either and although earning money is some recompense try telling that to your nearest and dearest as once again, they bundle the kids off to visit family without you. There may be many serving officers reading this who are considering stepping through that exit door and from one who has taken that leap I would urge caution. I was lucky enough to reach my full pension under the old scheme and retire before the goal posts were moved and everything changed. I make no apology for that and I know and understand the resentment that exists from those now working longer for less at the end. Still, what would you go and do and would it give you the same feeling as Policing has done and hopefully may do again?

I have worked in a number of roles since retiring for various employers and organisations and can tell you from experience that Policing remains high in that list around Professionalism and commitment. You need to be committed to be a police officer in the first place and dedicated to the role you are performing which is not always the case in the private sector. For some their chosen job is just a job to them and nothing more than that. The idea that they might go in early to finish some paperwork or deal with a work-related incident at the weekend is completely alien to them. The majority of Police officers are dedicated to their profession and take an oath in that respect and will act whether on or off duty. It is not until you step away from Policing that you start to realise not everyone you work with has that same mindset or approach to whatever job they are doing. The Police service has always had an inbuilt `can do` attitude to whatever new policy, legislation or guideline that is sent their way and will make the most bizarre and unpractical policies somehow work. It is the way `the job` has always been, to make things work and do some good at the same time.

There are clearly issues with the Police service and they are crying out for effective and committed leaders who support their officers and Police independently of political bias. I accept the job has serious issues and there are real problems with retaining long serving officers and ensuring we have sufficient experience policing our streets. There may be more lucrative employment offers or more glamorous roles available to you but from experience there are few that will give you the same overall satisfaction as policing. I was commentating on TV during the serious disorder in 2011 and the presenter turned to me during a break and remarked that he bet I was glad I was in the studio and not out dealing with it. I thought for a moment and answered honestly that I would happily be back out dealing with it all because that was what I trained for and felt my place was really back amongst my former colleagues. There are those moments, the serious incidents you deal with that cannot be duplicated by almost any other working role you can think of. If you ask yourself honestly, that is why you joined the job. They may not come along very often and you probably have a whole heap of mundane and frustrating issues at work to deal with in the meantime but……. when they do. That is why you are a Police Officer, that is why you joined and at those times you forget about all the negative aspects and you just get on with it.

It may not be the best job and it may not be the job you joined but deep down you still get a buzz from certain days and certain things you deal with. The camaraderie and banter that only cops seem to understand and get and despite the, ` we will keep in touch` if you leave, many don’t. Think long and hard if you are contemplating leaving because honestly, there is no other job other than `the job`, Policing.

Stay safe.