Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Civil Route - Stronger Justice

I've been beaten down by the criminal justice system and like many others just accept it as a waste of time. There is no fear of it from young offenders and in the Fiona PILKINGTON case a criminal prosecution would have had little effect.

Here is the sentence handed down to a youth convicted of attempted robbery that I was involved in.

Supervision Order 9 months to follow directions in the order:
  • Supervised by a member of YOT (Youth Offending Team)
  • Participate in young black men's group work programme
  • one to one sessions with victim liason worker to address the impact of offending on the victim
  • reparation sessions as assessed by specialist worker
  • one to one sessions to consider thinking and behaviour and appropriate responses to situations
  • one to one sessions to identify and engage in appropriate training or employment.

Now for non recidivist offenders the above might well be worthwhile. I'm sure that for many it might divert them from a life of crime. More minor offences would also be subject to intervention by the youth offending team. Non compliance can result in curfew by Tag and being taken back to youth court. You need to be convicted though for any of this to take place, very difficult in itself. In the case I allude to above the best result was having the lad and his mates on conditional bail for several months on a night time curfew before trial. I'm sure it was a coincidence that the little series of robberies I'd suffered locally ceased during that time. Robbery is of course seen as a more serious offence.

For the minor public order offences I've seen the civil law used to good effect. One particular tool I like is the ASBI (Anti Social Behaviour Injunction) which despite the fancy handle is just a civil injunction. This can however come with a power of arrest if the civil judge decrees.

It would appear from what I've read that the Leicestershire council had taken over the lead on the Pilkington case and gone down the proportionate route by first getting an ABC (Anti-Social Behaviour Contract) signed by some young people. This is basically just the first step to getting an ASBO where conduct is challenged and a contract signed where they promise to behave and not contravene certain conditions like throwing stones etc. The local authority was in the process of getting things done as an ASBI was also granted but this was after the suicides. They were actually getting there and I think the orders in place may have helped. Perhaps the local police should have put their remarks about the criminal justice system more bluntly.

I would assume an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) was not sought as this would have meant researching and compiling a massive pack of incidents and statements to put before the magistrates court. These are somewhat time consuming to say the least.

Let me give you an example of when my local authority sought an ASBI. A young man came onto one of my estates and abused one of the caretakers threatening to hit him. The caretaker only knew his first name, so things were discussed at the joint ASB meeting. Yours truly puts forward the likely suspect and supplies an address and police image. I'm set for an investigation knowing full well that the lads friends would back him and it's the caretakers word against them, CPS would say unrealistic chance of conviction = No Further Action.

The ASB manager who I've worked with for years is a good bloke knows this too well. He wants to protect his staff and is committed to getting an ASBI. I supply a few bits and pieces he requires, he gets a statement and their legal department get an injunction. The result being said individual is banned from the estate for 12 months WITH A POWER OF ARREST for me should I catch him. I was convinced he would breach it but he didn't or not to my knowledge. I was still on his case but when I spoke to him he saw this as a stronger punishment than if we'd gone down the criminal route, even if we'd got a conviction. The caretaker was happy too as he'd been supported by his employer.

I should just add that I worked with a very much "can do" authority that did actually allocate many resources to ASB. They had better vehicles, better kit and better administration back up than I could ever muster.

I suppose it depends on the judge who sits in the county court. I'm not so sure that they would be keen to grant injunctions in similar circumstances against juveniles. Civil route is definitely the way forwards. Lets just get an injunction to ban travelling criminals from being in certain areas where they've been caught doing crime. They can then be arrested and placed in front of a civil judge to explain why they breached their order.

But we shouldn't even be contemplating the civil law should we? Shows how badly things have gone. Tough On Crime Mmmm ..

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Taking Responsibility .. Just Do It

I very much disagree with Superintendent Steve Harrod that anti-social behaviour and low level hooliganism is not the responsibility of the police. I don't know who rules the streets in Leicestershire but I would hang my head in shame if a similar case happened on my patch. He is not picking up on what's important here. The silent majority are suffering from swaggering youths and want them to be tackled, but feel ignored. Those comments do not do much to instill confidence in the police do they?

I take his point about the inept criminal justice system and punishments handed out to young people in the form of reprimands, but does that mean we should do nothing? There are things that can be done and working together with the local authority can actually be more effective than the criminal route. I don't know what they did up there, but one of the best meetings I used to attend was our anti social behaviour one with the housing officers. We would discuss local problems and you could gauge where the demand was coming from. A few extra patrols and a few words in the right ears was often enough to nip things in the bud.

When that didn't work it was a case of getting out there and taking the ground. Youth gathering points would be visited to identify the likely culprits. This caused conflict with the kids whose usual riposte was "we ain't got nowhere to go" "we ain't doing nothing" "why are you always harassing us?" You could pass the names to the local authority who could send out warning letters but this is only a first step to deter them.

I've always found the best way was to covertly record their antics. This would mean getting a RIPA authority to conduct surveillance. I would only use this after pro-active patrolling had failed to stop the unruly behaviour. These kids will hang out every night and police teams due to shift working just can't put out the same presence on a regular basis. Sledgehammer to crack a nut? Well it is certainly an awful lot of paperwork, but if everything else has failed what else can be tried?

I received a lot of complaints about kids throwing eggs, smoking dope and being noisy on one of my estates. Nobody rang me direct and they rarely called 999 because by the time units turned up the kids had gone, if anybody actually came. They would however stop and tell me on foot patrol.The evidence was all over the back windows of the houses that backed onto the estate. A bit of door knocking, and some of the residents told me how bad things were. They were kept awake by shouting and swearing but when they shouted at the group they got abuse back, followed a few days later by eggs thrown at their property. One lady even had her window smashed splintering glass over where her baby usually slept. Bloody disgraceful, now tell me again that this isn't conduct that police should tackle.

A few days of filming showed a group gathering sat on railings outside of a sheltered housing block. The railings were about three feet from an elderly lady's back window. I filmed continued spitting on the floor so it actually formed a small puddle, smoking of cannabis and general noisy screaming and shouting. OK nothing too outrageous from a criminal view point and definitely seen as low level anti-social behaviour but to the other residents it was living in hell. I got a statement from the old lady who was at the end of her tether and had previously contacted the housing office to complain. She however chose to just live with it too scared to go to bed if the group were outside her window. Tell me again how this is not the responsibility of the police to deal with it. I would hope that Mr Harrod would not try and pass this off if he dealt with these people and would actually do something to help them.

The video was not pleasant viewing and some of the parents of those identified were invited in to the housing office to see it. They were really ashamed and thankfully in that case it was enough to solve the problem. I've seen the same tactic used where the behaviour was more criminal. All the culprits were summoned to a youth clinic to be reprimanded. Some police officers out there do care because they can see what's wrong and will work hard to do something for the silent majority .. it's called taking responsibility.

RIPA - Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 .. Authority to be granted by superintendent for covert surveillance activities. Lots of writing about proportionate use and necessity so not to infringe the human rights of those who don't give a shite about anybody else.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Choir Practice

When you think how much time is spent working with drunks and people with a host of issues, you would think we would be quite good at spotting those officers with the same problems. I've obviously worked with people who like a good drink, but have never been able to see when the alcohol and work thing has gone too far.

I should know better having come from the army with a massive peer group drinking culture. In that environment the pressure to consume and hold your drink was immense. Every night would involve massive drinking sessions and I rarely took to my bed without the ceiling spinning. Of course returning to the UK on leave meant I could show off my new found drinking capacity. It was stupid considering the drinking culture continued on exercise and we were in charge of some dangerous kit. I used to rebel against this by going on fitness drives, and keeping out of the bar for 6 week periods especially when I started getting the shakes. I still keep in touch with my old comrades on specialised army reunion sites. Many who stayed in for the full term make no secret of their alcohol problems.

I can't speak for the CID but my general feel is that we in the uniformed police have moved away from a drinking culture. The days of the team drink after early turn are gone but I have heard of a few brave souls who manage to get out straight after their last night shift for an early morning session. As a supervisor I tend to keep clear just in case some inappropriate conduct from others gets me in the shite. I'm a firm believer in police, drink and the public not mixing unless it's a tried and tested establishment.

I do miss going to the police local where we had one side of the bar and the general public had the other. It worked well and the landlord (old fashioned pub) did very well out of the arrangement. Shift pattern changes and people travelling from further a field really saw the impromptu drink consigned to history.

I don't know what people get up to in their own time. A few of the single officers who lived in police accommodation were of course at risk of getting caught up in a drinking culture similar to me in the army. I don't know where a good drink becomes a drink problem and then alcoholism.

I bumped into a friend the other day who has had his problems with drink. He was an ex squaddie and never really got out of that lifestyle. His problems were known to the job who didn't really know what to do so they did nothing. He was working in the CID environment at the time and I wonder if that was the reason. It wasn't until he nearly lost his job that he started to sort himself out. He is now dry, attends AA meetings and is doing well in his job, a specialised role. He is helping out as a mentor to those with alcohol issues within the job and told me of the stigma attached to alcoholism.

Under the new misconduct regulations he would have been dismissed from the job, without any doubt. They would have lost a good police officer. I do wonder if every case should be treated on it's merits with regards to those with obvious alcohol problems that exist within this job, where people have missed or ignored it. Of course ultimately the person concerned has a responsibility to seek help too.

Loved The Choirboys film and this scene a good example of a team drink going wrong !!! It was made in the 70's so excuse the obvious stereotyping of both police officer and gay member of the public!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Getting Off On The Wrong Foot

I came across this video and it threw up a few interesting thoughts about interaction and getting off on the wrong foot. This post is not a criticism of the Police Community Support Officer who I think remains rather polite and puts his point of view across in a sensible way. It does not compare to the well viewed video of a PCSO being rude to a photographer in London. This lad saw it right to challenge somebody using the word shit repeatably in the presence of a young child and parent.

The situation escalates slightly into a discussion about the word shit after being told a ticket could be issued for disorderly conduct under the public order act. Obviously the members of the public involved see him as an authority figure who is being overbearing. Of course talk of issuing fines in this instance was not the way to resolution, but was a reaction to being told by the film maker to stop rebuking him from swearing. The end result being a credible score draw in my opinion, I know a few who would have let that get out of hand.

I was just wondering what the parent of the child would have thought. Maybe he was shocked by the use of the word shit in front of his kid. Would he have been aggrieved if the PCSO had not done anything and ignored the situation?

The comments on the YouTube video by cveitch are mixed either way, but I did like the one pointing out that the PCSO would probably say shit if he fell off his bike.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Protecting The Truly Good

Another set of nights is out of the way. It was relatively quiet .. I can say that now I've got a few days off. Quiet means we didn't get wiped out by any major jobs and actually met our Immediate graded call time targets. We only dealt with 30+ but they didn't end up with too many arrests. There were the same drunken fights from outside the usual drinking hell holes. The participants not being too bothered to take things further and going their separate ways relatively unscathed. We still ran out of units though, meaning I got the chance to attend a few calls by myself.

I was met by ambulance crews on most of these who rarely have a quiet night. I feel sorry for the ambos who have to deal with alot of crap from our shared customer base. It makes me feel rather angry when they get abused and their time is wasted. My old man was an ambulance driver when he first left the army but that was the day's of scoop them up, patch them up and get them to the nearest casualty which was never far away. Today these people are dedicated health professionals and highly qualified. Their pay should be on a parity with ours and I along with all other police workers respect them for the job they do.

One of the calls was to assist the ambos with a collapsed drunk male refusing to leave a bus. There were two ambulance vehicles present, a lone responder and a double crewed unit. I trudged upto the top deck to find a prone individual on the floor. He was conscious speaking and basically playing the dead weight game. They had already completed their checks and deduced there was nothing wrong with him medically. He was intoxicated but more I suspect from chewing khat than alcohol. After much persuasion which failed, he was just lifted unceremoniously by a joint services move and carried off the bus down the stairs and placed on the pavement still pleading illness and claiming to have lost the use of his legs.

Now we had a predicament, who was taking him. I was all for just leaving him there convinced that as soon as we'd left he'd get up and go home. The ambos quite rightly said that they'd receive further calls to a male collapsed in the street and have to come back. If I'd arrested him it would be the same result with him getting booked in and claiming an immediate medical condition that would have needed him going to hospital. Our police surgeons under a new scheme are not as accessible, so we are having to use A + E on a more frequent basis.

I was solely tempted to resort to methods of days gone by. This might have involved a police van and a drive to more scenic surroundings where he could be dropped off. I am of course more professional than that .. we all knew he would be wasting the time of the NHS tonight to cover everybody's backsides. So he was strapped up to see the doctor in casualty as he wanted to, just in case .. duty of care and all that.

I saw later that the same waste of space was in one our custody suites. The doctor had refused to treat him due to his conduct and he'd spat at one of the ambos, so backs having been covered he ended up in the right place after all.

The courts are supposed to take these type of assaults on NHS staff more seriously. I don't know if they do - or like us in the police it's seen as part of the job. It shouldn't be that way, I can live with it as a policeman but the ambos and nurses should be protected more by the law, because they are truly good people.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Falling Back To Earth

I've been reading some interesting stuff about Job Stress and how your occupation actually changes the way you think. This is not related to police work in particular but all different roles. The pressures exerted by management the role itself and by colleagues actually changes your perceptions and behaviours and makes you act in certain ways. It is fascinating stuff and got me thinking about how I might have changed in my views over the years.

I don't know how you would measure it, as we don't do Psychometric testing as a rule. If we did my old friend Dandelion would say we recruit complete psychopaths. We no doubt will have a few lurking in our midst but have they been created by this job? They are outnumbered presently in my opinion by weak willed individuals employed through a catch all recruiting process.

My class at training school completed one of those Psychometric tests just as a laugh. I took it seriously and answered it truthfully. You might know the type, numerous questions where you have to agree or disagree in the strongest terms or not to a particular statement. I can't remember many but your views on religion were sought. I strongly disagreed on that one. There was also one on liking fires - and as I'd set fire to the next door neighbours dustbin as a child I strongly agreed.

It was so long ago that the results were plotted on a graph and shown on an overhead projector, which was cutting edge technology at the time. The instructor showed that most of the class were within the expected range of normality. The only graduate in the class was over on the left with liberal views which was also normal for somebody with that education and thinking. He then moved the sheet to reveal a little cross off the scale on the edge of the universe which was mine. Apparently Genghis Khan should have been where Jupiter was and there was me out alone on Pluto. I like to think I'm different and didn't have any desire to join the rest of the class on planet Earth or the graduate on Mercury. As I'd just left HM forces I don't think that result was actually so shocking. I'd just had three years of ingrained discipline and training put through me and would have followed any order without question, including killing. I had been moulded into what the Army wanted. In reality I painted a lot of things green but that button was there to be pressed.

Several year's later, on my Sergeant's course we did another one. This was a bit different with similar statements but based around Team Task and Individual. To become the ideal manager you had to have a fair balance of three circles overlapping when they were plotted. I'd cheated a bit as I didn't go so strong on the strongly agree or disagrees. The result however showed me as the perfect leader. Looking back I was pretty hot at the time work wise and the personal life was only just going bent.

Ten years further on and I must be due another one. If I'd taken it a couple of years back god only knows what would have shown up. I would like to think I'm actually more centred and open today. As a result I trust nobody and that includes management at work and our government.

I think the only role the police use these for are undercover operatives. I believe there is a 3 hour Psychometric and a psychiatric assessment to be passed before being selected for training. I've often wondered why they don't do this for firearm's roles. I've seen a few "red misters" go onto specialised jobs with guns.

As I near the end of my career I do so a bit battered and bruised both physically and mentally. I am however aware of how I came to be here. My old man always said the job will flog a willing horse till it drops and I think he is right. Hopefully I'll be able to steer a few away from making my mistakes. To do so they will have to change and understand that your job is not your life. You are unlikely to change the world but you can change yourself.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Career Suicide

I must admit I have a tendency to watch those Cop shows on TV when nothing else is on, and might have had a walk on part in years gone by. One thing I don't do is allow my face to be shown - ever. Not great for the producers but if you don't like it don't film me. I've got a face best suited for radio anyway.

What you do see on screen are of course heavily edited segments of incidents put together to show a realistic and entertaining snap shot of policing today. I'm not saying that all the participants are put under pressure but as I understand it a small financial fee may come the way of the police, so it is expected the front line will co-operate.

What would worry me and I think alot of young officers don't give it much thought is the future impact on their policing careers. If you've appeared on these shows they have a tendency to be repeated on a loop, sometimes years afterwards. It may be on some obscure cable channel but rest assured that is exactly the viewing fare our client base enjoy. I think it's because they have a good laugh at the end of the programme, when the voice over gives out the sentences imposed for the misdemeanours earlier in the show. I'm often in tears myself - but mine are of despair.

So how can you be selected for specialised surveillance work or even proper undercover roles if you've been plastered all over the latest cop show? The reality is you can't. These day's having a Facebook account is enough to end your application at an early stage.

It would be nice however to see a warts and all police programme showing the reality of policing in 2009, not just the exciting bits. I think depending where they based it - there might be some uncomfortable viewing for the public and politicians alike. It could however bring about positive changes. Of course it would be career suicide for any senior officer who allowed it.

Having said all that the ex DC who does Crimewatch seems to have done OK from his media exposure. As I'm getting on in years I might just be tempted if a six figure contract was waved my way to defect to a TV career, and YES I'm available for Bod of the week in Heat magazine too. Just speak to my agent darlings.

Click on the YouTube link .. this cracks me up every time .. don't know why

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Getting Nowhere ... Slowly

It would appear we the police have another tool to tackle drunken anti-social behaviour in the Drinking Banning Order. Yet another law and power to read up on when the main cause of the problem is The Licencing Act 2003, brought in by you know who. I haven't read up on it yet and won't get any training at work, but if it's like most of the other stuff around licencing I can't see it being much use to me.

I think I posted on this last year when most of my evenings on night shift were taken up patrolling the "night time economy" or to put it another way a few irresponsible premises who allowed all and sundry to get hammered before decanting them onto the streets with predictable results.

The licencing act is I've found rather poor in tackling problem bars, and creates a bureaucratic nightmare for us the police with a system that is stacked in favour of the wrongdoer. The act allows conditions to be placed on a licence that can only relate to:
  • The prevention of Crime and Disorder
  • Public Safety
  • Prevention of nuisance
  • Prevention of harm to children

So this would cover opening times for the sale and consumption of alcohol, fire exits, use and storage of CCTV, the number of security staff to be on duty, the need for searches, a refusals policy and a host of other things the local licencing committee may see fit before they grant a premises licence. It's rather taken as read that the premises won't allow its patrons to drink to excess and contravene one of the above objectives. This is where the problem begins for us the police.

In the good old days any licensee would be invited into the station for a chat if their premises was causing a problem. If the subsequent warning wasn't heeded then a prosecution would soon follow and objections made when the licence was up for renewal. Now we have to take a "proportionate" approach and highlight deficiencies if there is evidence of poor management and instruct and advise said wrongdoer how to rectify the problem. This must all be evidenced with written documentation which must be able to be presented in court. After this "working together" which often results in an agreed action plan, a review can be called of the premises licence if there are still problems.

Now I've been through this process a couple of times. It involved countless statements from officers who attended fights and dealt with disorderly conduct, incident records, crime reports, and the tracking of individuals found drunk in the street to record which premises had been serving them. It is quite alot of paperwork and takes time to gather it over months when the venue is continuing to be a problem. This is where I differ with the Drinking Banning Order. In collating all the evidence on one particular premises we did not have recidivist troublemakers coming to notice at all, so it would have been a waste of time. The problem is the sale of alcohol to people who are drunk, the bars know it and take the money regardless, washing their hands of the problems on the streets later. You have to link the person causing trouble in the street to the bar to use any evidence against them.

If the local authority agree to a review then it's game on and the matter is brought before the local licencing committee. This consists of councillors who are local residents. Because our evidence is usually overwhelming they will then impose new conditions to prevent crime and disorder and nuisance, usually a reduction in hours which hurts the bar financially. Up to this point a lot of hard work but worth it. This is where the legislation tends to go wrong.

The premises can appeal to the magistrates court if they apply within 28 days and any changes to their conditions are put on hold. So they can carry on just as before until the matter comes to court. Most of the managed bars will go down this route because the loss of revenue is too great for them. With the usual delaying tactics this is often 6 months after the review hearing. Any smart bar will move the previous manager and start to play ball applying with their conditions.

As the case is now in the magistrates court every officer who provided a statement will be required to give evidence. No matter how good your original evidence to bring the review the other side will show how they are now a responsible premise and claim it would be disproportionate to change their conditions now they have "shown" over the subsequent period to be trouble free.

The court case effectively becomes a new review covering the time from the committee decision. It grates with me but that's the way it is. I would often during the 6 month period stand on the door of the one we had up for review and time and time again the door staff would refuse entry to drunks sending them down the road to other bars. We still had trouble in the streets be it from other venues who decanted said same drunks back out at 2am, but to be honest what was the point of going through a pointless charade again.

Maybe if the licencing committee review decision stood pending appeal then they might start complying with their conditions during the action plan stage. I won't be rushing to do another one that's for sure.