Friday 23 April 2010

England 2010 ... Who Voted For This?

"There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word, which means more to me than any other. That word is England". Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

I was on the bus the other day going out to indulge in some cafe culture drinking courtesy of Nulabor. It 's a long bus ride and I get on at the start of the route to my destination in a more central location. I sat myself down in my favoured position by the window so I can see what's going on.

It gets busier and busier as we went along ending up standing room only. As I'm a people watcher I'm aware of who's around me. I'm not averse to listening in to the conversations of others. It appeared that all around me were people speaking in different languages. I felt like I was on holiday where you sit on the local bus oblivious of what everybody else is chatting about.

It's like that at work too. Every day in the custody suite I will enter to find a multi-national gathering of prisoners. I'm on first name friendly terms with one of the interpreters who I see daily too. She works very hard and we are grateful that she comes out at every request. If she's off late I've dropped her off at times so she doesn't have to get a cab back. She needs to work hard as she pays for two of children to go to private schools.

Fast forward to the election debate last night. See any inspirational leadership? No me neither just the same old same old playing it safe. The best part for me was the analysis afterwards. Kay Burley was interviewing some audience members and asked an African lady about immigration. Kay leans in with the microphone expecting a tasty little race reaction. The woman starts agreeing about a cap and then starts to ask why we are flooded with EU migrants before a disappointed Kay whips the mic away and moves quickly on.

It's no coincidence that the Tories began to lose credibility after reneging on their referendum over the European Constitution or treaty if you prefer to call it that. None of the main parties show any inclination to do anything about this. Why? Oh to see a Winston or Maggie Thatcher in one of those debates.

Happy St George's Day - Enjoy it while you can !

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Wasted Years

I think I mentioned it somewhere in a post that when I was 16 I took a hell of a beating when out with a couple of friends. It was the early 80's equivalent of post code youth violence, but in them days no mobiles to be robbed of and knives were for show .. not use. In fact if you'd had a mobile it would have been a useful weapon. The boys I was with legged it whilst I stayed to remonstrate with a predictable result.

Some local residents called the police and took me in and I recall bleeding over the washing up in their sink whilst they tended my injuries. They must have known the opposing gang because a couple of arrests were made later.

My relationship with the boys was severely affected. One of them could have been classed as one of my best friends at the time, having known him since early school days. We both worked in offices and after this he chucked in his job and went back to school to do A levels, whilst I stayed in my insurance job. We quickly drifted apart and it was because in my head I had this overwhelming resentment that he should have stayed and took a beating with me. I would never had left him in the lurch if the situation was reversed.

He got in touch via a school reunion website a couple of years ago and we'd agreed we would meet up but never did. I was still pissed with him and things were left. I finally decided after decades this needed to be dealt with and last week met with him for a beer. The conversation flowed about things we have done over the years and it was as if nothing had changed. I had to tackle my resentment and brought up the subject of that night. I told him that I had been really annoyed with him that he ran off and left me to my fate. I think we both knew that the reason we drifted apart was this incident in our lives. He told me that for years he'd felt guilty of leaving me. That was was it - done, and I'm glad we met up. We work in similar jobs with the same client base and I've sent a few his way.

I think if we'd had the same conversation all those years ago we would have remained friends. We will be again - maturity means you become less judgemental. This is now case closed on those negative vibes I'd harboured towards him for nearly 30 years.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Inches And Miles

PC Ellie Bloggs has written a lovely post about the convictions for misconduct in a public office of a PC and a custody sergeant in Manchester. I don't know anything about her but she appears to me to be a very thoughtful and aware individual. I particularly liked her comments about looking out for her troops and making sure they don't drop themselves in it. The lady will do very well and go far in life.

Unlike her I do actually have some sympathy with the officers. 18 months for some over firm handling is one hell of a deterrent let me tell you. Misconduct in a public office carries a tariff of life imprisonment and is used where the primary offence (common assault in this case) would lead to an insufficient sentence when set against the public interest. The PC takes his chances but 18 months for not stepping in? Harsh on the criminal side for the skipper says I.

I am obviously from a time past where I recall as a young probationer attending the custody suite with my gobby prisoner who then proceeds to lay down the law and abuse the desk sergeant. I'm asked to leave the room for a few minutes and when I return I find said same prisoner stood to attention and politely calling the desk sergeant "Sir". I don't know what wise words were administered to bring about this transformation but the prisoner obviously selected the wrong option from the menu. I'm not saying it was right but that's the way it was at that time.

It was the same in School when there was always one teacher selected to dish out the punishment. I don't recall if we had the cane at my school as it never usually got that far in the discipline stakes. We were however gripped up and verbally admonished.

Same in the army step out of line and best you'd get was a verbal dressing down from a distance of approximately 1 inch. You'd be grateful for that too escaping a beasting in the guard room.

If society now wants totally professional then so be it - I'm too near pension to go back to the way it was of firm handling, and don't fancy sharing a cell with Ali Dizaei. There have been times when I've had to reflect on my own conduct, two wrongs don't make a right and I admit I've not been an angel in the past. I did however learn from those unprofessional lapses and do try to pass that onto others.

I think some more passive non-confrontational officer safety techniques should be considered in the training. At present it's all straight in kick, punch gas and asp with a bit of "get back" thrown in. We all have a level when your buttons are pressed and end up reacting - sometimes it's better to come back to reality at the outset. With recent events it's far too griefy to take the firm route.

Only last week I was called by security to a shopping centre with an internal McDonald's where a young pissed ladette was being a pain. I had to listen to her patiently laying it down for 10 minutes before physically taking her by the arm to remove her from the private property as she "ain't F ing going anywhere". Pretty thing with a foul mouth who struck out at me and really deserved to get nicked .. but busy Friday night it just isn't worth it. I did however have to record a pocket book entry for use of force and obtain witness details from security on whose behalf I was acting, just in case.

I would like to see the deterrent principle tried out on the prisoners who attend the custody suite on a near weekly basis. They know that if they do get convicted there's no way that prison beckons. If it works on us there must be a chance it would work on some of them too.

Monday 12 April 2010

Except At Weekends

I think the Station officer had crept off for a sneaky fag by the back door so the front office counter was temporarily unattended. The night duty parade had just finished and I was the closest to respond to the shrieking and cries for help from the public area. I was faced by a hysterical young woman who between gulps of air managed to blurt out relevant bits of information. I tried to piece it together and was able to understand there was a domestic situation at a nearby address where she alleged her ex was trying to take her son. It's a possible abduction so quite complicated.

I called up central control and created a message log for a unit to attend the address on an immediate whilst I tried to extract what I needed from the woman. Eventually she calmed down and I was able to get the story. It turns out I actually knew her from several years before when my team busted her address and found loads of class A in her bedroom. She was 15 at the time, had a liking for bad boys, and was holding the gear for one of my favourite dealers. Now in her early 20's she'd had a son with another lad we'll call him the ex and was currently running with another criminal and was pregnant with his baby. She was now housed at your expense in a nice flat just off my ground.

I didn't need to run any computer checks. I'd first arrested the ex when he was 14 and he was from a family made up of really decent criminals. The criminal reputation is important, they were old fashioned blaggers and high class burglars. His old man I've never met as he's a lifer doing big time for a gangland murder. They could have been the bad guys in any episode of The Sweeney from the 70's.

All I really needed to know was who had parental responsibility. She had never married the ex so it was her. Her current beau who I'd also arrested as a kid was a petty criminal and was wanted at the time for an armed robbery and smashing up a shop where this woman worked. There was also some stuff flagged up about him having possibly a gun. Their relationship was volatile and despite the fact he was well wanted she'd been off with him for a few days and left her son with her ex's mother. It would appear they now refused to give the son back.

I left her with other officers and decided to take a stroll to the address nearby. Despite creating the message I was first on scene. A crewed vehicle did turn up about 10 minutes later, but that's just another example of how much I love the central dispatch system. I was greeted at the door and we all thought it best to put past conflicts behind us. This was family business that needed sorting and I was there to make the big decisions. It does help if you've all met before and they knew they'd get a fair hearing.

The top end criminal families have nice houses. This one was no different clean and tidy. The ex's mother was mildly defensive and gives her position several times. Her grandson is at risk and she ain't letting him go back with the mother whilst she's with the current beau who she describes as a druggie and out of control. The irony is lost on me as I'd done a job on her too a couple of years previously, when she was knocking out drugs when working at a pub. That job never came off as the operation was compromised, I suspect by another family member who I later found worked on the Division.

She already looks after her son's other child from a previous relationship. The ex was present too and was visiting from Spain where he now lives. We discussed the current beau and if he might be a threat to them. With their reputation it was a stupid question but you've got to ask it. We all agreed he was too far down the chain to mess with them. It would appear the young woman had been leaving her son with his grandmother on a regular basis as her own parent's were alcoholics and I actually agreed with their concerns. I saw the toddler, who was well cared for and we come down to decision time.

Is the child at significant risk of harm? If he went back to the mother who then meets up with the current beau who is displaying violent tendencies then he obviously is. I will have to take the child into police protection. The ex and the grandmother have no rights in this situation as the mother has parental responsibility. It's a difficult one - if the ex takes his son back to Spain then it's an abduction. The decision I make is based on what's best for the child.

I get all parties together and put some pressure on the mother to agree for the son to remain with the grandmother. She signs him away in my notebook. It's the best place for him in the circumstances. I check with Mrs StressedOutCop who is an expert in child protection legalities who confirms my options. It's agreed but I'm the one taking the risk and making a judgement call.

I'm writing all night. It's a non crime domestic, a few coming to notice "every child matters" reports including one for the unborn child. Intelligence reports re the wanted boyfriend and what he's been up to. I'm sweating all weekend as the reports don't get picked up until Monday. I ring every day to make sure the ex hasn't taken off to Spain. I really don't understand why at the time of most demand for domestic and family matters all the specialist departments are off and it's for us to cover. Even social services have just one person to sort out everything in the local authority area.

I did a follow up a few weeks later. Social services didn't get involved at all despite the woman having a social worker. To be honest things had been sorted and there's plenty of more pressing matters for them to deal with. She split with the current boyfriend and aborted the baby and last I'd heard had joined the ex in Spain for a holiday. That's almost a happy ending to a shit weekend for me.

It's about judgement calls and I imagine it's the same for social workers. If this had turned out differently I suppose I'd be classed as incompetent.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Every Child Matters

I do wonder now the election has been called what initiatives are going to be scaled back after the poll assuming NuLabor no longer hold the tillers of power. I'm all for a smaller state and less state interference in personal affairs.

One area I for one would like to see some discretion allowed is "Every Child Matters". This is an information sharing protocol we are told is to protect vulnerable children. As police officers we do of course come across many children. Most of them are already known to the system be it criminal or for at risk matters. We always did complete a form in these cases which was faxed off and disseminated by youth services.

The new system as brought in takes away any discretion and we are required to complete a computer record for every child, even in cases where we've not even seen them. For example if a neighbour called the police because you were having an argument with your spouse. This is classed as a domestic and even if it is a minor matrimonial dispute with no violence or crime involved it's recorded as a non crime domestic. Forgetting the completion of the domestic booklet and crime report, if you have children it also triggers a computer record for any children in the household (even if not present). So a non crime is fully recorded and details of minors are sat on a database for what reason?

My point is that we are recording so many non records that the important ones that need action are going to be missed. I feel very uneasy in having anything recorded if you've done nothing wrong.

I've had situations myself in the past where my ex would go walkabouts when mentally ill, and be missing with my daughter who was about four or five at the time. Was she at risk? possibly, but would it be the business of social services to intervene in a private matter. I think that it would be my personal choice to have sought their assistance if that's what I wanted. For the record everything was sorted with the help of my family and although the ex had a CPN - I would have been mightily peeved to had my daughter's details held on police records. (Misper PNC reports were cancelled on being found).

After this all came in I recall seeing my force put out a release boasting how many reports they had taken in a short time. It was thousands. There will still be disasters in child welfare where inaction takes place, but should thousands of children have these records held on them. We've gone to a catch all system of police recording which in my opinion is unnecessary and very time consuming.

Sunday 4 April 2010

What Is The Public Interest?

A year after the event and Tony Smellie is found very much Not Guilty of assault at the post G20 gathering outside The Bank Of England. Hardly a whimper in the press on his inevitable aquittal other than he now faces discipline proceedings. Stand by for a written warning or words for not displaying your numerals Tony.

I've been relatively quiet on this as I was roundabouts on G20 but did come out in support of this officer and appeared to have called it right. To those who have a sulk on I will try and explain what was actually a rather technical case and it's implications. So let's look at three videos:

John Prescott gets egged and then punches the thrower who was stood in front of him laughing. Self defence? Well Prezzer gets the benefit of the doubt (obviously - who runs CPS?). He could of feared further attack and hit out in a pre-emptive blow. If I'm being objective he's in the clear and no prosecution would have been in the public interest.

The "lady prop" lands two knock-out punches in defence of his friend who was confronted by a yob who had prior to this picked on Spiderman. One of those punches was to an associate who appears to be trying to control his mate from starting trouble. The two follow up kicks were not in defence and strictly speaking illegal in law and you could argue that the punch to the associate was unnecessary and an assault. Again that was a pre-emptive strike. Common sense dictates that no prosecution should follow, because the yobs started it and any conviction would not be in the public interest.

PS Smellie acting in defence of others in facing a crowd alone with Ms Fisher leading the way. You can hear plenty of verbal warnings and he escalates the use of force. A clearance swipe connects with her face and still she comes back for more. The infamous baton strikes then follow and these form the case against him.

The use of force is taught within the officer safety model. You have to run through a thought process

Intelligence - Threat Assessment - Tactical Options - Action

Well he properly in my view cranked it up from verbal commands, to a clearance swipe with verbal commands until he draws his baton. It would appear that the prosecutors believe he shouldn't have gone to strike and expected him to adopt a ready stance (baton held over shoulder) with more verbals. This is a very thin line that they expected him to walk and I was surprised he was summonsed.

Two independent members of the public who were reasonable people present at the scene were called as prosecution witnesses? then give evidence that the force used was reasonable.

Other people still have the same views they held on first seeing the footage of this incident even after the acquittal. I agree it's not pretty but put yourselves in that position and I can say you'd never know how you'd react. The people featured in the video clips all have one thing in common. At the time they believed they were doing the right thing and didn't have a guilty mind.

One of them was treated differently and that was PS Smellie who was not permitted the benefit of the doubt due to the public interest considerations and the media storm that followed G20. It was a poor decision by the CPS and PS Smellie was sacrificed on the alter of public satisfaction.

A dangerous precedent has been set. I'm not currently public order trained but was expected to return to the fray last year. I kept myself out of the way awaiting the result of this trial. Will I be back? I doubt it - even though I'd stand behind the line these days it's not worth the risk of having every decision scrutinised by lawyers deciding what is proportionate. I stood up for PS Smellie because he was innocent .. I noted the lack of support from senior management who were weak. My personal view but I tell it the way I see it just as I did after G20.