Thursday, 9 July 2009

Sierra Charlie Speaks: The 64 Pence Question

The results of your feedback to my last post, 'Market Research' are now with my analytical friend deep in the dungeons of the Utopian Police Headquarters. Once he's put it through his computer, in between playing Tetris, I'll publish his findings and recommendations next week. I'm now off on a long weekend with Mrs Hobbes and Baby Hobbes, and am taking my two cats 'Bloodbath' and 'Razorblade' along too. In the meantime, my latest post has come out on Police Oracle, which is more of a recollection of times gone wrong than anything else. However, and more importantly, and I suppose related to the posts, 'A Need For Justice: Parts 1 and 2', Sierra Charlie tells us why he gives up his own free time as a Special Constable for no pay whatsoever...

Mr Hobbes asks, "What made you become a Special Constable for no pay? What is it that drives you to give up your own time, mostly at weekends, to do so?". Not an entirely silly question. Most people do not do any voluntary or charity work. Only about 0.004% of my home city's population do what I do in my spare time so you might say we are a pretty rare breed.

I could say that I want to "give something back to society", for that is the banal reason that most Sierra Charlies give when asked the question. I suspect that this reason is given because the real reasons are far too complex to answer in one sentence. I avoid spewing out banalities so I usually shrug and say "dunno".

My good e-friend of the Southernshire Constabulary has just written a post answering this self-same question. Go and have a read of it, if only because his reasoning is quite similar to my own.

When I was a kid I had no plan to be a copper when I grew up. I did not go through the usual boyhood phase of wanting to be a fireman or a train driver or a policemanofficer. I might have wanted to be a spacemanofficer at some stage but I decided that I probably wouldn't like the food and I might miss my Mum if I had to go into suspended animation for hundreds of years. All I knew about the police when I was a kid was that this impressive figure came round to our school every now and again to talk to us. We all got terribly excited when we heard he was coming, but as far as I know none of us wanted to be like him. His name was PC Blood.

Anyway scroll on a few decades. I'm nicely settled in my chosen career as a paper shuffler, tea boy and general dog's body. I'm earning a sensible but not spectacular salary, I have my own place, a wonderful collection of friends and family. But although I have most of the "material" things that I want, I feel pretty unfulfilled. It's a bit like at the beginning of The Matrix - I felt like my life was not reality and that I was floating around in a comfortable middle-class bubble totally detached from the Real World that was going on around me. I kept trying to wake up. I was also at that middle-aged stage where going out and getting p*ssed every weekend was no longer my thing and I wanted to do something a bit more constructive at the weekend.

So I applied to join The Urban Police Service. I had actually filled the form in a couple of years previously but had bottled actually sending it off. Somehow I summoned up the nerve to send it off and I was soon on the conveyor belt towards the best thing I have ever done.

I am rambling a bit here and appreciate the fact that I haven't actually said why I do it. I think there are two main points. One is that I want my city to be a safer, freer, more peaceful place for myself, my friends and my family. My "principles" tell me that I should be prepared to roll up my sleeves and pitch in rather than expecting politicians and my tax money dollars to do the work for me. The other thing is that seeing the streets from a different perspective goes some way to quenching my thirst for experiencing the world and all its delights. I don't want to live my life wrapped up in cotton wool having not seen life's extremes of beauty and horror. So in the year or so that I have been a Charlie I have seen an awful lot. Why do I still do it month after month? Why do I disrupt my sleep and social life in order to put on my pointy hat and sweaty boots?

Because even a boring shift can be immensely satisfying. I never know what is going to happen and what I might have to deal with. And when I get home I can think to myself, "I did something useful today?"

I'll leave you with my favourite of Peel's Principles: Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Just imagine how much better the world would be if just 1% of the population did this.

Sierra Charlie

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  1. Sierra Charlie09 July, 2009 14:52

    My name in lights! Thank you, Sir.

    Have a lovely weekend.

  2. apart from not being paid, what is the difference between a Special Constable and one of those civilians, I forget what you call them... Community Support Officer? Does one have more powers of arrest than another?

  3. SC - what's the perception from your paid colleagues of specials? Help or hinderance? Just curious. What benefits do you get? There must be some?

  4. Many moons ago,a junior officer in the Metrolopis, I was not encouraged to become too friendly with `specials`, by our Fed Rep, on account of the fact that `they don't have the training, don't have the committment, don't know most of the answers and so have to call a regular anyway and finally, almost as an aside, they pinch our overtime (bearing in mind I was earning about £20 a week and had some colleagues who qualified for supplementary benefit, this could have made me a touch militant). I quickly realised that there were specials who had been at it longer than I had, knew more tricks of the trade than me, were `street wiser` and more handy in a punch up than some of my regular colleagues. The fact that they did this for nil pay made me decide to weigh them up in my own way, rather than the Fed Rep's.

    Yes, some can be all of the things I raised in my first, overly lengthy, sentence but in the final analysis, a friendly face wearing the same uniform as me and willing to stand alongside me and try to help, driven mainly by altruism, was worthy of my time and would be given a chance to earn my respect. Many did.

  5. Dave Pie-n-mash, Specials when on duty, have all the powers of constable. CSOs do not. CSOs are trained (a bit) in their any person powers, they salso have limited powers as a 'designated person'. However, most, if not all, forces train them to be hands off. As they don't have equivalent training, this reduces their employers liability in case of injury, eg, "We told you not to get involved, you're on your own." This leads to storys such as this .

    I've got a lot of time for both SCs and CSOs, provided they do what they're supposed to do. CSOs should not, and MUST not accept calls to violent incidents because they can't do anything. This reduces our organisation's profile in the public eye, as, two CSOs turn up to knife weilding man, public goes "You work for the police, do SOMETHING." And they can't. Far far better that they just don't go near it. Then they can't be criticized. Provided they support, not respond, then they are a good thing.

  6. Sierra Charlie10 July, 2009 09:13

    DPM - as MP9000 says in theory I have exactly the same legal powers as any other police officer. The key difference is training and experience. We only get a very basic initial training and the rest is done by supervisors while on duty.

    Anon - This means that every SC has a different set of skills and experiences which unfortunately means that a regular PC cannot easily assume that we will be able to deal with X, Y or Z. This is a major problem because until people know us individually they will be reluctant to trust us with anything "difficult". It is a bit of a vicious circle unfortunately.

    I have not come across any regular officer who doesn't like Specials in principle and everyone who I have worked with has been pleased that I am there to help out and a lot of the supervisors will go out of their way to thank us or even find us interesting stuff to do to keep our enthusiasm up. They need not do this so it shows that we are appreciated.

    Hogday - In your day there were probably very few SCs in the whole Met, how could we possibly be stealing overtime?? I don't think anyone sees us in that way now or at least nobody has ever said it to me! My service seems to be perpetually short staffed on the front line so extra boots on the street are always needed! We are often tasked with things which simply would not be possible for the service to afford if it was paying OT!

    MP9000 - if I have learned one thing during my time it is that everyone must know their limits!

  7. Just finished this morning volunteer shift, I drive a bunch of recovering(we hope) addicts around.
    I do it for the karma, I'm a total good Karma hog on the days when I'm not busy offending people : )

  8. Wooo, my name is up in lights as well. Cool.

    I must say that down in Southernshire we have some very, very good Special Constables who put in lots of hours and put in lots of effort and that generally speaking without them (due to budgets being cut further and further and less and less officers actually being on the streets/on shift) we would probably be stuffed.

    I've had quite a lot of SC's out with me on shift as my crew mate on a weekend late shift etc. I always start off by asking a few questions about their levels of experience and what they have and have not done. I was shocked to find that some had been in months and hadn't managed to do quite a lot of things which I do every day such as write out a traffic fixed penalty notice or deal with a domestic dispute etc...
    Usually then on the way to a job I explain what I would do at one of these jobs etc and I ask them if they feel that they could handle it. I of course offer plenty of support.. this bolstered their own confidence, it also allowed them to learn and it made them feel a lot more a part of things instead of a useless appendage of a PC at an incident.

    SC's are invaluable. Anyone who doesn't realise this needs to wake up!
    I have the utmost respect for those SC's who come in, put in several FULL LENGTH shifts beside the regulars.. they don't complain and when the regular PC goes in to overtime trying to finish the paperwork the SC still stands up and says "how can I help?" that in itself speaks volumes!!

    I think that in this day and age the government hopes more people will volunteer for things, this way it can save a LOT of money in salaries.. it's one of the reasons why they keep cutting budgets on stuff...

  9. I don't have anything to say because this article is amazing I got different points of view .