Sunday 23 May 2010

Police Hang Woman in Phone Box

Which one of you lot is feeling suicidal?

I have written before about the advice that often comes from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC.) Invariably they give advice that would be useful in an ideal world where resources are infinite. I have said before that we are not perfect and the people we deal with have high expectations. Occasionally we make mistakes and we should apologise when we do so. The sooner the better.

The IPCC look at complaints and whether it is about response, custody or investigation, invariably the advice is that we must do more. So some of our limited resources are moved around the board from one area to another until the next complaint when they get moved again.

This story caught my eye. A drunken woman with a number of issues rang the police to demand we attended to help her gain access to her sisters flat. She later rang again and during this call she said I will 'top myself' if the police did not attend. The operator missed that comment and that was a failing for which we should apologise. The article focuses on the missed comment but the advice from the IPCC made clear that the police should attend immediately any incident where someone has threatened to kill themselves.

What the IPCC decided was that the call was initially correctly graded as a 2. That means that we should attend within an hour. But as soon as the lady mentioned topping herself, it should have been graded 1 and we should have attended immediately. De facto, the police once again are responsible for killing this woman.

My problem with this is that every day the police get hundreds of calls from people under the influence of drink, drugs, mentally ill or just plain attention seeking. Operators talk to these individuals and make a judgement call as to how vulnerable they really believe they are and allocate resources appropriately. Very occasionally we may get it wrong.

If we now follow the guidance of the IPCC, (and God help you if you don't) every time anyone mentions suicide we have to rush to attend. There are consequences for this policy. Firstly, when you need urgent help from the police you may not get it because we are rushing around attending calls from those people crying wolf threatening their lives again. Secondly, most people these days call from a mobile. If we don't really think they are vulnerable, how many hours do we spend trying to locate someone? Thirdly, when the police attend what do they do? They will speak to the person and make a judgement call, just like the operator did. But one of these callers may still go on to kill themselves when the police have left. The IPCC will investigate and advice will be given that we must always attend and we must always call an ambulance, as they are the medical professionals. The ambulance crew will attend and make a judgement call, and so on and so on.

Public services cannot be held responsible for every aspect of peoples lives. We don't live in a society with infinite resources and we cannot stop everyone from harming themselves. We always need to act reasonably but we are not responsible for every problem in society. People and families need to take more responsibility for themselves.

Thursday 13 May 2010

My Values Are All Wrong

As it has warmed up a little bit recently I decided to leave the confines of the office and accompany some of my team who were executing a search warrant.

The warrant was at the home of a family that are well known to us. It is a five bedroom council house occupied by mum, dad and five children. There are actually eight children but the eldest is in prison and the next two are being looked after by other relatives as the parents cannot cope with them. The remaining five are aged between 2 and 12. Neither mum or dad have worked for at least 15 years and live on benefits.

We had information that to supplement his benefits, dad deals cannabis and cocaine, largely to local teenagers. Apart from the serious risks to the users, this is undermining our reputation in the community, hence the search.

On arrival, the back door is open and we go in. There isn't a carpet anywhere. The house is filthy and absolutely stinks. There are two piles of dog faeces in the house and a recent pool of wee. The kitchen is disgusting with dirty dishes all over the place and stale food. The kids are sleeping on mattresses with a blanket or sleeping bag. Not a sheet in sight. Police officers will not think this is anything unusual and I have been in far worse houses.

Dad gets arrested with a bit of cannabis. There is not enough to consider a charge of dealing. But hopefully the message will get through to him.

I have mentioned before that I attend a regular meeting with partners where we discuss those young people that are causing problems in the community. Usually those committing crime and anti social behaviour. Two of the children of this family were on the next agenda. I felt it was appropriate to mention that we had executed a drugs warrant at the address and the state of the house. The Local Authority were very interested as they have been trying to get into the house to inspect it for over a year. Children's Services and the Youth Offending Team took a different view.

I was rebuked for judging people by my own values. Apparently, living in a filthy slum doesn't make them bad people or parents and if they choose to live like that we should not criticise their choice of lifestyle. Because I choose to live in a clean environment and wash up regularly and clean up dog poo immediately that does not make me a better person than them.

I pointed out that if the family chose to live in a filthy mess and their children were model citizens who were not being arrested almost daily and involved in local anti social behaviour. If the children attended school regularly and the parents were not drug dealing but set a good example they might have a point.

No I was told. They have just chosen a different lifestyle with different values and I must learn to understand and respect this. I was losing it at this point. They haven't chosen a lifestyle. They are lazy, idle people who have decided that a life of benefits and banging out children beats working. Setting boundaries and being a role model are vital facets of parenting. What are they teaching their children? Perhaps if these parents washed their children's clothes, they wouldn't smell and they would attend school as there would be less risk of them being ostracised by other children. Perhaps if the parents introduced a bit of order and discipline and put them to bed instead of allowing them to run around all night until they dropped they might stop committing offences and get some education and the chance of a job and a future.

I was stared at as if I was some right wing bigot for whom there was no hope. I was obviously never going to see this light that they have found. After a further brief conversation these services decided that the 'work' they were doing with this family was perfectly adequate and they didn't need to be doing any more. They are always 'working' with families. This usually means seeing them once every week or two and having a nice chat.

I hope to God that the new Government addresses the liberal (small l) cesspit that has been allowed to take over all levels of the criminal justice system and we get back to some common sense and reality as soon as possible.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Neighbourhood Priorities

Good idea or just a pillock?

I have said before that I have worked in Neighbourhood Policing for many years and I am a big fan of local officers tackling the problem people and places and making neighbourhoods safer and nicer places to live and work in.

My teams clearly understand that I want the bad people arrested or prosecuted. I want them off the streets or towing the line on an ASBO or whatever it takes.

I get fed up, and quite frankly embarrassed, when I see some of the gimmicks that neighbourhood teams sometimes dream up to get a bit of publicity. Or is it someone trying to make a name for themselves when they put in for their promotion board?

Do you remember this stunt, where officers in East London were offering to follow people home from the cash point if they were worried about getting mugged. My question at the time was, if you have a mugging problem, what are you doing to catch the offenders? Why can't the neighbourhood teams be out visible deterring these offences anyway. If you don't have a mugging problem all you are doing is raising the fear of crime.

Now we have PCSO Vince Preston out on a BMX bike. He claims young people are more likely to talk to him and interact with him on a BMX rather than a normal bike. Vince, you don't know what you are talking about. I don't know who dreamt up this idea and you may just be the stooge for someone else's stupidity. You are not supposed to be regressing and becoming one of the youths that rides round on one of these things. You are supposed to be part of the police service and have the respect of the people you police. Riding around on a BMX just makes you open to ridicule and gains nothing.

Sorry to sound so negative but I wish we would just stick to the basics. In my experience the public just want us to be visible and enforce the law. That is our job, using discretion where appropriate. It is not to keep inventing ways of avoiding doing just that.