Saturday 19 June 2010

The Drink Drive Debate

Like almost all police officers I have had to deliver death messages. Some stand out, particularly the young and unexpected ones. I remember calling round a ladies house on a Saturday afternoon. She answered the door with two young children running around excitedly as a policeman was on the doorstep. Her and her children's lives fell apart after I told them their husband/father was in the mortuary having just been wiped out by a drunk driver. There are others I recall, such as the parents of the 16 year old boy knocked off his bike and smashed to bits by a drunk driver who could barely stand up.

I haven't become the virtuous non drinking driver and I will have a couple of drinks when I go out but I absolutely support the recent report recommending that the drink drive limit is reduced from 80 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood to 50.

A few years ago now I worked in custody and had the opportunity to test myself on the drink drive machine. I could drink four pints of beer in about an hour and a half before I reached the limit. There is no way that I am safe to drive after four pints and I would have been a severe risk on the road. You lose between 7 and 13 micrograms of alcohol every hour. This means I could actually drink five pints in two hours and possibly pass the test.

Over the years I have stopped and breathalysed dozens of people. I know that many of them have had six or more pints over the course of an evening. Some of these people were blowing under the limit after an evening of six or seven pints. They could not believe they were getting away with it.

I have heard some of the wailing of people done for drink driving. They go to Court and swear they only had two pints and they thought they were OK to drive. Absolute lies and deceit, unless it was two pints of spirits.

Most countries now have a limit of 50 micrograms. We should reduce our limit as soon as possible. We probably should not drink and drive at all but I do not support a zero tolerance policy. A limit of 50 will still allow people to drive after a couple of pints. Some people won't like that but it is a damn site better than the current situation and more likely to become a reality.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Bloody Sunday!

So the Saville report has been published after 12 years and almost £200 million. And after all that it tells us the bleeding obvious, that leaders probably didn't make the best decision in the world deploying paratroopers in Londonderry in 1972.
It shouldn't be missed that the report also states that an IRA sniper was firing a weapon during the protest march and that Martin McGuinness, who was then the number two in Londonderry IRA, was probably carrying a sub machine gun that he fired. He has denied this.

Paras coming under fire almost certainly started firing back at where they thought the threat was coming from and there was obviously panic in this guerrilla war situation for which they were not trained. It is a tragedy that innocent civilians were killed, but it will also be a travesty if any soldiers are prosecuted.

David Cameron has leapt up and apologised on behalf of the country. The decision makers at the time might owe an apology. Martin McGuinness and his terrorist thugs probably do too; I don't feel I do.

Has this whole twelve year inquiry just been the most expensive counselling session in the history of the world for the victims families? Or does it also appease the IRA and assist the aim of handing over Northern Ireland too?

Sunday 13 June 2010

Has Civilianisation Gone Too Far?

Stop reducing police officer numbers now!

At the National Police Federation Conference in May the Federation produced figures showing how the additional investment in the police service made over the last 10 years has largely been in the form of police staff rather than officers.

Nationally, since 1999 there has been an average 16% increase in police officers. This compares with an average increase of 54% in police staff. Thousands of police staff have been introduced, not only to deal with additional legislative demands and bureaucracy, but also taking on roles that have been traditionally performed by police officers.

Some Forces have taken this change of staff mix to new levels. Surrey Police has been highlighted in this regard, as in 2007 they were the first police force to have more police staff than officers. They have since been followed by Northamptonshire and Wiltshire and others are catching up. In Surrey, since 2000, police officer numbers have decreased 260 from 2100 to 1840. Over the same period, police staff numbers have tripled from 760 to 2300.

These figures are quite astounding. We keep being told that police staff are being introduced as a cheaper alternative to expensive police officers. Like all Forces investment has been made in PCSO's. Surrey has about 240 PCSO's. If we take those away from the 1540 police staff increase that still leaves 1300 police staff replacing 260 police officers. There have been no savings here. Surrey could have increased by around 850 police officers instead of 1300 police staff.

Where are these 1300 additional police staff and what are they doing? I don't think anyone has the answer to that one. What I do know is that we have created whole departments and career paths for police staff. What benefits are they bringing to front line officers or are they simply putting more demands on officers to feed the self perpetuating bureaucratic machine that they belong to?

The Police Federation is advocating that there should be a broad review and evaluation of all these changes in workforce mix. There should be some standardisation of the roles that police staff and police officers perform. Why can one force ‘civilianise’ a role whereas another deems that it is only suitable for a police officer? What value are we getting from this huge increase in police staff? The public want more police officers on the streets.

Forces that have more police staff than officers have no resilience in their response and criminal investigation departments. At times of high demand within the Force or in order to provide mutual aid to other forces neither have the capacity or resilience to provide resources in the medium to long term. Even in the short term the gaps can only be covered by overtime, which the Government is demanding must be cut by 40% with no reduction in performance. Using proactive resources and/or neighbourhoods may be impossible as these officers are not being trained in the secondary skills to provide public order units, search teams etc.

Police officers generally join for a career in the Force. Their initial training is more expensive but that needs to be balanced against the costs of training police staff who have a much higher turnover and require some expensive bespoke training for their roles.

Crime has been falling in England and Wales since 1995, long before this huge increase in police staff. There are serious threats ahead for the police service. There are going to be budget cuts, potentially serious cuts; more unemployment, cuts in benefits and threats of civil unrest are likely over the next few years with rises in crime and disorder a reality combined with a reduction in staff/officers. A staff mix of more staff than officers may not be resilient enough to deal with these potential threats or indeed some other day to day threats and demands and the 2012 Olympics, whose estimated demand is 10 to 15,000 officers per day.

We need to review the current staff mix within those forces leading these changes to ensure that there is sufficient resilience to enable officers to be available for the demands we face. The so called value for money that police staff provide needs to be reassessed when it appears we are pouring money into new police staff posts and we have little idea what additional value they bring.

We need to ensure that we have the right number of sworn officers to enable us to be able to tackle the issues we may face supported by the right mix of police staff. We are at risk of becoming a police service run by police staff where the only contact police officers have with the public is dealing with confrontation.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Police NOT responsible for killings in Cumbria

I think I am getting paranoid. When I heard about the tragic murders in Cumbria and the fact that this shooting spree had gone on for two hours my heart sank. Mainly for the victims and relatives of this attack, but also because I was just waiting for the police to be blamed.

Why hadn't armed police arrived within five minutes and found and dispatched the offender?

So far not a peep of this. Apparently this time this tragedy is not our fault. Give it time and I am sure someone will decide it might be our fault after all. Let's get the IPCC to look at it. (See post below.) I am sure they will have some stupid advice for us.

Regards Inspector Gadgets call to arms on this issue, I am afraid he is sadly mistaken. Arming the police will not prevent incidents such as this occurring occasionally. Arming the police will ensure that betwen rare incidents such as Cumbria and Hungerford, dozens more people, including police officers, will be killed in firearms incidents. Arming the police will alienate us from the public. And if you gave some of my colleagues a gun I would have to resign as I know it is just a question of time before one of the idiots shoots me. Accidentally, I mean.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Police Responsible for Missing Girl Having Sex

Sorry, I have been banging on about this for ages and I am sure you are getting bored with it.

I have written before about all this really useful advice we get from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC.) One minute they criticise us for not investigating a crime and tell us we need to do more and put more resource into that. The next we don't respond to someones call and we need to put more resource into that. So we move resources around in never ending circles to try and comply.

What really annoys me is that mostly it is about ensuring that everyones backside is covered rather than actually providing a better or more effective service.

This story caught my eye. A 15 year old girl is reported missing by her mother and we didn't rush around and take a report immediately. The girl turns up two days later and reveals to her mother that she has been having sex. This now turns out to be our fault as we didn't respond immediately.

To the layman this might sound harsh but every police officer knows the local teenage boys and girls who go missing on a regular basis. Most of them are sexually active, taking drugs and drinking. They go missing week in and week out and know the system very well. They also know they are vulnerable young people and we have to try and find them. Most of them think it is great laugh that the police waste thousands of hours looking for them.

What happens is the parents, children's home or sometimes hospital dial 999 and report them missing. As soon as they have done that their backside is covered and it becomes the responsibility of the police. They no longer have any responsibility for their charge. We go and fill in a huge missing person report and show them as missing on the police computer. We usually ring their mobile and often they answer it and say they are OK but they won't tell us where they are, unless they want a lift home. Our backside still isn't covered, so we phone relatives, visit friends and go round and round in circles until they decide they are ready to go home and ring us up for a lift.

I do feel really sorry for the parents of some of these children. It is really hard for them. For others it is of no surprise or consequence to them and no surprise to us that the kids are off the rails.

On this occasion we didn't rush around that night and take a report. We did so the next morning and we went round in circles trying to find the girl. She pitches up at home two days later and tells her mother she has been having sex. She won't make a statement to support a prosecution so there is nothing we can do about it, but the mother wants to blame someone and so it is now our fault as we didn't go and take a report straight away. So if we cannot answer your call for help when you are being beaten senseless and robbed it might be because we are wasting time rushing around immediately to take a report of another regular missing person as our backside needs to be covered. You can always complain to the IPCC and I am sure they will come up with more words of wisdom.

For the record I am not confusing those regular missing children with genuine missing children who are seriously vulnerable and at risk. We can spot those and deal with them appropriately.