Saturday 23 April 2011

Complaints Against the Police

After initial police training I was posted to my first station and given a welcome introduction by a grumpy old Inspector. I didn't think about it at the time but he would have joined the police in the mid 1950's, a very different world from today. He told me that he expected me to get complaints. 'Any officer who doesn't get complaints, isn't doing his job.' He also told me that if I ever got assaulted and ended up in hospital, the offender had better be there too. 'In intensive care!' Sometime later I recall walking past his office and  heard him on the phone, almost shouting. 'My officers wouldn't do that. How dare you complain about my officers. Now, go away and stop wasting my time!'  He would however, summon the officer concerned and God help them if he thought they had done something wrong. That is how most complaints were dealt with in those days.

I didn't let him down and in every rank I have held, I have received a lot of complaints. As a PC, I spent a lot of my time policing a busy town centre. I didn't tolerate all the drunken yobbery taking place and arrested hundreds of them resulting in a lot of rolling around on the ground and numerous complaints of false arrest, assault. excessive force, abuse etc. I have kept a folder full of all the notices you are given to inform you that you are under investigation for a complaint. I went through them recently and found some quite bizarre ones I had forgotten about. e.g. 'While searching X you squeezed his testicles and when you searched his car, you stole a packet of polo mints.' and 'When driving a police vehicle in XXX Street you stared at Mr Y causing him to hit the kerb and fall off his bike causing injury.' I never even recalled seeing Mr Y.

Nowadays most of my complaints stem from members of the public who haven't got what they want from their local beat officer. They ring me and demand that their issue is dealt with. If it is reasonable and we should be doing it, I agree. If not, I don't. For example, Mr Bloggs rings me demanding that we prosecute his neighbour for putting his bins out on the footpath the night before collection. The local officer has declined to do so. I try and reason with him but he won't have it and I get a complaint. I have had about 120 complaints made against me during my career. These complaints have taken hundreds or thousands of hours to deal with. I can honestly say that not one of these complaints is justified and none have ever been upheld.

The other Saturday I was about to get out of the office on patrol when I get a call to attend the front office. John Smith is in there, he has just been released from custody and wants to make a complaint of assault. I go and have a quick look at the custody record. Smith was smashed out of his brains and tried to start a fight in a local takeaway. The police attend and he decides he wants to fight them. He gets taken hold of and put face down on the ground, handcuffed and taken to the station. In custody it is noted he has a large graze to the side of his face. A doctor is called out to check him, and to examine the officers for cuts to the knuckles etc. There is CCTV of the arrest and the officers actions are reasonable and justified. In the morning Smith is charged with threatening behaviour and resisting arrest. He is released on bail and walks straight round to the front office to make his complaint. He knows the system and when he goes to Court, he wants to be able to say that in defence of the charges he has made a complaint against the officers who arrested him and that it is under investigation. The magistrates are not empowered these days to lock very many people up. They are even more reluctant to do so if someone has made a complaint, in case it is justified. I just wish they would cotton on to the fact that every bugger has made a complaint. To be fair to John Smith he is also very angry. His face looks a mess, but it is superficial grazing.

I ask him what his complaint is. 'Look at my fucking face. Your fucking officers beat me up.' I calmly explain to him the circumstances of his arrest and that the officers may have used perfectly reasonable force to arrest him. The incident is recorded on CCTV and just because he has injuries does not mean that he has been unlawfully assaulted. 'Look at my face! I'm the best man at a fucking wedding this afternoon. Your officers assaulted me and I want to make a complaint.' I would really like to give him the response that my old Inspector did but nowadays the only thing you might get into trouble for is not recording the complaint, even if it is complete tosh.

I fill in the forms and send them off to Professional Standards. I ensure that CCTV of the incident is retained. Smith has wasted the first couple of hours or so of police time that will add up to 20 or more before this complaint is now filed. Smith will either fail to co-operate with the investigation, in which case after his Court appearance it will be written off, once agreed by the IPCC. Alternatively, CCTV will be copied and sent to all and sundry, he will make a statement, the officers will be interviewed, witnesses will be interviewed and statements taken. The file will be sent to the IPCC and he will be told that there is no case against the officers.

I have sat in many an interview with our Complaints Department, or Professional Standards as they are now called, thinking how many more crimes might we investigate if we were not spending so much time dealing with this nonsense.

I do understand that there needs to be a robust complaints procedure that everyone has confidence in. There are some current issues ongoing, such as the Tomlinson case, where officers behaviour is questionable to say the least. The problem is that the system is being abused and overwhelmed which actually makes it more difficult to identify and deal with inappropriate behaviour. We need a system that quickly allows the bogus and unjustified complaints to be dispensed with which will allow more focus on the cases that require it. Incidentally, regarding the incident in the above photo, the IPCC decided that the force used by the officers was justified. This went largely unreported of course.

Between my old Inspector, above, and the current situation, as in many areas of policing, complaints have become a bureaucratic nightmare detracting from public confidence and reducing focus on the real issues.

Monday 11 April 2011

Police Culture

The idea for this post came mainly from the comments on the Smiley Culture post but also on a few others. I never cease to be amazed at the outdated and paranoid views of some contributors regarding what they perceive as a culture of corruption within the police. The truth is that, in general, the opposite is the reality.

Fifty years ago under the auspices of good old Dixon of Dock Green, the truth was that public disorder was largely dealt with by the police by way of a beating in a dark alley. Suspected criminals were arrested, confessions were coerced, and occasionally where evidence was lacking, it was fabricated and the bad guys went to prison. The police didn't care what you went to prison for, if you deserved it that's where you should be. Very occasionally an innocent person was convicted and there have been a number of high profile cases showing this. Despite this, some people yearn for a return of the Dixon of Dock Green era.

Legislation, accountability and bureaucracy were introduced to address these cultural issues within the police. Over the last 50 years summary justice has disappeared. Rather than covering for one another there is now a culture of fear meaning officers are hampered in their effectiveness and watching every word they say, worried that another may report them. For example, violent offenders are assaulting police officers because they are not being robust enough, concerned that use of force may be perceived as excessive by a colleague. I am not naive and there are a few exceptions, particularly in some specialist departments. The Met TSG is one. I know two supervisors on the TSG. They are good supervisors and are slowly changing things but there is still an element of covering for some officers poor behaviour.

One of the worst changes in the police is the big brother approach to political correctness. When you attend one of the numerous diversity course it is drummed into you that on or off duty you must report inappropriate behaviour. One of he results of this is that supervisors are reluctant to attend any function where alcohol is present. So celebrations and leaving do's are high risk. The reason is that after a few drinks there is always a chance of someone making an inappropriate remark. It could be a sexist joke or, God forbid, a derogatory remark about sexuality for example. If you hear such a remark, and choose to ignore it, but someone else reports it, the risk to you is that you will be disciplined for not reporting it. For a PC that might mean a reprimand, for a supervisor it almost certainly means dismissal. I rarely attend off duty functions.

Regarding the comments about the police covering for each other and not getting rid of bad apples, nothing could be further from the truth. Every day, police officers are resigning or are sacked because of inappropriate behaviour. Every month a police officer is standing in a dock charged with an offence. In more than 90% of all these cases it is the police who have uncovered and dealt with the crime or behaviour. Officers being disciplined or charged as a result of complaints by the public are few and far between because the majority of complaints have no firm basis. That is another story.

Rather than corrupt thugs, the 2011 police 'service' is fast becoming staffed by ineffective automatons all made in the same PC mould.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Back on the Frontline - 'Yer Mother's Cunt'

Sorry about the language but this is a reminder to readers and the SMT that this is what the frontline put up with every day.

I don't get out as much as I would like but I do love getting out and am pleased that I still know most of the local offenders. I was out on patrol with one of my officers when we got sent to a report of a domestic in a street nearby. Residents are reporting a disturbance in the street. From the location I knew exactly who we would be dealing with.

Jane has been living with Tony for about two years. This is a record for her. Jane has a council house, she is 38 but looks at least 50. Her 18 year old daughter also lives with her. Jane has never had a job that I am aware of. She regularly gets arrested for shoplifting and drunk and disorderly. She likes a drink and is drunk most nights of the week. Jane has had a series of waste of space boyfriends, who she moves in and out on a regular basis. Tony is a full time thief and preys particularly on the elderly, fleecing them at every opportunity. He is in and out of prison. He too likes a drink and most nights the pair of them are drunk and fight and the police are regularly called.

Jane's mother lives four doors from Jane, also in a council house. She doesn't work, but at least she doesn't get drunk all the time. About three months ago Jane found out that Tony had been sleeping with her daughter. About a month ago she found out that Tony had also slept with her mother. Three generations, probably not a record, but class. After each revelation Jane threw Tony out for at least 24 hours and since then the drinking and fights have escalated.

We arrive in the street and there is Jane as drunk as a skunk shouting and swearing at Tony. She seems to still be upset about him sleeping with her mother. I thought she would have got over it by now! For some reason she still sees her mother is an innocent victim in all this and they are still on good terms. Tony, for once, is sober and trying to calm her down. We try and talk to her and the only response I get is "Fuck off, yer mother's cunt." We try and calm her down and get her in the house but she is having none of it. She gets arrested and I take her to our vehicle. Tony is trying to stop her being arrested (He does love her really!) and has to be told to go away. Jane is repeatedly saying to me. "Yer mother's cunt." Unprofessional, but I just couldn't help myself. I said "You want to ask Tony about 'yer mother's cunt.' He knows it very well." It took a moment to sink in but when she finally realised what I had said she takes a haymaker of a swing at me, which is easily avoided. "Yer mother's cunt." She says.

Jane gets charged with drunk and disorderly (not assault, that would have been unfair) and is sentenced to one days imprisonment. She has already served the days imprisonment having spent a night in the police cells, so she is free to go and do it all again.

Friday 1 April 2011

Drugs and Gaol

A few newspapers ran the story about new sentencing guidelines for drug dealers. Apparently, if you have only got up to 50 deals of heroin or a kilo of cannabis then in future you will be viewed as a small time dealer and are likely to receive a community punishment rather than prison.

The same day this story broke, my officers began to report that all the local drug dealers and runners are cock a hoop about this. The only concern they have in their wasted lives is getting caught with drugs and going to gaol. A community penalty is no penalty in their eyes and they can now continue wasting their lives secure in the knowledge that their liberty is not at risk.

It appears to me that the police are the only criminal justice agency left that actually gives a damn about crime and consequences. I hear more and more officers expressing the view that we should not bother any more. I countermand that view but wonder how it is being reflected on the front line. I do believe that these sentencing guidelines will encourage more people to become involved in unlawful drug supply and all the negative consequences that brings to our society.