Leaving

To follow up on my shock post this morning.

Thank you to many of you who sent me good wishes for the future. Thanks also to all those who said that I would be a loss to policing. 

I feel quite honoured that so many of you value what I do here, what I’ve learned and how that can propel me into a new career. I’m also touched by how many of you felt that I would be a loss to policing. Both viewpoints fill me with confidence that I’m doing something right.

Thank you. 

So what comes next? Well the Ch Supt in charge of HR came to see me this morning and begged me not to leave…. or did he say “You’ve had everyone over a barrel this morning especially Simon Guilfoyle” ?? ūüėÄ

To reassure you all… if you’re really bothered..I’m going nowhere. It was an April fool and I’m due to get blocked by @swissminx imminently. 

My 2014 List

This is my list. There will be some great people out there doing great things but they just haven’t really come to my attention.

They come in no order of preference.

ACPO ranking officers were thin on the ground on social media when I first started but the numbers have swelled and mostly in 2014. There are many who are good and many who are excellent but there are only two who to me have immersed themselves in it fully. Two senior officers who provoke debate, respond to questions, challenge officers to think differently, speak openly about ongoing issues and have clearly made social media a huge part of their daily work.

Simon Cole @CCLeicsPolice
and
Lynne Owens @CCLynneOwens

*****************************

The PFEW has made a bit of a horlicks of things this last year. I’m still a member and will remain so but they need to take a leaf out of somebody else’s book. This officer “gets” social media and really uses it to good effect. She speaks common sense on social media and on radio/TV. As I’m well into the second half of my career I will never make the Supt ranks but I’d be very proud that my staff association was led by this person if I was.

Irene Curtis @barrackslass

*****************************

A passion for social media, a great sense of humour and a real desire to do the right thing. This lady goes the extra mile using social media. She reaches out to people, offers help and support and builds relationships where negativity or fear has always been. It was also a pleasure to meet her this year.

Laurie McCann @thecoffeecop

*****************************

This man is committed to police use of social media. He drives and enthuses a team of officers to use social media proactively and has been key in developing a social media presence in his police service. His presentation at SmileCon was by far the best of all senior officers there. This man thinks big and is a key player on the RCMP social media presence.

Peter Sloly @deputysloly

*****************************

At this years SmileCon I was privileged to meet a long time Twitter friend, ex Chief Constable Stuart Hyde. He was very kind when he spoke publicly and said that I had taken a lot of flak over the years but had stuck in there. There’s another person who has also taken a man sized portion of criticism. He has a huge talent, a big heart and a great ability to create debate around policing issues that others steer clear of. He has had a rough ride and we almost lost him this year but he’s back. He’s brilliant and if he is allowed to excel as he deserves then 2015 will be a great year for him and us.

@nathanconstable

*****************************

For all the failings of the PFEW communications this year the branches continue to be well represented. The local accounts do well and many push out great content and information highlighting their concerns and those of the officers they represent. I would like to focus on one individual though. Always online, always ready to reply and discuss and demonstrates in his own ability all that the main account needs to learn. This man is an advocate for officers and I’d be proud if he were the chair of my branch.

John Apter @hantsfedchair

*****************************

Two different skill areas. Two very different people but both excel in their area and are highly regarded. It is notable that these two people hold the rank of Inspector but are nationally recognised and, more importantly, listened to in their specialist areas by officers of every rank. A real reverse mentoring situation in many cases. Both have been involved with using social media for a considerable time and use it to positive effect.

Simon Guilfoyle @simonjguilfoyle
and
Michael Brown @mentalhealthcop

*****************************

When it comes to the new year there are always lots of recollections of people who have passed away during the year. This chap is far from his last breath but he has vanished from social media. This chap was a prolific tweeter and posted engaging, informative and entertaining content. He was highly regarded both at local and national level. One of the great aspects of social media, if you excel, is that you can draw attention to your community and area of work that would otherwise not be seen. This can be a huge advantage to all local policing accounts. Sadly pressures were applied and the officer has stepped back from social media. He should, however, not be forgotten in this years list.

@newquaysarge

*****************************

My final few accounts are to encourage those who are getting stuck in and really giving social media a try. The Met account is no doubt a bit of a difficult beast to manage but what has been blatantly obvious this year is the rise of the MPS borough accounts and some of the individual tweeting Sgts. They are all making good moves but one I’ve been particularly impressed with this year is.

Charlie Routley @MPSHaroldWoodSgt

The next tweeter goes stateside. The set up here is that one officer manages all social media for his police dept. what is called a PIO (Public Information Officer). This chap is working well within his town, creating good content and has a really good grasp of using social media to the benefit of his communities. He is fast becoming recognised as a learned voice in the USA on police use of social media.

Kyle Roder @EauClairePD

*****************************

This list could go on forever. There really are some fantastic tweeters out there who are driving the use of social media for the police into new areas. 2015 looks set to be an exciting year.

Best wishes to you all and happy new year.

Sentimental

I’ve been to church today with the family. It was a lovely service and there was a baptism too so the church was packed. The choir sang a new anthem they had been practicing, all our friends were there and communion was taken. It was a lovely start to the day.

Our church is old. Not old as in 40-50 years. Not even old as in 200yrs or so. The church building itself dates back to 1320 but there has been a church in this location since 755 AD. Well over 1000 years of worship.

By it’s very age the church is pre-reformation. There are many artefacts and items of history within the church of some considerable age. One of the bells in the tower is also pre-reformation. It’s an incredible place.

Some time ago whilst still churchwarden I was there on a Sunday morning. I was the last one to leave. My family had all gone to the coffee shop and I was to follow them. I just had to finish counting the collection, ensure the safe was locked up and leave. As I walked through the nave to the west door a chap came in on his own. I said hello. He was looking to speak to the vicar. I told him that he was too late. We were in an interregnum and the visiting vicar had left some time ago. He looked disappointed and so I asked if I could help with anything. What followed was a 10 minute conversation on him contemplating his return to faith. I can remember thinking at the time ‘I’m not prepared or qualified for this conversation’. Whilst he spoke I can remember nodding and making the appropriate noises whilst constantly praying ‘Lord.. put the right words in my mouth and help me out here’.

During the conversation he told me he was living nearby on a narrowboat and asked when the church was open. We are lucky, at present, to be able to have our church open every day during daylight hours for people to just come in and visit. Long may this continue. He told me he was struggling with his faith and had been hurt in the past. I had no idea what to say to him so I talked about the church. I talked about finding space and some peace. Peace that allows you to think clearly and just be.

Our church is built out of huge chunks of sandstone. For the size of the village it’s enormous. Whilst the village is generally quiet and there are no main roads near the church there is an additional layer of quiet when you go into the church alone. You can still hear the birds singing outside but there is a peace about the place that I cannot find words to describe. I spoke to this man about the peace. ‘There’s nearly 700 years of prayers soaked into these walls’ I said. ‘Just stop right now and listen. All you can hear is the pendulum for the clock on the tower. Nothing else. Allow that peace to just embrace you. It’s fantastic’. We stood and just listened for what was probably only 30 seconds. Then he turned to face me and said ‘Thank you. I see what you mean. It’s amazing isn’t it’.

We parted shortly after and I headed off to the coffee shop. I’ve not seen him since. Maybe I scared him off! The point though is that it is a truly amazing building. It’s grade 1 listed and, unlike two cathedrals I’ve been in recently that felt like museums, I can, in my church, feel like I’m close to God. I was married there and all my children have been baptised there. It has a place in my heart.

Having said all that it’s cavernous, has an antiquated heating system, is drafty, needs constant care and attention and is a huge drain on church resources. We keep it going because we can and long may that continue. However, if it were to fall down in a pile of rubble overnight I wouldn’t get too upset. Why not? Because it’s a money pit? No.. because when it comes down to basic facts.. it is nothing more than a building. The church isn’t the bricks and mortar that create the building that we gather in to worship. The church is the people. The people make the church. The people create the friendship, the welcome, the presence that allows us to worship together and learn from one another. Whilst I would miss the building I would not be sentimental¬†about it. In the cold light of day we can do everything we do now in this historic church in a community centre, a cinema, a village hall or a modern church building. The building is lovely but it’s the people that are far more important. They make the place what it is.

When the Home Secretary announced the plan to sell the police college at Bramshill there was an outcry on Twitter from some senior police officers. One of the most popular phrases was ‘There goes the family silver’. It is clearly held in much affection and there were many who felt that selling off Bramshill was a dreadful idea. Yet whilst Snr officers were getting upset I don’t recall any tweets from the Constable to Inspector rank in the same vein. Yesterday the matter arose again when a senior officer posted that he was visiting for the last time.

I have never once been to Bramshill. Yesterday I tweeted a question asking officers if they had ever been when Insp rank or below. It’s currently hovering at around 60% who have never been. Even then some officers admit going but only because the local home office training establishment was overflowing. One officer said, “Only on Federation business relating to College. Before that didn’t even know where it is. Perceived as Senior Cop Club”¬†and another said “As a D Sgt to design a course & was politely told I was eating in the wrong section as lower ranks ‘ate over there with them”.

This is the perception I too have of the place. I see it, rightly or wrongly, as a venue for Snr officers to attend leadership courses, and national/international conferences. It is not generally a place for the rank and file. The canteen comment is really quite interesting. My force HQ has one canteen and you can sit next to a car mechanic or the Chief Con. Yet when I first joined the police the training school had a huge refectory and there was a smaller more exclusive area set aside with tablecloths and cutlery laid out for Snr officers and trainers.

Anyway. During the debate yesterday the closure was described as a ¬†‘travesty’. The question which came up months ago arose again ‘would the government sell Sandhurst or Dartmouth?‘ I pointed out that they were all simply buildings but the counter argument was ‘they embody the spirit of the organisation. Bramshill is the same for police. We need that’. But do we? Do we ‘need’ it.. or is there just a cadre of officers who ‘want’ it.

The police have been users of Bramshill since the 1950’s. We have just over 60 years of input into this building. A building that is a Jacobean Mansion in 300 acres and over 400yrs old. We are just a small part of the buildings history. We cannot claim it is an heirloom. I pointed out yesterday that many police stations that are important, historic and been with the police much longer than Bramshill have been closed. I said without a quibble and through ACPO. It has been pointed out to me since that sell offs are via PCC’s, MOPAC and the previous Police Authorities. It was also, quite rightly said that no police station ever closed without a quibble. I accept my error. I also agree about the quibble factor. I can remember many unhappy statements and press articles about local police station closures but generally from the public. I can’t recall a comment from a Snr officer saying it was a travesty and flogging the family silver. What has been said is that ‘times change’, the building is ‘old and expensive to run’,¬†we have¬†‘outgrown it’¬†and the new PFI clone police station “offers an exciting opportunity to bring 21st¬†century policing to this community”.

Ask yourself a question. Is Bramshill old and expensive to run? It’s a Jacobean Mansion. Take a look at the images in this article.¬†Fantastic looking building. Wonderful grounds. No modern double glazing. Huge rooms with high ceilings. Heating such rooms costs an arm and a leg.¬†Whether you’ve been there or not you know it’s not going to come cheap. It’s grade 1 listed so any changes will come with all the rigmorole of the planning application process and at considerable cost. If you can believe the Daily Mail they carry an article that says an ornamental bridge was recently repaired at a cost of ¬£750,000. ¬†All the same arguments for closing police stations that have been with us for over 100 years are applicable to Bramshill.

I have no doubt that many officers, mostly Snr, have enjoyed some great courses, conferences and events at Bramshill. I’m sure they hold the place in some affection because of the their time there, the friends they made, the trainers that inspired them and the careers they have grown around it but do the bricks and mortar, the building itself, retain the ‘spirit’ of the organisation?

Forces are all going through a period of change. The cuts are biting deep, jobs have been lost and there is still, in many ways, an axe hanging over the jobs of some. The process of change has been relentless though. Austerity is a merciless mistress and Snr Officers have had to find savings in every area. It is, without doubt, a very depressing time for police. Morale is rock bottom. I’ve never known it so bad. Where would we be though if Snr officers publicly stated ‘We are all doomed’. Negativity from the top would only make the negativity at the bottom worse. They have to say that times are hard and there will be some tough decisions but we will continue to deliver the service we are proud of. What I find rather hard is accepting this stance (because we have no choice) and then seeing upset comments about the loss of Bramshill as though it is something different.

I accept many will have fond memories but times move on. My original police station has been demolished. My second police station has been demolished. The neighbouring one that had a history as long as the arm of the law was demolished. The training school in my current force is now apartments. My home office training site has been demolished and houses are being built on it. I hold fond memories of them all but I’m not sentimental about them. They are just buildings after all.

The police service is full of exemplary people with amazing skills and knowledge. Twitter is opening up some Snr Officers to rank and file officers in ways that could not have been envisaged before. Only yesterday I spoke about Bramshill, via Twitter, with 2 DCC’s, 1 CC and a very Snr Officer in the Met. How amazing is that? On a Saturday!! As much as the police using Twitter is showing our human side, Snr Officers are showing their willingness to engage in discussions too, particularly with the lower ranking officers. I love that about Twitter. Yet Twitter is just a platform that facilitates those debates. It is the people that actually make them. Bramshill is a building. It is the people that have made it what it is. Wherever the work that goes on at Bramshill now moves to it will continue because the same people and skills will be doing it.

Bramshill is bricks and mortar. Hold fond memories of your time there by all means but we cannot afford to be sentimental about it. Snr Officers cannot show dismay and upset over the loss of Bramshill when losing it is no different to them as losing a local nick is to the officers and staff that work within and from it.

The finest traditions of the service lie in the hearts and minds of the officers and staff in the service. Where we learn is not important. It’s what we do with the learning that is.

 

 

Looks Matter

We are told these days that looks do not matter. We are told that those who are slightly, or even heavily overweight should not be ashamed. They should be proud of who they are and how they look because looks do not make the person. The person makes the person. We have adverts where shapely women show off their curves and point two fingers at the sterotypical size 6 figure that has, over the years, been portrayed as the perfect form. Oddly, as women’s magazines start to use models with a fuller figure, the mens magazines are full of tanned muscle bound, six pack toting chaps.. it seems a bit odd to me.. but that’s another blog. I’ll stick with my family pack! The bottom line though is that how you look is not a factor that should determine your opportunities or you abilities. It is most definitely not something that should be used against you in a discriminatory fashion.

A person should be proud of who they are without fear of being singled out, sneered at, abused or overlooked. Conversely everyone also needs to be accepting of others and challenge those who are not. Looks and appearance DO NOT matter.

With nearly 24 years service I have been IMG_4601very fortunate to have been awarded three medals during my service with the police. I am very proud of them and whenever I get the opportunity to wear them I will. There was a time when turning up at court to give evidence meant a tunic (as above) was essential. Times have changed and now officers turn up at court in combat trousers, body armour and the well worn coat or fleece that they wear every day on duty. Sadly, even after my fight for a tunic, I’m not allowed to wear it at court. I think I’d probably defy the rule for crown court but for magistrates I wear my fleece.

In addition to my physical medals I also have a ribbon bar. This is always attached to my fleece when attending court. I’m proud of my uniform, I’m proud of my service and I’m proud to be a police officer. Granted, I do not wear the medals themselves, but I wear my ribbon bar because I can and because I’m entitled to. I have never been asked to remove the ribbon bar.

This week we have had the case of Cpl Mark Kershaw appearing in court in Hull as a witness. He was the victim of a dreadful assault by 3 people and attended at court, in a civilian suit wearing his medals. His wearing of the medals was challenged by the defence on the basis that they might ‘unfairly affect the jury’. The suggestion here was that standing in the witness box wearing his medals may cause the jury to incorrectly give his evidence greater credence. The jury may fall on the side of the victim because he was a war hero and would get favouritism. The judge agreed and for the four day trial Cpl Kershaw was banned from wearing his medals.

Does the wearing of medals sway a jury so easily? I’ve never been asked to remove my ribbon bar. I’ve proudly stood in the witness box wearing my medal ribbons and been called a liar, told I’m making things up and I’m particularly rubbish at my job. The defence have not had any qualms in challenging me, regardless of the decoration on my chest.

There was some discussion about the Cpl Kershaw case yesterday and one of the arguments put forward supporting the barrister and judge was that the Cpl has previous cautions. He apparently has cautions for violence and, if I understand the circumstances correctly, a deal was struck that the cautions would not be mentioned if the medals were not worn.

I find this a little odd. If the court is interested in the truth then the truth was something very different than that presented to the jury. The truth was that Cpl Kershaw is a decorated soldier commended for bravery. The truth is that Cpl Kershaw also has a police caution/s for violence. It seems a little odd to me that the defence asked for the medals to be removed. I can’t imagine, after the treatment I’ve had in the box, a barrister giving up the opportunity to build up a witness based on his gallantry and medals and then shoot him down with his previous history.

Ultimately the case concluded and the 2 suspects (a third had pleaded guilty) were unanimously convicted of assaulting Cpl Kershaw. Sentencing will follow in December. So it was a win for the victim yet it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. A deal was struck. It shouldn’t have been. The Cpl should have been allowed to wear his medals if he chose to do so and any self respecting barrister would have been able to leverage them to the advantage of the defence in this case. One of the purposes of the defence and the prosecution is to discredit the witnesses. Why did that not happen in this case?

The defence and judge claimed that wearing the medals may ‘unfairly affect the jury’ or give a ‘false impression’ of his character. Cpl Kershaw had the medals but also had cautions. As the defence chose not to try and discredit his character by use of his previous cautions it seems clear to me that it was his ‘appearance’ that was the issue. The worry was what the jury may assume based on what they see and not on what they hear.

Many years ago I dealt with a pretty awful young girl in care. She had committed a nasty robbery on two young girls, of around the same age, walking home from school. The evidence was compelling but she pleaded not guilty and went to trial. She turned up in court in jeans, a scruffy top and hair like she’d been pulled through a hedge backwards. She looked a mess. My two victims on the other hand turned up in school uniform, ties and blazers. They were beautifully presented, spoke eloquently and were a credit to both themselves and their parents. ¬†The contrast between the two sides was stark. Granted this was not before a jury but before youth court bench but were they asked to dress down? No.

If we had a frail pensioner beaten and robbed during a burglary by a violent thug what would happen at court? Would a jury be swayed by the fact that the witness in the box is a frail, weak, elderly pensioner in need of a sympathy vote? No. They would consider the evidence. We do not hide such persons behind a screen to stop the jury drawing conclusions based on how they look or speak.

If Cpl Kershaw wanted to wear his medals he should have been allowed to do so. If the defence then worked those medals against him then that’s his own fault. Even if not wearing them, a shrewd barrister, with the requisite knowledge, who wanted to discredit him may have asked about them anyway.

The fact remains that in this case the medals of Cpl Kershaw were seen as a fact that could adversely influence the jury. His appearance may cause the jury to believe him to be honest and trustworthy. His appearance may secure him a conviction he wouldn’t get if not wearing them. Is this really the trust the judge and barrister had in the jury?

Then we find the two defendants were both allowed to wear a poppy. What does a poppy signify? What mindset might it engender in a jury? Someone who cares perhaps? Some one empathetic to the losses our military personnel have suffered over the years? An upstanding, compassionate and caring member of the community?Would the presence of the poppies ‘unfairly affect the jury’ or give a ‘false impression’ of the character of the defendants?

In the court room it is EVIDENCE that is king. Not the appearance of the witness. So it would seem that whilst we say appearance doesn’t matter and we should take people as they are… this doesn’t apply to medals in court because, it would seem, that ‘Looks matter’

EAW

EAW? What’s that then? Well typing it into Google shows that it could be Eastern Acoustic Works ( a loudspeaker manufacturer) or Extreme American Wrestling or the 904 Expeditionary Air Wing of the RAF.

No.. I’ve not gone mad. Read on.

On a relatively quiet day quite a few years ago a police officer came through the doors into custody. She stood the man in front of me and went on to explain that he couldn’t speak english and had been arrested on a European Arrest Warrant for offences in Poland.

Being a custody sgt of several years experience at this point I smiled and nodded knowingly as the officer outlined all the circumstances. I portrayed the persona of the ‘sarge knows and understands all of this’. Behind my ‘regal swan’ facade my mind was racing with questions like ‘What the bloody hell is a European Arrest Warrant?’ and ‘What do I have to do with this?’ and ‘Is it lawful?’, ‘Can I detain him?’ and many many more. I make no excuses.. I didn’t know. Many of you reading this who are cops will know that sometimes we miss something. We either didn’t read a specific edition of the Chiefs orders or we missed an email about an NCALT package. When law changes and updates at such regular intervals it can be very difficult to keep abreast of them all.

The police officer in question, fortunately, was very well briefed on this process. She outlined the processes we had to follow and some of the unique requirements of an EAW. I booked him in, practicing my basic Polish, before calling an interpreter and got him sat down.

This was the first EAW I and my colleagues had seen. Oddly having never seen one we then started to see quite a few of them. The officer became a regular visitor to custody and she was a fantastic source of information and guided me/us on the protocols and intricacies of the EAW. As with most things that become a relatively regular occurrence.. they became second nature.

However, I never saw the reverse. I never booked in someone who has been arrested on an EAW, extradited and landed at my charge desk.

Those who know police and the PNC will know that when someone is circulated for an assault nationally it generally says ‘Serious Assault’. It’s not very often that it will say S47, 20 or 18. The same often applies to an EAW. The paperwork is in its original language and a certified translation. ¬†The offence details and descriptions can be somewhat vague. My only fallback as the Sgt booking in is that this warrant, no matter the offence or seriousness of it, has been granted and authorised by a court in the home country. It has gone through the EAW process and been granted. I am personally, therefore, ok.

During my time in custody there was a sharp rise in the number that started to come in. This raised the question as to ‘how’ serious some of the offences were and was the process being abused by some countries. These concerns were being flagged up by others too as per this Guardian article. There were concerns that the authority of the EAW was being undermined if it were being used for trivial offences.

The most recent case in the UK of course was that of Ashya King. There are a number of issues around this case that I don’t intend to go into in this blog. Suffice to say that the furore that surrounded this case was huge and created a groundswell of anti police/cps resentment even though they were acting on professional medical advice. Whatever your view, this case brought the EAW to the attention of many who had probably never heard of it before.

Now we come to present day and MP’s are to vote on whether to keep the EAW for the UK or to bin it.

Should we bin it? It’s creating work and expense for the country as we process them. There are some serious offences in there but also a big chunk of lesser ones. Where do we draw the line?

If you do a search, like I did at the time of the Ashya King case, on the EAW you will find it is a massively complex piece of Euro legislation. It crosses the path of so many Euro member states and all have different legal processes and procedures. It’s not an easy place to navigate. To my mind it is very much in need of rebooting. Stop, take stock of where it is, review, develop it on the basis of experience so far and move forward. Binning it and withdrawing is not a solution.

Crime is coming down.. we are told. But is it? Fraud and the shift of may crimes to digital platforms is huge. Are we accurately being apprised of these crimes and recording them correctly? Are we struggling when the victim is in Basingstoke, the offender is in Madrid and the server and host is in Estonia? Too right we are.

Criminals and criminality pays no heed to boundary lines drawn on maps. As far as Europe is concerned, Schengen allows movement that is free and unchallenged. A criminal can float from one country to the next without restriction. Crime is moving. It is moving around countries physically and it is moving around the world digitally. We have to be able to respond to that.

Yes the EAW needs a review. What do we do if we do not remain signed up to the EAW? Do we become a safer haven for European criminals who can flee here and then face traditional, lengthy, costly and often unsuccessful extradition procedures?

At a recent event I attended I was very impressed by Deputy Peter Sloly of the Toronto Police Service. He said that technology was moving faster than we could keep up and we ran the risk of ‘digital darwinism’. Essentially an inability to keep up and therefore become inefficient and redundant. One of his key phrases;

“You do not jump a 20ft chasm in two 10ft jumps.”

Crime is getting bigger and spreading wider than just our shores. We have to be able to respond and tackle it. We have to think bigger and that means team work. It needs all European countries to partner together to tackle serious and organised crime but also the lesser offences. We only have to look at the tragic Alice Gross case to realise how important cooperation and communication between Euro countries needs to be. This needs to be far more efficient and streamlined than current ‘Interpol’ methods. Yet when 43 forces in E&W’s can’t agree on some simple domestic matters the battle is always going to be an uphill one.. but one that must be taken on. We must make that jump.

Crime is growing. It’s fingers of misery to victims are spreading into Europe both physically and digitally. If we seriously want to make our homes and countries safer then we need to work together and the EAW must stay. Otherwise the criminals are running free whilst we attempt to tackle them with our hands tied behind our backs standing on one leg.

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