#OffBeat – The UK Police Blab

The second blab but the first that was a proper event. 

I was joined by @nathanconstable and @constablechaos. I then spent considerable time dropping in and out with a very poor Internet connection. I am very grateful to @nathanconstable for continuing to keep the show going whilst I disappeared, returned and disappeared again!

This is a new medium but is gaining interest every day and the feedback we have had so far has been wholly supportive. 

On a replay if all seats are occupied you would see a quad with 4 people. However, if, like @nathanconstable , you disable the camera then he doesn’t show at all. As a result the screen jumps around a bit depending on who is live and in a seat. It was a great show though and well worth a watch/listen. See it all here. 


The next #OffBeat blab is 8pm on Wednesday 11th November. Hope to see you there. 

Lowering the bar

In the world of policing we have, over the last 10 years or so, been besieged by targets. You must make this many arrests each month, you must issue this many tickets for this offence and you must submit this much intelligence. We’ve also had targets that have been set for us for by us to reduce crime. We have proudly announced targets stating we will reduce burglary in an area to a certain percentage… sometimes using no evidence base whatsoever to dream up a figure.

If you haven’t read Intelligent Policing by Simon Guilfoyle then I implore you to do so. He covers all this ground and a lot more. One area he writes about is why, if we aspire to excellence, do we think reducing burglary in a area to a certain percentage is good and to be boasted about? Surely, he argues, if we are to have a target at all then it should be zero burglaries. That is what we should aspire to. Interestingly, and as a comparison, do you know about the Below 100 campaign? It seems very bizarre to me that the purpose of this group is to reduce preventable LODD’s (Line of duty deaths) to below 100 in the USA. What will they do when they reach 99? Will this be a time of celebration? One death of a police officer in the line of duty is not acceptable so why is the target to get below 100? Surely to God, however unachievable it may be, reducing LODD’s to zero must be the objective?

What some organisations, campaign groups, governments and others seem to do when setting targets like this is compromise. Instead of aspiring to a target that is the absolute 100% best outcome they settle for second best. They understand that reducing burglary to zero may never be attainable. They recognise that getting LODD’s to zero may be an impossible dream. So instead of accepting these difficulties and aiming for zero regardless, they compromise.. because let’s face it how can you ever claim to be a success if you never EVER reach your goal? Achieving a reduction is something to be pleased about. Your efforts are showing positive results and moving in the right direction but it is not the ideal outcome. Cancer Research UK have a vision;

“Our vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.”

Note how it says “all” cancers are cured. Not some or a percentage but all. They strive to cure all cancers and will not settle for something that is pleasingly achievable. Second best is not even a consideration.

 A couple of weeks ago the North West Ambulance Service announced a collaboration with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. Firefighters, using their fire engines, will attend suspected cardiac arrests. Firefighters will be directed to these calls by the ambulance service if they are free and within 3 miles of the call. They will provide basic life support and be equipped with defibrillators to provide potentially life saving intervention until trained paramedics arrive. This in many regards is similar to the Community First Responder programmes that are already up and running around the country. Such collaborations are not new. The East Midlands Ambulance service have had a trial running with several fire services since May.

This was always going to be a difficult blog to write. Community first responders are volunteers and doing the best they can, with the kit they have to make a difference and save lives. The fire services around the country that are taking on this role are doing exactly the same. To be honest, if you or I were having a heart attack I don’t imagine for one minute that we would complain if the responder walking through the door with first aid skills and a defibrillator was in wellies, a green paramedic uniform or jeans and trainers. The whole purpose of the projects both fire and community first responders is to provide trained hands, with kit, as fast as possible that could be the difference between life and death. It has to be a win for the patient.

That is a very tough point to get past. How can I argue against a program that has a sole purpose of trying to save lives?

Consider a scenario. You are having a heart attack. Three responders arrive at the same time;

  1. A firefighter in a fire engine with 4/5 other firefighters and a defibrillator
  2. A local resident in her own car with a defibrillator acting as a community first responder
  3. A fully trained advanced life support paramedic in an ambulance and all the kit that comes with it

Who would you choose? Who is the best person to help you? You could argue that you would take all three. I’m told that an arrest needs at least four pairs of hands, preferably six to be done correctly. So maybe taking all of them is a good choice. But put that aside for one moment. I think you would all agree that option 3 is the person you need. An out and out medical professional with all the advanced skills, equipment, drugs and experience to save your life and an ambulance to then put you in and whisk you away to A&E. Whilst the other two options may well assist in saving your life and could very well succeed, the best, first choice option is the paramedic.

If we agree on that final point then we can move forward. Why do we need community first responders? Why do we need firefighters acting as ambulances? Again the argument can be raised they could be nearer and faster than the ambulance crew and therefore make a difference. Tough to argue against. However what it shows to me is a shortfall in our ambulance provision. We should have an ambulance service that has sufficient resources to respond to all the calls they receive. A service that in the case of a “Red 1” (cardiac arrests, respiratory failure etc) will not need a fire fighter or a CFR because they are nearer, will be there quicker and a far better qualified and trained to save your life.

This is our gold standard. The service we as the public should expect and the ambulance service should aspire to. Yet we don’t. Financial reasons more than anything else are squeezing the ambulance service as much as they are the police. They are meeting increased demand with fewer resources and they cannot cope. The response, and there is much back patting going on, is to push out responsibility to volunteers and the fire service. How can that be right? These people will do the best they can and will save lives. They will also see that there was nothing they could do and the casualty was as good as dead when the call came in. The volunteers should be praised highly for their compassion and desire to make a difference. Calls to the fire service are reportedly down by 40% and these collaborations look to me like an organisation that needs to increase its workload, does not want to lose any staff/resources and is therefore looking for ways to help that will portray them in a positive light. Whichever way you look at it, (and no disrespect to the CFR’s and fire fighters) they are not the gold standard. They are second best.

These collaborations are a compromise. We cannot guarantee to put the right resource in the right place at the right time to attain the best possible outcome. Therefore we will employ volunteers or give the fire service something to do in order to “make do” until we can get the paramedic there. I’m sure in city locations the ambulance service may turn out the fire service and the paramedic still gets there first. If you live in a particularly rural area you may as well forget it. You need the CFR who lives in the village or the person from three doors down who grabs the defib from the village shop because neither the ambulance service nor the retained firefighters are going to get to you in time. Whilst in the case of the latter you will, as said above, accept whoever turns up to assist, you are accepting these responders as second best because of failings within the ambulance service.

Now before all my paramedic friends jump up and down about that last sentence. You do a great job. You work from start of shift to end of shift, often non-stop and you make a difference. You save lives and I hold you in the highest regard. The failings are down to senior mangers and government funding that means there are simply not enough of you to provide the gold standard. The standard that we should aspire to but cannot achieve. Therefore we haven’t found a solution and solved the problem. We have propped it up in the best way we can to keep the wheel on. Hardly acceptable is it?

Maybe this is a stop gap. Maybe the fire service bosses already know that with a 40% drop in calls that redundancies are inevitable. The police are in a time of transition and we cannot get away from it. The fire service need to change and adapt too but the bottom line remains. If your house is on fire you want a fire fighter. If you’re having a heart attack you want a paramedic. If you’re being attacked in your home you want a police officer.

The solution to me is quite simple. If we need more paramedics.. get more paramedics. The hard bit, if we need less firefighters then lose firefighters. Don’t give them other jobs to keep them busy where they are second best. Let’s not send them to jobs that sound like a cardiac arrest but are actually something else they are totally unprepared to deal with. Jobs that could leave them exposed to complaints, litigation or prosecution.

Firefighters are fire fighters. Paramedics are paramedics and police are the police. We can all have basic crossover skills. I have administered first aid and put small fires out but I’m not a specialist in these areas. We need specialists in times of emergency.

If we have a cardiac arrest then let’s send two ambulances and one RRV from the ambulance service. Five pairs of hands and all the skills and equipment to do everything they can to save that persons life. Let’s not send, 2 ambulances, an RRV, a fire engine and a community first responder. Maybe up to 12 pairs of hands and 5 vehicles. Hardly efficient is it?

Collaboration between the emergency services has gone on for years. I suspect it will increase in the future but it needs to be done in a smart and intelligent way. We cannot and should not be merging and

 morphing roles of specialists to make it work. A jack of all trades is a master of none. A line I have heard many times.. “If all else fails.. lower your standards”. Why settle for mediocrity when we should aspire to excellence?

We as society should expect and demand a gold standard from our emergency services. Why would you want anything less?

Wise Up

On the 22nd of August this year a Hawker Hunter engaged in a display at the Shoreham Air Show crashed onto the A27 and burst into flames. The road is a busy dual carriageway and was full of traffic. This tragic event sadly claimed 11 lives. It is quite remarkable in some regards that the loss of life wasn’t much higher.

The lives of the families of those killed changed that day and will never be the same again. There will be many people who were on the A27 that day who were able to walk away from it. The scars, memories and trauma that witnessing such an event engenders will live with them forever. There will be people on the airfield who saw the plane go down and the ball of flame balloon into the sky who will struggle to cope with what they saw and will need help. The true human impact of the event will probably never be truly measured. Some may just experience a behaviour change and never actually link it to the events they were caught up in that day. It goes without saying that it is a traumatic time for many people.

The police and other emergency services attended the incident. They worked tirelessly at the scene to deal with the aftermath of the events which included the grim reality of the recovery of the bodies of those killed. This is not a job any of them joined the emergency services to deal with but they all knew that it was a very real possibility. The impact such events have on emergency service workers is often overlooked in the general media. We are just expected to get on with it. It’s our job after all. As an example, the global reaction to the death of Aylan Kurdi was huge and rightly so. It was a real “wake up and smell the coffee” moment for those of us sat watching the refugee crisis sweeping across Europe from the comfort of our armchairs. Yet in the midst of this tragedy who gave a thought to the police officer carrying Aylan off the beach? He was just doing his job but the impact of that event upon him as an individual could be huge and life changing.

In the police (and other emergency services) we deal with tragedy and horrific death every single day. We see the things and deal with situations that many people couldn’t stomach. We aren’t trained for this but we experience it and either build up a way of dealing with it or crumble and leave the service. Worst still is those who think they are coping with it when in reality they are not. One of the methods that police use to tackle such events is to minimise it with humour. A dark humour that is shared amongst colleagues in a small group or team. A way of breaking the tension in what is otherwise a pretty grim situation. This isn’t unique to the police though. FleetStreetFox once wrote of some of the atrocities she had seen in foreign countries as a journalist and how they drank beer and laughed about it in the evening. Not because they didn’t care. Not because they weren’t appalled at what they had seen but because it was a coping strategy. The same sort of behaviour will be present within the military and many other similar organisations or groups. 

This dark humour is not something that is promoted by the service but it is something that is known to happen. A necessary and required release valve on the pressure cooker of the job we do. There is one aspect  that has always been sacrosanct. It is private. It is in-house. It is not under any circumstances for public consumption. The reason is because it is dark, likely to be insensitive, likely to minimise the tragedy and would be painful and offensive to those affected by the events. It’s not private because we don’t want you to know it happens. Most rational people will know it happens they just don’t want to be exposed to it.

There will no doubt be psychologists and others who would argue that such a strategy is detrimental to officers and there are better ways to deal with traumatic incidents. I think there probably are and many cops will have suffered from undiagnosed PTSD for decades but in most cases such behaviour is just tuning out the awful to allow you to get on with the job in hand.

I’ve been there, I’ve done it and to be fair, when the situation arises I still do. Yet it always remains private. Between people I know and trust and who also know me and that I’m not being deliberately insensitive. So what did the officers in Shoreham do? The details of the incident are sketchy but it would seem that two officers are involved. A social media message was sent from close to the scene of the disaster and indications are that it was via Snapchat. The image itself was apparently not contentious but the comments attached to it were. The officers are reported in the media as being investigated for gross misconduct. They are both probationers (less than 2 years service) and instead of being suspended have been placed in non public facing roles. DCC Olivia Pinkney has said she doesn’t want them earning pay from the public purse whilst sat at home suspended and I agree with her. The message was sent to another  person who took offence from it and immediately reported it to the force. Only time will now reveal the facts of the case and the final outcome.

Whilst the full facts are unknown it is not appropriate to apportion blame. However, there are a few things that come from this that are worth raising.

If you voice an insensitive or inappropriate comment as a coping strategy that falls on the ears of someone who disapproves then you could end up in trouble. Over the last 20 years the police have positively encouraged staff to blow the whistle on colleagues who say the wrong thing. They have even disciplined people for not speaking up and challenging it when they think they should have. The dark grim humour that has been used in the past and still does, is for close friends. Confidantes. Trusted colleagues who understand you and can determine between the pressure release and the malicious. It’s not for discussion on the morning briefing. It’s not something to be shouting about on the telephone in a crowded office. It’s definitely NOT something for social media.

There is likely to be much debate about whether this sort of coping strategy should exist at all but it’s the social media angle I want to finish with. It might be that the message recipient was a trusted friend who felt let down and appalled by the content. I can easily imagine a holiday postcard type shot with a stupid comment being sent. It might be the two officers trusted each other and drew someone into the discussion who should never have been part of it. I could speculate all day but it would remain conjecture. There will, however, be cops (and others) who attended the scene at Shoreham and traded comments that helped them deal with the events. Comments that outside of that group would be viewed as insensitive. They will be looking on as this case unfolds thinking “they said nothing worse than many others but voiced it/shared it in completely the wrong way”.

That said police officers doing stupid things on social media has been a constantly recurring theme since I got involved in this field. Maybe the officers thought the message was private. Maybe the officers trusted the recipient and are now sat puzzled as to what went wrong. However it has unfolded let’s remember some simple facts.

The written word without expression and tone can easily be misinterpreted; even amongst close friends. (You’ve had a snotogram email haven’t you?).

If you think sharing something on social media is private. You’re wrong! It is easily captured and shared.

If you think your locked Facebook account keeps stupid comments private then you’re wrong.

If you think you’re anonymous on Twitter you’re wrong! If you don’t believe me do something really stupid and wait how long it takes for PSD to knock on your door. *

When are cops going to learn that the digital world they populate as a private individual is not private and their online behaviour is subject to the same expectations placed upon them as a serving officer? The real world and the digital are not two separate places. They are merged. They are the same and the sooner cops grasp this the less will be tempted to think otherwise and fall foul of the code of ethics.

These two cops have either been blatantly stupid or have allowed a coping strategy reserved for a close tight circle to spill over into an online space that is public. They have embarrassed themselves, their colleagues and their force. Let’s be clear though. This is not a training deficiency within the police as a whole on the use of social media. This, at best, is bad judgement and a complete lack of common sense. At worst… well if it really is that bad there’s no place in the job for you.

* There are ways to increase anonymity by using non standard browsers. Read The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett. Scary stuff but you can still be found.


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” ?? πŸ˜€

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. 

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