Why Cops Harass People

I just saw this on Facebook and had to cross post. Superb. 

A North Island police station received this question from a resident through the feedback section of a local Police website:
“I would like to know how it is possible for police officers to continually harass people and get away with it?”

In response, a sergeant posted this reply:
First of all, let me tell you this … it’s not easy. In the Palmerston North and rural area we average one cop for every 505 people. Only about 60 per cent of those cops are on general duty (or what you might refer to as “general patrols”) where we do most of our harassing.

The rest are in non-harassing units that do not allow them contact with the day to day innocents. At any given moment, only one-fifth of the 60 per cent of general patrols are on duty and available for harassing people while the rest are off duty. So, roughly, one cop is responsible for harassing about 6000 residents.
When you toss in the commercial business and tourist locations that attract people from other areas, sometimes you have a situation where a single cop is responsible for harassing 15,000 or more people a day.

Now, your average eight-hour shift runs 28,800 seconds long. This gives a cop two-thirds of a second to harass a person, and then only another third of a second to drink a Massey iced coffee AND then find a new person to harass. This is not an easy task. To be honest, most cops are not up to the challenge day in and day out. It is just too tiring. What we do is utilise some tools to help us narrow down those people we can realistically harass.

PHONE: People will call us up and point out things that cause us to focus on a person for special harassment. “My neighbour is beating his wife” is a code phrase used often. This means we’ll come out and give somebody some special harassment. Another popular one is, “There’s a guy breaking into a house.” The harassment team is then put into action.

CARS: We have special cops assigned to harass people who drive. They like to harass the drivers of fast cars, cars with no insurance or drivers with no licences and the like. It’s lots of fun when you pick them out of traffic for nothing more obvious than running a red light. Sometimes you get to really heap the harassment on when you find they have drugs in the car, they are drunk, or have an outstanding warrant on file.

LAWS: When we don’t have phone or cars, and have nothing better to do, there are actually books that give us ideas for reasons to harass folks. They are called “statutes”. These include the Crimes Act, Summary Offences Act, Land Transport Act and a whole bunch of others… They spell out all sorts of things for which you can really mess with people. After you read the law, you can just drive around for a while until you find someone violating one of these listed offences and harass them. Just last week I saw a guy trying to steal a car. Well, the book says that’s not allowed. That meant I had permission to harass this guy.

It is a really cool system that we have set up, and it works pretty well. We seem to have a never-ending supply of folks to harass. And we get away with it. Why? Because, for the good citizens who pay the tab, we try to keep the streets safe for them, and they pay us to “harass” some people.
Next time you are in Palmerston North, give me the old “single finger wave”. That’s another one of those codes. It means, “You can harass me.” It’s one of our favourites.

#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. 


No two people are the same. I’ve sat behind the charge desk over a period of seven years and seen people from every walk of life. From those in penury to those who have more than they will ever need. From those who couldn’t give a toss about arrest to those whose life I could see unraveling before me as we spoke. Those who were confident of their innocence when guilty and those who were innocent scared of what guilt may mean. I’ve seen them all.

Some I’ve seen once and never again. The more concerning ones are those who come regularly. Our frequent flyers. Some who landed so often that if we had a custody club card they would have amassed thousands of points!

The relentless vicious circle of crime, drugs, poverty, domestic violence and other factors means many people are trapped in a world they cannot escape from and pretty much becomes normalised. One young woman used to be in custody every week. Sometimes every day. She was involved in drugs, she was stealing, dealing and also getting knocked about by a procession of “boyfriends”. Her life was in a total mess. My dealings with her were regular but I can’t, hand on heart, say that I had any influence over her. She was so regularly with us it was almost like she was one of my team. She was skinny, unhealthy and looked.. for want of a better word, like shit.

Then suddenly she stopped coming in. The assumption was she was finally back inside prison. It really was only a matter of time. She probably was for a short while. However, a few weeks became a month or two. A few months became 6 and life moved on. I hadn’t heard she was dead but it could have been a very real possibility.

Then, 18 months later, local cops arrived with a prisoner. The prisoner had been arrested in another force for a matter she had been identified as being responsible for some time ago in our area. I barely recognised her as she walked in. She had clean hair and clothes. She was clean. She had put on weight and the gaunt face she always wore had been replaced by a rosy cheeked, sparkly eyed one with a somewhat cheeky grin. It was like meeting an old friend. What a transformation. Underneath all the abuse she had put herself through (and been exposed to) was a good looking young woman.

We chatted as I booked her in. She had made a change in her life. She had moved to another area, was off the gear, had a stable home, was trying to learn new skills and find a job. I was, to much consternation from my colleagues, utterly delighted for her.

She was ultimately charged but with a lack of recent offending and a new life at her feet she was granted bail. Something she never got and this also put a smile on her face. She left. I don’t know what happened next but over a period of a few weeks she went to court. She met up with old contacts in her old town and suddenly, defying all logic, she was back in the town and back on the gear. She spiralled rapidly downward into the hole she had so successfully crawled out of. Regular arrests, remands into custody, lost weight, gaunt face, dirty and unkempt and her health crumbled. She was right back where she started from. It was all her doing but it was tragic. My heart cried for her.

I’ve no idea where she is now. I hope and pray she found her way back out of that dark place. I hope she is healthy, happy, clean and living the life she was clearly capable of giving herself.

Having spent 7 years in custody I met many people like this. I often pondered about how this circle of behaviour could be broken. Over the years my only hope was to talk to people in custody. I never knew if I got through to someone but, where I could, it was worth trying. I was then introduced via Twitter to a lady called Clare McGregor whom I then met at the very first BlueLight Camp in Manchester. I have remained in contact with Clare ever since and she has been doing some amazing work with women at Styal Prison. Working with women to help them break this cycle of crime, prison, crime.

She has now written a book about her work which is really making a difference for women in prison.

Coaching Behind Bars

I have met many women similar to those Clare speaks of in her book.   Women trapped in a revolving door of crime and despair for a whole multitude  IMG_1132of reasons that we, the police, rarely get beyond. The cycle of reoffending is notoriously hard to break but Clare took this project on and once she has something in her sights she is like a dog with a bone. Her determination, passion and commitment to succeed and help women at Styal shines through on every page.

This book will open your eyes to a world rarely seen. It will make you think and seriously challenge any stereotypical perceptions you may have of offenders. These are people that are lost who, ironically, have the map to freedom and a new life within their own head. They just need a coach to show them where to find it.

At a recent TEDx event I listened to a presentation by Clare. She said she had realised she couldn’t tell people what to do. She had to ask them what they wanted to do. What they wanted to change and then help them explore how they were going to do it themselves… and it’s working!

It’s a remarkable book detailing some amazing work by a team of dedicated and passionate people who can only inspire you.

In Italian the word “Ciao” means both “Hi” and “Bye”. It is fitting that CIAO is the name of the organisation. The coaches say “Hi” to a new client and later say “Bye” as they wave them off to a more rewarding and satisfying life. Brilliant.


You can find out more about Coaching Inside and Out here

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?

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