Category Archives: Leadership

Diversification

This week I gave a very short presentation at work via video conferencing. My topic was on social media and diversification of content and platform. You can find what I said below.

Good afternoon everyone. For those of you that don’t know me my name is Neil Dewson-Smyth and I’m a Sgt working here at HQ in control room. I have been involved with force social media directly or indirectly since 2011. I’m also well known across the UK and around the world as @SgtTCS on Twitter. I was one the early police officer adopters who took to social media anonymously. From there I  trod the precarious path of talking publicly about police work. A practice that was at the time frowned upon and caused all sorts of fear in forces around the country leading to discipline matters for many officers and staff.

Times have changed. I’m no longer anonymous and whilst I am not officially endorsed by Cheshire Police I am recognised and known as a police officer on Twitter across the UK and around the world. My #DontStreamAndDrive campaign has garnered the support of forces around the country, North America and the world. Ambulance, fire & rescue services, road safety organisations and the UK Govt THINK! Team have all given it their support. This years campaign was coordinated with NPCC Road Policing Lead. I have given presentations on this road safety issue at various conferences including NRPIF, TISPOL, NDORS and Road Safety Wales. In April this year I went to Los Angeles and won the ConnectedCops Social Media Leadership award. Social media has created opportunities for me that I never envisaged and allows me, in my own way, I hope, to make a difference as a police officer.

I did have some speakers lined up for you today from across the country and from Miami in the USA. Sadly, policing demands and technology compatibility issues made it too difficult to achieve. That said I do think it’s important to hear about the journeys other people have taken from their perspective and hear their success stories. This is a far more impactive way of showing you what can be achieved than just listening to me. I hope to be able to try to do this again soon.

So as I said, forces across the country are more relaxed about social media than they ever were. In force and across the country we are starting to see some innovative content and engagement. Some of you here are already using social media for your LPU (Local Policing Unit). Some maybe not. As a consequence some of you will be more comfortable with social media than others. Some of you may be using it tentatively and some of you are creating brilliant content for Facebook and Twitter.

Slightly contrary to the brief Supt Crowcroft outlined earlier, I’m not going to tell you what to tweet and how to make Facebook posts better. That for most users is a trial and error process. You will no doubt have posted something you thought was brilliant and got very little engagement. You will also have posted something fairly mundane and got a much better response. Sometimes there appears to be no logic to what works and what doesn’t. There is no secret sauce… but the key thing is to diversify… an account full of content about community meetings, yet another recovered vehicle for no insurance and a stock ‘don’t do this’ type message, such as ‘don’t leave your windows open’, is unlikely to set the world on fire. Your content needs to be varied, engaging, serious, informative, humourous, entertaining and unique. There is so much stuff we do in the police. So much information we can share and we are barely scratching the surface. So to dig deeper we need some innovative thinking, being bold enough to try something different and acknowledging that mistakes will be made along the way.

So whilst you think about your new and fantastic content I want you to think about diversifying even further. In Force we are using Facebook and Twitter but ask yourself a question. Are these the best platforms and hitting the right audience for you? Have you identified a specific, maybe hard to reach section of your community, that you can engage with in a different way? Would that be better achieved with Instagram, Snapchat, live video or a blog? Maybe you need to be using Pinterest or Music.ly? Do you have a specific skill that you could exploit to reach a group of people? Maybe you sing or play the guitar. Maybe you run 10k’s or half marathons or can ride BMX bikes in tubes. Dare to be different. Otherwise you’re doing what we have always done and as the saying goes.. you will therefore always get the same result.

Talk to the people in your community. Identify the platforms they use and and then ask them.. “would it be useful I was on there too?” When you go to the local park to talk to youths being noisy.. don’t just clear them off … spend some time with them chatting.. ask the questions.. what social media platform are you all on? Do you have any problems? Do you see people doing foolish things that need help? Do you think it would help if we had someone on there for help and advice? You can then explore whether there is an opening for you to reach out to that group of people and provide a valuable community service.  But don’t worry about numbers of followers. If you have a new platform and only have 20 people following you it doesn’t matter. If by being there you have a positive impact upon just one of them that keeps them safe, steers them away from a predator or prevents crime… then it is without doubt an outright and unmitigated success and time well spent.

Every social media platform on the planet is available to you – if you want to use it in force you only need to ask for it but be prepared to explain why and what for. A good argument for what you want and why will likely make it happen. Just asking for it because ‘you want it’.. won’t. Corp Comms are there to support the front line but you need to be able evidence what you want and why.

As an example I would direct you to PC Mark Walsh from Hampshire police who was going to speak today. He was on Twitter and doing very well – he still is. Then when talking to young people he worked with he realised that many of them were using the platform Vine. Some forces had Vine accounts but were not using them. Mark took it upon himself to set up a Vine account. He capitalised on his own skill set, his unique sense of humour and specifically targeted a group of young people that Twitter and Facebook were missing. The result was amazing. He posted dozens of short videos… and had millions of loops. He hit his target audience but then it went further and he reached people well away from his local community of the same age group but also every other age group. He had national and international media attention.

There are two lessons to learn from Mark’s experience.

1.

Dare to be different and try something new. He came up with something that utilised his own special skill set and capitalised on that to make a real difference.

2.

The second one is about the platform. Where is Vine today? Gone. No more. Closed down. We are using Twitter and Facebook predominantly in force and they are both stalwarts of the social media world but nothing is forever. Vine disappeared very quickly. Twitter has had a number of occasions over the last few years where the social media world has been alive to the belief that Twitter is going to go. It’s still there but the point is this.. nothing lasts forever. Where would we be if Twitter and Facebook announced they were shutting down forever at the end of August? We would be scrabbling to find the replacements and build our following to keep getting our messages out there. So it’s important to be looking at and trying new and emerging platforms and whether they work for us even if that’s only a short lived case like Vine or more long term like Twitter and Facebook.

As I said earlier today hasn’t been about what to do – it’s been about asking you to look at other ways of doing things that may OR may not work for you and your LPU/Dept/Team. If you have a desire, dream or aspiration to do something different, something unique or something quirky then you need to start looking at how you can do that.

Corp Comms are there to help, advise and support the frontline in policing their community and keeping them informed. Just don’t go to them with a wish list – go to them with evidence supporting your request.

I, of course, am always available to help and advise you wherever I can.

Thank you very much

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Senior Command Course

On Friday 27th January I had the privilege of presenting to the Senior Command Course at Sunningdale. This is the course for Chief Superintendents and equivalent ranks from NCA and other police agencies around the world who aspire to the NPCC ranks.

The aims of the session were to;

  1. Introduce SCC2017 to social media and how it is being used by officers and the public
  2. Explain the pitfalls
  3. Show the positive side of communicating with staff and the public through social media

I was joined on the day by Commander John Sutherland, Jay Butcher (Digital Comms Lead – Surrey Police) and a representative from the Gendarmerie Nationale Comms team.

My presentation is reproduced below.

slide1

Good morning. I’m sure many of you sat here, when you began this course, had a ‘pinch me’ moment when the reality of actually being on this course came home to you. I’d like to congratulate you all on being selected and wish you well with your future. I too am having one of those pinch me moments because never at any point in my career did I ever think I would be stood here presenting to you. I am however, very grateful for the opportunity and hope my social media journey will help you shape yours.

I would also add that I have never presented in a room where Mr Marshall is present. All I can say Sir is that if I falter at any point feel free to heckle me.

slide2

So. Who am I? My name is Neil Dewson-Smyth and I’m a Sgt with Cheshire Police. I have 26yrs service, all in uniform, covering section and 7 years roads policing with GMP. I then transferred to Cheshire and was embedded into custody where I was a custody sgt for 7 years. I now work in the Force Control Room as a Force Incident Sgt. I’m also a self-confessed social media geek. I have no discipline history to speak of and have an unblemished career. I plan to keep it that way.

I’m also a threat, a risk, a loose cannon, a maverick….  a pain in the backside.

It’s difficult to imagine how those two descriptions can morph together into one person. The reason is because I have something that has developed during my time on social media. It’s not something I have sought or gone out of my way to obtain but simply a natural consequence of my use of social media and how it has developed for policing over recent years. It is one word and it sometimes causes friction between myself, senior leadership teams and especially corporate communications.

slide3Influence. I have the ability to make things happen and that can sometimes be problematic. In order to demonstrate this I’d like to give you a quick overview of some work I have been doing with something that is a passion of mine…. the #DontStreamAndDrive campaign.

slide4If you’re wondering what I’m talking about then it would be good to explain what livestreaming is. As you can see here in the picture. The lady is holding up her phone and using the camera as though she were recording a video. Livestreaming is exactly this but the application you are using immediately pushes that video onto the internet for others to view and interact with. You are essentially running a live broadcast.

As you can imagine I saw a whole host of opportunities to use live video both personally and professionally for my force and beyond. However, as I continued to immerse myself in this world I started to see something I hadn’t considered at all.

slide5Ladies and gentlemen. May I introduce you to the ‘livestreaming driver’. As you can see here the lady on the left has her phone mounted in a cradle but she has no hands on the steering wheel at all. The chap bottom centre has the phone placed on the instrument cluster, has no hands on the steering wheel and you can see a comment at the bottom of the screen. I actually watched this one live and I can tell you he was on the M62 in West Yorkshire in shocking weather conditions. Throughout the broadcast he was complaining about the driving conditions whilst taking his hands off the wheel and reading every comment that was sent to him. The remainder all have two things in common. They are livestreaming and they all have their eyes on the phone.. NOT.. the road ahead. This is very common for drivers livestreaming. If you need to change the radio station or a setting in the car then you quickly glance at the control and then return your full attention to the road. These drivers will often display a reversal of this where their primary focus is on the phone and only glance at the road. The dangers and risks every road user is exposed to by such drivers are obvious. But… we are up against it..

slide6Thought leaders, influencers and celebrities are all engaging in this behaviour and endorsing it. Bottom left is Grant Cardone, author and motivational speaker whom I have observed to stream and drive on a number of occasions. On the right is Scottish MP Ian Murray who recorded a video whilst driving in Montreal and then posted it to Twitter. James Corden is here with Adele. Carpool Karaoke has been massively popular for him. There may be huge security precautions in place. Two vehicles in front.. two behind.. low speed. He may even be on a trailer. However, when this goes live any safety precautions are stripped away and it just shows James larking around and singing in a car with a celebrity whilst driving. The risk of copycat behaviour here is very high.

slide7All this activity led me to launch the first #DontStreamAndDrive day on April 8th last year. With the support of CC Davenport, NRPIF and my own force the campaign will be running again this year as part of the national campaign in March when the mobile phone penalty doubles.

In order for you to now see how this influence works I need to step out from this and ask if you have seen the video I set you as homework last week.

slide8Has everyone seen it? I set the homework via Twitter. (no hands show). It looks like detention for everyone then! If you haven’t seen video I would ask you to Google “Ted Start A Movement” and watch this 4 min video. You can watch here;

In the video there is one key phrase;

The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader

This behaviour by drivers is a clear and obvious danger. As I began to circulate the message it struck a chord with many of my colleagues around the country, especially roads policing officers, who began to pick up on it and support my message. This continued to grow and after a few weeks I gained the support of TISPOL , the road safety charity BRAKE , the government THINK! team and Police Professional magazine. From that point on the campaign exploded with police forces, ambulance services, fire and rescue services, community organisations and road safety groups all supporting the campaign…… influence.

slide9As you can imagine this created a number of difficulties as my activity as an individual was now influencing the behaviour of forces and other organisations around the country. As it continued to grow it led to national media coverage. I appeared on BBC Radio 4 PM programme, ran tests in the Digi-Car at TRL for a BBC magazine article and also spoke on BBC Radio 5 Live.

slide10The day went ahead and the social media reach on the day was in excess of 20 million people on Twitter alone.

slide11Post event there was further publicity. Police Professional ran a follow-up article. The Daily Mail identified drivers engaged in this behaviour and ran an article. Latterly I appeared on national breakfast television to talk about the dangers of this behaviour and the campaign.

slide12I continue to call out and challenge people on social media who engage in this behaviour. However some activity goes beyond a warning and needs a firmer response. Prosecuting is not easy but isn’t impossible.

slide13This driver was convicted on evidence I secured in a very unorthodox way, whilst at home, on a rest day and some 200 miles away from where the offence was being committed. I submitted all the evidence to the Metropolitan Police at Hounslow and a young aspiring traffic officer took on the case. The driver pleaded guilty at court.

slide14Police communications have been static for many years. We use all the traditional channels.. tv, radio and newspapers but we service them. Social media came along and every force in the country signed up to it but we really had no idea what we were doing. It took a long time for forces to understand the difference between engagement and broadcasting. Nationally we are now much improved but some forces are better than others. Many are still hanging back. There is, and always is, a long way to go but the social media world and the platforms we use change on a weekly basis and we need to be dynamic and fleet of foot to keep up with it.

There are countless platforms and it is unrealistic to expect us to be everywhere. What we should do is aim to excel where we are and be innovative in our approach and have sufficient presence that the public know where to find us.

Social media influencers around the world now market themselves as storytellers. We have a story but we have always relied on others to tell it for us. We own that story and as our social media reach increases we are becoming the trusted voice and the “go to” source for the facts. We have the ability to publish our own stories without any editorial control or spin to huge audiences.

This is a change in practice that may upset our traditional media relationships. We will need to build new relationships but we should not neglect them… not everyone is on social media after all.

Social media is a powerful tool that allows us to spread news and information, appeal for help and update and inform our communities about major incidents and we should be exploiting it.

So what can you do? Well you could get on social media yourself but only do it if it’s right for you. Do it because you want to.. not because you think you should. Otherwise, as John said earlier, it looks a bit like social media Dad dancing and that’s just a bit embarrassing. Whilst I was here last night I saw a lot of excitement and banter amongst you about follower numbers. It’s important to remember that whilst this is fun it is not about followers. Content is king and followers will come naturally as a consequence of quality content.

Embrace, support and drive social media within your organisation but you don’t have to be on social media to be a digital leader. Identify skill and talent and exploit it for the benefit of your organisation and more importantly the communities we serve.

We all make mistakes.

slide15Historically, errors on social media were seen as a huge embarrassment and engendered a real sledgehammer response. More recently things have calmed down but you need to be able to differentiate between the foolish, silly and not thought through and the deliberately reckless actions contrary to the code of ethics.

As my tutor constable said to me;

Error is the discipline through which we all advance

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. One day in your future, sooner or later, an officer will stand before you waving a phone around and be all excited about an idea that sounds utterly crazy. Remember;

The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader

Give them their head. Let them run.. maybe join them? The results may surprise you. Break the template and dare to do things differently. YOU might be the one follower that lone nut needs to make an enormous difference.

slide16Thank you.

 

 

 

The time is NOW

I have spent nearly 25yrs in the police. Nearer to 28 if you include my time as a special. Over that time the primary objective of the police has been;

  1. The preservation of life and the protection of property
  2. The prevention and detection of crime
  3. The maintenance of public order

This hasn’t changed. It’s the bedrock of the service the police provide. It’s the parameters within which we operate and the basis of the expectation the public have of us.

Working in the control room I see nearly every job that comes in for the area I cover. Burglary, robbery, missing persons, drugs, domestic violence, hate crime, anti social behaviour, neighbour disputes, parking problems, mental health incidents, concerns for welfare, death messages, road traffic accidents and more. The work we have done over my 25yrs experience hasn’t really reduced. With the exception of basic parking offences and noisy parties, there isn’t much I can point toward and say “we don’t do that anymore”.

Nearly every week there is another new piece of legislation that either adds new powers or creates new offences that the police are just expected to pick up.

The only thing I’ve seen reduce is our physical numbers. Boots on the ground.

Earlier this week I had 64 incidents on my screen. 11 of them were deployed to. Emergencies are deployed to immediately but those that can have a slower response can start to back up quite quickly. As far as resources were concerned my cupboard was bare. An Inspector approached me, concerned by the number of unresourced jobs and asked me to “get rid of what I could”. I had already worked through them but did so again. There was nothing I could pass to another agency or resolve by phone or other means. They all needed a police officer to attend and deal. We got through the day but the list didn’t really get any smaller.

Yet this isn’t new. In the mid 90’s I was a reserve in the divisional control room. If they were short staffed I would be called in to cover. Even then I can remember looking at the list of jobs balanced against resources in the same way.

We know that the number of police officers since the 90’s has increased (until recently) but the demand never seemed to change. When I was a young cop we were busy and struggled to meet demand. As an older cop, I see our current response officers in exactly the same place.

Did demand increase in such a way that increases in resources had little to no effect? Did increased resources allow us to put more staff into specialist roles (child abuse, sexual offences, high tech crime) leaving response policing with the same demands? Probably both to be fair.

As numbers of officers nationally reduce we find ourselves in a difficult place. We can make efficiencies, work smarter and think differently but eventually, notwithstanding our best efforts, we will not be able to meet demand. Many Chief Constables are now speaking out about the cuts and how detrimental it will be to service delivery.

The Home Secretary has been relentless in her pursuit of reform and we appear to be able to do nothing to convince her otherwise. So the only thing left for us to do is to reduce demand.

Yet here lies the rub. We provide a service. A service the public have come to expect. A service we have grown accustomed to giving over decades. We have also picked up work from other agencies, who when facing difficulties, have left shouldered work in our direction. Work they now come to expect. In some cases, we are now passing this work back to them but it is causing friction and great consternation by those we are refusing. The 4.55pm call on a Friday from social services or a care team. Children’s homes that report a child missing but when found at 1am 30 miles away by another force say they cannot collect as they are on their own or policy says they cannot do it. So who does it? We regularly pick up responsibility for matters because it falls within those three points above and comes with a “What might happen if we don’t” caveat.

As we struggle to service demand, saying “No” is going to become more common. I hate saying no. It goes completely against the grain. 25 years of helping and saying.. “Yes. I don’t know how but we will sort something” makes it very difficult to take a firm line but we are going to have to get used to it. The hard ground lies between public expectation and our tradition of response.

Two very simple examples. A cow in the road on a country lane near a bend. As it stands now we go and we go on an emergency response. Why? Well a cow makes a bit of a mess of a car if you hit one and there is a risk of injury to the driver/passengers. Yet swap the cow for a tractor pulling out of a field and we get no call. Even if we did we wouldn’t go. Ultimately the driver has the responsibility to avoid any road hazards whether vehicular or bovine but we have become accustomed to servicing such jobs. I can see why the cow is not a job for us but I can also see what out attendance may prevent. Do we sort the cow or deal with the accident later? Many in the service will say we have to go because of the risk to life using a “what if” scenario. There are also those in the job who say we should attend because if we have been told about something, do nothing and something awful happens then we will be hauled over the coals by command and the media. There is an increasing voice saying this is not a police matter.

A person has collapsed in the street. Someone is with them. They are breathing but not responding. No reason for the collapse is known. An ambulance job or the police? Well without any evidence to the contrary it appears to be a medical episode and one for ambulance. Yet we go? Why? We go because we always have and we use theories such as “We don’t know what happened. They may have been assaulted”. We also apply the protection of life principle. Despite those who believe we should attend there is an increasing voice saying this is not a police matter.

Police incident managers find themselves, everyday, making decisions about attendance or not. Should we go because we always have and divert precious resources (safe) or do we refuse and face the wrath if the situation goes wrong (risky)? 

There are too many variables, in relation to the incidents we may not attend to list them all. However, the safe option means we maintain the service we provide but run the risk of resource depletion. This may create an inability to resource an emergency incidents as it presents. The risk option means we alienate partners, the public and sometimes ourselves. We also run the risk of criticism from within and also the media. Many times I have heard, and said myself, “Imagine this on the front page of the Daily Mail”.

The incidents we attend, or don’t, when things go wrong are investigated quite often by the IPCC. Their funding has increased considerably during the same period that police forces have faced huge cuts. Increased resources means more capacity to investigate cops. Whilst wrong doing and poor service needs to be investigated I am concerned that we could fall into a trap of reducing demand whilst being judged by those who expect us to deliver the service we always did. Those two will never meet and that could leave officers open to dismissal, court appearances and potentially…prison.

If we are seriously going to reduce demand and adandon the work we should not be doing then there needs to be a proper grownup conversation about it. What the public want and what we the police can realistically deliver. A realignment of what the police service is here to do. The Home Seceratary says we are crime fighters. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is a simplistic and dangerous view that fails to appreciate the role we are currently mandated to provide.

If our role is not formalised officially to meet 21st century policing needs then the changes we make in order to cope could leave officers and forces wide open.

The PFEW have been asking for years. Now is the time for the government to listen and do it. Let’s face it, if reforms are working then a Royal Commision into policing will endorse all their policies and reforms. What are they are afraid of?

The time for a Royal Commision on policing is now.

 

Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

On the last bank holiday weekend I was fortunate enough to have a friend who allowed me to use his 15ft Boston Whaler with 60hp outboard. If this is double dutch to you then it looks a bit like this.

whaler

My friend and I had spent an evening with the owner going through some of the finer details of looking after boat. Using, starting, safety, fuel, radio / coastguard info, launch, recovery, emergencies, towing and securing to the trailer. I’m not a total novice when it comes to boats. I have been sailing dinghies for several years now and whilst this was a very different vessel I had a good understanding of what we needed to do. We also spent some time on the internet researching local facilities and the water we were to use.

As I was working all weekend my family and the friends went ahead of me. I followed on the Monday after finishing night shifts.

I towed the boat to the campsite and met up with my family and friends. We then moved on to the village where we were to launch from the beach. What followed was a wonderful sunny afternoon where we all enjoyed the boat, went seal spotting (and found some) and were very grateful to have been allowed to borrow it.

In amongst all of that enjoyment though were some lessons that are worth sharing.

We arrived at the village. The road to the beach is downhill and only wide enough for one car at a time so we parked the boat and my car at the top of the hill and drove down in the other car to assess the situation. We had been told that there was always a local on the beach with a tractor who would offer a launch and recovery service for a small fee. There were some tractors on the beach and it was relatively quiet. The tide was well out. We decided it was ok to drive down. My friend drove back up the hill and whilst he went to park his car, I drove mine and the boat down to the bottom of the hill.

At the bottom of the hill the road widened slightly. The tarmac gave way to a small section of concrete ramp and then simply stopped. There was a section of soft dry sand about 10-12ft in width and then a wide area of sand that was firm. I went to look for a tractor driver. The tractors were there… but no drivers. I returned to the car and waited at the top of the ramp for my friend to join me. He took a little longer than expected and during this time another two, rather smart 4×4’s appeared behind me with RIB’s in tow. I was holding them up. I couldn’t turn around, they couldn’t get past. There was only one thing to do.. drive onto the beach.

I did exactly this. The downhill angle onto the beach made the manoeuvre a simple one. The car handled it with aplomb and I towed the boat about 300m along the beach adjacent to a suitable launch spot and came to a stop. My friend had by now joined me. (1)

The tractor drivers we were still AWOL. Considering the risks of getting the car stuck if we tried to reverse the trailer into the water, we took the decision to detach the trailer and push it to the waters edge. It was at this point we realised a) just how heavy the boat/trailer together are and b) how hard it is to push a trailer on a jockey wheel on sand. We pushed, shoved and manhandled the boat and were swiftly joined by a couple of chaps who offered to help. We would have got there but their assistance made it much easier. (2).

Before trying to launch the boat we had to get changed. Once done we returned to the boat and began to push the trailer out into the water. This was harder than just on the sand and again we were assisted by a couple of willing volunteers. It quickly became apparent that their was little to no shelving at this location. We had pushed out some distance and although in about 70cm of water (more than enough to float the boat) it was not enough to float it off the trailer. The conclusion was to tip the trailer and allow the boat to slide off carefully. This was successful, albeit rather undignified. We then anchored the boat and  removed the trailer from the water. We dragged it up to the top of the beach where we would be based. (3)

There were still no tractor drivers in sight. We also knew that the tractor drivers would charge £30 to launch and recover your boat but a car was penalised with a £100 charge. There were other people with 4×4’s on the beach but the provision of boat recovery later on was still an issue. We knew that there was no way my car would get the trailer and the boat off the beach. There was still a question mark over whether my car would get off the beach at all! After much deliberation we decided that come what may, we had to get my car off.. or at least try. The number of people on the beach had increased. We drove to the ramp then got out and had a look at our options. To be honest it didn’t look good. The wet sand/shale was ok to drive on but I knew if I tried to gain any speed it would slip. The soft dry sand just before the concreate ramp was another problem. It was about 10ft wide and had the potential for the car to just bury itself. We discussed, pondered and finally decided, with lots of people watching (and embarrassment factors running high) that we simply had to give it a go. I ran the car up to about 10mph and pointed at the narrowest bit of the dry sand I could see. The car bumped once, bounced across the sand, hit the concrete, gripped and dragged itself off the beach in one move. Relief all around and much face saved. (4)

My friend then offered to park my car. He told me to return to the boat and get it ready for use with his son. His son, incidentally, had disappeared back to the boat as we were driving off the beach. We thought it was to avoid being next to his Dad and I as we made idiots of ourselves. As we had got the car off we were both rather pleased with ourselves. I walked across the beach to the boat and my feel good moment was soon deflated. His son had realised that during the time we had taken deliberating about the car, the tide had gone out further. The boat was now beached in about 20cm of water. It was stuck fast and couldn’t be moved. (5)

There was nothing to do but wait. One of the fancy 4×4 boat owners kept whizzing up to the shore, changing his passengers and whizzing off again. You could see the smug smile on his face knowing we were beached. We felt like complete amateurs. Fortunately the tide was almost in ebb and after 40 minutes had turned. Within an hour, after a bit of shoving, we were afloat. (6)

We got the kids aboard, suited them up with life jackets and set off. We zoomed down the coastline in wonderful sunshine and found a small colony of seals to watch for a while. The boat was brilliant. Very quick, perfect sea conditions and great fun. (7)

During this time however there was still the nagging worry about how to get the boat off the beach. Whilst my friend took his wife and kids for a blast I had a ponder. A couple of old guys on a tractor drove past along the beach. I flagged them down. They were very pleased to shoot me down and tell me “No. We don’t do the recovery service”. I felt like a fool. I could almost hear their thoughts “another idiot stuck on the beach”. However, when pressed a little further they did know who did and provided me with his number. Of course, there was no mobile signal but it was a start! About 20 mins later a large tractor appeared on the beach. I tentatively approached the driver. I didn’t want another rejection experience. I was saved. He was the launch/recovery man and would be glad to bring us out of the water in about an hour. (8)

We enjoyed the rest of our time on the water and had some great fun. We eventually returned to the shore and our new found friend appeared, put the trailer in the water and pulled us out. We brought my car down to the ramp, secured the boat, hooked it up and headed off. Huge sighs of relief all round.

1.
Planning and preparation in any task is essential. Conducting a fact finding mission is always useful but never make assumptions about service delivery from other suppliers. Thoroughly explore your options before getting past the point of no return.

2.
The scale of a problem is not always apparent until you are left on your own. All is not lost though. If you get stuck into a task and show determination it will often engender the support of others.

3.
Even when everything is close to completion there can be an unexpected complication. Be prepared to think outside normal procedures to still safely attain your objective.

4.
One poor decision very early in a process can come back to bite you much later and could allow costs to spiral. Actions need to be carefully considered. A work around may be more expensive if the service is available but sometimes, with a bit of gumption, a calculated risk can pay off.

5.
Inexperience of one factor can cause unnecessary delays in your whole operation. Never take your eye off the ball. All sort of things can go wrong if you are focussing too hard on one particular aspect of your challenge.

6.
Don’t allow others to undermine the value of what you are doing. Patience and time can resolve most issues.

7.
Once you have all your factors lined up in a row the achievement of your objective is close at hand.

8.
Even when all is going well there can still be doubts about the final aspect of your plan. Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. Never be afraid of asking for help. It can be the difference between a satisfactory conclusion and utter disaster.

Detention Not Authorised

I was a traffic officer for 7 years. You may be able to tell by the amount of tweets I put out about drink drive, speed, phones, seat belts and others. I had dealt with every type of accident you can imagine. A fantastic job and one I miss very much but I made a decision. That decision was based around finances and my family and meant that I transferred to another force.

In a naive kind of way I expected my new force to assess my skills and put them to their most effective use. How wrong could I have been. They binned the lot of them and put me on a custody investigation team dealing with run of the mill arrests for the response teams.

After 4 months and a few weeks a brand new custody facility opened. I went from a small police station based custody suite, that was pretty awful if I’m honest, to a smart up to date unit with over 3 times as many cells. I continued to work in this role as a PC for another 8 months. During this time I passed my Pt2 Sgt exam and passed a board interview.

Nobody wanted to work in custody so I made it known that I would gladly work in custody should the opportunity arise. It did. Far quicker than I expected. In October 2006 I was promoted to Sgt and moved from the upstairs investigation office to the charge desk downstairs. I’ve been there ever since… until today.

I walked out of custody today for the last time as a full time member of the custody staff. I may well get called back in to cover on occasion. I may well get asked to do overtime. But as of today I am no longer part of that team.

What an experience it has been. I have authorised the detention of 1000’s of suspects for every offence you can possibly imagine… well maybe not all of them..  Men, women, boys and girls. There have even been a few dogs.. albeit not proper prisoners but just lodged with us in the kennels for a while. Assaults, drugs, drink drive, drunk and disorderly, public order, rape, sexual touching, indecent images, murder, conspiracy, pervert the course of justice, prison recalls, warrants, international extradition warrants, death by dangerous driving, child neglect, firearms, immigration, fraud, proceeds of crime, mental health and more. I’m really only scratching the surface. I even touched on a terrorism matter but only briefly. (fortunately.. this is a very complex area of custody business!) I’ve booked in the local drunk, the respected business person, the teacher, the social worker, the celebrity and the frequent flyers. They all come.. they all go. In one way or another.

In my previous force the solicitors were treated like the enemy. It was a culture I was born into. I knew nothing different and it was often adversarial in custody. When I came to this force it was different. I have built up a rapport with many of the local firms. There are some I don’t particularly like and wouldn’t have represent me but there are also some who I would recommend my best friend to. I have a great relationship with many of them and this is wholly conducive to a better working relationship and works in the favour of the detainee.. everyone, working together to get to the right result.

I’ve had arguments with difficult solicitors but I’ve had far more arguments with stupid drunks, intolerant people and those who simply refuse to listen. I’ve met people whom I have had compassion for and those I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them. I’ve sat on cell floors chatting with people who need help and someone to talk to and I’ve slammed the door on those who want to spit in my face, kick me in the groin and tell me they will hunt down where I live and rape my wife.

I’ve conducted strip searches, fought with drunks, had my hand down people’s throats, rolled around on the floor in pools of urine, cut clothing from around people’s necks, talked people out of self harming and wrestled with a naked woman with mental health problems. I’ve laughed and joked with prisoners and at times I’ve been scared to death. I’ve made some great decisions and I’ve dropped a few clangers but fortunately, I’ve not lost anyone in all my time in custody. I thank God for that!

I’ve had occasions where I’ve felt that no matter how hard I’ve tried it was, in the eyes of some, never enough. I also have some pride in the occasions where I know I have made a difference… particularly with youngsters. That is something that is massively satisfying.

I’ve made decisions that some have loved and I’ve made decisions that some have hated. I stand my ground, make bold decisions and don’t simply fall back to the default position of sending matters to CPS and letting them take the flack for a decision. This invariably means that I come into conflict with others opinions. Some have been right decisions.. some wrong. One that was deemed to be wrong I still believe was right.

I got tweeting and was then discovered and identified by my Ch Insp and Insp. I took the wrap but they were good to me. My tweets from the desk were curtailed and then stopped but it led to some positive leadership and a huge deal of support from the ACPO command that has, in my eyes, paid dividends. I am very grateful to my force for the trust I have been given.

Custody can be an awful place. Every single drunken, fighting, spitting, swearing person arrested ends up in front of me. It takes a lot of personal control to remain professional in the face of such adversity. If you don’t have a strong constitution it will soon get the better of you. The key to my length of service in custody though was the team I worked with. A great set of DO’s, a brilliant team of Sgt’s and excellent medical support. The team are the people that keep you going. The team are the people who pick you up when you’re down and make you laugh. The team are the people who make it work, keep everyone safe and get the job done. This is as true now with my custody team as it was the first day I joined my section colleagues back in the early 90’s.

As of Monday I start my new job in the control room. I’m looking forward to the challenge but it’s going to be tough. I can handle the technology with ease but getting to grips with many of the practices I’ve not had any dealings with for 7 years or even longer will take a bit of getting used to. I’m going to have to fly by the seat of my pants for a while and no doubt there will be a few mistakes along the way.

In the words of my late tutor con.. “Error is the discipline through which we all advance”... I will remember this as I get going in my new role as I have throughout my service.

My time is up. There have been good days, bad days, brilliant days and some that I try very much to forget. Overall though it has been fun and barring a torn ligament in my wrist I have come out of 7 years in custody with no other injuries or problems… if you don’t count being of a rather pale complexion and an adverse reaction to daylight.

I have decided that my twitter name will stay the same. The blog will also stay the same for now. I thought about changing to @thecommsgt and ‘The Incident Log’ but if my role changes again then the same situation arises. I will start to look for a generic name and blog title that will travel with me no matter what I do. Until then I will remain exactly the same. The service will continue, I will no doubt comment on custody matters as and when they come to my attention but will also start to look at how we manage resources against demand and control room issues. It should be fun.

I’m replacing the cell keys with a headset.

My detention in custody is no longer authorised.

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