When Will They Ever Learn?

Throughout society we have rules, laws and regulations. There is no getting away from them. They govern our lives and behaviour.

There are many social reasons why people commit offences. Some simply through choice, some greed, some by example and others through desperation.

But it always surprises me that society as a whole can comply pretty much 100% with some rules yet continually fail in others. I’ll use two examples. They are not meant to be related but give an indication of the example I’m trying to draw.

1.
The law preventing smoking in public places came into effect on 1.7.2007.

2.
The current drink drive legislation is entombed in the 1988 Road Traffic Act. Such offences though stem back further to 1925 and the Criminal Justice Act of that year. However it was 1967 before the breathalyser at the roadside was introduced.

There was much upset over the smoking ban. This bit of legislation was not popular but overall the population have accepted it and comply. The problems envisaged never really came to the forefront. Our pubs, bars and restaurants have become much more pleasant places. Even custody suites! Years ago as a young probationer the most important piece of kit when working in custody was a lighter so you could light up the prisoners and keep ’em happy. The bottom line though is that we just comply.

So what’s the difference with drink drive? I spent some considerable years on a Road Policing Unit. I’ve seen lives and families torn apart by deaths from drink driving. The media is full of information and there is nobody who can say they are ignorant of the law in this area. Yet time and again the drink drivers just keep coming in. Worse still is the readings seem to be getting higher. Notwithstanding years of campaigns, public information adverts (THINK! etc) and enforcement campaigns by every force in the country it has little to no impact.

Now you may say that you don’t drink drive. You are a responsible motorist and would never do such a thing. I admire you. Neither would I. I plan to only ever see custody from this side of the desk! You may argue that this is just another offence by those in the “regular” criminal fraternity. Yet you’d be wrong. This offence knows no bounds and everybody and anybody from every social background is susceptible. It is the one offence that people come into custody for that would otherwise have no involvement with the police in their whole life.

So why can’t we comply? I don’t get it. We all know it’s wrong. We all know it’s more serious than pulling a sneaky drag in the pub. Yet we adhere to the minor and disregard the major. It’s like saying you’ll never steal a bar of chocolate but won’t worry about knifing someone. It just doesn’t add up.

I’m a proponent of a zero alcohol limit. This makes it clearer. The current limit is similar to introducing the smoking ban with a limit of one cigarette or half a cigar per person in a public place. Maybe it works because it is an outright ban. I’d like to think the same would work for drink drive.

The drink drive limit in breath is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. This weekend alone we have had people in who have blown 63, 84, 105 and 188! One of these had 4 children in the car at the same time!

It really is time this stopped.

Time Wasting

The last blog entry touched on how much time can be wasted on unnecessary change.

Now what about forced time wasting? Things we have no control over but have to do because of a policy agreed and driven by the Govt. Every Govt since I joined the job has said the police need to be freed of administrative burdens and bureaucracy. Yet without fail where they have taken away one form they have replaced it with another. The situation has never got any better.

Recent years have seen the introduction of RJ processes (these are good) and also conditional cautions (very good if used properly). The conditional cautions give us a great opportunity to satisfy the victim and have the offender see the true impact of his/her actions. But how much time is wasted on conditional cautions? Hours and hours and hours is the answer. The costs I wont even try to determine.

So why is this. Lets work on a simple damage offence. First off to be eligible for the conditional caution (CC) the offender must admit the offence. Second it must be an offence that is suitable for a CC and thirdly the previous history of the offender must not negate the issue of said CC. With all the factors met, the victim happy and the offender agreeable to the CC then the process can start. This involves putting a basic file together and sending it off to CPS to decide if we can do it. We can ask for compensation and letters of apology etc to be parts of the conditions.

Now you may think this sounds reasonable. The decision is taken away from the Custody Sgt and put in the hands of the prosecutor. Why? Well I’m told it is because if the offender fails to comply with the terms of the CC he/she will go to court and the CPS have to be happy the case would stand up in court. All still seems plausible.

But if we put this “offender” further down the line to the point where they cannot have the CC and must go to court… then I as Custody Sgt can send the offender straight to court without reference to the CPS. The CPS decision for an in custody case for a CC can take anything from 90 mins to 4hrs depending on whether it is CPS daytime or CPS direct overnight/weekend.

So, I’m authorised to send somebody to court without reference to the CPS. But for a lesser disposal that at worst could end up in court (just as if I had charged them) we spend hours chasing around to get the CPS to rubber stamp the decision?

Remember this is an admitted offence….. and they say we are inefficient.

I think the next post should be a bit more light hearted…..?

All Change

A regular occurrence for police officers is change. Changes to shifts, changes to roles, changes to policy and changes to legislation. Some of this is totally necessary but other areas are on the whim of senior officers. Yet what’s so special about that? Every organisation goes through the same process doesn’t it?

The police have two tiers of entrants. Normal and the high potential development scheme (HPDS). The latter has been about for many years under this name or previously the accelerated promotion scheme. But this is no different to companies offering graduate entry schemes is it not?

When I worked for The Post Office many years ago the graduate scheme seemed flawed. Only on the basis that people sat in management positions who had no idea or experience of getting up at 4am and walking in the rain with a heavy sack of mail. My belief is that managers must have fundamental experience of the primary role of the business. Those that do promote leadership and improvement from a position of strength.

The police are slightly different in that all officers start at constable. But one has to question how fast HPDS officers progress and how much time is spent doing the nuts and bolts of hands on police work.

So is one better than the other? Difficult to say. Both sides have excellent examples. I have experience of those who joined at base level and battled their way to senior positions and did so superbly. I also know of officers working through the HPDS that have been superb but others who were utterly dreadful. The key to me here is not what qualifications you can attain or how good you are at passing initial promotion exams. It’s about something far more fundamental .. Leadership.

Historically HPDS officers will have the biggest impact on policing in the UK as more of them attain the most senior positions than those who are not. These are career minded individuals who are task and performance driven. It often seems to me that the very reason there is so much change within forces is because senior officers, pursuing promotion are far more likely to make change for change’s sake to put something dynamic on their CV. How do you sell yourself for promotion saying that your current position needed little change, the staff work well and you left things alone. Promotion boards don’t seem bothered about morale or how cohesive BCU staff are. We know that statistics can say anything we want them to say. So a change is implemented, advertised as a total success whilst at the business end the staff often believe it to be a failure. The candidate gains promotion and moves on. The staff are left behind to pick up the pieces. Meanwhile the new boss moves in and starts looking at change. It’s a wonder we ever get anything done with all the time we spend on readjusting to a new idea.

There have been some colossal mistakes over the years. My force has realised some of its errors and, encouragingly, is moving some roles back to how they used to be. But in typical HPDS style we are not moving back. We are moving forward in a familiar way!

Less is more

Today could be a day to complain about the undervalued role of the office of constable.

Today could be a day to hurl criticism at politicians who seek to undermine our pay and pensions.

Today could be a day to point out all the failings of our government and it’s attitude to policing.

Today is NOT one of those days.

Less is more…. rest in peace Ronan Kerr

We salute you.

Rumours and Misinformation

This is a difficult time for police. It’s a difficult time for all the public sector as a whole as the government starts to tighten its reign on the public purse. I for one am not unaware of the difficulties the country faces and I’m prepared to do my bit to get us back on track. I’m no financial whizz though. I don’t understand the economy and the budgets in finite detail. I understand it in simpler terms… we are as a country overspent, in debt and need to sort it out. 
If I apply this to my household budget I can visualise it much easier. I would make a debt reduction plan that was achievable. It would be a long term plan that included economising and a goal that would be reached without completely destroying my home and prevent me from putting food on the table.
I hold no complaint over the current incumbents… if not them then the opposition would be doing the same… just in a different way. Labour may pontificate and denounce the current policies but if the boot were on the other foot .. they would be coming for the same criticism. It has taken years and years of overspending to get to this situation and the politicians expect to sort out 50% of it in 4 years. I don’t see this happening somehow.
The police are coming for a fair amount of stick. The government is enforcing a 20% cut on the service as a whole. Yet they continue to put into the media comments that this is achievable without affecting front line policing. They are also peddling misinformation about police pay. We don’t get 4hrs overtime for a phone call and the additional payments we recieve stem from a policy they introduced that in many ways we didn’t want. Yet now those payments have become an issue they portray them as “our” fault.
Then we have the media. They latch onto a topic like a rabid dog and seek to sensationalise at every opportunity. I always thought Andrew Neal was an intelligent and reasonable man. I don’t have a TV.. I keep up with news through radio and internet… so maybe I miss something of his persona that would change my view. However, I recently watched a clip on the ‘net where he was interviewing the Chair of the Police Federation Paul McKeever. I have never seen such a one sided attack on someone from an “anchor” point of view. He asked questions of Mr McKeever that he should be asking Chief Constables. Mr McKeever doesn’t make policy. He represents the rights of the police who cannot strike or take industrial action. The body of people used regularly by the government as the solution to all problems when other areas of the public sector do take action. Mr Neal quoted all sorts of statistics surrounding resourcing that are not Mr McKeevers responsibility. He stated 90% of police officers were not available for front line duty. 
The trouble with statistics is they can be managed to say what we want them to say. Mr Neal pushed the point that as 90% of us are sat on our rear twiddling our thumbs then savings could definately be made. Where does this figure come from? Does it include the officers dealing with detainees, the officers tied up on robbery or burglary squads, the officers in the various CTB’s  that are doing important and valuable work but can’t just simply drop everything, don a uniform and rush out to a shoplifter or a pub fight?
The public have a right to know the truth. The media are misinformed and peddling false information that fuels the fire against the police … particularly for those who believe everything they read in The Sun. I’m sure the government love this as it furthers their cause. Oh but of course the government also speak from two sides… on one they say that cuts must be made and we get paid too much and get special bonuses and on the other they say we are marvellous, the best police in the world and something to be cherished.
This is somewhat like a serious domestic violence case. The government, like a domestic abuser beat us up and leave us black and blue. The next day they tell us they love us and really can’t live without us before beating us up again later on.
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