Tag Archives: home secretary

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.

 

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Let it go..

On 12th August 1966 in a street in west London, 3 police officers were gunned down; murdered. The country was appalled. This was something that simply didn’t happen. Less than two weeks prior to the incident the England football team had won the World Cup. The country was on a high and this brought everyone back down to earth with a huge bump.

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The three officers, DS Christopher Head, DC David Wombwell and PC Geoffrey Fox were all shot dead. The offenders were Harry Roberts, John Duddy and John Witney.

There is a good overview of the case here by the Channel 4 news team.

1415781017557_wps_12_Police_and_members_of_theOn the day of the funerals the public turned out in their thousands and lined the streets with police officers to pay their respects. The public sentiment on that day is identical to those we experienced more recently in Manchester.

In the meantime the might of the Metropolitan Police began a manhunt. Witney was arrested within hours. Duddy fled to Scotland but was arrested within 5 days. Roberts on the other hand vanished. It took three months to locate him. He was finally brought into custody in early November. He has been behind bars ever since.

The crime was awful and described by many as the most heinous of a generation. It also led to the formation of the Police Dependants Trust.

After a 6 day trial and overwhelming evidence the three suspects were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge, on handing down the life sentences and a 30 year tariff said;

“I think it likely that no home secretary regarding the enormity of your crime will ever think fit to show mercy by releasing you on licence. This is one of those cases in which the sentence of imprisonment for life may well be treated as meaning exactly what it says.”

The death penalty had only been withdrawn the year before. Many called for it to be reinstated. It does appear, based on the evidence and the sentencing, that had the crime occurred when the legislation was in force, the death penalty was a very real possibility.

Either way two of the men have since died. John Duddy died in jail on 8th February 1981. John Witney was released on licence in 1991. This caused huge controversy as he was released before the expiry of his 30 year tariff but his release stood. In 1999 Witney was beaten to death with a hammer by his flat mate.

Roberts on the other hand remained in prison. He completed his 30 year tariff and up until this year (18 years later) the parole board never saw fit to release him. This is a good blog by Rachel Rogers that discusses life sentences, tariffs and whole life terms.

The news of the impending release of Roberts spread like wildfire. The response was overwhelmingly outrage. The national chair of the Police Federation said that “officers up and down the country were furious”. He said Roberts gunned down police officers in broad daylight and “quite frankly, he should never be released from prison”. He went on to make a further statement that “there will be people out there, planning to murder police officers, thinking they can get away with it”. He closed with “It’s not about rehabilitation or whether Roberts is now safe. It’s about the punishment fitting the crime”. Steve White’s comments can be watched here.

John Tully the Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation branch tweeted; “a total betrayal of policing by the criminal justice system this man should never see the light of day again, life should mean life”

As a contrast the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was asked about the release on LBC.

He, dodged the direct questions but he defended the justice system and the probation/parole system. His overall view was that we cannot allow the justice system to be run on emotions and popular opinion.

Then, most importantly, behind all the froth in the media are the families of those three officers. The families who have spent the last 48 years living without their loved one.

A few years ago a good friend of mine, a police officer, was stabbed to death on duty. On the day I wasn’t furious. I was speechless. I came home, sat on the sofa and cried. The man responsible was convicted and sent to prison. Over the following weeks and standing as guard of honour at the door of the cathedral I didn’t feel anger. I wasn’t furious. I was sad but I was also enormously proud. The offender never really crossed my mind.

In more recent years we have had the murder of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone in Manchester. I think of them a lot and I think of their families and friends too. I don’t think of the murderer himself and I never ever name him. As I look back on those events was I furious? No. I was intensely shocked and saddened by their deaths and I also know that it is what police officers face on a daily basis.

With all the comment in the media I began to think I should be outraged. I should be angry at this man and those responsible for allowing his release. Then I stopped because I realised I wasn’t furious and I wasn’t angry.

This man took away the lives of those officers and their families lives changed that day forever. There is no getting away from that. No matter how much we discuss, debate and argue about the release of Roberts we cannot bring those men back.

When someone you love dies you don’t simply get over it. You can only learn to live without them. It has to be the same for those who lose a loved one in such tragic circumstances. They will never get over the loss but they will learn to live with it in their own way. I can only imagine it being much much harder when there is someone to blame. A person who is responsible for your loss.

We know that the death penalty still exists in the USA. We know that the family members of a victim can attend and watch a person put to death. Would observing such an act cleanse you of your pain?

We know that a person can be sent to prison for life and never be released. Would a person being in prison forever ease your pain?Would their ultimate death behind bars finally allow you to find peace?

Do any of these scenarios reduce the pain suffered by the families? Do they make the situation better? More bearable? I don’t think they do. I’m sure that having the offender in prison gives some comfort but I don’t think it brings release from hurt.

Whether you like it or not, Roberts has been released. A 78 year old man has served 48 years  (longer than I have been alive) for the murder of police officers. What difference will this make to my life? None at all. I’m somewhat shocked at the statement by Steve White about ‘getting away with it’. We hear a lot of talk that people who are given a police caution are getting away with it. I’m really stumped at how 48 years in prison can be seen as such? If this is getting away with it what would be suitable? I’m sure the response to that will be life means life. I’d agree. I think if life imprisonment without chance of release makes legislation then so be it. Until then we have to live with the system we have, no matter how unpalatable it may be to some of us. Getting angry about the promise of legislation promised but yet to come and applying it to a 48 year old case is absurd.

The crux of this matter is that Roberts appeared before a court, was sentenced and has seen that sentence through with an additional 18 years on top. That justice system, removed from the emotion of being too close to the offence, has now deemed him fit for release and have done so. My immediate thought? So what!

The tragedy of the loss cannot be underestimated but what needs are satisfied by keeping him inside after all this time? I have only seen anger and hurt. It seems to me that in trying to hurt him we actually hurt ourselves. Revenge imprisons us.. forgiveness sets us free. How can anyone move forward whilst holding bitterness, hatred and revenge within them? A toxic mix of emotions that destroys the person you are and who you can be. It’s like having a tumour inside you and instead of treating it you hold onto it and allow it to define you.

Some may ask if I would feel the same way about the man who killed my friend. Some may ask if I would feel the same about the man who killed Nicola and Fiona. The answer is yes. Would our loved ones want us to remain static. Would they want us to remain angry, bitter and vengeful for 30, 40, 50 years or would they say.. “Move on. Be as happy as you can be. Don’t let this tragedy define who you are”. I hope and pray that nothing ever happens to me when I’m on duty but if it did… please show this to my wife. Tell her to be happy.. life is far too short.

I understand my view here is contrary to popular opinion and I do not post my thoughts with any intention to offend, upset or hurt anyone. I just feel strongly about being able to ‘Let it Go’. Free yourself.

By forgiving those who hurt us we are not letting them off the hook; we are in effect letting ourselves off the hook.

#pfewconf14

Just a few brief lines. More may follow later.

The Police Federation is in a state of turmoil. It has been beset with all sorts of problems both at Leatherhead and by some of the branches and the membership is disillusioned. The government has dug a grave for the federation and is now trying to shove them into it.

Today is always the most popular day of the annual conference. The keynote addresses by the federation chair and the Home Secretary.  With the federation in the doldrums what was needed today was inspiration. What was needed today was dynamic motivation. What was needed today was an address from Steve Williams that rallied the membership to the organisation. An address that united us in the one belief that we can succeed, we can reform and we can do it ourselves as professional police officers.

What we got was an uninspiring lack lustre performance. It did nothing to motivate and encourage. It spoke of, notwithstanding popular media opinion, how great the federation is. It used the remarkable acts of humble bravery by police officers to illustrate how good the police in this country are. It was dull, Dull, DULL!

The Home Secretary on the other hand attacked the police with vitriol. She tore a strip off every police officer in this country and then stamped it into the ground. Was she unprofessional? Yes. Was she demoralising? Yes. Was she rude? Yes.  Her tone of voice was one of complete anger and hate. She almost growled at some points!

As I look back on the two speeches I only see one thing. The federation kneeled down, put its head on the block and Theresa May as the grand executioner obligingly chopped it off.

May’s keynote is♭

Today was the top of bill day for the Police Federation National Conference in Bournemouth. This was the day that the keynote addresses were given by the Federation Chair Mr Paul McKeever and the current Home Secretary Mrs Theresa May.

The Federation have been streaming the conference via the main website. This gives many of us who don’t have the opportunity to attend a chance to see the events without being edited by TV companies or interrupted by adverts.

The address started with a moving depiction of officers that we have lost recently accompanied by Elgar’s Nimrod from the Enigma Variations. A thoroughly moving and beautiful piece of music.

Paul McKeever then addressed the conference with his keynote speech. Last year I sat and watched his speech in awe. He made a tremendous impact and spoke with passion, commitment and without notes for 45 minutes. He left himself a tall order to better that this year. He DID. This year he addressed the conference, again without notes and in a manner that befits a true leader; with determination, confidence and aplomb. A written record of todays address can be read in pdf on the Police Federation Website. I have no doubt that it will be online in video format in due course.

Home Secretary, you should know by now, if you want to speak to politicians, speak to ACPO. If you want to speak to the voice of the service, then speak to us.

Paul continued to outline the cuts to the service and the privatisation of policing functions in some forces. He then ran part of the comedy sketch featuring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

Paul concluded with the claims made last year and what had come to pass.

‘Home Secretary, we warned you about the riots and you said we were scaremongering.
We warned you that a 20% budget cut would damage the front line and were told we were wrong.

Paul proved himself, yet again, to be a skilled orator. In a mark of respect for his authoritative and exemplary performance the conference delegates gave him a standing ovation.

The Home Secretary Theresa May then gave her address. She began by remembering fallen officers and paid tribute to PC David Rathband. I found myself thinking she would probably be damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. However, I did get the feeling it was a feeble attempt to try and gain some good will. It didn’t work. She then reminded us that we are the finest police service in the world but quickly moved to the financial crisis and that all areas have to face cuts. She outlined our pay freeze, our pension increases and compared them to all other public sector areas. She then, completely forgetting all the policing reforms and cuts to officer numbers and Winsor by telling the conference that in not so many words.. we didn’t know how good we had it.

Let’s forget that the police are being picked on

As you can imagine this didn’t go down too well. She then reiterated the same party line that has been coming out of the Home Office for longer than I can recall. She also left us in no doubt about industrial rights by stating that the right to strike “is not on the table.”

She continued in her address to compare the police to other public sectors and focussed mostly on the pay issues. She also raised the new professional body she wishes to introduce and also told of the changes to police work to reduce bureaucracy, lessen paperwork and afford officers more time on the streets fighting crime.

It was rather odd that she also talked of giving charging decisions back to the police and quoted shoplifting. I was a little puzzled at this statement because I have been charging shoplifters for quite some time now with a ratio of about 75% by me and 25% by the CPS. She also cited conditional cautions as something new. These have been in place for quite some time too. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she also announced the building of a new super fast road and it would be called the M1.

She also referenced how much time police waste with dealing with mental health cases. She informed conference that this would change. Mental health people under s136 should not be in custody as a place of safety. She went on to say that such cases should go to hospital and police involvement was unnecessary unless resistance was being offered. It did not pass me by or the delegates that this is why we have to get involved now.

The address was read word for word from a prepared report she held on the lectern. Her voice showed nerves on several occasions and she was clearly uncomfortable. Compared to Mr McKeever she appeared to be a rank outsider, not the holder of one of the most powerful political offices in the country. The delegates rewarded her address in the same light as last year… total silence.

The question and answer session followed. I will not go into full detail as there is just too much to cover. I hope that the whole Q&A session will be online soon. There was just one moment though that cannot go without mention. Every question from the floor was directed to the Home Secretary but there came an opportunity for Paul to speak when the independence of Tom Winsor was raised. Paul asked the people who believed the report to be independent to raise their hands. Not a hand was raised and Mr McKeever was very quick to point out that Mrs May didn’t have her hand up either. Gales of laughter followed whilst Mrs Mays face turned to that “bulldog chewing a wasp” grimace we have come to expect at conference.

Mrs May made some foolish comments and avoided questions and so found herself being mildly criticised and jeered by the delegates. Her whole demeanour was one of anger and she was clearly rattled by this treatment. I was slightly disappointed by this response but what it shows is how ANGRY police officers are about what she is doing. As such I can sympathise with why it happened. I was shouting at the laptop myself! In typical fashion the governments “independent” thinktanker Blair Gibbs decided to tweet;

Politicians know Police Fed Conf has become an annual charade: opposition yes, occasional abuse but never open ridicule like this #pfew2012

Yet again Blair shows his colours and who his masters are. As per the norm he came for some criticism of his tweet but failed to respond to any questions. His behaviour is akin to a school child who opens the door of a classroom, shouts abuse at the teacher inside and then legs it. I pointed out to Mr Gibbs that the jeering and ridicule the Home Secretary was subject to was considerably less than the risible crowd our MP’s are in the House Of Commons. Have a look at this Mr Gibbs

Maybe you need to think again.. to my mind the delegates at the conference showed considerable restraint!

Of the two closing remarks Mrs May said;

You are the best police force in the world and I will deliver reforms to enable you to continue to be that

In fairness I preferred what Paul McKeever said;

You are the finest police service in the world. I am proud to represent you

For me Paul.. I’m glad you’re there and I’m proud you are leading us through this nightmare.