Tag Archives: partners

Pushing the Buttons

What does the image below mean to you?

men-women-on-off-switch

If it’s not entirely obvious….

It’s about the difference between turning on a man and turning on a woman. Blokes are apparently relatively straightforward. [one click]. The ladies on the other hand need a combination of a number of factors all in sync before the magic happens. Switch A on, knob B at position 2 but only if dial 4 is at 50% and so on….

Before I get into territory that will have people yelling at me.. hit the pause button. That’s not what this blog is about. It’s about obtaining a reaction.

It was once very easy to obtain a reaction from the police. You simply called us up and we came. In other words the police were like the ‘man switch’ on the image above. We might not have attended straight away but we would come.. eventually. Even when I joined 20+ years ago we didn’t always come straight away. Many times I found myself apologising to someone for how long it had taken us to get to them. Over the years things have changed.

House alarms. We always went. Just a quick check over to ensure all was secure, contact the key holder if we had one and sympathise with the neighbours facing the noise. These days we don’t go. We only attend if there are additional factors reported. e.g The alarm is ringing and the door is wide open, or a strange man is in the back garden. Unless of course you have lots of money and have a monitored alarm.. then we come. (The contradiction of the latter annoys me and may form another blog about equality of service.)

If your shed has been broken into, your lawnmower stolen and nothing seen we are unlikely to come. We may send the forensic team if we think an opportunity to recover evidence is there. Otherwise we may not come at all.  I won’t go into a long list of incidents that we will not ordinarily attend. Suffice to say that times have changed. It’s not totally black and white. A particularly vulnerable or upset victim may well get a visit over someone who just wants a crime number. It becomes clear that we have moved from the man switch to the multitudinous buttons, knobs and dials of the woman model.

So the police have changed how we react to incidents. You could say we have streamlined in order to maximise our resources. You could say we have made it more difficult for the public to get to see us? Either way and whichever take you agree with there is, as our numbers reduce,  a need to be more efficient with our resources.

homer-angry-phone

The public used to expect us to simply attend.. and we did. We have changed our reaction  but my experience is that in many cases the public haven’t really changed their expectation. The amount of calls we get where the public are insistent or demand to see an officer hasn’t changed.

I have been in the control room now since the end of January and I am thoroughly enjoying my new role. It has given me the opportunity to monitor an awful lot of incoming incidents. What has become apparent is that the public are adept at ‘twiddling our knobs and pushing our buttons’. This is not something new but as we have changed the public have adapted. Members of the public who want a police patrol to attend but know we won’t come have become savvy. For a house alarm they will say ‘there is a suspicious person on the corner’ or ‘I think I saw someone on the flat roof’ or ‘I know they are on holiday and I can hear banging’. To be fair sometimes this is perfectly genuine and we should respond. Other times though it can be a manufactured response. A report of youths being a nuisance at a play area in the park will engender a response but not immediately. If the caller also says ‘One of them is waving something around. I can’t be sure but it might be a knife’ then suddenly the risk increases and we pull out all the stops to get there.

The difficulty is how to sort the wheat from the chaff. How do we differentiate between the genuine call and the manufactured call? Local intelligence and repeat callers helps but in reality our buttons have been pushed and we are coming. The net result is that the demand on the resources is not reduced.

Yet there is another factor now coming into play that I hadn’t noticed before. We have become smarter about how we respond to incidents and when dealing with partners we often throw questions back at them such as ‘What have you done to resolve this?’ We now try to deal with it from a ‘how can we support you’ position rather than ‘what do you want us to do for you?’

Mental health is a good example. The demand on resources for mental health, concerns for welfare/safety and missing from homes is not reducing. We regularly challenge partners on what they plan to do. They cannot simply report it to us, sit back and wait for us to solve for them. They have ownership too. With the help of Insp Michael Brown (aka @mentalhealthcop) we have become much wiser on mental health law and protocols. Where we once would have simply just responded to a request to accompany an AMHP to see a patient for a possible section we now challenge it. Where we would simply have attended at a hospital to help the staff administer medication we now question the need. We consider our powers more carefully, demand cooperation and teamwork and challenge their approach (e.g. informal attendance at an address to section someone over a s135 warrant).

This has had some positive outcomes but in between the successes are some incidents where our partners are starting to demonstrate the same behaviour as some of the public. They are pushing our buttons and presenting the right ‘key’ words in order to engender a response. We recently refused to assist with a mental health case without a warrant. All the RAVE factors were present, the known risks were obvious and a warrant was the best option to ensure the safety of all and we acted within our powers. The MH team decided they did not like this, attended at the address on their own and then called us saying the patient was aggressive and they needed back up. Irresponsible? I would say so.

The traditional 5 o’clock call on Friday afternoon about a concern for welfare of a vulnerable person is proliferated with all the key words that mean we cannot simply ignore it. As those staff head for home we are left to find the vulnerable alcoholic person with suicidal thoughts, mental health problems, cannot be trusted anywhere near children, has not taken their meds and as such can lead to highly unpredictable behaviour. All the issues that person had at 8am that morning when the staff came on duty.

The police are adjusting how we respond to demand. In many cases this will work. The vast bulk of the public understand we are under pressure and accept, maybe begrudgingly, that times have changed. Others however are ready to manipulate the circumstances just enough to get the outcome they want. To exacerbate our problems I now see this filtering into the behaviour of some of our partners. This is not about avoiding jobs. It’s about working efficiently and cutting out waste.

Unless the expectation the public and our partners have of the police changes then the demand on our resources will not reduce. We can present them with a myriad of buttons, dials, switches and knobs to obtain a reaction and they will simply push every one until they get it.

 

Partners… not in my book.

How do the police get a prisoner to court? There are two ways.

  • Bail them
  • Remand them

In the first scenario the person is released from custody. They are given a date and time to appear before the court and must do so. They are on their own recognizance and failure to appear will often lead to a warrant for their arrest. In the second case the we have decided that the offence is too serious to release the person. We may also be concerned that the person may commit further offences, fail to attend court and in some cases it may be necessary for their own safety. A remanded person is held in police cells until the next court sitting. They are then transported to the local court. The court may, in some cases, be linked to the police station and prisoners can be passed from police to court cell staff by a secure corridor. As more forces move toward larger custody facilities they tend to be remote from the courts. It is important to remember that court cell staff are not police. They are private contractors such as G4S, Reliance and GeoAmey. The word thrown around when talking of such companies is “partners”. If the court and police station are not linked then transport vehicles, commonly G4S_2713281bknown as “sweatboxes”, will come to police custody collect the prisoners and move them to court. Again these vehicles are provided by our partners. In some forces the number of prisoner movements to court has been reduced by the introduction of video courts. This is a process where the court itself and a dedicated “court room” at police custody are linked by video. The court will conduct its business as usual and the suspect can be miles away. The court and prisoner can see and hear one another by way of several cameras, microphones and large TV screens. However, even with the introduction of VEC around the country there is still the need for movement of remand prisoners for other areas. A VEC cannot hear cases for other force areas/counties. There are also some categories of prisoner (violent, juvenile, needing an interpreter) that cannot be placed on VEC. As such our partners, through the PECS contracts still need to move prisoners around force areas, regions and nationally. This was traditionally a job that the police used to do ourselves. We would move our own prisoners to court and had a transport infrastructure to make that happen. If a national movement was needed then the ‘owning’ force would collect. As an example; if the Met arrested a person wanted on warrant for a Lancashire court then the Met would tell Lancs and they would go and collect the prisoner. These days the Met would inform their PECS contract holder and they would move the person direct to court in Lancashire. This all makes sense. Using ‘partners’ keeps the police in their local area doing police work and not ferrying prisoners around the country. Apparently it also saves the government money. There are different PECS contract holders and they all operate much in the same way with minor differences. They are not without issue though. The same suspects appear every time, Serco, G4S, GeoAmey etc and the contracts are not without problems. The issue I have is with the term ‘partners’. The Oxford dictionary says; Partner (noun) a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or firm with shared risks and profits The PECS contract holders have taken part in an undertaking with us as a business. That all fits. The police are not in the business of making profits so we can ignore that bit. So what about ‘shared risks’? The PECS contractors are required to move people to court for the police. They will also move people from court to prison. When I’m on nights my team send an email to the PECS contract holder detailing all the detainees that need moving. They will then turn up around 8am and take them all to court. Sometimes, depending on what is needed, several vans may come to head off in different directions. Simple. Works. Sorted. Not so fast. The contracts are squeezed to their limit to be as lean as possible and maximise profits to shareholders. As a consequence it regularly falls over. Why? You can’t manage an unpredictable service with a predictable and rigid contract that has no resilience built into it. Early morning arrests on warrant that need national movements don’t get picked up. We are told they have no capacity and the arrested person stays in custody over 24hrs longer than they need to. Some national movements are so slow to happen that by the time they arrive at the destination the court has closed. Local police cells then have to lodge people overnight. A fast case processed in custody in the morning and remanded by 10am falls to the contractor to collect. They advise they have no capacity and cannot move the person. Who moves the prisoner? We do. The contract holder gets the overnight notification and hasn’t read it properly. One of the detainees is female. They have organised their fleet and sent a van based on men only. They cannot move males and females together and there is no capacity for another van. Who moves the prisoner? We do. They are our partners. They share the risk. Well maybe on paper they do but when push come to shove the police pick up the pieces of their failings. Worse is that our one way partners seem to actually RELY on this. A ‘don’t worry the police will sort it out’ attitude pervades. Any commitment to fulfil contractual obligations is dismissed in favour of the problem being ours. Whilst partners help one another with the unexpected, this happens almost every single day. We are a bolt on to ensure their contract works. Partners? The contract is inefficient and not fit for purpose yet the Government is committed to this partnership with private sectors and wants to save money. A couple of days ago one of our motorway patrols arrested a man on warrant. It was a minor offence but he had failed to attend court. He was driven to our custody suite and booked in. The court wanting him was 160 miles away. The PECS contractors came and collected him. Two staff in a large van with low MPG compared to a suitable car or smaller van drove him 160 miles to court. Most likely to appear, get a fine and be released. The contractors then had to drive 160 miles back to base. Wasteful? I’d say so. Is it time for the courts to change tack on how they deal with cases like this? Should the person be put before the court in the area they were arrested like breach of bail? It would save a pile of money as these movements are happening all over the country and every day. Often with one person on the van. With the advent of VEC there is potential given the right technology and coordination to put that warrant on a video link not to the local court but to the one 160 miles away. That would save everyone time and money. Many local courts would say “We can’t hear that case. We don’t have the file, it’s not our jurisdiction and who would pay?” Nothing that can’t be solved with a bit of intelligent management. After all the law is the same across the country and the sentencing guidelines are the same too. We talk about saving money and at the minute it’s biting into every area of policing. No department is exempt. We are losing officers and staff whilst most forces have gone into overdrive recruiting Special Constables.. (though they are not a replacement we are told). Pay, pensions and conditions are all getting a trouncing, morale is as low as I’ve ever seen it and officers are overstretched and stressed. Yet right under our noses the government are implementing contracts with ‘partners’, worth £millions, that are haemorrhaging money. When they fall down we pick up the pieces and are relied upon to do so.. when are the police going to say.. “I’m sorry but we just don’t have the capacity to deal with that” … lets face it. Our ‘partners’ do this all the time.