Economies of Fail – Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the costs of cuts to frontline Police numbers and how we are having to spend the best part of £2m on overtime for officers to get the essentials done at the end of their shift because there just isn’t time throughout the day.

A major factor in the current workload is that to a greater degree Police are still picking up the baton for many situations where our responsibilities are nothing more than a distant echo of more affluent times – the times when we had enough boots on the ground to stop the kids kicking their football against your wall or ask the neighbours to turn their music down.

Times have changed. Policing has changed. Responsibilities have been re-assessed but the general public still live in a rose-tinted vision of how things used to be.

In order to cope with the core business Police forces have had to take a metaphorical axe to the list of incidents that we will attend in the new world and the customers don’t like it….

Noisy neighbours:
If your neighbours are playing their music too loud that’s a matter for the council and EHO. You can ask, but we may well never get there. I know that this is ASB and that Police have some powers regarding long-term issues but we just can’t prioritise this above serious crime in progress in the majority of cases.

Parking complaints:
Most Police forces now have no ability to deal with double yellow lines or carriageway obstructions. These are again the responsibility of your local council.

Concern for Safety:
Could you just go and check on my friend who hasn’t answered their phone for a day or so? Sorry – unless there is something to suggest that life is at risk it’s probably going to be a no. You would be amazed at the number of calls we get from people who are so concerned about a friend or relative that they haven’t managed to find the time to go to their house (even if its only a couple of miles away) but think that the Police will drop everything and rush round immediately. In years gone by we may have had the resources to do this, but not now – it’s just not going to happen. Sorry!

Alarms:
Lots of people still call the Police to let us know that their neighbours alarm is going off. This is not unreasonable, but unless the alarm is installed/monitored by a company who are contracted to notify the Police and have satisfied the criteria which is required for a Police response or there is something directly suggesting that there is an intruder on the premises then we probably will not attend. By all means call, but don’t be surprised if that is the end of the matter.
Most alarms will go silent in 20 minutes so you shouldn’t have to wait long for peace and quiet to be restored…

Social Services:
Things have improved significantly over the last couple of years, but there are still occasional Friday afternoon phone calls about children that suddenly become more at risk because their case worker is off all weekend and it wasn’t urgent enough while there was a ‘tomorrow’ on the to-do list.

Mental Health:
We are NOT trained in dealing with, understanding the issues involved in, or taking physical control of those with a mental health issue. These matters still get passed to Police on a daily basis when they should be going straight to the medical professionals equipped to deal with them. We won’t put the mentally ill in our caged vans – they are not criminals. We shouldn’t be putting people on a section (136MHA or otherwise) into our custody suites. And we should not be used to drag a reluctant (but not violent) person from their home just because they have been assessed under the Mental Capacity Act and found to be in need of enforced care.
Police work on a pain and compliance basis for controlling people – this is not acceptable as a method of moving someone who is simply unwell.

Sick and Injured:
It’s still a source of amazement to me how many times someone calls the police to report what can only be considered a medical issue. If there is a real chance of someone dying then Police will assist a medical response to force entry or ensure the safety of an Ambulance crew, but we carry barely enough first aid kit to deal with minor cuts and have very basic first aid knowledge. All that happens is that you call us, we call Ambulance and time is wasted. If it’s not criminal then you need the boys and girls in the green jumpsuits – not a copper in a stab vest.

Accidents:
If no one is injured and the road is not blocked you do not need to call the Police. Exchange your details or just get the registration number of the other car and go to your insurer to deal with the claim. Even if you want to tell someone there and then that it was not your fault, we are not going to come. We cannot provide evidence of liability for a minor accident that we have not witnessed so please do not ask.

Lost property:
If you lose your phone (aka Can I have a crime number because my iPhone got stolen from my coat while I was really drunk but I didn’t see anyone take it and I did fall over a lot – ooh is there a new model just being released? I didn’t realise…) then most Police forces offer online reporting for this. You don’t even need to call!

Lost people:
If you are a grown-up, have gone out drinking for the night and then found yourself at the wrong end of town having spent your taxi money on one last Jägerbomb then please don’t call with some sob story or demand that we pick you up as you ‘pay our wages’ and it will be our fault if you ‘end up getting mugged’. Grown-ups who are big enough to go out on the lash should also be bog enough to plan their post drinking transport. You will not be getting a blue light taxi…

Minor crime – not in progress or indicating life at risk:
Again, many forces offer online reporting for this type of incident. Minor damage, low-level theft and other incidents that aren’t in progress or don’t present a realistic chance of locating an offender can all be reported and will receive a response in due course according to the type of incident being reported and the force area you are in.

This list is far from exhaustive but covers the main incidents that generate calls for service where no response is normally given.

In the olden days things were different and we usually had enough time and enough officers to get to them, and to do so with a degree of efficiency. If something minor happened, you could always just pop down to the local Police Station or knock on the door of your village Police house and speak to someone there. Not any more. Those days are gone and will probably never return. We can no longer justify sending an officer to a non-emergency call in most cases – most of the time we struggle to get to the serious stuff in sufficient time or numbers to do the job the way we would like!

This is the new world and it’s still evolving. Further cuts are being enforced this year and payroll is about the only thing left to absorb the latest round of financial reductions. I can’t see what else can be chopped from the list of stuff we do so any further reductions will do nothing but further slow the response of officers to the things we struggle to get to already.

 


Economies of Fail – Part 1

Talking about how things really are within the Policing machine has always been a bit of a taboo subject. ‘Public confidence’ was always the phrase rolled out by the senior management whenever things got a little difficult and it seemed there was a degree of discontent within the rank and file. Woe betide any officer who posted their concerns in a public forum or explained the real reason it took three hours to get to a domestic dispute…

Recently though, things have finally got to the point where people need to know what is happening as the alternative is simply an unexplained absence which is even more damaging to that magical confidence percentage figure than a few grumpy cops ranting on Facebook about how they were off late again last night.

In particular a number of Police Federations have released written and, even more dramatically, video messages into the public domain to try to illustrate how thin the blue line is getting. Continue reading


That’s just the way it is…

Remember speaking to the old lamp-swinger at your station about how things ‘used to be’…

We all had one – the 25 year plus bobby who still had a cape stashed in his locker alongside the paperwork that really should have been shredded years ago. They regaled us with tales of days gone by – when Policing was valued by public and politicians alike. The ‘olden days’ when we actually chased the baddies (albeit in a Rover P1) and justice was administered just as robustly by parents as it was by the courts.

15 years used to be the qualifier for something to be classed as old school as that was the pace things changed back then. But as time rolled by, the speed at which the wheel revolved increased and our ability to do things properly gradually started to evaporate.

What is Policing going to look like in 10 years time used to be the canteen topic. Now though we don’t even know where we will be in 18 months time.

It’s certainly looking up for the bad guys. With the latest news from NPAS (National Police Air Service) indicating that a 14% reduction in budget will result in the loss of four helicopters from a fleet of twenty-three and the closure of ten bases. The choppers are to be replaced by fixed wing aircraft operating from Elstree and East Midlands Airport.

Ch Supt Ian Whitehouse put a beautifully ‘on message’ spin about improvements to efficiency and effectiveness on the situation, but we can all read between the lines. Less appropriate aircraft + longer eta = more baddies get away. Continue reading


The Unwilling Victims

I have read much about the failings of Police on a national scale where youngsters at risk of harm have not been adequately protected. There is, no doubt, some truth to these stories in a small number of cases. But there are also those that find themselves being a headline despite the repeated efforts of Police, Social Services and other agencies on a large number of occasions.

I am sure that anyone in the job that is reading this can reel off at least three or four 11 to 18 year old kids, living in non-secure accommodation in our towns and cities that disappear on a weekly, if not daily, basis. The homes have no powers to keep them, and in many instances the Police have no power to return them.

We all know that these youngsters are particularly vulnerable to harm – from alcohol, drugs and sexual exploitation – but what can be done to remove those risks. With some there is a chance to stop the cycle, but with many there is simply no will to change. You could offer these kids any incentive on earth, but they will still disappear out the door (or window) at half ten at night and meet up with their mates down the precinct for a game of cat and mouse with the local response team.

Its tragic to have to acknowledge it, but the values that existed when those who are banging the drums in parliament are gone. The opinion of many is that we are just not trying to engage with these lost souls. If the media is to be believed they have just been abandoned to an inevitable fate.

That is simply not true Continue reading


It’s Not Just the Met: Deployment Policy Swamps Resources

Thanks to Ademan for his up front and honest appraisal of the current situation in MetPol – his blog published earlier today has already generated some interesting responses. The overwhelming majority of which are entirely in agreement with the case he presents

It’s not just the Met though…

Many miles from the bright lights of London the same issues present themselves on a daily basis. The last couple of weeks and the month or so to come present some of the most dangerous times for Policing resilience. Throughout the six weeks of the summer holiday season both ends of the fuse burn brighter and faster than at any other time of the year.

At one end of the fuse, countless families are spending more time with each other than normal. School is out which means the kids are permanently at home. For those with jobs this is the time when the need for parents to take time off from work arises. The stress and strain of relentless parenting coupled with the endless need for the kids to find new and exciting ways of entertaining themselves creates a much higher demand on the 999 and non-emergency lines. Nuisance, ASB and domestic calls during the recent spell of actual summer weather represented an overwhelming majority of the deployments, and were up to 40% higher than average over the previous three months in respect of domestics and as much as 300% higher for ASB.

At the other end, both the Call Handling and Frontline elements of the Policing machine are simultaneously decimated by the need for leave (if that’s allows this year) and the lack of resources created by it. When combined with the increase in workload the issue is magnified by a further factor of two and quickly becomes unmanageable.

BANG!

The points that Ademan raise come sharply into focus as the deployment list grows by the minute. The arguments about whether to send an officer or not can be heard across the district – Sergeants and Dispatchers have blunt discussions over the phone about the latest Facebook slanging match. It may well be that it has now ticked too many boxes to be written off because one 15 year-old has made a technical ‘threat to kill’ against an other but it still doesn’t mean there is anyone to go!

The Ambulance Service are in a similar boat – hypothetically speaking. Their resources seem to be thinner on the ground than ever too. One day last month officers ended up dealing with two cardiac arrests in one day after being asked to back up an ambulance that had never been dispatched. The knock on effect being that for the equivalent of an entire 10 hour shift, two of the 12 officers covering the division were stood helplessly in A&E just in case their patient didn’t pull through.

The next day arrives and a new batch of officers start their tour of duty. They all have a crime account that is full to overflowing already, but through no fault of their own they all need to take on at least four extra jobs from the list of ‘stuff we never got around to’ yesterday – affectionately known as the ‘shit list’ amongst my team.
These are mostly the non-life-threatening jobs that are also the most complaint-worthy. They have festered and fermented for anything from three up to eighteen hours as there simply hasn’t been anyone available to go and now someone who wasn’t even on duty at the time has to pick up the pieces and take all the flack.

It’s like a three-tier wedding cake of failure:

Tier One is the call handling section. There are a number of issues here but for once, resourcing (although there is always a degree of making do) is not generally one of them. It is the smallest, yet in many respects the most critical, layer.
The issue here is making good and robust policy that allows the right decision to be made at the outset. We go to too much stuff that is not Policing related. We should not have to go and get your child from a mates house as he is refusing to come home. We should not be going to the 50-year-old who has fallen over just because he said ‘Boo’ to an ambulance technician once and now has an ‘aggression’ marker against him. We should not be checking on the children in a house because the Social Services team have phoned them all day with no success and now have no time to go because it’s half past three on a Friday. These jobs are the beginning of the problem and are compounded as they get further down the line.

Tier Two is the middle management on the ground – The sponge layer in the cake. Sergeants in charge of a shift have to come in to work every day and spend their entire shift batting off rubbish jobs, allocating out the rubbish jobs that got through the filter from tier one and dealing with the fallout from the fact that we are not getting to or being able to deal effectively with the jobs we already have. It’s a job I have done in a temporary capacity on a number of occasions and it can be hateful.
Once a job has been accepted into the system from call handling it becomes almost impossible to get rid of without satisfying everyone that it has been comprehensively investigated – regardless of whether this is warranted or not. Phone calls are made, options are discussed and more often than not the person who was promised a Police attendance by the call handler will insist on nothing less than that. The job ends up qualifying for Tier Three.

Tier Three is the officer. The brandy soaked heavy fruit cake base holding everything else up. If a job has come to you then there is virtually no option but to accept it into the list of outstanding investigations you already have on your account. At one point recently I had over 30 crimes on my account – through no fault of anyone including me. With that amount of active investigation there is no way that anything effective can be done with any of them without neglecting some of the others to some extent. The result is that officers end up being ineffective at investigating many crimes rather than effectively dealing with a few. It’s completely counter-productive.
I believe that if I concentrated solely on one crime a day, and had no distractions or other calls, I could almost guarantee to get that job boxed off and filed. This would represent good service for that victim and an effective use of time. Unfortunately this would mean that the crime at the bottom of the list would have to wait a month for any action and would not allow me to keep up with the growth of my account – typically two or three lengthy investigations per day. It would also, of course, mean I could not go out to any of the jobs that were being passed over the radio either.

So, in a roundabout way this brings us back to the solution proposed at by Ademan. The mesh needs to be tighter at the top of the sieve. The writing on my uniform says Police. It does not say Ambulance or Pseudo Parent or Social Worker.

Let us get on with doing our job – if we just had to worry about getting that bit right the public might see that we are actually quite good at it!


Guest Blog: The MPS Local Policing Model – Ademan Deloya

The Local Policing Model, the Metropolitan Police Service’s new way of doing everything, is in place across most of London now and, more or less exactly as many people predicted (including me, here: http://wp.me/p2T48h-y), it is failing. Unfortunately, all of the fine ideas and clever acronyms and gloriously proliferated layers of management and supervision are balanced on the shoulders of not even nearly enough officers actually doing the work that matters: answering calls and investigating crimes. Response teams can be relied upon to run out of units within an hour or two of the start of a late turn (the busiest shifts), because the system is not built with any tolerance to cope with a single major incident, or even a moderately warm Saturday. Call handling target times are being missed, and morale has fallen off a cliff.

Already, senior management types are fiddling with the system. Plans such as having a few night duty officers come in early to cover the handover periods are, I’m told, in the offing, but this will not deal with the real problem. The handover period is not the issue; the whole shift is the issue. There are not enough police officers available to deal with the amount of work that is there to be done. No amount of card-shuffling is going to alter that fact. Quite aside from which, what are these non-core officers going to be driving? A couple of those spare cars we keep hanging around the nick? Yeah, right. If it’s there and it’s even nearly roadworthy, it’s already being used.

Now, I have not had my head under a rock for the past five years. I, like everyone else in the service, am acutely aware that we are not likely to get our ranks swelled any time soon. So we have to find another way of solving this problem. It seems a matter of simple mathematics to me that, if there is too much work for the number of people doing it, and you can’t increase the number of people doing it, you have to reduce the amount of work being done. In this case, the only pragmatic way of doing that is by reversing the seemingly irresistible blossoming of our remit. Most of the time it is perfectly possible to determine at the call-handling stage what is likely to require a police presence and what is not. Unfortunately, the culture recently has been one of “send a unit, just in case”. This seems like logic, looked at only on a case-by-case basis. It always seems preferable to send a unit than not to, in case it kicks off. But the cumulative effect of all of these individual decisions is the drip-drip-drip of mission creep, and it swamps the service. Officers spend so much of their time dealing with every argument, landlord-tenant dispute, civil dispute and neighbourly-bout-of-mutual-toy-hurling that genuine victims of genuine crimes too often get lost in the shuffle.

We do not help ourselves, either, by taking it upon ourselves to be the “service of last resort” for every other public service. In the odd whimsical moment, I toy with the idea of sending an outstanding call – let’s say a domestic – across to the London Ambulance Service, and saying “We have no units to deal at present, can you please attend this call, assess the scene, and let us know if we need to send a unit, and then wait there for our arrival?” Just to see what they’d say. I suspect I would be answered with a richly deserved invitation to jog on. And yet when the reverse happens, we routinely go. Send a unit, just in case. A man’s fallen over in the street? A ten-year old child won’t stop throwing things around the house? The landlord won’t fix the washing machine? Send a unit, just in case. It has to stop. Budget cuts are affecting everyone. But we allow the staffing problems of our partner agencies to become our staffing problems, because we do not seem to employ anyone with the courage to say “No, that is not a police matter, we barely have enough people to do our own work, we cannot do yours for you,” and we certainly do not employ anyone with the courage to say “We are not here to sort out all your problems for you, I’m sure your landlord is perfectly horrid but it is absolutely none of our business.”

If we could manage this, as a pleasant bonus, we might even find morale improving. I, like many others in this job, did not become a police officer because I woke up one morning with a burning desire to be a cross between a social worker, a relationship counsellor, an Approved Mental Health Professional and a paramedic. Police officers, at heart, want to deal with crime. An honest, public conversation needs to be had at the highest levels, on the subject of what we are entitled to expect from our police services, given the resources that we intend to devote to them. A refocusing of police resources back towards what Peel had in mind might give the police enough time to do their core business properly, and might even reinvigorate a tired, cynical workforce. The alternative, our current course of playing financial Jenga with the police, married to the culture of “send a unit, just in case”, leaves us sleepwalking towards disaster.

Ademan Deloya’s blog can be found at http://ademandeloya.wordpress.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at @AdemanDeloya


Abigail…

This post is not about Policing

This post is not about the governments latest policy decision

This post is not about me…or you

This post is about Abigail

At about quarter to five the radio breathed…that unmistakable audible intake of breath from the radio operator that always comes before a job.

I was tired – very tired. I had completely failed to sleep after the previous night and had pulled into a side road to watch the traffic for a bit. To be honest I was probably starting to drift off – we have all been there – awake enough to hear the radio, but offline enough to recharge the batteries for a few minutes.

The call was to my Sgt – asking him to make himself available for a phone call. This was always an ominous sign – they never phone him to tell him about a nice job. I felt an immediate reaction in my chest when five minutes later my job mobile rang. He passed me the details and we set off to an address – wide awake now and feeling sick in anticipation.

We had been asked to meet a paramedic at the end of the road and follow him on foot to the address. The walk was a silent one, despite the fact that we had both known the man ahead of us for years. Words were pointless, their absence protecting us from the reality of the situation for a few moments longer.

After a short walk we were in the address and were ushered upstairs. The silence still prevailed – although now it was deafening.

On the bed in front of us was a mother and her child. She cradled it in her arms as her husband walked over to greet us. ‘Thanks for coming’ he said – as if we had popped over for coffee and a chat. ‘Sorry to have to drag you out at this time in the morning’

I reassured him that he didn’t need to apologise – resisting the urge to take his lead and enter into casual small talk. I knew he was in shock and that this was nothing more than a coping mechanism.

‘We have to see her’ I said, choosing the direct approach.

This is something that I have regularly done in such situations – I believe it is sometimes easier for everyone just to get to the point rather than risk skirting around it for an unlimited period of time.

‘I know’ he said and looked to his wife for a reaction. She clasped her baby tighter to her chest. The numbness gave way to a tear, then a sob, then a voice –

‘NO!’

‘Darling…’ he said.

‘NO!’ she screamed. The emotion suddenly released. ‘No No No No No NO NO!’

We stood and we waited. Silent. Unwanted intruders in a moment of horrific intimacy.

After what seemed like hours, but was in truth only a few minutes, her arms slowly relaxed and she released the child to her husband. He walked across the room and placed her in her gently in her crib before silently walking back to his sobbing wife, now collapsed on the bed.

I checked the tiny body, still disturbingly warm, with the paramedic. He quietly gave us his assessment of what had happened. It appears that after a string of restless nights, mum had decided to move Abigail into her bed to make it easier to feed her. Her husband had been sleeping in the spare room to make sure that there was plenty of space. Tragically, during one of the early morning feeds, mum had been overcome with tiredness and fallen asleep. The slight movement of her body relaxing had been enough for her breast tissue to obstruct the baby’s nose as it fed. Silently suffocating her child as she dozed.

She may have only nodded off for about ten minutes, but by the time she came around it was too late. Her world was destroyed and her future changed incomprehensibly.

I walked downstairs to meet the Sgt and tell him what I knew. We were soon joined by the husband who was back into talkative denial. ‘Can I get you a cup of tea or a sandwich? Although the bread isn’t too fresh’ he said.

We politely declined before moving outside. Decisions were made bedding was seized and arrangements were put in place for messages to be passed to nearby family members. Eventually it was time for Abigail to leave home for the last time.

‘Do you want her car seat?’ said dad.

A lifetime seemed to pass before he realised what he had said and was immediately hit with another massive dose of reality. On some level I was pleased to be able to leave at that point – yet on some level I wanted to stay. I wanted to make things right again…but that was never going to be possible.

*************************

When I went to work that night, all was well in my world. When I went to work that night, all was well in hers too.

By the time I came home from work the next morning – everything had changed.

I kept thinking about that little doze that had crept up on me in the car. The same little doze that crept up on Abigail’s mum. I actually felt a little guilty that it had been so harmless to me, but so devastating elsewhere.

Abigail was loved by everyone in her family, by her parents, her two brothers and countless others who knew her. It is truly cruel that one decision, with absolutely no malicious intent, could have had such tragic circumstances.

Abigail had no say in her fate – she was helpless to fight it. A true innocent who will never be forgotten.


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