Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy New Year peeps!!!

Here's last years London fireworks for anyone who never saw it, for those of you working in town tonight I hope you have a view of this years, it's about the only thing that's going to be enjoyable!!

See you guys in 2009,



Sunday, 28 December 2008

Good will to all men

Christmas Eve

Busy night judging by the number of bods in custody, I spoke to a mate on the other team as I took the vehicle over, he looked completely shattered. No one had a break (as usual on nights) and they were live dealing with constant calls from early car at 6pm until we came in the following morning for 7am. There were only a couple of calls outstanding, a couple of drunks on buses refusing to get off, shop alarms going off, so we cleared them up and headed back in for briefing. They had quite a few people in custody considering it was the night before Christmas Eve.

The next couple of hours were lots of calls to alarm activations then we had the first ‘proper’ job of the morning; executing a court order to seize travel documents of a three year old whose mother was threatening to remove from the country permanently. A Judge in the high court has seen enough intelligence to determine that a child is at risk of abduction and has seen fit to order the Police to execute the court order “as a matter of extreme urgency” to seize all and any documents related to travel, but has not provided us with the intelligence pack and has only authorised a power of arrest if the officers have reasonable ground for suspecting that any person has not complied with the order.

There is no power of entry or power of search, and no information as to exactly which travel documents we are to seize. Short of someone slamming the door in our faces, we can’t really do anything other than ask ever so nicely if they wouldn’t mind handing the bits over, as we don’t know what we’re looking for.

I call the court up to check exactly which documents we are supposed to be seizing and ask a couple of reasonable questions - does the child have a passport? Where has the intel come from that the child is at the address? Is there intel that a flight has been booked or other travel arrangements have been made? The answer from the court is they don’t know anything. Not very helpful. We get no joy at the address, or with any agency related to travel documents as Christmas Eve is a discretionary day for civil servants, and they all appear to have taken it off. It’s not as if a suspected child abduction is anything serious anyway. We manage to find some other addresses as well as the court issued one and check each of them. No luck, to be honest the mother has probably taken the child already.

We all contributed to putting a buffet together so each crew on our team can get some food and we can at least experience a modicum of festive cheer in between calls to shoplifters, arguments, dippings, people getting drunk and fighting etc.

Later on we get the best example of instant karma I’ve seen for a while. A bloke trying to shoplift sprints away from security, decides to cross one of our main roads to lose them, and promptly gets gobbled up by a taxi. Thankfully the taxi driver and his passengers were unharmed, and after LAS checked the guy over and confirmed he only had minor injuries he got nicked. It turned out he was also wanted on a warrant for burglary. The warrant wasn’t backed for bail meaning we couldn’t release him and had to keep him in custody to put him for the first available court hearing.

Unfortunately for him, the first court wasn’t until the 26th. Mwah ha ha ha ha ha ha. Merry Christmas.

Christmas Day

So much for expecting to have a nice chilled day. As I walked down the corridor to get the car I walk past the front office and see a mountain of exhibits scattered around the place, loads of seized clothing and a couple of the nightshift guys sitting on the floor cataloguing everything. One of them looks up and see’s my rather puzzled face “R&B night” he says. I shake my head and ask “how many injured?” without looking up again he says “four separate GBH’s that we dealt with, one’s in a really bad way, there are a couple of scenes as well. It went pretty tits up when the clubs kicked out”.

I was surprised it was only four then his colleague said “there were a few other ABH’s but they didn’t want to know (didn’t want to make a crime complaint to Police) and LAS dealt with them”

The hospital and scene guards took up most of the morning and tied up pretty much everyone, then as yesterday there were lots of alarm calls, a couple of building searches, a couple of domestics (one was quite nasty apparently) and then lots of driving and walking around deserted side streets looking for people to search, if appropriate, obviously. We had some good vehicle stops and searches and got some good intel although we didn’t get as many bodies in compared to a normal dayshift.

We did manage to actually get a bit more proactive patrolling done than usual and the visitors with nothing else to do did seem to appreciate seeing lots of Police officers around to take photos with. Considering some Christmas days that I've spent at work, it wasn't actually that bad really.

Boxing Day

We’re standing in the back yard listening to the radio and it seems that every cock and his mate has decided to visit our patch and cause mayhem for the families out shopping and the shop staff trying eagerly to sell them everything possible. It got so bad during the day a Section 60 was authorised in the hope that some aggressive searching and Policing would discourage most of them to bugger off somewhere else. A couple of vehicles come back in for a quick handover and after the usual pleasantries and friendly insults we chuck our kit in the back and head out.

Despite having extra people on, plain clothes units out targeting steaming teams (thieves who swamp an area enmasse to cause mayhem and steal as much as possible) there are calls coming out all over the place for Police assistance to stores and from other units requesting back up. We get a couple of urgent assistance calls which ended up in several people arrested from different jobs, we also had a couple of officers injured at each one. With the majority of shops closing, the calls dropped off a bit but those who came up just to cause trouble just went to other parts and carried on. Group robberies, assaults, steaming off licences etc carried on for a bit and for the first few hours of the shift was a case of blues to a call, jumping out, throwing whomever in the van and then blatting off to the next.

It was stupid.

After the shoppers went home the calls eased off a bit as the pubs started filling up and we managed to get a brew in, it then went pear shaped again as the pubs kicked out and the clubs started filling up. We had quite a few pub fight calls with doorstaff requesting support, “innocent people assaulted by doorstaff” and units requesting backup after queue fights and ejections got continually out of hand. As the drink and Christmas cheer really got going we had a couple of nasty GBH’s and a few ABH’s involving some of the most unpleasant casualties I’ve met in a while who started the fights but failed to get the first punch in and then tied up desperately busy ambulance crews.

Another ‘victim’ was found in a bleeding heap outside a hotel, fortunately for him the first crew on scene had already dealt with him earlier on after seeing him and a couple of mates square up to a group of blokes, they circulated the description of the suspects who were picked up not far away. I can’t go into too much detail, but they had very stupidly linked themselves to the attack on the victim and we were literally in stitches as we got them out of the van.

We then spent the remainder of the shift ‘encouraging’ drunks to grow up and go home, such as the idiot who decided to step in front of the car and shake his cock at us whilst we were on blues, until he realised we were the Police and not an Ambulance, and that we were neither impressed, nor amused.

All in all, it was a rather busy and somewhat unpleasant blur, and reinforced my view on a couple of things -

1) I hate drunk people.
2) I should have booked it all off.


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Merry Christmas

If you're working, you're not the only one, just remember to keep the eyes in the back of your head wide open, especially at the seasonally festive domestics.

If you're not working then well done for convincing duties to let you have a life.

And for those readers who aren't in the job, thanks for visiting and contributing to my blog, I'll let you know next week how my joyous Christmas was spent as my crystal isn't working at the mo.

From me, to you, have a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year, I hope it's a safe one!


Saturday, 20 December 2008

Cops with cameras

As most frontline coppers do, I like to watch stuff like Road Wars and some of the other Police Camera Action type programs when I'm on my days off. It is very 'job pissed' but handy for a bit of shouting at the TV, snippets of useful procedures and techniques and a bit of a laugh at what some people do on camera, no matter what side of the criminal justice fence they operate on.

One program that got my interest was called "cops with cameras". Compared to some of the others it's not that great but the basic premise works quite well - strap a load of miked up body cams to a team of officers from different units and watch what happens.

One particular clip caught my eye, two response officers were searching for a guy with a huge knife threatening random people in the streets, they split up to search a building line and one runs into the suspect who doesn't decide to drop the knife and come quietly. Funny that. The ensuing fistfight and struggle was caught on both cams as the other officer went to help and it looked exactly the same as any other violent struggle - lots of punching, lots of screaming and shouting and not an iota of Steven Seagal-esque flawless armlocks or body throws to take down the suspect in a couple of 'nice on TV' moves.

Needless to say it didn't look particularly nice, but then anyone who as ever had to try and restrain someone who doesn't want to be restrained will tell you that violent use of force doesn't look nice. It's not supposed to.

A couple of weeks ago the Mark Aspinall video brought out the same criticism of the Police that usually happens when a routine arrest appears to go over the top. I think there are three things missing from the video which would have given a considerably clearer picture of what happened - the other 7 minutes of CCTV conveniently missing from the news stories, audio of the entire incident, and close up audio/video that would have been recorded had the officers worn cameras. Having watched the vid a couple of times, the strikes/punches were clearly Home office approved officer safety techniques to deaden a muscle group - they are aimed at the shoulder and stop when his arm goes back into the cuff. Despite the hundreds of armchair experts saying we can't use punches, we can, it's approved, trained, and used when we need it.

The only thing I would have done differently in that situation would be to pin the guys head to the pavement with both hands and all my bodyweight, exactly as I described in this post, which funnily enough says about biting - which Aspinall did. As soon as you pin the head you neutralise the use of the neck, shoulder and back muscles which makes it considerably easier to get someones arm into a cuff, which Aspinalls clearly wasn't at the time he was punched.

Last year the video of 'epilepsy sufferer' Toni Cromer caused exactly the same stir and the media was all over it with accusations of brutality, racism and victimisation after PC Mulhall used several strikes on her during a violent arrest outside a club. The story ran for a couple of days until Cromer admitted during an interview on Sky News about having drunk a bottle of Brandy, having never had an epileptic fit in her life, admitted that she did not suffer any injury inconsistent with a restraint (arm bruises and cuffbites), admitted that she had pleaded guilty to criminal damage and admitted that it had never crossed her mind to pursue an allegation of assault by the Police, despite the video being shown in court. That was until convicted racist Ruggie Johnson decided to try and make a name for himself and released the video to the press claiming racism. PC Mulhall was dragged through the mud, and worse.

After investigation the IPCC and the CPS confirmed that the use of force was completely justified and legal, PC Mulhall was exonerated. The media never gave as much coverage to this fact as they did of the original story, even after PC Mulhalls apparent suicide a year later. I cannot help but wonder if he had a camera on him, with mike, would it had prevented those allegations in the first place?

There is only so much you can describe in a statement about an arrest. Even if you go into 8-10 pages describing everything about the scene, the suspects actions, your actions, what observers did, history etc, it still doesn't show the incident as well as video footage. As they say, a picture says a thousand words, and I've always firmly believed that writing how someone was violent, aggressive and fought whilst being arrested pales into comparison when you show a video that could be an outtake from '28 Days Later'.

There are obvious limitations with CCTV such as range, coverage and lack of audio. There are also going to be occasions where an officers memory of an incident differs from the footage, especially when extreme stress, violence and adrenalin are factors in perceptual distortion, which can lead to accusations of lying. I was involved in an arrest a couple of years ago where a drunk bloke was threatening people outside a club with a knife and a broken bottle. My mate and I rushed him and ended up struggling on the floor before we managed to get him cuffed. Thinking about it right now I clearly remember being only a couple of feet away and fighting to control his arms and disarm him for several minutes before a van turned up. The CCTV however showed that we were around 15-20 feet away before we ran at him and we managed to get him disarmed and cuffed in less than a minute, and the van arrived almost immediately.

I believe that for the vast majority of arrests and incidents, an eye's and ear's view would show courts and the public what it's really like when we deal with people - specifically those who don't want to be dealt with - and how completely unrealistic many of the expectations of how we should deal with suspects actually are. Given the current problem of Police officers accounts not being believed by the media or the public (despite evidence supporting the accounts) I think that frontline officers having body worn cameras is a vital tool that we could benefit from.


Monday, 15 December 2008

Computer Says No

For some reason I can't log into my blog site (although I can get onto Blogger?!?!) through my laptop so I'm using a funky iPhone which has now convinced me to get one. When I can figure out what's going on I'll put another post on!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Please, get me out of here.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) is a piece of legislation that governs Police (and other agencies) powers to interrogate technology such as computers and mobiles for the purpose of criminal investigations, to prevent serious public disorder and to protect security interests, amongst a few other things. It was brought in for a number of reasons, mainly to legislate in anticipation of the increased use and requirement to analyse technology during investigations. I believe it was also to put some serious stops in place to prevent us nasty untrustworthy Policemen from stitching innocent people up (as we clearly always do) and just doing what we want with suspects phones, computers, email accounts etc without someone way high up the chain of command offering their head to the block if it all goes wrong. Cynical I know, but it was the Labour party who brought it in, and they're not big fans of the Police.

As a front line Police officer my use of RIPA is not as regular as CID or special branch for example, but when I do have to use it, it would cover things like mobile phone traces, interrogating mobiles for intelligence on suspects movements, putting together covert recce's on premises before executing warrants or interrogating seized computers during an operation where time is critical.

I dealt with a job recently that highlighted to me the serious problems of having such high level authorisations needed for something so apparently simple as a cellsite trace. Cellsite is what we call the triangulation of a mobile phone using information from the service providers cell masts. How it works is we contact our liaison department at each of the service providers, they then check their records to see which masts have been hit by the phone when it connects at regular intervals or when it was turned off, and depending on signal strength from various masts they can triangulate and give rough area of where the handset is.

To give an idea of how rough, for the job I was on, we were given a central location but a search area of 400 meters from that point. You can imagine how difficult - and almost pointless - an area that is to search in the middle of the most densely populated city in Europe. Different companies can give varying results, I have heard of differences in search areas from 20 meters to half a mile from the central location. Because the cellsite data comes directly from the service provider the Police have no control over how long it takes them to collect the data, triangulate and get back to us. They also charge for the service, I was told on our job that the Met would be charged £5k for it.

Cellsite data can be forensically examined in extreme detail as happened in the Soham murder investigation. By analysing the exact strength of the signal from relevant masts, the investigators were able to prove that the mobile belonging to one of the girls was located at the front door of Ian Huntley's house before being taken inside and switched off a couple of feet inside the hall.

For investigative purposes a cellsite request has to be authorised by an officer of the rank of Superintendent or above and that authorisation can only be granted if the officer believes that there is serious risk of harm or a serious threat to life. When you're running an historical investigation where you have a murder (for example) there is no problem in getting the authorisations as the need for the data is obvious and unquestionable. For a fast time operation, such as a vulnerable missing person, a suspected abduction or a silent 999 call, the opinion of the level of threat is extremely subjective, and just because one person thinks the threat justifies cellsite, it certainly doesn't mean everyone in the command chain agrees.

The decision has to be based on the information immediately available, including history of the subject, informants, suspects and circumstances of the call/investigation. I won't go into too much detail but a job I was on recently involved requesting cellsite as part of the investigation into the apparent disappearance of a female. I'd got in early for a Sunday day duty as usual along with a mate, and to do the night duty a favour we took a vehicle out to clear up some of their outstanding calls. After we'd resulted the half dozen or so calls and were on the way back into the nick for parade, we received a request to attend a street to meet with an informant reporting her friend missing.

We got there just before 7am, only a couple of minutes after the control room had got the initial call. The informant who I'll call Rebecca worked in a club and had seen her friend Jessica in there with a guy who Rebecca had never met. Jessica told her that he was a friend she'd recently met, and a couple of hours later as Jessica and the guy left, she told Rebecca they were going to go to another club that stayed open later. Not long after Rebecca finished work at about 0530, she had received a text from Jessica that read "Please, get me out of here" Rebecca sent a text back and a couple of minutes later she received a phone call from Jessica who sounded drunk and appeared to be crying. Jessica told Rebecca that she didn't know where she was, she was drunk and wanted to leave and the guy wasn't letting her go.

Rebecca then spoke to the male who gave her an address of where he was but told her not to bother coming round as he loved Jessica and she was safe. He then hung up, and switched the phone off. Rebecca tried several times to call Jessica back with no joy, after a short time she called a couple of friends and they got in a taxi to the address the guy had given, and when they found it was a Doctors clinic, they called the Police.

We did all the checks we could at the scene, short of putting the clinic's door in. Rebecca, Jessica and her friends were all no trace on intelligence checks or the Police national computer suggesting that none of them had ever come to Police notice before. Rebecca seemed completely honest and genuine, the text she received was exactly as she had said and everything else checked out. On the information that we had, both my colleague and I were seriously concerned for Jessica's safety, to the point of thinking we could be looking at another Martine Vik Magnussen, given the similarities in events leading to her disappearance. The only possible lead we had at that time was to get a cellsite done, especially it was still relatively recent to the first message from Jessica.

The duty officer disagreed and refused to put the request forward to the duty Superintendent, based on that information, as he decided there was not an established threat to life or risk of serious harm. We debriefed Rebecca and her friends to try and get as much information as possible about Jessica's lifestyle and habits, we went round to her address and after gaining entry to her room we interrogated her laptop for any possible leads or clues to what she was like.

By the time we left to go back to the nick we had a possible suspect who was ident to the male Rebecca had seen Jessica with, an address he lived at and enough grounds to arrest him and search his flat and vehicles. We got back and the investigation was now in full flow, a Detective Chief Inspector was in charge as this was now classed as a high risk missing person, and his first call was to put the cellsite through. As far as he was concerned the evidence suggested reasons to suspect serious harm was likely, even before we searched Jessica's flat and proved she wasn't there asleep and recovering from a hangover. By the time cellsite came back, it was some seven hours after we first attended. The duty Superintendent by the way, didn't bat an eyelid when they authorised the cellsite request.

Jessica was later located, she said that there was some 'miscommunication' between her and Rebecca and she denied saying what she had in the phone call, despite the text message she'd sent. The address that Rebecca was given was remarkably similar to the one Jessica had actually gone to, we'd even checked that street as it sounded similar but we found no building number that matched. It turned out to be a flat number. We'd confirmed that she was less than 100 meters away from the central point that the cellsite data gave us, but realistically there was no way we could have searched every possible place, it would have taken literally hundreds - if not thousands - of officers to search within any useful time frame.

The information that we had suggested to us that Jessica was in potential danger and merited further aggressive investigation. Thankfully it turned out that she was in no danger, but over a hundred Police hours were taken up (wasted?) determining that, as well as the cost of the cellsite. As much as we would love to be able to, it would be virtually impossible to put that much manpower into every missing person investigation. This one job was classed as high risk and tied up nearly every person on my shift, as well as the duty CID team for the majority of the day.

As for silent 999 calls, or even calls with seemingly innocuous conversations being heard in the background as happened in the very unfortunate case with Hannah Foster, we simply do not have the resources to deal with every single one - there are around 5.5million silent or believed unintentional 999 calls in the UK every year, with less than 1% of them later being confirmed as genuine.


Thursday, 20 November 2008

A brief pause

Apologies for the lack of postage recently. Thanks to a combination of quick swings, way too many extended duty days, hardly any rest days, being run ragged thanks to being significantly understrength on team at the best of times, and then having our teams treated like a bottomless pit for aid (instead of actually paying people to come in) which has left us even more short staffed than I could have thought was actually legal, I've been left with a rather unpleasant dose of man-flu, the first sickness bought I've had for a few years that's not injury-on-duty related.

To say the morale on my team at present was 'low' is like saying Harold Shipman was just 'a bit naughty'. It's shit. Proper shit, in fact, and I know I moan, but I've been like a veritable ray of sunshine recently compared to some people (dockyard oysters aside) who are trying at the very least to get out of the borough, some murmurings have been about getting out full stop.

Picture the scene - you know that, on a good day with everyone in, you are only a couple of people above your minimum strength levels. The minimum strengths are decided by the SMT as the minimum 'safe' level of officers to deal with the anticipated volume of calls and to provide a level of resilience should things go tits up, as they invariably do. Given abstractions like court, sickness, courses, annual leave etc, you also know that you will ALWAYS be under strength because your team simply doesn't have the number of people it should. You put a leave application in to get some time off with your family which is rejected by the duties office, as usual the answer is "unable to authorise as officer numbers are below minimum strength"

Fair enough, you think, it was a long shot anyway, that's why you only try and plan stuff on your rest days - if they aren't cancelled.

And then you turn up to work on the day you wanted off to find that two thirds of your team for the day have been taken off duty to do some aid (a demo, Op Blunt, court security etc) on another divisions ground, leaving you with a couple of vehicle crews for the whole shift. You ask where the main bulk of the aid is and realise you have a mate on duty there so you text them to see how short they are today "we're ok actually, really flush, even got some walkers out, why?" is the response. The outrage train has well and truly left the station, and you're driving.

This happens virtually every single day and if I described the boundaries of my patch and how many people we actually have to Police it (physically out on the ground answering 999 calls and patrolling, not in total on duty as we only make up about 4-5% of that number), I'm pretty sure I'd have my legs done under the new 'damaging public confidence' regulations.

Thankfully I've got leave booked over Christmas (that I had to book in January, those who left it until March onwards have had some or all of their applications for leave refused because we're under strength on team) so between now and then I'm going to be mostly working and sleeping and won't be doing much posting.

I'm glad to see ZaNu Labour's efforts to increase officer numbers to 140k over the country has worked out so well for us on the front line.


Friday, 24 October 2008

Researching the validity of conferring

As some of the comments in the last thread obviously show, the topic of conferring is a contentious issue at best, at worst it is seen by some people as Police officers lying through their teeth to cover perceived mistakes. Whatever your view is, there is no perfect answer, short of downloading peoples memories into a computer to be analysed, so the best answer has to be one that achieves the highest quality of evidence possible. There has been extensive research in the areas of memory formation and retention which suggests that the current practice of conferring is one of the ways to achieve the best evidence.

In reaction to repeated calls by the IPCC and the MPA, the Met has commissioned Portsmouth University to conduct studies to determine which methods would be best for not only achieving best evidence but also for the welfare of the officers involved. There have been extensive studies already conducted in the US which suggest that the current practice of conferring IS the best method of obtaining accurate evidence, the problem we face is the public simply don't trust that medical and psychological evidence and think that we are colluding when we sit down, debrief to reconstruct the incident and our own individual actions and then write them up.

The following is an article from the Metline magazine published by the Met Police Federation and discusses the outcome of research commissioned by the Met Fed into how errors in recall can occur. Have a read if you want and feel free to discuss, critique or lament et cetera.

The Write Approach - New research sheds much needed light on how the brain processes memory in high stress encounters and calls into serious doubt suggestions that officers should not be able to confer over notes after incidents.

Officers who confer and write a report after a firearms incident are likely to produce a more accurate account of the event than officers who do not confer and are interviewed. That is the conclusion of a research team which carried out an experiment in which volunteer firearms officer were put through a challenging simulation of an incident and were afterwards required to demonstrate what they had remembered of it. The events during the simulation were recorded by three CCTV cameras so that the officers recollections could be checked against what actually happened.

The primary aim of the study was to examine the validity of current theories about how memories are generated and their relevance to Police officers involved in high stress incidents, but it also examined the effectiveness of achieving accurate recall of events from individuals afterwards. The experiment was carried out by the Force Science Institute, which is conducting a number of scientific research programmes for the Met Federation. The researchers realised that the study had to be realistic enough to create genuine stress among the participants, as well as requiring them to make the sort of 'action decisions' that would be vital in a real life encounter. It also had to be arranged in a way that the outcome would be changed by the officers actions and novel enough that the officers would have to read the situation rather than rely on experience.

The answer was to rig the gym at Hendon to resemble the reception area of a hospital ward, complete with waiting patients sitting around. The officers were given a scenario, learning that they were being posted as guards for a man who had been wounded in an armed robbery and was in a locked ward. As they walked through the reception area to their posts, they were confronted with a conflict - which they had not been told about - between the 'brother' of the wounded man and the receptionist (the receptionist having denied the brother access to the ward) of such an intensity that the officers were obliged to intervene. While their attention was taken up by this incident a hostage taker burst through a door beside the reception desk with his left arm around a hostage and a double barrelled shotgun in his right arm. The hostage taker discharged his weapon twice into the floor before pointing it at the officers, who then needed to control or shoot the man. Once he had been disabled, the action ended.

Forty six officers participated in the study, divided into teams of two or three. When it came to recalling the incident some were asked to write reports after conferring with colleagues, some wrote a report but without conferring, some were questioned - after conferring - by a third party while a fourth selection of officers were each interviewed without conferring among themselves.

The researchers, meanwhile, categorised the officers recollections into two types. The first type - called 'internal' - encompassed recollections of the officers own thoughts and behaviour. The second - 'external' - dealt with recollections about the other players and the environment. Each of these types was then further divided into "narrow" (a specific focus of attention) and 'broad' (a wider overview).So, for example, if an officer remembered thinking that he or she had to move to a pillar, the recollection was graded 'internal narrow', while if they thought they were in danger it was an 'internal broad' recollection. A recollection that the shotgun had two barrels was recorded as 'external narrow' while the memory of someone falling to the floor was 'external broad'.

In this way, it was easy to see what sort of things were most likely to attract an officers attention, and which things they were least likely to pay attention to and, consequently, fail to memorise. The different methods of eliciting their memories - written reports, interviews, conferring and non conferring - were also graded for their effectiveness in respect of the number of things officers could recall and the accuracy of those recollections. Overall, the officers recall of 'external' things was more than 400% better than their memories of what they themselves were thinking or doing. And within the 'external' category, their recollection of specifics ('narrow' focus) was almost twice as good as their recollection of the broader picture.

The researchers report comments: "this 'tunnel vision' or 'selective attention' is characteristic of all humans who engage in this type of encounter... this study indicates that this phenomenon also occurs in well trained Police officers." It continues: "the important element of an 'external' focus of attention particularly an 'external' and 'narrow' focus of attention, is that the process of focusing allows the officers to focus on what is important to them at the time but that they can miss other items that may later turn out to be important. For example, if the officers attentional processes at the moment of the shooting were on the alignment of the gun, they did not note anything about the specific movement of the subject, their clothing, the subjects action towards the hostage etc"

The researchers say that this narrow, external focus facilitates great performance but renders officers 'attentionally blind' to anything they are not focused on. Their memories therefore became less accurate, or non-existent, about things upon which they were not focused. The report points out: "They were quite often inaccurate or unobservant about the hostage and almost never noted the behaviours or action of anyone other than the shooter. They almost never noticed the presence or action of the shooters brother and even other officers."

The researchers cite one officer who described how his two colleagues 'froze' and how he fired his first shot before either of them had drawn their weapons, but the video showed them all drawing their guns almost simultaneously, with one - who was just two feet away - firing immediately afterwards. Another officer spent a great deal of time describing how he pushed an individual out of the way, while the video showed him putting his hands as if to push the person but then recoiling back and taking cover. The different methods of getting officers to reconstruct events after the incident - writing reports after conferring, being cognitively interviewed without conferring - had wildly varying error rates.

When it came to recalling those things upon which the participants were 'externally' and 'narrowly' focused upon - that is things to which they were more attentive - the officers who conferred and wrote reports recalled 314 correct details and only made two errors, representing an error rate of 0.14 per officer. The researchers describe the statistic as "amazing". The error rate per officer of the 'external narrow' recollection of the report writing group who did not confer, although still small, was 0.6 per officer. Officers who were interviewed provided, on average, more than twice the amount of information that the report writers did, but their error rate soared. For example, officers who conferred and were interviewed about their 'external narrow' observations recalled 765 items of which 66 were incorrect - an error rate of 4.5 per officer.

Worst for errors were those officers who did not confer and were interviewed, whose error rate in the 'external narrow' category was 6.6 per officer - that is, 47 times greater than the confer/report group.

Commenting on the big discrepancy between report writing and interviews, the researchers comment: "The primary source of the errors dealt with information on the edge of the constables focus of attention. The constables worked hard to provide accurate information but the interviews apparently led them to expand on items that they were less knowledgeable about." The researchers point out that the primary aim of the experiment was to demonstrate the degree to which 'focused attention' occurred in high stress incidents and the manner in which it affected the officers perception afterwards.

The effectiveness of the different methods of eliciting memory recall was only a secondary study and did not meet the criteria of a full study, which would require more officers to participate. But they conclude that, nonetheless, their findings indicate "reports produced less information but are more accurate in their detail" They add: "when constables are going to have to report on an incident, the most accurate reporting of the details is going to be provided by those constables who had a chance to confer. A further conclusion might be that the less the officers provide about the incident, the fewer errors they will make, especially if they report only on the behaviour that they were most specifically focused on"

The article was based on the research report entitled "A study of the presence of perceptual distortions in firearms officers" and raises some very important points which the study by Portsmouth University will go into much greater depth. The issue regarding statements is always going to be the perceived credibility or ability to trust those submitting the evidence, but the ultimate aim is to provide evidence to a court for trial or coroners inquest. There is only so much error in a statement that a jury will tolerate before bringing the whole statements reliability into question. With regard to the accuracy in statements, the problem we face is to decide if we want an extremely accurate statement whose credibility will always be questioned by some people, or if we want less accurate but more detailed Police witness statements that face being deemed unreliable because of the vastly increased number of errors.

As always, it seems we're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't.


Thursday, 9 October 2008


Given my last couple of posts have been short cathartic rants, this post is a long one, but hopefully I'll explain why.

Following recommendations by the Metropolitan Police Authority after Stockwell, the IPCC recently called for the practice of Police officers being able to confer whilst making statements to stop. This was in direct response to criticisms of Police by the family of Mark Saunders who was fatally wounded by armed officers after he went off his nut and started shooting into other peoples houses and didn't stop when asked. This is the third time the IPCC has called for the practice of conferring to stop after the tragic deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes and Harry Stanley, both of whom were shot by Police officers and were later confirmed to not be armed.

Nick Hardwick of the IPCC said: "The IPCC welcomes the recommendation in the MPA’s scrutiny report that the practice of officers conferring to make their notes following an incident should be discontinued and procedures put in place to demonstrate that the accounts individual officers give are their best and genuinely independent recollections.”

Mr Hardwick added: “We are confident that the investigations we have conducted into fatal police shootings, are rigorous and capable of withstanding public and judicial scrutiny. But we recognise the concern and suspicion this practice sometimes generates amongst bereaved families and many members of the wider public. That suspicion cannot be in the interests of families or the officers concerned.

“The IPCC has a legal duty to secure and maintain public confidence in the police complaints system. As the public body charged with oversight of the Metropolitan Police Service, the MPA’s support for our recommendation confirms the IPCC’s own view that the public do not have confidence in the current procedure in which police witnesses and civilian witnesses to the same incident are treated very differently

“Both the MPA and ourselves recognise the uniquely difficult and dangerous job performed by firearms officers. The IPCC is clear that its investigators do not treat officers as suspects unless there is evidence that an offence has been committed. We recognise that the firearms officers are lawfully carrying weapons and we do not treat them as suspects in a crime unless there is evidence to do so. However, when the state takes a life, we believe that there must be a rigorous investigation and the families and public are entitled to the fullest possible explanation of what occurred and why. This is the approach we have taken in all 14 fatal shootings we have investigated since 2004.

“The current post-incident procedure limits our ability to obtain the best possible evidence from police officers involved in an incident. Each case is different and the importance of the officers' notes will depend on the other evidence we have available.

"The IPCC also recognises that changing the procedures following fatal shootings has far wider implications and may affect the way the police service gathers evidence for criminal investigations. Current guidance reflects the convention that police officer witnesses to an event are permitted to confer before writing their statements. This is a principle in daily police practice. It is not within the IPCC’s power unilaterally to alter policing practices and we recognise that the Police Federation has strong views on the subject.

"While the courts may, in time, come to a definitive ruling on the question of officers’ notes we think ACPO, the Police Federation and the other police organisations need to quickly recognise the current situation is unacceptable. We think it would be possible to develop post incident procedures that provide reassurance to families and the public that best evidence has been obtained and reassurance to officers that they will be protected from unfair treatment for just doing their difficult and dangerous jobs. We seek to work with ACPO and the Police Federation to do that.”

It is a well known fact that Police officers witness statements and other witness statements are obtained in very different ways, as acknowledged by the IPCC. There are a number of extremely obvious reasons for that and a couple of not so obvious reasons, all of which must be taken into consideration before calling for the practice to end.

Firstly, a number of people have said that Police witnesses should be treated no differently from any other witness. As Police officers, we are trained to take statements from witnesses and write our own, and obviously how much practice you get can affect the level of quality of a statement. When an incident occurs we don't get all the witnesses then sit them in a room on their own and ask them to write their own statements, if we did, the vast majority would be completely un-useable in a court and would be missing massive chunks of information as well as having irrelevant information, hearsay and time lines would be all over the place. When we take statements we have to cover rules established under the caselaw of R v Turnbull and follow the ADVOKATE acronym -

Amount of time the suspect was under observation
Distance between the suspect and the witness
Obstructions to view
Known or seen before
Any reason for remembering
Time elapsed between observation and identification
Error or material discrepancy in description

In addition to getting a full account of what happened, we interview the witness and ask probing and open questions to get specific details which can then in turn be expanded upon. A key area to completely breakdown in the recall is the sense of time and the order in which events occur. This can obviously damage the credibility of a witness if everything is later shown to be wrong and ripped to shreds in a court. It's not impossible to imagine a defence solicitor challenging a witness "Quite clearly this event happened before that one........ if you can't even get that bit right....... how reliable is the rest of your evidence?"

I have seen statements from PCSO'S that have been 10-15 lines long which I have then had to retake, expanding them to over 3-4 pages. It wasn't a failing on their part, just a lack of proper statement training, a lack of understanding of the chain of evidence or of identification requirements and a lack of training in criminal law such as offence wordings and points to prove. Considering that PCSO'S are at least regularly involved in Police incidents and occasionally have to give statements, if we had members of the public write their own following incidents they hardly ever deal with, they would for the most part, be worthless.

The complexity of the involvement or the type incident does change how much you can actually recall. Just walking down the street and seeing a shunt and a heated argument can last just as long as someone coming up to you, screaming in your face and demanding your wallet but your recall would be expected to be wildly different between the two. The more traumatic the incident the harder it is to get certain information, as soon as you get a raised heart rate and stress response kicks in the less your brain actually holds onto, especially if you haven't experienced it before. This is called perceptual distortion and is subject to an extensive body of research by psychologists and physiologists, I'll be putting a separate post up about it later on because it's too significant to be just a two or three liner but I've written a bit about it here.

When we write our own statements we very often write them together and get a brew or some food to eat at the same time as it's a good opportunity to get refs breaks. Because our statements are expected to not only present the incident as we saw it, but are basically the backbone of the file, they should contain all of the relevant data for the incident. This would include exact times, descriptions, relevant history, street names, callsigns, authorities, incident numbers etc, most of which we would not have to hand before or during the incident.

As I said earlier, one of the main things to go in memory immediately and soon after a traumatic event is the sense of time and order of events. Whereas we can interview a witness and expand on specific details to make sure the statement is accurate, it's extremely difficult to do this to yourself. Considering how many police officers we usually have on duty, it would be an incredibly enormous and wholly unjustifiable drain on resources to have to have another Police officer who wasn't involved in the incident to obtain our statements for us. There simply aren't enough Police officers to do that.

A decent statement takes an hour or so (at least) if it is a complex incident and you know nothing about it. For a shift of ten police officers each arresting one person every couple of days, most serious incidents happen around the same time (thanks kindly to Murphy's Law) and involve more than one officer, we'd need to increase the number of police officers by at least 3-5 just to take statements from other officers to allow the investigations to be completed expediently. In order to stop the extra officers from being deployed and tucked up with jobs they would have to be specifically for statement taking - so they might as well not be Police officers - but in today's bureaucratic world they would not be employed just to take statements. Heaven forbid they had a couple of days or even a few hours where they didn't actually do anything and just milled about, the fact that they would have to have other requirements in order to even justify their position means that they would run the risk of not being able to take statements immediately.

By sitting down and debriefing the incident and then writing our statements together we can get all of the other bits of information together that we need for the statement, tie up time lines and generally piece together the incident. I've no idea how many times I've been dealing with something and someone has suddenly popped up and then disappeared just as quickly. Gaps in memory and uncertainty about decisions made at incidents are proven triggers for post traumatic stress disorder and eliminating the causes as soon as possible helps to prevent this extremely damaging psychological injury. I wrote about this a bit more here.

The fact that we deal with arrests and violent incidents all the time reduces the influence of perceptual distortion thanks to stress familiarity but it doesn't extinguish it. A bog standard gobby drunk getting floored and cuffed after a short struggle is far from being on a par with someone trying to put a knife in your neck, or having to use extreme or even lethal force. Only by being able to properly debrief every incident are we able to deal with them, the severe pressures on our time such as dealing with calls and prisoners and subsequent admin mean that the only time we can do this practically is when we put our statements together.


Saturday, 4 October 2008

Is she taking the piss?

I'm in nights mode which means at the present stage I'm knackered and my ability to mince words is zero but this, I'm afraid, just HAS to be said. Jacqui Smith on Boris Johnson's 'invitation' for Sir Ian Blair to remove himself from post -

Speaking on BBC's Question Time, Ms Smith said: "There's a process in place that the mayor chose not to respect"

WHAT? you mean like YOU did with our fucking pay negotiations last year and are still doing by completely destroying the fair process that has existed for 30 odd years, simply so you can control it on your terms?!?

She then went on.....

"What is important when you are both choosing and when you're supporting somebody that you're asking to do a job like that is that you keep party politics out of it"

REALLY?? So you're saying that you'll be willing to give the job to someone who is blatantly right wing in their views and who thinks that the Police should be terrorising real criminals and harassing them until they stop committing crime, move, or kill themselves?? Give me a break you fucking hypocrite. The post of Commissioner is everything about politics and everyone knows it. It shouldn't be, but then you bastards have been trying to get the Police under your thumb for a hundred years, exactly how stupid do you think we are?

Home Secretary, as a serving Police officer and one who wants nothing more than harass drug dealers and burglars and their ilk every single day, I for one cannot WAIT until the Tories get in, for no other reason than you'll lose your seat and you'll have to fuck off back to something you actually know, like teaching, which is the only thing you're actually qualified to do.

I've been pissed off about that comment since I read it on the train yesterday afternoon and now I've said my piece I'm going to sleep.


Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Courtesy of the BBC -

A group of retired Gurkhas fighting for the right to settle in Britain have won their immigration test case at London's High Court. They were challenging immigration rules which said that those who retired from the British Army before 1997 did not have an automatic right to stay.
Prominent supporter actress Joanna Lumley said it was a "chance to right a great wrong".
The government said it would now review all Gurkhas' cases.

'Debt of honour'

The regiment moved its main base from Hong Kong to the UK in 1997 and the government had argued that Gurkhas discharged before that date were unlikely to have strong residential ties with the UK. That meant those who wanted to settle in the UK had to apply for British residence and could be refused and deported.

The judgement could affect some 2,000 former Gurkhas who retired before 1997.

The judge, Mr Justice Blake, said the Gurkhas' long service, conspicuous acts of bravery and loyalty to the Crown all pointed to a "moral debt of honour" and gratitude felt by British people.
He ruled that instructions given by the Home Office to immigration officials were unlawful and needed urgent revision.

Lawyer Martin Howe said:

"Today we have seen a tremendous and historic victory for the gallant Gurkha veterans of Nepal. This is a victory that restores honour and dignity to deserving soldiers who faithfully served in Her Majesty's armed forces. It is a victory for common sense; a victory for fairness; and a victory for the British sense of what is right."

All I can say to the judgement is GOOD, it's about bloody time. The people in the Home Office who originally made this decision are a bunch of spineless bastards who wouldn't know what a debt of honour was if it smacked them in the face with a Kukri. To deny these men and their families the right to stay in this country, to work and claim medical and financial benefits that they have more than earned was a disgusting display of hypocrisy, only equalled by the maltreatment of injured service men and women after the closing of military hospitals and treatment centres. There has been a complete breakdown of the Military Covenant by Labour, and they don't care.

We (the Police) deal with more people with 'insufficient ties' to this country every day and yet many are still here, begging, stealing, robbing, committing burglary and generally taking the complete piss with council housing and benefit claims and yet the Home Office will do nothing about it above paying lip service for fear of being branded as racists by people with more than a couple of axes to grind. Immigration won't even try and remand people when we nick them on suspicion of illegal entry any more; they just get released and asked to attend the immigration centre in Croydon in a couple of days time.

Funnily enough not many turn up.

Heaven forbid you're an easy target like a working teacher from Canada (for example) who is known to the immigration system after doing everything right and is easily traceable through tax payments, but was still threatened with removal a couple of weeks before their temporary leave to remain visa expired.

There are people in this country who should not be here in the first place let alone after committing crime. We know that. Everyone else knows that. Yet the Government refuse to deal with it and would rather turn their backs on the problem and disrespect an honourable group of soldiers who have only ever asked to live in the country that they have sworn to defend with their lives. Fifty thousand of whom have done so since their inclusion into the British Army.

Not that it means much, but I take my hat off to Mr Justice Blake for seeing sense, now lets see if the Home Office will do the honourable thing?


Friday, 26 September 2008


There are very few things in this world that shock me any more. Some might be a bit gross and make me cringe, like the ankle bit in Hostel, other incidents I have been dealing with have had me a bit awestruck, like seeing someone eviscerated after a knife fight, which was both amazing and seriously bloody painful at the same time. Others piss me off no end with the sheer selfishness of the act, a great many of the things that have shocked have been as the result of burglars. I hate them. After rapists and paedos, they are the one group of people I hate so much that I honestly believe they should, at the very least, have both their arms removed at the shoulder. With a blunt tea spoon.

This would of course make them dependant on people to help them as they would be disabled, and you can be damn sure that that help would come from tax payers money so they would continue to be a drain on society for the rest of their lives.

For this reason I'm a big advocate of a couple of rounds in the head and then dump them in the sea to let the fish sort the body out. This is controversial at present, obviously, but I've been saying it since my parents house was burgled when we first moved back to the UK permanently, especially as the bastard lived over the road (caught on the way out by the local beat officer) and I had to see him everyday until they were eventually booted out of their council paid house. Since then I have never once gone to bed without going round the house to make sure all the windows downstairs are closed and locked and all the doors are locked. I have met a lot of people who have been burgled and I dread to think how many burglary reports I've taken, I have absolutely no doubt that most people who have been burgled do exactly the same thing to try and stop anyone getting in again.

It's a violation that hits people in their most vulnerable place, in their home, the main place they should feel safe and secure, and that is why it is so painful to victims of burglaries.

There is one other place that you are supposed to feel safe, where you hope that nothing bad will ever happen to you and where you think everyone around you is there for no other reason than to make you feel safe.

Your hospital bed.

We had a briefing slide that went out to all the local divisions that I saw for the first time recently.

"officers are requested to help identify the following CCTV image of a suspect for a recent burglary. This male walked into a ward at the children's hospital, went into a room where a young patient was receiving treatment and stole the laptop computer as she was asleep"


Utter, utter vile bastard.

Forgive me for not feeling a damn thing the next time I find a burglar screaming in pain after they fall out a window and send their leg bones in directions they weren't designed for, or through a skylight and break their back, or sever an artery and a couple of tendons on a window they broke. As far as I'll always be concerned, no amount of pain or suffering they get will make up for what they put their victims through. As far as I'm concerned, we'll continue to blat to a 'suspects on premises' call and we'll continue to pursue burglars trying to escape in cars, even if the mass readership of the Daily Wail or the Guardian slag us off for it.

I don't care, I hate them.


Friday, 19 September 2008

A factor of Five

Does prison reform criminals and provide enough of a deterrent to stop them ever going back?

Er, No. According to studies by the Home Office, between 75 and 80% of adult male prisoners are re-convicted within two years of being released from prison. The Police federation, taking into consideration allegations of crime where a named suspect (with known previous convictions or precons as we call them) who were not charged, and incidents where Police dealt but no crime allegations were made, suggest a more conservative estimate of upwards of 90% of convicted prisoners being involved in crime after being released from prison. Even if you are of the "innocent until proven guilty in court" brigade, upwards of 80% is still pretty damn high.

Some people argue that prison doesn't stop people committing crime because we have more repeat criminals than ever. The fact that sentences are considerably shorter than ever before and you have to do a hell of a lot to actually get a custodial sentence because of the increased prison population is lost on them. The kind of people who argue that prison doesn't work are also the ones who believe that simply getting arrested by the Police would devastate their lives, they have little or no experience of actually dealing with criminals 'at the coal face' and the thought of going to prison terrifies them. I read a great line the other day on The Coppersblog during a discussion about sentencing guidelines in reference to prison -

"It's like doubting aspirin works because you took one 3 months ago and now you have a headache"

Personally, I don't care if criminals are reformed. If they commit a crime, go to prison, get reformed and then never commit another crime for the rest of their lives then great, that can only be good for society and the people like you and me who want to live honest lives. If they don't get reformed, but never commit another crime for the rest of their lives because prison scared them so much that they never wanted to go back, then also great. Same result, different paths to get there, but at the end of it no one else has to suffer.

One thing is certain about prison - if someone is inside, even if only on remand, they're not able to be out committing crime, and that can only be a good thing. The fact that re-conviction rates are so high means that the only respite from the vast majority of criminals is when they are locked away. I am well aware that other crimes are committed by people in prison such as drug use and assaults on Prison Officers and other inmates, but at least they aren't out screwing over innocent peoples homes or otherwise making their lives a misery.

When I was first looking at joining the Job, I went out on a 'ride along' for a night shift. Whilst out in the area car I experienced my first hunt for a burglar who had been disturbed in the process of breaking into someones house. It was, quite frankly, awesome. The officers I was with predicted the identity of the suspect based on his MO (modus operandi or method of operating) and then successfully tracked him down, as they knew his usual haunts and what routes he would use to get there that kept him mostly out of sight. Once they had him stopped the dog unit tracked back to the house, and that was him in the bins (custody) for the night.

Job done, and I was hooked.

They knew that the suspect had not long been released from prison, and as he was a prolific offender, his release had been circulated to the officers as "one to watch out for". The suspect had in excess of 50 convictions for various offences but mainly burglary and possession of class A drugs. As a habitual hard drug user, he used burglary as his method of getting the cash together to get his fix and by his own admission (he had a number of outstanding burglaries TIC'd or taken into consideration, confessing to them to get leniency at court) he was committing around 2-3 every couple of days. This by the way is not a lot, I've heard of people doing 5-10 a day.

Despite his numerous previous convictions, he never got more than a year of actual jail time when convicted at court because he never had aggravating factors such as violence or weapons, hardly ever targeted homes where the owners were in, always TIC'd a few burglaries and always pleaded guilty at the first hearing. As much as I hate burglars (number 3 on my list of criminals I hate after paedos and rapists) he would be classed as a low risk offender, even a nice burglar in the eyes of the court, if there can be such a thing.

Clearly he wasn't reformed, and the risk of going back obviously did nothing to deter him from violating peoples homes. By his own admission however, every single day he spent in custody physically stopped him from being able to burgle someone.

Since joining I have had dealings with hundreds, if not a couple of thousand, of people with criminal convictions. I can only remember a handful of those with less only one or two precons, it actually comes as a somewhat pleasant surprise when you get a court print of someones precons and there is hardly anything on it. In stark contrast, I've also seen prolific offenders with a precon list running into the 200's. Just think about that for a moment, over two hundred convictions at court. Then think about the number of times they would have been arrested and not charged, or committed offences and were never identified as the suspect, let alone the amount of Police and court time taken up by just one person.

I don't think I've ever met a Police officer who honestly thinks that sentencing of criminals in this country is appropriate to the crimes committed. We often have discussions at work about what kind of sentencing system would be more effective at stopping criminals. Examples of suggestions would include enforced cold turkey for drug addicts, hanging, shooting, 400 year prison sentences like they have in the states and building a huge wall around the Isle of Wight and dumping them all there to fight it out amongst themselves - Escape from New York style.

My personal view is that the more someone chooses to commit crime, the more they should have the possibility of them being able to commit crime removed. The only way to do that is to remove them from society by locking them up in a cell. Yes, they may have more gucci kit than a benefit scrounges council house, better meals than I would ever be able to get in a canteen (and free) and all the DVD's they would ever want, but at least they won't be able to stick a pint glass in your face when pissed, kick your front door in while your kids are asleep, or stamp you to death for asking them ever so politely to bugger off somewhere else at 4 in the morning instead of getting drunk outside your house.

My ideal would be a minimum tariff, irrespective of the crime, that escalates exponentially with more convictions as it would eventually completely remove those people who chose to turn to criminality. Here's how my sentencing guidelines would work - firstly you start off with a weeks custodial, regardless of the offence. If they commit an offence that would attract a higher custodial sentence for a first time conviction (like murder) then the higher sentence takes over. After the first offence conviction, you increase every subsequent sentence by a factor of five. A second time offender would get a minimum of five weeks, third would get twenty five etc. After no more than five convictions someone is going to be locked away for at least twelve years, if they are stupid enough to get a conviction after that then they're going to be locked away for the rest of their useful life. Their problem, not mine, and I think five chances is four more than they need to get the hint.

This system of sentencing is extremely harsh, but then that puts the emphasis on the person to make sure they keep their noses clean and not get in trouble. The thing I love about it is it's fair, it doesn't discriminate, if you're a criminal or feel that crime is the easy way out, or you don't care about anyone else and get drunk and lamp people for no reason, then hey, you're going to pay for it by being locked up.

As long as there are people who have never been victims of crime, don't live in areas where criminals make peoples lives hell, but who will defend the view that locking criminals up isn't the right answer, then I'll continue to be arresting people with 50, 100 or 200 previous convictions. In the meantime we all get the benefit and joy of living in a society where criminals exploit our refusal to lock them up and throw away the key.

Annoying, isn't it?


Thursday, 11 September 2008

Innocent? or simply Not Guilty?

Consider the following definitions. As they say, the devil is in the detail, and as every Police officer, lawyer and Judge in the country knows, one does certainly not mean the other.

Not guilty - to be declared legally blameless of a crime.

Innocent - did not commit a crime of which they were accused.

The differences between those two terms, and the public perception that they mean exactly the same thing, has annoyed me from about a week into my Police career. As part of my training I went to get a feel for what a trial is like and see exactly what my part in it would be. I sat through two trials, because one ended considerably quicker than expected. The first case I sat through was a simple drink drive, a guy was arrested at around 3am having left a mates house where he had a few drinks and ate some pizza. After he left, the driver was heading through the quiet city streets with no headlights on when he was seen by a passing Police patrol and stopped. Funnily enough, he failed the roadside breath test and was arrested so that he could be taken to the station to provide an accurate sample to confirm the level of alcohol in his blood. The driver was just under three times the limit and was charged with driving whilst over the prescribed limit for alcohol, he was then bailed to attend court a month or so later.

When he appeared for his first hearing, the driver had elected to plead Not Guilty and so a date was set for trial in another couple of months. As I sat down in the public gallery, my training officer told me that the solicitors would go through some legalities with the judge and then the defendant would come up and the trial would begin. As the arresting officer was also the officer in the case (OIC) he was not in the court as the solicitors started to discuss the ins and outs. After a few minutes the defence solicitor raised some technical issues that they felt greatly undermined the prosecution case. It turned out that at some point between providing the sample (the machine was working correctly and the reading was accurate) and the charge, some administration errors were made on the drink drive form by the custody Sgt. The bench decided that because administration errors were made, any prosecution was deemed unsafe because of abuse of process. The defendant was called in, and then told that he was being found not guilty because of mistakes made by the Police and he was then released.

To many people outside of the criminal justice system, the simple fact that someone is declared Not Guilty following a trial means to them that the person did not commit the offence they were charged with. Does that mean that the defendant wasn't drink driving? That he was not found to be 3 times over the limit? That the Police made it all up and arrested a random and innocent man simply minding his own business? It was the fault of the Police officers dealing for making the admin error that allowed the driver to get away with drink driving; it was not because the driver did not commit the crime he was accused of.

With the exception of some jobs such as domestic violence cases or sexual/serious assaults, I stopped taking interest a long time ago in the outcome of the majority of my cases and the penalties imposed. This is mainly because seeing ridiculous sentences like someone get 20 hours community service (that they won't complete) for 50+ residential burglaries, can get a bit soul destroying, but equally as depressing is when you get a result like "Not guilty, no evidence offered". What this result means is that when the case went to trial, the CPS prosecutor decided for any number of reasons that they were unable to try the case. These reasons could be a witness not turning up or being hostile (as often happens in domestics), exhibits or the case file being lost, or occasionally an off the books plea bargain where they drop one job to get a guilty plea on another. Bear in mind that the decision to charge in the first place comes from a CPS prosecutor who reviews all the evidence and the case file in its entirety, so it's hardly ever because the evidence simply isn't there and they don't feel they can prosecute it.

I had a case a few years ago with a guy for multiple domestic violence incidents against his wife, with injuries ranging from common assault through to GBH. Because the guy only ever beat his wife when drunk and didn't care who saw it, all of the incidents were witnessed by several Police officers and nearly two dozen independent witnesses. He had been prosecuted for assault a number of times before, but because his wife had always refused to give evidence he was never convicted. I remember a distinct conversation with him in custody when he said that he'd been found innocent of the previous charges. My answer at the time was "you weren't found innocent, you were found not guilty, that doesn't mean you didn't do it, it just means they couldn't convict you of it"

The case took ages to put together, but eventually I had the guy remanded and got agreement from the head CPS prosecutor for the city to go ahead with prosecution despite the wife refusing to co-operate. Unfortunately no one told this to the prosecutor on the day of his first hearing (who invariably knows nothing about the cases they are to try until that morning when given their caseload) and as soon as they heard that the victim refused to attend court they offered no evidence and he was acquitted. I and nearly 30 people witnessed him beat his wife (to unconsciousness at one point) so there was no question that he did not commit the offences but having been acquitted and found not guilty he is presumed by many to be innocent.

Just as an aside, he beat her to death a few months later and was given a 10 year custodial sentence having pleaded guilty to manslaughter. To say this sad conclusion made me go even more ballistic than when I got the initial 'no evidence offered' email, is an understatement.

The concept of being innocent until proven guilty has been with us for the best part of a millennia, along with the rights of Habeas Corpus, or the right not to be detained by the state/crown without reason. These rights were enshrined in law because at the time people were locked up for no reason, because of their faith, malicious allegations, or because someone in authority wanted to prove they could do what they wanted. Before the introduction of forensic and scientific evidence, trials at the time centred on witness testimony and the most basic of evidence such as an item found in a place linked with the suspect. I have absolutely no doubt that there were a great many miscarriages of justice at the time, it is not hard to imagine a number of people getting together to provide malicious evidence against someone they didn't like and who could not provide an alibi.

In the present day the concept of innocent until proven guilty still stands, and recent miscarriages of justice (such as the Birmingham Six) or collapses followed by separate prosecution (Damilola Taylor) or simply collapsing because evidence is deemed inadmissible (Barry George) show that investigations are not perfect or impossible to manipulate. These types of incidents are extremely few and far between given the number of cases sent to court each year and certainly do not represent the norm. The fact though, that they still happen, seriously undermines the criminal justice system and the way that the Police are viewed by the public, especially our motivations to prosecute some people. As the venerable PC Bloggs put it in one of her posts, I couldn't give a toss about the vast majority of people I arrest, and even if I absolutely believe that someone deserves to be put away, I certainly don't care enough about them to risk my house, liberty and future by trying to stitch someone up.

In my capacity as a Police officer one of my main roles is to investigate people for suspected offences, then present the evidence to the court to allow a trial by a panel of magistrates or by a jury. Nearly all offences in criminal law contain the wording "a constable may arrest, without warrant, a person who they reasonably suspect is guilty of the offence" or words to that effect. In order to arrest we have to suspect that the person committed it, either by having witnessed it ourselves or by having 'viable' witnesses (i.e. who saw it and are willing to give a statement to that effect, or who can point out the offender who will have been witnessed by other means such as CCTV) so that they can be questioned in interview under caution about the matter.

Further to the belief established at the scene that a suspect is the person who committed the offence, each separate criminal offence has its own 'points to prove' which must all be hit for the offence to be complete, and thereby allow us to arrest and investigate. For example, the offence of Theft has six separate points to prove, each one having been analysed in great detail by previous trials to nail down exactly what it means. The wording is "a person is guilty of an offence if they - dishonestly (1) appropriate (2) property (3) belonging to another (4) with the intention (5) of permanently depriving (6) the other of it" During the subsequent investigation, if the points to prove have been not been hit, or if the suspect has a valid justification for any point, the offence has not been completed and the suspect cannot be charged.

This means that we simply cannot randomly select any number of passersby or someone who loosely fits a description as there not only has to be more to it, but we have to believe or at least suspect that the person did it. Once arrested there are a number of stops in place to make sure that detention is both legal and necessary. These include - presenting the evidence of arrest to a Custody Sgt who can authorise or refuse detention, having the evidence and detention reviewed at specific intervals by an Inspector, if detention goes on longer than 24 hours it must be authorised by a rank of at least Superintendant, after 36 hours detention can only be authorised by a magistrate who is told the evidence and reasons to continued detention, up to a maximum of 96 hours, again after periodic reviews. Once the investigation is complete, authorisation for charge has to be sought by the Crown Prosecution Service who will review all evidence and decide if the case is to go to court. Detention/further investigation can be refused at any point if someone at the appropriate level decides that there is insufficient evidence or justification to continue.

Following this, the probability of someone getting to court (let alone being convicted) is extremely slim if they are completely 'innocent' and have had absolutely no involvement in a crime.

There are occasions where someone's guilt must still be decided by a jury where they have shown an involvement in an incident that cannot be readily determined at the evidence gathering stage as to whether or not they are responsible for committing a crime. These include the use of statutory defences, such as an emergency responders use of road traffic exemptions, or self defence to justify force which results in injury or death. There have been cases such as the prosecution of Chelsea Bennett (stabbed another girl during a fight and successfully pleaded self defence) where the CPS decided to charge and leave the decision to a court. As with everything, the evidence of each case is viewed on its own merits and others such as Tony Singh (shopkeeper who fatally stabbed a robber) was not charged as the CPS decided that the evidence suggested self defence and there was no need for a trial.

No one can argue that public faith in the criminal justice system, or more specifically the Police, hasn't got progressively worse in recent years. I believe that a perceived inability to prosecute people successfully has contributed to this a great deal, along with a number of other reasons. Celebrity solicitors such as Nick 'Mr Loophole' Freeman argue that they are only doing the best they can by their clients, as they are obliged, by exploiting technical loopholes. The aim of an increasing number of trials seem to have moved from 'did he do it or not?' to 'can we show the Police made a mistake while investigating whether or not he did it' which further undermines the intention in establishing guilt or innocence.


PS. I know that was a particularly long post, but when people really don't get the difference between the two meanings, or completely miss the point for investigations, it bugs the crap out of me - especially on Sky News!!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Kit Monster

So there I am, at the end of a long set of nights contemplating my well needed train sleep, followed by the seemingly endless paint, brick dust, plaster and noise that I've been dealing with for the last few weeks. I'm looking at my belt kit hanging neatly on the cubicle door in front of me and my body armour sitting on the floor, and it reminded me of a post I put up a little while ago about the Growth of Policing. More specifically, the lines "You can identify them (newbies) by the amount of fancy new equipment they carry. A ten billion candlelight power torch, pens that write in the rain, a ballistic vest rated to stop tomahawk missiles, and an equipment bag large enough to house a squad of marines"

It probably will not come as a surprise that I was indeed one of those kit monsters, I don't think being an Army sprog helped much as I was surrounded by new and shiny kit that did stuff my whole life. I was looking through some old photos at my parents a while back and there is one of me as a five year old wearing webbing, a bergen, a helmet, and a pair of Scooby Doo pants.

Anyway.... I'm not quite sure when the change to carrying less kit happened or whether it was gradual or not, but I remember a time in the not too distant past when I had so much kit on my belt that nothing moved and there were no spaces between the items on there. The fact that over the years I've had ankle, feet, back and posture problems directly attributable to wearing belt kit and a vest, probably spurred me on to ditch some of it.

When I was at training school there were a number of kit catalogues going around and people were buying things that at the time seemed pretty cool, but in the long run were a complete waste of money. Whilst moving a lot of stuff recently I found my old stash of 'kit porn' as it has been called and there are catalogues for (in no particular order) Niton, Protec, 5.11 Tactical, Arktis, USMC, RVOps, Oakley and Under Armour. I'm not sure whether I've bought something (or a few things) from each one, but the probability is quite high.

On my belt kit I had - Issued handcuffs in holder, spare fold up cuffs in holder (handy when you've got 3-4 bods and only two of you there), CS in holder with ultra strong lanyard, a first aid pouch with face shield and steri wipes, a pouch for gloves, a 'probie pouch' with all the forms that would fold up easily, a rescue knife for cutting seatbelts with window punch, a leatherman, a 4 cell maglite and loop holder, a mobile phone pouch, a radio (heavy brick type) holder, multi positional baton holder, a 'key silencer' hanging thing, glove clip (seriously) and lastly a small bottle of alcohol gel on a clip.

At the time my force did not issue body armour so on the (good) advice of the guys on my team I bought my own and wore it routinely, as they all did. I thankfully was never shot, but it did stop a couple of nasty slashes to the gut and chest, a screwdriver stab to the back and also took the impact of a couple of fat drunk screaming heffers stamping on my back whilst wearing stilettos. In my body armour pockets I would have yet more forms, my notebook, diary, a supply of normal pens, a packet of dextrose energy chewy things and a pen with a torch in the end so I could write in the dark.

When I was posted to a panda I also took along my 'shafted bag' containing books and emergency food in case I was stuck on a post somewhere, in which I would also put my folder with every conceivable form (for statements, sudden deaths, traffic accidents etc) and also a spare torch.

As you can tell, I carried an awful lot of crap around every single day, most of which was only used occasionally at best.

Nowadays, I now only carry on my body, things that I am required to by SOP's (such as my personal protective equipment) and items that I occasionally need immediately to hand if I'm dealing with something. Everything else is either slung on the back seat in a bag or someone will bring it out if desperate. On my belt I've got handcuffs, CS and baton - all in met issue holders, a leatherman, an airwave clip, a belt loop for my public order baton (saves taking it off every time) and a pouch with a few pairs of gloves and a field dressing.

In my body armour I've got my stop/search forms (the new Met ones are soooo much better than the foot long home office approved piece of crap that takes ages to fill out, and are funnily enough like the old ones I used to use) my notebook, diary, a couple of pens, my mobile phone and a £3.50 LED torch from Millets.

Neither my baton nor my CS see the light of day for more than a couple of times a year (if that) as they are virtually useless, but if I don't carry them and something happens then I'm up the proverbial creek. My cuffs are the most used and indeed useful piece of kit, the leatherman does its intended job of fixing Police cars and bikes, opening packets of food, and occasionally as a ligature knife and seatbelt cutter upper. I have to stock up on gloves quite regularly but more worryingly, I've gone through a dozen field dressings on members of the public in the last four months thanks to numerous violent assaults, a stabbing, two glassings and a nasty RTA. I would be surprised to have to break one out every 3 months or so only a few years ago.

As I said earlier wearing lots of stuff on my belt kit buggered my back up a bit, as most coppers find, which is probably the main reason after realising they don't need most of it, they stop carrying it all. At present the Met doesn't issue chest rigs unlike most of the other forces in the country, mainly due to cost and also because of disagreements about evidence of wearing weight around the hips. I've also heard lots of senior ranks (in my old force) say that they don't like chest rigs because they look "too militaristic". The fact that the military learned over two hundred years ago that a man could carry more weight, and for longer, if it is moved from his hips to his chest and that it prevented back injury in the process, is completely lost on them.

There are officers who don't carry any kit around with them, mostly CID who don't want to be 'shown out' at the pub but others who simply choose not to. One of the Inspectors at my nick is a proper old school SPG/TSG (basically first riot teams through to present ones) who occasionally goes out in a civvie jacket when he's bored with nothing but an ear-pieced radio and a pair of cuffs. Every now and then he'll call up for a bod for us to deal with but he still gets stuck in when he can. I asked him why he didn't take anything out with him and he said "I've still got all the kit the job has ever issued me, even my cape. And then I've got the two fists that the streets of London taught me to use. After 30 years doing this bollocks, I know which has never failed me"

Fair comment, I think.


Sunday, 3 August 2008

Having a laugh

Police humour has always been known as macabre and and is often perceived as inappropriate, especially when the public hear it or the papers get hold of examples of it. This is no different to the military, the NHS or other emergency services and is a direct result of the level of pressure regularly endured from shifts, disruption to family life and of course, to the types of incidents we deal with. An equal level of 'release' is needed to counter it, otherwise the pressure turns to stress, and that's not good.

It's another form of disassociation and a coping mechanism and usually takes the form of a bit of pissing about during work time, or making light of situations that you really shouldn't get caught making light of, or it could just be a bit of venting. As unhealthy as people think it is (that 'evil' canteen culture again...) the alternative is you'd just end up doing your head in - quite literally in some unfortunate cases. Being able to have a laugh and a joke is as essential as being properly trained to deal with the given situations you are expected to attend, and helps the team to get along and bond well, which is essential in our job.

Thanks to mobiles and the ease of being able to record anything and everything I've seen and heard lots of examples of 'destressing' that would look awful on the front page of a newspaper, simply because people either don't get it, or don't think we should be having a laugh at work. The vids that the Daily Mail got from facebook of someone being cuffed to a chair in the writing room, or a DPG officer doing a silly walk and falling over are absolutely nothing, but as I said if you can't take a minute or two to relax and have a laugh then you'll lose it. What also didn't surprise me was the complete hypocrisy of some of the commentators about sharing a joke with colleagues during work time, along with the usual "is this what we pay our taxes for...." comments.

The following is a recording that has been doing the rounds for a while, I guess it's from the US given the accent and terminology and just goes to show that the run of the mill rubbish aimed at the Police over here is universal.

"Hello, you've reached the Police Departments voicemail. Please pay close attention as we update options regularly, as new and unusual circumstances arise.

Please select one of the following options -

To whine about us not doing anything to solve a problem that you created, press 1

To enquire whether someone has to die before we'll do something about a problem, press 2

To report an officer for bad manners when in reality the officer is just trying to keep your neighbourhood safe, press 3

If you'd like us to raise your children for you, press 4

If you'd like us to take control of your life, due to your chemical dependency, press 5

If you'd like us to instantly restore order to a situation that took years to deteriorate, press 6

To provide a list of officers you personally know, so that we will not take enforcement action against you, press 7

To sue us, or tell us you pay our salary and will have our badge OR to proclaim our career is over, press 8

To whine about a ticket AND/OR to complain about the many other uses for police other than keeping your dumb ass in line, press 9

Your call may be recorded to ensure proper customer care and support, and please remember we're paid to save your butts, not kiss them.

Thank you for calling you local Police Department, and have a nice day"


Friday, 1 August 2008


In a few short days quite a few of my team mates are going to be having fun at another 'climate camp' down in sunny Kent. I however am going to be sunning myself in the garden (or looking at rain, who knows?) whilst they are on a week of 16 hour days in full kit playing hide and seek with swampies. They will also have the delight of being deployed at strategic points anywhere from pillar to post by people who aren't anywhere near the ground that they will be working on.

The last climate camp was at Heathrow in the summer of last year, protesting against the expansion of the airport to incorporate a third runway. Personally I agree with them that it is a bad move and the environmental damage that'll be caused is grossly disproportionate to the demand for air travel, especially when we're facing a recession. The new runway will inevitably devastate the surrounding countryside as well as the majority of the delightful little village of Sipson. I was down there for the best part of a week, with 0430 starts and 2200 finishes on most days, and for the majority of the time, experienced a significant amount of boredom in between.

There were some 'highlights' that stick in my memory such as being paid - along with 20 other officers in my serial - to guard an empty field next to a fuel depot many miles from the protestors "just in case they tried to get in and disrupt operations by blockading aviation fuel"

Funnily enough, no protestors turned up and we were seriously bored. A great use of Police resources, although Murphy's Law says that had no one been posted to the site, someone would have scaled the fence and we would have been caught with our pants down.

Although we didn't see any protestors there, what we did find however, were vast wild bushes of blackberries, loganberries, gooseberries and raspberries and a random pear tree. Being on a Police carrier helped quite a bit, as we had plenty of evidence bags in which to store said fruit, so a few of us spent each slow walk around the field in our bright yellow jackets picking berries.

There was also a MASSIVE Rottweiler chained (albeit an extremely long chain as we found out) to a post outside a caravan, who wasn't too impressed with people walking past his territory. Thankfully the chain stopped him just short of the path but the low drumroll of landshark feet isn't hard to forget, especially right before seeing a Rot fly out of some hedges next to you!

Other days we were stationed outside the RAF barracks on guard duty as it housed our main mess and supplies area and acted as the forward control point from which resources and specialists were deployed. Being an MOD establishment and operational military base it was also guarded by armed MOD Police and also armed soldiers. And there we were, in our yellow jackets and with our acrylic batons and CS spray, protecting them....

Things did get interesting when some groups attempted 'breakouts' from the climate camp, not that they were in prison or anything but it sounded dramatic in the newspapers. Some of the groups attempted to break through Police lines to vulnerable buildings others tried distraction tactics and were being a general pain in the arse. Others attempted to force confrontation by attacking forward intelligence teams and on one occasion an entire PSU (Police Support Unit comprising of around 25 officers) were forced off the site having been attacked by a large group. A few officers were kicked and punched on the ground as they tripped over tent lines but as the main reason for going into the camp was to try and assess hostility/planning levels and not actually arrest anyone they were withdrawn a short while afterwards.

When the 'day of action' occurred on the Sunday there was the usual disarray as far as our senior commanders were concerned as things were happening in fast time and they simply could not react quickly enough because of extended lines of communication. An officer wearing full public order kit (without riot helmet) looks almost in distinguishable from an officer wearing a pair of black trousers, black waterproof jacket and a bright yellow hi/vis jacket over the top. It's not until you swap a beat helmet/flat cap for a riot helmet that you can really tell the difference, especially at first glance. Given that the level of hostility faced up to that point was sporadic at best, it was decided that the majority of officers were not going to be authorised to be fully kitted up.

This was despite repeated requests from the Inspectors in charge of a couple of serials who were facing the main brunt and were actually standing in front of the crowds and could see the hostility. Had we actually been kitted up there would have been considerably less bruising after being attacked, and no need for us to be relieved later on by several other serials just so we could go and get changed into full kit in the street. We could have also had more tactical options available to us immediately (such as shields to disperse crowds) whereas all we could do at the time was try and maintain some form of cordon to keep the protestors from getting into some of the surrounding vulnerable areas.

At the front of the main group were a load of protestors carrying pictures of faces and placards with slogans on, each picture was mounted on an acrylic board with arm straps - just like our public order shields. As the protestors walked towards the Police lines they chanted "Armed with science" and as they tried to push through the Police lines officers were kicked repeatedly with steel toecap boots to the legs and groin. On camera it just looked like they were trying to push through with their arms in the air holding placards, but we all had the bruises on our shins and thighs to show they were anything but passive!

The next few hours consisted of lots of pushing and shoving with only a handful of protestors actually proving themselves to be more of a pain than the rest. A couple of them found it great fun to get a couple of females in front of them and then use them as a shield to try and run through the lines. Needless to say the pictures of Police officers shoving women back into the crowd didn't look too great, but then charging Police lines isn't a good idea anyway if you don't want to get shoved back.

After quite a few hours in the heat and having push 'n' shove matches with a few more determined protestors, the kevlar body armour and high quality (not) polyester shirts were taking their toll, and we were all sweating buckets. At one point we were held up near a junction and had been joined by some specialist teams including FIT (forward intelligence team) and EG's (evidence gatherers). As the EG's were taking photos and describing several of the antagonists into their dictaphones we were in a pretty tight cordon and my mate was standing directly to my right.

As we were both looking at the crowd he started waving his hand about next to my head saying "get off, get off" he then said out of the corner of his mouth to me "why are you stroking my f&cking neck?" I told him I had no idea what he was on about and we both looked over our shoulders behind us. It turned out we had also been joined by officers from the mounted branch, and one of their horses had decided that she was going to lick the salty sweat off his neck. The rider was in stitches as was one of the EG's who was standing behind us and my mate squealed like a girl when he tried to get away from the horses huge tongue.

After that was a 7 hour slow march to the BAA headquarters (with quite a few members of the public shouting "get a job" whenever the protestors shouted to them) where we then stood outside for hour on end until someone finally made a decision and relieved us with more officers. They then stood outside overnight to prevent anyone storming the building and because they were fully kitted up with shields and batons the pictures looked pretty good. After finally getting back to the nick at about 2300 we had to be back on the bus at 0500 so a few people crashed in the nick, some had hotels and a few stayed with friends but everyone was ratty as hell the next morning.

We then spent a couple of days pretty much the same as before with random postings and the odd scuffle. We were eventually called off a couple of days earlier than planned and by then end of it we all needed a long soak and some kip, but it was fun and we've still got quite a few in-jokes about things that happened over the Op that I'm never going to discuss outside of work! There were quite a few pics and clips floating about the net afterwards, of which a few are in my personal collection, and I've no doubt there will be even more after this latest job, especially on Indymedia.

There are going to be thousands of officers from dozens of forces involved so if you're reading this and are going to be there, have fun and say Hi to some swampies for me!!