Monday, 28 April 2008

Why are my hands shaking?

At some point, usually when you least expect it, someone else is going to force a situation that leaves you no option but to deal with it. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be on your own in the middle of nowhere with a radio that doesn’t work and a nutter who is intent on completing his life’s ambition of kicking a coppers head in. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, 20 or 50, married with kids or single, all they see is the uniform and what they want to do to it. This kind of situation doesn’t happen that often to be fair, but you owe it to yourself, your colleagues and your family to be as prepared as possible to deal with any given situation. That could be first on scene to a major incident, a serious sexual assault allegation, a burglary, or backing colleagues up at a fight.

The latter can often be a serious bone of contention, most people don’t like to think that our job is as violent as it really is. The fact that most paramedics nowadays routinely wear body armour (especially at night) is testimony to how dangerous our society has become where people who’s one and only job is to save lives and yet people still attack them. Despite the growing trend in attacks on emergency service personnel, our officer safety training is pitifully inadequate and does not reflect what it’s like to be fighting with some drunk unit on the floor whilst wearing full (polyester) uniform, belt kit and body armour. The role plays at training school are so far removed from reality that personally I think they do more harm than good. They instill false confidence that can and has come back to bite people seriously hard in the arse.

Only recently have the recommendations and allowances for real life started to work their way into the Police management mentality, especially in Professional standards departments. This means that it is becoming accepted that we do not receive enough training to expect everyone to be able to remember or use the home office approved techniques when the situation is going banjo. Sometimes the quickest and easiest way to drop someone or shock them enough to be able to gain control is a good old fashioned punch to the face. This tends to look really bad on camera and bystanders who are obviously experts in everything criticise you, but needs must, and you resort to what you know when your heart rate goes through the roof and fine motor control is diminished because of it.

Handcuffing is a classic example of this, at training school we were taught something like 20 different ways of putting the things on and taking them off. Most operational police officers have one or two techniques that we like and use and in the heat of the moment you turn to what your muscle memory has been programmed to do, they come out, they go on and you sort out how to get them off at the station. As long as you put them in the holder properly, you can be pretty certain you’ll be able to take them off with the minimum of fuss – as long as someone in custody remembered to take their cuff key out with them.

CS spray is another piece of kit that is hardly ever used, I’ve only threatened it a few times and used it twice. Personally I hate the stuff as it turns me into a heaving snot monster, and if you think about the type of people that it affects the least, you start to realise why most police officers don’t use or like it. We are taught that CS doesn’t work on people with mental problems, who’s adrenalin is high, who have become used to it through exposure (such as armed forces), people who are seriously drunk and have ridiculously high alcohol assisted pain thresholds, disciplined or focused people (such as proper martial artists) or about 25% of the rest of the population. What you can be absolutely certain of, is if someone gets the stuff out and uses it, the main people affected will be the Police officers.

Some people may have had experience of being in a fight before they joined, others practice some form of martial art or boxing but most people have never been in so much as a shouting match prior to picking up their warrant card. Sparring or fighting someone and trying to get away is completely different from the type of fights you have as a Police officer, most of the time you’re trying to restrain someone safely which is considerably harder than actually dropping someone or knocking them out. Virtually everything we do is influenced by how it looks to the public and knocking ten barrels of shit out of someone looks much worse than 4 or 5 people taking them to the floor and cuffing them. As usual you’ll get the “how many does it take?” comments or some idiot counting you all out loud, but it’s much better than a Police brutality headline and someone’s photo of them black and blue splashed across BBC or Sky News, whether they deserved it or not.

Most of the people I work with (including me) hold to the belief that we can’t really trust someone until we’ve either seen them in a fight, or know that they’ve been in one. It doesn’t matter whether that officer is young or old, male or female, if they haven’t been in a fight then they are an unknown quantity and therefore a liability. Something I absolutely cannot tolerate is being involved in an incident and watching the duty probationer doing the moonwalk over to the van or a witness – especially if they’ve actually wound the person up in the first place. There are a number of reasons for this really and as a trainee Police officer they have an obligation to become experienced in all areas of the job, especially ones that they don’t like or are afraid of. If they are unwilling to get involved in a physical confrontation then you cannot know for sure that if something kicks off and there are only the two of you, that you can trust that person to back you up all the way and not leg it. I have seen specials literally run to a car and lock themselves in and I’ve had people wind someone up and then expect me to deal with it as they buggered off to speak to the doormen.

If you have never been in a fight then the best time to get the experience in a relatively safe environment is when there are other colleagues there to help out, if we’re out in the main public order areas with a probationer who we know is inexperienced then every single one of us will be looking to that person to get involved, if not take the lead. Just because you thought you were good at doing an elbow strike on a pad in the gym counts for nothing if you can’t land a decent strike or get a proper arm lock on someone who is intent on taking home some trophy bruises.

Until you’ve actually experienced the effects of adrenalin and know what you can and can’t do whilst it’s going through you, then you will not know what to expect at other incidents, not just fights. If your pulse doesn’t rise and your hands don’t shake at your first proper RTA, foot chase or jumper then you’re lucky. If it does and you don’t know what to expect then you could not only make mistakes, but you could also leave the incident with self doubt which, if unresolved, can lead to other complications, especially with confidence. Not being able to write or hold something without shaking is perfectly natural and if you expect it then you can deal with it. Once you realise that people only see what you show them, it doesn’t matter that you’re scared and your heart is trying to burst out of your chest and you are taking short sharp breaths. As long as you give off an air of calm and confidence, most people will actually back down before you have to get into a fight. The problem is that most of the time you actually have to experience a fight before you work out how to avoid them without backing down yourself.

If you’re the kind of person who joins the Police thinking that you’ll get through your whole service without ever having a fight then to be honest you shouldn’t have joined. You owe it to yourself to experience the bits of the job that scare you as ultimately you could find yourself alone with someone who wants to take you on. If you’re not confident that you can win the fight, the very last thing you want to do is show the other person that. You can be certain it will give them a confidence boost that they’ll take advantage of and you’ll be in a world of hurt. If you are a Police officer and you have yet to actually have your first proper fight then I would encourage you to get stuck in when you can, especially if there are a few of you and the chances of you actually getting injured are slim. It’s not macho, the experience could actually help you save someone’s life once you know what it feels like to not be fully in control, that life could even be your own.


Thursday, 24 April 2008

Calm down dear, it's just a job.

One thing that really irritates me is flapping. Ultimately all it does is distract the person flapping, as well as those around them from dealing with and completing the task at hand. That could be a file that needs upgrading, a member of the public complaining about a Police officer who looked at them the wrong way or a 3 car pile up with severe trauma casualties. Flapping is usually a sign of a confidence issue that is a result of a lack of knowledge or experience, perceived or actual. Flapping also leads to stress which is never a good thing, especially if you don’t know how to deal with it, and to be honest most people don’t because the job doesn’t care until the stressee loses the plot through no fault of their own and they are then obliged to care and deal with it.

Breakdown is usually as a result of some unresolved post traumatic stress, but it can be a build up of unchecked pressure through workload or bad management. We hear every now and then about someone who has gone off on long term stress leave and upon searching is found with file upon file stuffed in lockers, wardrobes and attics. Not good.

I know a few people who I would consider to be consummate and routine flappers, although most people have a flap every now and then which is understandable, if somewhat irritating at the time. I believe my last flap was dealing with an unexploded calor gas bottle that once LFB (London Fire Brigade) cooled down sufficiently was cleared away and disposed of, the scene was closed down and the roads re-opened. The fact that my voice went up a couple of octaves while dealing with it told everyone that I was starting to get too caught up and back at the nick I deservedly had the piss taken over the obligatory tea and biscuits. Virtually everyone on my team has at one point or another done that and the jokes come out every now and then, they serve as a very good reminder to keep calm, composed and to focus, but more importantly – don’t flap.

When you flap you can lose objectivity and concentration, under most normal circumstances (ie in an office environment) the most that will happen is people avoid you and you might miss a deadline or two, these could have business impact consequences but you can be certain no one is going to wake up dead. In our job you might miss a blade or drugs on searching, or not put the right info out over the radio leading to complications in investigation, or possibly insufficient info to the paramedics leading to a lower grading for response which can put lives on the line. Flapping can also occur if you get too involved in a situation and take all the related stress of that incident upon yourself, if you’re the kind of person that does that then you will burn out in no time at all. It’s a very horrible lesson that every one of us has had to learn at some point but at the end day no one has shoulders big enough to take the world’s problems home with them, so don't try. You will fail, and it'll hurt.

There are a number of ways that I have found to tackle flapping and worrying, the most effective being to compartmentalise the situations I deal with. They all go into the great big box labelled ‘work’ in my brain and at the end of every shift I tape the box up and shove it in the corner over the short trundle to the station to go home. This doesn’t always work and every now and then something particularly nasty will creep out and play around, but dealing with situations that we do this is going to happen. I’m not hiding the problems away either, because I know that the box is there, and when I’m at work I deal with the contents of the work box.

If you can accept that thoughts and feelings will haunt you for a bit then you can deal with it. Problems occur when you tell yourself and everyone else that you’re ok but deep down something nasty is bugging you, whether that is fear of consequences, guilt for not doing everything you could or you’re just pissed off that the situation arose and there was nothing you could do about it.

Another way is acceptance. My personal motto is ‘shit happens’ and as soon as you realise and accept that there are many things outside your area of control that will directly affect you then you can deal with the consequences and move on. If you get too hung up on something that happens during an incident then you could get distracted, if you are dealing with a casualty then you might miss a secondary injury, if you are dealing with an uncuffed prisoner the little git might try and do one. All you can do is deal with it, you can’t go back in time and stop it from happening so there is no point in worrying about it.

Situational debriefs are a good way of coming to terms with what happened, they can also help you to understand why a certain scenario occurred that you had no idea about at the time, it will also help clear up the uncertainty the causes flapping in the first place. We actually do a lot of this already, albeit unintentionally, when we sit down to write up arrest or incident notes. I’ve lost count of the times either I or someone else have said “ah that makes sense, so that’s why what’s his face did that and you appeared out of no where” The Police have been slated in the press for sitting down and writing notes together (most recently around the De Menezes incident) but there are reasons for it, both evidentially and mentally.

Properly organised debriefs should include everyone involved in the incident, from the radio operators, police officers and paramedics to line managers and senior officers if possible. Invariably though it’s only really possible to have the officers at the scene and maybe a random Chief Inspector who was just asked to turn up, due to the hassle in getting radio operators or the other services.

The aim is to help everyone involved come to terms with the incident and to fill in gaps in memory which can lead to doubt. We do these every now and then at the end of a shift or at the beginning of the next one if something particularly big went on or an incident went pear-shaped and there is a lot of ill feeling about it. They invariably start up as a slagging off session but ultimately people have feelings to vent and questions to ask and it is important that these come forward. If you can't vent then feelings can grow into big horrible stinking monsters that eat away at them leading to more potential flapping or worry at the next job. Once you’ve got past the inevitable bitching session you can actually be constructive, as long as whoever is leading the debrief understands that this is going to happen and lets it take its natural path.

Another important issue is that no one should take rank into the room. Everyone should be able to discuss anything relating to that incident, whether that was a Sgt or Inspector who everyone believes made a bad call or if there was something procedural which inhibited a certain action.

Everyone is going to respect someone who can stand up and admit that they made a mistake or bad call (especially if they have rank) and it helps no one to hear the words “well that’s because I’m the Inspector and I don’t have to explain myself to you” We’re not idiots and if there is a reason behind a given decision then whether we agree with it or not, it is better to know that than just think that the person is a knob who you can’t trust to make a decent decision and you want nothing more to do with them. Ever.

Lastly, I have my five point checklist, these are five simple questions that I ask myself when dealing with anything, graded on the severity of the types of incidents that we actually deal with. If the answer to any of these is yes, then obviously there is a need for concern and it needs to be dealt with effectively until all answers become no.

Is action or inaction likely to lead to -
1 You being dead?
2 Anyone else being dead?
3 You suffering any injury either serious or otherwise?
4 Anyone else suffering any injury either serious or otherwise?
5 You or anyone that matters losing their job and/or going to prison?

If at first look all the answers are no then take a second, have a deep breath and ask yourself, why are you flapping?


Monday, 21 April 2008

Look how the red line goes down......

It must be said that in today's world there is an awful lot of shite that anyone who has anything remotely to do with the Government has to put up with. This is mainly borne out of the view that in order to justify ones existence (and expenses) they must be accountable, and the easiest way to account for something is for someone to make a graph so that they can point to it and say "look how good we are, that red line has clearly gone down while the green line has gone up, so we must be doing things right!"

I'm not a big fan of statistics for statistics sake. In the last 10 years the Government have all but brought the Police to their knees with paperwork and targets, the same can be said for GP's, Hospitals and teachers. The problem is that the people who set the targets don't really understand the problem and they massively over simplify, which subsequently creates problems that everyone but the target setters see coming a mile off. Not that this matters to the Government.

The National Crime Recording Standards (NCRS) were originally conceived after calls from certain sections of the public who were aggrieved that the Police were not taking their allegations of crime seriously and that we were failing them. In some cases they were perfectly justified in saying so, in others they certainly were not. There were also calls for the Police to be held considerably more accountable to the public purse, and the best way to do that of course is to be able to have a list of everything you’ve dealt with.

To appease certain sections (ethnic minorities with perfectly legitimate calls at one end and time wasting losers with nothing else to do but report each other for 'harassment innit' who, unsurprisingly weren't being taken seriously at the other end of the scale) the Government suggested that if a person thinks a crime has happened - whether it actually had or not - then the Police had to treat it as a crime and investigate the incident to prove one way or another. If the evidence suggests that a crime has taken place then the offender would be put forward for prosecution if the evidence passed the threshold.

NCRS also stipulates that the Police should record a crime even if the victim doesn’t want to know or is refusing to assist Police with investigation (conceived to tackle ‘honour’ and domestic crime) and also to make a report in anticipation of a crime allegation even if the victim doesn’t actually know they’ve been a victim yet such as burglary or criminal damage where the victim is not aware.

Now this is where the problems start seeping through the cracks, because NCRS applies across the board to everything and not just certain stipulations for certain types of crime. The people who rightly said that the Police were not treating them seriously thought that now the Police HAD to take them seriously, then all their grievances and crime allegations would be dealt with quickly and effectively making their lives better.

This was not to be the case, as even though the Police did treat them seriously because we had to, we also had to treat every other person in the country seriously, no matter how moronic. Now that everyone had to be treated the same there became so many more crime allegations that the Police had to deal with and investigate, and Police numbers never increased sufficiently to effectively deal with the increased workload.

The only thing close to workable under the new regime was to remove officers from frontline positions and to put them into crime management units, force recording bureaus and various other admin roles to try and keep up. Naturally this meant the number of officers physically able to pop out to take the report went down and the workload for those few remaining officers increased exponentially.

Almost every crime (bar the most serious such as murder or the political hot potatoes) became a ticky box investigation that if it was not laid out in front of the investigator then it would be boshed as soon as possible to allow them to move onto the next one in an ever increasing pile. The net result of this, is the sections of the public who were being previously unfairly failed by the Police now joined everyone else. The problem is they are still being failed, but at least now that everyone is getting bad service, it's fair isn't it?

When I used to patrol around if we saw a bus shelter or a phone box with a broken window then all we would have do is get the control room to call the relevant company to give them a heads up so they could fix it the next day. Signs of damage and disorder reduced, public feel less like they live in a complete shit hole.

Now because of NCRS, even if the victim doesn’t actually know that they have been a victim, the Police still have to report the incident as a crime and fill out the relevant crime report in anticipation of the victim making a complaint of criminal damage. Filling out a crime report could take anything up to an hour depending on the details of the incident but usually about 30 minutes. Now compare this to the previous procedure of the ten second radio message from the Police officer, and two minutes to create and type up the incident message from the operator and it is hardly surprising to find that no one now calls in to report the phone boxes or bus shelters as being damaged.

If you were to drive around and see two phone boxes and one shelter smashed, that’s at least an hour and a half to write it up which is an hour and a half away from the street and actually being visible to the public, as well as criminals that we seek to deter. This isn't Police officers being lazy, we know all too well how much the public want to see us out and about and none of us like being stuck behind a desk.

The companies never reported the criminal damage incidents to the Police before hand due to the cost in additional administration to them versus the already accepted and budgeted costs of routine repair. Now that they don’t know the next morning that one of their units have been damaged, it could feasibly add another couple of days before the routine repair requirement is identified, which also means more time for people to walk past and think that the area is going down hill.

The problem is further complicated when the government looked at the sheet of lists of crimes and said to ACPO "this is clearly not acceptable, there are too many robberies and burglaries (for example) so you have to cut the numbers"

With less police officers on the street to actually deter and detect crime (as well as pathetic sentencing of those who were caught, charged and convicted) the only way that the Police could actually reduce the numbers was through a process of reclassification performed by crime management units and CID departments responsible for 'overseeing' the crime reports. Robberies became theft and assault, burglaries became walk-in-thefts, attempted burglaries became criminal damage, assaults were down graded, violent disorder and affray became pathetic Section 5's. Sometimes the job would be handedover and it would be NFA'd (no further action) because it's deemed not in the public interest. The list goes on, and the only people to benefit from the police having to report anything and everything are the criminals because there are less Police officers available to make their lives as uncomfortable as possible.


Friday, 18 April 2008

The Speech

There comes a time after every Police officer has gone through training school that they turn up on day one with their new team. They will find that they'll actually spend more time awake with these people than virtually everyone else in their lives until they eventually find some kind of work/life balance. Most will be aware that they need to prove themselves to their new colleagues, regardless of what experience they have already outside the job or what level of respect they think they have already earned in their few short months.

Within hours of meeting my first team I found myself locked in the back of the new station van, and feeling like a bit of a plank. After making everyone a brew as payment for my foolishness in allowing myself to be locked up, I had my first sit down meeting with my new Sergeant. I'd met him a couple of times whilst at training school, when I moved my kit into my new locker and that morning on my first proper parade briefing. Apart from niceties, we hadn't really had a proper conversation yet. There was considerably more laughter and piss taking at parade than I had come to expect after the 'mock briefings' we had done at training school, but I was soon to learn that 'Sanford in Westshire' was more than a world removed from real policing.

He invited me into his office, closed the door and sat down. After an extremely uncomfortable and piercing stare that felt like it lasted a lifetime he said* -

"Welcome to the team, we've all worked together for a good few years, the guys will look after you if you do your fair share and get stuck in. I only have a few things I want to say to you, they are basically my ground rules and everyone else on the team knows them and follows them so I'm not asking anything of you that I wouldn't do myself or ask anyone else to do. First and foremost, forget everything you learned at training school with the exception of the law, you'll come to find which pieces of legislation you'll need to know inside out and which ones you'll never use but the statutes are just extra tools in the box, we'll teach you how to be a Policeman.

This is a hard city with lots of extremely hard people in it and we have to Police some of the things we deal with equally as hard. Watch your colleagues and learn, if you try any of that role play stuff, you'll end up getting your head kicked in and I'm not a big fan of the vending machine tea at A&E. If we give some of these people an inch then they will take a mile, if they don't do what we're telling them to then they get nicked, no second or third warnings, no compromises. 90% of the rest of the people are honest and hardworking and expect nothing but honesty and courtesy in return, but always watch your back.

Always keep one ear on the radio, listen to what jobs are coming out, listen to where people are getting sent to and where your colleagues are checking people. Contrary to popular belief things rarely just happen and if we're being sent to the same addresses or the same pubs then something is going to kick off sooner or later. I will occasionally ask you who's doing what and where, if you don't know then I'll want a bloody good explanation. As you'll come to hear, when something goes wrong and someone needs assistance you're only really going to get a road, shop or pub name and I expect you to know roughly which one it is so we can get there and help them out.

I want you to volunteer for bodies and get stuck in, we have all been in your position before and I know full well how much evidence you need to get to have your PDP (personal development profile) signed off, your tutor will help you get that in no time, but even if you've dealt with something before I expect you to put up for it if you're around, and I will know if you are.

Be nosey, that's what you get paid for, if you don't like the look of someone then talk to them, if you're still not happy then spin (search) them. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up for a reason, you just won't know what that reason is to start with, so do some digging and find out.

These are my three rules of Coppering, follow them at everything you do and you won't go far wrong.

1) Believe no one. Whether intentionally or not, people lie and you'll hardly ever hear 100% of the truth from anyone as most won't want to get themselves in trouble, even if they never actually will. Ask questions and you'll soon get the answers you need.

2) Assume nothing. Never take anything for granted, especially as the quiet ones are usually the ones with the blade or psychotic tendency that you never saw coming.

3) Check everything. If you're the OIC (officer in the case) of a job you need to know it inside out as you'll look like a fool in the box if you don't know something, also never assume that someone looked in the bin in the garden, they might not have, if you're unsure check it.

Last but not least, I take my tea white with one sugar and preferably with a custard cream or two if there's some in the box. See you later on in the bins (custody), have a good shift"

Believe no one, assume nothing, check everything. The 3 rules have saved my neck - quite literally - on more than a few occasions, both out on my tod and in court!!


*obviously not verbatim given it was a few years ago, but the the main bulk is there!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Peel's Principles

A couple of summers ago I was working outside a prestigious but not politically important building when I was approached by a couple of guys who turned out to be close protection officers to an American 4 star general who was inside. One guy was ex-FBI and the other ex-NYPD. Naturally we started talking about the differences and similarities on either side of the pond, particularly about the use of firearms etc, when the ex-NYPD officer said "week one of my training, Robert Peel, the Metropolitan Police and how policing has evolved through the years and its role in society, always stuck with me that did"

This amazed me for a number of reasons. Firstly, week one of my training consisted mostly about diversity and about how we were all to be prejudice non-discriminators, this was also just post Macpherson, so I had the joy of finding out that I was a racist. Apparently.

Secondly, at no point throughout any of my training at my home force or at training school did anyone talk about Robert Peel or the history and evolutions of Policing. We did learn a bit about the 5 priorities of a Police officer (listed below) but that was for about an hour and was as close as we got. The only thing I knew about the Met was that they were big, got paid more than we did, that Labour hated them after the Miners strikes and that they had so many people that some of them got to stay in carriers while others walked with protesters. I also found out when I travelled to London to pick up a prisoner once, that they occasionally had their meal breaks together as a whole team and that they had canteens with staff in them.

We, however, still had a couple of Police bars at the time, so at least we upped them on that one.

There is an old adage that says "you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you have been" and I think that this is very relevant to Policing. Not learning about the origins of Policing and how the structures came to be and why they changed after specific events, is like the military not studying the work of Sun Tzu or the battles of Agincourt and The Somme.

Personally, I think its a disgrace that we never learned the history of what is really a fundamental pillar of our society, it almost seems like The Job is actually ashamed of where it has come from. Knowing the type of people in ACPO and the Government, I wouldn't be surprised if that was really the case.

As part of the foundations to the Metropolitan Police Act 1829, Robert Peel developed nine principles that were considered to be the first guidelines for Police officers and Policing in general, and having actually read it all the way through, they are considerably less boring than PACE. Listed below, they all still ring true today, nearly 180 years after the Act came in to place. We could do far, far worse than follow their guidance again, and to be honest these principles are what 95% of the popultation of the UK believe the Police should be about anyway.

1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.

3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

5. Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.

7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

When I was applying to join, one of the exercises was to put the 5 priorities in order and discuss why they were relevant, we also sort of covered these in week one, but not much.
They were -

1) To Protect Life,
2) To Protect Property,
3) To Prevent Crime,
4) To Detect Crime,
5) To Keep the Queens Peace.

Nowadays we seem only to be concerned with the 4th one of detecting crime as all the others can only really be considered as countable if we have actually failed to achieve them when 1) someone dies 2) something is destroyed 3) crime actually takes place and 5) the peace is actually broken.

Looking at the way in which the Government have sought (and to a degree succeeded) to micromanage Police officers and completely remove discretion, it seems clear to me that The Principles are as dead and gone as the role of Constable is sure to be if they carry on at the rate they are going.


Sunday, 13 April 2008

Are you calling me a Vichy?

It is better to let 100 guilty men go free, than to imprison an innocent man.

Personally, I firmly believe this, as historically around 80% of them will come back anyway, but I digress.

Many people have slagged Police officers off in the past (especially with the protection that the anonymity of blogging provides) for being acquiescent with the system and being nothing more than a 'Vichy Cop' as someone eloquently put it. The very same people also over use the comments 'if you don't like your job then quit' and 'you knew what you were getting in to so deal with it' when Police officers complain about the ridiculous amounts of bureaucracy that we have to put up with.

Just as an aside, Nurses and GP's complain about the amount of forms they need to fill out in order to meet government targets and stats collation, instead of caring for patients as they joined to do. I don't hear people slagging them off for complaining about it even though most of the bureacracy was in way before a lot of them started.

I think its fair to say that the majority of people who join to be a Police officer do it for a limited number of reasons, be they to help people, catch bad guys, drive fast cars or simply because they always wanted to do it and finally found that they could. It certainly isn't because of the pay, as those who do tend to last less than a year of working on the street. There is way too much crap to deal with and its simply not worth joining for pay alone - unless they escape to an office somewhere to grow some shiny arsed trousers.

At first it's all new, some of it completely unbelievable, but most of it good as you've never really experienced anything like it before. You'll be completely knackered as the toll of shift work, learning and pushing yourself to prove to your colleagues that you are worth your salt kicks in but for the most part, it's all good. Then after a year or so you realise that you're dealing with the same type of people and the same type of problems over and over. You'll have said 'why exactly do we need to do this? it's a waste of time, no one reads it anyway' so often that people don't answer any more, you'll also realise that most of your colleagues say the same thing all the time.

For the most part, virtually everything we do is thankless and viewed with suspicion or scorn by people outside the job. There might be a good reason for some of it, certainly not good enough to justify most of it, but ultimately you know that a lot of what you do is pretty shit.

And my god, will you bitch and moan about it. Maybe not at work, but certainly to your other half and a few mates, most of whom will wonder why you still go to work if you really hate it so much.

And then every now and then, you'll get a job that makes up for all the crap and it's what you joined for - catching a burglar bang at it, helping a family after a tragic incident, nicking a rapist and seeing them get charged the same day, seeing someone completely turn their life around after you helped them out. You might get someone giving you a sincere thank you, or even taking the time to write a letter to your bosses about how happy they were with what you did for them. Relatively minor things, but in a job where you deal with the worst that humanity can throw at you (and each other) the small things really make up for it.

The problem is most people don't see those things, they don't see you at 4am with your knee in some wife beaters neck after he tried to stab you as well, or dragging a burglar out of some kids bedroom after he broke in while they were asleep. All they see is The Bill, or whatever has made media story of the day - whether that's 6 coppers dragging a drunken woman to the floor or someone popping into Tesco to get lunch after parking on double yellows. I'd place a wager that they won't be encouraging everyone to give you a pat on the back next time they see a Police officer walking down the street on the one occasion that the blue moon shines.

Each of us has our own cache of 'good stuff' tucked away inside and occasionally you might think about it when things are 'proper shit' as one of my colleagues regularly puts it, or if you see one of the people involved a few years later.

If society is willing to accept that in order to do the proper thing in preventing an innocent person from being incarcerated they must accept that bad people must go free and bad things could occur a hundred times over, can we can not use the same rationale? Surely it is better to accept that the 1% good is worth the 99% bad, and that its better to be in the position to be able to do the good thing, instead of sitting in an office working for a faceless shareholder?

As much as I moan about how much shite we have to deal with, as long as I know that I have done the right thing when it has been right to do so and that I'm backed up by my colleagues for doing it - even if the majority of the public never hear about it, then I'll keep on doing this job.

And bitching about it.


Saturday, 12 April 2008

First Post

Ok... so I've decided to actually write a blog after being on the blogging periphery for a couple of years. I first heard about blogging after stumbling across the excellent 'Policeman's Blog' a while ago when someone printed a post about detectives, and put it on the wall of our writing room. I have absolutely no intention of making this thing my life's work, nor will it be updated 8 times a day due to the ever decreasing number of rest days I get and the fact that I still have to do my fair share of the housework! I will be posting some stories about things I've dealt with and people I've met, things I generally consider to be both good and crap about The Job, occasionally commenting about other blogs and things I find interesting about life in general.

Firstly though, the blog name - Sheepdogs & Wolves. It is more than a passing nod to the work and thoughts of Psychology Professor Lt. Col (ret'd) Dave Grossman and I use it here as an acknowledgment to the excellent work he has done, and also to those he writes about. I first heard about his work when I read his first book 'On Killing' about 10 years ago which sought to understand and explain the psychological damage that combat and the act of killing has caused men and women through the ages, but more specifically since science and conditioning was used in training after the massive casualties experienced on all sides during the Great War.

As an Army Brat I've been subject to military life as a dependant and experienced the many things, both good and bad, that this life offers, such as travel across Europe and living with people from many many cultures, to being raised mostly by my mum and 'The wives club' and not actually getting to know who my dad truly was (or indeed how bloody funny he actually is!!) until he retired from the Army when I was around 18. Both sides of my family have a long military history in all the Services and all the major wars that the UK have been involved in since the Great War, and naturally I was always steering towards the Military career path. My Dad was an instructor for a great deal of his career and I spent quite a few weekends on the ranges with him and out camping.

I found the methods of training and why they actually work quite interesting and stumbled across Dave Grossman's first book a few years later. I eventually found my way into a Police career instead of the military, and having joined a county force I later found myself in The Met, to experience the considerable contrast in scale of just about everything I had dealt with before.

I was pointed towards Dave Grossman's 2nd book 'On Combat' by the esteemed PC David Copperfield who undoubtedly read it as part of his required reading before moving off to work in Canada. On Combat is a study on the psychological and physiological effects of extreme stress and combat that the Armed Forces and the emergency services experience through the very nature of their work. I would absolutely urge anyone in The Job to buy this book and read it, there is a reason that it is required reading in most Police Forces in the US and other countries, and that is because it is brilliant. It is a bit American from the 'warrior perspective' but if you can get over that bit then you'll find his studies and findings extremely interesting.

Dave Grossman looks at all the various factors that contribute to extreme stress levels such as sleep deprivation, hunger, training and a lack of understanding about how to deal with the psychological aftermath of incidents. The latter is all too common in the UK Police as it simply is not seen as a priority - we just get on with the job at hand and deal with it. The book goes into great depth about perceptual distortions, memory recall, breathing exercises, coping mechanisms and debriefing strategies to be enable the reader to handle the different jobs/incidents that we deal with. It has also helped me with a couple of things I have been through too, which was a welcome bonus!

One of Dave Grossman's observations is regarding the differences between the mindset of Police and military personnel, anyone remotely interested or active in trying to help other people and prevent criminals from prospering, and those who happily sit back and live their lives in ignorant bliss. He suggests that there are 3 different mindsets to consider, and the best way to understand their differences is to classify them as Sheep, Sheepdogs, and Wolves.

The Sheep go about their lives, vaguely aware that the Wolves exist, hoping that they never have to actually see or encounter one. There are considerably more Sheep than Wolves and the vast majority will live out their days having never seen one, although most will know another sheep that has had such misfortune, but they're not really too bothered, as long nothing happens to them. The Wolves prey on the Sheep, occasionally picking one or two off here and there, usually when it's dark so the majority of the flock don't know about it. The Wolves tend to lurk away in the shadows so the Sheep don't notice them, although they have no problem coming out in the open every now and then as they know the Sheep won't really do anything to stop them if they scare them enough.

The Sheepdogs however, know that the Wolves exist, they know where they live, sleep, eat and play. They know that the Wolves will prey on any Sheep, but that they prefer the smallest, weakest of the Sheep who can do nothing to protect themselves, and the Sheepdogs hate the Wolves for it. The Sheepdogs however, have a bit of a problem. As much as they want to protect the Sheep, they tend to look a bit like Wolves, and the Sheep don't really like that, and a few don't trust them because of it.

The Sheepdogs also serve to remind the Sheep that Wolves exist - something they would rather ignore and forget. Most of the Sheep know that the Sheepdogs aren't Wolves and whilst most tolerate, a few welcome them, as long as they never have to actually deal with one. The few remaining older Sheep know that the Sheepdogs are around for a reason and like to see them, because most have seen or experienced over the years what the Wolves can do if there are no Sheepdogs to help them. They also know that the Sheep can become a Sheepdog with the right attitude and a bit of training but the majority of the Sheep don't like to think that they could ever become something that looks like a Wolf and so they distance themselves from the thought.

The Sheepdogs accept that most of the Sheep don't really like them or want them around, but they hang around on the outskirts of the flock anyway because they know all too well what the Wolves will do if they didn't bother. The Sheepdogs try and walk through and speak to the Sheep, to reassure them that they will do everything they can to keep the Wolves away, but still the Sheep are wary of them.

Every now and then the Wolves come and the Sheepdogs try to fend them off, most of the time the Wolves leave after seeing the Sheepdogs, but occasionally there'll be one or two Wolves that think they can take the Sheepdogs on and they'll have a go. The Sheep will see the fight between the Wolves and the Sheepdogs and it scares them, with teeth and claws everywhere, it serves to remind most of them that the Sheepdogs can be just as vicious as the Wolves (if not more so) and that they were right to keep a distance from them.

Even though hardly any Sheep get involved in the melee, most will look on and continue to not trust the Sheepdogs, a few of the Sheep who are saved by the Sheepdogs will be happy as they realise how close they came to becoming supper to the Wolves but they'll mostly keep it to themselves as they know the rest of the Sheep don't like to hear too much about it because it scares them. One or two of the Sheep might get injured by the Wolves despite the best efforts of the Sheepdogs, a few will occasionally blame the Sheepdogs for not protecting them enough, some will blame the Sheepdogs for their injuries after they had stepped in to protect them and fought with the Wolves on the Sheep's behalf in the first place.

Despite this though, the Sheepdogs continue to try and protect the flock, all too aware that the Sheep don't really like them or want them around, no matter how often they try and tell them that the Wolves are about and that the Sheepdogs are there to try and help them. The Wolves included people such as Billy Burglar, Tommy Twocker, Roger Rapist or Darren the drunken friday night fighter.

So, Sheepdogs & Wolves it is then. I hope I can help shed some light on why we do the things that we do, why we continue to try and protect the flock against ever increasing pressure and bureacracy from the Council of Sheep, and why I absolutely love Paramedics, but more on that later.