Thursday, 17 July 2008

Overtime - not always a good thing

Just before Christmas I was working on one of our usual 'Operation Overkill' jobs that the SMT (Senior Management Team) put together to show an overwhelming Police presence at times when lots of visitors or tourists are around such as the Christmas period, school holidays, Notting Hill etc. As usual, the only people actually earning overtime were those on ring fenced squads who the duties office 'forgot' to warn early enough and the office dwelling shiny arses who only ever turn out for double time, the rest of us were on a cancelled rest day. For those not in the know, this is a rostered rest day between shifts where we are ordered to work unpaid overtime in exchange for a rest day back, the kick in the teeth is that we are usually not allowed to take them, let alone normal annual leave, because we are always under strength, so they just get 'banked' and sit unused for months on end.

The nature of the op was the same as it always is, swamp a given area with ten times the normal number of Police officers on a Friday and Saturday night duty without providing extra custody space or a charge centre, no extra vehicles or computer terminals (can't use the locked offices as they are apparently personal issue and woe betide anyone who uses one at night) and role out people for official visits like MP's, 'strategic partners' or Judges so they can look at how many Police officers work at night. The response officers then role their eyes or shake their heads in disgust as said visitors say things like "wow, I thought Policemen complain they are always short staffed"

I was on a post near one of our 'high footfall areas' (or 'busy' as I like to call them) with a couple of guys from my team, all equally miffed at losing our weekend and finding out all the other people in our area were being paid overtime as we stood in our obligatory bright yellow vests which apparently makes people feel safer. Our job was to 'provide presence and reassurance' and also to discourage anti social behaviour from large groups of drunk/sober/young males and/or females and to proactively enforce local policy and prevent crime. Basically what we try and do every single weekend, but on a much larger scale so that when the SMT look at all the arrest figures on Monday morning they can pat themselves on the back and all sit in their group huddle wringing hands in glee.

Along with all the comments from people surprised at seeing ten Police officers on one street let alone a hundred or so in a small area, as a guy walked past me he said "alright lads?? On overtime are we??" as though he was talking to a five year old with his hand in the cookie jar after being told he couldn't have any. Before I could answer, one of my colleagues said "actually no, we've had our weekend cancelled so we're working for free while everyone else is being paid, and I personally have had to cancel a holiday that I'd already paid for because of it, so we've been royally shit on. But thanks for asking" The guy walked off with his mates in stunned silence, obviously unable to use his witty retort, had we said yes.

But this got me thinking, there are an awful lot of misconceptions in the public about how overtime is paid, who is eligible, what rate it's paid at and how available it is. After the pay dispute march there were loads of comments on the BBC's Have Your Say pages with people claiming that we can get all the overtime we want, that we get lots of days off to 'swan about' and that we get to pick and choose what jobs we get to do.

Firstly I would like to point out that overtime is exactly that - OVER TIME. Just like every other organisation in the UK, the Police are governed by the Working Time Regulations which restrict a working week to 40 hours. The shift patterns that we work all average out to 40 hours a week over the year whether we work 8, 10 or 12 hour shifts. Obviously if you work 12 hour shifts you are working a long day but the upside of that is you get a rest day for each day worked (such as 4 on, 4 off like the Fire Brigade although they get to sleep on night duties) whereas if you work an 8 hour pattern then you get the equivalent of a 2 day weekend after 5 days working. We already work as much as we are legally supposed to so any over time that we do work is above and beyond our existing shift, and we are compensated for it by having rest days or paid overtime should we be required/requested or instructed to work more.

My personal view now, is that my free time is worth at least as much to me as the organisation and if they want it, then they can buy it off me. Also, I'm entitled to my rest days just as much as everyone who works and if I wish to 'swan about' when everyone else is at work and I'm supposed to be off then that is my business! I quite like the saying "this is my weekend, I work shifts" when people ask me why I'm off at seemingly random times.

Just like the vast majority of officers I often worked without claiming any overtime or even hours in lieu. When I was a probationer I really had no clue how the overtime system worked or what I was actually entitled to take such as expenses for subsistence when working away from my normal base, or double time when given less than 8 days notice as it was at the time. I turned up, worked when I was told to, worked when it was offered to me and went in on my rest days to clear my paperwork tray down and book on for time in lieu for the hours I was there. When my payslip came through if I got paid overtime then great, if not, then I wasn't really bothered. The flip side of this was that I was permanently knackered and slept through my rest days, had virtually no work/life balance and saw my family, let alone my friends less than once a month if I was lucky.

The rules and regulations for how and when overtime is paid is strictly adhered to because of budget constraints and if there is any reason what-so-ever that the duties office can actually get out of paying us then they will. There are three main types of overtime that we can work - planned paid, planned unpaid and unplanned. The latter is the easiest one to explain, if we are at work and arrest someone and have to work over our rostered finish time then we would incur unplanned overtime AFTER the first half hour from when the shift is supposed to finish. We don't get paid for the first half hour at all however if you claim all the overtime as unpaid leave then you can claim that time back.

Unplanned overtime has to be authorised (in the Met anyway, other forces have different procedures) by the Duty Officer who is of the rank of Acting Inspector or above and is usually given strict limits such as 2 - 4 hours or as necessary and justified on a regular hourly basis. Each team has a strict overtime budget for the year and the team Inspectors are penalised in their annual PDR if they exceed the budget, so it is in their interest to not pay overtime if it can be avoided and will encourage the job being handed over to someone else, or even outright refusing to pay as I have seen a few times. Unplanned overtime is paid at the rate of time + a third after the first half hour is deducted. In the days of the overtime binder (it's now all electronically based) the different types of overtime were written in different coloured pens so they could be quickly identified. Unplanned as such is referred to as 'black' because it is standard paid overtime, doesn't need checking or confirming and was simply written in black pen.

Planned paid overtime happens when we receive either a warning for duty from the duties office, or if you are on rest days and called to be offered to work for a specific Op, such as manning up the core team when short staffed (hardly ever happens) or more regular 'Aid' warnings such as demos, football, Op Safeguard (housing prisoners at Police stations due to prison overcrowding) or role specific tasks for specialists. If we are warned with less than 15 days notice then we are entitled to be paid time + a half for the number of hours worked, referred to as green, or if the warning is less than 5 days notice it is paid at double time and is referred to as red.

Planned unpaid overtime happens when we are warned well in advanced for things like 'Force cancelled rest days' which would be New Year or Notting Hill for example where everyone has their rest days cancelled and are required to work unless they have already submitted leave applications that have been authorised. They are also used more often and more recently for expected high level public order events such as football fixtures where everyone eligible (such as public order trained or specialists) are cancelled as soon as the date is announced to avoid having to pay them overtime. Once the people ordered to work on those days are confirmed, anyone surplus to the operation has their rest days reinstated.

The main bone of contention at the moment is the extensive use cancelling rest days meaning we are unable to plan leave or get the leave applications refused only to find we don't get used, by then it's too late to plan as partners/families are unable to take leave at short notice with their employers. I have been cancelled for two days in a row to prevent me from claiming a recall to duty (as below) and then only ever getting one day back if worked. Unplanned unpaid overtime is also counted against budgets so the SMT's are penalised against the number of rest days or hours left on their books, the more outstanding untaken rest days, the higher the penalty.

This penalty means that the SMT invariably refuse requests from teams to work unpaid days to do things like team training, courses outside of normal work days, team planned ops such as ANPR (automatic number plate recognition system - scans intelligence databases for reports against specific vehicles/drivers), drugs/arrest warrants or rapid entry jobs. When I was a probationer and would go in on rest days I actually found out I wasn't supposed to but because I had work to show for it, it was honoured, however there is no way that we can do that now due to the budget costs.

In addition to the rates at which overtime is paid there are regs covering 'recall to duty' which is starting more than an hour before the force working day of 0700 hours or just over an hour going into a rest day following a night shift. These cover incidences such as in early morning raids where we start at 0400 (for example) or are supposed to finish at 0700 following a night duty and then work past 0815 following an arrest. A recall following nights has to be authorised by the duty officer and to get it passed it will have to be a 'decent' arrest such as a drink driver, serious assault or robbery, nicking any old rubbish will usually result in being told in no uncertain terms to sod off! A recall can be lucrative as it is a minimum of 4 hours and one hour travel at double time however after working a set of nights, most people are too knackered and to go actively hunting at 0600 knowing you will be doing at least an extra 2-3 hours after a 10 or 12 hour shift just isn't appealing despite the money, although most teams have at least one overtime bandit who actively seeks it.

As we are unable to simply pick and choose when we can do overtime (unless called and offered, but to refuse is a sure way of never getting called again) a good way of becoming more eligible to be allocated overtime is to get a specialist skill such as advanced driver, PSU driver (to drive public order carriers), public order trained, public order specialists, search trained or POLSA, custody Sgt, call handling/control room or to be surveillance trained etc. These courses are hard to get and we have to work towards them by evidencing suitability to even apply to some, let alone joining the back of a long list of people already waiting. They are invariably subject to minimum tenures at division or minimum levels of service/training before hand, they are also a double edged sword as although you are making yourself more eligible to work paid overtime, you are also making yourself more eligible to frequent cancellations and reallocated rest days.

Some specialists do get more pay by having mandatory overtime, however there is no extra pay for just being a specialist (such as firearms) everyone at the same rank gets paid the same for length of service regardless of skill sets or level of responsibility. Some specialist teams work an 8 hour shift pattern but have a mandatory 4 hours overtime so they work 12 hour days and get paid for the additional overtime, but get less rest days due to the 8 hour pattern. It is not for everyone, especially if you like to have your rest days, but I have a few mates in some specialist posts and depending on your needs it can be a good option.

After the 7/7 bombings and the subsequent attempts on 21/7, there was a massive amount of overtime going for a good 4 months which cost the Met tens of millions of pounds to run reassurance and extra security patrols around strategic and vulnerable sites. This did have quite an effect on crime within the areas that were being policed but there were also a lot of people physically run into the floor by having no time off to recover, which is why the Met now operate a policy of working no more than 7 days straight without a rest day, although it still happens. It also has meant that there is hardly any money available for normal overtime due to contingent budgets and the fact that the Met is still trying to claw back as much money from everywhere possible to make up for it. Contrary to some of the comments I've read by people on blogs and on news sites, we can't just walk into work and book on for double time on a whim.


Thursday, 10 July 2008

Growth of Policing

Another amusing email from a mate, an exceptional driver with severe (Police) tourettes and a penchant for home made Aero milkshakes. There have been a few different versions but all ring true in one way or another!

Years of Policing - One to Four.

For most officers, this is their first time outside of the middle class bubble. They have never seen a dead body, never seen life threatening injuries, never dealt with a domestic, never witnessed the shit some people call 'home life', and never really understood the phrase 'Man's Inhumanity To Man' until now. Everything is new to them. You can identify them 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. They love it; they show up early for their shift. They work way past the end of their shift without even considering an overtime slip. They believe rank within the job is based only on ability and those in the upper ranks got there by knowledge and skill in police work only. They believe everyone is competent; everyone is on the same page and working towards the same high minded goals. When they finally go home to their significant other, they tell them everything they did and saw. Some of the more 'eaten up' purchase a police scanner so they can hear the radio calls while at home.

Years of Policing - Five to Six

They now show up for work about 2 minutes before their shift, and they are hiding about 30 minutes before end of the shift, writing reports so they can just throw them in the sergeant's in-box and leave ASAP. Some have to get to their second job to earn money to pay for the divorce that is pending. They bitch about everything, some drink excessively, some chase women, and all hate the public, politicians, and media. They feel they have more in common with the hookers, thieves, druggies, etc. but hate them too. Those pens that write in the rain are no longer needed. Writing traffic tickets can be a lot more trouble than they are worth, even on a nice day. To write one, or to write anything while standing in the rain, is a sure sign of madness. Their spouse is no longer interested in hearing about all the gore and heartache. They get the 'you spend more time with the cops than you do with me' speech. A lot.

Years of Policing - Seven to Fifteen

This is when cops are at their best. They have survived changes in administration and many have survived at least one career threatening incident. They know how the political game is played, both inside and outside the job. They know who they can trust and who they can't. They have select friends within the job, and stay away, as best they can, from the nuts and boot-lickers. They know the legal system, the judges, prosecutors, defence solicitors, etc. They know how to testify and put a good case together. They are usually the ones that the gaffers turn to when there is some clandestine request or sensitive operation that needs to be done right. These cops are still physically fit and can handle themselves on the street. They will stay around the station when needed, but have other commitments, such as a second spouse, a second girlfriend (sometimes both) and most of their friends are non job.

Years of Policing - Sixteen to Retirement

Now the cops have a single objective... retirement and pension. Nothing is going to come between them and their monthly payslip. The boss, the force, the idiots around the station, and the creeps on the street can all go to hell, because they could come between them and 'sitting on the beach'. There is no topic of discussion that can't somehow lead back to retirement issues. These guys are usually sergeants, detectives, scenes of crime officers, community, or some other post where they will not be endangered. They especially don't want some young stupid newbie getting them sued, fired, killed, or anything else causing them to lose their 'beach time'. They spend a lot of time having coffee, hanging around the station, and looking at brochures of things they want to do in retirement.

Thirty years of hell behind them....

The retired cop usually dies within five years of retirement, saving the force a bunch of money.

Of course, nothing is ever 100% true, but if you are a cop, were a cop, know a cop, then you will certainly recognise some of the above statements!!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Long cold lonely night

I’ve driven round that corner countless times before and since and I am still surprised there aren’t more accidents there. A simple two lane left hander before a roundabout with a concrete wall on the outside edge that ‘encourages’ the drivers on that side to cut the corner, forcing drivers on the inside to brake sharply. The council helpfully placed a lamp post as far out on the pavement as possible to light the corner a few years before. The problem though, is being right on the apex, should you try and mount the soft edged kerb to escape the car cutting into your lane as you both go round the corner, you’re buggered and have no where to go.

The driver of the estate car is standing next to our car having unfortunately found himself planted well and truly into the lamp post, the driver of the car responsible has obliviously carried on, having made no attempt to stop and see if he is ok. Apart from being understandably pissed off when we first turn up, he has chilled out now and is going through the motions of the traffic report with me. Keeping a half ear on the radio as always, I hear the call go out “a unit to attend please, winter estate, ambulance on way to report of a male stabbed, requesting Police support, male at location previously violent to officers and paramedics”

I bet you guys get quite a few calls like that, he says, that place is a shit hole. I agree that it isn’t the nicest place in the world to live but say that we don’t get too many people getting stabbed there, usually just drunk and throwing fridges off the balconies when we turn up to their normally pathetic domestics about who runs the TV remote. I carry on for the next few minutes topping and tailing the bits I need to fill the report and as I am taking some photos of the car position I hear the familiar voice of my tutor on the radio “control, we’ve got one detained for attempted murder, the paramedics are working on one guy now but it’s not looking good, can you jack up CID and get the skipper here ASAP please”

As I finish off with the RTA my driver says “The skippers just phoned me, I’ll have to drop you off at the nick to finish that off, and then blat him round to the address” I jump in and we make our way back to the station. We’d gone straight out to the call after parade so knowing it was going to be yet another busy night I manage to get some food down my neck before I sit down to fill out the traffic form. I grab myself a coffee and sit down in the unusually deserted writing room; everyone available has gone to help out. I’m filling the various stats questions and drawing the scene plan out and I listen to the updates on my radio. I’m gutted I’m not there to see what’s going on but I can get a good idea of what it’s like from the radio traffic.

The victim has all but died at the scene, the paramedics took him straight to A&E but he was pronounced dead on arrival the second he got through the door. Over the next half an hour or so the duty SOCO (scenes of crime officer) has attended along with CID and started their preliminary processing of the scene. They decide that due to the time of day (about 10pm now) it would be better to secure the scene and let the day turn come in with a full team to start the investigation proper in the morning. The suspect was taken straight to A&E as well to be treated for slash marks and was being guarded by two of the guys from my team. I call up the driver I’m posted with and inform him that I’ve finished the traffic report and am ready to be picked up and he tells me to hang around and get some food. I’ll need it along with a book apparently.

As the duty team probie I’ve done scene guard and constant watch god knows how many times and although inevitable and necessary, it doesn’t make it any less mind numbingly tedious. I grab my ‘shafted’ bag out of my locker which contains a book, a scarf, a couple of bottles of water, some boiled sweets and various nibblies, I then go on the hunt for some reasonably new magazines. As I walk into custody I see the custody Sgt and ask her if she knows anything about the murder job. In her broad Geordie accent she says “Yeah, W just phoned me to give me the heads up for when his bod comes in, stabbed at least 8-9 times in the neck, chest and face, apparently over some fuck ugly fat bird. I hear you’re going to be sitting up there all night, you’d best have these, pet” she then hands me a couple of unread newspapers and a mag that is on the desk, she then gives me the rest of her Cadbury’s chocolate ├ęclairs, which is nice.

I go out into the back yard to wait for my lift up to the address and he pulls in a minute or so later. I chuck my bag on the back seat and as I go to get in my driver says “go and grab a fleece and your big coat, you’re going to be sitting outside and it’s freezing up there, they’ve turned all the electricity in the flat off” Oh great, I hear myself say out loud. Seconds later and I’m back in the car on my way out and the driver fills me in with the info. Apparently two mates were getting extremely drunk when one accused the other of fancying his wife, the argument got extremely heated as the wife started to wind her husband up, it came to blows and then the husband grabbed a knife from the kitchen.

The victim apparently chased his mate round the house slashing at his arms and back until the suspect grabbed hold of the knife and stabbed him repeatedly in the upper body and head. The 12 inch serrated kitchen knife did an incredible amount of damage and the paramedics only took him to hospital because they couldn’t ‘call him’ (pronounce death) at the scene. As the wife was on the phone the suspect had apparently disposed of the knife before anyone turned up, it is still outstanding.

As we drive into the main entrance to the winter estate it reminds me, as it does every time, of some of the army estates I used to live on, huge high rise buildings, a token park in the middle and only one main road in. At least we didn’t get people dumping stolen cars and setting them alight every weekend. As I look up to the main building opposite the entrance I see the guys standing outside the address on the 4th floor balcony, the hi vis strips on their jackets reflecting our headlights. I grab my bag and start making my way up to the flat, the stairwell is in desperate need of a clean and a coat of paint and the stench of urine hits me in the back of the throat.

I get to the flat and meet the two officers at the door. A photographer is inside taking preliminary shots so the SOCO team can be properly briefed in the morning. I look into the hallway and see the carnage inside; there are splats of blood on the carpet and up the walls. The lights are off but I can see blood trailing into both of the rooms in front of me. One of the guys sees the look on my face and says “that’s nothing mate, you wait to you get inside” As the photographer comes out he briefs me.

There is a plastic chair in the hall that one of the neighbours lent us, there are SOCO blocks on the floor (raised blocks on legs to make a path without disturbing the evidence) leading into each room, and the power is off so we have to use torches as he shows me in. We go into the hall and round to the kitchen to the right and I see the black pool on the floor where the victim laid and the bloodstained boot prints of the officers and the paramedics who attended. There are empty saline bags and bandage wrappings on the floor. As we go further into the house the metallic smell of blood and death reminds me of an abattoir we visited at school once.

I’m told that I can only go as far in as the hall, ideally I need to stay on the chair to make sure no one comes in. The photographer and the two other officers cheerily wave good bye as they leave to get a lift back to the nick. I sit down on the chair and then look up. The blood is all over the ceiling. I knew that arterial spray was strong, but this house looks like someone chucked a grenade in a vat of blood. There are spray lines, pools and bloodied handprints all over the walls, I look on the floor and I see drag marks and more handprints. What the hell happened here? The smell is making me sick and I try not to look at the walls. It is almost as if someone has used the house to film a scene for a comedy horror flick there is that much blood, but this isn’t funny.

I get my book out of my bag and try to ignore the world of sheer death that I am sitting in the middle of. I can’t get the image of the kitchen out of my mind and I keep re reading the same page. A car then turns onto the estate; the headlights shine right through the door and illuminate the flat. As the car moves the shadows on the walls change as they sweep across the glistening blood still drying slowly in the freezing cold. The temperature has dropped even more and it starts to rain outside.

I look at my watch, it’s just gone eleven and I am going to be on scene until the day turn relieves me just after seven. I can’t read because I'm listening to my radio and every time I lift my eyes from the page I see blood. I keep turning round to look at the kitchen and imagine the awful fight and the terrible injuries that were inflicted on both men, with the woman screaming in the background.

I don’t want to be here.