Wow, so where do I start?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the police are being stripped to the bone and we’re at breaking point. I suspect one day soon something is going to snap and I fear that when it happens it’ll be a constable who was trying to do his best for the public and the job who will end up being sacked or worse. I was having a conversation on Twitter a few days ago about emergency service drivers and how some are doing 200 miles, most of it on blue light runs, in a single shift whilst being single crewed, having had no break for a whole shift. This may not seem like a serious issue to some, but tiredness seriously affects your concentration and your ability to deal with things.
When you drive along the motorway there are always signs saying ‘Tiredness can kill, take a break’, and lorry drivers follow very strict working practices, having a tachograph which monitors how long they drive for and rest for, and this is regulated by law. Yet emergency service drivers are expected to drive hundreds of miles on blue lights without so much as a toilet break. We don’t do an ordinary job, and work in exceptional circumstances, I understand that, but there is a bit of a conflict here. On one hand you’re told to take a break when you feel tired, yet on the other hand you have 999 drivers travelling great distances, risking their own lives in order to help others whilst being tired.
Let me give you a brief example of how it might affect you; An officer has been working for 6 hours on a night shift, he’s not had time to take a break and eat anything because the numbers have been stripped down and the team have been so busy they’ve all been going call-to-call-to-call all night. Suddenly police receive an emergency call to a ‘suspects on’ (that is a burglary where the suspects are still inside the premises), or a sexual assault or any call where someone is in danger and it warrants an emergency response. He can’t turn around to the sergeant and say ‘Sorry Serg, I’m too tired so I’m not gonna take that call’, there’s no-one else to take it as the other few members of the team are tucked up dealing with other incidents, so it’ll have to be him, the whole team are knackered so they just have to deal with it. Imagine how it would look if it got out in the press that police officers didn’t take an emergency call because they were too tired to drive there?! As we always do, we try to do our best for the job and for the public, so he accepts the call, taking the risks because he knows that someone needs his help and that’s why he became a police officer. Whilst he’s driving to the call on blue lights he falls asleep, hits a car and kills someone. That’s his responsibility, he’s done that and he would have to live with that for the rest of his life but my point is, he would be disciplined and probably charged with criminal offences, and when it gets to court I somehow don’t think “I was tired your honour” would carry much weight.
I honestly don’t know the right answer here so I’d be interested in your thoughts, do you not make your way because you’re tired but risk that persons safety who needs us, or do you go, knowing the dangers of driving whilst being so tired. Before you decide, just remember, I’m not talking about being tired because you went out the night before, or because you got up early to go to the gym. I’m talking about being so tired because your team has been cut of it’s officers so there aren’t enough of us to deal with the calls and the ‘awaiting to be assigned’ emergency calls are backing up meaning as soon as you’re finished with one, you’re off to another call. Because of this rushing around you haven’t even managed to take 5 minutes to eat so you’re hungry as well which also affects your ability to concentrate.
Make no mistake, I’m not here asking for sympathy, I’m genuinely interested in your views and how you think we should deal with something which might seem minor but has the possibility of changing lives forever.
I think the phrase dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t springs to mind.
Wow, I’ve just looked at my blog site and I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t blogged since the 16th February, that’s terrible! Lot’s of things have happened, my personal life has been busy, and, of course, we’ve had the Olympics, so that was a crazy four months for us in London! Any hoo, no excuses but I’m back, and hopefully this will be me getting back on the blogging bandwagon.
The idea for this blog first came about when I was on a carrier of officers working in a part of London that I don’t normally work in, we were assisting some borough officers in South London with stopping and searching a group of young lads late one afternoon over Notting Hill Carnival weekend.
As most of you will know, Notting Hill Carnival is renowned for gangs from all over London converging at carnival and fighting with each other. This day in particular we were asked over our radio channel to go to an estate in South London (I forget which borough it was), where officers had seen members of a known gang hanging around, possibly getting ready to go to carnival. We were then told that this group had been searched an hour ago, and a number of knives and weapons were recovered from close to where they were sitting. These were all seized by police.
So, we then arrive to help the officers search the group again, needless to say their grounds for wanting to search the group were very present and we were justified in doing so. Straight away the group were confrontational, trying to walk behind us and surround us, saying all the usual ‘this is our area’ etc… etc… as we always get. The group were searched and nothing was found, however just across from where they were and hidden in the bushes were some very large knives and an assortment of other weapons. Remember that this area was cleared out of it’s weapons an hour ago, so somehow more weapons had suddenly appeared as if David Blaine had put them there himself! Even though we were pretty sure that this group had put the weapons there, it was one of these situations that ‘It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove’ (the eagle eyed among you will recognise that as a quote from the legendary ‘Training Day’). We had nothing to link these weapons to the boys so they were seized and the group was sent on their way. Just before they left, I did ask a few them if they were in a gang, to which I was told ‘No, but this is our area’, I knew they were annoyed that we were being searched, so I tried to explain why we did it, and that we were there to help rid their community of knives and guns so it’s safer for them, but they didn’t care about and it was falling on deaf ears.
Where my issue comes from, is that whilst we were dealing with these lads, a female, in her 40’s, came out of a house in her dressing gown, and started shouting abuse at us ‘So they fuck you up if you go to carnival, now they’re coming to your home to fuck you up’. Our job is hard enough on the street trying to earn the respect of members of the public, especially in certain parts of London where hating the police is so deeply entrenched in their attitudes and lives that nothing I saw will ever change that. These young lads, some of them only 14 or 15, I think are still at an age where we can talk to them and hopefully change their attitude towards us, showing them that we’re trying to do a good job and protect them in their local communities, however naïve that might sound. How are we supposed to do this when said woman is shouting abuse at us in front of these impressionable young guys?
I am fully aware that 30 or 40 years ago when she may have been growing up in that area the police probably treated people very differently, so that probably influenced her opinions of the police, and no doubt she was influenced by the older people around her as she grew up, but what I’m trying to say is that police culture has changed so much in the past 3 decades that it’s not like it used to be. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the attitudes of some parts of the community. It makes me wonder whether it’s not always the police’s actions that makes people so anti-police, but how they are influenced by the older people in their own community and how that nurtures their hatred towards us.
I hear stories of how it used to be in the 70’s and into the 80’s and it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t have imagined working in a police force like that, but it’s now 2012 not the 80’s, we have moved forward and changed the way we work. Can someone suggest how we now go forward and attempt to show local people that it’s not like it used to be.
I’m worried that todays youth are going to grow up being influenced by their elders around them, so they will have that hatred engrained into them right from a young age, then they are going to have children and push that same attitude onto their children and nothing will ever change, this hatred of the police will continue throughout generations to come unless we can do something about it.
At the moment I feel like we are fighting a losing battle and I honestly don’t know what we can do to change the attitudes of the next generation.
I do however, think one option may rest with education. We should be going into schools and interacting with them a little bit more. Not out on the street, where passers-by are eyeing them up and down, but in a class room environment where they don’t have to feel threatened and outnumbered by people in a uniform. A chance for them to ask questions and get their opinion over in a constructive way. We should be finding out what it is that they hate about it, is there a way that the police could do it better and ensuring they understand the reasons behind why it’s such an important tool. And then maybe, just maybe these kids might not grow up being so anti-police and passing on their hatred to the next generation.
I don’t have the answers, so as always, I’m interested to hear your views. Remember, these are just my opinions and how I see it from my point of view.
As a side note….I’m not so naïve to think that we’re there to be liked by everyone, and that not everyone will always support us, that’s just the nature of our work, but I do think it could be a lot better than it presently is.
As we all know these are tough times for policing with numbers being cut left, right and centre (even though the government refuse to believe that) and with certain crimes being on the up. With the governments review of police conditions the next few years are certainly going to define the police for the 21st century.
There are many changes happening within the service, some, I believe so that a senior officer can gain the evidence they need for a promotion and then 5 years later another officer comes along in need of evidence and changes it back to how it was in the first place! This reinventing the wheel is something that constantly happens and leaves us lower ranking officers confused about why it changed in the first place!
With officer numbers being spread very thin on the ground the deployment of those officers is a crucial element to ensure they are not ‘tucked up’ dealing with an unnecessary job and not able to respond to emergency calls. In this blog I want to focus on ‘MetCall’ (Also known as Central Communication Command), which is our communications centre facilitating calls from the public and the dispatching of officers to these calls.
When a member of the public phones 999 (or the new non-emergency 101), the call is answered by the operators at MetCall in what they call ‘First Contact’. They take the information from the caller and place it onto the CAD system. CAD is basically a log, so each incident has it’s own individual CAD number. This is then passed though the system to a dispatcher. Each borough in London has its own ‘pod’, or small area of desks where the dispatchers work. A couple of operators who see the incoming cads, perform intelligence checks and then dispatch units as necessary. The operator in First Contact grades the call depending on how they judge it, this can be based on threat to life, danger to a person or property and so on. The three main types of gradings are: an ‘i’ call (immediate) means we have twelve minutes to arrive at the scene, an ‘s’ grade (standard) means we have one hour and an ‘e’ grade gives us up to 24 hours. I have no problem with these response times, even though I question some of the things that seem to be graded as ‘i’ nowadays, what I’m trying to talk about here is two things, having civilians with no police knowledge has an effect on our availability and secondly how a target driven culture is having consequences for officers on the streets and causing unnecessary delays.
I think I should start by saying that I’ve never worked at MetCall, but I know people who have/do, so things I’ll be talking about are from experiences I’ve had at the other end of the radio or from colleagues who have told me what it’s like.
First I’ll talk a little about targets and how I’m told that the operators in First Contact have strict times in which they have to answer the call, ask the information, hang up and then move on to the next call. This stance of quantity over quality is quite obvious for us on the streets because the quality of information coming through to us on the CAD’s is usually terrible. I would estimate that in over 50% of calls we attend we have to ask the dispatcher to phone the informant back to glean some more information. I don’t know the exact times they have to deal with that initial call, but surely it would be better to spend an extra 30 seconds on the phone in the first place asking a few extra questions, rather than having to get a dispatcher, when it’s really busy to spend 2 or 3 minutes having to call the informant back. This also causes an inconvenience for that member of the public who called us in the first place!
I think another reason why we don’t always get the right information is because some of the operators don’t think like police officers, so some of the questions that I might ask to gauge whether a call needed police to respond isn’t being asked by some. On the back of that, I’m not sure if operators get given any legal training, but recently I received a CAD which was tagged as ‘Burglary’, I read the first two lines which said someone has climbed onto a garden gate and onto the roof to try and steal some lead but didn’t get away with any. This is clearly not a burglary, but an attempted theft. It doesn’t matter to me because I still turn up and report it in the same way, but I am worried about the statistics. I would imagine a senior officer at MetCall must looked at how many calls are tagged burglary, robbery, etc… so this is giving a false picture of what we are actually attending. Although it is important to note that official statistics for offences come from the crime reporting system, not CAD, so when we say crime is rising, it truly is rising not that CADs are being counted when they shouldn’t be.
I know that people want to see more police officers on the streets, but by having police officers (or employing retired officers to come back as staff) at MetCall would directly lead to more availability of the limited resources that we have on the streets. I’ll give you an example, one of the lads on my team was forced to go to MetCall for a short while, and he was pulled in to the supervisor’s office because his call handling time was too high. What they didn’t take in to account was the fact that by him spending a few more minutes on the phone was stopping many CAD’s having to go through to a dispatcher because he was dealing with the issue over the phone. This prevents a unit having to attend which takes valuable resources away from more important calls.
This sort of takes me on to my second point, I get the impression now that many operators seem to think that just because someone has phoned the police that it then warrants a unit to attend. This is not the case, many of the calls we are being asked to attend do not warrant a police response at all. One recent call I can think of is when a woman phone police because she was walking her dog down the road, and another dog barked at her dog which meant that her dog got scared. I kid you not this actually happened, and we had to drive to the other side of the borough to talk to her. As far as I’m concerned there is no way a police unit needs to be attending that. This tied us up for about 40 minutes by the time we had to drive there and deal with it. It would have made much more sense for her to be given words of advice over the phone. This goes on all the time, and the amount of time wasted by police officers having to attend needless calls must be huge.
The point I’m trying to get across is that by having police officers answer the 999 calls we can be sure that the police are only going to be attending the calls that need a police response and all the other stuff is weeded out at the source. I know that in the current climate we don’t have an abundant of officers to do this, but then again do we? If you added up all the injured officers and those on light duties is there a reason that during their recoup period where they have to stay inside they couldn’t be doing this? I don’t know if this would work in reality, but worth looking in to!
Something else that changed at MetCall a while back, was dispatchers moving around to different pods. It used to be that each operator would work with the same team, on the same shifts on the same borough. This was good because they started to learn the borough and get local knowledge, they would on occasions come out with team in the back of cars to experience it, and the officers built up a good rapport and working relationship with the operators. This really helped everyone working together and gave everyone a sense of team work, now however, it’s all changed. Operators could be moved to any pod meaning they could be working on a different borough. When they arrive at work they are told which borough they re going to be dispatching for so they then have no local knowledge and do not know the officers. I know I’m probably not seeing the wider picture, and that it was probably implemented to give greater resilience or something, but from my point of view working at the other end of the radio it’s made our lives much harder!
It might just be that more training has to be given to civilians rather than getting officers to staff it up, possibly part of the training could be to send them out for a couple of shifts in the back of a response car so they can see first hand how they do with a call has knock on effects further down the line. I know that throughout this blog I’ve repeatedly said about having police officers answer calls is the answer, but on reflection, I don’t think it is, I know there are some great operators up there, you recognise some voices and know it’s going to be an easier shift and I know that these operators would be a lot better than some police officers I know so I don’t think that police officers are the be-all and end-all to every part of the job, but having that extra knowledge and insight may help the inefficiency that we have. I also know that there are already some police officers that work there, so it might be that often when I blame the call time or non-police staff, it’s actually a police officer who’s taken the call anyway! I think the main thing we need to do is get rid of the call time targets, this would then free up the staff to get more information and give a more personal service to the callers, which is victim focused….which coincidently is one of the Met’s priorities at the minute!
I worked in a call centre for quite a few years and I know that I would hate to have to work there, it’s not why I joined the job, I think this would actually be an opinion shared by many police officers.
I really hope that this blog doesn’t offend any ‘civvies’ working in the comms rooms. This is not an attack on you guys, but the procedures and policies that are in place. I’m sure some of you guys find it just as frustrating as we do, but if I have inadvertently slagged you off, when it’s not your fault but you’re following some ridiculous SOP, please tell me. I’ve just tried to explain it from how some officers see it on the other end of the radio.
In the wake of PC Nick Manning and his tweeting being under the microscope I thought I would write a blog. Although I’m not going to comment on that particular case because it’s an ongoing investigation I hope by the end of this you’ll see my position on the whole matter. After this news story I began to see tweets and blogs discussing anonymous bloggers so I thought that being one of them it’s only fair that I add my views and reasons on the matter. As far I can tell, there appears to be two matters here, police officers using twitter/social media(SM), and secondly those that do it anonymously. So where to start? It’s probably best to start by saying why I tweet, then move on to the issue of anonymity.
I wanted to use Twitter to help the public understand the police service, so that they may view us in a better light and understand some of our thought processes and our procedures so they can see what we actually do in day-to-day policing, it’s a side that’s often not seen and rarely shown on any of the police program’s on TV. I hoped by tweeting and blogging that I would be able to engage with public, not just in an attempt to help the police/public relationship, but more importantly on a personal level I wanted to improve my understanding of how the public view the police and how I could improve as a police officer to make things better for members of the public. I think that there is a high probability that I could learn something from others and become a better officer.
The problem is, I often feel like police officers aren’t allowed to have opinion for fear of receiving disciplinary action, as I spoke about in one of my earlier blogs, people often forget that we are also human beings, we have opinions, feelings and when we take the uniform off we are just the same as anyone else, let’s not forget one of the founding principles of the police from Sir Robert Peel – ‘The police are the public and the public are the police.’ I think that the public have a right to know, and with everyone talking about accountability and transparency I honestly believe that I’m helping the public to understand some of the challenges that we face every day. I’m by no means ‘taking the law into my own hands’, but just trying to help do my bit. Just as if as I would talk to a member of the public on the street to help our image, I will happily have a conversation about policing on Twitter (within reason) for the same gain.
Following on from this is something that is regularly discussed in the media…Human Rights. Human rights are regularly cited in court and the media but what about Article 10? This is the right to freedom of expression, so I wonder does this apply to police officers?
A lot of what I say is my own personal opinion, but i think just as its important for officers to see it from someone else’s point of view, sometimes it’s just as important for someone to see from a police officers point of view.
Moving on to anonymity. Well, there a few different reasons why I choose to tweet and blog behind the facade of @laptop_cop, one of these reasons (in no particular order), is the safety of my family. We deal with some horrible, unscrupulous people, and occasionally they make threats towards us. (Only yesterday a colleague of mine got told by someone he’d arrested that they were going to find his daughter and wife so he could rape them). Now I know that most of the time they are just comments said in the heat of the moment through anger/frustration and nothing will ever happen, but all it takes is one of these people to actually carry out a threat and I don’t think that’s worth the risk.
In the 21st century, with all the technology available and the Internet, it’s not hard to track people down. I know the job advises us against using social media, but other people in my family might still use it, and I can hardly get them to stop.
I regularly help to police events and protests in central London and it’s becoming common place that we are filmed by members of the public (usually so called ‘legal advisers’), I.e. they walk along the cordons, taking officers names and filming them so that I assume in the event something happens later on in the day they can say what officers were where and who might have been involved. Whilst I can understand this, and it may even be a good thing in some situations
, if that information is published on the Internet it is then available to anyone, forever (which could also have consequences if you want a future career in covert policing). All it takes is one person to publish your name, or a photo and it’s out there in the ether forever. Maybe I’m being over the top but is it worth risking?
Rightly or wrongly I always assumed that the police were given shoulder/collar numbers to not only identify us within the job, but also so that we didn’t give our names out to members of the public, you shoulder number was your identification. Only now for some reason we all have to wear name badges, possibly so it makes us more accountable? I don’t know the real reason, but in my opinion we shouldn’t have to wear name badges, after all if someone wishes to make a complaint they can give my shoulder number to the inspector, it’s still me. I just don’t think anything can be gained from officers wearing their names. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this?
I know people reading this will say that this is extreme that someone would genuinely threaten a police officers family, but unfortunately in our job we often deal with worst case scenarios, and a saying that I live by is “prepare for the worst, hope for the best”, this way I can’t be caught out.
It’s fair to say I spend quite a lot of my life living in fear of being summoned to the Superintendent’s office, or getting a knock at my door because the DPS (the professional standards office) have investigated Laptop_cop and found out who I am. However, in relation to the content of my tweets, I never tweet about anything operational and never tweet anything that could compromise active cases or operations. In fact, I rarely tweet about actual stuff that happens at work it’s mostly my opinions. As far as I can recall, I never tweeted anything that I wouldn’t say to a member of the public in the street. This is something that appears to be very blurred at the moment, if I bump into someone whilst out on foot patrol and talk to them about policing cuts or a general chat about the police I’m seen to be engaging with the community, yet if I tweet the very same things I worry that I could face disciplinary action. Is there a difference? I’m not sure there is, yes there is a much wider audience on Twitter and I may have journalists that follow me (I can’t control who follows me or not), but it’s still the same information. I know there is obviously a line, it’s not like I would call my local paper and give them a juicy storey about the police but how are blogs regarded? I could be wrong and if someone could tell me the distinction I’d be grateful.
Anonymity, in my opinion is key for openness in such serious and thought provoking matters. Someone, especially a police officer is much more likely to be open and give an honest view if they can do so without fear of reprisals (I mean from the professional standards people). Much like when business meetings are held under ‘The Chatham House Rule’ (Chatham House website )to encourage free speaking and openness, I think the same could be said for blogging/tweeting.
I’ve looked through our guidelines for officers wishing to use social media in their own time, and as far as I’m aware I stick to them. Although I’ve told people who I work for, no one actually knows who I am. So from what I can tell, the only thing which seems to be a catch-all is the point which talks about bringing the MPS into disrepute or compromising its effectiveness.
I’ve looked up ‘disrepute’ in the dictionary and it’s defined as ‘The state of being held in low esteem by the public’. Something I wanted to achieve when I set up this blog was to highlight to the public some of the processes and things that the police have to deal with which they otherwise wouldn’t ever know about. By doing this I don’t believe that the public will hold the MPS in low esteem, if anything I believe it would be quite the opposite, it can only help to gain greater support for the police in the face of the cuts by highlighting to the public the daily challenges that we face.
In summary, I think that as long as officers aren’t tweeting about live operations or jobs (unless its something the public could help with, e.g. Missing person, recently stolen car) then is there really a problem? Do the public have a right to know what it’s actually like, from the officers themselves, not what the media want to the public to know?
I do think there needs to be better guidelines on blogging/tweeting and the possible consequences of it however I understand it’s still a very new concept, something that professional standards need to do though is to educate the officers! God knows we love a powerpoint presentation, or NCALT package (computer based learning) in the police, so why not include social media into our mandatory training. Rather than trying to prevent officers from using social media, why not help them to do it in a way that can benefit the service and the public.
I’d love to hear your views, for or against so please comment….