Thursday, January 25, 2007

Prisons, Prisons

This is an emotive subject. It isn't something I should really be writing about having not had enough sleep and being up late, but there we go.

Anyone who doesn't have their head in a bucket will notice the furore going on about prison overcrowding. I don't really want to talk about that.

I am more interested in the issue of whether prison works in the first place. Extra Special is also running a series on Jails.

The popular and tabloid press seem to consistently overlook this rather fundamental question. The Sun simply calls for more prisons, disused army camps, ships, anything with a metal door and a lock to be used as a prison "to lock these dangerous people away". I can't bear to make myself trawl through the daily mail online to see what they have to say.

In my humble, lowly opinion, prison is effective. In one respect. It takes a convicted offender out of the circulation of the public.

It seems to me that the popular clamour for people to be sent down is short sighted. People just want people to be punished, and locking them up is a punishment. Yes, correct.

But my concern with prison is that it can cause more problems than it solves. Someone in prison cannot work. If they had a job, then they'd lose it. If they had a flat, then they'd lose it. I've read too many reports of how when a sentence is finished then they are simply escorted to the front gates and abandoned. How can this be a strategy to reduce reoffending?

A while ago the Guardian ran a thought provoking insight into the sheer ineffictiveness of just throwing people in prison without much thought beyond satisfying political populism. For those of you with the time, read this article. I have to admit I was of the point of view of "throw people in prison, they shouldn't have committed crime in the first place should they". Reading this article made me realise I was blinkered and short sighted.

I've said before the government often seems embarrassed to admit they need a police force. They are even more embarrassed to admit they need a prison service. There has been a chronic lack of funding and direction from the government for years regarding prisons- (NB- does anyone know of any prison officer blogs?)

I would love to see properly enforced probation and community service. But they again have had so little funding scum types can get away with ignoring these sentences and laughing at them, which only goes to fuel media hype deriding them.

I don't quite know what my point is here. I'm quite aware this post isn't exactly a cohesive argument. I think its to counter the stereotype I have been on recieving end of over the last day or so with this overcrowding malarkey, namely that people think I'm in the police and therefore I must want to throw everyone in jail.

No, I don't. I'd much rather not be in the position where I have to consider that in the first place. Unfortunately, the prison service in its current state does not help reduce reoffending rates, and in many cases almost leaves it inevitable. And no, I don't always think a custodial sentence is the best thing.

Before I get criticised- don't anyone think for a minute that I think serious crime should be dealt with by community service etc. Paedophiles, stranger rapists etc- I want one of them living near me and my family as much as any of you. Which is not at all.

My head is swimming. Hopefully (I daren't read through this post, it is bound to have terrible grammar and ropey spelling) I've put across some views about prison and what happens when people leave prison. I want to open up the floor. When you've sat and thought about it, leave a comment. I'm going to be busy for the next few days, so give me something to think about.

I am definitely heading off to bed now. Goodnight all.

An update after a decent night's sleep: A couple of links for you all to look at: Smart Justice and Prison Reform. Another day, I shall post something a bit more comprehensive about prison. But I have to admit at the moment I am struggling to motivate myself to write on here. I can't do what I really want to do on here, which is let the blog be my catharsis for the worst jobs and most frustrating bits of beauracracy that drive me mad. If I do that, every time I post "emotionally" soon after said event, the chances of my being found out increase. I heard my colleaugues talk about police blogs they look at the other day and I swear my internal temperature shot up about 5 degrees. So I know they look at these, and so I daren't post about things that they might recognise. So........... I'm not sure what direction I'm heading with this blog. Maybe I need a bit of time to let it lie still and let me reflect.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Deep breaths

This is a job from last year.

The first part of the call started off routine enough.... "Can I have unit for a personal injury accident, outside the Central Railway Station...."

There was a bit of a pause. I start making my way, I have a couple of my probationers with me, they are keen to get to grips with the reporting mechanisms of road accidents (trust me, they're not simple.)

"Er we're getting quite a few calls now.... they're all saying its fatal"

Uh oh.

The first unit gets there. Their first request is for a traffic unit. Traffic only turn up to serious accidents.

Control room: "Yeah we've got your car on cctv.... standby.... oh."

The operator makes a nervous laugh and mumbles something about traffic. She's probably wishing she could take her eyes off the screen but they are still drawn to this image that she'll probably not forget in a while.

We get there. We'd run from the opposite end of the ground and the governor and another skipper are already there. Cordons aren't yet up, but traffic is stopped. Its quite an early hour so there's not too many people about yet.

I stop the car and look over to the road where there's a crumpled heap on the floor. I pause, then take a second glance. The brain figures there's something not right in the dull orange streetlight glow.

The body is missing its head.

I'm out of the car now, deploying my crew to cordon points on the pavement. A couple of late revellers are walking along the road. The girls start with the usual drunk flirting that every cop in a yellow jacket gets. "Ello ello whats going on here then?"

I can't be bothered replying. I just point to the heap on the road. Even in the poor light you can see the mess. Imagine driving over a large melon, and you'll have an idea of what it looked like. The girl stumbles. She turns white, and mouths a few nothings as her brain tries to comprehend what its looking at. She clings on to her bloke and drags him off as fast as her precarious shoes let her.

The other skipper comes up to me looking serious and angry. "Its a fail to stop". The driver responsible has left the scene. Do we know what direction. Not yet.

By now, the emotions have disappeared. This is a job to investigate thoroughly and promptly for the sake of the poor sod left on the road. Plenty of units are here now, and the scene is secured. I go and fetch a hand held searchlight and start looking closely at the road surface around the body. I'm looking for any hint of tyre tread imprint, out of I'm sure what you can all guess. Thankfully the road is dry. I think I see something and get an ambulance to move out the way. They've got nothing they can do anyway. Sure enough, there's an imprint, left on the road markings. It is replicated a couple more times up the road before fading out. It looks like a big wheel, maybe a truck or a coach. I make sure they're preserved. The collision investigators will be able to figure out a wealth of information from this- type of tyre, circumfrence etc.

Traffic are controlling the scene now. There's not a lot left for me to do. I speak to the skipper, make sure he's aware of the tread marks and they go in the log. Other people are tasked to trawl back through the CCTV camera tapes.

I move off in the direction that it looks like the driver was going. I have a fruitless search of the side streets in the hope the driver has panicked and abandoned the car nearby. I give up after an hour. I go back to the scene. The body is covered with a forensic tent now, as I hear that a crowd was gathering on the central island gawping. I would love to get a water cannon on them one day. Yes, its pretty damn awful, and I can't begrudge someone stopping to see whats going on. But once you've realised what it is, move the hell on would you.

I check on my crew, who have realised they're pretty much stuck there on the cordon for the time being.

I have to return my car for the day shift, and trundle off. Another job to reflect on the mortality of us all.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stated Cases

Someone has posed a very interesting question on the comments on the previous posts. Shamelessly picking up on this theme............

Quite rightly, ignorance of a law is not a defence for contravening it. So with all sorts of different forces giving trials for different powers for PCSO's, will this cause problems.

Say: I live in area A, and know PCSO's have no power to do a certain something. I go to area B, and a PCSO wants to do something that I know in area A he can't. I refuse to let him, and I subsequently get charged with obstructing a designated officer (or whatever the technical wording is- my reference books are in my locker- but there's definitely a charge heading like that designed to deal with PCSO's).

Is that right? This is where my knowledge of legal things falls short. How is it possible to trial powers of detention, search etc only in one geographical area? Either it's law, or its not. Or would the law have to state it only applies to said geographical area? If anyone can help, leave a comment.

In the meantime, a while ago I asked if anyone had been contacted by a police magazine. It wasn't Police Review trying to get hold of me, it was the Sharp End. A Home Office funded magazine asking me to call them or drop in? Forgive me if my over suspicious and paranoid mind tells you to take a long walk off a short pier (actually, I said to them I'd only be prepared to contact them by email, and never got a response). The cloak of anonymity is the only thing that lets the logical part of my brain be overruled (because the logical part of my brain says "what are you writing a blog for you idiot").

But enough from me now. Still nothing of substance to talk about, I know. I'm clawing the walls of my office wanting to get back to response work. I'm trying to bribe and cajole the other skippers on old team to letting me go out (when I get back) and do stuff as a response officer, forget this stripes supervise this that blaaaaaaah marlarkey. I just want to get back out and stuck into things. Even griefy thankless jobs are currently appealing!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Blurring Lines

The difference between a Police Officer and a Police Community Support Officer is getting less and less distinct.

Meanwhile, numbers of Police Officers are set to decline.

Is this healthy?

I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories, but is the Home Office really doing its best to replace PCs with PCSOs? The reason behind it would be simple. Money. A PCSO costs less to train, pay, and pension off.

I wonder if there will be another news article coming soon that "In an experiment, North Nowhereville Police Community Support Officers are to be given powers of arrest with certain crimes to combat low level crime and disorder"

I for one will not be surprised. And then the low level crime and disorder will be replaced with all offences. I'm surprised Liberty or someone similar hasn't started making noises about how people with limited training are getting more and more powers of detention and search, without the established discipline and complaints procedure that exist for police officers.

Its a shame that the only PCSO blogger I know about has been forced to shut down. Check out the graveyard for the link, if it's still active.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Apologies, nothing this week. Have been too busy really! I have even lacked the motivation for the usual scan through the news websites to see what tomfoolery various police forces and government agencies have got up to. Myself at work I've been firmly anchored to the desk which frankly has been as interesting as a pile of old socks; so nothing to report back from there.

A question to other job readers, skippers in particular. Does anyone really take any notice at all of what has been put in PDP's? For non-police readers, a PDP is a Professional Development Plan. This is a lever arch file heaving with A3 bits of paper and matrix cross reference tables. It is an attempt by Centrex to formalise and standardise what makes a constable a constable. It is full of nice police buzzwords like "resilience" and "respect". For every job a constable does, it needs to be written in their PDP as evidence of them being competent in their job. It is a long-winded, tedious, overcomplicated affair which makes the whole job of trying to figure out whether a PC is actually good or not a whole load harder. Which is why I completely ignore what they write in their PDP as to how issuing a FPN to someone demonstrated their resilience and decision making. Instead I look at their reports, listen to the tutors, talk situations through and observe them when I can. I don't need several sheets of A3 paper to know when someone is either not performing or not competent.

In the meantime. I finally have some leave coming up soon, and the wife is rubbing her hands in anticipation at the size of the list of things she will have for me to do..............

Monday, January 08, 2007

Good things of 2006

I did mean to post about this the other day. And I tell you what, I found it a lot harder than I thought I would.

Its difficult this job. When I do a job well, the circumstances of it invariably mean I almost wish I didn't have to do it in the first place. For example- dealing with the person who jumped off a building in front of us. We did all we could beforehand, and dealt with the aftermath in the correct way, did a solid professional job that earned us thanks of senior management. Yet I wish we never had to be there in the first place.

I suppose thats the funny thing about this job. In an ideal world, there would be no need for police. Everyone would drive according to the rules of the road, everyone would have loving supportive families.

But as we all know, this world is far from ideal. I think it's part the reason I joined this job in the first place. The place is messed up and some people do stupid or selfish things that end in tragedy (any number of road accidents), some people are deliberately, well, evil. Every day it seems I hear of a call to a deception burglary, where some pond life has gone out of his way to deliberately try and wring as much cash out of some old dear as he can, by posing as someone who wants to help. Sometimes we do feel like a row of King Canute types in daft helmets trying to order back (sorry, ask politely if it doesn't mind) a tide of scum.

Every so often in this job you can make a positive impact on peoples lives, even if it is a time when you are bringing them terrible news. The irony of that isn't lost on me, but it's at the worst times you need the best officers. Which is something that simply cannot be quantified, much to the despair of those who are desperate to attach a quantifiable value to an officer. Some of the frustration that you see across all these police blogs is because government and senior management don't seem to care about actually making a difference to individuals. If it can't be measured, then they're not interested. You can never get a performance indicator from a death message (i.e. telling a next of kin that a loved one has died.) But that brief visit from an officer or two will be remembered by that person for the rest of their lives. Do you think they'll care about press releases from police chiefs and Home Office that the rate of theft of pedal cycles has risen?

Apologies for going on a touch, most of this I've said already at some point. I guess its because I thought the best way I could say I had a good year would be to say I had no need to do anything at all. And yes I know that opens the door for abuse, but I hope you know what I really meant by it!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The case of the missing probationers

Uncovered quite a debacle in the division admin department. Very frustrating I can't give much detail, but by next week the entire force will know about it so unless I want to put up a big flashing advert for who I am I can't give away much.

But the short version is someone kind of got their wires crossed and all of a sudden a load of people who were supposed to join the force have kind of disappeared. Apparently circumstances changed roughly 7 months ago. And I inadvertently find this out, not the various civilians (probably some of whom get paid more than me) whose job it supposedly is.

I shall stand back and watch the blame wars unfold. As I discovered the cockup, apparently that means I get cc'd in every email related to it. So I'll sit back and chuckle as human resources blame workforce planning who blame personnel who blame the training unit who blame the finance department etc etc.....

And I am told I shall be returning to response team work some point this year! I shall believe it when I walk in the door and get a load of abuse from my old colleagues :-)