Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back to basics

Was being sociable the other day and was chatting to some people I had just met. Conversations as they often do turned to work and what I do.

I explained where I work, being a response team monkey somewhere in a suburb. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at their surprise when I said just how many police officers there were at any one time. It made me think for the unitiated i.e. those probably not reading this (never mind) there is a spectacular gulf between perceptions of police numbers and the reality of those on the streets who turn up when you call 999.

There's about 250,000 people resident within my particular part of the policing front line. It has a mix of everything from major trunk routes, well to do areas, old and new estates, some spectacularly notorious and in their "heyday" weren't strangers to featuring in media, and was where police trod carefully and didn't go alone. Some of them have been knocked down now, tower blocks being gradually replaced by compact brick housing on narrow roads. New buildings don't disguise the fact the same people live there.

So with this number of people, major arterial roads, a number of less socially well to do housing estates how many police officers are on duty at any one time? There used to be at least 4 parade stations in my area but it's now down to 2. Between us, we're lucky to have 30 officers.

There is an oft-quoted saying in Suburbiaville that Poo rolls downhill (you can guess what the unsanitised version is). Well, response team is in the coal pit at the bottom of the valley beneath the cliffs the top of which where the poo starts rolling from.

If there is an increase in a particular type of offence- e.g. street robbery- then response teams have new targets to tackle it and get given new fresh tarted up reporting standards by the "specialist" CID units who investigate it, as we were clearly not up to standard. When these specialist CID units fail to meet their targets then officers are taken away from response team duties to man up these teams. I have to supply officers to act as jailers in the custody suite. I have to provide officers to man the front offices. God help us if there's a crime scene anywhere needing a uniform to stand outside. Suddenly the number of officers who are actually there, in a response car with the ability and training to respond to you when you call 999, is pushing 20.

Funnily enough a couple of hours into a shift and with the volume of calls we get, e.g. a couple of shoplifters or someone presenting false documents at a bank (happens a heck of a lot), then we're down to just one or two cars covering the lot.

Now there are of course a couple of other people floating around- catch the right time in the day and you'll have the SNT (also known as NPT) out and about. But it's not their job to answer 999 calls. Someone told me the other day that we're allowed to deflect a single call a day to the Safer Neighbourhood Team. One a day. That's handy.

The effectiveness of the SNT teams is something I remain to be convinced by. Took a call the other day and was met by pretty much the entire street, up in arms about a perpetual problem they have, and the complete failure of the relevant SNT to do anything about it. I'll talk a little bit more about the other issues I have with a police force entirely geared towards the SNT model another day.

Policing is so ridiculously political these days and absolutely everything must be geared towards meeting the needs of the community. Problem is, there are so many different communities within a wider community which can often have polar opposite desires and intentions, and it would be frankly impossible to meet the desires of all of them.

As far as I'm concerned, from my own point of view, policing is really simple.

1) People don't want crime to happen to them in the first place
2) If it does, I'd want someone to turn up in a reasonable time to do something reasonable about it.

Now quite often there's nothing we can do about any particular crime. Your car window gets smashed between 10pm and 8am short of the culprit leaving a business card we've got little hope. But I wouldn't mind it properly reported and you know perhaps seeing someone on patrol between 10pm and 8am once in a while.

Problem is, whilst we are busy chasing our tails trying to meet the myriad different needs of so many different communities, there's nobody left on the response team to try and do anything like directed or reassurance patrol. Unless we're taken off response team duties to go and do that (yes, that happens).

And lets not forget all the officers doing office jobs in units with titles like "Detection Team", "Crime Reporting Integrity Team" doing their best to massage figures to meet whatever the governments latest targets may be.

Blimey. I've been ranting for ages. Apologies. Regular readers of police blogs will be more than aware that the policing situation is riduculous and that the blue line is gossamer thin when it comes to the capacity and ability to answer 999 calls. But on the offchance someone just stumbles across this post as one of their first police blogs, this is the reality.