Conflict Management – Police Use of Taser

I do not need to remind you of the dangers that police officers these days face. Once upon a time the traditional Constable in their tunic and wooden peg as is was called was enough to put the fear of god into anyone, however today is another story. Before I get into this post have a look at this short video. Whilst watching it I want you to take note of the use of a wheelie bin and think about the incident without that bin.

Frightening stuff hey! Police Officers carry a belt or tactical vest that carries their radio, handcuffs, baton, defence spray and in some cases leg restraints. All officers are educated on what is known as the National Decision Making Model. This model teaches officers about things to consider in regard to use of force. I am not going to go into the  National Decision Making Model so I suggest you look it up if you want further details.

The video that you saw clearly involved a dangerous man armed with a massive knife. He was clearly under the influence of drugs or something else and was taking swings at officers clearly with the intent to cause harm. I accept that the man may have had some mental health issues but that needs to be put to the side for the time being. Although this needs to be considered the first priority in this incident is to disarm the clearly dangerous man. Clearly offences have been committed but we must also consider the fear of crime to other members of the public. Imagine walking past this in the street with your children, would you feel safe?

The first tool that a Police Officer has in their conflict management box is their voice. In all conflict situations this is the first tool to be used. It maybe a fight outside of a nightclub or a gun man threatening hostages, in all cases the voice will be used. When that fails you have other things such as a push or shove, a strike or kick but that clearly would not work in the video you have just seen. You would end up being seriously hurt.

So what is the next option? I will tell you. It is the defence spray that is a spray that is discharged into the face of an offender. This spray causes the eyes to be forced shut so that an offender cannot see and at the same time they experience a stinging sensation. There are different sprays available so I will not go into the mechanics of its content as this will vary. All sprays have the same effect and this video demonstrates how it works.

Note how the man in the video is fighting and then after being sprayed is alot easier to deal with. Words clearly in this situation did not work and as the man was fighting to escape officers were forced to spray him to prevent his escape and injury to themselves.  Lawful? Yes it is.

Now going back to the first video. To spray someone you must first get close enough to them, something that in the first video was a massive risk, however (correct me if you know otherwise) I believe that knife man had been sprayed but was still being violent. So what would you do? You may consider the baton but what effect did that have in the video when the officer with the bin batoned him. The knife man got more angry and started chasing officers around like school children playing kiss chase.

In days gone by the only option would have been to consider lethal force. Remember I said about considering things like mental health. Is it fair to shoot someone dead due to an illness? Yes it may have come to that but shooting someone dead is a big step from hitting them with a steel baton. With an increase in violence on the street Police needed a tool top bring that gap between the baton and lethal force. In comes the launch of Taser.

The Taser was designed to deliver a burst of electric shock via two cables that are discharged from the end of the weapon. This charge causes a temporary shut down of the nervous system causing a violent subject to fall to the floor. The recovery time is less than a minute in which time officers can apply Taser aftercare and remove any weapons from a violent person such as the man in the first video. Much better than shooting someone dead in my opinion.

The Taser was designed to fill the gap in the  National Decision Making Model as ultimately the subject being Tasered lives after the event. With conventional firearms they would highly likely end up dead which is not fair if the violent outburst is as a result of a mental health outburst or similar. Its better that a person needing professional help for things such as mental health is given that help rather than being shot and killed.

Taser does have its risks and can lead to temporary health complaints that are alot shorter than healing of a broken bone from a baton strike etc. If you went into cardiac arrest a Paramedic would shock you back into life with electric so Taser needs to be considered carefully as does any use of force. Spray someone and they could fall and hit their head (although you should if possible try to catch them), hit someone with a baton and they could be injured or have bones broken, and firearms – well that speaks for itself.

As yet Taser is not standard issue Police equipment however in my opinion with violence against police increasing and things such as single crewing I think it will come. Currently only selected officers carry Taser and they are called to assist the unarmed officers when needed. In the first video 30 officers were deployed and none had Taser. Where I work you wont have thirty officers on the Division so if that happened to me I would be well and truly stuffed unless in the unlikely event there was a Taser officer in the next street who could arrive within seconds.

In my force area Taser use must be pre authorised and that is done as follows.

  1. Police receive a call from a member of public reporting a fight for argument sake where someone is seen brandishing a knife in the street and making threats.
  2. The call taker will ask details of the weapon, what threats have been made etc whilst the log is being reviewed by the force control room Inspector.
  3. The Inspector having considered the National Decision Making Model  decides that there is a serious risk to the public and police officers who will attend so they authorise Taser use should it be necessary at the scene. Remember the officers will always try to engage the suspect first with voice etc before Taser. They will have to justify their actions in court.
  4. Once authorised the Inspector endorses the log with the justification for authorising Taser.
  5. The police officers arrive at the scene and are confronted with the man in the first video. They try to reason with the man without success and eventually Taser is discharged.

The only exception to this policy is when on arrival at any incident (without pre authorisation) the officer is faced with immediate violence such as a knife man attacking them and it is not possible to seek authorisation they may (when justified) draw Taser without permission. This policy I believe varies from force to force but I can only comment on my home force.

Taser has mixed views amongst the community. Many think it is good and many think it is bad. The thing I struggle to get my head around is everyone knows that it will hurt them and how they work so when one is pointed at them why do they continue to behave in a violent way? Memory effected by drink , drugs or mental health may explain some of it but I have seen people who are sober and fully with it who still resist.

I have however seen myself on UK  TV shows one or two incidents of Taser being drawn and threatened in incidents that to be perfectly blunt are completely unneccessary and where had Taser actually been deployed I would not have liked to have been that officer at the court hearing or complaint hearing! I will not name the force but on one TV program I saw two officers with a handcuffed prisoner who was not engaged in a full on fight with the officers put pulling away from them. A friend of the handcuffed man walked over to try to but in and rather than one officer breaking away to deal with the friend he drew his Taser and screamed at the man to get back or he would be Tasered. I could not believe my eyes! This was completely over the top and not necessary and is probably the typical kind of case that lawyer Sophie Khan deals with.

For me the Taser is a very important link in the National Decision Making Model . It bridges that gap between the baton and the normal firearm that has an almost certain risk of death when used. Taser should be used in the most serious incidents but I do disagree with some of the claims made by anti Taser believers. Many compare the use of Taser against officers in the US and I must say that having watched some American cop TV shows I must agree that their use is somewhat excessive and can never become a reality on the streets of the UK.

The Taser is a weapon to save life and whenever it is used there is obviously a risk to the person being subjected to the force however what the public must realise is that this force will be as a result of their actions. Put the weapon down and you wont be Tasered. My force has a good Taser policy and thankfully Taser deployments are a rare event.

Thank you for reading and I am sure this post will cause some healthy debate. In that event please respect each others views.

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Part 2b – Police and Community Relations (Scarman Report cont)

I have written two Blogs so far on the relationship between the Police and the Community. I started with the Brixton Riots of 1981 and what happened. This can be viewed by clicking this link https://sirrobertpeel.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/police-community-relations-part-1-the-brixton-riots-1981/ 

I continued with examining the report into the cause of the riots that had been written by Lord Scarman. This is a very comprehensive report and to be honest at the time I did not know how big a task it was going to be. For that reason I will be releasing two further Blogs on the Scarman Report that will cover Lord Scarman’s Conclusions and Recommendations to prevent further disorder.

In my last Blog I looked at the problems that Lord Scarman had uncovered and this Blog is a continuation of that. Part 2a on the same subject can be found here https://sirrobertpeel.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/part-2a-police-and-community-relations-the-scarman-report-1981/

The section of the Scarman Report that i am now going to cover concerns the faults of the Police and the problems that the Police faced.

Police Faults

Lord Scarman as a result of evidence heard discovered the following:

  • The hostility within the community was caused by a loss of confidence in the police by significant sections of the community.
  • There were several complaints made against the police, many of which were not acted upon or investigated. There were a number of MP’s who believed that many complaints against the police could be justified.
  • The attitude towards police provided the “tinder ready to blaze into violence” indicating that the signs were there.
  • Also uncovered was was a loss of confidence and poor attitude gave rise to a serious breakdown in relations between the police and the community – I will be covering this a little more shortly.
  • Police harassment did occur and enabled a myth of police brutality and racism to develop.

The Police had many faults and there is no hiding from that fact. The Police however also had some big problems that they needed to overcome which will be covered shortly. We have already heard some of the causes into the riots such as housing and high unemployment and although these issues are outside of police responsibility you will see that the police did fail to adapt their policing approach to the community that they served.

The Policing Problem

  • In 1980 the amount of crimes recorded in the Lambeth Borough was 30,805. The Brixton Division was responsible for 10,626 of those crimes.
  • Between 1976 and 1980 Brixton accounted for 35% of all crimes on the Borough, but 49% of all Robbery and Violent Theft offences.
  • The police recognised that there was a problem and that they needed a solution to a growing crime trend. Robbery and violent crime was on the increase and this can probably be related to high unemployment and people with no or little money.
  • A disproportionate amount of crime was committed by black people. – Remember the video on my first Blog where the now retired Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick (a Sergeant at the time) spoke of the criminality associated with being black?
  • In 1979 the then Commander of the area Commander Adams had launched a very successful community project on the Stockwell Park Estate that did reduce crime and build links. This project however did not last as hostility and suspicion existed between the public and the police. Later in 1979 circumstance outside of Commander Adams control occurred and this helped to push the community further away.
  • Commander Adams was worried about the increase in crime in Brixton and in 1980 he was successful in a bid to obtain more staff from neighbouring areas. This contributed to an increase of police on the streets which caused further tension.

  • Due to increasing crime Commander Adams organised a series of operations on the streets of Brixton by utilising the Special Patrol Group. During these operations crime would reduce but would soon increase again when the operations ended.
  • These policing operations caused further hostility on the streets and black people felt that they were being “hunted” irrespective of their guilt or innocence.
  • The operations turned older members of the community against the police as they heard stories from younger members of the community. These stories also helped in the breakdown of formal agreements between the police and community leaders.
  • Commander Adams met with local community leaders to discuss a new two way open approach between the police and the community. A Special Patrol Group operation had been planned for a few days time after this meeting however Commander Adams did not tell the community leaders about it due to fears that telling them would reduce its effectiveness. When the operation started the community leaders were far from happy and made the community leaders not trust the police.
  • On the 12th of February 1979 three members of staff from community liaison team were arrested on suspicion of assaulting undercover police. This action lead to an emergency meeting by the Executive Committee of the CCRL which resulted in them withdrawing from the Liaison Committee with the Police. They also withdrew their open offer of the Community Liason Police officers attending their meetings.
  • What followed after this meeting was a series of unofficial community meetings with the police and those community members who had disagreed with the withdrawal action.

  • In January 1981 the Working Party released a report into the relations between the Police and the Community. This report had been commissioned by the Council and the Met refused to engage in it as they suspected that the report would not be impartial. As it turned out the report was highly critical of the Police and contained quotes such as, “Police are army of occupation” and that SPG ops were “Attack by the SPG on the people of Lambeth”.
  • The report said that the Police would harass working class people and black people in particular.
  • It also criticised stop and search and said that it was a misuse of the law.
  • Other areas such as community projects operated by the police were criticised.
  • Lord Scarman was in no doubt that report worsened the relationship between the police and the community.
  • On the 1st of April 1981 the new Divisional Commander (five months into the job) had a meeting with community leaders to discuss the relaunch of the Liasion Committee however he received a letter agreeing to the relaunch that arrived four days AFTER the disorder had occurred.

Swamp 81 – The Build Up

  • Swamp 81 ran between the 6th and 12th of April 1981.
  • In the immediate days before the operation began a number of warrants had been executed in the Railton Road (The Front Line) and neighbouring streets by officers from the Robbery and Burglary squads. T^his resulted in increased tension however Swamp 81 was still conducted.
  • For the second time community leaders were not informed of the impending operation which caused further upset, however the operation in the time leading o the disorder had lead to a 50% decrease in crime.

In this Blog I have covered the faults of the police and the problems they faced. We will all agree that the police did make some very serious but easily avoided mistakes. The next section of the Scarman Report covers his Conclusions and his Recommendations. I feel that these two vital subjects that still have relevance on the policing of today warrant their own Blog post and they will follow in due course.

Once again thank you for reading and I hope you found this interesting and informative.

Part 2a – Police and Community Relations (The Scarman Report 1981)

I recently wrote a post on the Brixton Riots of 1981 and I explained that I had chosen this point in time to start with my assessment of the relationships between the Police Service and the Community that we serve. The previous Blog covered the build up to the Brixton riots and if you have not read that post you can see it by clicking the link Police & Community Relations – Part 1 – The Brixton Riots 1981

Immediately following this very violent event the Government appointed Lord Scarman to conduct a official review into the riots and their causes. Lord Scarman was also empowered with making recommendations in how to prevent further disorder in the future. The Scarman Report was released in November 1981 and made very interesting reading. This report had been compiled following a series of evidence hearings from community members, police officers and other relevant persons.

The Scarman Report is far too detailed to cover in one Blog so I have chosen to split it in half. For ease of reading I have split Lord Scarmans findings into headings.

The Violence

Lord Scarman heard a lot of evidence about the violence and established the following:

  • The riots were the most serious disorder in the history of the Met. During the disorder petrol bombs had been used for the first time ever against police on English soil. Further examination revealed that the petrol bombs had been supplied by white people who supported the cause and were being dished out from places around the neighbourhood.
  • The people rioting were mainly young black people. There was a reason for that and this will be covered more later in the Blog.
  • The violence was that intense that at times the police could only contain the rioters and were powerless to effectively deal with the violence.
  • The police were only start to deal with the violence when they became heavily reinforced.
  • Following the violence a resident described the Brixton area as looking like the “Aftermath Of An Air Raid”.

Lord Scarman then looked at the problems which contributed to the riots and found the following:

The Problems

  • The first problem was “oppressive policing over a period of years; and in particular the harassment of young blacks on the streets of Brixton”. He concluded by saying that they were anti police.
  • “The second problem is that the disorders, like so many riots in British history, were a protest against society by people deeply frustrated and deprived who saw in a violent attack upon the forces of law and order their one opportunity of compelling public attention to their grievances
  • There was a multi cultural community in a deprived inner city area where unemployment, especially among young black people is high and hopes are low.
  • There was a requirement for police to maintain law and order of a diverse community without an understanding of their needs and as such it was impossible to set standards for successful policing.
  • The police needed to understand the social problem first before they could effectively police the problems.

Lord Scarman went on to examine the problems in some more depth which is summarised below:

Brixton Social Conditions

  • Brixton was home to a number of retail outlets that included many national retail chains and local stores. Hit by recession the Brixton area had suffered a decline in trade.
  • Conditions in Brixton had declined to such a level that redevelopment plans had been discussed and from 1965 onwards plans had been made but not implemented.
  • The hot spot riot areas such as Railton Road and surrounding roads had been considered for complete refurbishment however this decision had been blocked by the then Secretary of State for Environment who favoured a phased refit program.

Housing was identified as being a major social condition that effected the people of Brixton and I am not one for statistics but the following is alarming by anyones standards.

Housing

  • At the time of the riots there was a shortage of 20,000 homes.
  • Council figures estimate that there were 12,000 homes that were overcrowded.
  • 1 or more bedrooms in Brixton homes were below the acceptable standards.
  • There were 7,000 homes that were empty which lead to squatting.
  • Figures state that as many as 12,000 homes were declared unfit for purpose by the Local Authority.
  • 8,250 homes lacked one or more basic amenities.

Lord Scarman went as far as to say “The physical environment in which the people of Brixton live and the Police have to operate is one marked by decay, and that there are in particular very serious housing problems.

The People of Brixton

  • The Borough of Lambeth had a population of around 264,000 which was a reduction of earlier figures as many people had moved away. The typical age group of those that moved away ranged between 25 and 60. This left behind a population that were either younger or older.
  • The Brixton population had a higher number of residents that were of school age and this was higher than the whole of London.
  • There were fewer people who held professional or managerial roles.
  • There was a “strikingly high” figure of children in local authority care.
  • There were twice the national average of single parent families living in the Borough.
  • There was a higher percentage of people with mental health illnesses and physical or mental handicap.

Education

  • Lord Scarman concluded that “Disadvantage in education and employment are the two crucial facets or racial disadvantage”.
  • He also stated that without decent education a person is unlikely to find jobs they aspired to or in fact any job at all.
  • Alot of black people who were concerned about racial disadvantage had the attitude that there was no point in education when it comes to employment as they have no chance due to racial disadvantage.

Discrimination 

  • Employers had views of black people as they saw them as having a lack of qualifications. They also saw them as bad time keepers, as having a unwillingness to travel, and in some cases as having a poor level of English.
  • Of equal importance it was suggested that it was not only employers who discriminated against black people but other employees within a company or business.
  • It was also said that discrimination existed not only in the employment field but on the street, but in schools too. (My first Blog shows proof of that).

Lord Scarman made several conclusions however at this stage I will be sharing the following ones. I will be honest and tell you that I am still researching this report. I have realised that one Blog will not cover this entire subject hence splitting it into two. The second half will follow in due course.

Lord Scarmans Conclusions

  • Social circumstances were very poor however this was not an excuse to riot.
  • Lambeth Council were aware of the social problems and had launched a program to promote equal opportunities and to combat racial disadvantage. In 1978 they had formed a Race Relations Unit who were charged with the mentioned task.
  • Following the riots Lambeth Council had made steps to improve housing allocations.
  • Lambeth Council following the riots had been granted £9 million pounds from Central Government to make improvements to the neighbourhood.
  • The black people tended to reside in deprived areas of the City.
  • Black people were desperate for equality with their white counterparts.
  • Black people were not politically secure. There were no black MP’s or Councillors and this was a problem for the community.

I have enjoyed researching this subject so far. I will be honest and say that I had heard of the riots back in 1981 but it is only until now that I have begun to understand why they happened. I am sure that we will all agree that the Police were a major factor in these riots but were not fully to blame. The Police had no control over housing and education or the fact that the country was in recession, however their policing approach was extremely unfair and in my last Blog a then serving Met Police Constable openly admitted how they would target black people.

The Police cannot police without co operation of the public and what I am trying to achieve through this staged Blog is to highlight the importance of how this relationship is.  If I had my way then every new Constable, Special and Pcso would have to study the Scarman Report. This report was written back in 1981 but as this Blog progresses you will see that many of the things Scarman spoke about are evident today and it would appear that we in some areas have learned NOTHING!

As ever I value your feedback and thank you for reading.

Part 2 – Custody Duties – My Shift on 18/07/2012

I wrote part 1 of this Blog yesterday and said that I would be writing a further one at a later date. When I said that I was not intending to write this one so soon but after a shift that I can only describe as mental last night I felt that I should strike whilst the iron is hot.

Yesterday I worked from 14:00 to 23:00 hrs in a custody suite that holds 16 prisoners. The building itself is old fashioned and does not have the luxury of intercom links between the cell and charge desk. Instead it has old fashioned buzzers that have to be answered by walking down the corridor to personally visit the cell. My shift yesterday saw me experience a mixture of worry, anger, frustration, hunger, as well as happiness. I can’t forget to add the bucket loads of constant stress!

14:00 – Briefing

Having unpacked my lunch box, put my epaulettes and given my colleague some stick for making a grade A cock up the shift before its time for briefing. The Custody Sergeant, my colleague and I are stood in the back office and the early turn Custody Sergeant walks in looking hot and bothered and very stressed. Great I am thinking to myself, today is going to be hard work! I get a run down of each prisoner in custody and damn they are a needy bunch!

14:30 – And We Are Off

My team are stood behind the Charge Desk talking and before I even get the chance to say who is making the tea I spot on the CCTV screen a prisoner on 30 minute visits fall to the floor and start having a seizure. Remember how I was stressing the importance of cell visits in part 1 of this Blog!!! Grabbing some rubber gloves my colleague and I run to the cell and enter. I support the head allowing the woman to have the seizure before putting her in the recovery position and monitoring her breathing etc. An Ambulance had been called by someone at the Charge Desk.

The woman was a Heroin addict who was also a Alcoholic. She was HIV Positive, had Hep C and was Epileptic. I had my hands full. You may or may not have seen my tweets yesterday about targeting drugs. I made a #PeelPromise to terrorise drug dealers, to harass and stalk them and to put them out of business. For the drug user I promised to deal with them professionally and where I can get them the help they need. I will explain why.

I was sat next to this woman who was now stable. I was waiting to support her head again should she have another seizure. Kneeling down in high leg Magnum boots starts to hurt after a few minutes. As my colleague and I assessed her I could see her filthy hands, she had dirty finger nails and dirty palms. As I looked at her I could see her dirty clothes that had never seen a washing machine. Her arms were covered in cigarette burns where a abusive partner had burned her, and she had puncture marks all over her arms where she had been injecting. Her ankles and lower part of her legs were purple and black and they too were full of puncture marks. It was vile to look at. Seeing this reminded me of the sad reality of drugs and I could not help but think what a tragic waste of life. This was someones daughter, sister and for all I knew someones mother! Anyway she was taken to hospital and admitted. I may in the future Blog about Drugs and Associated Crime.

As all of this is going on one of our regulars was really starting to pardon my French piss me off! He was a local alcoholic who had handed himself in as he had been shoplifting earlier that day. He only did this as he wanted a bed for the night, some food and of course some Diazapam from the HCP! He had been in custody less than an hour and I think he thought he was the only person in custody as he repeatedly buzzed demanding food and drink. Get stuffed fella, tea time is not until 18:00hrs and I have more urgent things to do like saving a life!

Anyway after the sick woman had gone to hospital I was kept very busy by our resident alcoholic who was buzzing every five minutes and being abusive as he was hungry. He kept kicking and punching his cell door and calling me some not very nice things. At the same time I had two convicted robbers who funnily enough had been arrested for robbery again! The two robbers were demanding phone calls and kept asking despite being told I would fit them in as and when I could.

Whilst I am running around to the point my white shirt was sticking to my back the Custody Sergeant and my colleague were adding to my workload by booking in more prisoners! I was required to assist them with taking fingerprints, photo’s and where needed DNA. As this happened buzzers continued, my temper got shorter and shorter and eventually I snapped! I slam the shutter down on the alcoholics cell and ask him his problem. he replies by saying, “I WANT FOOD YOU C~~T”. I lose it and say that I am far too busy to worry about him and his food and that he will be fed at tea time like everyone else and that he should wind his neck in otherwise when I do get round to food he will be at the back of the queue. At that point I could not have cared less about his food or if I had upset him. He was annoying and I had far more urgent things to do. If he did not like it he should not have committed crime was my attitude. Anyway he carried on buzzing and the Custody Sergeant gave him more or less the same reply as me.

To cut a long story short I feed everyone at tea time. I have not stopped between tea time and starting work. I get abuse from the two robbers when I offer them food as they have not had their very important phonecalls. They ask how come I have time to cook food and not give them their calls.

Between tea time and 20:00hrs I had to put up with more moaning, abuse and threats. The alcoholic demanded more food. FORGET IT!!! I at some point managed to squeeze phone calls in for the two robbers, NOT that my efforts were appreciated. I do not normally let people get to me but these two robbers did. I was so pleased when they were both charged and remanded. It bought a smile to my face. I had the last laugh as I went home leaving them behind.

All of a sudden it went quiet. The two remanded robbers went to sleep, we released a number of  prisoners and although the alcoholic would keep buzzing (although longer between buzzes) I managed to find two minutes for myself to use a toilet. What a luxury I thought, never have I been so happy to see a toilet before. Having had that short release I sat down and wrote a few tweets. The alcoholic buzzed AGAIN. Having calmed down I started thinking that I may have been out of order by snapping at him. The environment I was in had altered my behaviour so when I opened the hatch I spoke with the man, as I had time to. I explained that I had been very busy and that he had not helped by repeated buzzing when all he wanted was food. He knew how it worked as he was no stranger to custody. I then said sorry to him. My colleagues asked me why I had done that as he had been a “pain in the arse”. I accept that he has issues but that should not effect me. Anyway the alcoholic went to sleep, but not until he had a bloody good moan about wanting an extra pillow, another blanket, a cup of tea and wanting to move to a different cell as he did not like that one. He got a cup of tea and that was his lot!

Having cleaned out recently vacated cells, and finally getting to drink a cup of tea that had not gone cold I did a few visits and boy was I pleased to see the welcoming site of the night shift. We handed over three prisoners having had a clear out and I tell you what I was out of that custody suite like a rat up a drain pipe. Having had a hard set of shifts I had forgotten that today (the day after) was my two days off!! How do you forget something like that? I will tell you, being over worked and understaffed, being seriously stressed and wound up and being tired.

I said yesterday that Custody was hard work and if this snap shot of nine hours of hell yesterday does not bring that home to you I would encourage you to where possible get some experience in this vital department. To the arresting / interviewing officers out there please remember that if you are kept waiting that it will be for a good reason and whilst you may get time to sit at a desk or in a canteen to eat your lunch those in custody, like me yesterday often end up working straight through and end up taking their uneaten lunch home with them at the end of the shift!!!

Thank you for reading.

Custody Duties – A Response Officers View From The Other Side Of The Desk

I am a proactive member of my team. I like to harrass, terrorise and scare the living sh*t out of the criminals on my Division. That said I am fully aware that policing is not all about locking people up and that the role is about dealing with people in a respectful and dignified way, even those who to put it blunt deserve a bloody good slap! There are a few reasons for it, but I am for a short while working in the Custody Department and boy am I seeing this vital area of the service in a different light.

I decided that I would Blog about this work as to be honest I really do not think it gets the recognition it deserves. That, and having read the recent article in the news of yet another G4S balls up that nearly cost a prisoner their life made me realise that the only time custody gets any publicity is when a prisoner dies or a complaint of excessive force is made and I wanted to try my bit to clear up some of the negative thoughts towards custody.

Recently a Sergeant who was showing a new Probationer around the station stopped and introduced the new officer to me. The Sergeant said something along the lines of Terry (not real name) this is Robert Peel. He is our most prolific officer. Having met the new officer and later in the shift I pulled the Sergeant to one side and said what was that prolific comment about. He laughed and said that I was a good man and that he was referring to my recent performance. Taking that as a compliment I left and hit the streets.

As a regular visit to the custody cells I have on many occassions got extremely upset when I have been kept waiting on arriving with a new prisoner, especially if they are playing up, or I can hear the control room trying to assign immediate response jobs and there are no officers to take them. I have before now waited over an hour from arrival to a charge desk to start booking in.

For those of you who do not understand the custody booking in process I have attached a short video that the British Transport Police have produced that explains a little bit about it.

Now this process sounds simple in theory and can be completed in around ten to fifteen minutes if you have a compliant prisoner. Every arresting officer should search their prisoners properly prior to arrival at the police station however in my career I have heard of prisoners managing to conceal drugs and other things about their person which have made their way into police cells, and on a more serious note incidents such as the one in this short video.

With a volatile or evasive prisoner the booking in process can take up to an hour.  This added to the other list of tasks that custody staff must do such as releasing prisoners whether it be on bail and having to explain bail conditions, charging someone and having to remand them in custody overnight for court, or even releasing someone with no further action. They also must conduct other tasks such as supervising prisoners who require the services of the force Health Care Professional (HCP) who is a medical professional who specialises within the custody environment, overseeing private telephone consultations between prisoners and lawyers, conducting visits to cell as defined in the risk assessment and ensuring that prisoners are fed and watered. This delay causes delays for everyone including the likes of me waiting with a new prisoner. It was only since my time in custody that I have developed a respect for these delays.

When I found out that I was to work in custody I was not happy. I had the image of a grumpy Custody Sergeant (as they always looked grumpy but now I know that is pressure and not them personally) and having to deal with people I do not like. What I mean by dealing with people I do not like is this. As a frontline officer you will deal with people you do not like but once you have arrested them you can book them in and walk away unless you are to interview them. Then they are a custody problem and you can start your paperwork. Working in custody you cannot walk away and that person is there for the duration of your shift unless they happen to be released before.

Day 1 of custody and I went home KNACKERED! I thought that working between 8 and 12 hours dragging body armour and belt kit around was hard work especially if I had been running during the shift but after eight hours of running up and down custody wings dealing with prisoners I felt that I had burned more calories than going for a run.

In the video showing the booking in procedure they mentioned risk assessments. A risk assessment is done by establishing things such as alcohol and drugs use, medical / mental health issues and any medication that a prisoner may be taking. This information is then used to assess the risk level and that in term dictates the frequency that the prisoner will be visited or even if they must be under constant supervision. These visits are VITAL and should be stuck to religiously. This is the most important task in the custody world as failure to conduct visits can lead to prisoners coming to harm or even worse death. Have a read of this recent news clip that talks about a G4S Detention Officer who did NOT complete a visit and worse still then wrote a FALSE entry on the custody record stating that he had visited. You will see the seriousness of conducting visits and what can happen if ignored. Thankfully this incident was not fatal. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/17/g4s-investigated-over-prisoner-collapse?CMP=twt_gu

I cannot go into detail about the booking in process. My experience of booking in has mainly been from the arresting officers point of view and often the arrested person has taken a dislike to me so I have backed off allowing the Detention Officer to do the talking. Whilst I have been trained to conduct things such as taking of fingerprints, DNA, photos and footprints I am no computer wizard and leave that to the professionals.

I am still very much learning about the custody environment from the opposite side of the desk and to be honest I am learning alot. I have arrested many people who are drunk, high on drugs and want to chew my nose off but before now I did not have an appreciation for the abuse, threats and violence that my custody colleagues would have to put up with long after I have booked in and disappeared. I take my hat off to you all!

One thing that I have been on the receiving end of a few times that has now made me carefully choose words I use to people I arrest is phrases such as “dont worry it will only take a few hours” and “it wont take long and you will be out by tea time”. I have heard arresting officers say this many times and what upsets me about this is the fact that they do not know that what they are promising that person will happen. There may be enquiries to take place, a persons criminal history may mean that they get remanded or the person may even be getting transferred to another force area if the offence happened elsewhere. Arresting officers say these things if someone is being unhelpful with a view to getting them to come without fuss. I for one will now never say anything like this to a prisoner and if I can ask one thing of my followers who are officers is please follow my lead. The grief custody staff get when a prisoner kicks off is really unhelpful, and if the custody suite I am in is anything to go by the staff ALWAYS remember the arresting officers name as it is on your paperwork. You may find yourself being added to “The Custody List”, a list of officers who must make the tea!

I plan to write a Blog about a typical shift in custody and my experiences working within it. If my experience so far is anything to go by I have realised that custody staff are special people who are often under staffed and overworked. They have alot of pressures and to be honest they do very very well. I have had a number of shifts where I have taken my lunch home with me at the end. The prisoners rights seem to be a higher priority than mine and often getting five mins to use a toilet can be hard work. The delays that I experience when waiting to book in are for a reason and staff being lazy is not it and it is only until recently that I have understood why.

Yes I am proactive when on the street and when being grilled by a Custody Sergeant as to why I have arrested someone I now understand why they do it. They have a busy department and if there are other ways of dealing with a prisoner they will look to utilise those. I am going to close by thanking you for reading. I will write another post about custody and I am still researching into the Scarman Report so Part 2 of my Police and Community Relations Blog will be released shortly.

As always I value your comments and feedback.

My Shift On 7th of July 2005

I woke up on the morning of 7/7. It was like any other day and I was due to give evidence in the local Magistrates Court for an assault I dealt with a few weeks before.I got up and got ready for work. I put my uniform on and went to the station as usual and got my kit on. I have spoken before about the unpredictability of a Police Officers work and 7/7 certainly reinforces that claim. NOTHING would prepare the Police for what would happen later that morning.

I arrived at court and as per the building rules my radio and mobile phone were switched off as I sat in the witness room with witnesses in the case and other Police Officers. I cannot recall the time but a Court Usher walked into the room. The man had a very serious face and for some reason I knew that what he was about to say was not good news. The Court Usher then said “You lot had better switch your radios on. Court is cancelled and you are all required to return to your home stations as a matter of urgency”.

When my radio had logged on to the network the first transmission I heard was the Force Control Room Inspector talking to the Divisional Inspector telling him that an emergency briefing was to take place as there had been multiple explosions on the transport system in the London area. My force along with others were preparing to send emergency aid into the City.

The attacks were committed by four home grown Islamist terrorists who were called Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsey, Mohammad Sadique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer. All but Germaine (who was of Jamacian orgin) were from Pakistan but resided here in England. 52 people died in total and 700 + were injured in four bombs that went off on Underground Trains and a double decker bus in Tavistock Square.

Although I was not deployed directly to the City I was given a equally as important assignment. I was deployed to a railway station that was on a direct link from Gatwick Airport into London. Stop and Search powers under the Terrorism Act had been granted by the Chief Constable and my briefing was to challenge any suspicious persons carrying rucksacks and investigate any suspicious packages.

Take a moment to watch this news clip on the attacks.

I had started my shift at 7am that day and at arond 2PM (two hours before I am due to finish for the day) I have been told that NO officer or PCSO is to book off duty until further notice. I am tired and I have not eaten. I arrive at the railway station, which was a large train station with about six platforms. Once there I commence my patrols and start conducting basic searches of litter bins and waiting rooms to check for unattended bags etc.

My patrols continued over the next few hours and I had received a few phone calls from family members who were worried thinking I was in the thick of it. To be honest I knew I had a important task but I felt like a spare part as I really wanted to be in the thick of it helping those in need. It was frustrating as I knew that people were still trapped and that my Met colleagues could have used every pair of hands they could get.

At about half past six that evening a train came to a halt at one of the platforms. I remember this woman running towards me screaming. As she ran towards me she shouted there is a bomb on the train. Immediately I contacted the control room and having switched my radio and mobile phone off I boarded the train.

I will openly admit that I was frightened and suddenly all I could think about was seeing my son. I had no idea what I would be faced with, or even if I would be luckily enough not to be blown up. The woman had said to me that she had found a cardboard box wedged between two seats and that it had some sort of Islamic writing on the box. She felt this box had been concealed intentionally.

I locate the box and I will be honest my heart sunk!!! There was a cardboard box wedged between the two seats with Islamic writing on it. This looked very out of place and I had formed the opinion that this may well be a bomb of some description. I was not taking any chances so I ordered a evacuation of the train and the station.

The Control Room had informed the Control Room Inspector who contacted me directly for a full description of the box and its location so that he could deploy Bomb Disposal Personnel to the scene. Whilst most people were happy to leave the train station as quickly as they could I was gob smacked by the attitude of some passengers and one man in particular will always stick in my mind.

This man was wearing an expensive suit, was carrying an umbrella and a briefcase. He was upset to say the least at having his journey stopped. He was going nuts at me screaming that he had been at work all day and he wanted to get home. I remained calm and after nearly five minutes of mixed emotions, stress and fear for people’s life I snapped. I said something along the lines of telling him to shut up and that I was trying to save the life of others and that I had far more important things to worry about than him being late. The man continued to scream at me to the point I threatened him with being arrested for obstruction if he continued to prevent me from doing what I needed to do.

Having successfully evacuated the train station and halting all trains due to travel through I stood on a cordon at the front of the train station to prevent anyone re entering. We waited for what seemed forever until the Bomb Disposal Team arrived.

The Bomb Disposal Team are some of the bravest people I know. I had joined the Territorial Army, I wanted to do Bomb Disposal but my family soon put me straight on that so I joined the Military Police instead. I escorted the soldier to where the package was. I was not comfortable going back on that train but a Police Officer has to do things they are uncomfortable with everyday of their life.

The soldier looked at me and the next words out of his mouth made me even more scared than I already was. “Oh Fuck” he said! I was then ordered away from the train. A man wearing a bomb safety suit then went to the train carrying some equipment. He conducted his assessment and decided that he needed a portable X ray machine.

The result after the X ray was what I wanted to hear. It turned out that the box contained Water Melons of some description. This was music to my ears and I quickly started to feel that I had caused a scene for nothing. However the thought of doing nothing and people losing their life as a result compensated for this.

Having removed the box of melons people were allowed to return to the train and continue with their journey. However the man I had snapped at made a point of stopping to remind me what a jobs worth I was and that he wanted my warrant number so he could complain about my making him late to the Chief Constable.

At about 11PM I was given permission to go home. I had been working since 7am and had only managed to eat a sandwich that I was given by the manager of the train station cafe. I remember stood eating it in a cycle shed with the rain pouring down around me. So much for a 45 minute break.

Yesterday was the anniversary of 7/7 and although this happened seven years ago the events of 7/7 were still fresh in my mind. I really do not know what went through the heads of the victims and the emergency services that attended that day.

If there are any doubters out there I ask you to think to yourself – Would I Cope Dealing With That Incident? But more Importantly Could I cope Dealing With That Incident?

Thank you for reading my Blog and I value your feedback.

What Makes a Police Officer?

I am often asked why did I join the Police. Those that know me have before now questioned why I did not go for a career in a area that pays better, does not involve night shifts or working weekends, is more family friendly etc etc? The answer is simply I care.

There are many careers out there that involve caring. Look at the NHS for example, their core role is caring for others who are ill. Firemen / women also care, as do people such as social workers, however none of these roles carry the extra responsibilities that a Police Officer does. I say this not to disrespect anyone in that career and sum this up with this question, would you see on a regular basis a person in another caring career putting themselves in the middle of a fight involving weapons, walking into a house KNOWING that you may come to some serious harm or getting a phone call half way through booked leave saying that you are to return to work as riots have started and YOU are needed on the street to defend property belonging to people you do not know.

When I was a youngster I thought policing was all about driving fast cars, foot chases, fighting with criminals and other things such as drinking beer with the team on a near daily basis. This image was gained from watching programs such as The Bill and listening to family members who were due to retire during the 90’s. I developed this unrealistic view that would change as I got older and actually started looking into the role properly as a career option.

I joined the Police as I always wanted to. Now I started to properly understand what the role was all about. I got upset when I had a short notice shift change, a day off got cancelled, or I was TOLD that I was staying on duty AFTER the time rostered in for due to a incident. They left this out of the small print (although had been told about this from serving family members) and I lost count of how many times I had to cancel social plans due to sudden work requirements.

Like every police probationer I had alot to learn and had to get used to doing my fair share of (quote) shit jobs. It was during this period that I would often ask myself why am I here and not in my bed ready to wake up in the morning for a higher paid job?  I would have to remind myself why it was that I joined in the first place.

Passing out having been Attested (Sworn in as a Constable) was one of the best days of my life. Seeing my children born is the only thing that I would put on the same level. I have experience under my belt now and I have worked in two different force areas, on many different teams, and under many different circumstances. I have met officers with different attitudes, some good, some in need of improvement but ALL have one thing in common. They joined to make a difference!

So what do I think makes a good Police Officer?

The truth is the answer is far too complexed to detail in depth so I will summarise my thoughts. Some may agree, others may not, and others may wish to add to my comments.

Life Experience

For me a good police officer should possess what is often referred to in the Police as “life experience”. Life Experience does not mean that you are old. It simply means that you have seen many aspects of life (good and bad things that you will face daily as part of your role). Having been a victim of crime myself I have experienced how a understanding Police Officer can help to make a bad situation alot better to deal with.

Listening

The ability to listen is also a vital skill to possess. Listening is a MAJOR part of policing. You need to listen in every incident you deal with. It could be a child victim of crime, a person who speaks little or broken English, a angry shop keeper not happy that it has taken three hours for Police to arrive to move some kids on from outside, right the way through to the knife weilding manic who is high on drugs and who wants to kill himself. If you cannot listen to someone you cannot even begin to see their point of view, understand their needs, assess the best course of action, or provide a fair and appropriate method of resolution.

Communication

Listening is the first part of it but equally as important is the ability to communicate with a variety of different people. You will be working a 8 – 12 hour shift, maybe even longer if you are required to stay on. In that time you maybe talking to a trapped person at a serious RTC (Road Traffic Collision) who may or may not live, you may have to within the same shift talk to a lost child, you may be having to talk to a person who just will not listen to you and is hell bent on you listening to their point. You may talk to a person who is a victim of a sexual assault, a elderly person or a violent drunk person. All of the above requires a different approach and it is not unacceptable to say that at times (although thankfully rare) you maybe talking to someone to save the life of another or indeed your own. Getting angry at one call and leaving a house fuming will happen. You need to adapt as that attitude will not help if you need to be relaxed at your next call.

Anger

At times Police Officers will be faced with situations where it would be quite easy to lose your temper. I struggle sometimes with domestic violence and have mellowed a little during my service. I recall losing it with a person I had arrested in my early days. Whilst I did not assault him I will admit that I lost the plot and my colleagues recognised my breaking point and stepped in. The ability to remain calm is vital to a police officer as you WILL be faced with people who will not listen to your requests, thinks that you are wrong because they do not understand your decision, or they are being violent towards you and may even have assaulted you. It takes a bigger man / woman to control this feeling that every human gets whilst remaining professional.

Respect

Respect is a massive essential thing for a Police Officer. I am a strong believer in the fact that respect is earned and not a god given right. My principle is treat everyone with the same level of respect, whether it be the Queen or a tramp until they give you reason otherwise. Even when they give you reason otherwise remember the principle above regarding anger. In your career you will on a daily basis show respect for other peoples thoughts, their situation, reasons for their behaviour (even if you dont agree with it), their religion, their culture, their sexuality, or any other similar aspect. Without respect forget applying.

Resilience

A Police Officer MUST have the ability to accept change and adapt their approach to that change. Change comes in many forms. It may be legislation, change in internal policy (and we all know how often that is), or change in overall image. Equally the change may be a personal situation that is nothing to do with work but has the ability to alter your mindset or behaviour whilst at work. Understanding the importance of change and learning how to adapt is a crucial part of the role.

Understanding

Understanding your community, your colleagues, and yourself is also vital. How can you serve a community if you do not know them. I once was a beat officer for a community that had a large percentage of Muslim residents. I knew little about their faith so I arranged a visit to the local Mosque (on my patch) to develop my awareness. That benefited me massively when 7/7 happened as I was trusted with information that may have helped the investigation. As it happened the very area I managed had been the very area where some of the people involved had lived or grown up!

Understanding people is a massive skill. I once was able to talk to a man dying in a car accident about a Golf Tournement. He loved Golf and I had never even played it, but having read a magazine whilst bored I had taken in enough information to speak to the man.

There are many different factors that make a Police Officer. We are all human, have feelings and what is found in EVERY Police Officer is that hunger to make a difference.

Times are changing and the service is taking a massive hit by those who are elected to run the Country. I ask you all to remember why you joined and in doing so ask you to remain resilient but at the same time let your feelings known. We have the pleasure of free speech (sort of) but on top of all of that control that anger.

Sir Peel leaves you with this final thought – without YOU being out there risking life and limb, what would the streets be like. For those who would like to get a idea please read me earlier Blog titled London – Days Before The Formation of the Met Police.