“The call was passed out over the radio that the security at Morrisons had detained a shop lifter and were asking for assistance from the Police. A call like this is graded as an emergency so we flicked on the blues and flew straight across to the shop. That annoyed me when I arrived because obviously every time you respond with lights and sirens you are putting people at risk. We got there and some bloke in jeans and a t-shirt came running up to us excitedly saying “nice one lads, she’s in here, come on” and scurried off. We had no idea who he was, no badge, ID or anything to suggest he was a part of the security team. I stopped him and asked who he was and he told us he was an ‘Undercover Store Detective’ and it was him that had caught the ‘shoppy’ and that his colleague was sitting with her now. He opened the door to what looked like a broom cupboard with a table and chair crammed into it. There was a a lanky security guard stood with his arms crossed across his chest with a stupid grin on his face. He told us later ‘this is my first catch’, hence the excitement I think.
Sitting in the chair was a woman who looked to be in her late 30’s. She was wearing a trouser suit and had black leather satchel like bag with her. She wouldn’t have looked out of place as the store manager. She was sobbing uncontrollably as soon as she saw me enter the broom cupboard. Before I could even speak she was begging forgiveness. My partner took the security guards out of the office whilst I sat with the suspect. A few minutes later he came back in with 4 items in his hand. He placed them on the table. Two of Morrisons finest microwave meals currently on a 2 for £6 offer and two £3 DVDs. Pepper Pig and Ben 10. The woman howled and began crying even louder.
My colleague told me that the ‘Undercover Store Detective’ had been patrolling the store and had seen the suspect put the items into her satchel. He thought she was using it to carry her shopping to the till at first because he said she didn’t look like a ‘shoppy’ but she walked straight passed to tills and to the exit. There was some discrepancy as to whether she had actually left the store and completed the offence but he was certain she had and would check CCTV for us. I asked the woman her name, date of birth, address and I ran her through the PNC. Nothing at all came back on her. I asked for a check to be done on her address and surely enough it was recorded but under her husband’s name and they were only recorded as being victims of a burglary the previous year.
So this wasn’t your usual shoplifter. I passed her a tissue from the pack I carry in my stab vest and asked her what had happened. Her story was that 8 months previously she had been made redundant from her admin role at a local hospital where she had worked for 15 years. The had 2 kids, a 5 and a 7 year old. They had struggled on for the first couple of months on just her husbands wage as she tried her hardest to get a new job. Then disaster struck when her husband’s firm went into administration and her husband lost his job too. They had lost all income, had fallen behind on bills and mortgage payments, they had not been able to celebrate Christmas properly and although her husband had found a new job which didn’t pay enough, she had been to one failed interview after another and was still out of work. They were still behind on bills and all money was going on feeding her kids and paying the essential utilities.
That day she had been to an interview, hence her dress and appearance, and was very confident when she left. She was on her way home when they called her so she pulled into Morrisons car park to take the call. Sadly, another failed interview. She told us that she couldn’t face going home to her kids and husband again and giving them bad news and so she decided what she needed was to feel like she had provided for her kids and to see a smile on their faces.
She had taken the meals for their tea and the DVDs were to see them smile and so they could sit and watch them in their bedroom whilst her and her husband talked. I don’t mind admitting, her story and her emotions made me choke up a couple of times. Ultimately what we had here was a mother who was desperate that she was willing to cross a line she had never even considered before and break the law to provide a meal and a smile for her kids. She fully understood what she had done and was more than apologetic. She was petrified that now she was going to be arrested for theft she would never find a job….that’s when I made my decision.
I used my discretion. I knew my partner would agree cause we were so much alike. I told the woman not to worry and to try and compose herself and I left the room. The two guards were right outside the door like two puppies awaiting praise and a treat. The uniformed one asked “Have you locked her up?”. I told them that I hadn’t locked her up and that I wasn’t going to either. They froze on the spot, their tales no longer wagging. They told me that I MUST lock her up cause that is their company policy. I told them that their company can’t have a policy that dictates what Police Officers do and that I have ultimate discretion in this situation and I don’t believe that criminalising this woman is the best way forward nor is it in the public interest. I explained her situation.
The ‘undercover’ guard was on my side. He agreed that it’s not the best solution. The uniformed guard was more upset at losing his first catch. I tried several times to get him on side but he wasn’t having it and so in the end I simply told him it was tough. It was my choice and the lady would not be getting arrested today. We all crammed back into the room and I explained to the woman that she would not be getting arrested and that we were going to take her out of the store and have a chat in our car. Lanky, obviously upset we had stolen his catch butted in with ‘But you are barred for life from this store’. She burst into tears again. She begged him to reconsider as she lived just around the corner, had shopped their all her life and couldn’t afford to travel to the next nearest supermarket every time they needed something. The guard was unrelenting and insisted it was ‘company policy’.
My colleague questioned whether he has the authority to do that given that he isn’t actually a Morrisons employee and when he confirmed he did have authority my colleague assured her that he would speak with the manager and let her know (he did do and the manager was fantastic and allowed her back into the store). When we got the woman back to her car I provided her with details of local groups and charities such as the Salvation Army which would be able to help her and her family and she couldn’t thank us enough and promised never to do something so stupid again.
When I spoke to my supervisor to get the call finalised I was shouted at. I was told that I should have arrested her and that it will take some ‘clever wording’ in order write off the call to comply with the National Crime Recording Standard. I was told it was my duty and that I will probably now have to go and arrest her from home. I told him that wasn’t going to happen and that if he thinks that is the best way to deal with somebody in her situation then he can go and drag her out of the house in front of her kids. As it happens the call was finalised and the woman wasn’t arrested. Job well done in my eyes.”
The above is a true story told to me by a serving officer. I use it because I think it demonstrates well the human side of policing. Here we had two officers whose “duty” dictated they arrest the shoplifter but whose morals dictated they help the woman and their morals won. I don’t think any good person can argue or criticise the officers for the way they dealt with the situation. Had it been another officer who attended the call the woman could well have been arrested, charged and walked away with a criminal record which could potentially prevent her finding employment. But this is just one example of many where Police Officers have to fight between their morals and their duty and quite often duty wins for reasons I will go into.
Over the last week I have spoken to many Police Constables who have answered several questions for me to help with my blogs and a project/campaign I am working on. One of those questions was;-
Has there ever been a time when you have been instructed to carry out a duty as a Police Officer which clashed with your personal morals and beliefs and if so, how did it make you feel and how did you deal with it?
The following are some of the answers I received.
“I am dead against fox hunting so when I was told I was policing the hunt to stop hunt saboteurs I objected. I explained to my boss that I didn’t feel I could because I don’t agree with fox hunting but I was pretty much told he doesn’t care what I agree or disagree with, I am a Police Officer and will do my duty. Having to “protect” these sick bastards while they scared and killed foxes made me feel ashamed for the first time in 17 years of being a Police Officer”.
“It drives me mental when people call the Police to say “there are kids playing in the street and being noisy” and then we get sent along to move them on even though they have done nothing wrong. They are just playing in the street and having fun for god sake. It’s not late at night or early in the morning, they are not committing crime, they are not even being anti-social or breaching the peace! The are PLAYING. Yet we get ordered by supervision to ‘move them on’ because we have a ‘duty to the public’ and must ‘maintain public confidence’… Well it might make the person complaining happy when we move harmless kids away but it doesn’t do much for maintaining the confidence of the youths, of their friends and family when they tell them they were chased off by the Police. Obviously if they are being rude, committing any offences, targeting somebody… we would have no issue dealing with them but all this does is make us look like bullies driving around scaring kids and spoiling their fun.”
“I got deployed with a team to prevent a breach of the peace whilst bailiffs evicted a man who had not been paying his mortgage. When we got there there was a removal van, about half a dozen bailiffs and removal men and they were waiting for us before they went up to the address. There was already a crowd gathered outside defending the man and who were angry and shouting at the bailiffs. My Sergeant spoke to the fella in charge and made sure the paperwork was above board and legal. We had to move the crowd back which obviously resulted in pushing and shoving and arguing with insults being thrown our way. We stood for about 2 hours separating the crowd from the property. The evictee was crying. Officially we were there to prevent any crime taking place but to the public we were HELPING the bailiffs evict a man. I felt guilty. I felt like stepping aside and letting the crowd through and helping this man get his house and possessions back. I couldn’t because I had a legal duty to prevent breaches of the peace and protect and preserve life and property.”
“Fracking is something I am 100% dead against and so when I took part in training to police protests at fracking sites I began asking myself how I would react when expected to stand guard outside one and prevent protesters gaining access. Truth is, I would WANT to let them in and even help them stop the fracking but I would HAVE to do my job and fulfil my duty and follow lawful orders. That really causes a moral dilemma and conflict”.
So here I have highlighted just a few of the jobs and duties expected from a Police Constable which cause internal battles with their own morals and beliefs. Jobs where their sense of lawful duty takes precedence over their morals. Police Officers may sum it up by saying “We’re just doing our job”. In part 2 of this blog I am going to look at the consequences of them doing the opposite and standing by their beliefs AND ask where exactly a Police Officer would draw the line at simply “doing their job” and following orders.
This short story is true. It is a story about how each of us is just a few unfortunate steps away from being left with nothing at all and how we are all vulnerable to homelessness. This incident changed my life in more ways than one. It took place whilst I was serving as a Police Officer and the gentleman’s name has been changed and place names omitted.
John was a career Police Officer with a force I shall not name. He had served as a PC for almost 16 years. He had a wife and 2 young children whom he adored. He was healthy, active and had a blessed life. He owned a 4 bedroomed house with large garden in a nice area and he and his wife drove nice cars. With not a worry or issue in the world he was a lucky man and had a life many would envy.
In 2010 following an incident at work John was injured both physically and mentally. The physical wounds healed very quickly but the psychological wounds never did. He returned to work reluctantly after a short period of sickness. He never liked taking time off and had never had a day’s sick leave in his career and this alone bugged him, but he understood the importance of making sure he was up to doing his duty and returned as soon as he felt physically capable.
After only a few weeks back at work he began to realise he just wasn’t himself both at work and with the public and at home with his family. He wasn’t sleeping well because he would have regular bad dreams and flashbacks to the incident which put him out of work. He was becoming short tempered which was completely not his true self. He became a little reclusive, not wanting to attend family events, not wanting to take the kids out for weekends away or even to the park. The more it went on the more he knew he needed help and that something wasn’t right but he just couldn’t bring himself to ask for help.
One afternoon at work following an argument with a colleague John lost his temper, punched his colleague and damaged a force computer before walking out of the station and going home early. To cut a long story short he was subsequently suspended. Whilst suspended he was pressured into going to the Doctors and seeking help. He was of course diagnosed with depression, post traumatic stress and anxiety and despite the fact he did not want to take medication he was prescribed tablets.
Whilst on suspension and taking his meds he did make a substantial improvement and although not fully his old self, things at home were improving. That was short lived however.
He was taken off suspension and allowed back to work but on advice from his GP and family and friends he took time off sick to try and get back to some “normality”. He was still under investigation by Professional Standards for assaulting his colleague and damaging a computer however they were pursuing misconduct and disciple matters rather than criminal matters given the circumstances (and their negligence with offering him the correct support at the time of his incident and injury).
He ended up being off work for several months and he believed it was his sickness and insistence that PSD did things on his terms for medical reasons that ultimately resulted in him being required to resign from the force. He did so reluctantly and he described it as being the day his life ended.
As time went by and as he struggled like crazy to get another job and keep the family afloat things went from bad to worse. They couldn’t pay bills, they were increasingly in debt, they argued a lot, tensions were running high and he felt all his progress with his depression was going to waste more and more each day.
Eventually his wife and kids left him. He missed mortgage payments and debts were out of control. He lost everything. Within less than 2years John was left broke and homeless. His friends had all but deserted him, his wife wanted nothing more to do with him, he never saw his kids and he ended up living rough or moving from hostel to hostel.
Eventually he ended up in my area living in a tent in some woods next to the motorway. He begged for change and food at a nearby motorway services and used their toilets and showers to keep clean. He learned to catch rabbits for extra food and rainwater for drink. He kept himself to himself and nobody would have had any idea there was a man living in a small wood as they drove by every day.I had no idea myself until a colleague told me and I made it my business to go and visit him and that is how I got to speak with him at length. I would occasionally sneak off without work mates knowing when working single crewed and see if he was around and check how he was doing and sometimes took him a sandwich from morrisons and bottle of water.
He told me one day how he had come to the decision to live in these woods. He had spent months on the streets and in homeless shelters but said that every night he closed his eyes he was scared he would never wake up. He talked of thugs and youths robbing homeless people for what little money or possessions the had. He told me one day he was robbed by 2 teens who even heartless tore a photo of his kids to pieces whilst they laughed and one held a knife. That day he was thrown out of WH Smiths for trying to buy some card and glue to stick his picture back together.
He told me how he had come closer and closer to turning to drink and drugs as the temptation living rough in towns and cities was too much. How he had had to go against every moral fibre in his body and break the law by stealing food, drink and a new sleeping bag to survive. He told me how shops and even fast food venues like Mcdonalds would turn him away as soon as he entered. The final straw was when the Police and Council began targeting the homeless and removing their sleeping bags etc…In his own words
“I never felt so lonely and I was surrounded by thousands of people”.
He knew of my area as he would often visit as a child and so made the decision to travel up by hitch-hiking with friendly wagon drivers. He said one or two even allowed him to sleep in their wagon at night and fed him too. When he arrived in the area he moved from place to place trying to find a nice, quiet and secluded spot to make his “home”. He said he tried half a dozen or so before settling with the woods. He was able to work “cash in hand” as a labourer for a local company for a week which paid him £150. With that money he bought a one man tent, warm clothes and sleeping bag and camping supplies and set about making his camp site home.
John was always very humble, very grateful for any time you would spend talking to him and always politely offered you a brew. He would also turn down any acts of charity and offers of help and said he was used to his little life now and quite enjoyed the peace.
Several months went by without any sign of John and winter was upon us. We were contacted by a hospital ward to ask us to check on his welfare as he had been admitted with various health problems caused by his lifestyle and the cold and he had walked off the ward. For 4 days I visited his camp to see if there had been signs of life. It was blisteringly cold and even in a wool hat, gloves, fleece and body armour I was cold. There was no way John was going to survive nights in this weather and there wasn’t so much as a recent fire at his camp. All his possessions were there but he wasn’t.
It was on the 5th day that news came back to us that John had been found. Upon leaving hospital he had taken what little cash he had and paid for one night in a B&B in a different force area. Whilst there John had seen fit to end his own life and was found the following morning by staff. He had overdosed on heroine.
The news was a massive blow and John’s entire life story impacted me in a way of which, up until hearing the news of his death, I had no idea. His life, I believe, shows just how fragile our lives are. How everything we deem to be important and take for granted can just be pulled away in the space of a few short months and there is nothing you can do about it. How those is desperate need of help can often go unseen and their needs unnoticed before it is too late. I found myself asking if there was anything more I could have done to help him or if I could have changed his life for the better. I couldn’t have. I offered him all the help I could reasonably offer and he was always so appreciative but would politely turn it down.
It is for this reason that I get so passionate about homelessness in this country and will always stand up for people in that dreadful situation and will try to do my very best to help when and where I can, even if it is simply by raising awareness.
People need to open their eyes when walking around cities and towns and stop pretending that homeless people don’t exist or that it’s not their problem or that “you shouldn’t give them money they will only get drunk or buy drugs”. I invited a homeless guy to join me and my mates for a beer on my stag doo in York in May but he turned the offer down because he was T total. Instead me and my mates give him enough money to go eat and spend the night in a hotel. He was chuffed to bits and split between us cost about £10 each. That’s about 3 and a half pints sacrificed to help somebody in need.
My better half bought a homeless guy in York a hot drink and sausage roll last winter, his reaction genuinely put a tear in my eye. As I looked around I was filled with rage as people looked at us like we were scum for feeding the poor bloke.
Ignorance and dismissal of this problem does nothing to change it and given that we are all just a few unfortunate steps away from being in the same situation, we should all do a lot more to make sure the problem no longer exists rather than sweeping it under the carpet or walking around with blinkers on.
Other blogs on this subject matter:-
The idea behind the Special Constabulary, the volunteer branch of the Police Family, first formed in the days of Charles II who ruled that every member of the public could be sworn in as Constables during times of public unrest. It was not until 1831 that a Parliamentary Act was introduced which was altered in 1835 and formed the basis of the Special Constabulary we know today. It allowed for the forming of Special Constables outside of times of public unrest. They were also given full powers of arrest and the same equipment as substantive Constables.
Special Constables, or Specials as they are more commonly called, provide a commendable and highly necessary service. They volunteer to Police the community receiving only expenses for travel and food and occasionally qualifying for a £1200 payment. They tend to hold down full time jobs and Police in their spare time. They are a prime example of the populace policing itself. Fully sworn Constables protecting and serving the public voluntarily. This is something you have got to admire and commend. There are now over 21,000 Specials in England and Wales and this number is rapidly increasing.
Today we are seeing the biggest restructure and changes to the Police Service of England and Wales since it was formed. It is no secret that despite the Chiefs and Politicians telling the public that front line policing will not be impacted upon by cuts to Police funding, the Police are now massively reduced. Recent press suggest in the last 3 years we have lost 16,000 Police Officers! The same number they claimed we were short of in order to adequately deal with the 2011 riots. So now it would seem we are 32,000 officers short of being able to suitably respond to similar outbreaks of public disorder! How can anybody with a smidgen of integrity and honesty state the frontline Police services will not be affected by these cuts? I don’t know how they get away with saying it but they do.
However, whilst the number of Constables drops rapidly and forces are struggling to lose even more in order to adhere to Government enforced budget cuts it seems that the Chiefs and Commissioners are beginning to realise that public pressure is increasing. People are becoming restless and starting to speak out against austerity. It was reported recently that the Government fears we could see more outbreaks of public disorder this summer. They are scared that the peasants may once again revolt.
But how the hell can the Police cope with such incidents when they are essentially 32,000 men and women down? How can they maintain the forces strength when many forces still need to lose hundreds of Officers more? We have been promised by Government and Chief Officers that our Police Officers will not be replaced by PCSOs and Specials. The 5 major forces have rejected the use of water cannon should disorder erupt. So what’s the plan?
Brace yourselves here because this will come as a shock. I am afraid we have been told lies by those in power!! I know, I know. It numbed me to the core too. I still struggle to believe it but it is true. They have deceived us.
The number of Police Constables is ever decreasing in order to adhere to budgets and so the recruitment of Specials and PCSOs has increased.
This week alone I have seen and been told about 4 forces that are driving recruitment campaign for Special Constables. Between them they want to recruit almost 2000 more Specials. I am hearing accounts from Officers that Specials are being put almost straight into specialist roles such as Roads Policing, a role which substantive Constables have to wait years to apply for. I am hearing rumours that considerations are being given to putting Specials on firearms teams, Public Order units and even training them as dog handlers*. Specials are now being used to boost numbers on Neighbourhood Police Teams and at times even outnumber Police Constables. It seems that Specials are flavour of the month and they are definitely being used to plug the holes in the thin blue line.
Now I have no problem at all with Specials. I have worked with many and some of my friends are good (or mad) enough to volunteer. I have already stated that their work is commendable. At the end of the day, it is not really having any negative impact on the public or crime fighting. They have the powers of arrest that Constables have, the numbers of Officers out patrolling the streets are increased, and they provide the much needed crime deterrent, increased visibility. On the face of it, using them to Police the streets alongside regular Officers and PCSOs is a good thing. After all, the priority is the public and so long as the service provided is not damaged then all is good.
The problem I and many serving Police Officers have is not with the Specials themselves but with the decisions made by management on the use of Specials and the decision to plug the gaps left by PC recruitment freezes with Specials. In my force, I am not sure if the same applies to other forces, Specials are not able to take statements, interview suspects or complete files so when an arrest is made it falls to a regular PC to put everything he or she may be doing aside and take over from the Special. When a Special is new to the job they are often sent out to work with a regular PC as they can not work alone if their tutor Special is not available at the same time. This puts increased burdens of tutoring and “babysitting” on the regular PC and also causes resentment when the Special can’t assist with certain aspects of the job leaving the Officer to do everything alone or when PCs who are being forced to work single crewed every other time are then told they can work double crewed so long as it is with a Special.
The decisions by Chiefs to use Special Constables in the ways which they are doing is quickly causing resentment and annoyance which will eventually bubble to the surface and cause issues amongst teams. For example, my force recently returned numerous Traffic Officers back to division and removed their permits due to budget cuts. Imagine the anger felt by those Officers when their post is then filled by a Special Constable?
I must reiterate that I have no problem with Special Constables or the idea of a volunteer arm of the Police Service but there needs to be a couple of things put in place if the future Police Service is to rely so heavily upon volunteers just like the army now rely so much on the TA’s for the same financial reasons.
- Much more training is needed for Specials PRIOR to being released on the streets.
- A national policy on the roles of Special Constables rather than allowing individual forces to decide what they can and can not do.
- There needs to be enough senior Specials to train the new recruits and work with them rather than sticking them with a PC to “babysit”.
- There needs to be much more honesty from those at the top of the chain when it comes to Policing on the cheap. They need to admit to the Constables and the public that the frontline is actually full of holes and so we need to rely on volunteers to provide the same or similar level of service.
- The assumed favouritism which seems to be given to Specials when it comes to the “donkey work”, allocation of training, allocation of vehicles and deployment on specialist units many PCs have longed to work on for years. This kind of behaviour will and already is causing resentment amongst the troops.
Policing really should not be done on the cheap but the harsh reality is that the Chiefs do not have balls to stand up to the Government and say “NO, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. WE CAN NO LONGER MAKE THESE CUTS AND CAN NOT LOSE ANY MORE OFFICERS”. They are going to do anything they must to make these budget cuts and will not risk putting their heads above the parapet to stand up for us. So just like the Armed Forces they will continue to make ill judged cuts, they will await the ability to make people redundant and use it, they will force Officers out through disciplinary procedures and they will increasingly rely on decent members of the public to volunteer as Special Constables in order to fill the empty spaces. If there is one thing which is becoming more and more obvious it is that during these tough times, staff morale does not feature on their list of priorities.
The problem will come when they realise that the Special Constabulary is not a sustainable service. They can not force Special Constables to work. They can not order them to do things the same as they can a PC. What would happen for instance if all Specials decided jointly that they were not going to work on one specific day or days? Effectively they could strike and throw the force into turmoil. They volunteer, they are not financially bound to the service and so would the Force have a hold over them when or if it came to a situation of this nature?
At a time when Police Officers are being kicked around from every direction and face uncertain times they are also seeing their PCSO colleagues being protected and “ring fenced” with some Commissioners vouching to stump up the extra cash for PCSOs which the councils are cutting and now they are seeing their specialist roles being filled by Specials and mass recruitments to boost the numbers and fill the gaps so that those in power can claim that “cuts are having no impact on frontline Policing”.
The Police Service is currently in tatters and things look set to get worse before they get better. One thing is certain, the Police Service of tomorrow will resemble nothing like the Police Service of today.
I see a multi-tier Police force with PCSOs and Specials forming the frontline, visible Neighbourhood Policing and Police Constables being the ones who respond to crime, make the arrests and deal with more serious matters. I think this is where the future of Policing is heading and I am even more convinced by the fact that this idea was denied by the Chiefs in recent times.
If you happen to be a Special then please do not take anything I have stated personally and keep up the great work. It is refreshing for us to see that there are so many decent members of our communities willing to volunteer their own time to help keep us safe. I genuinely do commend the work you all do. There is no way I could do this job voluntarily so to you all, I tip my hat. Stay Safe and remember, if you do experience animosity or even jealousy from regular PCs, it is nothing personal, simply misdirected anger.
*These rumours have not yet been 100% confirmed