I want to take a moment to look at and address some of the commonly held myths, beliefs and misconceptions held by the public, perpetuated by the media and ingrained within society today in relation to the Police. The idea isn’t to defend the Police and it isn’t to patronise or “prove you wrong”. It is to raise awareness of REAL Policing. To help people see and realise that the Policing you see in the media both the negative stories in papers like the Daily Mail and the action packed scenes in TV shows like Cops With Cameras is NOT a true reflection of the work and duties of Police Officers today. Nor are the many rumours, beliefs and misconceptions you see on social media, hear down the pub or talk about amongst friends. I want to look at how the term “The Police” is used by the media as a cover-all term and how that can have impact upon public opinion. I also am going to look at some of the beliefs the public hold regarding the Police. Comments I have heard time and time again and opinions people have kindly expressed upon request to help me write this blog.
Firstly and most importantly I think it may be best to look at just some of the duties your average Police Constable is expected to deal with. I refer here to the “patrol bobby” you see (or you may argue DON’T see) on a daily basis. A Police Constable is the lowest rank in the service but is also the foundation of the service. As a PC you can move into almost any role within “The Police” providing you have completed two years probation and have the competencies needed for the role. For example, a PC upon completing their probation on patrol/Neighbourhood team (the default position for all Police Constables) can move into the dog section, mounted, roads policing, drugs team, Firearms, CID… The list is very long. Many people think if you work in one of those other roles you must be a different rank from the uniformed bobby. That is not the case. The role of the PC is very diverse but Patrol or Neighbourhood Policing is their default position.
So let’s look now at the duties of a PC on a patrol/Neighbourhood team. The list is below is just a fraction of the duties and jobs a PC is expected to deal with at any given time. They are the first responders to pretty much all 999 calls, non emergency calls and simple public enquiries.
Burglaries both ongoing and historic
Robberies both ongoing and historic
Assaults both new and old, minor (push or slap) and serious (ABH, GBH)
Theft both ongoing and historic
Neighbour disputes of varying degrees
Sudden deaths both suspicious and expected
Nuisance Youths (anything from knocking on doors, being loud, playing football)
Frauds and deceptions
Road Traffic Collisions
Poachers and Wildlife crimes
Prison crimes (Crimes actually inside prison!)
Death warnings (telling people a loved one is dead)
Preventing breaches of the peace
Assessing a scene for CSI
Guarding a crime scene
Domestic violence both ongoing and historic
Child Sexual Offences
Transporting for ambulance
Assisting mental health workers
Assisting other law enforcement agencies
Assisting other policing teams (CID, Roads Policing etc)
Assisting door supervisors
Taking alcohol off children
Dealing with public nuisances
Guarding suspects at hospital
Protecting victims at hospital
“Suicide Watch” of suspects in Police custody
Working in the Custody Suit
School fights and other school related incidents
Facebook name calling and bullying
Civil disputes (even just to inform people it’s not a police issue)
Ebay purchase disputes
Parenting kids (“My son is refusing to do homework” = true call)
Loose Peacock!! (actual call I attended)
Forcing entry to property for other agencies (ambulance)
Compiling case files
Speak with CPS
Arrange solicitors to attend
Arrange for an interpretor
Completing stop and searches
Attending community meetings
School inputs and talks
Control Room duty
Front Desk duty
Vehicle checks prior to mobile patrol
Reporting faults with patrol vehicles
Transporting paperwork, exhibits and colleagues to court
Like I said, this is just a fraction of the jobs a PC is expected to deal with. They are a slave their radio, to the orders of the higher ranks, the demands of the public and anything else they come across in the course of their shift. A lot of these jobs take up a lot of time. For example, it is not uncommon for an Officer to arrest a suspect for a simple offence such as shoplifting (simple in complexity, not seriousness) at the beginning of an 8 hour shift and for that officer to then be tied up dealing with that job for the entire 8 hours. Waiting to get into the custody area, recording the crime, writing a statement for the arrest, obtaining a statement from the victim, seizing property, possibly a house search, arranging CCTV, waiting for a solicitor, possibly arranging an interpreter, interviewing, obtaining charging advice, possibly speaking to CPS, charging, bailing or releasing the suspect, completing a file…. Bet you didn’t realise how much goes into one simple arrest for a straight forward offence did you?
Attending a sudden death can often take several hours as the officer has to wait for life to be pronounced extinct, await the undertakers, possible arrange for the door the officer has forced open to be repaired, replaced or boarded. Even reassurance call to an vulnerable victim of a crime which occurred weeks previously can take an hour or so if the victim is afraid, upset or simply wants some company for a brew.
Throw all of this in with the fact that despite what you may hear from politicians, frontline services are being massively cut. The number of Police Officers covering your home town, city or village each day and night would shock you if your force’s senior command allowed you to know the truth. The Police Officers know the true extent of the situation but they are ordered not to tell the public by the pseudo-politicians at the top of the command chain in order to “maintain public confidence”. If they disobey and reveal information which could undermine public confidence then the Officer would be disciplined at least, dismissed at worst.
Let me give you some examples of what I mean. I spoke to a friend still serving in one of our countries largest forces yesterday. He covers an area over 200 square miles in size. A rural area with a population of around 61,000 people. Normally there are 4 Police Officers covering this area. The “ward” as it is referred to, consists of miles of country side, forests, nature reserves etc and requires vehicles to be able to respond to emergencies in the many residential areas at any given moment. The 4 officers are banned from “double crewing”, that is they MUST work alone and not in pairs. They have 2 marked Police vehicles. The day I spoke to my friend he told me that of the 4 officers there was now only 2 covering the ward because the bosses had seen fit to take one of them to police a different part of force area. That left 3. Then one of the officers was sent to assist a GP gain access to a house. The Doctor was meant to be meeting a patient with mental health issues but was getting no reply to knocking. The Officer attended and was told to force entry on welfare grounds (to protect life and limb) and upon gaining entry found the man was just sleeping on the sofa. The Doctor took the patient to hospital for an assessment and the Officer was left behind to wait for the house to be secured by the council. He had been waiting over 3 hours at the time of my call which left my friend and his colleague with one vehicle and 200 square miles to cover. This meant that these 2 officers would have to prioritise any call that came in for their area. It meant longer response times. It meant 4 people’s work now split between 2. It meant that the public were not receiving the service they probably thought and expected they were. This isn’t a one off example. It is especially a problem for the rural forces or forces with rural areas. My home town is no different with contacts within telling me there are regularly not enough Officers to cover the area properly.
So a huge list of duties and expectations (some of which should not be dealt with by police officers such as ebay disputes, facebook issues, parenting difficulties, transporting people and things….) coupled with ever dwindling resources is the TRUE reason you do not see so many Police Officers on patrol anymore whether that is in a car or on foot. I will admit and agree that many Officers probably do not want to be patrolling on foot these days but that is not through laziness (although I admit there will be the odd one who is lazy) it is more because with such vast areas to cover and the enormous range of duties they are responsible for with such small numbers, walking around in one town is not practicable.
For example, when I used to walk around on foot in the town of Wetherby I was useless if a call came in at Boston Spa or if a colleague in Aberford, a 10minute drive away but part of my ward, needed assistance. If you want more foot patrols you need more police. If you want more police you need to get behind them, stand up for them and fight the Government. It is their austerity measures causing this problem. The 20% cuts to Police budgets with an impending 25-40% FURTHER CUTS to follow this November! It is not “The Police” that make the choice not to patrol or to take their time getting to your call, it is the GOVERNMENT forcing this problem onto society through drastic austerity measures. Forcing senior ranks to make difficult and possibly dangerous choices over policing priorities.
I blame the Government and the media for a lot of the myths and bad opinions of our bobbies. I agree those bad apples in the Police Service do not help in any way and if you read my other blogs you will see my opinion of those who disgrace the office of Constable. However, it seems to have become the norm now to just report negative Police stories and to link anything to do with law, order, legislation and everything crime related with the cover-all term “The Police”.
We see “The Police” and images of Police related items such as the blue and white Police tape, being used by mainstream media when reporting on things which if we were to be fair, are not the fault of the Police. For example, when a particularly horrible suspect is released from custody on bail or without charge it is reported that “THE POLICE HAVE LET DANGEROUS SUSPECT “JO BLOGS” WALK FREE TODAY…”. In actual fact, if a suspect has “walked free” on bail or without charge, that is down to the law and legal system, neither of which “The Police” wrote or has any control over. There are very strict rules regarding the bailing and remanding of suspects which the Police simply abide by, not write. The decision to charge a suspect is made by the CPS in most cases or a trained Crime Evaluator in other matters. Decisions are based on evidence, threat to victims, witnesses or even the suspect and other factors. Although it is a custody Sergeant who authorises the release of suspects, it is done by following very strict rules which leave no room for ifs or buts or any personal opinion or preference, so how can they be blamed? Unless of course the release has been caused by a failure, malpractice or mistake by “The Police”, in which case you could blame the Officer responsible, but not the entire Police Service of England and Wales, your entire force or “The Police”.
When the Government introduce controversial new laws such as their snooping charter, the media often state to the public that it is “The Police” who want to have these powers. It is NOT the Police who request these powers. It is the Security Service and the Government but because it will be the Police who are forced to enforce the laws whether they agree or not, it is “The Police” that get the blame.
When it was discovered that the national crime statistics were wrong, fiddled and manipulated it was blamed on “The Police”. That resulted in many people thinking the bobby they see patrolling, attending their calls etc is a liar and fiddles the crime stats. The Police all over the country were labelled as liars and trying to cover things up when in actual fact the crime stats were fiddled by the senior command, the pseudo-politicians and the Home Office. Why label and tarnish an entire section of society, a vital public service, based on the actions of people who are so far removed from real life and the daily good the Police do? My guess would be to keep the wedge between the public and the public servants firmly in place so that they are less likely to stand together, shoulder to shoulder against the Government. But that is just my opinion.
This desire to blame “The Police” for everything, even it is not the fault of the Police subsequently bleeds into society. We have all heard the criticisms, opinions and myths surrounding policing. Let me elaborate and start with this one…
It’s lunch time, you hear sirens in the distance, you see a Police car with blues and twos on heading into town in the direction of shops and you say/hear “There they go, off to get their lunch” or something similar along those lines. We have all heard it. The comment has been uttered since I was a young child and even before then I am sure. I can not comment on whether that actually ever happened back in the “olden days”. Perhaps in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when Policing and life was completely different from today. However, I can guarantee you that it does not happen today and if it ever did then the Officer(s) would be disciplined and most likely sacked along with charged with any traffic offences they committed.
The reason being is that in all Police vehicles these days there is a “black box” device. This device requires the Officer to either scan their warrant card or security pass or type in a unique code in order to start the car. So long as the engine is running this device records EVERYTHING that vehicle does. It records, speed, breaking, gear, mileage and every time the sirens or lights are turned on. So if an officer has a collision in the vehicle the data is automatically looked at. If he is found to have been speeding, didnt break, using lights and sirens when he shouldn’t have been etc, then the officer is facing one hell of a problem. The control room supervisors and senior management can and do conduct spot checks on the vehicles. They can check what speed Officers are driving, they can make sure light and siren use coincides with an emergency call or other relevant and permitted incident. They are notified if the car goes over a certain speed and Officers are often called in to account for it. They can even check how long a car has been parked up with the engine running to ensure Officers are not wasting time. So the myth that Police use blue lights to get home on time, get their meal or for anything other than a lawful and permitted reason is absolutely untrue.
Another common complaint and frustration as a member of the public is that “The Police” attended a burglary, damage, theft etc and “were useless, they did nothing at all”. When the Police attend any crime scene where the suspect(s) have left they have to look for clues or evidence. They will check if there is CCTV covering the scene. Were there any witnesses to the offence? Has the suspect left any items behind? Has the suspect left any forensic evidence such as fingerprints or blood etc. Unfortunately, criminals these days are switched on and quite often do not leave any evidence behind. So if the Police Officer is unable to investigate your crime further it is NOT because they are useless or can’t be arsed, it is because there is no evidence to lead to a suspect. You can not logically or fairly call “The Police” useless for not being able to magic evidence out of thin air I’m afraid…. And if you want to use the argument that if they were patrolling more they may deter these crimes, please read the beginning of this blog again then complain to our Government.
“I told ‘The Police’ that that bloke down the road was dealing drugs last week and they’ve done nothing about it!”… This is a common complaint I hear from people or see on social media. It is so frustrating for us as members of the public that criminals in our society seemingly get away with their crimes without any Police action being taken. It is very frustrating for Police Officers that they can’t just go and search a property or a person who has been pointed out as committing crime such as drug dealing. It is THE LAW that prohibits the Police taking quicker action against suspected drug dealers. If a member of the public tells a Police Officer that “Joe Bloggs” is dealing drugs from his home address they will take that information and submit it as intelligence. They will check the Police system and if there are other recent reports of the same nature then they can look at swearing out a warrant, organising a raid at a time when they have enough resources and then searching the address….If there are no other reports or only a couple then I am afraid the information will sit there until futher intelligence gathering can be done. The courts will NOT issue the Police a warrant on one or two intel reports. They will not issue a warrant until the Officer can satisfy them that the information is viable, reliable and they know as much as possible about the address and it’s residents. This all takes time. It takes Surveillance, intelligence gathering and an operational order. These all take time. Some operations can take months to put together, especially if the suspect is switched on and smart. A lot of this information will not be passed to the member of the public who reported it and so to the unaware it WILL seem like “The Police” are doing nothing. They are doing something, just have some patience. It is hard to do all of these essential things to get a warrant when they are also doing the duties in the huge list above.
“I TOLD “THE POLICE” THAT MY DAUGHTER WAS BEING LED ASTRAY BY A BOY AND THEY SAID THEY CAN’T DO ANYTHING”… The same applies to parents worrying about the friends their kids have. The Police do not have the legal powers to instruct people, including children, who they can and can’t associate with. The law allows people to socialise with whomever they wish. This boils down to simple parenting. So long as no criminal offences are being committed or there is no immediate risk or threat to life and limb, the Police will not and can not act. It is down to parents to handle their children and there are other services around to assist if they can not. The Police will be there to deal with any crime or risk to life and limb only.
“I SAW “THE POLICE” LOCK SOMEBODY UP JUST FOR WALKING DOWN THE STREET WITH A BRITISH FLAG”… Well that simply isn’t true. I’ve seen a recent video which starts just as the Police are arresting somebody carrying a Union Flag. You do not see any of the incident before this. The title of the video is purely designed to cause unrest as it claims the Police arrested the person because the flag offended somebody. There is no law against carrying the Union Flag or any other for that matter and so it is only possible that the person was arrested for their conduct. Words or actions used whilst walking down the street with the flag. The Police can only arrest for what the LAW allows them to and no law will allow them to arrest for this. Simple as that.
“THEY ARE POLICE OFFICERS THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO CONTROL THEIR ANGER BETTER”… Sadly there are many reports of Police using excessive force and I will never try and justify it. I will however just try and explain why a Police officer is no more able to control their temper, adrenaline and reactions in a violent situation. It is believed and expected (and rightly so) that The Police are highly trained in dealing with violent situations. That they are trained in self defence and are skilled in controlling their adrenaline. They are not. A Police Officer will still suffer the same adrenaline rush, the “fight or flight”, reaction as anybody else. They are of course more like to choose the FIGHT reaction. This doesn’t mean they will scrap with somebody, it means they will stand their ground and deal with the situation. In training all role plays of violent situations are far too Health and Safety controlled and so they can never be realistic and officers can never really be trained for real life until they hit the streets and encounter live situations. The level of self defence training they receive is no more than a few strikes to “pressure points” on the forearm if somebody grabs you or your kit or to press the mandibular angle to try and “gain control” of a suspect. All of this impractical Unarmed Defensive Tactics training mixed with pushing back with their hand held infront of them saying “Get Back”. I studied martial arts throughout my childhood and teens and also read a lot of self defence books too. I learned more from those books than the Police taught me. There were always requests from Officers for more realistic training but it was never permitted due to “Health & Safety”. So when an Officer gets involved in a violent situation his/her natural animal instincts kick in and unless they have had sufficient training OUTSIDE of the service they simply do their very best to survive and control the situation. Unfortunately, that sometimes leads to excessive force being used or mistakes being made.
These are just a few of the gripes, misconceptions and opinions expressed to me from members of the public and friends. I am sure there will be more. I am not for one second trying to say that the Police are perfect, don’t make mistakes or that all issues are down to cuts and being under resourced. There are problems in the Police Service which are caused by individuals whether that be corruption, racism or other criminality or malpractice but on that issue I would add that again, the actions of these individuals is not reflecting or representative of “The Police”.
I hope this blog has gone some way to increase some awareness of the situation within the Police Service of England and Wales and has come across as intended.
**In my next blog I am going to look at some of the duties Police Officers deal with which clash with their morals and beliefs but which they are legally obliged to fulfil and ask where would that obligation to duty over personal morals would end.