Monday, 20 April 2009

Treading The Tightrope or Just A Bunch of Clowns?


I was mid rant this morning when Crofty called round. My dad showed me the front page of his copy of The Week and ignited me. Here is a calmer more reflective version of what I said:

Whichever way you look at it we, the cops, are not particularly well thought of at the moment. My last blog post about the tightrope you walk between your desire to knee a bully in the balls and the steadying hand on the mental brake that prevents you, was almost prescient.

First off my Easter weekend was messed up by a tosser of a boss who couldn't remember how to look after documents marked 'Secret'; or perhaps he was one of those bosses who think that sort of thing beneath him; perhaps his little man or woman was having a day off so he had no one to pop the documents into a secure briefcase or something.

Either way, my Friday night out was messed up when my friend found he had to work.

Then we have the G20 protests, and this is the biggie.

I wonder what the percentage was of officers policing the demo who lost their rag and saw the red mist, or whatever you want to call it, and lashed out at someone?

Against that backdrop now have a think about how many of the protesters' sole motive was to
cause disruption, using violence to property or people.They were there in numbers, but they were peppered among the rightly indignant ones ones on a trip from church or WI Peace Group. This is the very effective tactic of those anarchist organisations there only to smash the machine and this is why we, the public and the police - because we, the police, are in both - need to have a good hard think about what we want.

I find it hard to talk about the wrongs or rights of the G20 policing - after all, someone died maybe as the result of what one of us did, there's no getting past that. Equally another of us was sufficiently wound up like a spring by a female protester who admitted swearing and pushing the officer, who then maybe went to far in his use of reasonable force, we'll see what happens in the investigation.

What I will say is don't be fooled into thinking that there is any sort of cover-up when it comes to the investigation, officers are genuinely put through the mincer to get to the truth. If any covering up is done, it is later and for political reasons beyond the rights or wrongs of front-line officers.

The interesting question is about what we all want from our Police in situations like the G20 - the cops did what they thought their bosses wanted. If the style of policing - using coralling tactics - was hard and appeared brutal it was because that was what they had been told: stamp on it before the lid comes off.

So what do we want?

Are we prepared to allow public protests to explode from time to time so we can have freer demonstrations or would we rather put up with a bit of rough shoving and pushing to allow the police to stamp the mark of authority on a situation.

I don't know. What I do know is that me and my colleagues will still be there doing whatever it is that the public decide they want from us. And that is what makes policing in this country still great.

Gosh I feel better for that.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Am I Human? No I'm a Police Officer

Yesterday when Crofty called round for coffee with my dad, I was in the process of being eaten up with guilt. Chatting to my ex-Sergeant dad was my way of unpacking the experience. Of course Crofty wanted the experience as material for this blog. Shallow isn't he?

My biggest reason for joining the cops was to do with protecting weak and vulnerable people. I love the idea of riding quickly to someone's aid, whisking them to safety and/or vanquishing the foe. In short, bullies get my goat. I suppose that's why I hate Domestic Violence so much. People think Domestic Violence is about relationships or misplaced love. It's not: it's about power and vulnerability.

Last week we were called to a Domestic Dispute at a house we knew well. We didn't need the radio operator to tell us of the long list of domestic incidents, nor the DV Marker on the premises; so we knew we needed to hurry up and get there.

The front door was open and on top of the angry masculine shouts, we could hear furniture going over. This, it turned out was him trying to get to her as she scurried, animal-like our of his reach around the furniture. When we got in she was cowering on the floor in the corner, behind the dining table. She was about 7stones wet through, lank mousey hair - in fact everything about her was mousey, probably because she'd never been allowed to be anything else. She stared up at us resentfully, wiping blood and snot from her nose, mascara all over her eyes.

Don't be surprised it was resentment rather than gratitude. She knew from experience that the best way to get through it was to weather the storm until his anger was spent. Our intervention would probably only make it worse next time she incurred his wrath, by looking at him the wrong way or saying something during Hollyoaks or something. .

The moment that made me doubt myself was when we went through the door. The bastard stopped and turned as we shouted "Police!", and rather than run, or fight, he simply turned with a smirk, hands held up submissively. It was the smirk that got to me. I've seen that look a hundred times, it said:

"Come on then, let's get it over with. Cart me off. She won't press charges and I'll be back tomorrow"

Up until that point, everything about our approach had been professional: fast, safe driving, due consideration to the vulnerability of the victim, and a determination to do the right thing with the perpetrator, using all the criminal justice weapons at our disposal.

When he smirked I wanted him to fight, to try to escape, to do something that allowed me an excuse to use as much lawfully justifiable force as I could; anything to release the choking lump of anger in my chest. In the event I forced him forwards, unresisting, over the table, dragging his passive arms behind him to cuff him, for the ride in the van to the station.

I thought I was in control but as I ratcheted on the cuffs roundhis wrists, he shouted,

"Agghhh, you bitch!"

The metal bracelets of the Kwik-Cuffs had bitten deep into his flesh. Slackening them off I could see the red welts I had caused and wanted to think that I had simply cuffed him quickly, to restrain a violent offender as rapidly and safely as possible. But as much as that was partly true - after all it's what we're trained to do - it wasn't the whole story. I had wanted to lean over him, pushing his head into the table surface, put my mouth close to his ear and whisper:

"How do you like it you snivelling piece of shit"

I didn't do it; but I had wanted to.

Why am I bothered? After all, we are only human aren't we? The point that's eating me is that the one thing that makes the difference between good and bad is no more than the split second it takes to decide. We could all go one way or another. In that tiny moment of time, I could easily have become just as big a bully - with my cuffs, my CS spray, my ASP baton and big gang of mates - as him.

What scared me was how easy it would have been to have gone the other way. I can understand how soldiers do very bad things in war and how good people can go bad.

I used to think that the 'thin blue line' was a reference to the small number of Police Officers lined up against a raging hoard, now I think it's a description of the line we have to tread.

My dad always has something useful to say about stuff like this. This time said two things. Firstly he pointed out that bobbies are sometimes given awards for heroic acts - we call them Commendations. I have never had one. My dad said that the really heroic acts aren't those done under extreme circumstances on the spur of the moment, but rather the small but equally as difficult decisions to do the right thing that we make dozens of times a week.

So, I'm a hero in my dad's eyes - I like that.

Then he said that it's not just me who has had to decide things in this incident. That mousey little weak woman also had to decide things: to stay or to go, for example. So, it's not my job to jump on the head of the bastard who beat her...I will go back to finish the job and help her decide to do the right thing.

If you know someone who needs help, try this link.



Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Policeman's (or woman's) Lot is Not a Happy One

I used to get sick of my aunt singing those lines from Gilbert and Sullivan - 'A Policeman's lot is not a happy one'. Ever since she found out I was to follow my dad to this most unladylike job, she took a stance that said: 'it'll not make you happy'. Then there are people who constantly ask how you do it: fighting, dealing with people whose lives are unravelling. And death.

Crofty was at our house last week and, following the usual kitchen table conversation with my dad and me, insisted I start writing again. But this time he thinks people will be interested in what life is like on a day-to-day basis in the cops - rather than just the witty banter and stuff that occurs in and around the Police Station. So from time to time I'll try and send him something to publish. But I can't promise it will be pretty.

At Christmas it is bad enough dealing with the idiocy that accompanies alcoholic excess; but it's not that that makes the season so horrible to be at work sometimes. It's the other people. The ones who have no one, or think they do. The so-called Festive Season is one of the most common periods for suicide and it is the Police who go along, usually after someone has noticed that someone has not been seen for a while.

The first unpleasant policey thought as you head to such an address is a fervent hope that it is not a smell that has drawn the attention of the person raising the alarm.

Sorry if that put you off your mince pies; but to be honest the practical aspects of death are the easy bits to deal with. Take the weekend just gone. We had to kick in the door of a shared student house in inner city Manchester. All of the students had gone home for the break - or so it was thought. But one hadn't turned up home. So after the usual student worry possibilities have been exhausted: parties, friends, boyfriends etc. Someone phoned the Police.

As we entered the hallway of the large Victorian terraced house we saw her suspended from the banister by a carefully knotted, bright yellow, climbing rope round her neck. She was dressed in a pair of Winnie the Pooh pyjamas, one slipper on, the other on the floor beneath her. Like I said, this is the easy bit.

Dying is a very practical business - concerned with many physical, highly practical features. In our case these are things like preserving a potential crime scene, making sure we don't lose evidence. Things like preserving the knot, checking for forced entry, that sort of thing. Once we've done all that the hard part starts.

You see, dealing with someone's remains is like taking the bins out at home, unpleasant but necessary and unavoidable.

The hard part is starting to unpick what has happened to this poor young woman to make her feel so badly about herself. And it is less usual for women to be violent towards themselves, so she must have had some sort of self loathing or anger.

So we search drawers and personal effects to establish which poor sod is going to have a visit from a cop to deliver the bad news. And here's an interesting aside. It is traditional for British bobbies to wear their hats when doing a formal duty like delivering bad news. It also makes delivering that blow a little easier when someone sees a behatted copper coming up the garden path, so I make a point of trying to announce my presence whenever possible before I get to the door.

This was a tough one, because on her book shelves were things like Simon Armitage poems; The Time Traveller's Wife, The Kite Runner; there were CDs like Seasick Steve, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell's Mingus; and these things said far more than had they been Take That or Sophie Kinsella.

Try as I might, I couldn't shake the feeling that I could have been her friend. That's the tough bit: seeing the person rather than the remains.

Sorry if that is a bit bleak. But that is how it is - at least for me at any rate.

So how do we, as people who have to do this often, deal with it. Well there are the traditional cures like wine (or beer favoured by many of my colleagues, and we do have many beery dos). It also helps having a dad who was in the job and a mum who is nurse - they have been there too.And then sometimes I'll just go for a long hard run to clear my head.

And, I suppose, in a way, this writing it down sort of helps too.

So there you have it - a small insight into the way the cops do some of the tougher things.

Finally. I asked Crofty to put a link at the bottom of this post, just in case you are feeling shit about yourself. I'd hate to make you feel worse.

It doesn't have to be like that - click here for someone to talk to.


Saturday, 12 April 2008

The Naked Chief Constable

I haven't done much writing for quite some time but, chatting with Crofty and my dad yesterday, they convinced me to write about the events of Friday; Crofty kindly agreed to post it for me.

The death of Chief Constable Michael Todd rocked our force to its foundations, not because we couldn't continue without him - it is the police way to always carry on and get the job done - but because he was just such a charismatic leader. I met him a couple of times and, without boring you, all that has been said about his presence, his enthusiasm and his inspirational style, is true.

The muck raking that has been done around his private life since risked spoiling the memorial service in Manchester Cathedral on Friday as around 1000 bobbies gathered in a stunning ceremonial occasion. Just being there in our best uniforms with police horses in full livery and the rarely seen these days, police pomp made us proud to be part of our Force.

The atmosphere inside was respectful yet staid - strained even, as individually we compared the plaudits from a number of speakers, to the scandal we had read in the papers - it was like The King's New Clothes: he was naked but everyone was too polite to say. Finally Ken Jones, Chief Constable, President of ACPO started the process of acknowledging that being naked doesn't mean that all of those good things you did with your clothes on are suddenly not of value. Carolyn Todd then shared with the silent massed ranks, her own thoughts - they knew he was 'no angel', and they loved him.

If that was the permission to breathe a collective sigh of relief the song 'Somewhere' from West Side Story sung by 16yrs old Catherine Todd shot the cork from the bottle of emotion that had been straining for escape: there was a flourish of white against the black tunics as tissues dabbed eyes.

This was a fitting tribute: one that acknowledged the whole man not just the veneer. A bit like the police really - rarely perfect, always human and working very hard to serve people.

If I occasionally get disillusioned I will remember Friday and remember why I am still proud to be Sarah Police Lady.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Nothing Comes For Free


PC Costos Mutch was left wondering whether the free bus travel available to Police Officers was all it was cracked up to be last week when a fellow passenger considered it decidedly unfair of the bus driver to expect him to have change of a twenty pound note in his pocket at 06.30h in the morning. Remonstrating loudly with the driver - who refused to allow him to travel until such time as change was available - he caused PC Mutch, one of the Force's more mature officers, to weigh the odds of his winning a tussle against the strapping young bricklayer. In the event another passenger provided change for the hapless brickie who sat quietly muttering and cursing to himself.

Leaving the bus at his destination the still sulking tradesman could not resist a parting shot at the driver as he disembarked. The affronted driver stood from his seat and declared to the full bus that he had been threatened and needed the help of the Police Officer sat at the back, at whom he helpfully pointed. All heads turned as Costos left his belongings, drew himself to his full height and marched to the front of the bus.

The bellicose brickie, now even angrier, squared up for a confrontation; Costos feeling vulnerable without his usual police accoutrements, took a conciliatory stance and, using the gravitas that comes naturally with maturity, encouraged the man to leave the bus for a chat
.

Barely had the men set foot on the curb when the driver, clearly feeling relieved of his burden and any responsibility for the situation, drove off leaving PC Mutch to deal with the younger angry man alone and with his belongings sailing off into the cool morning light.

After glancing at each other for a couple of moments, neither sure what to make of this unexpected turn, the bricklayer spoke first:
"What are you going to do now then?"
"Buggered if I know, get another bus I suppose" replied PC Mutch sulkily losing interest in any confrontation,
"What a tosser he was" said the brickie; PC Mutch feeling that he ought to retain at least some semblance of authority, replied,
"That's as well be, young man, but you were out of order kicking off like that"
The young man expressed the opinion that he considered Police Officers to be only slightly higher than tosser bus drivers in the great scheme of things but, given that they were both victims of this particular tosser bus driver, was prepared to leave it at that, accept the advice, and part on matey terms.

PC Mutch departed to find another bus and, somehow retrieve his possessions. Boarding the next bus to town, he uttered a paraphrase of those immortal words: follow that bus.

Arriving in town in time to see the original bus disgorging its passengers PC Mutch was alarmed to recognise his swish - and nearly new - shoulder bag slung jauntily over the shoulder of a small Polish plumber. On being challenged
the plumber, who bore a striking resemblance to one of the Mario Bros. made great show of returning the bag and seemed mighty relieved to be able to repatriate it to its owner. Accepting the kind plumber's broken English account of his having taken care of the bag following the public transport fracas PC Mutch strode onwards to share a few choice words of advice with the bus driver about how to support a Police Officer when called upon to execute his duty in this manner; this done he harrumphed off to his regular station-bound police duty to reflect on whether free transport was worth it and to wonder about the merit of pedal cycles.

Safe in the office he reached into his bag to put his salad in the office fridge but
found it necessary to re-evaluate the motives of the helpful Polish Plumber when he found a Tesco bag containing Polish sausage sandwiches, a peach and an Aero bar. Not one to let sleeping dogs lie he rested the sandwiches on the office radiator all day and then repeated the process at home that evening intending to return the sandwiches to the thieving tradesman the following day; but to this day the plumber has not boarded the bus again - all PC Mutch got was funny looks at the strong unpleasant garlic odour that surrounded him on his bus journey the following day.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Red face after radio confession


After a quiet period for the Weasley twins it appears they are back on form following a recent radio stunt perpetrated by George Weasley. Finding himself on duty one evening with a naïve colleague from a different shift working overtime, Weasley abused the police radio airwaves in an audacious coup that left the unnamed colleague red faced and this correspondent breathless and not a little curious.

The police Airwave radio system allows all officers on one channel, or talkgroup, to hear each other’s transmissions – the advantages are obvious; this feature though provided Weasley with another opportunity for mischief. Engaging his innocent colleague in conversation, Weasley skilfully steered the chat to the topic of their colleagues, or more specifically their female colleagues and their various merits. Having given a full and frank assessment of a certain officer’s plus points Weasley enticed the unsuspecting officer into carrying out a similar assessment, in ignorance of the fact that shortly prior to the question: “What do you think of Sarah Didsbury?” he had depressed the transmit button on his personal radio ensuring that the whole police division listened with rapt attention to a, frankly, flattering and heart rendingly honest, assessment of the subject officers bodily attributes.

Didsbury is reported to be “intrigued to learn the intentions implied by the Airwave profession of adoration” and is reported to be waiting, in a manner befitting a lady, for further communication.

To add to the intrigue it seems, according to sources close to the Weasley prankster’s victim, that he feels Weasley might just have done him a favour, by forcing into the open something he lacked the courage to say in a more conventional manner.

The punch line to this latest prank, however, was delivered by Chief Inspector Julie Warne in whose eyes Weasley’s card is well and truly marked. Weasley is reported to have paled when Chief Inspector Warnes Airwave intervention:

“Radio discipline at all times please…” was followed up by searching questions of the evening’s duty roster.

(Crofty's Note: The picture is called A Delicate Embarrassment)

Local officer in burger shame


Community Beat Officer Ron McDonald took the long walk of shame to the end of the third floor corridor this week after disgracing himself on television. Summoned to Chief Superintendent John Toblerones’s office, McDonald was made to explain how he was to be seen in the background of a news shot, caught by a local TV crew, apparently munching a double cheeseburger when he was meant to be stood guarding the murder scene. Sources whose office is close to that of Toblerone’s report hearing expostulations that included the words ‘professional’, ‘helmet’ and ‘out of my sight’. Sources in the lower corridors of White Horse Road police station report hearing, shortly after the meeting, muttered protestations that included the words ‘****ing media’ from departing McDonald, who was seen to be clutching a piece of paper: reportedly an action plan for future development that is to include a publicity project on his community beat in liaison with the Force’s Press and Media Unit.