Ten Years Difference in Policing

I retired from the Metropolitan Police in 2008 and its quite clear that there have been many significant changes since my departure, some good, some bad and some bloody unbelievable.

The Good

  1. LGBT Officers no longer need to hide their sexuality.
  2. Ethnic Diversity within the police looks really healthy.
  3. Sexual Discrimination probably still exists in small pockets, but things really appear to have changed considerably for the better.
  4. Despite all the cuts rank and file officers are still giving their all.

The Bad

  1. This ridiculous notation that to be a police officer you have to have a degree.
  2. Cuts, cuts and even more cuts.
  3. Forced cuts forced a lot of experienced officers out.
  4. Reduced number of Police Canteens.
  5. Stop and Search being curtailed by those who don’t understand policing.

The Bloody unbelievable

  1. The reduction in police numbers.
  2. A Government constantly failing to listen.

One other unbelievable change in policing.

  • The number of guys wearing beards. (That’s a personal observation.)

Discretion and setting targets

Every officer is taught the fundamentals of law in particular what constitutes a criminal offence and what authority under the law they have for investigating a criminal allegation and apprehending an offender.

Officers performing specialist duties will have a greater knowledge of the law relating to their role i.e. traffic officers will know more about traffic law than most officers, custody sergeants will know more about the detention of prisoners and CID officers will know more about criminal law.

Knowing the law is an integral part of the job and you can’t be a copper unless you have a reasonable understanding of the law. Implementing the law, however, requires more than knowledge. It requires people skills and for some officers learning how to speak to people is harder to learn than the acts and sections of legislation that makes up the law.

When was the last time you broke the law? Never, some will say. ‘I never break the law.’ Perhaps we should think again. Ever done 35 in a 30 mile an hour zone? It can be hard to drive at 30 when the road is clear and the car always seems to drive smoother at speed. Ever parked in a no waiting zone? Squeezed through the lights just as they change? Walked on the grass? Thrown litter?

The reality is that many law-abiding people occasionally break the law and an officer could issue a ticket for many minor offences if they choose to do so. Few officers do because they use “Discretion”. They have the freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation and that element of policing is just as important as knowing the law and should be encouraged and cultivated. We must never forget that we police by consent and that the purpose of the law is to make life safer and better for society as a whole.

When senior officers set performance targets they are reducing an officer’s ability to use ‘Discretion’ and risk alienating the very people who permit us to police by consent.

Should Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey Resign?

Instinctively I feel that Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey failed in his duty as a police officer and should resign, but does the evidence support my feelings. DAC Mackey seeks to defend his failure to take any action on his lack of equipment, and therein lies the reason he should resign. PC Keith Palmer did not have the appropriate equipment i.e. a firearm to stop Khalid Masood and the close protection officers within the grounds of parliament were too far away to be of immediate assistance. DAC Mackey can’t blame his lack of equipment when he as a senior decision maker within the Met failed to ensure that PC Keith Palmer was adequately protected, or that sufficient close protection officers were posted to the grounds of parliament.

I also ask why he wasn’t at the very least carrying one of the small telescopic truncheons as favoured by CID officers. When a uniform officer places on their uniform they don’t know what incidents of events will unfold during the day and training and equipment is supposed to enable them to deal with whatever comes their way. Are Senior officers now excluding themselves as ‘upholders of the law’ because if they are perhaps they should start wearing suits to work?

Policing has always been and will always be a dangerous profession, not every day, but we all know colleagues who have been hurt or murdered in the line of duty.

I can perhaps forgive DAC Mackey for failing to get involved. I’m sure I would have been scared in similar circumstances, but I honestly believe that I would have got stuck in, indeed I believe that practically every copper I ever worked with would have. To be honest, most of us have done things that we really should have thought twice about, but that trait which made us join in the first place kicks in and we run to trouble not away from it.

What I can’t forgive is his failure to ensure that PC Keith Palmer had protection and that is why he should go, and all the other senior decision makers within the Met should have a long hard look in the mirror and ensure that every officer has the right equipment and training whatever their posting or duty.

Teresa May and Police Protection

Tragic events either side of the 2017 General election identified shortcomings in the number of police officers available to deal with the myriad of duties and responsibilities required of the police. The horrific events in Manchester saw the threat level rise from SEVERE which meant an attack was highly likely to CRITICAL which means an attack was expected imminently. Close to 1000 troops were deployed at locations to supplement and support the police. As a former soldier and police officer let me state quite categorically that the roles are as different as chalk and cheese. Deploying armed soldiers on our street was a recipe for disaster. They simply don’t receive the training that police officers do and it is unfair to put soldiers in such a position.

But what would have happened if the country had gone on to experience a series of Manchester type attacks? Al Qaeda the forerunner of ISIS (DASH) or whatever they choose to call themselves regularly committed multiple offences or offences in quick succession.

Quite apart from the fact that the armed forces have their own resource issues the long-term presence of armed soldiers on our streets is not a desirable solution.

The question I would like answering is ‘Why did we require nearly 1000 troops to support our police whenever UK force has been ‘Forced’ to reduce the number of police officers and yet Teresa May is arguing for more cuts to police numbers.

I can’t help but wonder what the PM’s opinion would be if her personal protection officers were withdrawn in the same manner that police officers have been withdrawn from numerous roles. With so many personal protection officers, bulletproof cars and alarmed properties it’s unlikely that Teresa May will ever be the victim of crime and she almost certainly doesn’t worry about crime the way that large parts of our population do.

How would she feel if her personal protection officers were withdrawn? It might give her a taste of what it’s like to worry about being a victim of a crime because there aren’t enough officers on patrol to discourage or apprehend offenders.

Imprisonment for Spitting

Spitting at a person is a disgusting act and potentially deadly.  A glob of stringy mucus hawked up from the back of the offender’s throat and directed at a person is a revolting assault and should be punished accordingly.

Let’s not forget that there are many infectious diseases that can be passed on by bodily fluid and the person being spat at has no idea as the state of health of the person spitting at them.

Even if the offender has no infectious diseases the person spat at will need to undergo hospital tests to be sure and the worry of waiting for results effects the victim and their families. That is mental anguish and surely warrants a charge of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH).

I would argue that waiting on test results to establish if you have some infectious disease as a result of being spat upon is ‘Psychological Harm ‘and fits the definition of ABH.

If the offender has or suspects that they had an infectious disease and spits at somebody then I believe that the offence of ‘Attempted Grievous Bodily Harm’ is appropriate.

Harsh sentencing is what is needed if this disgusting and vile practice is to be stamped out.

Police Informants

As a young crime squad constable attempting to establish myself as a suitable candidate for selection into the CID I was a busy as a bee getting involved in anything and everything. There was, however, one part of the selection process which I was totally hopeless at and that was having informants. The problem I faced was that many of the older supervising detectives had worked in the service when informants were a regular feature of detective work and there was an expectation that if that’s how they did it then you should follow their example.

I had no shortage of prisoners and many good crime arrests, but I just couldn’t bring myself to suggest to a prisoner that they should become an informant. As far as I was concerned I was the copper and they were criminals and any attempt to persuade a criminal to supply information on other criminals somehow blurred the line between us. If criminals were helping to catch criminals would criminals attempt to persuade coppers to become criminals? The answer to that is ‘yes’ and the corruption of some police officers has been traced to their initial attempt to cultivate a criminal to be a snitch, grass or informant.

As I progressed in service it became apparent to me that informants providing good information about serious criminals were often ‘protected’ by the police. Indeed there have been numerous occasions when criminals have been given permission by the police to be a participant in a crime in order to capture the main players. These authorisations are documented and any participating informant is given clear instructions as to what they can and can’t do. The big problem with informants is that although the police will always protect their true identity defence barristers representing serious criminals will try every trick they can think of to force the police to disclose the identity of an informant. The police don’t disclose informant’s details and many serious criminal cases have been abandoned in order to protect the informant. When big cases collapse because the police need to protect the existence of an informant you have to question whether informants are actually worth the effort.

Although reluctant to approach charged prisoners with the suggestion that they become an informant I have on many occasions had prisoners ask me if they could become an informant. The only problem, however, is that on every such occasion the prisoner asking was only asking in the hope that they would get bail from the police station after charge. This is when the line starts to blur. Say for example I have just charged an individual with a serious criminal offence which is likely to receive a custodial sentence and in my heart of hearts, I believe they should be locked up. Then they offer to provide some top-notch information about a criminal gang planning an armed robbery and if they get bail they promise to get back to me with the details of the robbery. It can be very tempting to go along with them and let them have bail so they can give you information later on about other criminals.

Now it’s not the investigating officer who decides on bail, it’s the custody sergeant and their decision is final. Thankfully I always got on very well with my uniform colleagues and most times the custody Sergeant would go along with my recommendations concerning bail, but the decision rests with them and also potentially blame should a magistrate or judge question the custody sergeant why a repeat offender was granted bail. In the example above where a charged prisoner offers to give information about a criminal gang planning an armed robbery if granted bail the custody sergeant isn’t going to be told that the person is going to become an informant, although many of the more experienced sergeants read between the lines and understand the situation. However, that very same custody sergeant made find themselves justifying granting bail if things go wrong down the line, and inevitably they do.

The thing is at the time the prisoner makes the offer to be an informant they probably mean it, but once outside the police station attitudes change. I didn’t like placing custody sergeants in an awkward position and I was also conscious that questions could be asked of me about my integrity if I was encouraging custody sergeants to grant bail to serious criminals. I generally kept these prisoners in custody overnight and let the court decide if they got bail. If they did I would try and persuade the prisoner that they now had to come good on their promise and if they didn’t get bail, what the heck.

I know that coppers in particular detectives used to make deals with criminals with the best of motives, but I never liked it. On one occasion one of my informants got arrested by another detective and no sooner than the other detective started to interview him he stated that he wanted to see me. He had this impression that being an informant somehow gave him some protection from the law and I soon put him right on that.

Informants are an integral part of some policing departments and I automatically think of the ‘Sweeney’ but for me, they were more of a problem than they were worth and throughout my service, I only ever had a couple of low-grade informants. Not my cup of tea.

PS A Dogs Nose is another name for an informant.

Can you prove who you are?

Most of us have several forms of identification we can produce if necessary to prove who we are. Credit cards, store loyalty cards, gym or other similar forms of identification are often carried in our wallet or purse, but do they prove who we are? Passports and driving licenses containing photographs are generally considered sufficient for even the most scrupulous of identification procedures. So, with so many readily available forms of identification do we want or need a national identification card?

When we make a purchase we often need identification to prove who we are or need to enter a PIN number which is only known to the cardholder.

Logging into Facebook, eBay, Amazon or numerous other sites require us to identify ourselves and validate our identification with a password.

I think it’s fair to state that identification is important and equally safe to state that failing to be able to identify yourself could lead to all sorts of problems. If people carry around credit cards, their driving licence or even their passport they can probably prove who they are. But what if you don’t drive and don’t have a passport can you rely solely on credit cards or club membership cards to prove you are who you say you are, and should you need to prove who you are anyway?

Is a national identification card a good idea?

Do we want or need a National DNA database?

clinic doctor health hospital
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is no doubt that DNA comparison of forensic samples from crime scenes against suspects has solved crimes and many ‘Cold case’ criminal investigations have been reopened to take advantage of scientific advancements.

We know it works. Rapists, murders and other serious criminals have been convicted on DNA comparison evidence. And that is the problem; DNA can only be matched if an existing sample from the suspect exists or in some cases a close relative. A series rapist leaving DNA at numerous crime scenes can be linked to each crime scene by their unique DNA, but unless a sample has been taken from the suspect at some stage there is nothing to match the samples against.

But imagine if a national data base of everybody’s DNA was held and what it would mean to crime detection. The forensic samples from any victim of a sexual assault or samples from any crime scene could be compared against the national data base and a positive match found. This is what the police do now with fingerprints. Scene of crimes officer dusts a scene for fingerprints and if they find any then they are compared against the fingerprints of all criminals who have ever had their fingerprints taken. Thousands upon thousands of fingerprints are checked by computer and eliminated. Do you think that any of those criminals whose fingerprints are held on file care if their fingerprints are regularly checked against crime scenes? Of course not, it makes no difference to them; they didn’t commit that crime, so why should they worry. The only person who is concerned and worried about their fingerprints being compared with a crime scene is the criminal who left their fingerprints behind.

Isn’t this the same for DNA?

If a suspect leaves DNA at a crime scene do we really care if our DNA along with millions of others is compared against it? Why should we, we don’t have anything to hide, so what difference does it make? If everybody’s DNA profile is held on file then a ‘Positive Match’ will be made and the offender apprehended. OK leaving DNA doesn’t equate to guilt and the question of consent is often an issue in sexual offence cases, but if a DNA match identifies an individual then the issue of consent can be explored through questioning, medical examination and investigation.

I understand the fears of those who believe that the Government knows too much about individuals already and that knowledge is being used as a tool for social engineering. It’s a hard argument to counter because different governments have through various programs used variations of the carrot and the stick to influence people’s attitudes to social issues. It wasn’t that long along that smoking was the norm. Whereas today smoking in the company of non-smokers is considered taboo.

There is a truly excellent sci-fi thriller called ‘Gattaca’ staring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law which explores the potential for DNA discrimination and abuse of genetic engineering, so I understand the concerns.

But provided controls and safeguards are implemented doesn’t it make sense to have a national DNA data base.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.


What should we do with paedophiles?

When I first heard the reports that Rolf Harris has been questioned by police over historical allegations of sexual offences I could hardly believe it. Rolf was one of my favourite entertainers and I had watched his various TV programs for years and laughed along with others at his “Jake the Peg” and other funny songs.

Surely there must be a mistake. Have I been deceived all these years? Did this guy, the guy who cared for sick animals, the cartoon guy, and the guy we have watched and loved for many years really trick us?

I used to love it when Rolf picked up his wide paint brushes and would throw paint onto a large canvass and tease the audience with his catchphrase, “Can you see what it is yet?”

Rolf’s life was also a big canvass and for many years his abuse of children was part of that big canvass but we couldn’t see him for what he truly was an evil paedophile.

Well, Rolf, we can now see exactly what it is and we know you for what you are and even though one day you may be released you will never be forgiven and the esteem you once enjoyed has been replaced with contempt and loathing.

If Rolf Harris could fool so many people for so long is it any wonder that his victims were reluctant to speak up. Who would be the first to point a finger at somebody so popular and powerful? I don’t know the particulars of what Rolf Harris did and neither do I want to. He has been convicted in a Court of Law and that’s good enough for me. I do know as a former Detective Sergeant who has investigated paedophiles that the physical abuse of children although sinful in its own right often palls when compared to the emotional abuse which often takes a whole lot longer to heal than physical injuries.  Sometimes the emotional pain never heals and victims live their whole life under a shadow of painful emotions.

I hated to investigate allegations of abuse on children and interviewing paedophiles. You see, hear and learn things about the depravity of some people you really wish you didn’t know. Your heart is breaking when you hear the accounts of abuse and because as an investigator you are looking for evidence you need to dig beneath the victim’s recollection. You have to ask questions, questions which often evoke painful memories and emotions and you know that asking for clarification or more detail is hurting the very person you are trying to protect.

Crime and criminals will always exist and the Police and the Courts will continue to arrest and prosecute offenders. I, however, don’t think paedophiles should be considered among other criminals, I believe that paedophiles are evil and treating them as criminals doesn’t work. Every paedophile I have ever dealt with has had a history of child abuse. If imprisonment or other punishment isn’t going to stop them further abusing children then we must look beyond conventional punishments.

If a thief reoffends there is going to a financial loss to somebody, but its only money and money can be replaced. If a paedophile reoffends another young life is devastated and I don’t think that as a society we should expose our children to the possibility of abuse by paedophiles.

If the Criminal Justice System isn’t working then do we need to re-examine how we deal with paedophiles?

Police Officers Eating on the Hoof

I have been appalled to learn that many police canteen no longer exists and that officers are ‘eating on the hoof’.  I along with numerous others have seen officers popping into supermarkets, cafes and other places to obtain food and I mistakenly thought this was simply the officer’s choice. I am gobsmacked to learn that for many it’s a ‘Hobson’s choice’, with no other option available.

I know that having been retired over 10 years I’m now a dinosaur, but let’s not forget that dinosaurs once ruled the earth. The Police canteen was primarily a place to eat, but more importantly, it was a place to eat in safety. It was also a place you could write up notes or statements over tea and toast. It was a place you could catch your breath. Any copper reading this will know that occasionally you just need to sit down to relax and process the emotional side of an incident.

The lack of a ‘safe place’ to rest, relax and grab some food is essential to any persons physical and emotional wellbeing. I honestly believe that failing to provide a basic need will have consequences down the line and the closure of police canteens will be regretted too late in the day to change anything.