Vigilantes – The Risk of Insufficient Police Numbers

Let me state from the very beginning that I do not in any way, shape or form support any person or self-appointed group undertaking local law enforcement and punishment.

Any such person or group seeking to investigate, apprehend and punish any person or persons they suspect of any crime in unlawful.

My concern and it is a very real concern is that if the cuts in police numbers continue unabated then people will lose faith in our system of law, order and justice and vigilantism will flourish. Ask yourself when was the last time you saw a police officer either walking the beat or driving around without the cars blue light flashing. Officers’ responding to routine incidents of yesteryear just doesn’t seem to happen anymore. The only incidents that are guaranteed to achieve a police response are genuine 999 calls. Crimes are reported over the telephone with no investigation by an officer attended and making local enquires. Homeowners are reporting burglaries solely for a crime book number to quote on their insurance claim and many minor crimes just aren’t reported.

Requesting a police officer to a dispute or disturbance is often met with the response that there just aren’t any officers free to attend. So, what can decent hard working people do about yobs, drunks or vandals disturbing the peace and harmony of our lives? Time was a call to the local police station would result in the attendance of officers, but alas those days seem to be gone. Do we just accept that anti-social behaviour by some is part of our lives and ignore it? Trouble is if ignored it could easily get worse, so what do we do?

If the government does not address the issue of police numbers soon and act decisively we are going to see vigilantism and once that starts, we as a country on a slippery slope.





Best Thief Taker

I recently came across an article concerning the Metropolitan Commissioner’s Excellence in Total Policing Awards and was fascinated by one of the award categories ‘Best Thief Taker.’

Before I comment I want to add my congratulations to all the winners and everybody nominated and clarify that it is not my intention to decry the awards. Quite the opposite really as I know from my own service that many excellent coppers and civilian support personal never get recognised for their work.

Historically a ‘Thief Taker’ was a private individual hired by a crime victim to recover their stolen goods and apprehend the offender prior to the formation of any recognisable police force. However, the only people having any skill in the recovery of stolen goods or capturing criminals were other criminals and many of the successful ‘Thief Takers’ were active criminals themselves and the whole practice became corrupt. Criminals were stealing from victims and then purporting to be a thief-taker who had recovered the victim’s property in order to seek a reward or turning in criminal associates to dispose of their competition.

However, the meaning has clearly changed and back in my day (swing the lamp) being a good ‘Thief Taker’ used to be considered a good attribute. One of the best ‘Thief Takers’ I ever worked with was one of those guys that seemed to fall over criminals whatever they did. If he walked into a local shop for a Mars bar he would probably stumble across a till robbery. If he stopped a car for any reason whatsoever there would probably be a cache of stolen goods in the boot. He simply couldn’t stop crossing paths with criminals and practically every tour of duty resulted in a criminal arrest. I partnered with this guy for many months and we had some great successes and as we were both ‘overtime bandits’ at the time we earned a shed load of overtime.

Now, this particular copper was, without doubt, a good ‘Thief Taker’, but this was in the days before the CPS, when you would take an overnight burglar to Court and get a plea of guilty on the first hearing. Unfortunately as the CPS proceeded to bind the police in red tape and bureaucratic rigmarole the volume of documentation needed to accompany every charged prisoner became greater and greater.

My mate the ‘Thief Taker’ wasn’t really keen on completing form after form after form and before you could shake a stick at an ‘egg banjo’ the number of criminal arrests diminished and he slowly but surely lost interest in the job and retired.

Now, this particular PC arrested hundreds of suspects during his service including some top-level criminals and he has a stack of Commissioners commendations as a result. The trouble was that the paperwork stifled him.  Ask any copper from any force or service and they will confirm my assertion that the police are drowning in paper.  There were just too many forms and too much red tape nonsense for my mate.   This, however, is the reality of the modern police and I can’t see it ever changing, which brings me onto the question “How do you assess if an officer is a good ‘Thief Taker’?”

It can’t be on the number of arrests surely. Is it on the quality of the arrests, because until such time that a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty the arrest can’t be assessed. Many good arrests result in acquittals and that doesn’t mean the arresting officer wasn’t a good ‘Thief Taker’ just because the defendant got off.

What about those officers who slave away for months on a complicated fraud, or teams of detectives all working to arrest one person. Does the arrest of a bank robber equal the arrest of four burglars, two armed robbers or what?

Theft is only one of the criminal offences that Police arrest suspects for, so what about those officers on specialist squads such as murder teams, drug squad officer, sexual offence investigations, the nature of their employment is such that they don’t generally arrest suspects for theft.

I know that there are good ‘Thief Takers’ in every force, but I just don’t see how you can differentiate between officers. Rather than a competition where one person wins wouldn’t it better to acknowledge all those officers deemed to be good ‘Thief Takers’ along with all those other officers doing their job diligently and professionally regardless of the number of arrests made.

Militarisation of the Police

Are the streets of England becoming as dangerous as various war zones around the world?

The elite cadre of specialist firearms officers within the Metropolitan Police Force Firearms Unit (formerly SO19) in their black uniforms and the Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer (CTSFO) in their grey uniforms look so similar to their military equivalents as to be undistinguishable.

These officers are perhaps the extreme end of the Militarisation of the Police but is appears that this trend to adopt a more military appearance and approach to the increasing dangers of police work is growing. Practically every unformed officer now wears an anti stab / low calibre protection vest i.e. a Flak jacket as worn by soldiers in combat.

When we see soldiers deployed on duties within the UK such as assisting flood area’s the soldiers aren’t wearing flak jackets, and yet the police still are. Are soldiers now safer on the streets than uniformed coppers? The brutal killing of drummer Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Woolwich on 22 May 2013 is evidence that they are not.

When did our streets become so dangerous for our service personal? It’s not just coppers or soldiers that get attacked, ambulance crews also regularly get attacked and what about the idiots who attack fire brigade officers when they are fighting a fire.

I was a young PC when the first Brixton riot occurred and the police were woefully ill prepared with equipment or training to deal with the events happening. I’m not going to attempt to justify or explain why the riots happened or the actions of police before; during and after the riots I don’t have the knowledge or skill to do so. I do know that following the first Brixton riots there was a change in attitude to training and the wearing of protective clothing.

I also know that by the time of the Tottenham riots of 1985 the training and equipment was still insufficient, and we lost Keith Blakelock in the most horrific manner and numerous other officers, many of them know to me as friends and colleagues were badly hurt.

I don’t seek to offer any explanation, excuses or comments about the Tottenham riots of 1985, I simply don’t know enough or have the skills to present any conclusions.

All I do know is that policing is dangerous, not every day, some days are uneventful, but danger can appear without any warning and officers need to be constantly vigilant. Training and having the right equipment to enable the copper on the street to go about their job of policing knowing that every practical safety precaution has been taken is essential.

Specialist firearms officers are called to respond to an incident or are deployed on a planned operation. The copper on the street is the person who calls for back up and is the person who has to deal with an incident until support arrives and having been in that situation I know that even the fastest support can feel like hours when you are in danger.

When I joined the Met in 1980 we were issued handcuffs and a wooden truncheon. In all my service I never pulled my truncheon to deal with a violent offender, they were bloody useless. I had a mate in the West Midlands police who told me a story about basically fighting a couple of guys who were intent on seriously hurting him. He told me that he pulled his truncheon and used it to hit both guys; including hitting one across the face and all it did was make them angry. It didn’t knock them out, break any bones or even slow them down, they just got angrier. Fearing for his life he reverted to punching, kicking and basic street fighting and held his own until support turned up. The only time I ever used my truncheon was to smash windows to gain entry to a car or house. I did however use my handcuffs regularly and they were a good bit of kit, which has now been improved upon.

There are now a range of different police truncheons including a small extendable flick open metal truncheon favoured by CID officers because it is so small. Thankfully I never needed to use my extendable flick open truncheon, basically because as a detective I always took a couple of big uniformed coppers with me if I was expecting any trouble.

As a detective I normally had sufficient time to risk assess any operation I proposed conducting and could arrange whatever support I considered necessary to achieve my objective. Uniformed officers don’t have that luxury; they deal with live time incidents as they happen.

I don’t particularly like the fact that the line between a military style police force and the traditional image of civil police is blurring, but we must face the facts that police officers often confront dangerous criminals or engage in activity which necessitates they are given the appropriate protective equipment and clothing.


Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Reported Crime is Rising

The headlines might be telling us that crime is rising, but that isn’t the whole picture. The headlines should read ‘Reported Crime is Rising and so is Unreported Crime.’

Unfortunately, there appears to be a growing perception that the police are losing the fight against crime and that reporting a crime won’t result in a successful prosecution. Many victims of crime report their burglary simply for a crime book number in order to claim on their insurance. This is so very wrong on many levels. So, what exactly is a successful prosecution?

I would suggest that arrest, charge, conviction and realistic sentencing is a good start, followed by compensation to the victim(s).

Victims should be financially compensated either immediately following conviction or as soon as practicable. Any convicted person owing recompense to any victim should have a ‘Marker’ placed against their name with the credit companies preventing them from applying for credit in any form until such time that they have paid recompense to their victim(s).

I for one want to speak to an officer personally I have been the victim of a crime. Reporting crimes over the telephone really isn’t something we should accept. What’s the point in reporting a crime to the police if they cant do anything about it?

Crimes are going unreported because people are losing faith in the Police and the Government needs to do something drastic soon before things go too far.

Hats on or Hats Off

I’m a hat man, always have been and always will be. At the age of 14 I joined the Army cadets and wore a beret for the first time and wore one daily during my four years of military service. When I joined the police I found wearing a helmet somewhat strange at first but quickly took to it. My police flat cap was hardly every worn during my 28 years police service because as a uniformed constable I patrolled on foot and it was only on night duties that I would get to ride in a Panda and occasionally the area fast car that I wore my flat hat.  I always wanted to join the CID and as such I only wore uniform for around 3 years. I was issued a bright yellow cap to wear in the event of a firearms incident and thankfully I never needed to wear it. This particular bright yellow cap was so bright and gaudy I used to tuck it deep into a pocket to avoid it being seen, but I kept it handy just in case the wheel came off. No self respecting robber or other armed criminal would ever wear such a florescent yellow cap and as such the firearms officers could easily identify police officers. I like hats, but didn’t care for this one very much.

Now I’m retired I’m rarely seen out and about without my Fedora or on a particularly warm summer’s day a straw trilby style hat. I like a hat and feel more comfortable wearing one than not. It has however become very apparent to me in recent years that police officers wear uniform hats far less than they used to and it’s not usual to see an officer speaking to somebody minus their hat. I don’t know if this is a deliberate policy or just something that has crept into police culture. I do remember during my brief uniform duties that removing my helmet sometimes helped to defuse a potential volatile situation and allowed the person I was talking with to see a human face rather than a head with a helmet. The wearing of a helmet helps identify an officer in a crowd and is I believe an important symbol of law and order, however times change and if officers are going to go hatless more and more then so be it, but personally I like to see officers wearing full uniform which includes a helmet or hat.

I know my Rights

It never failed to amaze me that the people who complained the loudest that they knew ‘Their Rights’ were often the very same people who thought that they were entitled to disregard the rights of others.

Demonstrators intent on causing disruption to the lives of others seem happy to excuse their own actions as justifiable and that those disrupted by their actions as being of lesser importance to themselves.

I fully support our collective right to protest and would join any march that sought to remove that right from us, but there is a world of difference between peaceful protest and violent confrontation.

Thankfully most marches are conducted by reasonable and responsible people and if ever there was an example of how a march should be conducted we need look no further than the former residents, friends and supporters of the Grenfell fire disaster. Their collective silent show of solidarity is incredibly powerful and conveys their message far stronger than any chanting or microphone led mantra.

Longest Lasting Pen in the World

As a uniform PC and later as a detective I was never without a minimum of two pens and often carried three or more. There is nothing worse than being caught out without a pen when you must make notes or halfway through an important witness statement. I have never been a fan of biro pens and preferred to use a fountain pen, but I still carried a couple of biro’s to use when I needed to write on a self-carbonating forms.

Now in all my 28 years service I never learnt where some officers brought the ‘Longest Lasting Pen in the World’ from. You know the sort of pen which never seems to run out of ink. I’m sure that every copper reading this article knows at least one colleague who has had the same pen for years. You know the type, the guy or girl who is always slowest on the draw when it comes to putting pen to paper. The officer who has the same pen as issued at the training school and it still half full of ink.

There is only one reason that these pens last a long time and that is lack of use. If you know of an officer with an everlasting pen be sure to send him or her link to this article.



Coppers on the Beat

Let me clarify my position from the start. I honestly believe that cuts to the police service both in the number of officers and civilian support staff will in the fullness of time have a serious financial, social and political impact upon this country. I do however get annoyed when I hear politicians and others when they waffle on about putting officers back on the beat. If the number of uniform police officers doubled overnight I would argue that there still wouldn’t be enough to put them onto beats, but I would argue louder that this is not a productive use of officers. We would all love to see a Constable patrolling our estates and keeping order, but it’s a pipe dream. Night time in busy town centres requires officers to patrol in sufficient numbers to deal with rowdy drunks, those that want to fight or generally misbehave. Insufficient numbers is a risk to the safety of the officers and makes them ineffective. If you could remove the need for officers to patrol busy town centres or other events such as policing football games, demonstrations or marches you might, just might be able to put ‘bobbies back on the beat’, but is that really what we want?

If an area has no or very low crime then there is no point putting coppers on the ground. They might reassure residents that everything is nice and safe, but do we really want to pay coppers just to reassure us. The reality is that coppers get posted to an area where there is crime or social issues requiring their attendance and the idea of a copper walking around a busy patch without a care in the world just doesn’t happen. The reality is that coppers are more likely to be dispatched to deal with an incident than walking around looking for anything untoward. As eggs are eggs before the first incident has been dealt with the control room will have several other incidents all lined up for the next available officer to attend. Many officers spend their entire duty responding to calls for police to attend and if they are lucky enough to have a quite day they will be looking for offenders and using stop and search powers when appropriate.

Every incident that an officer deals with needs to be recorded and a crime arrest will see bundles and bundles of documents requiring completion and as such officers spend a large part of their day putting pen to paper.

There are many inside duties within a police station particularly if an officer is engaged on a major enquiry requiring lots of research which will impact on the number of officers on patrol.

So the next time you hear a politician waffling on as to how they intend to put more coppers on the beat take it with a pinch of salt, because it’s all BS.



Booze and the Police

Attitudes to drinking on duty have changed beyond all recognition to what they were when I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1981

In the few years I was a uniform police constable I don’t recall one occasion when any of the relief officers drank on duty. It just didn’t happen. I did it once as a young PC when my supervisory sergeant took me to the conservative club opposite Wood Green Crown Court during the lunch break, but that’s another story altogether. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for CID officers and I can remember numerous occasions when I needed to brief a CID officer about an incident or arrest I had made, only to find the CID officer smelling of booze. Any young officer reading this account might think that I’m talking BS, but back in the 80’s it wasn’t unusually to be required to knock before entering the CID office. CID officers were given a lot more latitude than their uniform colleagues, because quite simply the senior CID officers permitted it and were often seen drinking with the office detectives.

Back in those bad old days every detective would have a bottle of whisky in their bottom draw and that bottle would surface around 8 pm for a couple of drinks before finishing the late shift at 10pm which would then see the same detectives nipping into a local pub.

If you looked in a young detective bottom draw today you are more likely to find a bottle of mineral water alongside a box of muesli or some health supplements. Different breed of officer to what we were, and probably a whole lot fitter as a consequence.

I never quite understood why the bottle of booze was always whisky. I have never been that keen on whisky and if I had a choice I would have probably picked rum, but you wasn’t given a choice. The obligatory bottle of whisky was a much a part of being a detective as was your handcuffs and notebook. If you didn’t own a bottle of whisky or partake in a drink when the bottle came out your colleagues would want to know if you were on the wagon, on a diet or otherwise make some comment.

It might sound like BS but I can remember a lecture on my junior CID course concerning corruption and signs to look out for if you suspected a colleague of being corrupt. One of those signs was a colleague being isolate and not joining you for a drink. Sounds unbelievable when you read it but not going drinking with your colleagues was frowned upon.

A bottle of whisky was also the standard fine for a CID officer for any in-house misdemeanour and bottles were regularly gifted to the DI’s and DCI at Christmas or any other appropriate occasion.

Drinking on duty was ingrained into the culture of being a CID officer and Friday afternoons were dedicated as a social event.

Night duty CID enviably included taking the occasional inebriated colleague or supervisor home and that’s just how it was. There was however one unwritten rule and that rule was that no matter how much you had drunk the night before you must turn up for work on time the next day. There was no latitude in this rule and failing to turn up because of drink would have been a cardinal sin.


Cars and Mobile Telephones

I am part of the percentage of people who believe that motorists often get a rough deal with speeding camera’s and parking fines generating revenue rather than dealing with the issue of speeding or parking.

This is however one traffic offence which I believe warrants a far stricture punishment and that is using a mobile phone whilst driving. It simply isn’t possible to press numbers on a handset and focus on the road at the same time. There are numerous sources of facts and figures proving beyond doubt that using a mobile telephone whilst driving is dangerous and lives have been lost as a consequence.

Those inconsiderate individuals who put their own need to use a telephone above the safety of other road users need a serious deterrent, and I think I have the answer.

Anybody caught using a mobile telephone whilst driving should have their telephone seized and retained by police as evidence of the offence. Following conviction, the court should be requested to issue a destruction order of the telephone. Physically taking the telephone away from these reckless idiots will probably cause considerably more inconvenience to the offender than any fine, penalty points or slapped wrist.

Repeat offenders should be allowed to keep their phones to call a cab as the police seize their car and apply to the courts for a destruction order of the car after conviction.

Somehow, I think my idea might just work.