Over To You (Part 2)

22 12 2014

In the last blog I talked generally about risk and how so much of police work is about the management of risk.

I discussed how easy it can be to achieve a target but miss the point – even in cases of high risk.

I touched upon how risk has been ignored for too long as focus has been on types of crime rather than a crime’s individual effect on a victim.

Part 1 of the blog concluded by saying that, as risk has been under the radar for so long, its true level has never really been assessed. Now it is being assessed it is becoming harder to manage because of sheer volume.

Finally, I said that the prospect of reducing thresholds, as is being considered for the ambulance service response times, is not an option and that I would seek to explain why.

The reason, quite simply, is accountability.

There are people out there who believe that the police in the UK are, in fact, unaccountable. The truth is that the police in the UK are probably held to account more than any other police service in the world.

We are held to account by the people we serve. We are held to account by Police and Crime Commissioners. We are held to account by the Courts. We are held to account by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, HMIC and Government. We are held to account by the media and – most importantly – we are held to account by the law.

I cannot think of another part of the public or private sector which is held to account so thoroughly and by so many sources.

The NHS comes close but what this lacks is an independent investigatory body, such as the IPCC.

The fact that no-one else is subject to scrutiny or accountability in quite the same way is the reason why the police cannot say “No” and why it will be impossible not to accept management of risk once we are made aware of it.

In previous blogs I have talked about how the police have become the default Plan B for many other agencies. It is particularly noticeable in terms of demand from the NHS and also from private care homes, homes for young people, residential hostels and the like.

Some real examples of how police become involved:

A person was detained by the police under the mental health act and taken to a place of safety for assessment. They were released several hours later – it being determined that they were not sectionable. A follow up appointment was duly booked for this individual at a local mental health clinic. When the person arrived for their appointment the staff – all clinically trained – were so concerned about the person’s mental health that they contacted the crisis team to query why they had been sent there and that they actually needed a full and immediate assessment. The crisis team refused to come out and suggested that the clinic call the police. The clinic is a private premises and police are powerless.

Another example involves a mental hospital where, one night, a person presented themselves to the security staff at reception and said they were suicidal and needed help. This person had found their own way to the hospital from some distance away because they thought the hospital could help them. The hospital called the police.

A patient awaiting mental health assessment at A&E became abusive and nasty towards the staff there before the assessment could start. He was escorted from the premises by security, watched to walk away and the hospital then reported him missing to the police.

These examples are from the last three weeks alone.

Looking back over a slightly longer period we have had calls from elderly persons residential homes asking us to go and restrain elderly residents with dementia.

I have lost count of the number of times we have been contacted by doctors or A&E or the crisis team asking us to go and knock on the door and “check the welfare” of someone they are medically concerned about.

We get calls all the time about young people who have been within the care of social services for years and who habitually leave their care homes and are reported missing.

We are frequently called by mental health hospitals who wish to report patients missing. Most commonly this involves patients who have been granted leave and have failed to return. Quite often the hospitals know exactly where they are and it is frequently the umpteenth time this has happened.

In these latter cases I have come to ask why the organisation is calling us. The most common answer is “it is our policy to call the police”

When I ask whether they are doing anything to actively locate the person themselves the answer is invariably “no”. Reasons include:

“we are not insured.”
“We are not allowed to leave.” “Someone has to stay here to answer the phone”
“We don’t have the staff”
“its not our job – its yours”

Of all of these cases the one which disturbs me most is police being asked to restrain elderly dementia sufferers in residential care. When questioned about why the police have been called I have heard

“We aren’t allowed to touch the patients”
“It’s our policy to call the police”
“They are uncontrollable”

Which makes you wonder why they are there in the first place but regardless of this it seems that in all these cases things reach a point slightly above “normal” and the organisation calling has absolutely no contingency to deal with it whatsoever.

So long as everyone behaves properly, is where they are supposed to be, acting normally then they can cope. Outside of that it’s their policy to call the police.

And we aren’t very good at saying “no.” Mostly because, now that we are aware of the issue we feel obliged to do something or we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t. The agency who called us has their escape route – they called us. We have no one else to turn to.

We come into conflict with agencies in other ways. Particularly when our assessment of risk differs.

The best example I know of is that of a patient at a mental hospital who habitually escaped. Not only did they often not return from the leave they kept being granted but they would – actually and properly – escape.

On four occasions on the bounce (in a matter of weeks) this person went to a known suicide spot. It got so predictable that we worked out how long it would take them and had an interception party of police officers waiting for them.

On the fifth occasion they didn’t show up.

After three occasions representations had been made to the hospital that they might like to reconsider the treatment plan and ask whether this person was in a secure enough environment. The answer was that they did not consider this person to be a real risk.

It was pointed out that the only thing stopping the person from coming to a tragic end – even by accident – was police catching them. But this didn’t sway opinion.

It was pointed out that we always treated this person as high risk but we were told that the hospital didn’t share that view.

It was pointed out that every time the person went missing we would utilise officers from three districts and a helicopter to find them – but no.

On this fifth occasion we had to rethink. I will not go into the tactics employed but it was resource heavy and not easy. I eventually worked on a theory – which turned out to be correct – and the person was located on a railway bridge some distance away.

The helicopter caught the footage of my officers wrestling this person back onto the safe side of the bridge just as the train went underneath.

This footage was then sent to me and taken to the hospital where it was shown to the staff and they were invited to consider whether it affected their assessment of risk at all.

Oddly enough – it did. But it took video evidence to achieve that.

Quite often we hear the reason for crisis teams or others not intervening is because they state that such behaviour is purely “attention seeking”.

It may very well be. That may allow them to do nothing. They may be able to justify that inactivity is the answer because anything else is pandering to the attention seeking behaviour and will make it worse.

Now imagine the police trying to use that very same argument.

It doesn’t matter to me whether the behaviour is attention seeking or brought on by florid psychosis or deep depression. When that person is on the harm side of a wet bridge in the middle of winter – I have a duty to do something about it.

Can you imagine what the IPCC would do to any officer who, upon being investigated for misconduct in public office following the death of someone in apparent need of help, said “I didn’t do anything because I thought their behaviour was attention seeking.”

And yet – many of these other agencies have staff who it could be argued hold public office.

No – it’s okay. We don’t think the risk is that high. It just attention seeking behaviour.

Then why call the police?

The reason is that they aren’t confident in that assessment at all and the police are the “just in case” call.

Responsibility transferred by dialling 101 or 999.

The question I always find myself asking is “how has it ended up here?”
How can it be that a vulnerable individual can be managed in such a way?

In the last two weeks alone we have dealt with three people who feel that they aren’t getting the help they need from the NHS or mental health services and have either threatened or attempted suicide. The irony is that each of those calls has COME to police via the NHS – reporting concerns for the welfare of the person because of a call they have just received from them.

We cannot live in a risk free world. It simply isn’t possible to see it all in advance or mitigate it all completely when we do. This should not stop us trying but we are heading to a point where, now we are beginning to properly examine it, we are finding a lot more of it. And yet – there is a prevailing belief – particularly in hindsight and by those who hold police to account – that “no amount of risk is acceptable.”

Where police have ignored risk then of course it is right and proper that they answer for this. But is this level of accountability being applied in the same way to all those who SHOULD be managing risk? Particularly long before the police should ever be involved?

If everything is high risk then it will be unmanageable. We cannot treat every “threat to kill” on Facebook as a serious incident. What should happen in these cases is that there should be reasonable checks made on the real threat posed by the person making them and the vulnerability of the potential victim. However, there will be times when we get this wrong.

The checks may suggest that neither party is known to us and our enquiries may lead us to believe that the threats are just words. If something tragic were then to happen you can guarantee that the fact that police didn’t act on the obvious “threat to kill” will be investigated by the IPCC.

Equally, we will over-react. The classic case being when a person walked into a shop, in London I believe, and said he was carrying a home made explosive device. Cue full scale armed police operation. Only to find afterwards that it was a cardboard box or something. Or the time that bus got pulled over in the Midlands (I think) because another passenger saw fumes or vapour coming from a bag and a person acting suspiciously. Whole scale closure of the motorway network and CBRN procedures only to discover it was an electronic cigarette.

Littlejohn had a field day with both of those. “You couldn’t make it up”. He criticised the police in London for looking like the Spetnaz and his solution to both was to simply send a bobby in and deal with it by asking them to hand it over.

If you’d known it was a cardboard box and an e-cig that’s exactly what you’d do – but we didn’t.

And that it the point. Risk assessment isn’t easy. It can be very difficult – especially when things are already at crisis point. The luxury of time, consensus (and hindsight) do not exist. Decisions have to be made on what you know and balanced against what you don’t know. “What it could be” and “what might happen” also feature heavily.

Where it all falls down is that the police are inheriting all of this and often at the point of crisis.

Much more needs to be done to share the risks across the public sector and ensure that more is done – earlier – to prevent things from reaching that crisis point wherever possible.

It is not acceptable risk management to simply allow things to escalate over time and then expect the police to resolve it when it goes “bang.”

It can’t always happen – but risk is best managed before it becomes crisis. The police should not be the safety net where risk could be more effectively identified and managed sooner.

My experiences suggest that this isn’t happening enough and there is a belief, quite widely held, that a call to the police with an “over to you” constitutes risk management.

It doesn’t even come close.

Over To You (Part 1)

22 12 2014

On Sunday 21st December I started a series of tweets about risk: the management thereof and how police absorb and inherit it from others. Several hours later, I realised that I should probably have turned them into a blog but once I had started it become a stream of consciousness that was difficult to stop. This blog, therefore, is an attempt to convert those tweets into something a little more structured and coherent.

Policing is all about risk management. At its most fundamental it is about reducing the risk of crime or even reducing the risk of the occurrence of crime. When crimes are committed it is about investigating and finding the offender with a view to reducing the risk of further offending.

When a dangerous situation occurs it is about minimising risk. The same could be said of counter-terrorism, dealing with domestic abuse or dangerous offenders.

The world is full of dangerous people and it is the role of the police to identify the risks they pose and to mitigate that risk. It is also the role of the police to identify and protect those most AT risk and there probably more of them than there are dangerous people.

It is an enormous and never ending task often undertaken with little time and with barely enough resources. The landscape of risk is forever moving, changing and growing. New threats emerge and everything needs to be assessed and decisions made on what, if any, action needs to be taken to counter them. Sometimes these decisions need to be taken in minutes or even seconds.

Police often deal with risk at it’s most extreme – at crisis point. Whether that be individual crisis or situational crisis it often means that events have already taken a dangerous turn and something has to be done, quickly, to bring something to a safe conclusion.

Sunday’s tweets started with some commentary on the decision (currently under consideration) to reduce the targets for ambulance arrival times. The cynical view on this is that the ambulance service is clearly struggling to meet the target times which currently exist and so it is politically convenient to relax them. That way, performance doesn’t have to improve but politicians and NHS trusts could still say, with statistical confidence, that targets were being met. No problem exists – nothing to see here – move along.

A few years ago, a colleague of mine was critically injured on duty. Everyone at the scene could see how serious the injury was and the pleading radio transmissions – begging for medical assistance – will live in my memory for ever.

The problem was that there was no ambulance. A single crewed paramedic was on scene very quickly and did everything they could to stabilise the officer but their professional medical view was that the officer needed to be conveyed to hospital – urgently – on a spine board. The paramedic could not achieve this in a Ford Focus estate and needed a full size and properly equipped vehicle immediately.

The officer had not regained consciousness and there were serious and very real concerns that they might not survive. Still no ambulance.

Desperate colleagues flagged down passing ambulances only to be told that they were not allowed to redeploy. One officer came across an ambulance only two streets away and they radioed in and were told they could not redeploy. Another officer, passing the local hospital, drove in and saw numerous ambulances at A&E. Most had patients stuck in them but not one of them was allowed to redeploy.

Tension between us and the ambulance service reached nuclear levels. None of us could understand why they were refusing to help and come to our colleagues aid when it looked like they weren’t doing anything more important.

Eventually, after a very long time – too long – an ambulance arrived from another county and the officer was conveyed to hospital. It was touch and go for about 48 hours and several operations later the officer was declared critical but stable. They went on to make a phenomenal recovery.

Unsurprisingly, we made an official complaint to the ambulance about their response. They refused to accept that there was a problem. Their answer was that they had responded within the target time of 8 minutes.

The fact is that they had. The fact that the unit sent was a single crewed paramedic who could not fully and properly deal with what he was faced with didn’t matter. I have no doubt that the actions of this paramedic saved the officer’s life but had the situation gone on much longer I am also convinced that the outcome would have been tragically different.

The need for the second, fully equipped ambulance, was not something which required adherence to a target. New calls did – no matter, it seemed, what they were. Rather than send the nearest ambulance (from two streets away and was dealing with something less severe) they sent one from another county. No ambulance was allowed to divert from whatever else it was being sent to.

The official response was as heartless as it was surprising. You had a trained paramedic there within 8 minutes therefore we achieved our target and that’s it. The fact that it couldn’t effectively deal with the situation was, apparently, irrelevant.

The police have been behaving like this for years. I am sure it has been unintentional but now I look back at it there are similarities.

For over a decade the main crimes the police have been obsessing about have been what we called “volume crime.” This was government driven, of course, but the crimes which counted, the ones we had to reduce and detect and were held account over were burglary, robbery and theft of and from motor vehicles.

Inordinate amounts of police time and resources were spent focussing, slavishly, on addressing these. It led to the target culture which is now, almost universally, recognised as having been entirely counter-productive.

Government ministers and senior officers were able to confidently face the media and say that crime was falling and the police were doing a good job because all the numbers were pointing in the right direction.

Except – what we were actually doing was focussing on crime types rather than victims.

The situation still exists. HMIC have recently published a series of inspection reports and some forces have been criticised for still having mandated response times for attendance at burglaries. The instruction is that officers must attend the scene of a burglary within an hour or be prepared to explain why this hasn’t happened.

Following the rule of “what gets measured gets done” – with burglary under the microscope it meant that all burglaries became a priority over other things. There was no such mandated response time for incidents of domestic abuse. Therefore, by default, a burglary took precedence over a report of domestic violence (unless, of course, the domestic violence was reported as “happening now”.)

Now, it seems, that by focussing so heavily on volume crimes as defined by the government, they have missed many other types of volume crime (such as domestic abuse) which were happening all the time and were, in fact, far more dangerous.

As unpleasant, intrusive and frightening as a burglary is – the risk posed to the victim from domestic abuse is invariably far greater.

It seems, unfortunately, that police have also missed an entire generation (possibly plural) of child abuse as well.

Anti-social behaviour is the same. This became a hot-topic about 10-15 years ago and became increasingly so within the last 5 years. But it wasn’t until the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington occurred that the penny dropped that individual people react differently to events. Where some people are able to shrug things off and deal with them – for others it really isn’t that easy.

Even something as apparently (as it was viewed) trivial as persistent nuisance caused by young people can have terrible consequences.

A one size fits all approach (such as attend burglaries in an hour – or else) is blunt and ineffective. In the ideal world we wouldn’t focus on types of crime by heading but respond according to an individual victim’s personal circumstances and needs.

We still don’t get this right.

The solution now is to use risk assessments for various crime types. They are now commonly used for instances of domestic abuse and reports of anti-social behaviour. Every victim is taken through a questionnaire which, via a matrix of scores, is intended to identify their potential level of risk. They will then receive a service tailored to that level of risk.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot more risk out there than was perhaps previously considered. This process has led to there being a lot more “high risk” situations out there than perhaps was known about. They were always there – we just didn’t appreciate them before.

Whilst it is good that this is now being identified and considered it has led to a problem. There is probably more “high risk” out there than can be reasonably managed.

Every force has a multi-agency group which meets to consider the high risk cases. This will consist of police, social services, housing agencies and other support organisations. The purpose is to discuss the high risk cases and ensure that everyone who can is doing what they can and should to support those identified as needing it.

You may have guessed the problem already. As the number of high risk cases has gone up – the threshold which needs to be met to achieve discussion at this group has also gone up. So it is now discussing the highest of the highest risk cases.

This is fine until you consider that those cases which might not be the highest of the highest risk – are still classified as high risk.

This group does good work and saves lives but the number of high risk cases has the potential to continually increase to the point where it becomes unmanageable.

If things reach that point it will be impossible to do what is being considered with the ambulance service response time targets and change the threshold.

In the next blog I will attempt to explain why.

A Long Way To Go

4 12 2014

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything blog-wise, let alone anything on the subject of mental health and policing.

That is not to say that I haven’t been watching closely what has been developing though I haven’t been as close to it as perhaps I once was.

I have also spent 4 months away from the front line of policing whilst doing some project work for the force I work for. I returned to my usual role as a response team inspector last month.

My interest in all things related to mental health and policing has never waned although it was almost beaten out of me. I had to stop being involved in it for a while but, having returned to front line duties and having taken an enforced absence I am, perhaps, distant enough and well-placed enough to see whether anything HAS changed.

It is often the case that when you are very close to something it can be harder to see it changing. This is the case with children. It is not until you see a relative who hasn’t seen them in a while, and they say “haven’t they grown”, that you realise that they have, in fact, grown.

It is also possible to be so close to something, so entwined in it, that you can believe that things are changing and they aren’t. Or not in the way you think they are.

There has been much talk in the last year about the need for parity between mental and physical healthcare; much talk about Crisis Concordats and many, many summits and meetings.

In order to progress with any new project or initiative it is almost always necessary to have meetings. It is the only way to get key players around a table and agree a way forward. The key, however, is not to mistake the meeting itself for progress. Or not to believe that the occurrence of meetings alone constitutes progress.

The same can be said of protocols and written agreements. Whilst it is always an achievement to get senior partners from different agencies and bodies to “sign up to something” the mark of success and progress is not the presence of a document and the signatures of strategic figureheads. Success is how this translates tactically and operationally and how things improve “on the ground.”

It is important that I stress that I realise the importance and need for meetings, agreements and cross-agency sign up.

Unless the right people meet up and agree to change something – then nothing will change.

I have nothing but praise for the senior police officers, police and crime commissioners, front line practitioners, NHS representatives, charities and politicians who are trying to do something about the crisis in mental health provision in this country. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for talking about something that, a couple of years ago, barely registered on anyone’s radar.

There is no doubt that the one thing that has progressed in the year or so since I touched on this subject is the fact that it is being discussed. And discussed at the highest possible levels.

What concerns me, as someone who has had no part in those conversations (certainly of late) is whether there is anything tangible to show for all the summits and news coverage that the subject is now generating.

My viewpoint will be coloured by local experience. I do not work in an area where there is a triage scheme in operation. Only recently has there been an increase in provision for Section 136 assessment. There has only been one training session on the subject and even that has not been universally rolled out across my force. The local service provider for mental health care is the same as it has been for years.

I am sure that there will be places elsewhere in the country where progress has been faster and more far reaching. But this, in and of itself, is part of the problem. There is no consistency – even within force boundaries. It is still a postcode lottery where you cannot expect the same quality of service in one part of the country as you can in others.

I am sure that in some forces there are officers who are noticing vast improvements in provision, a reduction in workload and a more responsive service from partner agencies.

I believe that this is what the Crisis Concordat is trying to address. A national agreement to a certain level of standard provision which should eliminate this “it depends where you live” problem.

However, even in its creation the inconsistency is evident. I am aware of the existence of a map which has colour coded the various counties according to how they are progressing in the sign up to the Crisis Concordat.

Let me be clear that my understanding is that this map only shows progress towards sign up to the Concordat. Not implementing anything in it. With less than a month to go, most of England and Wales is still showing red.

Once they go green it means that the actual work of implementing the measures in the Concordat can begin. Which could take years.

There has been a lot of negative coverage in the press lately about mental health services and over reliance on police. The most recent, and probably the most high profile, was the tweet from an ACC in Devon and Cornwall who bravely announced that they had a 16 year old girl in police custody because there did not appear to be any suitable bed for her anywhere in the country. This went viral and then it made national news.

Funnily enough, this seemed to concentrate the minds of whoever was responsible within the NHS and within hours a “suitable bed” was found.

We then learned that the bed was on an adult ward. So really, this poor young lady had been moved from a wholly unsuitable location to one which was arguably better but not really right either.

I have no doubt that for many hours, front line practitioners from all agencies had been trying hard to resolve the situation.

I have no doubt that the problem had been escalated through the various organisational hierarchies to no avail.

In the end – no doubt out of desperation – the ACC took to social media and the problem was sorted.
All it took was a reputationally damaging tweet and national embarrassment.

Let us be frank, if that is what it takes to get a system to “work” then the system is broken.

Jeremy Hunt was asked questions about this in the House of Commons the following day. He stated that the problem had come from “poor communication on the ground.”

Which brings me back to my point about the difference between strategic sign-up and tactical, operational reality.

In the last few weeks I have seen a number of incidents where one part of the mental health service has called another part of the mental health service for assistance only for that assistance to be declined and a suggestion that the police be called.

In another incident someone arrived at a mental hospital and asked for help because of how they felt. The hospital called the police.

This person was not violent and had committed no crime. They had found their own way to the location from some distance away. They were not behaving as someone who either lacked capacity or who needed immediate care and control.

The problem was that this hospital had “no-one to assess” the person. The assessment suite is in another part of the city. The “system” did not factor in self-referral and was not intended to deal with people who just “turned up” seeking help.

Instead of perhaps having a trained member of staff talk to this person and give them advice, work out a plan of how to help and then help – the FIRST course of action was to call the police and ask us to invoke Section 136.

This situation, I am sure, is being repeated in many parts of the country. Whilst there may be pockets of excellence – progress is painfully slow.

In all the situations we have been called to in recent weeks we have been asked or expected to act unlawfully. To use Section 136 in private places. To use the Mental Capacity Act instead. To become involved in situations which remain medical problems and for which we are simply not trained or equipped.

The most frightening thing is that these requests or expectations have primarily come from mental health service providers themselves. Some ringing us in desperation because they have not been able to garner a more appropriate response from within.

In more positive news, I have, because of the increase in Section 136 assessment provision, seen a reduction in the number of people being taken to cells. What I have not seen is a reduction in the number of calls to police in the first place – and they continue to come from unexpected sources.

I know that the whole aspect of police powers in relation to mental health crises in private places is under review. It has reached the point where we are having to consider changing the law – not because the existing law is wrong – but because the agencies who are actually expected to use it (as it stands) are simply unable to do so. Unable as in – not capable due to resources whether this be intentional or not.

So instead of doing something which will bring these agencies up to the correct funding or capability – we are, instead, looking to legalise the Ways and Means Act which has been in existence for the last decade or more.

Plan B (which has usually been unlawful) is now about to become Plan A (with legislative backing.)

Again, I do not wish to criticise or dismiss the progress which has been made or the genuine hard work and good intentions of those who are at the heart of the debate.

Are the police still being called to matters in which they have no business or training? Yes.

Has police training improved? Not really.

Are we still reliant on the same restraint techniques which have led to so many deaths and problems? Yes.

Is there still a problem with mental health provision and bed space? Yes.

Is this particularly acute in the case of children and young people? Yes.

Are mental health services self-sufficient in areas where they SHOULD be? No.

Overall – is demand going down on either the police OR the NHS? I doubt it.

Is there still a VERY long way to go despite some of the rhetoric? Absolutely.

I am not sure anyone is actually denying this but it is going to take a lot more than signatures on a piece of paper, colours on a map and Ministers expressing their surprise and displeasure.

This is a very negative return to blogging, I admit. But my intention was to look, quite coldly, at whether I (personally) could see any signs of improvement after some time away from the subject.

My honest answer – is “no.”

I am happy to hear of any accounts or information which refutes my opinion and might add balance to my, admittedly local, view.

Training Day

12 08 2014

A phrase has appeared in the media with increasing frequency of late. It normally appears after an inquest or inquiry in actions taken by police and can come from a range of sources:

Single issue campaign groups
Other organisations

The phrase is this:

“Police need more training …”

I sensed that I had seen this phrase a lot recently and so I ran that very phrase through Google and I wasn’t wrong.

Having done this, the results which came back showed that the police apparently need more and better training in:

Dealing with domestic abuse
Mental health training
Reading HGV Tacographs
Dealing with “honour” crimes
Riot training
Dealing with bullying
Dealing with cyber crime
Crisis intervention

To name but a few.

The phrase is normally in response to a single theme, in isolation and with no reference or context to the many other things which have recently been added to the training list.

Add it all up – it is a LOT of training.

To do any of these subjects justice would require more than an hour or two in a classroom. Indeed, I have previously suggested that the very minimum required for mental health training (to achieve even a basic understanding of some of the concepts and legislation) is two full days.

That is before we get into some of the real specialisation such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training which is a two day course (run by MIND and others) for an introductory level qualification.

Remember that Lord Adebowale, in his independent report on policing mental health in the Met, recommended that ALL front line officers should receive training in this.

If these subject matters are so important that they keep coming up in reports and inquiry findings then one has to ask how it is to be managed.

Currently, the shift system I work allows for 5 training days a year. One of those is taken up with the mandatory Personal Protection Equipment training (Baton, CS, cuffs etc) and will no doubt, in future, incorporate the soon to be mandatory fitness testing as well.

Which leaves 4 days.

Training days come once every 10 weeks or so. It is one day – built into the roster. Anything additional would be classified as a “course” and would count as an abstraction.

This means, that in order to attend it, it would leave a gap in resources on the team.

In my experience, training days tend to be badly done. At least an hour to an hour and a half is spent talking with a member of the Senior Leadership Team. This is supposed to make them accessible but it usually sees them delivering key messages (about performance usually) to a captive audience before opening the floor up to questions from the officers present.

I have been present when a senior detective has turned up and specifically said “I am not here to talk to you about detections” before spending the next 40 minutes talking about detections.

The rest of the day usually consists of cramming as much into hourly slots as possible to cover as many subjects as possible. No subject is ever given the time or attention it deserves.

This is scattergun training. We can say we have done it and a force can say its officers have been trained but have they? Really?

Mandatory training usually comes by way of the much hated NCALT.

For the uninitiated this is computer based “self teach and test” using products delivered by the College of Policing. Training like this involves watching, pointing clicking and testing.

It is possible to rattle through any of the current NCALT products simply by pressing the mouse and not paying attention. I am not confident that anyone undertaking an NCALT lesson truly absorbs what is in front of them.

Nonetheless, having got to the end of the session (which can take a couple of hours of duty time if you do it properly) you are shown as “trained.”

I recently did the new mandatory one on cybercrime. I can remember nothing about it other than the fact that it started by telling me what the internet was.

NCALT is not popular and I do not believe it is effective.

The list of subjects above (with the probable exception of HGV Tacos) all need detailed and effective inputs; classroom based and with subject matter experts delivering them.

Each of those subjects requires days of training. Not hours – days.

At the moment, the sheer volume of subjects which apparently we need more training in far far outweighs the time we have available to be trained.

Going back to mental health – is it not absolutely urgent (given the number of death by restraint incidents which KEEP happening) that we address this fully and properly?

Which do you prioritise?
How do you fit it all in AND still provide a service to the public?

Several forces have either changed or are in the process of changing their principle IT systems. These are systems which the majority of staff use daily simply to get the job done. Crime recording, investigation, missing people, custody, intelligence – all use IT systems.

When a new one is introduced it is vital that all staff are trained in it before it is turned on. Otherwise normal functionality will become impossible.

It can’t be done in a day or without classroom input.

So how do you mobilise an organisation of several or even tens of thousands to ensure they are trained (over a period of a few consecutive days) sufficiently close to the new IT go-live so that things aren’t forgotten?

It is a massive undertaking – not dissimilar to moving staff around for a major pre-planned event. It affects rosters, rest days and overtime budgets.

IT training on this scale should be a rare occurrence. Once every decade perhaps. The point, however, is this:

To ensure that the training delivered on this list of subjects above is given true justice then it requires the same time in the classroom, the same number of staff and it involves the same logistical nightmare.

A simpler solution is to train some staff to a higher degree.

Police have historically done this for officers trained as first responders to sexual offences. It works up to a point – that point being when there is no first responder available.

Each team could theoretically have a number of trained subject matter experts in mental health, sexual offence response, crisis intervention etc. Then you have a problem with succession planning and retention. What happens when these officers move on – or are unwell or on leave?

You will be permanently training people – identifying gaps – then training people ad infinitum.

Part of the problem is that much of this training is about learning about culture and complexity. It is no longer sufficient to learn legal definitions by rote as it was when I first joined.

The world has changed greatly and police training simply has not caught up with it. It is neither deep nor subtle enough.

It is no longer sufficient to have omni-competent police officers who are “a bit good” at everything. This approach is akin to comparing constables to medical GP’s. The police are running out of specialists to refer to as the focus is on maintaining the front line.

If, as has been so simplistically suggested, “more training” is the answer to these issues then finding the right amount of time to dedicate to this is slightly less simplistic.

NCALT is not the answer. It should not be allowed to be the answer. It may well be AN answer but it is not the right one.
Rostered training days do not allow sufficient time to explore and deliver meaningful training.
Anything else has repercussions on service delivery.

Of course, the good news is that this should all be eminently doable.

Only a few weeks ago the Right Honourable MP for Lewes, Mr Norman Baker (Minister of State for Crime Prevention) was quoted as saying that because crime was down “the police had less to do.”

This being the case perhaps we can dedicate some of this new found down time to additional bespoke training.

My next blog will be on the following subject:

“If crime is down so much – why are the police busier than they have ever been?”

UK Cops – From Small Acorns Do Great Oaks Grow

21 07 2014

It’s not like me to struggle for words when it comes to writing a blog but on this occasion I really am.

This blog is primarily meant to be about UK COPS, the superb work it does and the phenomenal strength shown by the survivors.

And yet – there is a theme around this that I am finding hard to verbalise. A theme I am almost uncomfortable in raising but raise it I will in due course.

Yesterday we gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire for the major event of the UK COPS schedule.

It is such a wonderful, fitting venue. There are various sections within it for the different armed services but there is also “The Beat.”

This avenue of trees, within about 50 years, is going to look incredible. It is here that each force has its own tree alongside individual trees, planted by surviving friends and family, for many named officers who have lost their lives too soon.

Even now, in its relative infancy, when you look down this space and consider its scale and its simple beauty ….. Well, it couldn’t be more suitable nor more aptly named.

This year everything, including the trees, was a little bigger.

The Police Unity Tour who had cycled from London to Staffordshire, raising £40,000 for the charity, was at least twice the size it was last year in numbers.

The Blue Knights – well, their convoy just didn’t seem to stop.

The turnout – UK COPS say it was their biggest ever and I think a couple of the organisers were surprised and delighted in equal measure.

During the service we heard from several survivors, each giving a different perspective on their tragic experience, the loss of their loved one and the gaping hole left behind.

Then there was hope in their stories as they recounted how the charity had supported them and how it continues to support them.

How they have developed a network which allows people to support one another.

They cannot replace – but they can rebuild.

Once again it was the voice of youth which carried louder and stronger than anything else.

Last year, Nathan Dent’s words reduced those gathered to tears.

This year, a remarkable young lady – Vicky Moore spoke bravely and eloquently and gave us all serious food for thought.

Vicky’s father, Bryan, was a Leicestershire officer who was killed by a drunk driver in 2002. Vicky was ten at the time and she told us of that fateful night when she learned of the news and how she had then spent the rest of her childhood without him.

My son is ten. He and the rest of my family joined me for this years service and he heard Vicky speak.

He got it. He understood – as well as any child can – what Vicky was saying. He had made the association in his head that she was his age when she had lost her father. When he started asking me questions afterwards it sank in even further for me as well.

Then it dawned on me – this theme I am struggling with and it was this…

There should be more people here.

Vicky said that she didn’t understand the hero her father was and regrets that it is now too late to tell him how proud she is of him.

Vicky then said this:

“It shouldn’t take stories like ours for other people realise the sacrifice in police work.”

This struck me hard and I dwelt on it.

The service later heard from Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer from Cleveland who said that although she had sadly lost colleagues and friends during her service “to my great shame I just assumed that the families were supported.”

CC Cheer spoke of the work of the charity and how, unfortunately necessary but essential it is.

It hit me again – there should be more people here.

I have spent the last 24 hours wondering why there weren’t more people there and I think there are a few reasons.

First and foremost is lack of awareness. Lack of awareness of the charity and its work but also lack awareness of the events which necessitate it’s existence.

We should all be grateful for the fact that the death of a serving officer, on duty in the United Kingdom, is a rare event. Rare enough for very few of us to have experienced it in our service.

But it is not so rare that there are not many people who are struggling with the aftermath of exactly that event.

UK COPS exists solely to support these families but I am going to be blunt:

The POLICE family needs to step up to the plate.

It has become almost unfashionable to talk about “the police family.”

The police, as an entity, has taken a sustained reputational beating for the best part of two decades and has spent so much time looking outward that it is in danger of forgetting to occasionally look inward.

We should all strive to uphold and maintain the Peelian principle that the police are the public and the public are the police but we must never forget that there are some who are prepared to put on a uniform and who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for doing so.

Putting on that uniform makes you stand out. It means you can’t run away from trouble – you run towards it. It is a vocation and a calling.

We should never put on that uniform without remembering what it means, what it represents, who it protects and why it is there.

But we should never put on that uniform without remembering that others have put it on and paid a heavy price for it. They are our family.

And we should never forget those they have left behind. They are our family as well.

In her oration, Chief Constable Cheer said “I ask colleagues to ensure that we actively spread the word about COPS and fully support the charity.”

Over the course of the next twelve months and every twelves months after that – we must rise to that challenge.

It is the duty of each force to promote the work of the charity and ensure it’s long term survival.

It is the duty of each force to ensure that COPS can continue it’s essential work supporting the families of those who have worn their uniform and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Those families have paid the ultimate sacrifice as well and need and deserve that support.

However, it is also the duty of each force to support the work of COPS and indeed the PD Trust and Police Memorial Day by reminding serving officers of those who have gone before them.

The military gets this right – I am not yet convinced that the Police are in the same league.

It is right and proper that a senior ACPO officer from each force attends the COPS service and pays respects on behalf of their force. This should never change.

But wouldn’t it be fitting if each force could send a small contingent of regular officers, special constables, PCSO’s and – absolutely – Cadets to attend the service.

Wouldn’t it be fitting if the Police Federation could gather it’s Rep’s on mass – in uniform – to support the cause.

Would it not be helpful for each force to publicise the event on whatever internal communications systems it has and invite officers to attend and represent that force.

If each force sent a carrier with 7 people in it that would be over 300 officers for a start.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could actually encourage our officers to attend and support the event.

We can mobilise officers to deal with anything the world can throw at us.

It should not be beyond us to mobilise for this.

Social media is a powerful tool but it is not enough. This needs active drive from the very top.

We need to promote the charity, it’s work and it’s events. It should be something we just DO.

We should do it and we should not feel guilty about it.

These were our colleagues – they left behind their families. Those families are our family. The police family.

The UK COPS service is a wonderful event which is going from strength to strength.

With some solid support from all quarters and if CC Cheer’s request is acted upon by her peers then the event, like the trees which line “The Beat” at the Arboretum, will grow and mature into something truly magnificent.

Pictures courtesy of NPAS Ripley and “Bullshire Police”

A second, shorter blog on the Guard of Honour and #100Cops will follow in a few days



A Word To The Wise

17 07 2014

The first thing I will say is that I have thought long and hard about posting this.

This is not intended to be a lecture.

In about ten months there will be a General Election in this country. I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of public sector workers are pretty unhappy with the way things have gone in the last four years.

Whether it be budget cuts which are beginning to bite and which are making everything less easy to do or whether it be the personal cost – pay, pensions, terms and conditions – whether you are a police officer, fire-fighter, teacher, doctor, nurse or paramedic or indeed anyone who works to support these services, chances are you will feel worse off professionally and financially.

We can expect much to be said by incumbent and prospective governments in the coming months and, I suspect, much of it will cause anger.

The incumbent government will want to tell the country that their policies are working. The prospective government will want to tell the country that they are not.

This is probably the first election to take place since social media has really kicked off.

In the months after the last election the use of social media got a lot of people into a lot of trouble.

There are now more people using it than ever before and many of these are now tweeting from official accounts.

Over the last few weeks and months I cannot be alone in noticing a crescendo in the rhetoric on Twitter speaking out against various government policies and pronouncements. Some of this has come from places I really would not have expected.

I have read it – I may even have retweeted some of it but I try to be careful.

Even those of us who are “anonymous” are not truly anonymous (except Gadget maybe.)

My real identity is well known within policing circles. That has been a choice of mine over time. I very aware of this and do all I can to remain professional and true to the values I strive to uphold in my life and my work.

I don’t profess to get it right all or any of the time but I have enough friends on here who would pull me up if I got it wrong. We have seen that even the biggest names on Twitter have ended up in considerable grief over a perceived errant tweet.

I just want to get in an early word of warning, folks. There is no need to shy away from debate and discussion but I have recently been seeing a few tweets which could potentially land people in trouble. Far be it from me to lecture anyone on how to use social media but I would hate to see anyone fall foul of the new Code of Ethics or existing discipline regs.

The coming 10 months is a potentially dangerous time for social media users.

Over the last few weeks alone I have composed tweets, thought better of it and erased them before sending them. I am trying to find a balance where I can challenge things in a professional way – even though I am only ever representing myself on here.

This is nothing more than an advisory message to my friends. All of you.

There is a debate and discussion to be had – sometimes we are not the ones best places to have it.

There is a debate and discussion to be had – sometimes social media is not the place to hold it.

There is a debate and discussion to be had – play the ball not the man and don’t be afraid to walk off the pitch.

There is a debate and discussion to be had – but our jobs are important, precious and it is too easy to lose them by getting it wrong.

Above all – think before you tweet.

These are challenging times – it’s getting a bit hairy out there and on here.

Stay safe, friends.

COPS 2014 – #100Cops Update

7 07 2014

Hi everyone, it is now just over two weeks before the UK COPS memorial service at the National Arboretum at Staffordshire.

The #100Cops hashtag symbolises how we would like to get at least 100 uniformed rank and file officers to the event to help form a Guard of Honour for the families.

As of this moment I have absolutely no idea how many officers are likely to turn up. Judging by the responses I have had I put the number between ten and twenty.

I have no formal plan in place for the Guard of Honour as such. This is mostly because I have no idea how many folk will come. If there aren’t enough then we can at least show our support by being there.

If enough people come then it will be a case of me lining people up and calling them to attention at a relevant point in proceedings. It will very much be determined on the day.

I am pretty sure that Simon Guilfoyle will be upset with me – 100 Cops is a target and an arbitrary one at that. It was just a number which seemed appropriate and realistic. We can do it with less.

However, if you are able to make it to the event I know it would mean a lot to the Charity and the families they support.

If you have “Number One” uniform – brilliant.
If you only have standard uniform – also brilliant.
If you are a Special Constable or PCSO – also marvellous.
Retired – then come as you are.

You can read more about the event here. The article also contains a link to the blog I wrote about the event last year.

Sincerely, I hope you can make it and I look forward to seeing you there if you can.

To give me a rough clue – could I ask you to add something in the comments below so I can gauge numbers? Even if I already know you’re coming. If you are coming with others – a total. So I have some idea and can advise the organisers and Staffordshire Specials for their Op Order.

Best wishes



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