It Has Only Just Begun 

20 05 2015

There is much anticipation here in Bournemouth over the contents of the keynote speeches of the Police Federation Chairman, Steve White and the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Whereas Mr White has already given the press some clue as to what will be in his speech, Mrs May, as last year, has declined to give anyone (including Mr White) any form of hint of what she will say.

Last year, we were all taken by surprise by the astonishing speech from the Home Secretary. I wrote a blog about it called “No More Chances” a day later.

I outlined what it felt like to be in that room, how uncomfortable it was and that the speech “was not a warning shot to the Police Federation. It was a laser guided nuclear bomb targeted at police culture.”

Since then, a few things have changed.

The Home Secretary listed a litany of police transgressions dating back 40 years. The investigations into those are still rumbling on or haven’t started yet. With one exception – the now infamous “Plebgate.”

Whilst several officers have been dismissed and one prosecuted for events in the aftermath of that day – the actual incident has now been played out in civil court where the Judge held that the then Chief Whip probably did use the words attributed to him.

Whilst this was hailed as something of a victory for the police it will not have done much to enamour the service to those in Whitehall.

The police have still not atoned for the alleged sins of the fathers in the remainder of that list.

There has also been a general election. A general election where crime and disorder didn’t even feature on the radar.

As far as the general population are concerned, crime is falling and the impact of cuts to the police has yet to be seen or realised.

There are probably three things on the mind of the electorate at the moment. The NHS, immigration and the economy. Anything else is a distant speck on the horizon unless you are directly affected.

Within the bubble of the police family and the echo-chamber that is Twitter, you would be forgiven for thinking that everyone else is as concerned about cuts to the police as the police are – but they are not.

The Conservative manifesto was very vague about their intentions towards the police other than to say they intended to “finish the job” of police reform and extend the role and responsibilities of Police and Crime Commissioners – probably to include taking over the fire service.

Conference yesterday heard from the Shadow Policing Minister, Jack Dromey who spoke passionately but repetitively about “the bedrock of policing – Neighbourhood Policing” and the need for the tone of the Government towards the police to change and be less aggressive.

Listening to this, I tweeted a comment and was as surprised as anyone who knows me to hear it being read out to Mr Dromey by the facilitator, Krishnen Guru-Murphy.

Paraphrased, it was along the lines that Mr Dromey was talking as though they hadn’t just lost an election and that his comments were largely irrelevant. I said this as I couldn’t understand what possible influence he could have from the opposition benches facing an incumbent majority government with a five year term ahead of them.

Mr Dromey’s comments were almost a “this is what we would have done if we had won.”

But they didn’t. So they can’t.

The fact is that the public have chosen the Conservatives and have voted for their manifesto. Although this didn’t spell out that the police would be cut further, the Home Secretary said that this would be the case in the days leading up to the election itself.

The public, whether they fully realised it or not, have chosen a government who want to decrease the size of the police.

The police, whether they like it or not, are going to have to get used to that.

I’m not sure that, 12 months ago, Mrs May expected to be back in Bournemouth today. I’m not sure she expected to be Home Secretary either but on both counts – she is.

There has been some murmuring on Twitter which has suggested that delegates should turn their backs to her when she speaks or walk out in protest.

That would be churlish, unprofessional and self-defeating.

If we want dialogue with the re-elected government, who we know are singularly determined, we will never get it if we disrespect the elected Home Secretary in that way. All it would achieve is a hardening of resolve against us.

It would be a mark of protest which would be the death-knell of relations between Government and the Police Federation.

Some might argue that they couldn’t get any worse but really – they could.

The Federation may not feel it is being listened to but at least it has an audience in the Home Office. A courtesy that was not extended to Sir Hugh Orde in his final 18 months as president of ACPO. 

This government is 12 days into a 5 year elected term. A response like that from the Federation could be fatal.

Which leads me onto what I think the Home Secretary will say.

There are some here who believe that she will offer an olive branch and that the dawn of a new era of positive relations will be heralded.

Whilst this would be nice, you only have to look at yesterday’s meeting between the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Home Secretary and the input from the guest speakers from the two Think Tanks at Conference to see what is more likely.

We were told yesterday that the expectation is not that we will do “less with less” (a response to recent annoucements from some forces that they are looking to stop doing things such as dealing with found property) but we will be expected to do “more with less.”

In fact, this will be demanded not expected. We were warned yesterday – by a right-leaning Think Tank with the ear of Govermnent – that if we don’t – then change will be forced upon us.

When the Home Secretary met with the Police and Crime Commisioners yesterday it was clear that she spoke with a mandate. PCC’s are here to stay and police reform (which wasn’t detailed) will be more urgent and more radical.

None of this has been fully explained but it will mean one thing – a smaller police service who will be expected to do everything they currently do now – only better and more cheaply.

I believe that the Home Secretary will point out that the public support their agenda (they have just re-elected them) and that the Police Federation (and the service itself) is currently on the wrong side of the argument.

Crime is falling we will be told. Any rise is attributable to improvements in recording.

Collaboration and technology will be the key to achieving the “substantial” savings which HMIC have said are achievable.

Officer numbers are irrelevant. It is how they are deployed which is key and for that we can rely on predictive analytics and mobile technology.

I hope she will say that she is content with the pace of change of the Federation itself. Sir David Normington himself said it was a 2-3 year journey but the Home Secretary said she would legislate if she wasn’t happy.

Ironically, it is the need for legislative change which is delaying Fed reform. Until changes are made through Parliament the Fed cannot restructure as its make up is defined by law. We might hear something on this.

The Queens speech will outline changes to complaints and discipline procedures and restrictions on the use of police bail (28 days?).

And don’t forget that compulsory severance is still an option. The Home Secretary only agreed to the recommendations that it should not be introduced “for the time being.”

Those who might be hoping for a change of direction from the Government will be very sadly disappointed.

To the contrary, we can now expect an acceleration of change.

If last year’s speech was considered aggressive then this year’s could very well be the Home Secretary’s “The lady is not for turning” moment.

If anyone thought that the major part of police reform was over – they are wrong.

It has only just begun.

Just In Case

16 03 2015

Sky News ran with a Story today which said that 20% of police demand involves dealing with people with mental health issues. This strikes me as being a conservative estimate and I have heard figures as high as 40% in some places but, anyway, it just goes to show that even if crime is falling the claim that demand on police is falling too is questionable to say the least. 

In these austere times just think what could be done if the police service numbers went back up to pre-2010 numbers or a fifth of capacity was suddenly released for police to spend doing something else. 

It is pleasing that this is getting media coverage. It needs to because it is a national scandal. 

The second half of the article was dedicated to extolling the virtues of Street Triage where, in the West Midlands, they say it has reduced the number of Section 136 detentions by 51%. 

This must please the local mental health trust a great deal.

I have been sceptical of Street Triage since it was first announced and I am afraid that this sceptiscism is just as strong despite a few people on Twitter assuring me it is the best thing since sliced bread. 

First – a health warning on this blog. I have had no access to figures or statistics from any of the pilot areas. What follows is raw opinion and the unanswered questions I have about street triage. 

What I do know as fact is that 70% or more of calls to which a Street Triage response has been sent did not take place in the street. 

This is not about semantics. In my mind, by calling it street triage, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue. It conjours up the image of police coming across someone in a public place and then having to use or misusing their powers under Section 136 to detain someone for a mental health assessment. 

By “misuse” in this example, I mean using Section 136 because there is no other alternative. 

The concept was sold on the idea that a mental health nurse (who has no powers at all) would come to the location and either come up with a Plan B or smooth the passage of Plan A. 

It appears that this is only applicable in 30% of cases.

Which means that police are still being sent to mental health calls (70% in the pilot areas) where they have no powers at all because they are taking place in private. So why are they there?

I asked this question on Twitter earlier and the answers seemed to be:

  • It is better to send one officer from a triage car than two officers from a response car
  • In case the patient becomes violent 
  • To prevent a breach of the peace.

In response to the first I say, it doesn’t matter how many officers you send they are still powerless and if success is measured by reducing the number of attending officers by 50% but still sending police officers to health related incidents as a matter of routine then – you are still sending police officers.

The issues of “in case the patient becomes violent” and to “prevent a breach of the peace” could very well be necessary – but not in every case. If you have a police officer in the car and in attendance they are there whether violence was likely in the first place or not.

Police help many agencies who deal with violent or potentially problematic people. Ambulance, Fire and Rescue, Housing Officers, Bailiffs to name but a few but we do not go to every call with them. They tend to call us if they need us. 

Now, there will be hundreds of thousands of social workers and mental health professionals going about their work every day who do not require or call the police. But what triage seems to mean (though I am aware of moves to send nurses and not police in some places) is that if a call is routed through the police and attendance is required, a police officer will still attend. 

When someone calls and says they feel suicidal why is this a police matter?

Of course, the police must observe the obligations of Article 2 of the Human Rights Act which means they must protect life but – seeing as it is not a criminal offence to commit suicide – what power does a police officer bring to that situation? What action can an officer lawfully take to protect life?

These arguments amount to – it’s ok – we are sending one police officer instead of two to an incident they have no legal power to deal with (in 70% of cases) “just in case”

Much has been made of the drop in Section 136 detentions in some areas. Interestingly, the recent HMIC report on the vulnerable in custody showed that 136 detentions had, in fact, gone UP by 5% in two years in the 5 forces they reviewed. I don’t know which, if any of them, had triage schemes running.

The real statistic of interest is not whether Section 136 detentions are going down but whether demand on the police from mental health calls is going down in the triage areas. 

Are police receiving fewer calls? 

Are the interventions put in place by the triage teams effective in the long term?

How much has “repeat-caller” demand gone down? 

I do not profess to know the answers to these questions.

There are a number of street triage pilots around the country and they all seem to be doing things a little differently. I have seen publicity on one triage scheme which operates by having mental health nurses or practitioners working in the police control room. 

Officers still attend the incidents but can then call up the control room based practitioner for advice. 

Forgive me for being negative but, would it not be better to send the practitioners to call instead of the police and, are the police actually paying for a service which should exist in the form of an Emergency Duty Team or Crisis Team anyway? Why should police have to pay to have their own advice line in their own control room when the information being provided should be available from EDT? 

If I have misunderstood what I thought I saw on the publicity then I am happy to be corrected.

The other line of argument against my scepticism on Twitter was that this is a stepping stone. It is better than what existed before and it will encourage the other agencies to take over in time. 

Problem is – I’m not sure it is either of those things. 

Street triage was supposed to stop police attending mental health calls which had nothing to do with them. I’m not sure that this is happening. 

And my main concern is that this will not evolve at all. I am concerned that street triage will be seen as The Solution to the complex problem of police involvement in mental health matters. If you read any government response to articles about policing and mental health it is street triage which is trumpeted loudly.  I am extremely concerned that government think that street triage is enough. 

I also wonder how other agencies will be encouraged to provide a service in future which is currently being paid for by the police. What trump card exists if the police decide not to pay for it any more? Which agency will feel the effects most if street triage suddenly stopped? 

The Police. 

These are the reasons why I am so utterly unconvinced by street triage at the moment.

Police are still getting the calls. Police officers are still attending incidents which are primarily or entirely health related and have no more powers than they had before. It is being paid for by the police and I cannot see any incentive for any other agency to keep it running if the police stop paying for it. 

I am more than happy to be corrected on fact here but it will take an awful lot to convince me that this has a long term, sustainable future. 

The Government state that they want mental to health to have parity of esteem with physical health. I simply do not see how this is possible when you are still sending police constables to deal with what is a health issue and sometimes even a medical emergency by default.

Police do not respond to any other health matter or medical emergency unless it is absolutely necessary. 

In order to achieve parity of esteem then the same should apply to mental health crises. 

Post Script

In order to be clear – this blog was written about police involvement in the street triage pilots, police involvement in mental health related calls and the longevity of the project.

I am aware that I have not once mentioned the “person” about whom the agencies are attending. 

This was deliberate but should not be read in anyway that I have forgotten that person.

The fact is – THEY are the most important person in this entire equation and the outcome for THEM is what matters. 

I am still to be convinced that a police officer (often without powers but in all their protective clothing and equipment) is the best person to send to anyone in crisis. It carries the stigma of potential arrest and criminalisation. 

There will be times when police powers and police use of force is necessary but they remain less frequent than someone simply calling for help. 

In many cases I have heard that people have called the police because they have tried calling others first and got no response which satisfied their need.

Mental health is and forever will be a core part of the police role – but in many if not most cases the police are asked to achieve something they have neither the powers or training for. 

Section 136 is solely a police power. No one else can use it. It can only be used in public and it is the only mental health related detention power police have. If a force has managed to reduce its use by 51% does it not demonstrate that in at least half of the cases attended there was another alternative and police presence may not have been necessary at all?

The less police have to do with mental health – and the more mental health is dealt with by those who DO have the training and expertise – the better the outcome is likely to be for the person in distress. 

One Size Fits All

11 03 2015

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) have just published their report on “The Welfare of Vulnerable People in Police Custody.” For those who have been championing the apparent recent progress in this area it makes for sober reading. That is not to suggest for a moment that there hasn’t been progress but the report lays bare the scale of the journey still required. It is a long one with many obstacles.

Before writing this blog I have looked back at many of the previous ones I have written over the last three years. I am a relative newcomer to the field of policing and mental health. Others, such as @MentalHealthCop have been leading the charge for a decade but as I read the report from HMIC I couldn’t stop myself from thinking “said that” “been saying that” “I raised that three years ago.”

The good news is that there is now an Inspectorate report which says some of it as well. The bad news is that they will probably still be saying it in another three years.  Negative though this sounds, I say that sadly but with every confidence. HMIC and others have been saying that police cell suites are not suitable as a “Place of Safety” for over ten years but only recently has any government come close to doing something about it. Even then they seem destined to ensure that the most vulnerable of the vulnerable (those whose condition makes them ‘unmanageable’ anywhere else) will STILL find themselves in a police cell. 

Reading the entire report is a bit of a roller coaster. For every reference to good practice there is more detailed mention of instances where things have not gone so well. Before you get to the Conclusions chapter you would be forgiven for thinking (as I did) that it is very narrow and heavily focussed on the negative. Then you read the Conclusions chapter and the tone seems to change. 

The report concentrates on a number of key issues and was commissioned to answer the following question:

How effective are police forces at identifying and responding to vulnerabilities and associated risks to the welfare of those detained in police custody?

This is actually a very tight remit as the question does not set out to explore the role of any other agency in how someone came to be in police custody in the first place or whether those agencies are fulfilling their responsibilities once someone is taken into police custody.

When you come back to the question it is just looking at what police do with the people in their care. I was initially annoyed about this but, on reflection, the report does answer that question whilst having a reasonable poke at a variety of other organisations. 

I wish there had been an examination of the reasons why vulnerable people end up in a police custody unit but the question is actually once they are there – how are they being treated? 

I have blogged before about the reasons why vulnerable people find themselves in police custody. The long and short of it is that the police have become the default option for other agencies when things get tricky. 

The report talks about unnecessary criminalisation of children and vulnerable adults but it is a sad truth that the police are positively encouraged to take the criminal justice path. This encouragement comes from within the service and from outside.

  • The NHS has a zero tolerance policy against violence towards its staff. Absolutely right if the assailant is a drunk or angry patient in A&E but things start to get a bit muddy when the patient is disturbed or mentally ill. Having said that, I am yet to meet a patient whose consultant has not declared them to have capacity and know the difference between right and wrong. Indeed I have often heard “they need to understand that their actions have consequences.” Those consequences? Call the police.
  • Crisis Teams are actively telling people to call the police. There is more than enough evidence that this is happening. “My husband is suicidal and self-harming. I called the Crisis Team and they said to call the police.” I have had heated discussions with Crisis Teams over such incidents. I have been asked many many times by mental health practitioners “can’t you just arrest them?” 
  • Care homes for children seem to have a universal policy of calling the police. If a child fails to return or even storms out following an argument with carers they call the police because the child is now absent or missing. One such caller told one of my team that they had “no intention whatsoever” of doing anything other than reporting it to the police. 
  • Care homes frequently call the police when one of the children in their care “kicks off.” This is sometimes justified. I have been to a number of very violent and dangerous incidents in care homes but on other occasions it has been because the child has thrown a tea cup in temper.
  • The report itself highlights how the “positive action” policy with regards domestic abuse is interpreted as “arrest.” It even talks about how a target culture makes this worse. The definition of what constitutes a domestic incident is quite wide. Words within that definition are then sub-defined. Critical to this context is “Family members”. There is a list of what defines a family member and it includes children of, siblings and even in-laws. Historically and even culturally, most people would perceive domestic abuse to be between partners. It isn’t – it goes much further than that.

There is a theme with each of these. The response from the caller and the police is blunt. One size fits all. 

The same can be said of the definition of child. A child is any person under the age of 18. 

In the United Kingdom, the government have determined that the age at which a child can be held criminally responsible is 10. I make no comment on that other than to say it is one of the lowest in the world. 

What this means is, that from the age of 10 years old, a child can be taken through the Criminal Justice system. Liable to arrest, subject to the same laws and procedures (with amendments) and potentially imprisonable. 

There is, in reality, a world of difference between a 16 or 17 year old and a 10 year old. But not in the eyes of the law. 

Nearly all political parties are saying that they want 16 year olds to have the vote. They deem them adult enough to determine the future of this country. The age of consent is 16 which means you can lawfully have children of your own at that age. You can marry at 16.

But you are still a child and should therefore be treated as a child if you should enter into the criminal justice system. Outside of that system – and even in the world of working with children – you are likely to see the term “young adult”.

According to law – you are a child until your 17th year and 364th day passes. 

The point the report makes on this is that a custody unit is a pretty bleak place for a child despite the best efforts of the staff within it. This is true. A secure facility for convicted children is a very different environment from an adult prison. Police custody is police custody. Blunt. One size fits all. 

Use of force and restraint is examined in the report. Concerns are raised over the fact that too many officers didn’t recognise a mental health crisis as a medical emergency. I can’t speak for the individual cases seen by the HMIC inspectors but it must be hard to remember that something is a medical emergency when much of the medical world is declining to help. When a hospital refuses to accept a medical emergency because the patient is “too violent, too drunk, too drugged” then where do you go from there?

Remember that, despite just about everyone pleading for police stations to be taken off the list of Places of Safety the government had recently chosen not to do this. It is even stipulated that police stations are where you can take someone whose behaviour cannot be managed elsewhere. Arguably the highest risk and most “medically medical emergency” cases you are likely to find. 

The report makes the point that many of us have been making for a while. That the restraint techniques taught to police officers are intended to deal with violence from ill-will and not violence caused by mental health crisis. They are two very different things. Police are expected to deal with them both and have had no training in the alternative.

It still amazes me that this is not higher up forces’ strategic risk registers (if it is even on there.) there are more than enough tragic cases to demonstrate that restraint, when used in mental health crisis, kills people. I would put money on the fact that more people have died through contact with the police this way than have ever been shot. 

Casual reminders about positional asphyxia and excited delirium once a year at refresher training are not enough. Officers need to be taught to recognise it and deal with it a different way. Until then, they have the training they have. Blunt. One size fits all. 

The report goes on to look at the elderly in custody. There really isn’t too much to say on this except that it is not uncommon for the police to be called to an elderly persons residential home to deal with an “aggressive” octogenarian dementia sufferer armed with a walking stick. Don’t get me wrong – you would be surprised at how  powerful and strong someone like this can be. It is a risky and dangerous situation. I just don’t think that the police have any business whatsoever in dealing with it.. Yet we get called to it. 

The police have become, by expectation and demand, the coercive arm of mental health, childrens and elderly persons services. This has to change.

The police service has custody units which are built for dealing with suspected criminals. They are not nice places – they are functional – but they do not always suit the functions for which they are used. Functions for which their design was never intended. 

I asked once whether we could consider a secure room for detainees under the Mental Health Act. Something which wasn’t like the other cells but where someone could be left without risk of being able to harm themselves. A room officers wouldn’t need to enter and enforceably restrain someone. I was told we didn’t want to do that because it would mean – as we had such a facility – other agencies wouldn’t have to provide one. The fact is that such a room remains necessary. Police stations will still be a Place of Safety and will potentially house those most seriously at risk. 

If nothing else I would urge you to read the Conclusions chapter of the report. It is here that HMIC venture into criticism of other agencies and say that, on the whole, the police are often left isolated and dealing with things they simply do not have the expertise, training, equipment or facilities to deal with. This is the cause of the problem. Overuse and over-reliance on the police.

The symptom is that police then end up getting it wrong in custody as they try to make what they know, what they have been taught and what they have fit the circumstances. Blunt. One size fits all. 

The reports recommendations are primarily about data gathering to inform future strategic work and allow greater accountability. This will be helpful and should arm the police with a very convincing amount of evidence to present to joint commissioning bodies. Evidence which will show exactly where the gaps are. Evidence which is currently lacking to the point that no-one actually understands the true width or depth of the problem.

The problem with this is that meaningful data will take time to gather. Comparative data will take years. We cannot wait that long. 

Whether the police like it or not they will still be expected to deal with these kinds of calls. There is no room for complacency. The report even shows that use of Section 136 detention has gone UP in the last two years. 

There is work which could be undertaken immediately which could help how the police treat the most vulnerable. It starts with empowering call-takers to assess threat and risk – deferring or referring callers away at the point of source. It involves difficult strategic level conversations internally and with other agencies about what police will and won’t do. It involves changes in working practices and the removal of sledgehammer policies and targets. 

It involves training staff in alternative methods of dealing with violent MH crisis. It involves considering whether police might need to invest in bespoke areas of a custody suite which are situation and detainee appropriate. 

It is about teaching people to think differently. 

It is about giving people sharper tools to use rather than the blunt, one size fits all ones they have now. 

Call the Fambulice!

7 03 2015

Today, word reached the BBC that the UK police face another round of cuts post the next election. I’m surprised it has taken this long for it to be make the news as it has been common knowledge for some time. 

Nevertheless, they decided to make it today’s lead story. For some reason only a former policing minister was brought out to speak on Radio 4. Not a current one – a former one. 

The interview was notable for one main segment where the former minister explained how utterly wasteful it is for the three emergency services to turn up to the scene of road collisions in separate vehicles. 

You can imagine it now “Well it is, of course, utterly unnecessary and unfair on the tax-payer. Completely excessive and wasteful and it’s been going on for years. And you’ve been paying for it.”

You can’t fault these guys can you tough on emergency vehicles – tough on the causes of emergency vehicles.

It seems that, high up in government, there might actually be a plan to fully integrate the three emergency services into one. 

Much hilarity ensued on Twitter with this new all-singing, all-dancing integrated service being christened (in a moment of sheer genius) “The Fambulice” by @GemmaPettmanPR

Now, there may very well be some merit in some aspects of the Fire and Rescue Service, Ambulance and Police coming together. Co-location seems to be very much a la mode. 

The danger with what the former minister suggested this morning is that it over-simplifies things. He has been brought out to speak on behalf of the government and the idea is so simple, so “strike me down obvious” that it makes the emergency services look like a bunch of profligate amateurs who have been getting it painfully and expensively wrong all this time. 


There are a number of problems with the idea. 

In another moment of genius – this future vision of a 3 in 1 Emergency vehicle was named “The Pombulengine” by @DafyddyGwasDrwg and so shall it be henceforth named. 

Pic courtesy of @martinwoods

So let us begin by examining what sort of vehicle would be required.

3 emergency services are generally called to the scene of a road collision because they each bring expertise or powers which will assist the situation. 

Much of this expertise requires the use of equipment be it a defibrillator, cutting gear, hoses, stretcher – whatever. None of these fit in a rucksack. A fair amount of kit can be brought to bear at the scene of an RTC and, depending on the number of casualties and vehicles – it may require more than one of each. 

If it is as simple as a two car bump with minor injury then the chances are that the Fire and Rescue service won’t even be needed. Quite often an ambulance might not even be needed.

So you either have a situation where lots of big kit is needed or you have a situation where you don’t really need all emergency services.

A Ford Focus with a fire-extinguisher, a first aid kit and someone who can breathalyse the driver is, today, called a Police Car. 

What if a patient needs to be transported to hospital? In the Pombulengine they could perhaps squeeze in the back with the paramedic whilst the fire-fighter rides shot gun up front. Or if you needed to transport them lying flat you could perhaps call what we, today, might call an ambulance. 

In this situation you would have the Pombulengine AND an ambulance at the scene. Which kind of defeats the point. 

So you’d need some kind of truck if you wanted it to contain everything you might need at the scene of a serious collision. 

The theory of the Pombulengine works on the basis that all three of the emergency services would attend the RTC from the same starting point.

This shows a complete lack of understanding in how at least two of those services work. 

The only service who habitually respond from base are the Fire Service. Chances are – if a police car or ambulance are sent to an RTC they will respond from wherever they are. Usually mobile somewhere. Should everyone drive back to a central point and jump into the Pombulengine? 

The way around this, of course, is to have the Pombulengine – with its police officer, paramedic and fire-fighter – driving around waiting for a call. 

I am struggling to think of any incident I have ever dealt with which has required the presence of ONE fire-fighter. When you need the fire service you generally need, at the very least, one vehicle with a full crew and all of its kit. That, today, is called a Fire Engine.

I fail to see the added value of having a vehicle with all three emergency service personnel in it when in most cases one, or possibly two of them will be twiddling their thumbs. 

The solution to this is to train all three personnel in the others area of expertise. 

Yes – fully trained paramedics who have all undergone and completed basic training with the Fire and Rescue service – with the powers of a Constable.

You can imagine how much training this would involve. And how much refresher training. 

The former minister cited the use of this vehicle at an RTC. And that is because RTC’s a very easy to deal with.

Except they aren’t.

I have blogged about what and who is involved in dealing with an RTC before. 

Generally, the Fire Service come and cut people out, put out fires, make things safe, deal with hazardous chemicals and so on. The paramedics admininster treatment from basic through to life saving. Police investigate, put on cordons, manage witnesses and sometimes use their legal powers to deal with errant drivers. 

The example in the blog link above was a one vehicle RTC. The vehicle drove into a building at high speed killing the driver. 

Three people – no matter how well trained – could not have managed that scene or dealt with that incident alone.

So really, the Pombulengine, is beginning to look like an extravagance. It would be too small to carry what was needed for a big incident and contain too much for something really trivial. 

The former minister used RTC’s as an example of where all three emergency services could turn up together in one vehicle and save time and money (and it always seems to come down to money – not “three emergency service vehicles” but “three EXPENSIVE emergency service vehicles”).

To have such a vehicle with such limited used solely for deployment to RTC’s seems to completely defeat the object of cutting costs so there must be other uses for it. 

No. No – I am still struggling to think of any incident I have ever been to where I have needed ONE fire-fighter.

I am genuinely unable to think of ANY scenario where this vehicle would have any practical purpose whatsoever. 

It would be too small to comfortably convey patients to hospital. 

It would only contain the most basic of kit. Most of which is already stored in a police car or ambulance fast response car.

 It could not be self-sufficient much as ambulance response cars are rarely self-sufficient. 

And then what happens when the RTC is finished with. What then? Chances are the various emergency services would need to go on to their next call and in different directions. 

Except, in a Pombulengine, you can’t do this. 

Do you go to the police job, the Ambulance job or the Fire job? What shall the other members of the crew do? 

The emergency services do work together often. But they also work in isolation of one another. A lot. More often than not. 

So it seems odd that in times of tightening budgets the former minister seems to think that a sensible cost saving measure (to reduce the number of expensive emergency service vehicles) is to have another expensive emergency service vehicle with such limited use. 

But it was said with such authority that anyone who listened might have thought it to be a sensible idea.

Well – it isn’t a sensible idea. 

I have filed it under “The Most Ridiculous Idea I Have Ever Heard.”

What? So What? Now What?

26 02 2015

Three very simple questions which can make navigating your way through a problem a little bit easier.

Three simple questions we probably don’t ask enough. 

What is the problem? What is happening? What isn’t happening? 

So what? Who cares? Does it matter? What are the consequences? To whom? Who is affected by this and how? What’s the worst that will happen if I do nothing? Does something need to be done? Does something need to be stopped? 

Now what? So what are we going to do about it? Why? When? Who else needs to be involved? 

These three questions are the starting points from the Reflective Model which was published by Rolfe et al in 2001. 

Following the steps and developing the questions is a way of identifying a problem, recognising the effect of the problem and then deciding on a considered course of action. (Bold type my own – not from the Model.)

None of us do this often enough. It takes practice and effort to force our brains to think things through like this instead of coming to some rapid quick-fire decision. The problem with rapid quick-fire decisions is that they are prone to lead to unintended consequences. If you use this model you should see those unintended consequences before you take action and either mitigate them or know they are going to happen and account for them. 

When you’ve gone through the cycle once and implemented your plan – the good practitioner should go round it again. Evaluating the result. Has it worked? If not – what needs to be changed. Why does it need to be changed? 

Rolfe’s Reflection Model, Kolb’s Model of Learning, the Experiential Learning Cycle – all similar, all slightly different – all have the same theme. 

You take information, consider it, reach a decision, check it and go around again. And, if necessary, again and again.

The Police use a similar device called the National Decision Model. 

It is used to help formulate operational and strategic decisions and, when documented, can later be used when those decisions are called into question at a court hearing, public enquiry or IPCC investigation.

Anyone can use it and everyone should. There seems to be a belief that front line officers are fully conversant with it but, having just spent a lot of time studying it as part of my Tactical Firearms Commander (TFC) course I can confidently say that, until completion of that course, my knowledge of it was not as good as I thought it was. 

Working with and through this model is a major part of the TFC course. It has to be. When you think of all the possible outcomes of any incident involving guns – particularly where the decision has been taken to deliberately send armed officers to a situation – then the decision needs to have been reached in a systematic way, considering all the facts and unknowns and, ultimately, be lawful. 

The NDM is equally applicable across all of the decisions one might encounter as an operational officer – not least when it comes to the use of force. It is for this reason that I raise it today – after the criticism of police use of taser on people under 18.

I won’t go into huge detail on the stages of the NDM (you can start here if you would like to study it further) but it is worth looking at it quickly before I take you to where this blog is heading.

At the centre of the Model is the police Code of Ethics and you have to ensure, at every stage, that everything you are doing fits within it. 

Stage 1. Information / intelligence. 

There is a difference between the two which I won’t explain here but this stage is all about gathering both. What do I know? What don’t I know? What can I find out? How much time do I have? What is happening? Who is involved? Where? Why? 

Once you’ve built up as much of a picture as you can in the time you have you then move to:

Stage 2 Risk / Threat assessment and working strategy 

The police are guided by one piece of legislation above all others. Here I introduce you to Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This is the “Right to Life” one. In a nutshell, the State (including police) must protect the right to life of its citizens. That includes the potential victim of crime, the public at large and nearby, the police officers attending AND the suspect. This Article differs from others in the ECHR. This one actually places a positive obligation on the State whereas all the others list the things that the State must not do.

So at this stage we assess where the Article 2 pressure is. Who is most at risk and we then develop a broad strategy to minimise the risk to them and others whilst maximising the safety of attending officers. 

Stage 3 – Consider Powers and Policy

What options do I have? What legislation can I use? Is what I intend to do lawful? Is there already a plan or protocol in place I can refer to? 

Stage 4 – identify options and contingencies

How can I deal with this taking all of the above into consideration? What options and tactics exist? Which is best suited? What do we do if X happens? Or Y. What could I do and why? What shouldn’t I do and why?

Stage 5 – Take Action and Review

You have your well thought out plan and all the above has been properly considered. Time to “make it so.”

Do it yourself, brief others, whatever you need to put it into action.

Then watch and see what happens. If it works – brilliant. If not or something new changes the circumstances then you go back to Stage 1.

It really is a very good method for doing things and I was delighted to be taken through it step by step in considerable detail on my TFC course.

Now, however, I want to ask you how long you think you might have to work through that little lot. 

What if I said 10 minutes? Is that long enough to work through it all sensibly and write it all down. Would you be happy to stand up at an Inquest and justify your actions having had 10 minutes to decide what to do? 

Well here’s the thing. 

It’s 5pm and there is a man walking towards the city centre openly carrying a large samurai sword.

That’s it. That’s all the information. You know where he was last seen and what he was wearing but that’s all the caller can tell you as they were on a bus passing by and they can’t see him any more. 

That’s your lot. What are you going to do? There might be a man walking into a heavily populated area full of shoppers and workers and they are apparently carrying a sword. 

How long do you have to make a decision? Do you send anyone? If so who? And Why?

This isn’t far fetched by the way, I dealt with this exact call last week and – no – I’m not going to tell you what I did.

You’re the TFC now. It’s your call and you have about two minutes to decide what you’re going to do – go through that process above and brief anyone you’re going to send.

Two minutes – at a push.

But even that is luxury sometimes.

This time you’re an operational officer and you have been sent to domestic incident. Police have never been to the address before. The lady has called screaming for help. You are the nearest unit – single crewed – with taser, baton, cuffs. Article 2 pressure says we can’t hang around – the call taker has heard the lady shouting “don’t hurt me” and he is shouting “I’m going to kill you!” Sounds of a disturbance, smashing, someone being hit. 

You arrive and the door is open. You can hear the disturbance going on inside. The lady is hysterical – blood curdling screams. He is yelling at the top of his voice. 

You enter and she is now lying on the floor. Motionless. Bleeding. He is 6 foot 2 and holding a kitchen knife. His whole body language tells you he is worked up in a huge rage. He turns to face you. 

The room is full of broken furniture and family photos. 

Now run the Model above.

The male charges at you. 

Now run the Model above.

What are you going to do? What options do you have? What has changed? It’s your call – you are there. 

This time the decision has to be made in a split second. Not ten minutes – not two minutes – a split second. 

You are there to protect the lady, maximise your own safety and minimise the risk to the man running at you with the knife.

Now this is the important bit in light of yesterday’s news coverage:

It’s at this point you realise that this is a mother / son domestic and the male running at you with the knife is  probably about 15. 

You are the operational officer at the scene. 

You have the National Decision Model.

You have your training.

You have your equipment.

What are you going to do? 

“Tasering Children” – A Response

25 02 2015

February 25th 2015 – Today, the media is alive with the garish headline that UK police have used taser 400 times on children in one year. 

This information has been published following an FOI request from a journalist – a favoured way of finding a story. It wouldn’t be so bad if the journalists actually provided some full context but they generally don’t. FOI is a means by which public bodies can be held to account but, having seen many of the requests in my time, they are too frequently used with the headline predetermined in the question. 

I suspect that the journalist in question had “police use taser on X number of children” in mind before the story was ever complete. I guess it has to be this way otherwise you wouldn’t have a place to start but what follows is just a stream of raw data with little or no context. 

The headline itself is, again, factually true. I’ve seen this defence used a lot over taser and armed policing coverage but often the headlines are framed in a way which presents a very clear image which – when you look a bit deeper – is somewhat misleading.

Interestingly, it has been altered once to replace “use” with “drawn”. An important distinction but not one they chose to run with initially.

This example hinges on definitions. Has taser been used 400 times on children. Yes – but it depends on your definition of use and children.

What this headline invites you to believe is that police have fired taser 400 times at children. 

Police define use as drawing and pointing – as well as actually “firing.”

The use of the word children is factually and legally correct but it draws no distinction between a bunch of pre-schoolers and what other agencies might term “young adults.”

It is an emotive choice when “teenagers” could have been used and been just as factual.

What the data actually tells us is that taser has been pointed at 400 children aged 11-17.

It has actually been “fired” 37 times at children aged 14-17.

The article does not, at all, explain what any of those children were actually doing at the time. 

I’d bet my mortgage that none of them were apple scrumping but we simply do not know.

It is right that police are accountable for their use of force in any event and today the service is defending itself from the accusation that it is heavy-handed and indiscriminately using an electric stun device on children. Kafka-esque

I have blogged many times about taser. Someone, somewhere along the line, has decided that the police need a measure between use of hands and use of firearms which allows officers to rapidly incapacitate a violent or armed person. Whether you like it or not there is a clear need for such a device.

Taser is currently the only thing on the market until someone invents a “knife repellant spray.” 

Come to think of it – they sort of did and they are called  CS or PAVA. 

The problem with both of these is that they are hard to aim, not always effective and require the officer to be at close range to a subject. CS is also well known for its ability to “absolutely, positively wipe out everyone in the room.” (Cue Samuel L Jackson.) What good is an incapacitant which successfully contaminates everyone including the police officers who are trying to control a situation?

There are range of tactical options available to police officers when faced with extreme violence and each one must be fully justified. Believe it or not, Taser is considered to be lower on that scale than baton or spray because it is less likely to cause long term injury. Some forces still insist on taser use being authorised by a senior officer before it can be used. (Unless the situation is such that an officer feels they must self deploy because of what is happening immediately in front of them – it is for that officer to justify their actions.)

So here is the list:

1. Do Nothing

2. Tactically withdraw

3. Talk / negotiate

4. Use unarmed defence tactics – physical force. Sometimes in numbers.

5. Handcuffs (should ideally only be used on a compliant person)

6. Taser

7. Incapacitant spray

8. Baton

9. Police dog

10. Baton round

11. Firearm

Shields can also be considered at any point both defensively or offensively but need to be full length (about 6 foot) require more than one person to use the tactics correctly and cannot be transported in standard police cars.

In reality, in a volatile and rapidly escalating situation the officer has their brain, mouth, hands, body and whatever equipment is on their belt.

In reality that officer has seconds to make a decision and then a lifetime to justify it.

There really is very little difference between a 17 year old wielding a knife and an 18 year old wielding a knife but only one set will be captured in these figures.

There is actually very little difference between a 14 year old wielding a knife and an 18 year old wielding a knife. Teenagers today are often big and strong and, when armed and angry, are capable of causing great damage or injury to others.

Age should always factor into any dynamic risk and threat assessment but it cannot be the sole factor.

Person running amok, agitated, violent, armed, smashing things up, hurting others or threatening others – rushes police on arrival. 

Age will factor here but so will the difference between police officer and subject. Let’s say that the person here is 5foot8 and well built and armed with a baseball bat. The first officer at scene is 5foot2. 

There are many things to consider in a threat assessment but the principle ones are:

How much risk is being posed by the person and to whom?

How immediate is that risk?

What are the consequences of not intervening?

What it the best option for resolving this safely, quickly and with minimum injury to all concerned.

Sometimes backing off and walking away will be the right choice. Other times it really won’t.

David Blunkett has helpfully said today that officers should use “more traditional methods” when dealing with violent children. He hasn’t explained what they are but look at that list above again – remove taser from the list and those are the options. 

It is a pretty ugly list anyway. Every option from 4 upwards involves the use of a degree of force and there is currently not 100% safe, child-friendly way of dealing with extreme violence when the time for talking is over.

Sometimes that point can be reached very quickly indeed. Irrespective of age.

Nobody WANTS to use taser on juveniles. But sometimes it is the least injurious way of resolving a very violent and dangerous situation. 

The real question this article raises is what can or should society be doing to reduce the likelihood of young people becoming this dangerous. It ignores the fact that, quite simply, some children are capable of horrific violence and that sometimes it is necessary to use force to deal with it.

So long as that force is necessary, proportionate, legal and justified then the police have complied with the law.

If we are not to use taser to deal with exceptionally violent people of any age – then someone better come up with a Plan B pretty quickly.

The Police Service of The Future

26 01 2015

My last blog considered what other options might exist if we did away with TASER as some commentators are demanding. There wasn’t any answer to that question – I wasn’t expecting one.

Its not just TASER that some want to do away with so I thought it might be useful to consider what the police of tomorrow would look like if we adopted the approach advocated by some of the more vocal and prominent commentators.

Let us say then, that we have done away with TASER. For some this is not enough, there are people who believe that the police have no business carrying firearms at all. Peter Hitchens of the Daily Mail is one of these commentators. He believes that it should be soldiers who deal with anything involving guns.

I asked him how that would work and he seemed to think it would be very simple for the police to call on the armed services to assist. Practically, this is, of course, nonsense. The frequency with which armed police are necessary means that there would have to be a permanent resource of soldiers available in every force all the time. To my knowledge, having the military performing law enforcement functions is generally called “Martial Law.”

Mr Hitchens also believed it was easy for the police to request military assistance. The facility exists and it is called Military Aid to Civil Power. Practical examples of where this happens often are “the bomb squad” or air-sea rescue (before it is privatised.) They provide expertise and equipment which the police simply do not have and this type of call-out is relatively common.

There are other examples where the army have come to assist with natural disasters such as flooding. None of these involve the use of guns.

Requesting the military to bring firearms to a situation is a different thing altogether. Examples of where the military have brought weapons are less frequent. To my limited knowledge the two examples I can think of are the day that tanks rolled onto the forecourt of Heathrow Airport in 2003 and the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980. I am happy to be corrected by any historians on this.

In both of these situations the decision was made at Ministerial level. These were big calls in response to big threats. The process is not simple and has to pass through numerous levels of authority. Unless the law was changed to a standing authority to have the military involved in law enforcement (martial law) every deployment of soldiers, in lieu of armed police, would require ministerial authority.

I have no idea how many incidents across the UK require the deployment of firearms every day but I would suggest it is quite a lot. I doubt that Ministers would want to spend their time authorising the army to deploy to an armed robbery. If things were set up like this then I doubt the Minister would do much else all day. Come to think of it – we would need a 24/7 on-call roster for ministers.

Mr Hitchens isn’t alone in demanding that the police surrender their weapons so it meets the criteria and they will be done away with as well.

No TASER – no guns. A truly unarmed police service.

Mr Hitchens isn’t too happy about extendable batons either. He would prefer it if police went back to the days of having a wooden truncheon concealed in a long trouser pocket. Even I can remember those days. It was like that when I joined in 1994.

Moving on to body armour. Guess what? That has to go as well. It all looks far too paramilitary and makes police look unapproachable. Instead it will be replaced with the traditional tunic. It looks smart. It looks “traditional.” Get rid of the black t-shirts as well. Shirts and ties are the order of the day.

Crime fighting is best done in a suit. A suit with a 1 foot hat on top. (Though if we are insisting on tradition – the custodian police helmet was NOT the original headwear of the British police – we should insist on top hats.)

It is a bit like sending the Coldstream Guards into battle in their red tunics and bear skin hats. Not entirely functional but hey, that’s what we EXPECT a Coldstream Guard to look like.


Police should be deployed on foot – there is no need for cars. Their sole role is to be seen and deter crime by being seen.

This is fine until you consider the recent crime statistics. What this showed is something we have known for some time. Crime is changing.

Only a few decades or so ago it was necessary to be up close and personal to someone to commit a crime against them. If you wanted to dishonestly appropriate something from someone with the intention of permanently depriving them of it you had to physically take it from them, or their house or their car.

Not so these days. It is now easy enough to take vast sums of money from someone else with little more than a simple computer. You don’t even have to be in the same country as the victim to do it.

Whilst police were concentrating on these personal acquisitive crimes they weren’t looking at domestic abuse or child sexual exploitation.

These two issues are now beginning to receive the attention they should have had all along. Only now is the true scale of them being realised. And it is horrific.

Fraud, domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation are rising (the latter two were always there but are now being properly recognised) – burglary and robbery are falling.

The first three are committed in private – what good is a road-walking, tunic wearing police officer in a big hat here?

But it’s ok. Another commentator has said that it is time the make up of the police was changed completely. Out with the old and in with the “twenty something computer geeks” (her words not mine).

So the best thing to do is get rid of the expensive experienced old-fashioned police officers (compulsory severance should do it) and replace them with Q from Bond’s Skyfall.

Meanwhile, Richard Littlejohn has made many comments about the police wasting time trying to save people from bridges or rescuing seals or closing roads after fatal accidents. I won’t go over those again as I have blogged about this before here and here.

The bottom line is that the police shouldn’t be delaying people with investigations into “one vehicle road accidents” and managing vulnerable people in crisis.

We have also been told in recent weeks, by none other than Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary that shoplifting isn’t as important as other crimes. A week later the retail industry was protesting because the crime stats showed that retail theft (shoplifting) had risen dramatically. They thought the police should be doing more.

I’m not sure who wins this one but as HMCIC is an official position I will say that he holds the trump card.

Dealing with large-scale public disorder,such as the 2011 riots, causes a bit of a conundrum. Mr Hitchens believes that the police were weak and should have been out cracking heads (with their wooden truncheons) much sooner and harder. There are others who believe that police handling of such incidents is too heavy handed. Mr Hitchens has had enough go his way in this new vision of the future and so we will go with the commentators who say that “dialogue” is the only way of dealing with such situations. No riot gear, no Kettling, no batons or shields – they just up the ante – talking is the way forward. The APP (Approved Professional Practice) on large scale public disorder is being re-written as we speak.

There are many other things that people don’t like about the police. You only have to read the comments section of a certain newspaper to see that the police should stop targeting speeding motorists, drive less expensive cars and flying about in helicopters wasting taxpayers money. So let’s get rid of those as well.

By implementing these apparently popular demands all at once – what are we left with?

We have a police force made up mostly of twenty something computer geeks who wear a shirt, tie and tunic. Their role will be to deal with fraud and other computer related criminality.

When they do leave their computer screens they will walk about on foot in tall hats. Bicycles will be issued at a push.

Their job is not to prevent the emerging crimes of the day because they cannot. They mostly take place behind closed doors.

To defend themselves and the public in the face of current threats and violent criminals they will be armed only with a wooden stick.

In the event of any incident involving the criminal use of firearms a senior officer will contact Whitehall and seek Ministerial authority to invoke Military Aid to Civil Power. The Army will then be dispatched from the nearest barracks to take charge of the situation.

Where a vulnerable person is in crisis – if they are not causing a danger to anyone else they will be left alone. If they are in a dangerous position (such as a motorway bridge) then the swiftest resolution must be sought to remove them and allow everyone else to carry on with their day.

Road Collisions will now not be investigated. Officers are to turn up and record it as an “accident” and then begin clearing the road as soon as possible.

Speeding is to be decriminalised. This makes the changes to road collision investigation all the more important as there is likely to be an increase of them.

Shoplifting will no longer be considered as important and police will no longer attend.

In the event of large scale public disorder, officers in tunics are to attend and commence dialogue with rioters / protestors until they desist. If this approach fails then it can be escalated through “loud dialogue” to “stern telling off” and finally “desperate pleading.”

You may think I’m being ridiculous – I admit I am being tongue in cheek – but every single one of these demands of the police has legitimately been made by someone in the press in the last 12-18 months.

Add them all together and this is what you get.

All there would be to immediately defend you from the current threats and violent criminality is a bunch of traditionally dressed “twenty something computer geeks.” With a wooden stick.

The police service of the future.


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