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.

So – what instead of TASER?

24 01 2015

If you haven’t seen this clip of the brave City Worker trying to stop a jewellery robber in London, it is well worth watching.

The man chooses his moment to pounce on the fleeing criminal and within seconds the robber pulls a large machete from his coat. This had been well hidden up until this point and the City Worker, understandably, decides that it is a risk too far and lets the suspect go. Who wouldn’t when confronted with something like that?

The scene continues briefly with someone else chasing after the suspect until he too is confronted with the machete. You can see him double back and run from danger.

The man in the suit deserves an award for his bravery but the production of that large knife should send chills down everyone’s spine. Could or should an unarmed police officer have done more in the same situation?

In the last few weeks and months I have noticed an increase in the number of incidents involving machetes. This could be nothing more than coincidence but it has been noticeable.

There are a number of problems with machetes. They have their uses in the jungles of the Amazon but on the streets of the UK they have no practical purpose other than to be used to threaten, injure or kill.

Watch the clip. Look at the size of the blade. How easily it was concealed despite this. Then ask yourself this:

What is the best tactical option when confronted with one of these being wielded in anger?

I have heard today that there is one political party who wish to ban the use of TASER by British police. There is already a campaign to ban its use within custody units but this is another level altogether.

Prior to the introduction of TASER, police had no tactical option between CS or baton and firearm. With only 3% of UK police carrying firearms, the chances are that the first officer at the scene of this incident would be unarmed. If the presence of that machete was not known about when the call was made then there would be no authority in place for armed officers to attend. Unarmed officers would be sent.

In that video the threshold for the deployment of fully armed officers is easily met.

What do the “ban TASER” proponents suggest police do in the circumstances shown in that clip?

Look how quickly it was drawn.

Someone is bound to say – use a shield – but shields aren’t routinely carried and, to be honest, I don’t think they offer that much protection against a knife that size or a samurai sword.

I tried to ask a vocal campaigner on TASER use what alternatives they might suggest instead. Their answer was that it was not for them to suggest alternatives. Interesting, given that they had taken it upon themselves to campaign on what the police CAN’T have.

I genuinely do not understand why people would want to deny the police a less lethal option. The police role is to protect the public. It is quite hard to do that when you don’t have any form of advantage.

The problem with shields, CS or batons is that you have to be up close to someone to use them. Body armour doesn’t cover arms, legs or necks – all of which have major arteries running through them which – if sliced – will prove fatal in seconds.

Arguably, even TASER isn’t ideal against someone wielding a knife that size or a sword. The maximum 20 or so foot firing distance wouldn’t take long to cover by a determined subject and I know of one case where the subject has used the sword they were carrying to cut clean through the wires.

There are some who say that the police shouldn’t even wear body armour as it is too para-military.

The police have a positive obligation to protect the lives of others. If they cannot stop someone from causing that harm then they cannot fulfil that obligation. If they are killed in the process then they cannot fulfil that obligation either.

Lots and lots of people are very busy saying what the police shouldn’t wear and shouldn’t carry.

To these people I ask:

How DO you defend yourself from someone intent on hurting you with a 1ft or longer blade?

How SHOULD the police defend the public from someone intent on hurting them with the same object?

I await the answers with bated breath.

Quis custodiet IPSO?

8 01 2015

I must start by paying respects to the fallen in the horrific attacks in France yesterday and today. All of the victims, be they journalists, cartoonists or police officers, simply turned up for work. All expected to go home – none of them did.

There is no justification for what happened at all and I am deeply saddened by the event.

As a fellow police officer, I pay tribute to the bravery of the murdered officers who went to defend freedom and the public and paid with their lives.

Although I am a nobody I send my sincere condolences to all of the victims’ families and indeed to the nation of France.

Many of us were appalled yesterday by the UK newspapers’ front pages which showed a balaclava wearing gunman approaching a wounded French policeman lying, in surrender, on a Paris pavement.

The picture was from video footage taken of the incident which was, unfortunately, circulating within minutes of the event on social media.

In the frame or two after that image that police officer was shot dead. Murdered in cold blood along with 11 other victims of what appears to be an extremist attack.

Many people were offended by the use of that picture which seemed to be insensitive, unnecessary and heartless. The editors didn’t even have the common decency to pixelate the officers face. I cannot imagine what his family must think or feel.

So offended were some of us that we complained to the body which supposedly investigates complaints against the press.

We have all received the same reply today.

As we are not a family member of the murdered victim or directly affected – they will not look into our complaints.

Below is the email I received back from them today and my subsequent response.

I expect it to achieve nothing.

UPDATE: it did achieve nothing – their final response was so short it fitted into one Tweet. It is now included at the end.

On 8 Jan 2015, at 17:03

I write further to our earlier email.

IPSO is able to consider complaints from an individual who has been personally and directly affected by the alleged breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice; complaints from a representative group affected by an alleged breach where there is a substantial public interest; and complaints from third parties about accuracy. In the case of third party complaints, we will need to consider the position of the party most closely involved.

In this instance, the concerns you have raised relate directly to the family of the victim. It would therefore appear that we are unable to consider your concerns further.

However, if you believe that you fall within one of the above categories of complainants, I would be grateful if you could respond to this email, briefly explaining why you believe we are able to consider your concerns further. We will then be happy to make a further assessment about whether we are able to proceed.

If we have not received a response within the next seven days we will assume that your complaint does not fall within one of the above categories, and will close our file on this matter.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes


Thank you for the reply. The complaint is centred entirely on the fact that The Sun (and others) chose to publish a photograph of a wounded policeman seconds before he was murdered in cold blood.

I cannot lay any claim to being related to the victim in this case but found the use of this picture to be offensive, unnecessary, heartless, brutal and wholly without purpose other than to sensationalise the terrible event.

The fact is that this picture will have been clearly visible on newsagents stands all over the country. Clearly visible to children who, frankly, do not need to see this. If it were a shot from a film it would be appropriately rated.

This was a picture taken seconds before a murder. The victims face can be clearly seen. His hands in surrender.

It is interesting that the BBC chose not to use any of these front covers during their usual paper reviews on television news today. Why might that be?

They have exercised editorial control in a manner which most of the paper press have chosen not to.

You are telling me that I can only register a complaint if I am related to the victim.

This is a pretty useless complaints system. How does one register a complaint when one finds something so utterly reprehensible that it needs challenging.

Basically what this means is that the press can do what they like irrespective of the fact that many people have complained to you about this today. Clearly there is public sentiment that this was not an appropriate picture to have used. This, I assume, will be completely ignored because it doesn’t fall into the very tight criteria by which one can make a complaint.

This is hardly the openness and transparency or the ability to hold others to account that the press so often demand.

Your reply, though gratefully received, is basically legalese and a polite way of telling me that “the computer says no.”

Much has been said over the last couple of days about censorship and the rights to free speech.

I am grateful that I live in a country which does not censor and allows the right to free speech.

I am ashamed to live in a country where a newspaper editor CHOOSES to use a picture like that.

I am also disappointed that there is absolutely no way of challenging this or, at the very least, seeking an explanation from the editors as to why they felt this was justified.

Yours sincerely



Updated with their final response:

I am sorry to hear that you are unhappy with IPSO’s remit.

Please do not hesitate to contact IPSO in the future if we can be of any assistance

A Thank You Note To My Team

7 01 2015

Today I leave the team I have worked with for four years. I want to share with you a slightly edited version of the thank you note I have sent them.

I do this purely because I want the world to know that I have been privileged to work with such fine people and that the police, despite what you may read in the press, is full of dedicated, committed, talented and courageous officers.

I hope I have conveyed my thanks to them well enough:

I don’t want to drag on too much but I also wanted to put on written record my thanks to you all for the last four years. You have been a source of inspiration and energy to me at times when I have flagged. Your commitment and enthusiasm is infectious and uplifting. Your dedication to the job and the people we work for has never waned – even when we’ve had few staff on duty and been up against it.

You are morally and physically brave and courageous. I could not have asked for more from any of you and I want you all to know what a pleasure it has been to work with each of you – and how much I admire you all as a team and individually.

I would like to express personal thanks to (sergeants) who have looked after me all this time. I mean that sincerely. As a team we are lucky to have two such incredible sergeants. Frankly, they made my job easy. They have been my barometer and a source of personal support to me and they have made a point of checking my welfare as much as they have yours. Never underestimate how much you matter to (sergeants) – they are both role models who care deeply for each of you. You couldn’t and I couldn’t ask for better leaders. Please take care of them as they take care of you.

Finally, I have always seen it as my role to be the team’s ultimate back-stop. I haven’t been able to secure more resources when the team is so low but that will change soon with some transferees – it is my one regret but we all know that the overall numbers are well beyond the control of a lowly inspector. You have coped incredibly during this period.

The one thing I hope I leave you with above all else is relates to my “specialist subject” of mental health. I know I have spent much of the last four years banging on about it but you have seen just how much of our work involves it. It has been increasing all that time and so it continues. My aim was to protect you. To give you knowledge and back up for the kinds of incidents you read about as horror stories when it all goes wrong. As much as I care deeply for people who suffer with any form of mental illness – this was equally about keeping you out of harm’s way. Not physically – sometimes that was inevitable – but in terms of process, legislation and stopping you being placed in awkward positions by requests from other agencies.

It has been an incredible journey – I have learned so much about the job and myself whilst working with you all. (This team) has a phenomenal reputation – I know this because several people have made a point of telling me this over the last few days.

That is down to you.

Take care of each other – be good to one another – and I look forward to working with you all again some time down the road.

Best wishes and sincere thanks always

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.


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