A few months ago the media in Scotland was full of glaring headlines making an issue about armed police officers being seen, carrying sidearms, in places such as shops or walking from one place to another. Usually focussing on the officers having the audacity to go and buy something to eat or similar.
The outrage seemed to be limited to a few politicians and newspapers as the vast majority of people actually spoken to took a far more pragmatic view. Read More…
Depression is a hideous illness. If I had a virus or a fever I could take medication, allow it to do its thing, and expect to get better in a few days time.
I would see the symptoms. I might be hot, cold, shivering – my body would be showing me it was not right. To the rest of the world it would also be pretty obvious that I was poorly. No doubt this would lead to sympathy from those closest to me – even platitudes from acquaintances but either way – someone would feel the need to express their concern for my well-being and hope I “get well soon.” Read More…
It is now just under a week before I start that thing I said I would never do – the university course.
To say I feel nervous would be an understatement. There are so many reasons why I have never wanted to undertake a degree and I certainly never thought I would be doing it now I am the wrong side of 40.
It’s that time of year when students of all ages go back to school. I have to admit to allowing myself a wry smile whenever I have walked past a shop with a hoarding reminding everyone.
Yes – I have caught myself wondering if I need a pencil case and other stationary.
Am I prepared? No.
Right now I don’t even have a functioning computer never mind a printer. My laptop bricked a few months back so that is one thing to worry about.
To be honest, every blog I have ever written (including this one) has been done on an iPhone but something tells me that I am going to need something a bit more substantial for the next couple of years.
I do like nice notepads and so I have decided to treat myself to a new Moleskine one in the coming week. I am going to have to manage with a pad and pen for the first few weeks or months.
Asides from the lack of modern equipment I am also questioning whether I am mentally prepared.
I have fought against this for over 20 years. Ignored it. Dismissed it. Turned away from it but now I am about to do it.
As I have said previously – I still maintain that police officers do not need degrees. I still think it would be a huge mistake to go down this route. I don’t believe it will produce the supposed benefits that are being claimed and I think making one compulsory before you can join will exclude all kinds of people from the service.
The police service is supposed to be representative of society and not all of society have degrees.
I am doing this because, against all of my instincts and despite having tried to resist it, I have found that in academia there is a place for open discussion, debate and disagreement that the police service simply is not ready for. I don’t think it ever will be. I don’t think it ever can be. And so – to stop myself going stir crazy I have decided to see if my natural desire to question and discuss has a home somewhere else.
But I am nervous. For a start I have no idea what to expect. For seconds I have no idea what I am going to be studying yet.
I have been selected to do a Masters by Research. I am bypassing Batchelors and have not done any formal study at all since I was 18. I’m in at the deep end.
My biggest fear is that I will feel like I did when I *was* in a classroom at 18. I hated it. I wanted out of it. I didn’t enjoy it at all. The hairs on the back of my neck go up when I think back to how I felt back then and I am terrified that it will feel like that – that I will regress.
I hated the books I had to read and wanted to read things I liked.
The advantage of an MSc by Research is that *I* get to choose the area for study. I choose the subject matter and the question I want to answer. I am hoping that by choosing a subject I am passionate about it will prevent me from feeling trapped in a topic I want to escape from.
In terms of what I am going to research – that is to be finalised but the shortlist includes research as to whether the existing sickness management procedures in policing are effective (do they help or hinder recovery? Are they used properly for those who do “swing the lead”?) or something relating to mental health and policing.
The first is wellbeing related and the second is a subject I care about deeply.
It is something I have to think carefully about but also recognise my limitations in. I am not medically qualified and so I need to remain within my own knowledge base.
I know that the team at the University are kind and hugely encouraging and supportive. I know that the ethos of the university itself very much suits my way of thinking and my own beliefs about the value of the practitioner. I am ready to be challenged and to challenge.
I don’t underestimate the scale of this challenge. I will be doing this, like many other adult learners, in my own time and whilst holding down a demanding full time job. This scares me as well.
I am looking forward to it immensely along with the chances it will bring to see people again and again but my heart really is in my mouth even as I type this.
I am going to do something I said I would never do – I’m going back to school.
I said I would keep you updated on my journey into academia and I have just finished my first official study weekend at the university itself.
All of the emotions and fears and concerns I mentioned in the first blog hit me like a tonne of bricks the moment I arrived yesterday. During the first couple of sessions I must say that I felt completely out of my comfort zone and very nervous despite the hugely warm welcome being extended by the uni team.
To be honest – those guys couldn’t have been more kind and have really put some thought into this induction weekend.
As far as I can tell I am the only one there with no prior higher education experience. Certainly amongst the Masters students – I think there are a few newbies in the Batchelors course as well.
The first few sessions were gentle introductions and I learned that my particular cohort on the MSc is me and three other people. The fact that the group was so small did go a long way to easing my nerves. It was also massively helpful to have a group of alumni students and people ahead of me on the course on hand to act as mentors.
Thanks to Rich, Jim, Ed and Naomi for giving up their time to be there for us.
I was nervous right up until a few minutes into the first proper lecture. Our planned guest speaker had had to drop out due to a family emergency (hope all is ok, Ian) but we were lucky that @DrTomCockcroft from Leeds Beckett University was on hand to deliver a presentation on police culture.
Tom is a really good speaker and a knowledgable man and I found myself listening to him and thinking “I’ve been saying this as well but without the scientific rigour to back it up.”
In a nutshell, Tom’s premisezz is that there really is no such thing as “police culture” and if there is something like it then it is no different from any other organisation and it’s not all bad anyway.
Tom was critical of much of the current direction of policing but was able to back it up with proper evidence which can only support people like me who rant on with nothing but empirical stuff.
At the end of the presentation I thought three things:
1. If it’s so patently evident that large swathes of what is happening are wrong then why on earth are we still persisting with them?
2. Can Tom get a job at the College of Policing?
3. What he has said is what I would most likely have said if I had been doing a talk on the subject and so, actually, my antennae isn’t actually that far off – I just need to fine tune – and maybe I’m not as out of my depth as I thought I would be.
If you walk out of a lecture having agreed with pretty much everything the speaker has said (and a speaker of some standing) then maybe it is possible to challenge stuff – it’s getting people to listen that is the hard part.
This has always been one of my problems with academic study. People disagree with each other. Which is good but if you happen to believe the side that isn’t winning the argument when it all seems so patently obvious then it can be frustrating.
That and the fact that it is still clear to me that ideology will trump evidence more often than not when it comes to policing. We heard a stack of examples of that and I maintain that this is the single biggest strategic hurdle for the future.
Some very interesting views on what “professionalising” the police actually means came out. I found myself nodding furiously. It would be the kind of thing that would probably get you into trouble if you were a police officer who expressed a similar view. Which goes back to what I said in blog one about whether policing is ready or will ever be ready for that kind of open debate.
The debate is happening. But seemingly in lecture theatres across the country. It would be tragic if it never gets out of those doors.
“Professionalising” the police is actually more about control. It is about removing discretion and replacing it with “what works” – as determined by one institution. And “what works” here might well “not work” over there.
The words “process driven” and “risk averse” featured frequently.
Professionalising the police is seemingly about badges and certificates “like doctors and lawyers” without there really being any evidence at all to suggest that this will improve policing.
All officers having degrees will not remove human error and runs the risk of making the service LESS representative of society than it is now.
There is a danger that policing degrees will not be degrees at all but will be “training” called a degree – not unlike the nursing model.
It seems to be as much about equipping officers to leave the service as it is about preparing them to fulfil the role. There is also the concern about what a policing degree earned in the first two years of service or prior to joining ACTUALLY means for those who do stay for a few decades. How current will it be? How relevant is a policing degree to another choice of profession?
Sound familiar? Maybe, but these were all points raised by Tom – not me.
I left that night feeling a lot less like a fish out of water.
Chance to relax and meet up socially with new and old friends and a truly pleasant evening was had by all.
Today, we were again lucky to have Tom take our small group through how to manage a research project, how to write a dissertation and ethics of research. We were joined by programme director Emma and over the course of the day, as things were explained, I found myself thinking “I can do this.”
It was a really positive experience and Emma later tweeted that I had been the one asking the most questions during the day. This is something I had vowed I wouldn’t do but – it was an indicator that I was feeling comfortable.
I have five pages of notes, a series of thinking points to consider as I move forward, an outline plan of my research question and some things I might do to approach it and a reading list.
You could say that despite my reservations – I ended up actively participating after all. A positive sign.
I do, however, really need to get my hands on a computer as a matter of some urgency.
All in all it was an amazing weekend, really well planned and managed by the CCCU team and I will be leaving feeling very different from the way I felt when I arrived on Friday.
It seems two days is a long time in academia.
Over the last few days there has been a lot of discussion about the police using spit hoods on a very small number of detainees.
This has culminated in the campaign group, Liberty, criticising the police for using them at all saying that there is no case to do so and they are inhumane and degrading. They go so far as to say that the argument for spit hoods is “far fetched.”
Sadly, it is not far fetched and you only have to look at the tragic case of Arina Koltsova for evidence.
Arina was a Ukrainian officer who made an arrest. The suspect deliberately spat in her face during this arrest. She contracted tuberculosis and died.
This is not far fetched.
The Mayor of London has now intervened and prevented the Met from the planned issue of spit hoods to its officers. This is despite previous liaison and discussion with the community and advisory groups.
The police in any country, and the U.K. is no exception, deal with a lot of people who have made poor or unfortunate life choices. Many are ill through alcoholism or drug use and a number have contracted serious untreatable and communicable diseases as a result. Such as Hepatitis or HIV. These are easily transmitted by bodily fluids and it’s why officers routinely wear gloves when dealing with blood and searches.
As bizarre and unbelievable a concept it may seem, there are some people who, when arrested, resist and threaten to infect the officers on purpose. I know because I have seen it many times.
I know because I have seen colleagues who have been spat on or received deliberate needle stick injuries go through the agonising wait for blood tests to see if they have been infected after such an incident.
Contracting HIV, TB, Hepititis or any form of communicable disease is not an acceptable condition of employment in the police. It is not “one of those things”. It is not “part and parcel of the risk”
Believe it or not – police officers have human rights as well.
If someone deliberately spits at an officer knowing they have a fatal illness then the charge would be attempted murder.
This is right up there along with being threatened with a knife, gun or other lethal weapon.
Lest you believe that this is rare, I am informed that 8 officers were hospitalised for tests following spitting incidents during the Notting Hill Carnival weekend alone.
Officers have the right to be protected and forces are obliged to protect them.
Not every detainee has such a condition. Not every detainee spits. Not every detainee threatens to infect officers. Not every detainee is put in a spit hood.
In truth – very few are. It tends to be the ones who spit or threaten to do so. Otherwise there is no case for putting one on.
I can understand that the concept of hooding a prisoner carries many unpleasant connotations but the spit hoods are a step forward from the blanket or jacket which used to be used before they were invented.
The spit hoods are gauze and see-through. Vision may be impaired but it is not denied. Air can flow freely – fluids cannot. It seems an ideal solution.
This is what one looks like
Whilst the gauze does not prevent vision it does, as I said above, obscure it slightly and if you are the one trying to control a situation then impaired vision is not compatible.
Here are some additional pictures courtesy of @west_response on Twitter
Some health trusts issue these for the STAFF to wear
But they are likely to come off easily and besides which they do not protect any of the rest of the body from possible infection. If the officer has an unseen cut themselves then the risk is not mitigated by them wearing a visor.
The risk IS mitigated if the detainee cannot project spit.
These situations develop very rapidly and explosively and need to be resolved quickly. There isn’t time for officers to stop – kit up in full protective gear and restart.
So far – many of the critics of spit hoods have not come up with a plan B. Some have even simply said it is for the police to come up with an alternative.
I truly don’t know what that might be.
The facts in this matter are very simple. Police officers and staff deserve and have every right to be protected from catching communicable diseases at work. These are potentially transmitted in the most unusual of circumstances.
It’s not a case of wearing gloves and bleaching things after contact. We are talking here about people who may wish to deliberately infect an officer with a fatal or life changing disease. Or they may threaten to do so.
It is not possible to look at someone from the outside and determine whether they actually present a health risk. What you are looking at is someone who is spitting at you – deliberately – and there should be no question about mitigating that risk.
The most concerning thing about Liberty’s statement about spit hoods is that there is not one word of condemnation for the people who do the spitting. Their very strong and evocative criticism is reserved for the police who are simply trying to protect themselves.
These things are rarely used and should only be used in specific circumstances. If they have been inappropriately used then let us look at those cases but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
We are in danger of losing the debate before it’s even started. This could be TASER all over again.
Once the seed of doubt is sown it is very hard to rise about the hysteria.
A wise person once told me that when something contentious happens “if you do not communicate then someone else will fill the void.”
Clearly, we have passed the point of contention so the various police associations – The Fed, The Supers, The NPCC and the College of Policing really do now need to very quickly fill the void with facts and science.
Only a unified and rapid response will do.
Police are already on the back foot and emotive words like “cruel and inhumane” are already into the debate.
I have included some science here which was circulated from this tweet
The lives of police officers and staff depend upon it.
I am pretty sure that around the country senior officers are scratching their heads and wondering “what could we possibly do differently that we haven’t tried before?”
There has been so much talk over the last 6 years about the police needing to change and reform without anyone actually explaining what they need to change or reform into. Or why.
There have been new initiatives to bring in people directly into higher ranks these being sold as a way to bring new ideas into policing but the jury is still out on whether there is some magical silver bullet out there that no one has thought of before or whether there are enough of these new officers to make much of a dent.
One of the chief complaints from existing officer is that no one seems to be listening to them. This is also true of the public who no doubt have their own thoughts and ideas on what might be done.
Two facts are true: there is less money and there are fewer staff. Demand is also as high as it ever was if not higher and the expectations and demands of the police are increasing not decreasing. There are new threats to counter and new types of crime to combat.
With this is mind it is clear that some things will need to change.
The questions are what, why and how?
There is no monopoly on good ideas and so, to that end, I am opening the blog up to contributors who may wish to float suggestions or discussion points.
Today I am publishing a guest blog from a writer who uses the pseudonym of “Penny Forethought.”
This is the first of an occasional series I shall call “where do we go from here?”
I would like to extend an open invitation to anyone public, police, police staff, other agency, any rank or position to submit blogs of any length for this series.
It may well be crowd sourcing – but you never know who may read it.
I’m going to hand over to Penny now with the usual caveats regarding a guest blog that these are not my words and I express no opinion on whether I agree with them or not.
Policing: A Numbers Or Knowledge Business?
Significant austerity cuts to Police budgets under the banner of ‘reform’ led to drastic reductions in Police Officer numbers across the UK. Police Staff too suffered, with thousands being either offered minimal voluntary redundancy packages or being redeployed into unfamiliar roles, often some distance from where they had previously worked.
In total, approximately 20% of Police Officers and staff were lost. In a larger Metropolitan Force such as West Midlands Police, this meant approximately 1500 officers were lost to the cutbacks.
On 31st August 2016, West Midlands Police announced that it is about to recruit a further 800 new Constables and 150 PCSOs. This is in addition to the 450 officers recruited recently. Blithe commentators might suggest that the staffing void left by the austerity measures had now nearly been filled and the status quo restored, but the reality is very different. In the background, Police Forces are haemorrhaging experience and knowledge like never before, with the Police Federation reporting that some forces are now offering recent retirees the opportunities to return on short-term contracts to backfill the knowledge shortfall.
To understand why knowledge is important, one needs to recognise that knowledge takes two distinct forms: That which is patent and that which is tacitly held. Patent knowledge can be codified into policies and manuals of guidance, permitting classroom based training to be given. In other words, it is easily replaced. Tacitly held knowledge on the other hand is knowledge that which cannot be codified or readily trained in a classroom environment as it comes from making mistakes, from successes and from having your work tested and scrutinised in the most hostile environments. In other words, experience, an asset that is irreplaceable.
In addition to natural wastage and the austerity cuts, knowledge is being lost elsewhere. Currently, any officer in a specialised role who is seeking promotion is generally required to move departments and their knowledge in that specialist field lost.
Of course it is far cheaper to have a new recruit’s bum on the seat than an officer with 25+ years of relevant experience but, critically, this is not what is important. What is important is to make sure that whoever’s posterior is in the chair, they have the knowledge (both patent and tacit) to make sure that they recognise the subtle signs that should trigger action before the Couldhavewouldhaveshouldhave Squad land and start unpicking the decisions which might have prevented the Child Abuse / Elder Neglect / Anti-Social Behaviour etc. that inevitably ensued.
The big question is how to do this and the question potentially demands a radical answer.
The diverse nature of Policing, particularly Response Policing, means that there will always be a need for pragmatic ‘Jacks of All Trades’, capable of the primary management of whatever circumstance they are thrown into. However, there is also a need to have a proportion of officers who are allowed to specialise in key areas. If the Government of the day is genuinely seeking Police reform then we should start with how we recruit and train this proportion of our officers.
Let me give an example to illustrate how this could work: Few could deny that cyber-crime is an ever-present threat but UK Police Forces are woefully ill-equipped to tackle cyber-crime on the scale that it is developing. Technology is advancing at a rate that few organisations can keep pace with. So, instead of a ‘normal’ recruitment process, why wouldn’t Forces forge greater links with Universities and start to cherry pick the brightest and best IT students for direct recruitment? Their probation could be shortened and tailored to suit the role that they will perform, rather than being diluted by issues that are not directly related to that role. Traditionalists might argue that Police Officers need a wide range of skills to do their job and as evidence for any future promotion boards but I would disagree. I would suggest that these officers could have a career plan mapped out for them and, dare I say it, a retention policy that includes pre-planned promotion based on competency and performance. Allowing these officers to develop communities of practice and become experts in their field without the inevitable loss of skills if they sought promotion must be a more cost-effective solution than the current system. Clearly this isn’t a path for all officers, but in key priority areas such as Cyber-Crime, Child Sexual Exploitation, Modern Day Slavery, Organised Crime and Firearms and for other obvious protective services such as Elder Abuse and Counter-Terrorism, there needs to be an ethos of constant development and ever improving knowledge.
In this austere age, the question of how these developments could be implemented cost effectively needs to be answered. Few would argue that the Direct Entry Scheme has been an unqualified success. Funding could be diverted from this and other recruitment schemes to finance this bold change.
This plan would require buy-in from Universities too. In 2015, the Executive Director of OFQUAL delivered the Regulated Qualifications Framework which placed a requirement on Higher Education establishments to ensure that their degree programmes were directly relevant to the workplace. The direction would allow Police Forces to collaborate more usefully with Universities regarding future recruitment.
Let’s not get bogged down with the ‘But we’ve always done it this way’ mentality and start thinking about how we can make Police recruitment fit for the 21st Century.
Penny Forethought is obviously a ‘Nom de Plume’. The author has chosen to write under pseudonym to gauge unbiased reactions to the commentary. Critical and constructive debate is encouraged.
I’m grateful to @NathanConstable for agreeing to host this first of (perhaps) several guest blogs. These are not his thoughts. He may agree or disagree with the sentiments expressed with them, that is a matter for him and his altruistic offer of hosting these guest blogs should not be taken as an endorsement of the content.
Fergal has been with me for almost 20 years. He was older, by some margin, than my kids – and he did, very much, act like their older brother.
He wasn’t just a cat – he was a cat who thought he was a dog.
He wasn’t just a cat – he was a cat who thought he was a human.
As a kitten he was my alarm clock – routinely jumping on my head and pawing at me until I fed him. You could set your watch by him.
I didn’t own him – he owned me. And he knew it.
Not only did he own me – he owned the rest of the street as well. He was the elder statesman of my road. In his younger days he acted as master of all he surveyed – even choosing whose house he would sleep in on any given day. And the neighbours loved him.
Fergal came to me as a rescue cat. Someone brought him into a police station in 1997. They had found him in a bin bag as a kitten. Word went around that he needed a home. I went to the station and fell in love with him immediately.
He was thin, he was ginger, he was a complete misfit. He was a polydactyl. He had his usual paws but on the front paws he had an additional mini paw on each and extra toes on the back. Including the dew claws he had 30 claws in all. He was the only cat I ever met with opposable thumbs. He could trap a small ball like it was a baseball mitt.
After his initial lousy start in life I took him in and fed him up until he became the healthy looking ginger bruiser you can see above. That pic is about four years old and he was 15 when it was taken.
He more than used his 9 lives. He was hit by something (I never did find out what) during the night when he was still a young cat. He didn’t come home one morning and I found him outside with a broken back leg. The vet sorted him out but it was to lead to the development of arthritis in that leg later in life.
When I brought him home that time I was told he needed cage rest – but they didn’t have a cage. So I fashioned a barricade in my spare room and tried to box him and his cast leg here. I came home to find him sitting on the windowsill without a care in the world.
On two occasions he didn’t come home for over a week. On both he had become trapped. The first time I have no idea where but he returned thin and cross about 9 days later and was shouting at me at the front door. It was a huge relief.
The second time he got into a neighbours house through their cat flap. This neighbour had gone away and thought they had locked the cat flap. I discovered him after 6 days when I was posted “have you seen…?” noted through my neighbours doors and heard a familiar meow.
The neighbour had presumably thought they had locked the flap but had in fact locked it to “in only.” My cats sense of adventure and general transience backfired because having got in – he couldn’t get out.
It’s a good job this house belonged to a single guy living alone because Fergal survived by drinking water from the toilet. The advantage of leaving the seat up! I discovered this as he maintained the habit for a while until I managed to educate him otherwise.
He even chose to live in another neighbours house for the best part of two years. This neighbour had two ginger cats of his own and Fergal used to spend all his time with them. Fortunately, the neighbour didn’t object and we had an arrangement where he paid the food and I paid the insurance and vets bills. Bizarre but true.
It became known as “The Ginger Cat Club”. I used to come home and see him say in my neighbours front window as if he owned the place. Frankly, he did.
When the neighbour moved away I had to lock Fergal in my house until he got the message.
He has been there through thick and thin. One of the most constant things in my life for almost two decades.
His alternative name was Uluru. Named so because he resembled Ayers Rock when he was sleeping. An orange mass arising from the floor.
Over the last couple of years the arthritis has become more noticeable. He was taking medicine for it but it was clearly getting worse. He could still jump the wall if he was so minded but he had lost the spring in his step and it has become a hobble.
In January he was given a reasonably clean bill of health for his age but I was told his kidneys weren’t functioning as they should be and to enjoy the remaining time with him.
Yesterday, there was an incident outside which scared him and he tried to run away from it. In doing so he somehow damaged his arthritic leg so that he couldn’t stand on it.
I took him to the vet but there was something else wrong. She discovered a large abdominal mass which would have been unseen and undetected and Fergal was very poorly. It wasn’t there in January but was now tennis ball sized and masked by fur and body.
Now things I had attributed to him being an aged gent started to make more sense. I think he has been more unwell than I have realised for some time.
Watching him struggling on the vets table and hearing the procedures and prognosis it seemed that it would delay the inevitable with very very little chance of any success. The operation itself could prove fatal and the chemo and recovery would be miserable.
I spent some time alone with him. “Chatting it through” – I think he told me what he wanted. I think.
The spark had gone in his eyes. For perhaps the first time I recognised how old and very fragile he had really become. Perhaps I had denied it until now.
I was with him at the end. I held his hand (for it was a hand) and stroked his ear and looked him in the eye – smiling. I was the last thing he saw and I spoke to him throughout. What was said is between me, he and the vet but he will have been in no doubt that I loved him.
It was peaceful and he was no longer in pain.
Now he is gone and I am sad. Time will heal, I know but the sense of loss is comparible to any bereavement.
We invest a lot of love in our pets – to the point where they cease to be “pets” and become part of the family. We care for them, we dote on them, we love their personalities and their ways as we would any relative. They reward us with moments and loyalty – yes – even cats….
He wasn’t just a cat – he was a permanent fixture. The one who would shout at you for daring to go out all day and leave him outside.
He wasn’t just a cat – he would sulk like a child.
He wasn’t just a cat – he was one of my oldest companions.
He wasn’t just a cat – he was my friend.
He wasn’t just a cat – we were soul mates.
Sleep well, Fergs – the pain is gone but you will never be.