Yesterday’s Man

This blog may be as uncomfortable to read as I know it is going to be to write. This is going to be an existential exploration which is unlikely to lead to any answers. I find myself in the somewhat strange position of asking, in relation to work, “what am I doing here?” I know I am not alone in this position either – in a recent survey, some 76% of police officers said they would not recommend the job as a choice of careers to others.

This kind of thinking out loud could effectively “do my legs” in terms of career progression or opportunities but in over 20 years I have never felt more confused about the direction of the police service I love.  Read More…

“Tasering Children” – A Response

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.

Read More…

The Man in the Hole – a personal blog on Depression

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…

The Kernow One

It is with real sadness that we seem to have lost another popular police Twitter account.
Until yesterday, PC Alice Nicholas aka @KernowCop was regularly updating the world with details of her life as a police officer.Alice’s popularity is not in question nor is the quality of what she was doing on social media. You can tell by the number of followers she had and one of her recent tweets regarding a surprisingly lenient sentence went viral and led to newspaper coverage. 

Her tweets were bright, enlightening and, perhaps more importantly, human. There is no doubt she was connecting with people in the best possible way and is a fine ambassador for police use of social media.

And then yesterday – seemingly out of the blue – she posted this:


This came as a shock to everyone and the thread beneath that tweet shows genuine sorrow that she has taken the decision.

I do not know the reasons why but I cannot help but wonder if it isn’t connected to this tweet from a few days previously. 


Up until this point Alice was a hugely prolific tweeter. Once this tweet went up things began to slow down.

Now I could be wrong here but I’m wondering if she has managed to unintentionally say “the wrong thing” and whether this has led to words being spoken.

The circumstances would suggest that Alice was kicked in the face by someone who was experiencing a mental health crisis and she has outrightly challenged the decision making of another agency.

If this has led to her being challenged then I simply ask this. Is this tweet so different?

Or these?

There is a great deal of talk in policing at the moment about challenging. Someone even said that “deference is dead” and that rank means less and less. If you were to read tweets and blogs relating to proposed culture change in policing then it is all about not being afraid to speak up. It’s about saying “this isn’t right and we need to do something about it.” It suggests that rank and experience are not, in and of themselves, a true measure of importance or expertise.

Sadly, however, it still seems that you can only openly challenge things – particularly other agencies – if you are above a certain rank. There are many examples of tweets from senior officers questioning or challenging other organisations’, even political, decisions but this seems to still be unacceptable for less senior ranks.

Don’t get me wrong – you can’t have a free for all with every officer moaning because an ambulance didn’t turn up quickly enough in their mind or because CPS decide not to progress a case they’ve been working on.

Equally you can’t have officers openly criticising government policy on official accounts but – it has happened – and from some very senior officers.

I may be wrong on this. Alice may have other reasons for deciding to quit Twitter but it would be a great shame if she has been made to feel pressure for speaking her mind.

At worst, if this is the issue, then it deserved nothing more than a simple “maybe not wise” conversation but the fact she has chosen to close the account suggests she felt nervous enough to do so.

The fact that this seems to be the default position for many people who have been spoken to about something they tweeted is concerning.

Has a sledgehammer cracked a nut once again?

As I have said in a previous blog hosted by @GemmaPettmanPR organisations should be actively encouraging their staff to use social media to speak with people. They shouldn’t be scaring the bejesus out of them if they make a minor error of judgement.

The more human and real the account the better this conversation will be. It wins support and understanding and often the mistakes which get taken so seriously internally are barely even noticed. Until action is taken which then draws attention to it.

Sometimes people take offence – sometimes it is faux outrage (see the Lewisham St Patrick’s Day Tweet for further details) but a simple apology and move on is usually more than enough to deal with the issue. There are far fewer examples of people really getting it very badly wrong.

We need people on the front line tweeting and commentating. All organisations do. It opens lines of communication and is another form of direct contact and information sharing.

Alice was very good at it, she is respected by her peers and the public loved her. If she is reading this I would actively encourage her to think again. 

If someone higher up thinks she shouldn’t be tweeting? I would actively encourage them to think again as well. 

OK To Fail?

Recently I have seen a school of thought around evidenced based policing and change which concerns me. The concept that it is “OK to fail” that “failing is learning.”

Whilst I tend to agree that, in any set of circumstances where something goes wrong, as much needs to be wrung from it to prevent a repeat I’m not sure that it is “OK to fail” especially when it comes to policing. 

In some areas – maybe in recruitment – I can see that consequences where, for example, a programme to bring more diverse applicants to policing fails to deliver what was intended then the “it was worth a try” argument may be valid. 

But what if the change revolved around significant alterations to the delivery of training meant that officers were going out poorly prepared, ill-equipped and without sufficient supervision and this led to a poor operational decision where someone was hurt or died. Is it “ok to fail” then?

What if a new method of dealing with domestic abuse offenders saw fewer going to court and more being dealt with via other means such as restorative justice or other intervention. What if one of these offenders doesn’t respond and goes on to murder. Is it “OK to fail” then?

What if a new trial on methods of pursuit intervention led to serious crashes or a pedestrian or officer being injured or killed. Is it “OK to fail” then?

How sympathetic would a court or coroners inquest be to the “we were experimenting” line of argument?

How would the IPCC view any of these situations if the response was “we were trialling something.”?

Yes – I am predicting worst case scenarios here but, in policing, worst case scenarios happen all the time. And when they do then the current culture is to look for and apportion blame. Not necessarily from within (though this happens frequently) but from those who hold the police to account by Statute or by media.

Look back to the infamous odd number attempt burglary pilot of last year. A force decided to see if not sending crime scene investigators (CSI) to attempt burglaries made any difference to whether a crime was detected. They chose not to send them to offences at houses with odd numbers.

The pilot showed that it made no significant difference whatsoever to the detection of the crime and so, actually, it proved what worked (or didn’t) and could have changed the police response to something more useful, pragmatic and cost effective.

Then the press got hold of it. And then the politicians.

What was arguably a text book experiment in evidence based policing was then condemned very loudly and publicly. The force had to defend itself as best it could but the show of outrage was huge.

What was a success was unjustly made out to be a failure. Not just in service but in judgement. This is very difficult to combat – especially when the Court of Public Opinion gets involved.

This caused headlines for days and was actually a small scale – low impact test where the potential consequences of failure were minimal. 

It is right that we learn from every experience – positive and negative – but I challenge the concept that it is “OK to fail” in a field as accountable as policing.

The world of medicine experiments all the time but it is always a very very long time before drugs or interventions are tested on live human subjects.

In policing there is no test lab. You can only test on live human subjects involved in real life situations. If consequences come they will be real and not theoretical. 

I fully agree that things need to be far less punitive than they are now but it isn’t the police you need to convince about this. 

It would be great if we could take the air industry approach of inquisitorial investigation to find out what happened and prevent reoccurrences but let us not forget that the very body which looks at policing “failures” is being restructured to “give it more teeth.”

Accountability has never been so high in policing and it seems to be moving towards more of it and of a certain kind.

Once again we are pulling in different directions. 

The police might like to move towards a situation where an incident can be reviewed for lessons learned without necessarily apportioning blame but in the meantime the inspection and investigation regime is actually getting tighter and more fierce.

One does not allow the other. 

We shouldn’t be afraid to try new things but, for what it’s worth, I think it is a bit casual to be suggesting that it is “OK to fail” because, quite frankly, there are too many important bodies reviewing the police who simply do not and will not share that view. 

Besides which, in many cases, the consequences if police do fail stand to be tragic. 

If you need an example of where it was not OK to fail and not apportioning blame has led to legal challenge after legal challenge and a sense (rightly or wrongly) of massive injustice and continued press condemnation then I simply say this –


Stop Struggling!

There is a joke which goes around police self defence training – the scenario involves a violent subject resisting arrest and the object of the exercise is for the officers to restrain him. Four officers approach and take a flailing limb each and start pulling and pushing. The joke is that after a while their momentum continues long after the subject is subdued. The officers continue to wrestle this poor individual unaware that it is their own pulling and pushing that is causing their colleagues to think the person is still resisting. All the shouting of “Stop Struggling!” comes to nothing because they are, in fact, fighting with themselves. The story is often relayed by police trainers to show the importance of talking to one another whilst trying to deal with something difficult and how the person at the bottom of this pile can end up being injured if you don’t. Read More…

On Change, Listening and Engaging

I am delighted to host another guest blog. This one is from Superintendent Paul Clements of the City of London Police. (@CityPoliceSuper)

Paul is one of the country’s first Direct Entry Superintendents. Whilst I have reservations about the whole “direct entry” thing I have been impressed by the way in which Paul has gone out of his way to meet the critics and sceptics (like me) and narrate his difficult journey on social media.  Read More…

#Degreegate – a chance to speak 

If you’ve been following my blogs and tweets of late, it cannot have escaped your notice that I have some views on the whole issue of whether police officers should be required to have degrees.

I found both the concept and the manner it was announced to be flawed in many ways. My feelings around the concept are my own and are not universally shared but I do know that I am not alone in having those reservations.The feedback from my Yesterday’s Man blog has also confirmed that I am far from alone in feeling excluded from the College of Policing and much of its proposed reform agenda. Read More…

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Mental Health Cop

A venn diagram of policing, mental health and criminal justice


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