Archive for April, 2011

Dancing Queen…

This is a very quick post to toast the happy couple for the Royal Wedding. I’m not bitter about not being invited – despite there being at least three perfectly good spare seats and me unsuccessfully petitioning The Queen on Twitter for several weeks to be allowed to go – and wish William & Kate all the best for the future! You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life…

Love is just a four-letter word…

First I heard the sound of the custody block door slam shut. Moments later I heard coming from the direction of the holding cell a stream of expletives so thick it’d make Bernard Manning cringe. Hushed voices of the escorting police officers could be heard in response, vainly trying to calm their prisoner but to no avail – the abuse continued at fever pitch with the worst words in the dictionary finding themselves substituted for pretty much any other word you might expect to find in a normal sentence.

The custody sergeant finishes his previous task, inhales a deep breath and calls the prisoner round. I didn’t think it possible but with each footstep the volume increased, reaching an awful crescendo as their source appeared around the corner. There we were presented, still in handcuffs, a middle aged female who drunkenly staggered forwards directing her abuse (and saliva) towards the staff sheltering behind the desk. She was brought to an untidy stop in front of the sergeant and before he could even open his mouth, was stopped in his tracks by another incomprehensible torrent that bounced off the walls and echoed around the cells.

Booking this prisoner on was hard work to say the least. Each question, asked to ensure her own safety during detention, was met with yet more vitriol and having plowed through the booking on process as well he could, the sergeant ordered the escorting officers to take this woman away from him and deposit her in a cell, preferably in another station but failing that as far away as possible.

The thick steel of the cell door absorbed some of the woman’s anger as it will have done many times over the years, although she could still be heard tearing away against the walls of her new residence. This would go on all night. Offers of hot drinks, food and reassurance would all fall on deaf ears. Angry she was and angry she was resolved to remain. Meanwhile the sergeant resumed his work. The telephone rings. “Can you accept another prisoner for public order?”. The answer is a yes. Roll on 7AM…

Greetings to the new brunette…

Please click above for a transcript of our first 'Tweet & Greet'

Last night saw the first ever Walsall ‘Tweet & Greet‘ with myself taking control of the @walsallpolice Twitter channel for a full hour, answering questions put to me by members of the public. No one was quite sure how it’d work but I think it went really well in the end with people showing a genuine interest in what we do and happy to engage in a little lighthearted banter too.

I think the event was made all the more exciting by the fact that moments before starting I’d managed to knock out my internet connection by unwittingly resetting my wireless router. This meant when I powered up my computer at five to seven, I went to open up Firefox (yes, I am that cool) and found a blank screen staring back at me. A couple of fruitless diagnostic checks later I had to resort to the trusty iPhone and conducted the whole chat with my eyes squinting at the small text and my fingers moving in a blur that would see sparks flying later in the session. D’oh!

You can see a transcript of the conversation by clicking on the above link which will open a PDF file. You may need a PDF reader to view this file, available here if you don’t already have one installed.

Owing to the success of the event, we and other officers around the West Midlands are hoping to put on further ‘tweetings’ for you to get involved with. We’ll be looking at getting officers from different ranks and departments to come online so that you have the chance to put to them any burning questions you may have.

As a final note, there was a little confusion last night as to whether I was an actual person or just a computer program creating automatic replies. I got a little confused myself towards the end of the session but can say with reasonable confidence that I am not HAL 9000, Skynet or any other self-aware machine. I’m an actual police officer keen to satisfy the obvious eagerness of the public to ask their bobbies questions and engage in a good old chat!

Writing to reach you…

@robertpeel

What’s the deal with all these police officers on Twitter? And Facebook? And even writing blogs? Just taking a quick glance at the Social Network Links page of the West Midlands Police website reveals a huge and steadily growing list of officers who are getting involved with social media. Why are we doing it though, wouldn’t we be better spending our time fighting crime and locking up villains? In this blog I’ll be looking back to Robert Peel, the grandfather of the modern policing, in an attempt to explain why police forces around the world are doing as I am doing now – writing to reach you.

Considering how recent an innovation ‘social media’ is, it may come as a surprise that I’m referring back to an old timer who died over one hundred and sixty years ago. The ten Peelian Principles left by Peel as a philosophy for his first police force, the Met, to follow are still relevant today and stress the importance of securing public approval and co-operation in effective policing. Specifically he states that ‘the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions’ and also that ‘the police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public’.

Engaging with members of the public through mediums such as Twitter and blogs are a great way of achieving this very important goal. Our effectiveness is dependent on your help and support, we want to provide the best level of service that we are able and recognise that to do this we need to reach out, to engage and explain our actions so that confidence is maintained.

We are also conscious that the vast majority of people will have no regular involvement with the police. There have been few opportunities to involve law abiding citizens with their local police and to obtain their views about how our service could be improved. There are also hard to reach communities, perhaps those reluctant to engage with the police, who we are keen to involve but have struggled to do so in the past relying on conventional measures alone. Social media is all about breaking down barriers and showing the public that police officers are not fun hating, ticket issuing robots but humans – as Peel puts it ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’.

Furthermore, police work is interesting and many people are keen to know what we’re up to when they see us racing past with the lights and sirens on. Twitter is a great tool for communicating our day to day activities, for supplying information and updating the public on a live basis. Our football related Twitter feed, as an example, is fantastic for sharing information on match days and allow us an unprecedented direct access to fans making the job of policing big matches so much easier. We are publicly funded and need to be open and accountable, again social media steps in to help us honour these expectations.

I’ve been running my Twitter feed for several months now and have seen my list of followers grow on a daily basis with people from across the world contacting me with interest in what we are doing. Everyday new officers are embracing social media for the reasons I have given above and all have positive experiences to relay. They became police officers because they wanted to help the public, to engage with people and tackle crime. As social media is such an effective tool for realising these goals, I can see that its popularity will only increase. It’s not a novelty – it’s very much at the core of our mission.

As ever feedback is appreciated and the first person to post as a reply the correct name of the artist and song title from this blog’s title will receive an approving nod from myself.

My Maserati does 185, I lost my license – now I don’t drive…

I think this is a good example of the recklessness that some thieves demonstrate when they decide to take a car for a joyride. He’s put his life at risk along with those of the officers pursuing and everyone else on the road too. At least he had his hazards on…

This machine will not communicate…

…or rather it will. Yes, this is a quick post to publicise the ‘tweet and greet’ that I will be running between 7pm and 8pm on Wednesday April the 20th on the behalf of Walsall Police.

Tweet and Greet @walsallpolice - 7pm-8pm, 20/04/2011

I didn’t know what a tweet and greet was myself until about twenty minutes ago but am happy to report that it’s nothing to be afraid of. It basically involves me taking control of Walsall Police’s official Twitter feed and being available to answer questions to anyone who’s interested in getting touch. As with a beat surgery you set the agenda and I’m happy to talk about anything from my favourite flavour of ice cream (mint chocolate chip) to what you think about your local police and how we can help serve you better. I think my ‘quote’ from the press release sums it up nicely so here it is -

PC Richard Stanley said: “There are lots of people in our community who will never make it to a residents’ meeting because the time or venue isn’t right for them, but I’m sure they nevertheless have questions about how we are policing their neighbourhood.

Twitter is an increasingly popular medium which we are keen to embrace and although I’m no expert in tweeting, we are happy to give anything a go if it improves the communication we have with our communities.

It’s a very easy way for people to chat informally to officers and if it goes down well, we will be looking to hold more ‘Tweet and Greets’ in the future.”

I have a special blog prepared about why we’re using social media to reach out to people which I’ll be putting online closer to the date. In the mean time please keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more info and make sure you arrive nice and early next Wednesday to ensure you have a front row seat to our online beat surgery.

My life seems unreal, my crime an illusion…

You'd be udderly stupid to try and drive one of these whilst drunk...

I am stood on duty outside a bar in Walsall Town Centre on a busy Saturday night. Everything is going well – the clubbers are clubbing, the revelers reveling and everyone is having a generally great time. I obviously hope this will last but sadly it doesn’t – turning to look down towards the bottom of Bridge Street I see a very troubling sight. Advancing towards me is a woman sat astride a cow. As she approaches it is apparent that she is drunk – her half empty alcopop bottle suggests this to me and her slurred cat-call of “Alright officer, I’m a good girl really” confirms it.

What am I going to do? Well I’d imagine it’s obvious that I’m going to arrest her under the terms of the Licensing Act 1872 which prohibits a person operating a ‘cow, horse or steam engine’ whilst intoxicated.

Okay, this hasn’t really happened to me (yet) but it’s a good illustration of one of the more ludicrous laws that have at some point stood on our statute books.

Other fantastic laws include Cromwell’s prohibition of eating mince pies on Christmas Day, a law making it illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament and the one that seems to pop up with more frequency than any other, that it is legal for a pregnant lady to relieve herself in any place she so chooses including – would you believe it – in a police officer’s helmet.

For several years Parliament has been combing through their archives to locate and repeal these strange, redundant, laws but I think they’re a fascinating product of our legal system and give a superb insight into what people’s lives must have been like around the time, for example, that it was deemed necessary as it was in 1839 to pass the Metropolitan Police Act outlawing the discharging of cannons within three hundred yards of a dwelling.

Of course not all old laws are irrelevant, such as the Offences Against The Person Act 1861, which sets out the law regarding serious assaults and is still referred to day in, day out across courts up and down the country. Some aspects of Common Law such as those relating to murder and perjury stretch back even further referring to precedents set hundreds of years ago.

If you’re interested you can find further examples of our odder laws on these articles from the BBC, Times and also this website. There’s also a fascinating book by Nigel Cawthorne called The Strange Laws of Old England which goes into more detail still about why we thought it necessary to designate which part of a dead whale becomes property of the king and which bit the queen.

On a final note to any pregnant ladies caught short in Walsall, you can ask but the answer is no you can’t!


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