Archive for May, 2011

Dare not speak his name…

An own goal for Giggs, but what does the super-injunction debate say about the law itself?

First of all it was properly private. No one knew about it, and no one knew about it because no one was allowed to speak about it. Then it became a little less private. Whispers were abound of a super-injunction trying its best to suppress a story of an alleged affair involving a well known celebrity. Gradually the whispers got louder, more and more people began to speak and then it happened – an internet post less than one hundred and forty characters long broke the injunction and named its owner.

From this point the information spread like wildfire, the injunction now little more than a lone firefighter vainly trying to beat down the flames as the forest around him burnt. Upwards of seventy five thousand people forwarded the celebrity’s name around the web and unbound by the injunction, foreign media openly published his identity.

The law was widely flouted, the secret was out but even so, the injunction prevented the papers printing the name that was already on everybody’s lips.

Eventually the surreal situation was brought to an end when MP John Hemming named the celebrity as footballer Ryan Giggs, using the protection of Parliamentary Privilege to do so.

The situation was fascinating as it brought into sharp focus some of the questions raised in a previous post about exactly what the law is. Having been asked the question, I had come to the conclusion that it’s very hard to define. The law is organic – it shifts in response to the movements of those it applies to and as such can never to tied down under any one definition.

To be relevant, the law needs to keep up with both public opinion and technology. The debate over the breaking of the super-injunction and how best to address it seems to have shown that the current law regarding privacy is simply not manageable. The Prime Minster has suggested that a review may be required in light of how many people openly broke the injunction and the subsequent impossibility of prosecuting all those responsible.

More than anything, the row over super-injunctions shows how important it is for our laws, and the way we interpret them, to keep up to speed with the modern world. The consequence of laws that are no longer applicable to the world in which we live can be clearly seen – they simply don’t work.

Everybody’s got to learn sometime…

A Day In The LifeParading at Tally Ho! Training Centre, Birmingham, Thursday May 26th 2011, Tour of Duty – 08:30 to 15:30

Today has been the fourth of a five day ‘Post Foundation’ course during which we return to police academy and receive further training on various legal and practical areas.

Previous courses have involved topics such as advanced searching, traffic law legislation and have gone into depth about suspect interviewing. This current course is focused entirely on sexual offences and public protection issues.

Whilst I do have to travel into the centre of Brum to reach Tally Ho! – the former home of our mounted division – the half eight starts means that relative to a normal early shift I get to enjoy a little lie in which is a great way to start any day.

Lie in complete, I then blend in amongst the other commuters on the train into New Street before hopping onto a bus which takes me to the training centre itself on the Pershore Road.

I catch up with my classmates in the canteen and see that they already have their heads studiously buried in their books revising what we covered the previous day. I try not to distract them too much before heading up to the classroom where we take our seats and the trainer goes over the plan for the day.

Some of the areas that we cover are not particularly pleasant but even so, the legislation is very interesting and I think it’s important that we know it well so that we’ll be in the strongest possible position to deal with rapes and sexual assaults as and when they are reported to us.

We start off watching a documentary about how officers arrange sting operations to catch pedophiles using the internet to groom children and then after a short mid-morning break, return to the classroom where I participate in a group task presenting to the rest of the class what the ‘points to prove’ are for the offence of engaging in sexual activity with a child.

Following lunch we discuss with the trainer some of the methods we have at our disposal for involving partner agencies (Social Services etc) in cases where we are dealing with vulnerable or intimidated victims and then are given some time to go and study the Sexual Offences Act so that we are familiar with it in time for the exam tomorrow.

Having got my head around the main offences that we’ll likely be questioned on, we’re stood down and a few of us head back into town bypassing the train station in favour on hitting a little-known doughnut merchant in Selfridges. They’re very police friendly and to be honest, I think half the customers in there were officers as we do love our doughnuts! I gobble down a doughnut or two before heading back to New Street and catching the train home.

An evening revising from a police textbook awaited me, although I’m sure the little bag of doughnuts that had followed me home will help provide a little extra ‘motivation’ for me to study!

Ask me I won’t say no, how could I?

Please click above for a transcript of our latest Tweet & Greet.

Sunday saw me feverishly hacking away at my keyboard and jumping madly between different areas of Twitter as I hosted Walsall Police’s second ‘Tweet & Greet’, part of Walsall Police’s participation in the Council’s ‘Walsall 100‘ event.

Building on the success of last month’s inaugural ‘tweeting’, I was bombarded with questions from all sorts of people keen to bombard a police officer with questions and to chat in general.

Topics covered this time round included plans to build a new police station in Walsall, what our policies are to deal with anti-social behaviour, how we’re tackling drug related issues and, perhaps most importantly, what the best Tim Buckley album is.

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.

I felt that the reception I got from the public was fantastic and want to thank everyone who participated for helping make the event such a success. I really enjoyed replying to the different queries as I tried my best to keep on top of them and I’m sure we’ll be hosting more Tweet & Greet sessions in the near future!

Round my hometown, memories are fresh…

Supt. Fraser will be online @walsallpolice between 5.30pm-6.30pm this Thursday to answer your questions.

Remember our ‘Tweet & Greet‘ last month? Well, to tie in with Walsall Council’sWalsall 100‘ event, we’ve another two lined up and I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you all about them.

First of all, what exactly is the ‘Walsall 100’?

The aim of the event, named after Walsall’s reputation as being the ‘town of one hundred trades’, to is promote our town by trying to tell you the story of one hundred things about the town itself. People from across the local area are coming to together to contribute to the project, which is running between the seventh to twenty-third of this month, with the results of the initiative being published across a variety of websites, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

For more information, please check out this blog on Walsall 100 and also our own press release. If you’re on Twitter (and even if you’re not) you can follow the project by using the hashtag #walsall100.

As with our first online ‘tweeting’, the upcoming Tweet & Greets represent an opportunity for you to chat with a police officer for an hour through Walsall Police’s own Twitter feed. You are able to ask any questions you have about local policing or just anything else. If our last one is anything to go by, questions are likely to range from whether our officers carry guns to what our favourite type of cheese is. The floor is well and truly open!

The first Tweet & Greet will be held with Superintendent Fraser, head of local policing for Walsall, this Thursday the 19th between 5.30pm-6.30pm via @walsallpolice.

The second will be hosted by myself at the same place, this time on Sunday the 22nd between 7pm-8pm.

We’ll be using the hashtag #walsall100 to tie the Tweet & Greet sessions together and ask that you include the hashtag in any questions you send to help us pull together a transcript of the conversation after we finish.

Beyond this we look forward to seeing you on Thursday and Sunday and if you have any questions in the mean time, you know where to find us!

P.S. As a small qualifier, these sessions are being held on the assumption that things don’t go all Holby City on us and we’re forced for race out to deal with the simultaneous cruise ship, freight train and airliner collision that we’re all dreading. We’ll do our best to keep you updated if we’re forced for whatever reason to cancel.

I was minding my business, lifting some lead off the roof of the Holy Name church…

How would you define the word ‘scrap’? I think most people would agree with the dictionary definition of scrap being ‘an old, discarded, or rejected item or substance for use in reprocessing or as raw material, as old metal that can be melted and reworked’. Sounds fairly sensible to me.

Unfortunately some criminals are far from sensible and also, it would appear, far from a dictionary. They have been known to stretch the definition of ‘scrap’ to include any of the following – copper piping out of houses, lead flashing from people’s roofs, drainpipe covers, fixed metal railings, parts from people’s cars and pretty much anything else of value they are able to liberate.

Part of the problem is that the price of metal has risen steeply over recent years and with it the temptation to remove any items of ‘scrap’ to make a quick profit. The issue has gained wide coverage in the news with the impact on the railway network so great that the British Transport Police consider metal thefts next to terrorism in terms of their priority. Metal thefts are a significant concern to West Midlands Police also and as such we have a wide range of initiatives in place to tackle the problem.

Our approach involves working closely with those vulnerable as targets for metal thefts and has a strong proactive element which involves targeting those responsible and regularly checking on scrap metal dealerships to ensure that they are complying with the regulations and not buying potentially stolen goods.

The awesomely titled ‘Operation Kryptonite’ forms part of this initiative and represents an ongoing focus on scrap dealers. It means that we are regularly pulling over scrap metal lorries and checking out their occupants and contents to ensure that they’re not hauling around stolen goods. If there is suspicion that the goods carried are not legitimate the occupants can then be arrested and efforts made to trace the origins of their bounty.

In addition to Kryptonite, we also have the less imaginatively titled ‘Operation Steel’ which runs along similar lines, disrupting metal thieves at every opportunity.

In addition we are working to ensure that it is much harder for criminals to access ‘scrap’ in the first place. This involves some military-sounding ‘target hardening’ with security being enforced at areas likely to attract the thieves and also identifying ways by which we can make metals more traceable. Network Rail, for example, now has much of its track side cabling encoded and protected by SmartWater technology meaning that if someone’s caught with their cables they’re caught red handed.

You can help too in the fight against the metal thieves by letting us know if you see anything suspicious that you think may be connected to metal thefts. Of particular interest to us is details of scrap dealers who seem a little too interested in that old car you have sitting on your drive or in the contents of your skip. Make a note of registrations, descriptions of the scrap dealers themselves and what’s making you suspicious and then give us a call. It’s fantastic information and really helpful in building up a picture of who’s poking around for metal.

Scrap metal theft is clearly unacceptable and affects everyone, whether directly as victims of crime or indirectly e.g. through trains being delayed owing to stolen cabling. By assisting us in the fight against it you will be helping us tilt the definition of ‘scrap’ back in our favour and ensure that the only thing scrapped is the criminal’s hopes of an easy profit.

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

Let’s push things forward…

Cuffs, CS, Twitter - standard kit for the modern officer.

Today I took a trip to West Midlands Police Headquarters at Lloyd House to attend a meeting all about how the force uses social media. We thought that as we’ve been involved in the area for quite some time now and are leading the country in reaching out to people via the internet, it was about time we sat down and had a talk about where we’re going with the idea and how we can improve for the future.

At the meeting was many of the current ‘superstars’ of the force’s social media program including many officers who I have regularly been in contact with via Twitter but never have actually met in person. The room was awash with pip and crown adorned shoulders showing how importantly social media is viewed by the force.

I was sitting next to Supt. Payne who may know through Twitter as being one of those in charge of policing in Wolverhampton. To name a few others present, we also had in the packed meeting room Supt. Fraser, Chief Insp. Blakeman, Insp. Guilfoyle, Insp. Portman, Insp. Orencas and to top it all off, ACC Rowe.

So well attended was the meeting that I had to fight a Chief Inspector for the last seat!

We spent time speaking about examples of good practice from using social media to engage with the public and it was very interesting to hear how different areas have been able to achieve great results from using new technologies to help break down barriers between the police and public.

Chief Insp. Blakeman spoke about how he’d used Twitcam in Coventry to publicise the work of his officers and there was feedback from around the table from people who had received positive and encouraging messages from the public who are evidently keen that we both continue and expand our use of social media.

Some of the meeting was spent talking about how best to encourage new officers to take up tweeting or publishing blogs and also how to manage this to ensure that we’re offering a relevant service to the public. Being a relatively new innovation, working out how best to integrate social media into our role of policing has required us to really think about what the public would want from an online presence. Being a two way exchange, it’s not been hard to canvas opinion on this from the public themselves. We then have to look at how we can meet expectations accordingly.

As I’ve said in a previous post, social media is now very much at the core of policing and hearing today the positive examples of its use from across the West Midlands have only reinforced this view. We’ve many officers already involved with it and will have many more joining over the coming months and years. It is something that’s new, especially to policing, and as such comes with a steep learning curve.

I think it’s fair to say our force is pioneering the use of social media and that input from the public is going to be essential in shaping how our use of social media will develop in the future. We value your feedback, are keen to hear where you’d like to see us take social media and due to the nature of social media itself, are now more accessible than ever to receive your thoughts and act accordingly.

P.S. We’ve been using the hashtags #socialmediawmp and #wmpsocial to reference our social media activities through Twitter, they can also be used to provide feedback to us on what we’re doing and how you think we could improve.

You set the scene…

Strings of police tape fluttering in the wind, police vehicles littered about and empty streets. An officer standing guard clutching a mysterious green book, an army of equally mysterious white clad people carting around evidence bags and a news helicopter buzzing overhead. Sounds like you’ve got yourself a crime scene…

Having been that solitary officer many a time and having spoken to members of the public whilst I’ve been rooted to the spot for hours on end, I know how interesting crime scenes can appear and think I understand a little why members of the public are so fascinated by our presence at them. Has there been a grizzly murder? Are they digging up skeletons? What is going on?

Forensic scientists collect evidence as a suspiciously calm lady looks on...

For the most part crime scenes are not perhaps as interesting as they might appear and whilst we’re not really able to discuss why they’ve been designated as such when we’re there, I think often the explanation may often be a little disappointing. I’ve stood on scenes, for example, in which large areas have been cordoned off to preserve the tiniest specks of blood or even, in the case of rape scenes, evidence that may not even be visible to the naked eye.

Why do we establish crime scenes then? Put simply the aim of a crime scene is to secure and preserve forensic evidence. When a serious incident has occurred at a location we are sometimes required to restrict access to that place, or part of that place, so that any clues explaining what has happened are not lost or disturbed. Often it’ll be unclear exactly what has happened – we’ll arrive to find two wounded parties and will need to establish a crime scene securing the evidence inside it to help prove or disprove the accounts given by each of those involved.

Having set up the scene specialist departments are likely to come and visit to collect the evidence itself. Detectives may want to survey the scene, forensics experts might need to take photographs or samples and specialist officers may need to conduct a thorough search e.g. to locate discarded bullet casings from a firearms incident.

To maintain the integrity of the scene we restrict who can enter it. This is where the mysterious green book comes in to play. This is a scene log and we use it to record the details of everyone attending and why where were there. Having made these records we are able to account for the integrity of the evidence closed inside the sealed area. In the simplest terms this means in court we can say in confidence that say a blood stained knife found at the scene was indeed found at the scene and has not been tampered with after the incident took place as no one has had the opportunity to do so.

Crime scenes are kept ‘open’ for as long as it takes to gather the evidence. For a small incident this could be for an hour until photographs have been taken whilst for a larger incident such as the recent shooting in London, a scene may not be closed for several weeks.

Contrary to what some people may think, guarding an outdoors scene at four o’clock on a cold winter’s morning is hardly the best way to spend a shift but it is important nonetheless and very much part of our job. We’re probably not inside drawing chalk outlines around multiple bodies laid out to spell the words ‘you’re next’ but even so, what we will be doing is gathering evidence to give us the best chance of getting a conviction in court.

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