Archive for June, 2011

I want the one I can’t have…

Officers up and down the country are, amongst other things, currently jumping for joy at the prospect of being awarded an official medal to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

This medal will be awarded to all members of the emergency services, armed forces and prison staff who qualify by having completed five years in their chosen professions by this February.

Here in lies the rub.

Officers with less service than this – like myself – don’t qualify and as a consequence, get no shiny medals to proudly pin to our tunics. Surely quality should be valued over quantity? Apparently not!

Not to worry though – after careful consideration and an expensive, exhaustive design process a solution has been found.

Allow me to present my unofficial, homemade Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for anyone who would have qualified for the actual one, were it not for the five year limit!

The unofficial Diamond Jubilee Medal for emergency service members with LESS than five years' time in the job.

Now I think you’ll all agree that just like a fine watch, the craftsmanship and attention to detail involved in producing this very collectable item is simply unsurpassed.

Obviously the pictured medal is police-specific, although I am able to customise the face to include any branch of the services.

Orders on the back of a £50 note to myself at Walsall Police Station…

And everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio…

The Sepura SRH3500 Airwave Radio.

Every now and then I’ll be talking with someone and suddenly have to apologise, say ‘I’m being called on my radio’ and then wonder off engaged in a mysteriously one-sided conversation with the control room. Our radios are absolutely essential to our job and we’d not only be lost without them but also potentially in considerable danger.

Each and every officer has a radio assigned to them and needs to have it with them whenever they’re out on patrol. It is the means by which we not only communicate with the controllers at Walsall Police Station but also with other officers, via the system known as ‘point to point’ which allows us to contact our colleagues directly.

The principle role of the radio operators, or ‘rads’ as we know them, is to co-ordinate us unruly officers, to get us to where we need to be and to make sure that we have the information we need to do our jobs. They relay information from 999 calls to us and advise us what we’re likely to encounter when we arrive at an incident.

The radio network is secured and encrypted to prevent unwanted ears tuning in on our activities and also to help safeguard personal information that is relayed when we’re requesting Police National Computer checks and the like.

The network is ‘open’ meaning that every officer can hear transmissions to and from the control room and as such, it is important that we keep our communications as brief and to the point as possible. To this end we have a system of ‘status codes’ that are designed to reduce the amount of time we need on the airwaves to pass information. Rather than telling the control room that we are on patrol and available to be deployed, for example, we simply let them know that we are ‘code two’ and they have all the information they need.

Building on this, we have in place a variety of call signs and common phrases which we use to identify each other and help save time. Each car, for example, is referenced on the radio by an individual code, as are officers of different ranks and from different departments.

That the network is encrypted is important, although sometimes transmissions will be populated by so many obscure codes and police speak that anyone from outside the job listening in would probably struggle to understand what we’re going on about. I sometimes struggle myself!

Our radios have the capability to switch between a variety of different channels meaning that not only can we talk with other control rooms across the West Midlands, we can also select control rooms from different forces too. This is particularly useful, and important, when we’re conducting enquiries across the border is Staffordshire and want to let their control room know we’re visiting.

Being a common system used across the emergency services, we can also use our radios to co-ordinate our response to major incidents with members of the fire and ambulance services.

As an important safety feature, each terminal has an orange ‘panic button’ which instantly clears all other radio traffic and alerts the control room that an officer is in need of assistance. The alarm triggered has a haunting tone to it and cues every other officer to instantly fall silent, turn up their own radio and wait for the officer’s location to be broadcast so that they can race to their help.

I don’t think I’m alone in finding having the radio chattering away in my ear whilst I’m trying to talk to someone quite a distraction. Distractions aside, my radio terminal is easily the most important piece of kit that I carry and is invaluable for getting my job done.

Whilst I am sometimes tempted to send the terminal tumbling through the air when the talking in my ear piece is annoying me, I’d never throw it too far!

I’ve seen clouds from both sides now…

A police car screams past your office building and moments later you hear the clatter of helicopter blades. Looking out your window you crane your neck to spot a yellow and blue machine hovering a few hundred meters above you. It slowly circles around the same spot as other marked police vehicles pass in the same direction, through the red lights and on into the distance.

What exactly is happening though? This is something I always wondered before joining the job and indeed something I still wonder when I’m off duty and see the force helicopter, ‘Alpha Oscar One‘, buzzing overhead.

The helicopter itself is based at Birmingham Airport and is a Eurocopter EC–135P2i. Nerdy plane spotters like me will be absolutely thrilled to know that it has a top speed of 160 mph, a range of around 400 miles, can fly for three and a half hours and reach a ceiling of 10,000 ft. Stats aside, what might it be doing when you see it floating above?

The first situation, and probably the most common, in which the helicopter is deployed is when we have a suspect pinned down in a certain area and need someone with a bird’s eye view to help us locate him or her. Commonly this will be when we’ve pursued someone and have a reasonable containment of an area so that we’re able to say to the officers on board the helicopter, “The offender is hiding somewhere inside these woods, can you tell where he is?”.

The helicopter crew can then use their cameras and thermal imaging gear to pick out the suspect and direct our units on the ground towards his position and make the arrest. The capability of the crew to use body heat to track someone down means that the cover of darkness is denied to a suspect and the helicopter has a thirty million candlepower searchlight to help illuminate large areas so that we can see where we need to head. Oddly enough the helicopter is also equipped with a siren, presumably so it can warn slower helicopters to move aside and let it past as it makes its way towards incidents. Probably…

Aside searching, the helicopter is also invaluable to tracking high speed pursuits involving our traffic units. The evidence collected by the high definition video camera can be taken to court to help secure a conviction and as the crew are tracking the progress of the chase, can instruct other resources in the right direction so that they can help including telling officers when they might want to pull out the stinger and bring the pursuit to a conclusion by puncturing the offending vehicle’s tires.

Having a video camera means that the helicopter can be useful in all sorts of situations where an aerial view of an event might prove useful. Images can be beamed live to the control room and help senior officers make decisions about how to police football matches, public demonstrations and the like.

The rear of the helicopter provides a cargo space that can be quickly adapted to transport casualties from the scene of an accident to the nearest hospital. This is particularly useful at night as some of the air ambulances are not equipped with the necessary kit to enable them to land in built up areas during the hours of darkness.

Working with the helicopter can be quite exciting as not only can we see it and know that it’s there to help us, we can also hear it on our radio channel with the sound of the engine prominent in the background when the crew speak to us. It is a great resource that we can rely on when we require it and the psychological impact alone is often enough to get the criminal to come out with his hands up, knowing that his body heat will betray him and that’s it’s pointless to try and run.

P.S. You can find out more about Alpha Oscar One by visiting their website and can also follow them on Twitter by visiting their regularly updated profile, @WMP_Helicopter. They’ve also got a Twitpic account on which they’re publishing some of the photos the crew have taken from the air.

A cautionary tale…

Having watched the above video, you’ll know that when police officers arrest someone they deliver the caution in an out of breath manner, snarling the words out and often yelling a little too.

Okay, this isn’t always the case but what does the caution actually mean? Why do we have to deliver the caution rather than just telling the bad guy ‘You’re under arrest, punk’ and throwing them into the back of our squad car?

The caution is set out in Code G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice. This code, nearly as exciting as The Da Vinci Code but without Tom Hanks, explains how we use the caution and when it must be given. It also sets out the wording of the caution, which is as follows -

“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

To explain what this famous little sentence means, I’m going to split it into three easily digestible servings.

The first part, ‘you do not have to say anything’, informs the suspect just that – they are under no obligations to answer any questions that are put to them and that it is up to them if they choose to remain silent. It’s similar to the Miranda Warning you may hear being given on American police shows – “You have the right to remain silent”…

The second part of the caution, that it may harm a suspect’s defence if they do not mention when questioned something which they later rely on in court, qualifies the first part of the caution. In effect it means that yes, whilst a suspect is not compelled to answer any questions, not doing so may have a negative impact on them if they have to defend their innocence in court.

This is because when being questioned, the suspect is being given the opportunity to put their side of the story to the police. If they decide not to do this but then arrive at court with an explanation for their actions, the court may draw what we call a ‘proper inference‘ from their decision.

The proper inference means that the court may doubt their newly introduced explanation as the suspect had already been a chance to account for themselves, hence why should the explanation they are now giving be believed?

The final part of the caution reminds the suspect that anything they say in answer to questions can be used as evidence in court. Interviews are normally taped and the tapes then become exhibits that are made available for use in a prosecution.

Code G specifies that we must give the caution to any person who we suspect to be guilty of an offence and whom we want to ask questions about that offence.

Whilst you’re most likely to hear the caution given following an arrest, it is sometimes also issued to a person who has not been arrested but we suspect has broken the law and we want to question there and then.

Commonly this will involve traffic offences – driving whilst using mobile phones etc – with officers delivering the caution prior to talking to the motorist about why they thought it a good idea to drive, chat on their phone and put their makeup on at the same time.

Taking the same wording as the ‘normal’ caution, we will also add that the person has not been arrested and as such is free to leave at any time.

That the officers in the video delivered the caution following a fight was very good of them, although Code G does accept that if circumstances do not make it possible, the caution does not have to be given at the time of arrest and that minor derivations in the wording of the caution are acceptable.

This means if the suspect we have arrested is thrashing about, spitting and calling us all jolly bad sports, we do not have to caution him there and then and rather can wait until he’s calmed down a little.

Other than “What’s going on here then?” and “Ello’ Ello’ Ello'”, the caution is one of the most common set of words you’re likely to hear a bobby say. It means the suspect needs to be on their guard as they could incriminate themselves, that we are able to then question them and that most importantly, we as police are then able to investigate and challenge their criminal conduct.

Well I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free…

After a couple of recent posts about arrests, I thought it might be interesting to explore what actually happens to an arrested person once they arrive at the block. To do this I’m going to again call upon the assistance of my less than glamorous colleague, Billy, who for whatever reason is currently sitting handcuffed in the rear of a police car and is shortly going to arrive at Walsall Police Station.

Prior to our arrival we will have radioed the control room to inform them that we have ‘one in custody’ and have asked if Walsall are prepared to accept a prisoner. They are and so are awaiting our arrival. Upon pulling up at the door to the block we’ll press the buzzer so the custody staff can let us in and then will sit in the holding area until we are called through to the custody desk.

Depending on how busy the cells are we may be here for a little while so remove Billy’s handcuffs and settle down. We’re not allowed to talk about the offence for which Billy has been arrested but Billy is in a talkative mood and in the course of our conversation unwittingly gives us some very useful information about who’s up to what in his area.

We’re then called round and present Billy to the custody sergeant who asks Billy for his name and date of birth so that he can check the computer to see if Billy is known. Billy is then asked a series of questions about his health and welfare so that the sergeant can judge what risk he might pose to himself or others whilst detained.

The sergeant also authorises us to search Billy to confirm that he is not carrying on his person anything dangerous or prohibited before asking Billy to remove all of his valuables and booking them into property.

The custody sergeant then asks us for the circumstances of the arrest, that is why we suspect Billy to have been involved in the commission of an offence and why we have deemed it necessary to arrest him. Happy that our reasons are sound, the sergeant then informs Billy that he has certain rights and entitlements whist detained.

These are to have someone informed of his arrest, to consult with the codes of practice governing the custody procedure and finally to have access to free and independent legal advice.

In plain terms these rights usually translate as a phone call, access to a copy of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and representation by a solicitor, although they can be delayed if the offence is serious enough and there is a risk the investigation will be adversely affected by not doing so.

Billy is then taken by a member of the custody team to have his fingerprints and photograph taken. Both are performed digitally with the electronic fingerprint machine running a check to confirm that Billy is indeed who is says he is.

This completed, Billy may, depending on why he has been arrested, have to participate in a drugs intervention program which involves him being tested for the presence of controlled substances. Failing this simple test means he then has to attend a consultation with a drugs worker and can be arrested if he decides he’d rather not go.

Irregardless of the reason for his arrest, Billy will be offered the chance to speak to a drugs worker from Addaction who have an office in the block itself and work with prisoners to address their substance abuse issues.

The above processes completed, Billy is now cell bound until the arresting officers are ready to deal with him.

If Billy is drunk when brought into custody he’ll have to sleep off the effects before he can be dealt with. Drugs or injuries often mean a medical professional will have to visit the cells to assess Billy’s health.

A serious offence might require the seizing as evidence of Billy’s clothing meaning he’ll have to make do with a less than fashionable green paper suit to wear for the rest of his stay.

Self harm issues may mean than Billy has to be observed via CCTV camera or a custody officer sitting at the door of his cell on a constant watch.

So this is the initial custody procedure pretty much completed for Billy. He’ll now be sat in a rather small cell with a bed, toilet and little else to occupy him other than his thoughts. Officers will deal with him as soon as they are ready, usually by means of a taped interview, but for the time being he’s in for a long wait!

What the mama saw, it was against the law…

In my last post I wrote about our powers of arrest and encouraged you to have a look at what the Police and Criminal Evidence Act has to say about what we can and can’t do.

Assuming that you did glance at what at first appears a complicated piece of legal text (and I’d entirely understand if you didn’t) you may have noticed that some of the powers of arrest conferred on police officers are also applied to ‘other persons’ – yourselves.

Yes, whilst many people reasonably think that police officers are separated from the public by their power to make arrests, S. 24A of the Act clearly states that we do not have a monopoly over the ability to lawfully detain someone and that given the right circumstances, anyone can do so. In this post I’ll look at what these circumstances are.

So called ‘citizens arrests’ are for the most part poorly understood, mostly because I would imagine few people are aware where their power actually comes from. Citizens do not have as extensive powers to make arrests as police officers do but in the right situation have at their disposal a useful tool to help bring offenders to justice.

What are these situations and circumstances then? You have the power to make an arrest if you catch a person committing an indictable offence, or suspect he or she is doing so. You also are able to arrest a person who has committed, or you suspect has committed, an indictable offence.

Things are made trickier here by the inclusion of the word ‘indictable’. This is a legal hard to sum up but basically means a serious offence which could be heard at Crown Court if it went to trial.

When it comes to citizens arrests, relevant examples of indictable offences include assaults in which injuries have resulted, theft and criminal damage.

Further to the above capability, a person making a citizens arrest must be able to show that he or she thought not only that it was not reasonable for a constable to make the arrest but also that the arrest was necessary to prevent injury, to prevent loss or damage to property or to stop a person making off before a constable can assume responsibility for the detained person.

Accompanying the ability to make an arrest is the possibility that ‘reasonable force’ may be required in effecting said arrest. This is a complicated topic that couldn’t be done justice over the course of several posts, let alone this paragraph, and has been subject to much debate in the courts.

S. 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 affords any person the right to ‘use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large’.

This means that you have a defence against an allegation of assault if you have used a proportionate level of force – and absolutely no more than that – in making a lawful arrest.

My advice, however, would be that force can quickly escalate against your favour and that no offender is worth putting yourself at risk to detain, hence unless you are confident that you can maintain the upper hand it’s likely a far more sensible option to allow a person to take flight and then provide officers with a decent description.

Hopefully this post will have gone some way towards clarifying what you can and can not do in detaining offenders. The powers are there and are there to be used, however as I have stressed unless strength is on your side you will never be criticised for putting your only safety first and deciding not to try and apprehend an offender.

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

The warden threw a party in the county jail…

Today’s post is the first of a series of three concentrating on the theme of making an arrest. In this post I look at the circumstances under which police officers can make arrests and why we do it. On Wednesday I’ll be publishing a post on citizens arrests and then come Friday you’ll get a final post on how we deal with people once they’ve been arrested and brought into custody.

Dancin' to the jailhouse rock!

As a police officer I will, from time to time, arrest people. It’s a big part of my job and forms an important part of the investigative process. Speaking to members of the public though I often find that people do not really understand what it means to be arrested and the likely steps that we’ll take after making an arrest. I thought I’d use this blog entry to clarify the process a little for those who are curious, involved in an ongoing case or perhaps even liable to be arrested themselves.

Our powers of arrest come from S. 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This Act (‘PACE’ as we call it) is a fascinating bit of legislation governing everything from our powers of entry to searching, interviewing and making identifications of offenders.

S. 24 gives us the ability to make an arrest on suspicion that a person may have committed an offence, although it then goes on to state that we need to believe that it is necessary to make the arrest over other options.

Reasons that make an arrest ‘necessary’ are listed in the Act and include preventing damage occurring, stopping someone being injured and ensuring a ‘prompt and effective investigation’ which in plain terms usually means that the person needs to be interviewed on tape at a police station.

As we are able to arrest on suspicion, being arrested does not necessarily mean that a person is guilty and nor is it any kind of punishment. Rather it is a temporary deprivation of a person’s liberties judged necessary in the interests of justice.

Unless practicable the grounds of the arrest should be given to the arrested person at the time of their detention and then he or she should usually be taken to a police station where a custody sergeant will be told the grounds of the arrest and decide if said grounds are sufficient to authorise the person’s detention.

After this point the arrested person will likely be interviewed under caution, with a solicitor present if they choose, and asked questions about the offence for which they have been arrested.

If the officers dealing with person have further enquiries to make the person will then be returned to a cell whilst the officers do what they need to do.

The standard detention period is up to twenty four hours, which can be extended under certain circumstances, and whilst a person is detained they are entitled to meals and refreshments.

The custody sergeants are responsible for a prisoner’s welfare whilst at the station and so conduct regular checks and organise medical check ups if they are required.

Having completed their investigation, a decision then has to be made with regards to what to do with the prisoner.

If there is sufficient evidence a prisoner may be ‘charged’ meaning they’ll appear in court to answer the allegations that have been made. A prisoner who has been charged may then be released having been given a court date or instead ‘remanded’ in police custody as it is thought that if they’re released they may commit further offences.

Alternatively if the offence is minor a prisoner may be cautioned or fined and so not have to go to court.

A further option and the less desirable is that it is decided there’s insufficient evidence to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a prisoner is guilty of an offence, hence no further action can be taken and the person released.

If officers have further enquiries to make which are likely to take them beyond a prisoner’s detention period a prisoner can be ‘bailed’ by which they are told to return to the station at a certain time and date, sometimes with conditions not to contact certain people or go to certain places.

The victim should be informed of bail conditions if they are set and a bailed person can be rearrested if they decide they don’t fancy complying with the conditions.

Of course as with anything legal, the above is really only a brief summary as there are all sorts of variations and subtle differences to the procedures depending on circumstances.

An arrest for a Breach of the Peace, an arrest of a drunken person, a juvenile or someone who does not speak English, as examples, will all take different forms and as such it’s important that officers know where the differences are likely to pop up as they can affect how a person will be dealt with post arrest.

I’m hoping that this post will have helped explain the process with a little more clarity and would encourage anyone geeky enough to check out the Police and Criminal Evidence Act itself as it goes into detail about the powers invested in police officers. Alternatively if you find that a little heavy going, I’m happy to answer any further questions you may have!

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