Archive for July, 2011

And I can’t sail my yacht, he’s taken everything I’ve got…

A huge quantity of cash seized from a Mexican drug cartel – £129 million in total.

Seeing drug dealers rolling around in their ‘blinged’ out Range Rovers, wearing expensive fur coats and sporting gold teeth is pretty frustrating, no? Us law abiding citizens have always been told that crime doesn’t pay, so why does the shady chap living in the mansion across the road with no discernible source of legitimate income seem to be living the high life?

Well, we wondered this too and as a result were granted fantastic powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The aim of the Act is to ensure that crime does not pay and that even if criminals have enjoyed a brief period in which they were able to benefit from their crimes, means that the police and courts are able to impose what can often be crushing penalties on those who have been profiting from a criminal lifestyle.

The Act itself gives officers extensive powers to tackle a whole range of different offences.

In the West Midlands Police we have dedicated ‘pay back’ teams whose sole purpose it is to ensure that when a rich criminal appears before the courts, they are successfully convicted and emerge from prison much worse off.

Particularly relevant to my role as a Response Officer are Parts 2 and 5 of the Act which grant powers to seize assets and cash.

Part 2 enables the courts to make a confiscation order against a criminal upon their conviction if it has been proven that they have been benefiting from a criminal lifestyle. This can come in the form or either a large bill for the criminal to pay or the seizure of assets from the criminal to the value of the benefit it is believed he or she obtained. In real terms this can mean a criminal’s prized collection of diamond encrusted rings appearing at an auction near you. Whether anyone would want them is another matter…

Part 5 gives us the ability to seize cash over the value of £1000 and apply to the courts to retain it if we feel that it is evidence of an offence or intended for use in unlawful conduct. Unlike the above power, to seize cash a conviction is not required making it easier for us to take the money away from the criminals.

Since its introduction the Proceeds of Crime Act has been invaluable in disrupting the activity of criminals and has generated many success stories around the country.

I myself was involved in a drugs warrant last year during which a large quantity of cash was seized and thanks to the pay back team successfully seized as its previous owner had been unable to prove that they had obtained it legitimately.

For other positive stories relating to the Act, please have a look at these examples from Suffolk’s Criminal Justice Board which include that of Nathaniel Leheup who found himself the best part of £120,000 poorer after being found guilty of handling stolen goods.

Crime most certainly doesn’t pay – just ask Mr. Leheup!

Take a walk on the wild side…

At the start of June me and a few other Walsall officers had set off for a spot of what I’d term ‘extended foot patrol’ through the Snowdonia National Park. We’d been hoping to complete the 14 Peaks Challenge – climbing all of the Welsh mountains above 3000 ft in under twenty-four hours.

We’d had a great time trying and you may remember I put up a blog post with a few photos. Thing was due to a combination of running out of light and one of our team headbutting a rock, we’d only managed to reach the first eight summits.

Obviously not wanting to let the challenge get the best of us as soon as we’d got back to the West Midlands we launched back into the process of planning another attempt on the Welsh 3000s.

Yesterday saw the fruition of some very intricate, highly confusing plans with us successfully scaling each and every necessary peak between Snowdon and Foel-fras in a total time of fifteen hours and fifteen minutes which, with climbing up Snowdon itself and then to the car park at the end of the route, meant eighteen-something hours walking altogether.

Having managed a grand total of one and a half hours’ sleep the night before, we made our way up Snowdon in the dark at around 03:45 watching the sunrise as we approached the top. We then crossed over Garnedd Ugain before picking our way across Crib Goch’s unfriendly ridge and dropping back down into the valley.

After this we walked past our campsite at Llanberis before clambering up Elidir Fawr – the longest, hardest climb – and then crossing another four peaks before dropping from the top of Tryfan back down again to the shores of Ffynnon Lloer.

The final stage involved another tough climb up Pen yr Ole Wen and then following the route over the remaining peaks finishing up on Foel-fras.

I think justifiably I’m feeling a little tender today (I’ll not be dancing any jigs) but the walk was fantastic and as you can see from the photos, the weather was perfect.

I’d recommend it to anyone serious enough to take on the challenge, one thing I wouldn’t say though is that it’s an easy one because it most certainly is not!

Crib Coch at twenty to six in the morning.

Clambering up the side of what we all agreed to be the toughest, meanest peak - Elidir Fawr.

Sgt. Nagra taking a much needed break on the way up Pen yr Ole Wen with Tryfan behind him.

Yet another peak. I don't even want to think about which one this was, it was high and peaky.

Foel-fras, the final peak.

Me with the sun settling down under the blanket of clouds resting over Conwy Bay.

You got a fast car…

We've updated our cars a little since this was taken but still, what would you do if we needed to overtake you on our way to an emergency call?

For anyone who’s ever seen an emergency services vehicle speed past them and wondered what it’s like to be on board during a ‘blue light run’, I can say from personal experience that it’s exciting, exhilarating and a little scary all in equal measure. It’s something that few people will ever get to experience and even though I participate in them on a weekly basis, the thrill has not yet gone.

I still remember well my first blue light run. I was one a training attachment and had been driving about with two tutor constables and some other student officers in a seven seater van.

We were driving around the Broadway when a call came in to say that someone might be under attack in Leamore. Other units called up but were making from some distance so our tutors called up, stabbed at the central console to activate the lights, stamped on the accelerator and suddenly I was making towards my first ‘immediate’.

It’s hard to describe how exciting this was after having waited over two and half years to join the job to find myself sitting below a blaring siren and being thrown around the back of the van, trying my best to avoid the various bags and equipment that were cascading down upon us from the racks. Looking out the tainted windows I could see the traffic ahead of us part like the Red Sea and pedestrians stopping to watch us screaming past and off into the distance.

Whilst blue light runs are fun – and they can be – they also come with a certain level of risk and can prompt some very odd behaviour in other drivers. Officers undertake a strict three week course before they are qualified to drive beyond the speed limits and are taught how to anticipate hazards before they pose a danger.

Driving at speed is only ever authorised when it is judged that there may be serious consequences in delaying police arrival at an incident and even when this is the case, all possible steps are taken to mitigate the potential risks to other road users and pedestrians.

If you hear sirens when you are driving, my advice would be first of all to stay alert and do your best to identify where the vehicle is coming from. If you notice it in your rear view mirror and you are still driving, please pull over, indicating as you do so, and allow it room to pass.

I’ve seen many vehicles pulling aside to let us pass but inadvertently come to a stop opposite a traffic island etc meaning that we’ve not been left with sufficient room to squeeze through so please bare this in mind.

Some of the trickiest blue light runs are those through rush hour traffic and any officer will appreciate that it can be nearly impossible to know where to go if you’re stuck in a line of traffic at a set of lights with a police car trying to get through behind you.

Try your best where it is safe to do so to give us space and always bare in mind that once one emergency services vehicle has passed, there may well be a second following so please stay alert for this.

There’s certainly no reason to panic if you see flashing lights approaching and we’d not want motorists to take unnecessary or dangerous steps to clear a path, only those that are sensible given the circumstances.

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.

P.S. There’s a great video about how to respond when an emergency services vehicle is coming through called Blue Light Aware, please check it out here.

Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky…

Shine on...

During the course of attending call outs it is far from uncommon that we’ll encounter people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. These can range from mild conditions that hardly affect a person’s daily life all the way through to serious mental health issues that can put both the sufferer and others around him or her at risk. As police officers we are given extensive training on how best to address psychiatric problems and accumulate a great deal of experience in how best to get help to those who need it.

Mental health issues can come in all sorts of different forms and as such it is incredibly important that we’re able to identify the signs that indicate a person may be at risk.

This applies not only to potential offenders but also to victims and can affect how we deal with incidents, both where mental health issues and learning difficulties may play a part.

A witness with a learning difficulty, as an example, may not give the best standard of evidence through a written statement and so we can look to conducting a video interview instead to help strengthen their testimony.

More immediate mental health issues can be incredibly challenging to deal with and require a great deal of tact and sensibility when offering help to both the sufferer and those around him or her.

Whilst we always seek the co-operation of a person when finding the required help, we are backed up by a series of powers given to us under the Mental Health Act 1983 which amongst other things gives us the ability to detain someone so that they can be taken care of.

The specific power comes under Section 136 of the Act and affords us the ability to remove a person found in a public place and apparently suffering from a mental disorder to a ‘place of safety’ if we judge that they are in urgent need of care or control. The person can then be detained for a period of up to seventy-two hours during which they can be seen by a mental health professional who can make a diagnosis and put in place the necessary system of care.

The term ‘place of safety’ usually refers to a designated mental health hospital such as Dorothy Pattison, although in exceptional circumstances it can be a police station.

Section 136 is often used when people have approached us to indicate that they may self harm or commit suicide which, assuming they are in a public place, means they fall within the definition for the need of immediate care and control.

Once detained, a person will normally be seen by a panel of mental health officials who will seek to engage with the person and decide whether they require admission to a ward, medication, counseling or other options.

Further to our powers under Section 136, we also have additional powers to make welfare decisions on the behalf of someone who appears to lack the capacity to make them independently and also to remove a person from their own home on mental health grounds if it appears necessary to do so.

The first power is granted to us by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and means that if we think a mental health problems is preventing a person from making a decision affecting their welfare, to obtain medical treatment for a wound as an example, we can act to ensure that they receive the necessary treatment.

The second power, drawn from Section 135 of the Mental Health Act, allows us to obtain a warrant to enter a home and take measures to ensure that proper treatment is put in place for a person suffering a mental disorder.

Mental health issues are amongst some of the hardest we have to deal with and affect the suffer and all those around them. If you are concerned about a mental health issue affecting yourself or someone near to you there are a variety of organisations ready to help.

Your GP should be first port of call or as an alternative, a NHS Walk-In Health Center or NHS Direct.

For more immediate issues you are able to contact the Walsall Crisis Team on 01922 644 535. The Crisis Team are a team of clinicians, nurses and social workers who are qualified to provide mental health support for people in crisis and work 24/7 providing coverage for the Walsall area.

In addition, the Samaritans are there around the clock is listen and can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90. You needn’t suffer alone and are likely to find that talking alone will help – a problem shared is a problem halved.

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.

She left a week to roam, your protector’s coming home…

At the start of April I’d written a blog post all about a mysterious new operation called ‘Serve and Protect’.

Serve and Protect was – and still is – all about proactively targeting known offenders across the West Midlands, ensuring that their chances to commit further crimes are reduced and preventing problems before they are able to escalate out of control.

As an ongoing operation about to enter its second stage, how has Serve and Protect been working in practice and where is it likely to head in the future?

At the start of April officers across the West Midlands were briefed about the aims of the operation and how they were to help realise its ambition of driving down crime. Response shifts such as mine were issued with lists of known criminals to whom we were assigned to target – to conduct bail checks on, collect intelligence about and generally annoy.

Working alongside other departments, we have all been driving towards the same aim. Traffic units have been asked to trace vehicles connected with offences, firearms units have been zipping around executing search warrants and detectives from CID have been coming down hard on those responsible for burglaries. Mobile patrols have been stepped up in hotspot areas and senior officers have been paying close attention to the statistics collected to ensure that the right units are in the right places.

Reflecting the hard work that has been put in across the board, great results have been rolling in. Firearms have been taken off the streets, numerous cannabis factories pulled apart and many an ugly criminal thrown behind bars.

Over £15,000 has been recovered from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act and what’s more, this is only the start of Serve and Protect.

Now well established as an effective way to crush criminal ambitions, we’re now looking at adjusting the sights of Serve and Protect to focus on robberies and similar offences.

CID officers and offender managers will be at the core of this drive with new tactics adopted by response teams like my own so that offenders are caught within minutes of an incident occurring.

You can keep up to date with Serve and Protect’s progress by keeping an eye out for the operation’s #serveprotectwmp hashtag on Twitter and also by taking the occasional peek at the Serve and Protect blog.

More than just following the operation though, you can actively get involved by contacting us with information on suspicious activity in your local area. All information is treated with the strictest of confidence and if you’d rather not contact us directly, you can also help us out anonymously via Crimestoppers.

A tip off from yourself will be appreciated by all the officers working as part of Serve and Protect but even more so by the person who doesn’t end up a victim as a result of your help.

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone…

Property recovered during Operation Eliminate - if the owner had made note of the serial number we might be able to return it to them.

…or indeed after it’s gone. This is a big issue for us – identifying and repatriating stolen property recovered from the grubby claws of the burglars and thieves we catch.

To illustrate the problem, consider this little story involving Billy – my ‘go to’ criminal.

Billy has been arrested having been caught clambering out of someone’s bathroom window, swag bag over his shoulder. As he’s been arrested for a serious offence we have the power to search his address for evidence of further crimes. This we do and in his bedsit, cleverly hidden in the middle of the living room, we find a king’s ransom in computer consoles, fancy watches and jewellery.

Looking around at the rest of his digs we conclude that Billy is not the sort of person who could legitimately afford a Rolex Submariner and so we seize the goods as evidence. They’re taken back to the station and booked into our detained property store.

Billy is sent to court and charged with a variety of offences, having seen just enough sense to confess to several recent burglaries in the area.

Now we have a problem – how can we identify the recovered gear and hand it back to the victims?

Without clear identification marks, the simple answer is that we can’t. The property will sit in our vault for a few months and then find its way to a police auction.

This does not have to be the case though and shows how important it is to clearly mark up property and keep a detailed list of what you have so that should the worst happen and it be stolen, you do known what you’ve got when it’s gone.

There are plenty of options available for doing this, from marking your things with UV pens and engraving postcodes right the way through to coating valuable bits of copper and lead with traceable SmartWater.

For the homeowner though, I would recommend using a website such as Immobilise which is free and allows you to build a list of your valuables, including serial numbers, which then becomes searchable by the police should they go missing. Photographs can be added too so that it is more likely hard to identify items such as jewellery can be returned.

Even without such a website, it’s always a good idea to have made a note of serial numbers and unique identification points so that we can include them in our crime reports and increase the chances that stolen property will one day find its way home.

Marking up property is one the best things you can do to frustrate the thieves. Clearly identifiable property is anathema to them – they simply won’t want to risk taking something that can be traced and neither will the shady characters they try and sell their goods onto. Returning stolen property to a victim is a good feeling for us too so please, the only person to loose out is the criminals and I can’t think of much better reason to do something than that!

She came in through the bathroom window… (Part two of two)

Nothing of interest in here for me...

In this, the second of two special posts, I move from the outside to the inside of your house and look at what steps you can take to reduce your chances of suffering a burglary or at the very least, minimise the damage caused.

As I had said in the previous post, not leaving valuables on display is incredibly important and so worth stressing again. Car keys in particular are incredibly attractive to thieves and are often the sole target of burglaries.

Modern cars are nearly impossible to hot wire which unfortunately has increased the value of their keys so please do not hang your key bunch in hallways or leave them lying on tables as this makes it only too easy for them to be snatched and your pride and joy with them.

One of the most effective ways in which you can put an intruder off taking a certain item is to make it easily identifiable as yours. By writing your post code on an item, for example, the item becomes unique and this makes it much harder for a thief to offload it as it is traceable. No one will want to take it off his or her hands as they know that if caught with it a charge of handling stolen property is likely to follow.

Staying on the theme of property, we have a far better chance of being able to repatriate stolen goods if the owners have taken the time to make a note of model types, makes and serial numbers.

Jewellery is a popular target in burglaries and can be nearly impossible to trace from the descriptions we often get as an item taken being little more than a ‘gold wrist chain’ or similar. Please consider having your jewellery valued so you have an inventory of what you’ve got, the weights of different pieces, and then also take photographs so that any property recovered can be identified.

A house alarm is great for attracting much unwanted attention towards a burglar and come in all sorts of configurations meaning that you should be able to find one to suit your own budget and requirements.

House alarms though are not the only pieces of electronic gadgetry available to help reinforce your home security and if such gadgets are your thing, a trip to a local hardware store may prove very interesting indeed.

Things to look out for range from timer switches to trigger lamps at certain times all the way through to smoke systems that cloak a room in mere seconds and are likely to disorientate an intruder until officers have raced to the scene to take him or her into custody.

Personal safes are also a great idea when it comes to protecting smaller items and come in a range of sizes, including fantastic boxes for jewellery that fit in behind a fake plug socket. Alongside the more obvious items that you’d likely protect in a safe, also consider keeping a computer backup disc in case criminals are able to gain access and remove a computer.

These tips given, if the unthinkable does happen and you return home to find a break in what steps are we likely to take and what can you do to help?

First of all, don’t panic. It is our policy to attend burglaries as a matter of urgency so you should not have to wait long for officers to come round. We’ll survey the scene and will need to establish how the burglary has been committed and what, if anything, has been taken. We’ll then look to take a statement from you and complete a crime report so that the matter is properly recorded.

After this stage, our forensics department will then attend to obtain any evidence left behind by the intruders. Points of entry and exit usually provide our best chance of taking prints etc so I would ask that until forensics officers have attended you try your best not to disturb anything. Smooth surfaces are the best for picking up fingerprints so have forensic interest as do any items you do not recognise as your own left behind by the burglars.

As a final thought, what makes criminals commit burglaries? In my experience and as with many other crimes a need to fund a drug addiction often offers some explanation, although no excuse, for why people do it.

This is why we try with arrested persons to get them to interact with drugs intervention workers who are experts in addressing drug related issues and helping set addicts back on the right path.

A burglary is not something that anyone should have to suffer and with the advice given over this and the last post should hopeful put you in a better position to avoid one.

You can find further information on our own Safer Homes website or by talking to any officer who I am sure will be more than happy to provide you with crime prevention tips.

I say this with confidence because there’s not an officer I know who hasn’t seen the damage burglaries can do and who doesn’t want to do everything in their power to help prevent them.

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