Archive for September, 2011

I’m thinkin’ about my doorbell, when ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it?

The above is a short video with some words from our head honcho, Chris Sims, about the ongoing efforts that we’re making to sweep up outstanding offenders from the August riots.

We’ve already made a large number of arrests and put many guilty persons before the courts and then behind bars. Images of those persons involved but not yet located are sitting on the Operation View website and you’re able to take a gander at them and then give us a call if you recognise anyone.

As the Chief said, much of the success we’ve experienced so far has come about through help from the public and your input is vital to catching the few not yet collared by our long, long arms.

Anyone with any information about those involved in the disorder should call West Midlands Police on 0345 113 5000 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Tell me where did you sleep last night?

Found safe and well to the relief of some very worried parents...

Lucy has not returned home. She was meant to be in at six, she’s been given an hour’s grace by her increasingly concerned mother but there’s still no sign of her. None of the local kids have seen her, she’s not answering her phone and hadn’t suggested to anyone that she might be in late. A final scout around the street and a call is made to the police. “I don’t know where my daughter is and it’s getting dark”. The operator reassures her and officers will soon arrive to commence a missing person investigation.

Such investigations are common across the West Midlands with there being a number of people, always in double figures, recorded as missing across the force area at any one time.

Each investigation is unique and requires an approach tailored to the circumstances to be adopted by the officers who manage the enquiries until a person is located.

The first step we take is to attend the address from which a person has been reported as missing and take details about the person and the circumstances under which they are absent. We take a description, addresses of friends and family, information about with whom they associate and the places they frequent with the aim of understanding the conditions surrounding the disappearance. We also conduct a search of the person’s house to ensure that they’re not there (missing children in particular are small things and have been known to hide in some odd places!) and to see if any clues have been left about their intentions.

Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no time limit that has to be reached before a person can be reported as missing. Our definition of ‘missing’ is that the person’s whereabouts are currently unknown.

Having taken the details we then make a decision about what sort of risk we need to associate with the case. We split this assessment into three categories – low, medium and high. Our decision is dependent on a range of criteria taking into consideration the person’s ability to cope alone, whether they’ve threatened to harm themselves, are vulnerable in any way and other elements that may affect their welfare whilst missing.

We’ll then enter the details recorded onto the force’s missing person system, known as COMPACT. COMPACT helps keep track of the investigation and automatically registers the person as missing with the Police National Computer so that if they are stopped and checked, their status as missing will be brought to the attention of officers.

After this point we’ll start our enquiries in earnest. We’ll do things like checking hospitals and our custody blocks to see if the person has been admitted as a patient or prisoner. We’ll visit places the person is known to attend, speak to friends and family and record all that we are doing so that officers from the next shift know what actions have been taken and what is outstanding to do.

As missing person enquiries are treated as a priority, they are ongoing with officers from each subsequent shift inheriting them until a person is located. Senior officers review the course of the investigation and the level of risk, monitoring actions and making recommendations where necessary.

For high risk cases, large numbers of officers may be brought in to help with enquiries and resources such as the force helicopter and dog units deployed. Press releases and reconstructions will be considered and extensive house to house enquiries conducted. Traffic cameras can be used to locate a vehicle if the missing person is thought to have access to one and if the risk is considered high enough, mobile phone companies can help triangulate a person’s location to help narrow down the focus of a search.

The investigation will continue for as long as it takes to locate a person. In my experience the majority of people reported missing are found relatively quickly – it’s rare for people to be absent for much longer than twenty four hours. People who have been reported missing often have failed to inform others that they were for whatever reason not going to be returning as usual or are youngsters staying at friend’s houses who have lost track of time.

There are times, however, when a person is not found for an extended period and unfortunately also times when a person is found to have died. Because the registering of a person missing can sometimes be the first stage in what later turns out to be a murder enquiry, the taking of the initial report and subsequent investigation can be vital and so have to be taken very seriously.

Once a person is found, we’ll need to go and see them to check on their welfare and address any issues that might have prompted them to leave their home. We then enter these details onto the missing person system so that should they go missing again, officers can look at the previous case and are at an advantage when if comes to locating the person again. This is particularly useful when it comes to ‘regular’ missing persons, commonly those living in care homes who owing to not returning at a given time have to be reported as missing to ourselves.

Missing person enquiries can be quite rewarding as they give us the chance to do some ‘proper policing’ – looking for clues, following up leads and chasing tips. Finding a missing person is a great feeling, as is letting their family know that they’re safe and will be returned home shortly.

It’s like a mansion, look at all this stuff! Look, I see something over there…

Today has been the long awaited Walsall Police Station open day, the first time in fifteen years that we’ve thrown open the doors of the station to show members of the public what we do. Question is, was it worth the wait?

Was it just! I’d go as far as to say that today has perhaps been the most enjoyable shift I have yet worked in the job with hundreds upon hundreds of people visiting throughout the day to see us.

The atmosphere was fantastic and we had the support of many partners who came along to set up a display and show the public what they do. Alongside our own displays of vehicles, police dogs, the police band, a taser demonstration and more we had representatives from organisations such as Help for Heroes, the RAF, WHG, Victim Support and others.

Being accessible and having nothing more to do than wonder around and enjoy myself, I was able to spend some time meeting some of my Twitter followers who were without exception a fantastic bunch of people with whom I shared several good chats about foxes, food and more.

I was able to take many photos of the displays and demonstrations which I’ve uploaded to a full album over on my Facebook profile. To give you a taster though, the below selection are some of the better shots that give you an idea of what was on offer.

I’ve got to congratulate all of those who were involved in making the day go so smoothly including the Special Constables who gave up their free time to come in, all of the partner agencies putting on displays and also Sergeant Rowlands who made the event possible.

We had plenty of people asking when the next open day might be. I can’t say at the moment although would say that due to the huge success of today’s event, I’m hoping it’ll be soon!

The RAF helicopter lands on the station roof.

A selection of hardened criminals checking out our cells.

Testing the lights (and sirens) of one of our traffic cars.

Live taser demonstration in the station gym.

The police dog tries to take a chunk out of the dog handler's arm.

Members of the public get the chance to throw things at a police officer - they certainly made the most of the opportunity!

Bobby the Bear and the 'Bescot Bird'.

Superintendent Fraser closed the day with a singalong. Just kidding!

Click here to see the full set of photos.

The boys are back in town…

A Day In The LifeParading at Walsall Police Station, Sunday September 18th 2011, Tour of Duty – 15:00 to 02:00

Something a bit different for today’s tour, rather than zipping around Walsall, jumping over rooftops and locking up stripey top-wearing burglars, I’ve been in the centre of Birmingham helping out with the operation to police the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference at the ICC.

The shift starts off by us gathering at Walsall Police Station and me putting on my thermal vest, t-shirt, stab vest, shell layer, fluorescent jacket and then equipment harness as I know it’s likely to get ‘a bit fresh’ later in the evening.

Kitted up, we then load ourselves onto a minibus and are driven to a police station outside the city centre where our sergeant collects that all important meal vouchers and hands them out.

Napoleon once said ‘West Midlands Police guard party conferences on its stomach’ and this is very true – keeping the officers fed and watered is one of the most important parts of the operation so the first place we go is the canteen.

I exchange my meal ticket for a chicken wrap and gobble it down before we’re all called through to the briefing room where we watch a briefing video and then are given briefing information on any intelligence the briefing people think we should be briefed on.

Briefing complete we then clamber back onto the coaches and navigate our way through the streets to the ‘island site’ – the areas around the conference centre to which access is restricted. We put on our funny hats and walk the rest of the way to find the security posts and their occupants from the early shift who are understandably keen to get off home.

My team has been assigned to look after the front of the ICC and the Hyatt Hotel so we take up point and then stand there for an hour or so, looking official and saying “Ello Ello” to anyone who walks by.

After a couple of hours or so we begin to rotate and having stood in front of the entrance tent I make my way down to the refreshments area where I exchange my second meal ticket and begin demolishing the contents of the packed lunch we’re given.

Thoroughly refreshed I head back out again and the shift passes to the same pattern – take over a point on a cordon, look official, go for a quick break and then head out again to another point.

Whilst on the cordons themselves there’s not a great deal to do so I watch the delegates float about and try to spot the ‘celebs’ of the Liberal Democrat party, or at least people who I think look sufficiently like them for me to cross them off my list.

I also watch the other police units move about their business and it is only by doing so that I get an idea as to how big an operation policing the conference is. Planning takes the best part of the year and I’ve seen involved search teams, firearms officers, dog units, the helicopter and a range of other ‘secret squirrel’ units that even I don’t know what they’re there for.

The last cordon point of the night involves standing next to the Deputy Prime Minister’s armoured BMW and making sure it doesn’t get ticketed which, thanks to being parked deep inside a cordon of about six different security points, it doesn’t.

Eventually the night shift arrive, arranged into a neat line of twos by their supervision so they snake their way through the site relieving officers from the points as they go and I soon get to hand over my checkpoint briefing card to the next officer, wish him luck and then head back to the minibus.

It doesn’t take too long to get back to Walsall and as soon as we arrive we dump our kit, dive into our cars and head home. Two shifts at the conference down, three to go.

Sounds of silence…

The below entry was originally published under the title ‘And then there was silence…‘ on the Minimum Cover blog having been written by an anonymous UK police officer who also maintains a Twitter feed under the same monicker. I’ve chosen to publish it here too as it’s a very powerful piece, expertly demonstrates how hard the job can be and I think deserves as wide an audience as possible.

...and then there was silence.

“Can you go straight out to an accident” said the skipper as I walked in the door at twenty-to-five clutching my lunch and a box of reduced price Asda cookies to share with the shift. I had, for once, had time to grab a treat (on the way to work) for us to munch on during parade but wasn’t going to be able to join them to eat it.

I threw the cookies at one of the others in the locker room, threw on my body armour and belt, grabbed my radio and spray from their lockers and dragged my kit bag out to the car. It was about a 10 minute drive to the scene, but this was only because I was lucky enough to have the local knowledge to decipher the vague location details given to me by the control room or it would have taken much longer. Having lived and worked in the area for 10 years, there wasn’t much of the patch I didn’t know. If one of the newer members of the shift had been sent we would probably have had to go searching for them as well as dealing with the crash!

I hit the big red button and made my way through the maze of “unnamed road”s showing on the Sat Nav. Not far from where I expected it to be I came across the scene. Two cars had collided head-on and one car still had the driver in it. The two occupants of the other car were uninjured barring the usual minor grazes from air-bag deployments. I called in the update and then went to see what I could do to help the trapped driver of the first car.

His name was Dave.

His window was missing (I assume shattered in the impact) and he was, as far as I could tell, uninjured. He was on his phone to his wife or girlfriend (I don’t know which) telling her about the accident and reassuring her that he was fine. Dave was trapped in the car, but only because the dashboard and steering wheel had move backwards on impact and had pinned him into the driver’s seat. The front doors on both sides of the car were deformed and we going to need to be forced open by the fire brigade.

I called the control room again and confirmed that there was an ambulance and a fire tender on the way. They were, but didn’t know exactly where we were so I told Dave he would have to wait a few minutes. He joked that he might as well phone the insurance company as he “couldn’t exactly go anywhere” at the moment. I offered to try to force his door with a crowbar, but he told me it was fine and that he would wait for the firemen to give his car a makeover. “I’ve always wanted a convertible” he said. We chatted for a few minutes and I took his details down in my pocket-book for the copious forms that I knew awaited me when I finished. Dave said he would buy me a pint in the local pub if he saw me in there and I replied that he should keep the money for the re-spray on his car!

It was at that point that I noticed a smell. It was faint at first, but soon got stronger. I thought it might be the residual smell of an airbag or of hot rubber from skidding tyres. It wasn’t.

There was a wisp of smoke from the bonnet vent on the driver’s side of the car. I saw Dave’s eyes widen a little – he had seen it too. I reassured him by saying it was probably just steam from the coolant bottle or radiator. I told him I would be straight back and went for the extinguisher in the boot of my car “just in case”.

I was only away 20 seconds or so, but by the time I got back, the smoke had become darker and more noticeable. Dave told me that he had reconsidered my offer of trying to get his door open. I grabbed the crowbar and set about the driver’s door with a fair degree of urgency. It was no good… I was never going to get it open.

“Oh sh*t!” he said. I looked round and saw the smallest of flames flickering through the gaps in the bonnet vent. I dropped the crowbar and grabbed the extinguisher. I shoved the nozzle toward the vent and let off a blast of powder. I moved it to a small gap at the side of the bonnet where it had folded up slightly and gave it another squirt. A cloud of powder rose into the air, and I had to step back to avoid breathing too much in. It’s not good for your lungs I am sure.

The fog cleared and the flames returned.

I tried again with a bigger blast this time. Now wishing I had a bigger extinguisher. It had an effect for a few moments, but then things just went straight back to where they were before. The bonnet was starting to blacken around the vent, and the paint was starting to bubble as the heat increased. I emptied the remainder of the extinguisher down through the vent but still the heat and smoke continued to build.

I called the control room, desperate to know how far away the fire service were. I told them that the car was now smoking and that I needed more help at the scene. I could now hear sirens in the distance, Dave could hear them too. I saw his face change…becoming a little more relaxed as he heard his rescuers approaching. “Thank f**k for that” he said, “I though I was gonna be toast for a minute!”.

Regardless, I was still going to try to get him out if I could. I grabbed a seat belt cutter, and hacked his belt off at the shoulder. I tried to reach down inside the car to get to the recline cog at the bottom of the seat. The plastic interior trim had bent out of shape and blocked my hand from getting to it. I could touch one or two teeth with a finger tip, but could not get anywhere near enough power behind it to turn it. I suspect it was pinned in place anyway. The sirens got louder.

I tried the back doors of the car to see if I could get inside and pull the seat back from there. It was impossible…no matter how hard I pulled, it was not moving an inch.

I caught a flash of blue lights out of the corner of my eye. I turned and gasped as I saw that it was an ambulance not a fire engine. I am pretty sure I said something unprintable and Dave knew exactly what I was thinking. I sprinted to the ambulance and got their extinguisher too. It was bigger than mine, but two minutes later it was gone, and the fire was still building. Flames were now coming out from the sides of the bonnet as well as through the vent, and Dave said he could feel the heat on his feet.

The driver of the other car joined me and the paramedic in trying to pull the door open. I managed to pull the top of the door away from the roof and get my hands down inside it, but the main panel of the door still refused to yield. Dave was getting desperate. He was trying to distract himself by writing a text message to someone. I don’t know what it said, but it was short. He was trying to get out from under the steering-wheel, but it was right across his hips and he just couldn’t get free.

The fire continued to grow under the bonnet, and I could see smoke coming from under the wheel arches. It was soon replaced by flames. Dave was shouting now…he was thrashing around in the hope that some specific movement might miraculously change his situation.

I was desperate too. I took him by the arm and tried to pull him free. Dave screamed out in pain. I apologised for hurting him, but soon realised that it wasn’t me that was to blame. The fire was starting to make the heat in the foot-well unbearable as it broke through from the engine bay. This was it…make or break time. We tried everything from all sides and using every ounce of strength we had. The windscreen shattered with the heat and the paramedic and other driver backed away at the bang. It was going to be down to me from now on…

Dave was looking straight at me. I could see in his eyes that he was in pain, and was so, so scared. He asked me again to help him, and I continued to try for what seemed like hours, although I am sure it was only minutes. I saw smoke starting to pour out from around the dashboard and went to the rear seat again to give it another final try. My body armour was left on the road as I needed every inch of space to put my entire body behind the effort. Nothing worked.

I came back to the driver’s door, trying to pull the door open with my hands again. The bodywork on the car was now burning my palms as I touched it. Dave was screaming in pain… screaming at me for help… screaming at me to save him. I kept telling him I was sorry. I knew what was going to happen…and he knew it too. I was driven back by the heat as the flames moved from the engine bay to the inside of the car.

He looked straight at me through the smoke… mouthing words that had no sound… and then there was silence.

Two, maybe three minutes later the first fire appliance arrived and the crew sprung straight into action. It was too late though and the silence from the car continued to echo through my mind. I had to leave.

Another Police vehicle arrived behind the fire appliance and I walked over to them, pulling on my body armour again as I did so. A road closure was needed at the end of the road as this was now going to be a long job. I volunteered to take that on and the officers in the car agreed. They didn’t know what had just happened and I didn’t want to have to describe it to them. I simply said “It’s a fatal” and wandered off down the country lane to the junction about 600 yards away.

I stood there for an hour or so. The closed road cuts off a corner between two larger roads and is a bit of a rat run. As a result, car after car stopped to ask if they could go down it. Even once I had procured some cones and a Road Closed sign, they still continued to ask. I didn’t mind at first as it kept me occupied. I didn’t want time to think.

I did, however, become a little less tolerant towards those that demanded access, regardless of the situation. You always get them…ask any serving officer who has ever closed a road. The upper class snobs who believe that access is their right…and that my sole intention in closing the road was to provide an inconvenience in their lives.

These people seem to think that telling me that “I pay your wages” will suddenly part the cones and allow them to drive their executive saloon unimpeded through the scene of the accident. One of them actually called me a fascist, and threatened to have my job if I didn’t let them through. They have no comprehension that roads only get closed for a very good reason. A short diversion does not justify elitist abuse from every member of the would-be aristocracy that cannot bear the prospect of being five minutes late for their dinner party.

They have little, if any, concept of real life, and the tragedies that occur outside their electric gates and see the Police as no more than a necessary evil that should only interact with the lower classes or come running with bowed heads and doffed caps when someone pinches their staddle stones.

None of them knew what I had just gone through – I knew that. But regardless, I wished that some would give me a little more respect. We do what we do for a reason, and there is so much more to our job than most will ever know, or could ever imagine.

Perhaps one or two people will read this who have, in the past, thrown their hands in the air in disgust when presented by six cones and a yellow jacket. Perhaps they will consider that, just possibly, there might be another Dave down the road, and that the officer stood before them may well have just stared into the helpless eyes of the dying or the dead. Just drive on and work out a new way to get home from a lay by down the road. It’s not that much of an inconvenience really…is it?

Since that day I have been back to the scene a couple of times, and have made an effort to go to the local pub for that pint. I’m just sorry that Dave couldn’t be there to join me…

Originally published by Minimum Cover on September 16th 2011

In the wee small hours of the morning…

I absolutely love night shifts. This surprises me as prior to joining the job I was sure that I’d hate them. I’d worked in a hotel before entering the police and as part of my role was occasionally required to cover the reception until the staff came back on in the morning. The hotel would be empty, I’d wonder around bored and hoping that the hours would slide by quickly so that I could go home to bed. They never would and I’d find myself propped up against the front desk building paperclip chains in a vain attempt to keep myself alert.

Night shifts in the police are different though. They give us the chance to do some real proactive policing and have an entirely different feel from any other shift we work. What do we actually do during a night shift though? You’d be right in thinking that for the most part they’re not as busy as a daytime shift so how do we fill the hours?

We see plenty of foxes on a night shift, although very few doing this.

The shift usually falls into two parts. The first, between ten and around three in the morning, is the period during which people are still awake and therefore still calling us. Jobs will come in and we’ll respond as we do at any other time. Domestic incidents are common around this time as are reported break ins and you’ll often see us racing through the empty streets on our way to incidents.

Past three we enter the quiet part of the shift. Jobs begin to dry up and the radio goes through eery patches during which it is completely silent.

It’s during this latter part of the shift that we are able to get things done. If officers have prosecution files to work on, now is a good time but for the most part we’ll be out patrolling the areas in which we’re likely to find folk up to no good.

Burglary hot spots are heavily patrolled and suspicious people and cars are stopped. We spend time circling estates, diving in and out of cul-de-sacs and up private drives to see if there’s anything untoward that may require our attention.

Occasionally we may see someone heading off to work but for the most part I don’t think residents know we’re even there. I’m always a little tempted to give a quick blast of the siren to promote our presence, although I can’t imagine this would go down too well with the locals!

We also conduct bail checks on criminals who have been told they have to stay at a certain address overnight, making sure that they are where we’ve told them to be and taking appropriate action if they’re not. Further to this we’re often asked to go and make arrest enquiries for people who are wanted on warrant – perhaps because they’ve not turned up in court – or who are wanted as part of ongoing investigations. The small hours are a great time to do this as it’s most likely that our outstanding persons will be in.

It certainly can feel odd to be the only people out on the roads and not seeing another person or even hearing people talking on our radios, the silence can be very odd. We see foxes dancing in the glare of our headlights and wait until the new day begins to spread from one corner of the sky before slowly heading back to the station so that a fresh shift can take over for the morning.

Finishing after a night shift and feeling the embrace of my bed is a great feeling, although I’ll still be looking forward to the next shift all the same.

Having been some days in preparation, a splendid time is guaranteed for all!

Walsall Police Station Open Day - September 25th, 10AM-3PM. Be there or be square!

Roll up! Roll up! Yes, Walsall Police Station will be throwing open its doors to non-criminals on September 25th for what I believe will be the most action-packed open day this side of Christmas!

The event, organised by Sergeant Rowlands, will see the cells thrown open for tours with all sorts of exciting events planned to give you an idea not only what we do at the station but also what our partner agencies do too and how we all work together.

The full line up of activities currently includes getting to -

• Visit the cell block and have your fingerprints taken
• Listen to our police band and hum along to hits such as ‘Every Breath You Take’ and ‘Roxanne’
• Meet a police drugs dog and giving him a rub on his belly
• Watch a truly stunning taser demonstration and self defence display
• Sit inside police traffic cars, make pretend engine noises and try on police equipment
• Talk to partner agencies including Walsall council, other emergency services including West Midlands Fire Service and the Ambulance Service
• View an RAF Griffin Helicopter at close quarters, which will land and spend a day with us

There’s a full list of all the activities on the Walsall LPU website but other highlights include getting to meet firearms officers, seeing the police helicopter flying past, watching a drill demonstration by the Sea Cadets and meeting your local officers who will be available for a chat.

I’ll be there too wondering around, eating ice cream and probably getting my face painted at some point – as you might be able to tell I’m as excited about it as you should be!

Admission is totally free and the event will be running between 10AM-3PM so I and everyone else involved look forward to seeing you there!

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