Archive for November, 2011

Neighbourhood #1…

Meet The BeatInspector Simon Guilfoyle, Low Hill Police Station, Wolverhampton LPU

In this Meet The Beat interview I put some questions to Inspector Guilfoyle who is currently a neighbourhood policing supervisor working on the Wolverhampton LPU.

Inspector Simon Guilfoyle, complete with Movember facial hair

How long have you been in the job and what have you done before you joined your current role?

I joined West Midlands Police in 1995. Prior to my current posting I was the Wolverhampton City Centre Inspector, and before that I was the force lead for Community Resolutions. Before that I worked at various stations doing mainly response policing or neighbourhood roles.

Why did you join the police? What had you done before joining?

I joined the police to help people, make a difference and catch baddies. Prior to joining I was a cocktail barman at the world-renowned ‘5th Nightclub’ in Walsall.

Tell us about your current role, where do you work, what do you do and what does the work involve?

I’m based at Low Hill, Wolverhampton, responsible for the North East sector, which includes Wednesfield, Heathtown, Fallings Park, Low Hill & The Scotlands, Bushbury North, Oxley and Pendeford. My role as Sector Inspector ranges from meeting with partners to going out on patrol round the area.

Why did your current role appeal to you?

In true policing tradition, it appealed to me because I was posted here! (Actually, given a choice of the sectors I’d have chosen this one anyway. It’s got everything).

What’s your shift pattern like?

On paper it’s Monday-Friday office hours, although fortunately I don’t think I’ve ever worked a week sticking to that pattern. I choose to work some lates or come in early to go out on warrants etc when workload permits. I also provide 24/7 shift cover when needed, working earlies/lates/nights.

What are your favourite parts about your role and the job in general?

Getting good results. Seeing the teams making a difference. Getting good feedback from partners and members of the community. I also like getting out and about with the troops.

Is there anything you don’t like about your job or is there anything you’d change?

Yes and yes. In my opinion we need to do more to reduce inefficient processes, such as the requirement to produce detailed plans for activities that amount to little more than daily business. I’ve studied systems (which is more interesting than it sounds), and there’s a lot we could change about our organisation that would result in a more efficient operating model and better service for the public. Check out my blog for more.

Let’s talk paperwork and files – is it proportionate to the work we do or do you think some of it is unnecessary?

I’m not going to pretend I’ve done a court file for a few years so wouldn’t know about that, but in terms of paperwork, yes I do think it often becomes disproportionate. This problem extends beyond our own organisation and has its root cause in organisational risk aversion, i.e. ‘cover your back’. Unfortunately, we will continue to record excessive amounts of information on a ‘just in case’ basis, until such time as this culture is eradicated.

Are you happy staying where you are or are there other roles in the police you’re interested in?

I enjoy my current role. Apart from a few years on the shift when I was a PC I don’t think I’ve held down a post for much more than a year! (Dunno what that says about me). When you become a supervisor you tend to get move round a lot more. I remember thinking after I joined the job that my first team was my entire world. Your perspective changes as you go along. There are other jobs I’d be interested in doing in principle, but won’t say what they are in case I get headhunted within days…

What would you say has been the most memorable thing you’ve done or been involved with since you joined the police?

Too many to say. At one end of the scale, designing and implementing Community Resolutions for the force (and other forces) was a real high point as it has made such a difference to victims of crime, as well as having wiped out a load of unnecessary internal bureaucracy. At the other end of the spectrum, earlier this year I disarmed a knife man who had just stabbed someone five times then pulled the knife on me. That was interesting.

 The police stereotype is that we all love doughnuts and coffee – is it true?

 Nope. I can’t remember the last time I ate a doughnut.

 Have you ever done any of the following – foot chase across rooftops, driven through a pile of cardboard boxes down a narrow alley, had a rough shift with a partner who only had one day until retirement?

1. No comment. 2. No comment. 3. No.

The evidence before the court is incontrovertible, there’s no need for the jury to retire…

Exhibit LH/5 - The jacket Stephen Lawrence had worn on the night he died. The outcome of the case may come down to the continuity of exhibits like these.

For anyone who’s been following the developments in the Stephen Lawrence retrial, the importance of correctly handling exhibits is quite clear with much of the argument of the defence being based upon the reliability of DNA evidence relating to exhibits collected as part of the original case.

Gary Dobson and David Norris are both accused of having participated in Lawrence’s murder. The prosecution are claiming that fibres, blood and hair found on the clothing that was seized from them at the time links them to the scene and proves that they took part in the attack. Their defence council deny this saying that the evidence found is nothing more than evidence that their clothing had been contaminated at a later point.

How then do we as police officers try and ensure that exhibits are treated in such a way that we can rely on them in court?

When we seize items as part of an investigation – be it CCTV footage, clothing or anything else – we commence an audit trail so that we can account for the item’s movements right up to its eventual appearance in a court room.

This means that first of all we’ll write a statement explaining when and where the item was found, what it is and we’ll also give it a reference number so that it can be told apart from other items seized. We also detail what we did with the item after collecting it, for example that exhibit RJS/01 was then transported to Walsall Police Station when it was booked into detained property.

Along with a statement, we’ll also attach an exhibit label which is to be signed by anyone taking control of the item. Once booked into the property system the exhibit’s movements are then logged by the property computer and it will be locked away, again so that we can ensure its continuity.

Whilst keeping a track of an exhibit is important, so too is properly packaging it and taking care to ensure that an item does not become contaminated.

Locard’s Principle is important here – that every contact leaves a trace and that by touching one item and then another, a trace of the first item will likely to transferred across to the second.

This is why when we are investigating a rape, for example, the same officers who have been speaking to the victim will not then go and arrest the suspect as the defence would then be able to argue that any evidence found on the suspect was there because officers had transferred it to him or her from the victim.

As can be seen from the details emerging as the trial progresses, protecting the continuity of evidence can often be very difficult, especially when proving the case comes down to the presence of microscopic fibres on an item of clothing that has been sitting in a property store for eighteen years.

Still, it is principles such as those mentioned above that make the difference in many trials and hence why officers put the time in to ensure that when a case goes to court, they can be confident that they can rely on their evidence.

Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?

Interior of a WMP firearms car.

Pretty much the first question I’m always asked by fascinated kids when they’re looking at the kit dangling from my equipment belt is “Do your carry a gun?”.

Nothing I carry looks remotely like any kind of firearm but even so, most children seem to think that in one of my many pouches I’m ‘packing some heat’ and am ready to ‘cook a fool’ if necessity dictates.

Now whilst it’s true that I don’t carry, or have access to, any sort of firearm*, there are officers who do. These toughened lot are what we call ‘Authorised Firearms Officers‘ and provide the West Midlands with a twenty four hour response capability to deal with any incidents which might involve guns.

Becoming a firearms officer is one of the toughest things to do out of all the different roles across the force and as competition is so tight, only the very best even consider applying. The selection process involves a series of tests designed to screen those who have the potential necessary to take on what is a very demanding job and the training that is provided after acceptance is designed to prepare the officer for any situation they may face.

Aside being taught how to use the weapons themselves, officers are given enhanced training in areas such as driving and incident management to ensure the safety of both the public and other officers.

Us regular officers work alongside the firearms officers providing them information about a firearms incident and working to ensure that the danger posed to the public is minimised. Few of us are interested in finding out just how good our ballistic vests are and as I pointed out to a child the other day, our trousers aren’t bullet proof, so we prefer to give anyone thought to be in possession of a gun a wide berth.

Aside dealing with incidents in which people have decided resorting to the use of a gun is the only way of sorting out their differences, firearms officers also have a role in providing education about guns and in taking care of weapons and ammunition when they are recovered during searches. Rather than pick up a found pistol and risk blowing a hole in our feet, we’ll rather call out a firearms car who will make it safe and take it away for disposal.

To understate, firearms are blooming dangerous things and it is in both our interest and that of the public that we can take as many of them off the streets as we are able. Firearms officers are essential to helping us achieve this aim and in dealing with the few who think carrying a gun is a good idea and that using it will get them any further than the inside of a prison cell or worse, a coffin.

* Other than my CS which technically qualifies as a S. 5 firearm.

The midnight special…

Meet The BeatSpecial Constable Chris Allen, Sedgley Police Station, Dudley LPU

This is the first of a new feature I’m starting on the blog called ‘Meet The Beat’. In each little interview I’ll be playing a mix between Paxman, Snow and Parkinson asking people from various roles in West Midlands Police about what they do, what they don’t do and what they’d like to do.

The aim of the feature is to give you an idea about how diverse our operation is, to introduce you to the people working on your behalf and to try and dispel some common misconceptions held about different roles in the police.

To kick off I’ve had a chat with SC Chris Allen to find out a little more about what a Special Constable does.

Special Constable Christopher Allen

How long have you been in the job and what do you do as well as being a Special Constable?.

I was promoted to Acting Section Officer, Special Constabulary Supervisor in May of this year. However, I’ve been a member West Midlands Police Special Constabulary for about 3 years now. In my full time job I’m a Property Services Management Trainee for Wolverhampton Homes, which is an Arm’s Length Management Organisation of Wolverhampton City Council.

Why did you join the police?

I joined as a Special Constable to give something back to my community and to help protect the community, the best way of doing this I thought was being a Special Constable or a Police Officer. I also want to get a taste of policing and to see if I would like it before applying for a full time position. I hasten to add, I loved it from day one.

Tell us about your current role, where do you work, what do you do and what does the work involve?

My current role as Acting Section Officer, I’m responsible for a team of 10 Special Constables based at Sedgley Police Station. My work involves organising my officers to help police key local events and neighbourhood priorities such as anti-social behaviour or recent bonfire events, etc. I’m responsible for organising any local training events and to liaise and organise the team with any up and coming duties, tasking, etc. I’m also responsible for liaising with the Neighbourhood Teams (NHTs), to gain knowledge of key hot spot areas and local issues and see how the extra resource of a team of Specials can contribute to the policing of local neighbourhoods.

Why did your current role appeal to you?

I wanted to give something back to my community. Progressing to the role of a Section Officer, Special Constabulary Supervisor has allowed me to become more involved with the community with regards to tackling local issues but also it has starkly pointed out many challenges that face the modern day police service with government cut backs and issues that come with that.

What’s your shift pattern like?

As a member of the Special Constabulary, I can work whenever I like. Whether it’s a Saturday night, looking after the troubles that come with a night time economy or during the week when some local events are taking place, for example PACT meetings. As long as I complete 16 hours a month, which is the amount West Midlands Police asks off its Specials, the choice is effectively yours.

What are your favourite parts about your role and the job in general?

My favourite part about the role is when you’ve done a good job as a volunteer Special Constable and you’re thanked by a member of the public or the duty Inspector at the end, it really does make you feel that giving up your spare time is worthwhile. My favourite part about the job, honestly would be the blue light runs that you get to go on when you’re working with the regulars. I know it’s a little childish but I still get that sense of adrenaline every time I go on one, perhaps it wears off working full time as a regular?

Is there anything you don’t like about your job or is there anything you’d change?

Not being paid for it! Haha!

Let’s talk paperwork and files – is it proportionate to the work we do or do you think some of it is unnecessary?

Even as a Special, I think the paperwork side is a little too much. We get to see and deal with some aspects of it but we don’t, for example, sort case files as we work perhaps one or two days a week, we simply not there often enough to follow the paperwork through. I really don’t envy the regulars with what paperwork they have to do. Fair play to them.

Are you happy staying where you are or are there other roles in the police you’re interested in?

When the recruitment opens again for the regulars, whenever that maybe, I would definitely consider applying. However, I really enjoy my current career and working for West Midlands Police as a volunteer is extremely rewarding.

What would you say has been the most memorable thing you’ve done or been involved with since you joined the police?

There is quite a lot memorable moments, one that springs to mind would probably be when myself and my colleague were first on scene to a large fight in progress in Sedgley. From a personal point of view, knowing that I can deal with that and be confident in that situation is extremely comforting but also to have comments made by high ranking regular officers as being a job well done and not realising we were Special Constables till afterwards gave me a real sense of pride. I was also first on scene to an officer who had press their emergency button as they were struggling with a person who didn’t take kindly to being arrested. Just being round the corner and able to help was a really rewarding moment.

The police stereotype is that we all love doughnuts and coffee – is it true?

Not at all, in fact most officers I know are health fanatics, with the exception of the occasional Kebab tradition of a Friday night. Haha, you know who you are!

And sometimes I wonder, just for a while, will you remember me?

Yesterday I got up early (and I mean early) to make the drive down to that London and watch the Remembrance Sunday parade at the Cenotaph.

For anyone who’s not been in person I would highly recommend it as it’s an incredibly touching ceremony to watch. Well attended, well organised and well worth the trip.

Here are a few photos…

One of the marching bands makes its way down Whitehall to take up their position by the Cenotaph.

Police officers in part of the 'civilian contingent' of the parade.

The police marching back towards Parliament Square at the end of the ceremony.

Met officers stand guard around the Cenotaph prior to the public being allowed to approach it.

'The Glorious Dead'

Why not make a donation to the Royal British Legion?

Did you see the stylish kids in the riot? Shovelled up like muck, set the night on fire…

Do you remember the riots back in August? Well, we do. Rather well in fact.

Thanks to this fantastic memory of ours, coupled with hours of CCTV footage and a huge investigation assisted by yourselves, the good public, we’re still actively out arresting those involved and bringing them to justice.

New images are being added to the Operation View website and I’d encourage you to cast your eye over the gallery and see if you recognise any of the outstanding offenders. We’ll then be able to pay a friendly visit to them, as you can see us doing in the above video, and see whether we can’t find them a Christmas break courtesy of Her Majesty’s Prison Service.

You can get in touch with us directly by dialing 101 or via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

As an incentive to make the call you can also see some of the rioters’ court results on the Operation View website. You’ll notice the large number of custodial sentences handed out, in many cases thanks to public help in identifying offenders.

Call me on the line, call me, call me any anytime…

A very quick post this to publicise the fact that as of today you can now get in contact with West Midlands Police by dialing 101 rather than going through the arduous process of dialing 0, then 3, then looking for the 4 before hitting the 5, then hitting 1 twice, then 3, then 5 and then, if all that wasn’t enough, pressing 0 three times in a row.

The number can be used whenever you need to get in contact with us about matters that do not require an urgent response. Calls cost a flat rate of 15p, no matter how long you speak for or if you’re phoning from a land line or a mobile.

Contrary to what our official press release says, we haven’t ‘launched a new number’ as I’m fairly certain 101 had been sandwiched between 100 and 102 for a few centuries now.

Even so, it’s hoped the ‘new’ number will be easier to remember than the old one (which will continue to operate) and will help take pressure off the 999 system which should solely be used in emergencies.

Say the right things, when electioneering…

Elected Police and Crime Commissioners will have the power to fire Batman if he's under-performing. Whether they'd be brave enough to do so is another question...

Last month the Queen wandered down The Mall to the Houses of Parliament. Once there she showed the guard her pass, they let her in and she went in to the Bill signing room. She adjusted her glasses, took a Biro from her handbag and wrote her name at the bottom of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, thereby bringing it into law.

Amongst the provisions of the Act is the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners who will from next year begin to replace the existing Police Authorities in all forces outside London.

As things stand at the moment, there are three separate influences on the control of a police force. These are the Home Secretary, the Police Authority and the force’s head honcho, its Chief Constable.

The Home Secretary has overall responsibility for policing, law and order on a national scale. He or she works closely with other related ministers in Westminster such as the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice and the Justice Secretary.

The Chief Constable has overall control of a police force and is in charge of its strategy and operations. The Chief has the power to decide force policy and tailor his force’s organisation as he or she sees fit.

Thrown into the mix alongside the Home Secretary and the Chief are Police Authorities. Each force has its own and they are usually composed of around seventeen members, nine of whom are elected having been drawn from local authorities and the remaining eight are independent being drawn from the community. The Police Authority exists to scrutinise its police force, ensuring that value for money is being obtained and respect is being paid to the budget which it sets.

The Police Authority also plays an important role in setting local performance targets in the form of a Policing Plan. The targets are agreed, published, and then closely monitored with questions being raised if the force appears to be falling short.

With the introduction of the Act, Police Authorities will be replaced by single Police and Crime Commissioners who will be elected persons charged with all of the above responsibilities and also having the capability to dismiss a Chief Constable if circumstances dictate it necessary.

Anyone will be able to stand for the role so long as they are British, Commonwealth or EU citizens over the age of 18 and living in the force area. Terms will be four years long.

One of the arguments made for Commissioners is that they will help make police forces more accountable and in touch with the priorities and concerns of the public. By giving the public an opportunity to directly influence the priorities of their force, it is hoped that the force will come to better represent the people that they police.

Another argument is that Commissioners would be in a better position to properly scrutinise a police force that Police Authorities are. It has been said that Police Authorities lack the ability to stand up to Chief Constables or the Home Office when it comes to influencing change.

Detractors have questioned whether a single Commissioners really would be able to do a better job than a panel of seventeen members. Questions have been raised about the systems in place to hold Commissioners to account and also about how much the new system will cost.

Further to these concerns, there have also been doubts from some over the wisdom of potentially politicising policing. Would Commissioners make decisions based on the interest of their region or on their ambitions for re-election and would they be at risk from corruption?

Either way, the Commissioners will begin to take up their posts from next year and your local force will be providing information about how you can get involved in their election and so begin to participate directly in how your police force is supervised.

It’s going to be an interesting change and something that will require your input to work correctly. As such I’ll be posting updates on this blog as and when we know more about the elections, who’s likely to be standing and how you can get involved.

The winner takes it all…

Notice the stylish use of glitter. If there's one problem with policing in the 21st century it's that we don't use enough glitter.

You may remember a month ago I published a blog post all about a competition I was running during October to see who could come up with the best police related drawing, with a bag of Creme Eggs being the prize for the winner. With a lot less creativity than that shown by the entrants I’d called it the Police Picture competition and during its course I received some fantastic entries which I added to a special gallery over on the Facebook page.

The time has come to decide which was the favourite and due to the high standard of the submissions, this has been no easy task. Several times a firm favourite has been picked, only for minds to be changed the next moment when a fox is spotted in another drawing, or some fancy use of pencil, or even some flames seen jetting out the rear of a police car.

In the end though, and after much deliberation, a winner has to be announced and that winner is Megan Watton for her entry, ‘Bling Tazer‘. I liked both her use of glitter and also the ambition behind the drawing, that it could be used on a night out to stop boys ‘bothering’ her. Grossly illegal as this would be, I felt that the fact it only shoots blue and gold glitter probably mitigates any offences and it’s clear that she’s put genuine effort into her creation so congratulations to her.

As I say it was no easy task deciding and several of the other entries (heck, all of them) are worthy of special mention. Ian Paintain’s drawings of police vehicles were fantastic, Katie Walker’s lipstick wearing policewoman (or man?) was highly entertaining and James Turner’s floating, glitter-powered police car was great. Shaun Mills’ jet powered police car has given some of our mechanics ideas and Morgan Foster’s depiction of a criminal being tazered and attacked by a police dog was enough to put any criminal off a life of crime.

In addition to these, the street scenes sent in by Symone Cunningham, Sophie Ward and TJ O’Leary were all very impressive. I can see from Monica Handley’s entry that she’s a fashion designer to be, that Daniel Bird clearly thinks police foxes are a good idea and that Faye Stanley thinks police officers should wear bright yellow trousers!

I’ll be in touch with Megan as soon as I am able to (reluctantly) arrange for her to receive a bag of Creme Eggs in reward for her efforts and would like to congratulate all those who entered for submitting what were some very enjoyable pictures.

Whilst the competition is over, I’m always happy to receive your police pictures so if you have any please tweet them to me and I’ll share them with everyone else!

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PC Stanley’s Twitter Feed

  • Brave traffic police bring wrong way M6 motorist to a safe stop: via @YouTube 8 hours ago
  • Shift done and time to go home, time to do my #RestDaysJig! Stay safe everyone, I'm back on duty on Sunday. 21 hours ago
  • Grabbed a quick statement today for an ongoing case, lending a hand to some of our officers with a prisoner at Wolverhampton too. 22 hours ago
  • About to eat a glamorous chilli con carne microwave meal in the office. Likely the Queen herself is likely tucking into something similar. 1 day ago
  • ...back at work today, last late shift so bringing myself up to speed on what's been happening and what I need to do today. 1 day ago

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