Archive for May, 2012

In Yorkshire near Rotherham he had been on the ramble…

…okay, when I say ‘near’ Rotherham I mean the other side of Leeds and then some but still, the Yorkshire Dales is where I, along with the newly established and catchily named Walsall Walking and Cycling Club Sports & Social (‘WWACCSS’ for short), spent a few happy hours yesterday completing the Yorkshire Three Peak Challenge.

As you may have seen previously on this blog, us police officers like a challenge and last year we made two attempts on the Welsh 14 Peaks, failing the first time and triumphantly succeeding the second.

We’d talked about doing Yorkshire’s own version of the national three peak dash and so at 4AM yesterday morning met up at Bloxwich Police Station for the drive up North.

I was a sleeping policeman for some of the drive so I couldn’t really tell you how long it took to get there but get there we did (despite my directions) and we set out onto the hills nice and early with one group aiming to complete all three peaks and another heading for a shorter route.

As you can see from the photos it was pretty warm yesterday which didn’t make the first ascent particularly welcoming but we slogged our way to the top of Pen-Y-Ghent and tapped the trig point before heading across the valley to Whernside, crossing the notorious bog on the side of Pen-Y-Ghent as we did so.

Whernside itself was climbed at midday, just as the sun was really flexing its muscle, and it probably didn’t help that the route we took involved ignoring/losing the footpath and scrambling up the steep side to the top but again as with Pen-Y-Ghent, we were rewarded with some fantastic views at the top.

Ingleborough was the last peak and so we dropped back into the valley, again paying only very loose attention to the paths, before winding our way up to the top and then down the other side into Horton-In-Ribblesdale where we had parked.

We managed to complete the twenty five mile route in a total of nine hours and eighteen minutes which we were happy with and so celebrated with great quantities of pub food which due to a power cut we ended up eating by candlelight.

For anyone interested in the Yorkshire Three Peaks, it’s definitely one I’d recommend and a good place to start if you’re thinking of trying one of the harder challenges such as the national Three Peaks or the Welsh 3000s. Best advice if you are interested is wear some decent boots and mind the bog – you will go up to your knees at some point!

You can find out a little more about the Yorkshire Three Peaks here and if you do fancy it, you’ll need the OL2 map which covers all three peaks.

The route up Pen-Y-Ghent, it is exclusively up hill all the way to the top – ridiculous!

This is the bog I mentioned – it is wet, boggy and hungry for shoes of all types.

Peak two – Whernside. Should have actually been called ‘Steepside’ but I think it’s too late to rename it now…

The awkwardly persistent climb up Ingleborough.

All done! Can we go home now?

Is it really so strange?

If you’ve seen some of the recent press coverage on the force’s Business Partnering proposals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they amount to the following – the whole police force is to be ‘privatised’, officers are to be withdrawn from the streets and instead, we’re going to pay G4S to patrol, to detain suspects and to investigate crimes.

Is this really likely to happen and can the reports be true?

The first thing to keep in mind about working with the private sector is that the proposals – and they are only proposals – are at a very early stage. Firm plans are not in place and this is because at the moment we don’t know what the private sector is able to offer.

Late last year the Police Authority gave our force, in partnership with Surrey Police, permission to explore options for working with the private sector. This is to give them an opportunity to review how we currently do things and to see if they can offer suggestions and solutions as to how we can provide a better service.

There is recognition that there is always room to improve the way we operate and that if we fail to take advantage of new technologies, we’d become outdated and inefficient. This is based against the background of a requirement for us to work with less funding and fewer staff. But it’s not purely to do with cost issues though – it is about challenging the way we do things.

On this basis a tendering notice was published with a complete list of our functions so that interested companies could approach us and engage in talks.

This list was kept deliberately broad as to repeat the tendering process again would be costly, pretty much every function that we carry out was listed.

This list had included carrying out patrols and investigations – not because these are areas considered as appropriate for private companies to take over but because by keeping the list as broad as possible, the attention of a wide range of companies would be attracted.

As it stands companies are approaching as to let us know how they can offer their support to allow us to do our job better. It’s an ‘exploratory’ process in that at the moment we don’t necessarily know what businesses can offer, in that we want them to approach us and let us know what’s available.

As an officer working on the much valued ‘front line’, I’m happy to say that there are indeed things we could do differently and that by embracing new technologies and methods of working, we could be far more efficient.

This isn’t a controversial statement – it’s why we’re looking to engage with businesses in the first place.

To give solid examples of the shape that Business Partnering might take is hard because as I have said, at the moment we are in the process of seeing what’s out there.

This said, there are examples of current practice which could no doubt be improved with a little private sector knowledge.

Take statements for example – it’s 2012 and we’re still handwriting victim’s accounts of crimes. Only the other day I was taking a statement and the victim expressed surprise that we didn’t use a tablet or something similar. I had to agree – the technology is there so why aren’t we making the most of it?

Crime scene management is another area highlighted as one that could benefit from private sector support. As a police officer, would you rather I be available to patrol and answer emergency calls or instead that I stand by a cordon for an entire shift? Do we really need a police officer or a PCSO stood by the scene tape or instead, could a company offer staff to do the job and so free up our time?

The arrest process too could potentially be improved by working with a private partner. Say we arrest a shoplifter – we have to transport them back to the police station ourselves and go through the custody procedure to get him ‘booked on’ and into a cell. We then have to go back to the shop to take the details. Could someone else not transport the prisoner on our behalf and allow us to crack on securing evidence at the shop more efficiently and effectively?

This means we would impact less on the shop owner who is already a victim of crime, detain the suspect for less time and better serve the public by allowing us to return to patrol more quickly – what we do best.

In all of these examples, benefit is gained to the police by taking advantage of services and technologies either not available ‘in house’ or that do not require the powers of a constable to perform.

As the Chief has said, the overall objective of Business Partnering is to be more ‘efficient and effective’. It’s about asking as a police officer what do I really need to be doing and as a force, what could we be doing differently?

Spending cuts are the reality and whilst I think the Business Partnering scheme has been somewhat misrepresented as amounting to potential ‘privatisation’, the consequence of not looking at our operation in the face of reduced budgets and staffing levels would likely cause a great deal of damage to the service we aim to offer.

As a police officer on the receiving end of the force’s plans to work with the private sector, I’d be unhappy if they represented a ‘privatisation’ process, if they amounted to me taking a step back from the front line.

The plans interest me because working inside the job, I know full well there are things we could be doing better and if businesses can provide the solutions and we were not to take advantage, it’s the public that’d be the ones to suffer – the same ones I joined to serve.

We have set up a special section on our website answering questions about Business Partnering which includes some further case studies on how the force could benefit and plenty of other information.

Today we’re dedicating tweets about the proposals which you can follow using the hashtag #wmpbpp and the following day there’ll be a live web chat. You can join in with it here between 12:00 and 13:00.

In addition you can check out the ‘Meet The Beat‘ interview I did with Chief Supt. Phil Kay, head of the BPP for West Midlands Police, in which he addresses some of the issues raised around working with the private sector.

Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone…

Phone fraudsters probably don’t sit in darkened rooms wearing balaclavas when they make their calls claiming to be from Microsoft but even so, how can you beat their scam? (Image from Brand Protect)

Every now and then I notice some odd rumour floating around on the internet about a certain ‘new’ type of crime that the police are apparently warning people about. They’re usually fairly daft, often involving forwarding emails to prevent hackers exploding your hard drive or re-posting warnings on Facebook about rogue gangs of con men roaming around Brownhills, and whenever I catch them I’m happy to step in and clarify that they are silly rumours and nothing more.

This said, occasionally – and I do mean very occasionally – there’ll be some truth behind the warnings. When there is you can expect to see a link back to our own website and some substance to the story better than ‘west midlands police say if u dont repost this msg on2 50 ppll in youre phonebook a chinese crime gang will be able 2 read youre thoughts and steal youre goldfish‘.

You may have heard of phone scams whereby people get a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. They usually go like this – the concerned ‘Microsoft employee’ will say to their victim that they think there’s a problem with their computer that needs to be fixed.

The victim is persuaded to allow their computer to be remotely accessed, a malicious piece of software is then installed and the software used to show the victim a list of fake infections supposedly eating away at their motherboard.

With the victim worried that their holiday photos are going to be lost, they agree to make a credit card payment to Microsoft for the problem to be solved. The average victim looses £500 this way and even if they refuse to give their credit card details, software is still nestled on their computer recording their private details and sending them off to the scammer.

We have had a couple of incidents of this type of scam taking place in the Walsall area recently, including one over towards Lichfield during which the target was my father. Thinking on his feet and always happy to slam the phone down on cold callers, he didn’t fall for it but unfortunately there are many people who may not react in the same way, especially when they are vulnerable and threatened by a devious fraudster.

For ourselves, prevention is definitely better than cure when it comes to scams such as these.

Investigating them can be very difficult, especially when at best enquiries are limited to a suspect phone number and a bank account, both of which can be hidden to prevent the police following leads to the criminal himself.

This isn’t to say that our Economic Crime Unit don’t have access to a range of secret squirrel type devices that can help, but slamming down the phone is the best method of defence.

Like the banks, computer companies are never going to phone you out of the blue asking for personal information. Be suspicious if they do and under no circumstances allow them access to your computer or worse, give out credit card details. Microsoft give the very sensible advice that you should regularly change your passwords, install a firewall and use antivirus software to scan your computer for malicious programs.

I’d also advise keeping a backup of your photos etc which will come in handy not only if you have computer problems but also should the PC itself be stolen.

You can find out more on this type of fraud at the Action Fraud website and if you or someone you know has been a victim of a telephone scam, you can report it through the same website.

Remember though, the best advice I can give is to do what Old Man Stanley did and slam down the receiver. It works rather well!

March in the morning sun…

The Police Federation is encouraging officers to come to London today and take part in a protest march against the Winsor Report – why are they doing this though and what’s in the report itself?

If you keep your peepers on the news today, you’re probably going to see something about a rather orderly demonstration making its way through the streets of Westminster. You’ll notice that it’s a little over-policed (pretty much every marcher is a police officer) and that the participants are opposing something called the Winsor Report.

What’s going on though? What’s the reason for this mass foot patrol and why are some members of the police force not happy about the changes to their pay and conditions as proposed by Winsor?

First of all, this is a pretty difficult one to write about for a range of reasons.

The Winsor Report itself is spread over a few hundred fact-filled pages and doesn’t make the easiest bedtime reading so summing it up is far from easy.

There are also a range of opinions about what the proposals really mean and how they’re likely to affect the police – representing all sides fairly is far from straightforward.

This said, I’ll try my best – who is Tom Winsor and what’s he got to say about policing?

Mr. Winsor is a lawyer and Great Britain’s former Rail Regulator. In 2010 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, asked him to sit down and take a look at how police pay and conditions could be reviewed with the objective of improving the efficiency of how the police manage their manpower and to ensure that remuneration and working conditions are fair.

This is set within the context of the harsh economic climate – a national debt of around £18 billion and an estimated cost to the taxpayer for public sector pensions of £32 billion, out of which £1.9 billion is accounted for by police pensions.

Review he did and in March last year the first part of his report was published looking at recommendations aimed at making short term improvements. It predicted that if the changes suggested were adopted, savings from the police pay bill of £1.1 billion were possible over a three year period.

Before Part One could be brought into force, negotiations took place with the Police Federation (who represent rank and file officers) as to which of the recommendations would be accepted. At the conclusion of this process, the Home Secretary announced that she would support the implementation of Part One’s recommendations.

After a pregnant pause lasting a year, the second part of the Winsor Report was published. Part Two looks at longer term changes to the police force with some of the key suggestions being as follows -

  • A new direct entry scheme to Inspector level
  • Pension age to be raised from 55 to 60
  • Compulsory severance for police officers
  • A reduction in pay for officers not in a position requiring the use of their warranted powers and for those on medical restrictions
  • Introduction of an annual fitness test
  • Changes to how officers progress through the pay scales including shorter intervals and payment linked to skills

In favour of these recommendations, Winsor argues that they will reward the hardest working officers and in his words ‘create a more skilled and effective workforce fit to face the challenges of the next thirty years’.

Raising the retirement age should help address the funding gap in public sector pensions and by opening up direct entry to senior ranks, it is proposed that policing will appear a more attractive career path and so attract the best candidates.

Winsor believes the ability to make police officers redundant will help Chief Constables better manage their resources in times of financial hardship and that the skills base of forces will be improved by introducing a stronger financial incentive to gain valued training and experience.

Opposing the report, the Police Federation has expressed concern that the review could ‘dismantle’ the British police service.

It is said that the first part of the review, alongside the Hutton report on public sector pensions, have already dented morale and that officers feel betrayed that the conditions for which they signed up for are apparently being weakened with the perception being that they will have to work longer and contribute more but end up with less on retirement. Job security could be threatened by compulsory redundancies and the report’s focus on front line duties may undervalue important backroom functions.

In addition to these concerns, the Federation say their members are expressing wider frustrations with the series of financial cuts expected of the service (20% across four years) as well as staff reductions and perceived moves towards ‘privatisation’ of the police.

As I said at the start of this blog, this isn’t an easy one to sum up in under a thousand words and as such I think the best I can do, having given a brief overview, is to point you in the right direction to find out a little more about the issues raised by the march. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin -

Keep good company…

What exactly is the Business Partnering Program and how might it affect you? Our Chief, Chris Sims, explains.

The below article was written by West Midlands Police Chief Constable, Chris Sims, in response to a story that ran in the Birmingham Post concerning the Business Partnering Program. If you’re interested to know more about the BPP initiative, check out this interview with Chief Superintendent Kay, head of the program itself, in which he answers questions on how the program will operate and addresses some of the concerns raised.

I WANTED to take this opportunity to respond to last week’s front page article which talked about ‘controversial plans’ to bring in the private sector to work with West Midlands Police and the ‘process of discovery’ that we have embarked upon.

Far from being a ‘process of discovery’ we are very clear about the reasons why we are considering working with a business partner. The proposal sits within a broader change agenda that aims to achieve our vision of serving our communities and protecting them from harm as well as reducing crime, improving satisfaction with our service and increasing trust and confidence in policing. All of these to be achieved against a hugely challenging financial backdrop.

Despite these funding challenges, overall crime levels across the West Midlands are now lower than at any time since 2002 and confidence in the force is high, with 85 per cent people saying we are doing a good job.

The dilemma we face is, how can we continue to improve high levels of performance across all levels of activity while under renewed future financial pressures? The last Comprehensive Spending Review resulted in a four year gap of £126m. Reductions in the next CSR could leave us exposed and vulnerable, with no scope to find future savings without resorting to potentially dangerous cuts in service. The concept of business partnering offers an exciting opportunity to make a quantum leap in how we conduct our business.

Given the potential future backdrop, how do we continue to improve the service that we provide, give people more rather than less choice and make the best use of our resources? Business transformation may provide the answer.

Transformation is much more than a fancy word for change. It is saying that to break out of this pattern and make both a step change in delivery and provide value for money there has to be sustained and integrated change activity.

So specifically what value will transformational change add to the organisation? We believe it will: create a radical new relationship with information, transforming how we access, collect, manage and use information; drive improved productivity from resources, build stronger connectivity between customers, citizens and partners; grow the capability of staff and improve the flexibility and cost effectiveness of providing logistical support.

Change has been policing’s constant companion for many years, driven by a variety of issues such as public expectations, legislation, new technology and professional curiosity. However, despite that the core operating principles of policing have hardly altered. We are still an organisation that relies on weight of numbers, remains essentially reactive in outlook, is overly geographic in the way we are organised and monolithic in the way we present ourselves to customers. Despite all the change and introduction of new technology, our control centres, parade rooms and CID offices have largely retained their same outlook, behaviour and operating style.

To achieve transformational change we need to break through this ‘glass ceiling’, which is a dense configuration of process, culture and technology. After all, the service has spent heavily on new technology, it has used consultants to bring in new ideas, it has a considerable reservoir of talent and knowledge yet none of these agents of change, on their own, has been sufficiently powerful to transform the way policing works.

Partnership with the private sector, properly incentivised to produce long term outcomes and embedded within the organisation, is the best route towards the transformation that policing needs.

So how would a partnership work? It would operate against three key principles: Firstly, expertise in policing rests with the police. British policing is revered around the world and its strength comes from putting skills and knowledge to use in a balanced and impartial manner that is subject to the highest levels of scrutiny. There is no appetite to change this. Secondly, the public entrust police officers with extraordinary powers to protect communities from harm. These powers should be operated in a way that is transparent and highly accountable. Thirdly, the partnership must operate within the values espoused by West Midlands Police to put the public first in first in everything we do, and to listen, learn and strive to improve.

Only by following these principles can the partnership protect the reputation of the force and continue to inspire people’s trust and confidence. Within these principles it is possible to envisage a partnership that can bring improved policing to the people of the West Midlands and a proper return to stakeholders of the commercial partner.

The concept of business partnering offers an exciting opportunity to make a quantum leap in how we conduct our business and how we continue to serve our communities and protect them from harm.

Of course, radical change carries some risk but the attitude of critics which amount to sitting back and doing nothing puts the future of West Midlands Police at even greater risk.

Chris Sims, West Midlands Police Chief Constable, May 2012

Too hard on the brakes again, what if these brakes just give in?

A Day In The LifeParading at Aston Police Station, Thursday May 3rd 2012, Tour of Duty – 07:00 to 16:00

After we response officers attend a serious traffic accident, a specialised traffic will often attend the scene to take over. When the accident is more serious still – when someone has either died or suffered life threatening injuries – the Collision Investigation Unit (CIU) turn out to investigate the cause of the crash.

Today I spent a shift with them in order to get a better appreciation about what they do in the aftermath of the worst accidents and to help understand why it is that roads are closed for long periods as a result.

An early start means, you guessed it, a warm drink and I’ve got to say from the start that the CIU maintain a smooth operation when it comes to sorting out the teas and coffees. They are able to boast a very well stocked canteen and I think from the amount of time they spend in the cold rain on roadsides around the West Midlands, they have obviously learned to appreciate a brew when they have the chance!

As for their work, it’s obviously very difficult to tell when they’re likely to be called out and as such there’s no guarantee that there’ll be a serious incident today requiring their attendance. They tend to work in teams of two on a 24/7 shift rota and when they’re not call out, have files for previous collisions to work on.

Currently based at Aston Police Station, the CIU are shortly due to move into the new Central Motorway Police Group HQ in Perry Barr. We take a trip over to have a look and whilst the building looks like a nice place to work, its the CMPG’s cars out the front that grab the eye – a collection of high powered marked Jaguars which put our aging Astras to shame.

The CIU have their own people carrier type Fords which have most of the rear seats removed to make space for their multiple collision investigation toys. I get a tour of the car and am shown deceleration monitors, friction measurement devices, GPS surveying devices, skid mark kits and more. They carry pretty much everything that they’re likely to need to gather evidence at the roadside and are able to measure a multitude of variables in order to help work out how a crash occurred.

Moving back into the office we look at what goes into an investigation relating to a fatal car crash, whether its putting a report together for Crown Court or more commonly, the Coroner’s Court.

This is where some of the most interesting work comes in – marking taken at the roadside are analysed, measurements are recorded and calculations can be made to work out how fast a car might have been going prior to impact.

Computers are handy in this respect with measurements capable of being imported into a program that can then build a 3D reconstruction of a crash scene. To get a better idea of how this works the £70,000 laser plotting device (a bit like an Xbox Kinect) is set up and we put together a model of the office which is then rendered in colour.

We also talk more about what happens after a crash and why roads are sometimes kept closed. The CIU’s priority is to gather all of the available evidence – this can involve laser surveying, photography, and cataloging debris, all of which can take time to do thoroughly.

Leafing through a few of the CIU’s previous investigation booklets, it’s clear how much detail goes into their investigations. It’s meticulous work and indeed it needs to be – they need to work out what factors led to someone’s death and whether anyone is culpable.

That their work can be so painstaking is the main reason that roads are closed and will remain closed until their job is done properly. They admit that closures do cause delays however as I wrote in a previous blog on the same topic, if it was your loved one deceased you’d want to give them all the time in the world to investigate properly.

Finishing for the day and thankfully no fatal accidents reported, I ask what is the main cause of the accidents that they attend. Excess speed is the first answer, drivers being distracted the second.

From some of the photos they have of unrecognisable cars and the fact that they had over three hundred call outs last year, the message is clear that by keeping your foot off the accelerator and not answering that phone call at the wheel you can greatly reduce the chances of suffering a serious crash.

The work of the CIU shows that you’ve everything to lose by not following their advice.

One of the CIU’s 3D laser plotters, used to build up a high resolution image of a crime scene.

The 3D model built up by the laser plotter which can then be overlaid with photographs to correct the textures.

Think you’re never going to use maths after leaving school? Think again! One of the simpler pages in the CIU manual.

Power to the people, right on…

It’s less than 200 days until the first Police & Crime Commissioner elections but did you also know it’s under 100 days until the start of the Olympics? (Image from London 2012)

It’s less than one hundred days to go until the start of the 2012 Olympic Games. You’d know that, were it not for the fact that the celebration of this milestone was so completely overshadowed by the news that it’s less than two hundred days until you have the chance to vote in a Police & Crime Commissioner.

Yes, elections are really that close. Can you believe it?

Okay, I jest – there’s a good chance that many people didn’t know that elections for the new position are to be held on November 15th.

It may seem a long way off but trust me, with all the excitement of England winning the Euros and Team GB hoarding gold medals in London, the big day will be here sooner than you realise.

I’ve already written about the plans to replace Police Authorities with single elected representatives and at the end of the article had promised to post updates as and when we know more about the vote.

Well, with the two hundred day milestone being celebrated with street parties up and down the country now seems like a good time to do so.

First of all, if you missed November’s post on PCCs and don’t fancy reading it now (even if it does feature Batman), the basic idea is that Police & Crime Commissioners will have responsibility for overseeing their local police forces. They’ll be able to set priorities for the police and hold the Chief Constable to account.

This job is currently done by a panel of bods drawn from a variety of sources who are known as the Police Authority.

At the moment PCC candidates are jostling amongst each other for their party’s nomination, a process which I assume involves speed eating competitions, bleep tests and possibly musket duels.

In the Labour camp for the West Midlands there’s Mike Olley and Bob Jones. For the Conservatives, Joe Tildseley seems to have the nod and for the Liberal Democrats, Ayoub Khan has expressed an interest in running.

Of course these are early days and as a week is a long time in politics, over the twenty eight something weeks leading up to the elections the selection of candidates could well change completely.

There’ll be further information published ahead of the elections themselves – most important on how and where you can vote – and there are a number of websites on which you can find more information on PCCs.

The Top Of The Cops blog has a news feed dedicated to stories on PCC elections and has individual pages for each of the police forces involved – you can find the West Midlands’ section here.

Our own Police Authority has dedicated a section of its website answering some key questions about PCCs and the Home Office has a site too providing further updates.

As the election campaigns begin to pick up speed, it’s going to be interesting to see what issues candidates decide to concentrate on to attract interest. Keeping bobbies on the beat, reducing response times and cutting paperwork all seems to be popular topics from looking at their pledges.

Just as important too will be how they seek to make good on these pledges and I’m sure as we near the elections discussion will grow around many of the topics being raised.

As I ended the last post on PCCs, I’ll end again by saying that as soon as we know more about the elections, the candidates and the issues I’ll try and pull the information together in the form of another sassy blog. Until then stay tuned…

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