Archive for June, 2012

Then one night in desperation a young man breaks away, he buys a gun, steals a car, tries to run but he don’t get far…

Our firearms officers in training but how hard is it to join the unit? We’ve created a series of videos showing just how tough the course can be.

Gun related crime is thankfully a rare occurrence in Birmingham – firearms are not easy things to get hold of and carrying either a real or imitation gun usually attracts a rather rapid response from one of our specialist Armed Response Units.

How do officers go about joining the firearms unit though? What is the training like and how many succeed in making from the initial selection to graduation?

Last year I’d written a blog about our firearms officers, mainly because I was being asked so frequently by young kids whether I carried a gun or by some of the older kids, where my ‘piece’ was.

This month the good people in our press office have gone one step further and actually produced a series of short films going behind the scenes at the firearms training school to give you an idea of just how demanding the training is.

I watched the videos with as much interest as anyone else because even working for the police, you’d only ever see this side of the training if you were selected to actually go on it. Competition is very tough and vacancies few and far between hence even to get on the first part of the course is a reward in itself.

From watching these videos, you’ll get an idea why firearms officers are generally thought to be amongst the best in the force. This is something us regular officers are a little begrudging to accept although secretly most of us are probably a little jealous that the cops on the firearms units have the skills necessary to fill a very important role, racing around the West Midlands in high powered cars filled with more firepower than the A Team van.

Here are the videos in the order on which they were originally shown over on the West Midlands Police YouTube channel -

And what’s the job like when out on the streets doing it for real? The below video shows one of our Armed Response Vehicles intercepting two miscreants who had been seen sporting a handgun in Birmingham. It turned out to be a fake but look how quickly the officers draw their weapons when it is produced – this lad came within seconds of being shot.

I’m carryin’ a torch for you, baby…

Flaming heck, it’s the Olympic Flame’s route for Saturday June 30th!

If you’ve driven by Walsall Police Station recently you may have noticed a lovely yellow sign sitting on the pavement advising that there are some upcoming road closures. Being an attentive driver you’ve kept your eyes on the road but you did glance something about June 30th. What’s happening on June 30th though?

Well, after taking the strangest route possible from Olympia, the Olympic Flame will finally be completing its historic journey and arriving on the good streets of our fair town.

It should be a great day and even if the thought of someone running through the streets brandishing a flaming torch doesn’t ignite your interest, there are plenty of other events taking place for you to enjoy.

The arrival of the flame is a historic event and will likely attract a large amount of media interest, especially considering the important role played by Walsall in the original Olympic games several thousand years ago.

Greek folklore has it that after Prometheus stole fire from Zeus, he took it to Walsall and hid it in a cave at the bottom of Park Street, the location of which is now marked by the town’s famous concrete hippo.

The symbolism of the hippo has been lost over time although some say that even on the coldest of nights, the hippo feels warm to the touch as though the ancient fire still burns beneath its belly.

Okay, some of the above may not be true (does anybody know why there is a concrete hippo in Walsall?) however torch day is sure to be one that’ll be burnt into people’s memory for many years to come.

This said, where can you see it and after you’ve seen it, what else can you do to celebrate Prometheus’ shameless offence against S. 1 of the Theft Act 1968?

As you can see from the above map, the flame’s route takes it down Bloxwich High Street onto Green Lane and then around the town centre. After refreshments (it’ll have burnt a few calories by this point) it’ll get hot on the tail of its escort and shoot down Wolverhampton Road, across Junction 10 and into Willenhall before leaving the Walsall area for Wolverhampton.

We estimate (and these plans could go up in smoke) that the torch will arrive in Bloxwich at around 11:50 and then enter the town centre at 12:25. It’ll be leaving Walsall again at 13:45, should reach Willenhall at 14:20 and will be leaving again ten minutes later.

Between Leamore Lane and Green Lane and also whilst crossing Junction 10 the torch will not be on display as it’ll be hitching a lift with the support team.

The route planned for the torch will be closed off in advance so you’re advised to make alternate transport arrangements on the day itself, lest you get caught up in the festivities and little hot under the collar.

Bloxwich, Walsall and Willenhall are all holding their own celebrations to mark the flame’s arrival which include face painting, food, music and more. You can find out more about the events on the Walsall for 2012 website and they’re encouraging you to contact them and get involved so please feel free to do so.

If you’re outside Walsall and would like to know where the flame is going, check out the official route for more info.

The flame’s arrival is sure to be warmly received* and as a once in a lifetime event, it’s one that you’re not going to want to miss. Morrissey once wrote ‘there is a light that never goes out’ – go out it hopefully won’t, but come to Walsall again it may well never do so make sure you make the most of it!

* Apologies for my flame puns, I tried to stop but I was simply on fire with them…

Some people are crazy about him, some people can’t stand his face, some people they smile when they know he’s coming, some people chase him out of the place…

Sane or insane? What would the difference be had Breivik have been on trial in England?

In July last year, Anders Breivik killed seventy seven people in what was the worst massacre to have taken place in Norway since the Second World War. Much of his subsequent trial have centered around the following issue – to what extent was Breivik responsible for his own actions?

Breivik himself has insisted that his actions resulted from his extremist view that he was acting to prevent a Muslim invasion. He states that he is sane, that he believes his actions were reasonable given his perception and so denies the charge of terrorism.

As in most legal systems, in Norway’s Penal Code the defendant’s state of mind is key to his or her culpability. Accordingly the court ordered a psychiatric report on Breivik and then after criticism of its findings, that Breivik suffered from psychosis, a second report was commissioned. This report reached a different conclusion, implying that whilst poor mental health had a role to play in Breivik’s actions, his state of mind was not sufficiently to prevent him being imprisoned.

There are two components that are usually considered when judging an accused’s guilt – that they have committed a guilty act (‘actus reus’) and that overlapping with this, they had a guilty state of mind (‘mens rea’).

If both are present at the same time, the elements required for an offence are satisfied.

The defence of insanity relates to the defendant’s guilty state of mind and implies that whilst a person may well have committed the guilty act, they should not be found guilty because their insanity at the time disqualified their necessary state of mind.

In England the defence of insanity is defined with reference to the ‘M’Naghten rules’ which came about as a result of the acquittal of Daniel McNaughton after he took a shot at Robert Peel in 1843.

These rules state that ‘to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong’.

The reference to not knowing the ‘nature and quality’ of the act is that the defendant did not know what he was physically doing, for example he had cut someone’s throat thinking that he was actually cutting a loaf of bread.

When it comes to not knowing that the act was wrong and using the same example, the defence would have to prove that whilst the defendant had knowingly cut the throat, as a result of his mental state he had not known that doing so was wrong.

The court is entitled to presume that a defendant is sane and when it comes to making the case for a defence of insanity, the burden of proof lies with the defence and they must make their case on the balance of probabilities.

If the defence is successful, the sensitively named Trial of Lunatics Act 1883 affords the courts a verdict of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’.

The impact of Breivik’s actions have understandably evoked a strong public feeling that he ought to be properly punished for his attacks with the Norwegian sentiment being that his jailing would be preferable to being committed to a mental health hospital or that better still, the death penalty ought to be reintroduced.

Much interest has been raised in how the court has handled the issue of Breivik’s mental state and in how Norway’s Penal Code assesses psychiatric concerns in relation to an offender’s guilt.

The judges now have until August 24th to deliver their verdict and will no doubt be influenced by both strong public opinion and the varying evidence offered by the psychiatric reports.

The case is a reminder that deciding the extent of a defendant’s insanity as a bearing on their guilt is never an easy one and that reliable ‘facts’ can sometimes be hard to come by in support of the decision.

I fell on the playing field, the work of an errant heel…

How does the law decide when sport becomes assault? (Image from Reuters)

Earlier this week David Nalbandian had lost his temper somewhat during the Aegon Championships in London and ended up kicking an advertising board towards line judge Andrew McDougall.

McDougall apparently suffered a cut to his shin as a result and Nalbandian was fined over £6000 by the Association of Tennis Professionals and also thrown out the competition.

With the incident being captured on camera from many different angles and taking place in front of several hundred witnesses, the MET have now stated that a complaint of assault has been made against Nalbandian and that they are investigating.

There’s nothing to stop the law getting involved in incidents that happen on the sports pitch but there are certain considerations that are made when deciding if a player’s conduct is not only unsporting, but criminal.

What does the law have to say though when cricket isn’t cricket?

In a few short weeks hundreds of thousands of people around the world are going to pay to watch two people do their very best to kick one another in the head.

In case you’d not guesses it, these people are at the Olympics and they’re locked in vicious combat to decide who is the best at kicking and punching. Eventually one of them will have been kicked in the face enough times to be declared the winner and will get a gold medal and a concussion.

The important thing to consider in this competition – I think it’s probably Taekwondo – is that both of the competitors have consented to taking a little physical punishment in their pursuit of Olympic bruising.

It’s this consent that makes all the difference when the decision is made as to whether a prosecution is appropriate in relation to an injury inflicted in the sporting arena.

The law, and those playing, both accept that in a contact sport, the consequence of said contact may be some degree of pain or injury. The question is does the way that the injury was inflicted fall within the rules and practice of the game?

From the off, the catchy ‘Attorney-General’s Reference No 6 of 1980′ makes it clear that people can consent to being assaulted during the course of ‘properly conducted sports and games’.

This ability to consent established, case law has gone on to clarify how far the consent stretches.

R v Lloyd (1989) made it clear that an injury caused on the pitch but outside the scope of the game’s rules – deliberately kicking a fallen rugby player in the face – was still an assault and could be treated as such.

R v Barnes (2004) examined a case involving a footballer who had broken a player’s leg in a tackle after that player had scored. The issue was when is it appropriate for criminal prosecutions to be launched in relation to an injury caused during a sporting event, and the ruling was as such – the nature of the sport has to be considered before a decision can be made.

Expanding on this slightly, the implication of the ruling was that a broken nose suffered during a professional level boxing match would be viewed differently from the same injury resulting from a punch being thrown on a school badminton court.

As there is a level of injury that can be suffered legitimately before it becomes criminal, it’s important that a sport’s ruling body has firm rules and penalties in place to deal with unsporting behaviour of a level that falls below that at which the courts can deal.

Coming back to the Nalbandian incident and taking into account the case law, especially R v Barnes, those investigating will have to consider how the norms of tennis reflect on the judge’s ‘consent’ to suffering some level of injury.

He’s sat at the edge of the playing area so being hit by an errant tennis ball would likely fall under the umbrella of consent that he has granted to risk injury. What about a flying Nike advertising board though?

As an ongoing investigation I’m hesitant to speculate (so I won’t!) but I think it’s certainly an interesting case. As a tennis player, Nalbandian may be thinking “A criminal investigation? You CANNOT be serious!”.

When it comes to the law, the police may well find that they can.

She moves in her own way…

Meet The BeatPCSO Sam Skinner, Aldridge Police Station, Walsall LPU

PCSOs – what do they stand for? Where do they stand and indeed, what do they do whilst they’re standing wherever it is that they stand?

I’ve had a few requests recently for a blog about the role played by PCSOs, probably prompted by the news reports that some forces are looking at using Police Community Support Officers as the first point of contact between public and police.

I thought long and hard about the best way to present this blog and then, after an embarrassingly long pause, realised that the most obvious way to get a better understanding of what a PCSO does would be to sit down (or stand up) and interview one.

This thought was followed shortly after by the realisation that even better than scratching down their answers in my own ‘spider like’ handwriting, why not deploy a little technology and use video to upload the interview straight onto the tubes of the internet?

Step in my good friend PCSO Sam Skinner of Walsall’s Aldridge Neighbourhood Team who took no convincing at all before she agreed to lend some of her time to answer a few questions about her role.

When I wrote ‘deploy a little technology’ a couple of paragraphs ago, I was being quite literal as the interview was filmed on a mobile phone – the content is good, the picture quality not too bad although there is probably a little room for improvement with the sound – it’s all a bit experimental mind but still, I think it’s turned out rather well.

If you’re interested to learn more about PCSOs there are several on Twitter and you can find a full list of them here.

Sam of course has her own account, as does PCSO Cassie Taylor, Sam’s colleague, which you can find here. They’re both happy to answer further questions and are well worth a follow so if you’re on Twitter yourself, please check them out.

During the interview Sam mentions her powers and refers to her ‘designation card’ – you can examine the designation card currently carried by West Midlands Police PCSOs here, and if you’re interested to know more about their allocated powers you can find out about their role over on our website.

Black Dog…

A Day In The LifeParading at Park Lane Police Depot, Saturday June 2nd 2012, Tour of Duty – 08:00 to 17:00

Apologies for the lack of posts over the past couple of weeks, I’ve just moved house and didn’t realise that my ISP’s definition of ‘five days’ for reconnection might be very different from that used by everyone else!

Dogs. More specifically, police dogs. They bark, they bite criminals and they sniff out cleverly hidden drugs. Is this the reality though? Today I spent a shift with one of our own dog units to find out.

Our dog units work from three central ‘hubs’ and so early in the morning I headed over to the police base at Park Lane, Aston, for parade. Having never been to Park Lane before I try a succession of wrong doors before eventually finding one with ‘dog unit’ written on it and stumbling in.

I’m met by Sgt. Cannings, in charge of the team of dog handlers on the early shift, who introduces me to everyone and gives a quick overview of what our dog handlers do.

I’ve obviously worked alongside the dog handlers whilst out and about in Walsall but even so, within ten minutes I’m being told all sorts of things about how to identify breeds of dangerous dogs that I was previously unaware of – it’s a complicated topic and it’s clear the dog handlers have some great expertise.

The West Midlands Police dog unit has roughly fifty officers working on it and one hundred dogs. Dog handlers are usually single crewed and drive around in high powered, specially adapted Skodas, often at eye watering speeds thanks to their advanced driving grades.

I’m to be crewed up with PC Simon Horton, an officer of twenty seven years experience and a dog handler for over a decade, who is going to show me what the department does so after a quick drink we head down to the garage to meet the stars of the show – the dogs themselves.

Approaching the garage we can hear the dogs talking to each other in the back of the patrol cars. Bark! Bark! Bark! one of them says, only for another to reply Bark! Bark! Growl! and so on. They’re obviously eager to hit the streets so without further delay we set out on patrol.

Simon has two police dogs that that both work and live with him – Thai, who he uses to chase and control offenders, and Beau, his drugs dog. The dog handlers get a small allowance to cover the maintenance costs associated with keeping the hounds but as Simon quite rightly points out, it’s a full time job and he never gets, or seems to want, a break from it.

It’s not long before we get our first job, a request from officers in Erdington to search a house of a suspected drugs dealer, and so having arrived Simon gets Beau out of the cage and lets her into the house.

Needing no encouragement, Beau instantly starts to sniff every corner of the house with her tail enthusiastically wagging away. We check all of the rooms of the house and the garden too (see the below video) but don’t find anything so are able to feed back to the officers that the house appears to be clear.

There’s no such thing as a standard police dog – each one has its own personality and also, its own specialty – just like their human colleagues.

Alongside the drugs dogs and the scary ones that bark/chase/bite criminals (in that order), there are also dogs that have been specially trained to sniff out guns, cash, bodies or explosives.

Everybody knows about what a good sense of smell dogs have and as many criminals have found out, you can’t really out run a police dog. Those that have tried, or even just thought they could hide from them, often find not only that they can’t but also that having tried they now have an angry police dog dangling from their arm and refusing to let go.

Not being needed at the house, we float down to Balsall Common, Solihull, to check in at the kennels. This is where our police dogs are sourced from with a breeding program in operation specifically for police dogs. It’s also where police dogs are boarded if their owners go on holiday.

The dogs that are fit to be trained for work with the police are identified from an early age and at around the age of one and a half start of training program lasting several months. Each year they are tested so that they are ‘licensed’ to be police dogs.

Shortly after arriving we’re called away again, this time being asked to attend a house where a neighbour has phoned to say that he thinks a break in is taking place. As I mentioned earlier, Simon is an advanced driver and so we arrive in no time at all with the dogs barking away happily in the rear.

The idea of being called is that Thai could help track any offenders who have run off or alternatively, help search gardens and other open areas for burglars. We speak to the local officers but it is apparent there hasn’t been a break in and so we resume patrol, heading back towards Birmingham.

After a few similar calls we drift our way towards an old factory used by the dog handlers to train their dogs in. We meet up with Sgt. Cannings again and watch as another handler dons an armoured sleeve and allows Thai to attack him. It’s a frightening sight and I’d certainly not want to be on the receiving end of a bite from Thai as his teeth are rather sharp and what’s more, he won’t let go until Simon tells him to!

A quick bite to eat follows and we’re then called to help officers in Saltley deal with a man who is reported to have a knife. This is exactly the sort of job that the dog handlers can be really useful at, being able to disarm the male without risking officers getting hurt.

Thankfully when we arrive the man has been talked out of doing anything silly and so we tell Thai that he won’t be needed this time round. Every time the sirens go on the dogs seem to get excited and whilst it may be the noise, I think they secretly listen to the police radio and so know what jobs they’re going to in advance!

A few similar jobs come in and between them, Simon tells me all sorts of things that I never realised about what the dogs can do. The amount of specialist knowledge held by the dog handlers seems incredible and judging from the dangerous nature of the jobs they’re often caller to, it’s certainly not a role for the faint hearted.

Towards the end of the shift Thai and Beau quieten down a little, probably from all the excitement of speeding around Birmingham, and so after giving them a quick run around at the Tally Ho training centre we head back to Park Lane to hand the keys over to the late shift.

Although the dogs don’t offer to help, Simon gives the car a quick wash down and then Thai and Beau hop into his own car for the ride home.

The dog unit is one of those that many people dream of joining and that some people will become police officers because they find its work so attractive. The dog handlers are first are foremost dog people – they adore their dogs and adore the work they do.

Being a dog handler isn’t all foot chases and finding stashes of drugs but walking from Park Lane back to the train station I found myself thinking how fortunate we are as officers to have them on hand – they’re an incredibly professional, dedicated lot and not only this, their dogs often take chunks out of criminals which is a very pleasing sight indeed!

Simon checks out the car at the start of the shift whilst the dogs tune up their vocal chords ahead of a busy day barking at things.

Beau having a jolly good sniff around a garden on the hunt for drugs.

One of the more fierce police dog recruits!

Thai has absolutely no intention of letting go of this ball. None whatsoever.

The above video shows Beau literally following her nose on the hunt for drugs.

Police dogs aren’t all fierce – tell me honestly that your heart didn’t melt watching this video…

Like to see a few more photos from the day? Check out the full Facebook gallery here where you’ll find plenty more pics of Beau, Thai and more.

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