Archive for July, 2012

London calling to the faraway towns…

The Olympics have come to us, now it’s our turn to go to them. What’s involved in getting us police officers to London?

It’s now one week until I, along with several other of West Midlands Police’s finest officers, get sent down to London to help out at the Olympics.

The games themselves are eight days away and as I think I made clear in my last blog, I’m looking forward to getting involved.

What does it take to get us there though? Is it simply the case of throwing our funny shaped hats into a kit bag and hoping on a train?

To say that a lot of planning has gone into the Games is somewhat of an understatement.

Whilst I’m sure Lord Coe has pitched in with a paintbrush here and there, he’s been supported by a small army of support staff all working together to ensure that the swimming pools are filled with water, the 100m track is exactly 100m long and that there are enough leotards to go round.

Of the different aspects to consider in the preparations, security is probably one of the most important.

Speaking frankly, I’m not sure what to make of this. My view is that if there’s a group of people who don’t need a great deal of police protection, it’s world class athletes.

Why do I say this?

Well, try mugging Usain Bolt. As soon as you’ve said ‘Give me your…’ he’ll be in Luton. Likewise see what happens when you get a bit shirty with the Taekwondo teams, or the weightlifters.

Put simply, there’s hardly anything separating the athletes currently flooding into the capital from the cast of Avengers Assemble and with their ability to pole vault, somersault and chop their way out of trouble I’m not going to be too worried about them.

This said perhaps the same can’t be said about the public at large and so they’re the reason that we’ll be on the streets of the capital in large numbers, having our photos taken next to tourists and saying ‘ello ‘ello ‘ello to anyone who fancies causing trouble.

Getting us there though has been far from straightforward and something that’s been in planning ever since we won the right to host the world’s sports day back in 2006.

Consider the first issue for example – ensuring that we have the resilience to support both the local forces in London whilst at the same time also policing the good people of Birmingham. We can’t all suddenly take flight to the capital so we’ve had to work out how to strike a sensible balance.

This is made harder by having to abstract multiple officers from a range of different departments, all likely working different shift patterns and from different locations.

It’s not a job I’d envy and I think the staff in our Resource Management Unit have done a cracking job so far in working out how to juggle us officers around so to provide the Games with officers whilst at the same time leaving plenty for our own commitments.

Freeing up officers though isn’t the half of it.

Once you’ve allocated a chunk of police officers (I think the plural for police officers is a chunk) you’ve then got to work out what to do with them.

This will mean working closely with the local forces and LOGOC to understand their requirements, to get our heads around which athletes will be where, who will be throwing what and where will we need to stand to ensure we don’t get a javelin lodged in our stab vests.

This is made harder by the fact that the security requirements are ever changing. New intelligence will be flowing in all the time and could change the situation overnight meaning our Olympic Planning Department need to be ready to alter their arrangements at a minute’s notice.

So you’ve got the officers and you know roughly what they need to do, now you need to work out how to transport large numbers of officers from across the West Midlands to venues across London and beyond.

Some will be traveling in police vehicles, others in coaches and some may even hop onto trains, all of which need to be tightly scheduled so that everyone knows where and when they need to be and so we can avoid any hilarious Home Alone situations from occurring.

If you’ve never been on a coach full of police officers, it’s not a million miles away from being on a school trip. I don’t really envy the supervisors sat at the front putting up with constant calls of ‘sarge are we nearly there yet?’ or ‘sarge I need the toilet’ or even ‘sarge PC Smith keeps pinching me’…

Having got us to London, we then need to be clothed, sheltered and fed. We eat a lot so heavy duty catering facilities are a must. A quality coffee outlet and easily accessible doughnut vender will also be welcome. Essentials out the way, we also need places to securely store CS spray and to recharge radios.

We’re now in London, our bellies are full and we’re ready to hit the streets, where do we need to go and what exactly are we going to be doing?

Whilst policing duties are largely the same across the country, equipment and procedures are not so we’ll need to do a little ‘acclimation’ to get used to local forces’ radio networks, their computer systems and anything else that they may do differently.

A series of ‘eLearning’ packages completed ahead of our deployment will have helped although there’s still likely to be a few teething issues whilst we work out which button does what on the Met Police radios and learn to overcome the temptation of pressing the big red one marked ‘do NOT press’.

Clothed, fed and up to speed on working in London, the task of policing the games can finally begin in earnest as can that of enjoying our time down in the capital.

It’s something a little different for us, a fantastic opportunity for us to get involved and is sure to provide some great memories.

Much of the planning behind the Games will have taken place out of the public eye by people who you’re unlikely to ever of heard of, the work they’ve put in though in pulling it all together will be reflected every day in what I think is going to be a great event. Here’s to them!

Going for gold…

Lots of sports are happening in London starting next week and I’ll be heading down to help out – am I excited? You bet!

Now I don’t know if you’ve heard but in around ten days, depending on when you’re reading this, there will be starting down in foggy London Town a big fancy sports day.

I’m a little hesitant to mention it by name as even the name of our fair capital has been classified as a ‘protected word’ (see here for more) but then I probably don’t need to – you’ll have seen the five ‘sports day discs’ printed on every item in the supermarket, will be well acquainted with Wenlock & Mandeville and you may have even seen the sports day sparkler being carried through your town as it winds its way towards the metropolis.

Yes, the big sports day is indeed a big deal and one that I’m greatly looking forward to, not only because I like watching the sports people doing their sports but also because I, like many other police officers from around the country, am going to be directly involved.

Us police officers hold a privileged position – we get to do things that many people will never do, we see things that most folk wouldn’t want to see and we meet truly ‘animated’ characters on a daily basis.

When it comes to national events we often find ourselves with a front row seat being paid for the privilege of saying ‘I was there’.

Such events are career milestones – the roles we play in them may not necessarily be interesting but they are things we can look back on in ten or twenty years time with the satisfaction that we’ve had the opportunity to take part.

Some of the older officers I work with still remember what they were doing during the Miners’ Strikes – not necessarily fond memories but such events are milestones nonetheless that come to punctuate careers.

My first ‘milestone’ was helping out for the Pope’s visit in 2010. I wasn’t doing anything interesting – I was guarding a fence outside St. Mary’s College in the middle of the night and was in bed long before the Pope came anywhere near but even so, I’d contributed, I’d been involved.

I’ve always thought that you get out what you put in and so when the emails went out earlier this year asking for volunteers to go down to London for the big sports day, I jumped at the opportunity.

I didn’t do so under the impression that I’d be inside the stadium for the opening ceremony, or chasing after Usain Bolt in the 100m final – I actually thought I’d probably be nowhere near any of the events and stuck at a tube station somewhere directing lost tourists whilst being equally lost myself.

This didn’t matter though, what mattered was that I’d get a chance to be there.

With the festivities starting next week, the plans for my own deployment, along with those of officers around the country, are finally starting to take shape.

As I’ve mentioned on my Twitter feed I’ll be boarding a coach bound for the big smoke next Thursday and whilst I can’t say too much about what I’ll be doing whilst I’m there, I’ve got a week and a half spell helping out at the games which I’m very much looking forward to.

As I’ve said, you get out what you put in. I’m thinking the Olympics (I said it!) will be a great chance to put this approach into practice.

P.S. I’m a little unsure how frequently I’ll be able to update the Twitter feed over the course of the deployment. I’ll be following the advice given to us by Lord Coe and whilst the IOC seems encouraging on the use of social media during the games, I get a feeling I’ll be so busy that I might not get the chance.

Words we never say…

John Terry has been found not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand – does this verdict clear him though?

So it’s official, following a week of intense legal wrangling Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle has reached the conclusion that whilst John Terry’s language towards Anton Ferdinand was unpleasant, it wasn’t racist.

As far as legal action goes, Terry is in the clear.

Terry’s defence wasn’t that he hadn’t uttered racist words – indeed that he hadn’t traded several insults with Ferdinand – but that he was merely repeating to Ferdinand the contents of an accusation that he thought had been leveled at him.

Lip readers have not been able to prove contrary to Terry’s account, no one else on the pitch appeared to have overheard the exchange and Terry was assessed as a credible witness.

The court had to prove ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ that Terry was guilty, this standard wasn’t felt to have been met and so the only option was to release Terry without charge.

This is likely the end of the criminal justice system’s involvement in the matter.

What remains to be seen is how The FA deal with Terry, how their course of action bares on their own Respect Campaign and the attitude of fans themselves.

First of all, from past experience when West Midlands Police officers comment on footballer’s conduct some fiery responses have been provoked from fans and senior football figures alike. Superintendent Payne’s blog on Wayne Rooney raised a response from Alex Ferguson himself and made the national news.

With this in mind, I’ll preface my thoughts with the disclaimer that they’re my opinion only and I don’t speak with any particular knowledge of the footballing world. I’d consider myself reasonably impartial – whilst I take an interest in law and order I don’t have a great deal to do with football and so looking at some things that happen in the ‘beautiful game’ through a policeman’s eye, I am weary that I run the risk of misunderstanding their context.

Having followed the trial up to its conclusion, I’m of the opinion that even if Terry’s behaviour was not proven to have been racist, it’s certainly was not in any way appropriate either on or off the pitch.

Professional footballers are the closest things to role models that many youngsters are likely to get. They’re worshiped, idolised and their images invade the consciousness of youth around the world.

With such a powerful status there’s an equally demanding responsibility to live up to their positions – to take heed of the respect that they find invested in themselves.

Verbal tirades against each other on live television do nothing to reassure me that certain footballers are interested in reflecting their profession in a positive light.

It’s all very well wearing the Respect Campaign logo on their sleeves but without action to back up their commitment, it all seems a bit pointless.

This stretches beyond the players. Standing between the opposing fans at Villa Park whilst attached to the Football Unit earlier this year, the one thing that struck me was the level of abuse traded between the two sets of fans.

Some paid no attention at all to the game and I watched two parents spend the whole of the ninety minutes screaming abuse at the rival fans, apparently oblivious to their ten year old son who was sandwiched between them.

Of course I’d hate to imply this impression is representative of all footballers or fans – I’ve no reason to think it is and know that the vast majority of those who pay to watch football, or who are paid slightly more to play it, do so out of a love for the game.

The impression I get from examples such as those seen at the ground and Terry’s well documented case is that it seems hard to describe football as ‘beautiful’ – it has an ugly side that The FA would do well to address.

I can’t see that this is a new issue – I think we see much less violence on the terraces than we did, say, back in the eighties and too can see that football is a passionate game.

In the heat of the moment words will always be exchanged that may raise a few eyebrows in the Post Office – a line is crossed though when these words are sufficient to land a player in a criminal court.

Likewise with racist or sexist chanting, a line too is crossed from banter to criminality and this not only spoils the game but damages the good reputation that football deserves.

Terry was charged under S. 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 accused of using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

I’m keen to see how The FA interpret S. 3(1) of their own rules, nearly identical in that it seeks to prohibit the use of ‘threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour’.

Terry is in the clear as far as criminal law goes, in terms of the ethics of the game though I think that Terry and others have a lot to answer for.

With a change in attitudes there’s no reason that football can’t be beautiful again – the John Terry case suggests a change of attitudes is sorely needed.

P.S. You can read more about how the police and Crown Prosecution Service arrived at the decision to charge Terry by checking out my blog from last year on that very subject. You can also find out more about the Public Order Act on another of my blogs from last March.

You can read the full text of the ruling here (be advised – choice language alert!) and to find out more about racism in sport, have a look at Kick It Out, Show Racism The Red Card and the FARE Network.

She could steal but she could not rob…

“Help! We’re being robbed! Or burgled? Or is this theft?” – where’s the difference?

“They broke into me house when I was out and they robbed me telly!” – This is a report that’ll be made to officers across the country on a daily basis but is it actually robbery? Is ‘theft’ different and where do we draw the line?

For us police officers, language makes a big difference. Swapping one word for another can make the difference between someone walking away from the cells with a caution and instead walking down the steps to prison.

Theft, burglary, robbery – all are similar offences but separated by some very important distinctions that affect how we and the courts would deal with offenders.

Starting off with the most basic offence, theft, us officers get made to memorise the definition given S. 1 by the Theft Act 1968 that a person commits theft when he or she ‘dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it’.

The Act defines exactly what each component of this definition means, basically implying that the law will classify you as a thief is you knowingly take property that you have no right to and treat it in such a way as to prevent the lawful owner having use of it.

Robbery stems from this basic offence – theft is the seed from which the latter crime grows and without this seed, robbery cannot occur.

Robbery is defined under S. 8 of the Theft Act and is where in order to steal, an offender uses force or the threat of force. The force can be used before the theft takes place or at the time and doesn’t necessarily have to be against the victim.

So robbery is theft with the accompanying use of force, how is burglary different?

Whilst force is the separating factor between theft and robbery, it is trespassing that makes burglary distinct from simple theft. S. 9 of the Theft Act defines burglary with reference to entering ‘any building or part of a building as a trespasser’.

Not content with making the definition as simple as that though, S. 9 throws in a further consideration that if you enter a building as a trespasser not to steal but instead to cause damage or to seriously assault someone you can also consider yourself a burglar.

So there we have it, theft separated from robbery and the two more or less set apart from burglary. All are serious crimes and ones that we’re working hard to prevent with operations such as Serve & Protect ongoing to target the worst offenders.

As for how well we’re doing, you can have a look at some of the crime stats over on our official website – notice the drop in robbery by nearly a third since 2002 and total crime falling by not far from 20%.

The figures are heading in the right direction, no doubt partially due to people following crime prevention tips and avoiding becoming victims in the first place.

We’re looking to steal the easy opportunities from the criminals – with your help I’m sure we can drive crime down even further!

P.S. I had been asked by a friend to clarify what the difference is between the offences of ‘assault with intent to rob’ and ‘attempted robbery’. Looking into the advice that CPS offer, it seems that the first offence is an appropriate one to go for if the victim has managed to retain their property during, say, a struggle with the offender on the street. It is, however, an apparent grey area and I’d encourage anyone with a more detailed knowledge than me to leave a comment expanding further?

Step into my office baby…

Tom Winsor has become the first person to be appointed as Chief Inspector of Constabulary not to have served previously as a senior police officer – why the controversy though?

Yesterday it was announced that there’s a fresh face due to oversee the office of the Police Constable.

His name is Tom Winsor, he’s been appointed as the new Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales and contrary to this blog’s title, I probably couldn’t get away with calling him ‘babe’.

The news has been greeted with a mixed reaction by police with some thinking that he’s not an appropriate person for the role.

What does Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) actually do though and why might Mr Winsor be seen as a controversial choice?

It is the role of HMIC to independently oversee on behalf of the Home Office the work of English and Welsh police forces. The HMIC is perhaps a little like what Ofsted is to schools – it measures and assesses how forces are performing and then produces reports aimed at improving said performance.

Up until now the head of HMIC has always been a high ranking police officer.

Since 2009 it has been Sir Denis O’Connor, a former Chief Constable of Surrey Police who has also held senior positions in Kent Police and the Met.

Mr Winsor’s appointment breaks with this tradition – his background is in the legal profession, he is a lawyer and spent several years working as the Rail Regulator.

This is perhaps not the primary source of the controversy though – Mr Winsor is also the author of the Winsor Report which was a large scale review into the working rights and pay of police officers.

Some in the police force, particularly those representing the Police Federation, felt that the recommendations of Mr Winsor’s report were unfair and so objected to them publicly with several thousand officers traveling to London to register their concerns at a demonstration march.

Mr Winsor’s appointment has been described as ‘very difficult’ news by Paul McKeever, Chairman of the Police Federation, who also said he could understand officers’ ‘anger and frustration’ at the move.

Speaking to the Home Affairs Select Committee before his appointment though, Mr Winsor had sought to reassure that it was “not essential” that the Chief Inspector’s role be filled by a police officer and that he’d work hard in the best interests of the public.

It’s fair to say that Mr Winsor’s appointment is a bold move and one that was always likely to raise a few eyebrows inside the police service.

At the same time this is a period of significant change for policing and fresh ideas may be beneficial to adapting to lower budgets and reduced staffing numbers.

Mr Winsor’s report advocated direct entry to encourage new experience into policing and his own appointment appears to continue along the same line.

Consider the time Adam Crozier spent as The Football Association’s Chief Executive – Crozier too had little direct experience of football having come from a business background but despite this apparent disadvantage, was able to implement a series of changes that boosted The FA’s profitability and governance.

It’s too early to say whether Mr Winsor’s appointment as Chief Inspector of Constabulary will be a success, what does seem clear though is that the move is a sign that the times are changing and the police service needs to move with them.

All we are saying is give peace a chance…

A classic breach of the peace.

The other week I was contacted by one of my Twitter followers curious about an incident he had witnessed in his home town. He’d seen officers arrest a young malefactor to prevent a ‘breach of the peace’ and asked me what the term means.

This is a question that demands a little more than one hundred and forty characters to address so here it is, breach of the peace explained in less than six hundred easily digestible words.

Starting off, a ‘breach of the peace’ is one of the odder offences that we deal with – odd in that it’s not really an offence at all. It has its roots in common law and stems from, as the text itself proclaims, ‘A STATUTE made in the Parliament holden at Westminster; In the Thirty-fourth Year’ called the Justices of the Peace Act 1361.

The Act states that there ‘shall be assigned for the keeping of the Peace, one Lord, and with him three or four of the most worthy in the County, with some learned in the Law, and they shall have Power to restrain the Offenders, Rioters, and all other Barators’ who have offended said peace.

It’s a cracking little law, principally because it seems to imply that we police officers are amongst ‘the most worthy in the County’, and affords us the power to ensure that the Queen’s peace is not disturbed.

In terms of what actually constitutes a breach of the peace, the relatively modern case law arising from R v Howell (1981) defines a breach as ‘wherever harm is actually done or is likely to be done to a person or in his presence his property, or a person is in fear of being so harmed, through an assault, an affray, a riot, unlawful assembly or other disturbance‘.

Police officers have powers both to arrest a person to prevent a breach of the peace occurring, or continuing, and also to enter private property.

On the street an arrest for a breach of the peace is often a last resort and will take place when we’ve made every effort to try and diffuse a situation through other means.

As the definition is relatively wide the power can be used in a variety of different situations, for example when the Met arrested nearly one hundred and eighty EDL members near Whitehall last year out of concern they threatened a breach.

Once a person is arrested to prevent a breach of the peace, they’ll be brought back to the station and a decision made on how to deal with their case. Often they’ll be held until the threat of a breach has passed and they they’ll be released with charge, as was the case with the Met’s EDL arrests.

If the breach was of a particularly serious nature or the detained person has previous history for similar arrests, the alternate option to is to charge them and send them to court. At court the person can be ‘bound over’ meaning that the court requires that they keep the peace in the future.

The ability to arrest to prevent a breach of the peace is useful to officers as it offers a fairly simple way to prevent any substantive criminal offences from taking place and to give the person arrested the chance to calm down a little before he or she does something that they may come to regret.

Ultimately it’s a measure that allows us to try and ensure ‘good Behaviour towards the King and his People’ – something that’s rather important!

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