Posts Tagged 'interview'

There’s always another point of view, a better way to do the things we do…

Heroin addiction can be a horrible affliction, a little understanding can go a long way to helping address the issue. (Image from Psychonaught)

It was one of the strangest prisoner interviews I’ve done in a while. Just me and a shoplifter who had already admitted taking spirits from a shop and was now telling me all about why she had done it.

For the interview itself, the confession was what I’d needed.

Yes, she’d taken the goods. No, she hadn’t any reason to think that she could take whiskey and vodka from the shelves without paying for them and yes, had she have got away with it she would have quickly sold the bottles.

Points to prove for a theft covered.

It’s at this point that the interview would usually finish but as I’d asked whether there was anything else she wanted to tell me, it being her interview, she’d propped herself up and opened up about not what she had done but why.

There’s a heroin habit that needs to be fed. A methadone prescription helps to an extent but it doesn’t see her through the whole day. Drinking her prescription in the morning under supervision of a pharmacist, come the afternoon the ‘rattling’ sensation returns leaving her with a gap that she has little choice but to fill by scoring.

The alternative is a crippling sickness as withdrawal symptoms take over, compelling her to find another fix and not letting her think about anything else until she has done so.

This means stealing although as she has suggested, as have many others to me whilst in similar interviews, she doesn’t want to be out running the risk of getting arrested for theft. She doesn’t want the hours spent in police cells, the drugs are the sole reason that she’s here.

The alternative she tells me is prostitution and the sexual abuse at the hands of rough, uncaring punters that inevitably follows. The shops closed, this is sometimes her only option and the sad stories she tells me about life on the streets I know are repeated across the country night on night.

She shows me her arms and the collapsed veins faintly visible under her needle scarred skin. Only the worn look in her eyes offer any real explanation for the premature ageing of her body, the unpleasant realities of having to inject heroin reinforced when she contorts her arm around to demonstrate how she reaches her few remaining useful veins.

The story starts six years prior being handed a drug by a ‘friend’ which she had thought was more innocent than the heroin that it turned out to be.

Addiction quickly took hold and took over, the years that followed were marked by consistent dependence on the drug, largely untroubled by spells in rehab.

It can be very difficult in our job to know what to think about some of the people we come into contact with. Addiction, poverty and unfortunate circumstances push people to do some terrible things. It’s easy to label someone as a ‘junkie’ or a ‘drunk’ and slam the cell door.

From time to time we are presented with timely reminders that the question of why is just as important as what and that there’s always room for understanding, for compassion.

Having listened to the girl’s account and her acknowledgement that people think she’s ‘just another junkie’, it was clear to me that there’s no such thing.

Why can’t you be nicer to me?

One of the few areas of difference between me and Batman is our treatment of prisoners. How would you expect police to treat suspects though? (Image from Warner Brothers)

“You don’t want to make him angry, I can’t control him when he gets angry”.

Okay, I’d not said those exact words but at some point during a recent prisoner interview our suspect, somewhat annoyed at having to answer questions about his arrest, asked me and my partner if we were doing the ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine.

As I hope you’d have already guessed, I was accused of being the ‘good’ cop and whilst we were doing nothing of the sort, it did get me thinking just how should someone be treated post arrest?

During training we’re taught how best to structure interviews. We get shown how the tapes work, which forms we need to fill in and how to plan our interviews to get the most desirable result.

Whilst movies might suggest otherwise, we’re not taught how to ‘break a suspect down’, nor do we rip off our warrant cards, turn off the tapes and yell “It’s just you and me now, buddy!” in the hope that we’ll get a confession.

The key word is ‘interview’ – not interrogation.

Judging how best to deal with suspects post-arrest though can be very tricky – how would you expect, or indeed hope, that someone arrested for, say, pedophilia or murder, might be dealt with by police?

Would you feel comfortable with the use of the word ‘sir’ whilst the handcuffs go on? Some people may well hope that the same handcuffs are applied a little too tightly and heads ‘accidentally’ bump into car doors on the way back to the station.

It’s important to realise though that letting emotions take over in no way helps the investigation and furthermore that it’s the courts, not the police, that are responsible for deciding guilt and punishment.

This is where the job can get very difficult – how can officers maintain their professionalism when interviewing a suspect who they’ve witnessed an hour earlier viciously attacking someone outside a nightclub?

You can’t deny that the temptation might exist to bang fists on tables and start reenacting scenes from LA Confidential but when set against the wider scope of the investigation, allowing emotions to take over clearly wouldn’t help and this is why it doesn’t happen.

Arrests commonly take place so that we can interview suspects on tape – as guilty as they may appear it’s our job to gather all available evidence. When it comes to obtaining an account, winding up our suspect by claiming that their co accused has been ‘singing like a canary’ hardly helps.

Rather, in the long run dealing with prisoners with a little common courtesy, however ill deserved it may appear, is far more rewarding than any short term satisfaction that may come with rudeness.

For me this translates as an offer of a drink (hot chocolate with four sugars) when a suspect reaches the cell, an extra blanket or even one of Walsall Police Station’s famous ‘All Day Breakfasts’.

It’s no comment on us being ‘soft’ on suspects, rather it shows that we want to be in the best possible position to obtain the evidence that we need to prove – or disprove – someone’s guilt.

We’re all good cops, or at least we try the best we can – there’s no reason not to be.

Speaking words of wisdom…

Last week I sat down for an interview at Walsall Police Station. As this is something that I do frequently you’d be forgiven for thinking that in itself, this is nothing particularly interesting.

What set this interview apart was that rather than asking the questions I was on the receiving end. I was sat in one of the interview rooms at the station answering questions about criminal activity in the Walsall area. What exactly was going on?

Well, I had agreed to meet Dean Hill from the WS5 Blog who wanted to speak to me about what my role involves, what I do on a day to day basis and how people can best avoid becoming a victim of crime.

For anyone who’s not seen the WS5 Blog it’s well worth checking out, especially if you live in the Bescot, Tame Bridge or Yew Tree areas of Walsall. It’s what fashionable media types call a ‘hyperlocal‘ blog as it focuses exclusively on a small geographical area and is written for the benefit of the people living in, or concerned with, that area. It’s running along similar lines to Brownhills Bob’s very popular Brownhills Blog which too is well worth a look, even if you don’t live in Brownhills.

My chat with Dean was scheduled to last around half an hour but in the end actually ran to over an hour and a half, such is my ability to waffle on about crime and policing! Dean has recorded the interview and uploaded it to his SoundCloud profile, thankfully editing it into bite size chunks for easier listening.

Without further delay* then, here is the interview for your listening pleasure!

Part 1What does a response officer do?

Part 2What does a typical day consist of?

Part 3How does social media help policing?

Part 4Current issues and objectives leading up to Christmas

Part 5Are cuts impacting policing over the Christmas period?

Part 6What are we doing to tackle metal thefts?

Part 7How can I keep my house and car safe over Christmas?

Part 8Christmas drink drive campaign and what happens after being stopped for drunk driving

Part 9How West Midlands Police are looking to reduce anti-social behaviour over Christmas

Part 10Neighbourhood Watch and how people can get involved with the work of the police

Part 11Reporting crime via Crimestoppers

Part 12Policing during the August Riots

Part 13How to beat bogus callers

If interviews like this are something that you’d like to see us doing more often then please let us know as I felt it was very worthwhile and would be happy to look at doing something similar again in the future.

Thanks again to Dean for taking the time to come down and talk with me and again, I’d encourage you to take a look at the WS5 Blog and its Twitter stream if you’re interested in learning more about what is happening in the Bescot area.

* You may experience further delay if you’re reading this blog on a phone made by a popular type of fruit and it decides it doesn’t fancy displaying Flash content. If the sound files don’t load above or are a little slow please try looking at this page on your desktop computer or instead go direct to Dean’s SoundCloud profile and try there.

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!


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