Posts Tagged 'Mark Duggan'

Trust Vs. Mistrust

As a police officer, on an average shift I tend to wear a range of different bits of kit to help assisting me in achieving my daily goal of punching crime on the nose.

Trousers are a given. I have a radio nattering in my ear, a can of CS spray that hasn’t been used once in four years, a torch, a USB stick for downloading CCTV footage, police-issue ‘bracelets’ and a range of other bits and pieces designed to make the job easier.

All in all and including the stab vest that I wear to prevent an anti-social skewering of my organs, the kit weighs about as much as a very small child, a large cat or some other object of equivalent weight to that of my kit.

Now it may seem strange that considering the less than pleasant experience of wearing all of the above on a hot day, I’d be keen to have another gizmo to carry but there is something that I’m keen to be issued that I don’t yet carry.

To quote the Gadget Show, the ‘tech’ I’m interested in is a body worn camera, a subject that I’ve visited before after the story last year about someone wearing an unfashionable pair of Google Glasses witnessing an assault.

Their issue to officers has been in the news again recently in light of the Mark Duggan inquest with the Met suggesting that they’d be worn by their firearms units to help boost transparency.

This can only be a good thing and similar steps have been taken by other forces with Hampshire Constabulary now using them as standard issue and trials of badge type devices being ran in Birmingham and as I understand it, to be extended to other areas of the Midlands too.

I think the feeling amongst many officers is that they’d be supportive of their use as the evidence that they gather is mutually beneficial to both the officers and the public.

For officers, they’d help cut down allegations of misconduct and incivility as interactions would be documented and there’d be no disputing who did what and who said what following incidents.

For the public, they help gather strong, valuable evidence that can be presented to the courts and the benefit of this would likely be fewer not guilty pleas and time saved for both police and the courts accordingly.

Now their introduction wouldn’t be cheap – the bill in Hampshire alone was over quarter of a million pounds – but as an investment considering the potential for future savings and not to mention the public reassurance associated with the transparency that they’d provide, I’m argue that this is worth the cost.

Us officers are proud of the job we do, we want to do that job to the highest quality we can and contrary to what some people might think, the handful of untrustworthy examples brought to light in recent news stories do not represent the other 99% of us.

I’d like to see officers wearing cameras as standard as I know that by doing so, they’d prove what I’ve said above is correct.

P.S. BBC-style disclaimer – Above video used as an example of how the cameras are used only, other brands of camera are available and I’ve no intention of endorsing this camera over any other that is available now, will be available in the future or that could have been brought a hundred years ago when photography was more exciting with hoods and explosive powder.  

One time and one time only…

A year on from the August Riots the canteen at the station is a much more peaceful place – what perspective has the year put on the disorders though?

A year ago this week officers from Walsall, from Birmingham, London and across the country found themselves in the midst of some of the worst rioting seen in England for years.

The destruction seemed wholesale, the rioters shockingly ambitious and at the same time random in their choice of victims. Images of police lines stretched across a blazing skyline shot across the world, leaving in their wake tough questions about how the riots had come to be.

Writing now, a year on, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since those three days in August.

Repairs to the stricken areas continue, buildings have been torn down and the empty gaps they’ve left stand as a stark reminder of what can happen when the perception spreads that law and order has broken down.

I can’t claim to have played a particularly important role in the riots myself. I wasn’t one of the officers charging past broken shops near the Bullring, nor was I stood watching the Carpetright shop engulfed by a firestorm in Haringey.

Instead I was one of the many officers working extended shifts to restore the impression that the law still stood, that those who had come to riot would face the consequences and that the public ought not be panicked by what they saw each night on the news.

Looking back, what stood out to me at the time and what still stands today is the impression that whilst the rioters seemed to enjoy a fleeting taste of the upper hand, the police and other emergency services reacted and adapted with a professionalism that was nothing short of inspiring.

Rest days were cancelled, officers found themselves in unfamiliar situations and faced people on the streets who appeared set upon harming them by any means possible.

Faced with such apparent hatred the officers I worked alongside didn’t buckle, didn’t hesitate – instead they volunteered to work on, shift after shift in unimaginable situations and without a word of complaint.

To me the riots were particularly disturbing owing to the suddenness with which they took hold.

Riots, I’d always thought, would be prefaced by a period of visible tension, by rising discontent leading to a tipping point at which tensions boiled over and barricades sprung up.

A great deal of work has been done investigating the cause of the riots, notably through the Guardian and LSE’s collaborative project Reading The Riots, with various reasons raised by the rioters themselves in attempts to explain why they had taken to the streets.

Frustration at the use of Stop & Search powers in some areas has been floated as one reason and as a contributor; an argument could be made that these frustrations represent the preface I’d have expected with shooting of Mark Duggan representing the tipping point.

Sensible use of stop powers allied with better communication with the affected communities seem to be the way forward to address perceptions of frustration, and indeed forces across the country have already done a great deal of work to bridge divides.

Other explanations have looked towards gangs, social media and simple opportunism, the latter of which I think seems the most convincing explanation for why people, sometimes even those with no criminal background, found their way to the trouble spots and began to loot.

A year’s hindsight has suggested to me that whatever the cause of the original riots in Tottenham, the disorders that followed were able to take place because the idea had taken hold that ‘everyone was at it’, that the opportunity had unexpectedly presented itself to loot with impunity and that this, for some, was an opportunity that could not be missed.

As for why the riots came to a close, officers being made available in large numbers through Mutual Aid, some 16,000 in London alone, now appears to have been the principle deterrent to those thinking of returning to the streets for another night of disorder.

Proposed cuts to police numbers in this respect need to keep this in view – financial circumstances make cuts necessary but not at the expense of our ability to raise large numbers should the need arise.

The tragic deaths of the three men on Dudley Road, Birmingham, similarly arrested the further development of the riots, accompanied as they were by the impassioned appeal for calm of Tariq Jahan, father of one of those lost.

The riots, already sinister in tone, had taken on a direction that even those originally enthusiastic about the looting seemed reluctant to follow.

A year seems like a long time but as I’ve said, looking back it’s hard to believe that twelve months now stand between today and those chaotic, hellish scenes.

The need to maintain a visible, believable presence, alongside an ability to rapidly respond to incidents before they are able to escalate, will likely be the key elements in preventing a repeat of history and I think are some of the most important considerations to take from the riots.

Whilst the riots thankfully reached their conclusion after a few long days, a conclusion is yet to be reached on their legacy, with this anniversary reminding us that time does not heal all wounds.

The IPCC, for example, is yet to report on Mark Duggan’s death and investigations are ongoing to identify outstanding rioters with Operation View still yielding results in the West Midlands.

We have the flexibility in our structure and the quality in our people to deal with situations such as those seen during last August.

The real measure of our response to the riots will come not on this anniversary but in ten, twenty or thirty years time – should those decades pass without a repeat of the 2011 riots then we’ll know the steps we took away from Tottenham were steps taken in the right direction.

Olympics update – apologies for the lack of blogs over the past few weeks, I’d been down in London helping Lord Coe out at the games. I’m looking at putting a blog together about the experience of living and working in the capital just as soon as the games themselves draw to a close – highlights include the torch relay, Team USA and Wimbledon so stay tuned!.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I heard it through the grapevine…

The image of the station I uploaded to help quell internet rumours that it'd burnt down.

For myself, I’d say that by far Tuesday August 9th was the busiest day of the ‘Birmingham Riots’. Funnily enough this wasn’t because there were any riots, not in Walsall anyway, but because in the wake of the disorder seen in the city centre the night before, the social media networks were alive with rumour and speculation about where the trouble would next spread.

Before I tell you about my experience over that thirteen hour shift, I think it’d be useful to give a little background to why I became involved in social media in the first place.

Two important things came together to result in me starting on behalf of the police firstly a Twitter account and later a blog. These were the fact that I’m a geek and also the fact that being a geek and having some knowledge of how social media works, I could see the obvious benefits of using it as a police officer to communicate directly with the public.

I’ve written before about why we tweet and why I think social media has such an important part to play in modern day policing. The positive results can be seen daily across the force with officers able to give short, interesting updates to keep those they police updated.

With the riots starting in Tottenham and then spreading north the value and importance of maintaining a police presence on sites such as Twitter was quickly brought into sharp focus with accounts such as my own attracting thousands of additional followers, all people keen for reliable, real time updates on what was happening.

Last Tuesday saw me spending most of the shift sitting in the passenger seat of a patrol car with my phone in my lap. @replies were flooding in on Twitter from people around Walsall and further afield and I was both able to monitor the rumours and also gauge and then respond to people’s concerns.

As one of the first events of a scale capable of touching everyone in the country to have unfolded since of the establishment of social media, it was fascinating to see how quickly rumours caught hold and how willingly people would accept them.

That I was able to respond the quell such rumours there and then I think was incredibly valuable in that I believe, or at least hope, that an update from a policeman on the scene would have far more weight attached to it than would a groundless ‘I’ve heard…’ update, and so help reassure people accordingly.

One of the best rumours of the day was that my police station was on fire. Despite assurances that it wasn’t, I eventually had to publish a photo of the station very much not on fire to convince the rather worried population of Twitter. This photo was then forwarded on over a hundred times by my followers.

Since the disorder has died down, there has been debate about the role played by social media in the riots and indeed whether it was to blame. Some have even called for social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook to be shut down during times of turmoil.

My thoughts on this are that for any message that encouraged people to meet up in Birmingham or Wolverhampton, as examples, the networks were clogged with hundreds of other false and fruitless ‘It’s going to kick off at…’ tweets meaning the rumour mill itself impacted of social media’s apparent ability to focus people at a certain time and place as the ‘plans’ became so diluted and disorganised.

Furthermore I’m quite skeptical that it’d be either technically possible or indeed ethical to deny access to networks which the majority of the public use for peaceful ends. Think of the uproar that occurs when Facebook goes offline for even a few hours – people depend on it to keep in touch with their friends and family and I think proposing to shut down the service shows that this aspect of social media is not being properly considered.

There’d also be the obvious problem that with one service removed, another pops up offering the same capability and so where would media controls end? Closing down message boards? Stopping text messages? Blocking the millions of chat rooms? The era of mass communication is not something that can be switched off.

Riots are things that have been happening way before the advent of social media – no one Tweeted about the violent Poll Tax demonstrations – and I believe that periods of disorder are when the police and other emergency services most need an ability to directly interact with the public.

It’s in the immediate aftermath of a major incident – a fire or serious crash for example – that my Twitter account attracts the greatest amount of attention and this is because people value a direct response from those ‘in the know’.

This is not to say that some of the rioters didn’t get the idea to join in the ‘fun’ having received the call on BBM, I’m sure they did, but the merits of social networking still far, far outweigh the disadvantages at the time of a crisis.

Yes, misinformation can spread and spread fast but so can reliable, reassuring updates and at a time of unrest, this is what people need most of all.

It’s all over now, Baby Blue…

My 'Dedication' pic - 39,000 something views, over 2000 retweets, picked up by Sky News, ITV, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Express & Star to name a few...

Whilst I’m writing this, many officers across the West Midlands and further afield are slowly returning to normality after the tumultuous days of the previous week.

As the pic above shows, the shifts we’ve worked have been long, they’ve been tiring and demanding but at the same time have been necessary. Our job is to serve the public and when such an extraordinary set of circumstances arises, we are compelled to do all we can to return a sense of order to the streets.

When I talk about ‘normality’ of course, I guess it’s important to recognise that when it comes to the job of a police officer, there’s really no such thing.

‘Normality’ for officers in Walsall yesterday meant dealing with a major factory fire in the centre of the town. Normality meant the helicopter hovering overhead as units rushed around sealing off roads, evacuating houses and us looking like fluorescent windmills as we directed traffic around the scene of the incident.

I’d said earlier in the week how important the support of the public has been in helping officers through the longer shifts and giving us that extra boost when we reached four in the morning having worked however many hours and upon trying to write a statement, felt so tired that the words on the paper appeared to jump out of order and dance around the room.

The level of support that we’ve received, particularly through the social media sites, has in my experience been quite unprecedented and through my Twitter account alone I’ve read hundreds upon hundreds of messages wishing us well and congratulating us for our work.

I’ve been making sure that these messages find their way to the officers who are not quite as technically minded as myself and am really struggling to put into writing how much they’ve meant to us or what a difference it makes to know that whilst a small band of hoodlums have been out causing trouble, the vast majority of the public have been as shocked as we were at the scale of the disorder.

From talking to people whilst we’ve been out on foot patrols it is clear that this support is evenly distributed and there have been some superb acts of kindness shown by the public, locally with biscuits being dropped in at Willenhall Police Station and some rather delicious cakes finding their way to the nick at Walsall.

Of course from one point of view, the title of this blog is a little misleading (sorry Bob) as yes, whilst police officers are slowly resuming their normal duties, a wider discussion is now taking place on the cause of the riots and how to prevent their re-occurrence. We’re looking at ‘Broken Britain’, enhanced policing powers and importing super cops. Whilst the disorders have subsided, they were symptoms of a wider disease and it is the disease itself that needs a cure.

In addition to this discussion, efforts to identify and prosecute those sophisticated criminals who took part in the looting are ongoing with Operation View in the West Midlands now well established and yielding successes on a daily basis.

Eight days ago I don’t imagine anyone could have predicted how the rest of the week would have panned out. This is the nature of policing though, the unpredictability is something we’re used to but this isn’t to say that makes it any easier to deal with. What has helped though is your support, support that’ll not be readily forgotten.

I’ve changed my plea to guilty because freedom is wasted on me…

A custody van delivers yet more rioters to court (Image from BBC)

Another day and another quick blog post to keep you updated about the steps we’re taking to keep safe the communities of the West Midlands and help with the process of putting the pieces back together again in the wake of the recent disorders.

Assuming you’re hooked up to my Twitter feed (or indeed any of the other WMP social media outlets), you’ll know that our shifts have been subject to a little ‘rejiggling’ to ensure that there are many, many officers on duty at peak times.

We are all working a little longer than we would do usually but at the same time the general feeling is that we’re all pulling together to help each other out and serve you in the process.

Last night’s shift, between 7PM and 7AM, saw officers on duty across the West Midlands either out in patrol cars, sitting in police vans or out on their feet in the town centres. I spent the shift with a partner driving around in one of the ‘response’ cars attending the call outs and jobs that we continue to receive irregardless of the riots.

Saying that I spent the night going to jobs though, I should probably clarify by saying that after midnight or so the calls had dropped off and reassuringly there was very little to do other than go on the prowl for burglars and spot foxes. I spoke to officers who were finishing having been out in the ‘public order’ vans and they reported a similar shift – lots of patrol and chatting to people but no issues at all.

I’ve been regularly checking the prisoners we have held in the cells at Walsall and Bloxwich Police Stations and have been inspired when I load up the ‘white board’ to see we’ve been filling our blocks with people arrested for burglary, theft, criminal damage, public order offences and all sorts else in connection with the disorders.

As you may have read, the courts are opening throughout the night in order to process the huge numbers of prisoners that we have – and are continuing to – arrest having been identified as responsible for looting, some being arrested, charged and jailed inside twenty four hours.

To this end the CID department have been working especially hard in collecting evidence, interviewing and securing charges for these prisoners and so I think deserve a great deal of recognition for the results they’re achieving.

Meanwhile we continue to be bolstered by the huge amount of positive feedback that we’re receiving through the social networks and as I’ve said before, will say now and will say again in the future, it really does mean a lot to us.

My ‘Dedication’ photo continues to act as an apparent conduit for public goodwill towards us emergency services having quite expectantly found its way into many of the national papers and even onto the TV.

The amount of people who have shared it with others as a mark of their support for our work has been outstanding and whilst it does indeed reflect the resident fatigue of our longer hours, it at the same time reinforces our resolve to work the shifts, your support demonstrating that at times like these, the police really are the public and the public the police.

There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt…

The above is another shortish (well, seven minute long) video from our head honcho, West Midlands Police Chief Constable Chris Sims. I think the key quote to have come from our Chief over the past couple of days has been that those involved in the riots have been ‘not an angry crowd, but a greedy crowd’.

This pretty much says it all – there’s no political reason for burning down somebody’s home, smashing up somebody’s livelihood or robbing an injured person in broad daylight.

For many reasons it has been – and continues to be – an absolutely fascinating time to be a bobby and yesterday’s shift was no exception. I’d spent twelve hours on foot, walking around the centre of Walsall and chatting to anyone and everyone who fancied a chin wag.

There were no problems at all and as photos I uploaded showed, if anything it was actually quieter than usual. I understand this was the case across the rest of the West Midlands too.

Not having to chase masked hoodlums around whilst blowing my police whistle and yelling “Stop in the name of the law!”, I had the time to engage with people both face to face and through the social media, particularly my Twitter feed.

In both respects the support shown by the general public has been absolutely incredible and will be the subject of its own blog as and when I get the chance to sit and write something that sums up how much it meant to us all – not something that I feel will be easy to do.

I’d spent a lot of the afternoon popping into shops to speak to staff and also talking to shoppers making their way around the town. Positive feedback for what we were doing was unanimous and nothing short of inspiring. ‘There’s been no trouble in Walsall and that’s because the police have acted so quickly, thank you’.

This message was repeated over and over and means a great deal to us, it really does.

To top it all off, I received an invite through Twitter to drop into the Mayor’s Parlour at the town hall and on doing so, was not only thanked by the Mayor but also by the over fifties group visiting him at the time who all applauded us.

For the social media side, I’ve not been able to keep up with the hundreds and hundreds of messages of support that I’ve been sent through Twitter to pass on to colleagues. You can see the sort of response I’ve got here and I’ve been passing the messages on to my colleagues.

You’d think we’d struggle to work the extended shifts we’re now working but to be honest, such a level of positive feedback makes coping with the situation so much easier.

Just before I finished in the early hours I’d taken a photo in the canteen of some of the officers who were taking a break having manned one of the riot vans for however many hours previously. I’d accompanied the photo with the title ‘Dedication. Can’t say more than that’ as genuinely there was nothing more I could add.

The support we’ve had from the public I think is summed up in the response that this photo has had. I asked that it be forwarded, thinking that being the early hours a handful of people might see it. At time of writing, twenty five thousand people have viewed it.

Dedication. It goes both ways.

Local boy in the photograph…

CCTV image from the disorder in Birmingham on August 8th - can you help identify those responsible?

With shop owners and resident picking up the pieces after some totally unacceptable disorder in the West Midlands, we’re keen to begin identifying and prosecuting those responsible.

To this end we’ve set up Operation View and are encouraging you to look at the images captured on CCTV during the incident and then contact us if you’re able to make an identification of the offenders.

Images from the disorders are being added to the Operation View page on our website and we’ve set up a freephone number that you can use to get in touch with us if you recognise anyone.

The number you need is 0800 096 0095 or alternatively, you can email us at tellus@west-midlands.pnn.police.uk.

Any intelligence that you are able to provide will be useful in helping us bring those involved in the riots to justice and we’d be especially interested in knowing about people in your area who are offering ‘good as new’ items for sale in pubs etc.

We have increased staffing levels across the force area and so have many, many officers ready to quell further disorders should they occur and encourage you to contact us if any potential problems appear to be developing. You’ll receive a quick and robust police response in return.

For further updates on the situation, please refer to the official West Midlands Police channels and do your best to ignore the many unsubstantiated rumours that have been appearing on the social networks. The updates from @wmpolice and @brumpolice are a reliable source of information as are the press releases that can be found on the West Midlands Police Website.

It’s fair to say that our officers have been outraged about the disorders to the same extent that the majority of the good, law abiding public have been. As such we’re keen to show those responsible the inside of our police cells, the inside of a court room and then hopefully the inside of a prison.

To quote Wolverhampton’s Superintendent Payne, ‘If you took part in the disorder, sleep tight. We are coming for you’.

I have it all here in red, blue, green…

The above is a shortish video from West Midlands Police Chief Constable Chris Sims on the subject of the rioting seen in the region over the past few days.

We’re currently appealing for information on the disorders and would encourage you to get in touch with us if you think you can help identify those responsible. Take a look at the Operation View page for more on how you can help.

You can keep up to date with all the latest information through our website and by keeping your eye on the @wmpolice Twitter feed.

P.S. First person to guess which song I’ve taken the title of this post from wins an approving nod from myself. Just reply by clicking the ‘leave a comment’ link at the top. Go go go!

But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out…

A Day In The LifeParading at Walsall Police Station, Tuesday August 9th 2011, Tour of Duty – 06:00 to 14:00

I’m writing this with the sound of the news in the background as I wait for a much desired takeaway to wind its way to my front door. Each story seems to be ‘rioters have broken into…’ or ‘in so and so town, rioters have set fire to…’. The list goes on and on.

Today has certainly been an interesting shift mind, a quite extraordinary mix of the mundane and the bizarre with officers across the force going to great lengths to ensure that they can maintain the public’s safety.

Yesterday I’d volunteered to start earlier than usual as there was a prisoner receiving treatment in hospital and we’d been asked to provide a watch. He was over at the QE so having met up with my partner at silly o’clock, we picked up some car keys and set off across Birmingham to the hospital. On the way over I switched my radio to the city centre’s channel so that I’d have an idea what was happening in the local area.

Hospital watches, as I’ve previously written about, aren’t the most interesting part of the job but nonetheless we have to do them from time to time and so me and my partner locate our patient, take over from the bleary-eyed night shift officers and settle in on the ward. I catch up with a cycling magazine and half read about the Tour de France, my mind really on the events of the previous few days.

As the morning progresses I hear on the radio as our forensics officers move around the centre collecting evidence to help identify looters and listen keenly to the progression of jobs coming in with officers calmly responding to them as they always do.

The hospital watch itself isn’t remarkable and so soon after demolishing a bag of jelly babies we’re greeted by the smiling faces of the next two officers who have been assigned to take over the watch. This is around one o’clock and so having brought them up to speed with the prisoner, we then drive back over to Walsall.

As we are driving we are informed that rather than finishing at two, we’re now staying until seven with the rest of our shift. Changes like this are part of the job and to be honest, come as no surprise nor cause any problems. We know there have been problems and are happy to stay on for as long as needed to prevent them – it’s what I signed up to do.

I’d had the time whilst in the hospital to keep up to date with my Twitter feed and was aware that many people seemed concerned that there was trouble brewing in Walsall, not helped in the slightest by a succession of baseless rumours shooting around the social media networks. I did my best to reassure the many, many people contacting me that everything was okay and we ended up patrolling the centre itself to provide a bit of a visible presence to the shoppers.

Contrary to what people were saying, there were no problems in Walsall at all. I’m obviously hoping to take a large portion of the credit for this although realistically it was probably more to do with the fact that if any groups began to gather with whom we were suspicious of their intentions, we’d quickly disperse them.

Due to what I’d technically term a ‘re-jiggling’ of our shifts, a huge pool of officers became available during the afternoon to deal with any potential incidents and as such officers soon began to appear left, right and centre in the town with their funny hats and fancy fluorescent jackets. These officers will be on duty all night with us all now on longer hours to give more cover as and when needed.

With the sun dipping down below the not-on-fire buildings and the clock indicating it was nearly seven we returned to the station which, despite what people were saying on Twitter, was also not on fire. We checked our emails to make sure that our duties hadn’t been changed for the coming few days and then trudged our way down towards the locker room to dump our kit.

Back in tomorrow for a 15:00-03:00 shift, I’m off now to gobble down a curry which has just found my front door!


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