‘Playground Number 12′

Standing in a pool of watery engine oil in the middle of  the Winnie Mandela block on the Swamp Estate at the edge of Ruraltown at 9.00 pm is probably not the best time to be trying to remember the name of a song.

‘Winnie’ as it is known locally, is a giant low-slung concrete square. There is a handy drug dealing area in the middle of this area, known locally as ‘Playground Number 12′. The Orwellian name ‘Playground Number 12′ is actually a misunderstanding of the words left on the original sign which said ‘Playground No persons over the age of 12′.

Legend has it that after being set on fire, spray painted and shot at, the sign read ‘Playground No. 12‘. The local council used National Lottery money to ‘re-invigorate this exciting communal space using locally based community volunteers’. When it came to a new sign for the play area, no one involved could speak proper English so the replacement was made in the manner of the vandalised original. This is how Playground Number 12 came into existence, and I always think it is a perfect social comment on the whole area.

When we ask local youths where they get drugs they grin ‘Up at the twelve’. Tonight, I am ‘up at the twelve’ and apart from the discarded, used condoms all over the ground, I am alone. The condoms have been used for bringing drugs into the country and are, how can I put this delicately, ‘expelled’ in a squatting position by the mules under the swings after dark. The more professional mules swallow drugs, the swamp mules stick them elsewhere. Condoms are not used for birth control here; reproduction and the subsequent child benefit payments on this estate are a major source of income. Along with being a mule.

I have come here as part of a ‘Tasking’ which has promised local councillors that we will see if it is true that Playground Number 12 is a ‘no-go area’ after dark. If the definition of a ‘no-go area’ is that no one goes there, the councillors are correct. There is indeed, no one here. I do these tasks myself to save emergency response patrol time (the only officers out after dark) and so that I can get an idea of what disturbs the good citizens of the leafy suburbs 10 miles away.

The place is deserted except for me and some foul evidence of the presence on board flight 713 from Kingston, Jamaica of a mule from the ‘Winnie’.

I remember the song. It is Pleasant Valley Sunday, the version by The Wedding Present, not the Monkees original.

The truth behind falling crime figures.

Down on the Swamp Estate at the edge of Ruraltown, people do not believe in the criminal justice system. Time after time, in complete contradiction to perceived wisdom, they see convicted offenders walk away from court with a meaningless ‘community sentence’, right back to the estate. I have been involved in cases which have taken months of preparation, cajoling witnesses to appear, making all kinds of promises about how ‘supporting the system’ is the right thing to do, only to face angry victims and their friends afterwards when they see a gleeful offender set free.

It is very soul-destroying and very stressful for everyone (except the offender).

The situation is exactly the same for us as police officers. I know personally of a man who suddenly punched an officer to the floor with no warning, then took a swing at his head with a kick which only failed because the man was drunk, and finally drag him along the road until the officer managed to fight himself free. The man then walked away from the court with a set of meaningless fines and community based conditions.

This happened in front of many people at a local bus stop, probably all of whom will have heard about the court disposal and learned the obvious message from it!

People do not want to be arrested or questioned themselves. If a person reports a crime and names a suspect on the Swamp, that suspect will usually immediately make ‘counter allegations’ against his accuser. The CPS will tell the investigating officer that these counter allegations will have to be fully investigated in order for any future court case to stand a chance. The police then have two choices. Arrest or call in the witness and threat them as a suspect or drop the case. If a suspect makes counter allegations against a single crewed police officer who has witnessed a crime, that officer can be suspended and investigated too.

People do not want to be targeted after a court case. Witness intimidation is rife because the additional sentencing for doing so is negligible. People are sick of being treated badly by the courts, having to miss work and endure endless adjournments just because the suspect has a sniffle, a new baby, child care issues, a sick mother, delete as appropriate.

Experienced police officers have court-fatigue. No investigating officer will ever make any suggestion to a victim or witness that anything other than complete disappointment will follow a court appearance. Our new PCC called this “being negative about the exciting possibility of making a difference in court”. Our senior managers call it “Managing expectations”.

With all but the most serious offences, the court system has ensured that reporting crime is a mostly pointless exercise for everyone concerned except the offender. The kind of street cred earned by defeating ‘the man’ even if you plead guilty, cannot be achieved in any other way on the Swamp. People on the Swamp tend not to be insured, so reporting crime isn’t even worth it for a crime number.

Crime has fallen over the last ten years largely because the courts have beaten reporting out of people, including assaults on police, in my experience only about 1/3 of which are reported. This is hardly something to crow about.

Successful Muskrat Farming and beyond.

Ruralshire General Hospital A&E looks like one of those US Federal prisons we should (but don’t) have in England. More money has been spent on huge secure electronic doors to the treatment areas, swipe card access control systems and high-resolution CCTV than on medical equipment.

I am standing in front of 3 inches of armoured glass in A&E with Sergeant Dan, Mickey “The Head” Thompson and “Irish Stu” waiting for a bored gum-chewing receptionist to finish her protracted telephone call before she will deign to look up and meet my gaze.

We have been there for at least four minutes.

There we stand in all our gear, radios blasting while dozens of tired, sad-looking prospective patients look on. It is freezing outside, so they only leave the department to smoke furiously by the ambulances. They are at hospital because they are ill or injured, so they smoke. Strange.

Eventually, having exhausted the phone conversation with Tracy about what a bastard Tyler was not telling her that he was seeing Shelly, and that she always let him see kids on a Saturday and this is how he rewards her, she looks up and asks me what we want. The gum keeps moving, round and round, it is fascinating to watch. So white against all that red lipstick. I am transfixed with it.

I notice the others looking at me. “Oh sorry, yes, ahem, the personal attack alarm from inside the department has been pressed” I tell her. Do I want her to let us in? Yes, that might be a plan. She can’t do this. It is against ‘the contract’ to let anyone in without a Serbian security guard present, and he is not present. He is not present, because behind the sound proof doors, he is being attacked by a maniac, hence the panic alarm.

In the old days, I would have argued about this obvious masterpiece of jobsworthness. I would have become agitated at the thought of  a person having the life crushed out of them a few feet away, while we were being kept out for no reason at all. That was the old days. The days before every member of staff is an agency worker with no ability to make any decision, terrified of losing one of the only jobs left in the town, burdened by rules and deserted by management at the slightest whiff of any incident which might jeopardise ‘the contract’.

I sigh. OK. Can I just have your name so we can record who it was that refused entry to the police when the panic alarm had been activated? She is not allowed to give out her name unless I am a patient. It’s in the contract. But I need to know who you are for when the security guy is seriously injured, I say. She won’t ell me, emboldened by her armoured glass. I whip out my cell phone and take her photo. Now I have your picture, I don’t need your name any more I say.

I am not allowed to take her photo, she says, not on hospital property. It is against the contract.

The time for messing about is over. Open the doors immediately or we will get a specialist team down here and break them down I say, this time with my strictest face. After we have broken the doors down, if any of the staff inside are dead or seriously injured, you will be held to account and probably arrested, depending upon the circumstances.

I am exaggerating of course. We have no specialist team at this time of the night in Ruralshire any more. Two years ago we would have, but not any more.

At this point, one of the paramedics comes running down the corridor inside and lets us in. Where the hell have you been? she asks, it’s murder in there! We belt down towards the screaming alarm. The three of us try to pull an 18 stone maniac off one of the doctors. The Serbian guard watches. He will not intervene because it is not in the contract. If there is any violence, he has been told that he must call the police. On no account must he get involved, it is not in the contract and besides, if anyone is injured by him, he will lose his job and the firm will lose the contract.

I can’t help but see all of this as an omen for the future under Winsor, Gibbs and May.

As we transport the offender to custody, where no doubt he will be immediately sent back to hospital by a risk averse custody skipper, backed up by the nurse provided by the same firm as the Serbian guard, I see that Sergeant Dan keeps a book in the back of the van to read while we wait in the endless queue for custody. I decide to give it a go. Successful Muskrat Farming by Robert G Hodgson.

The very fact that our Skipper has such a strange but interesting book sums up everything you need to know about being on a Response team; and not a contract in site.

The Inside Story of the Dog Who Saved My Life

Cocaine is never a solution.

Unless of course, you dissolve it in water.

There were many solutions to the problems of social exclusion, apathy and cultural restraint shown by those who resided in The Swamp, Ruraltown’s notorious housing estate near the Metro City Road.

These solutions could be found typed on small white cards, posted in the windows of the Job Centre on Ruraltown High Street. The balkanization of Ruralshire effectively meant that the County was filled with people who were prepared to work. When the Poles went home, the vacancy cards almost covered the glass.

Back then, there were no takers.

We drove past on the way to raid a crack house on The Swamp one Tuesday morning. There were three Job Centre employees standing in the entrance hall, all clipboards and smiles, waiting to greet visitors who would never arrive. Couples pushed their double buggies down the road, chain-smoking and shouting into slim-line iPhones, dressed in Kappa and looking pale, with bad skin and teeth.

Despite a totally state dependent lifestyle, they didn’t even glance at the window cards. There was no interest.  Why should there be? The key to free housing lies in her belly and the pain in his back funds the rest.

We arrived on The Swamp, knocked down a door and found the usual loosely associated group of wayward females, multi-fathered kids and thin, pale skinned man-boys, asleep in baseball caps with cigarette ash, dog shit and rotten chips strewn around the floor. They couldn’t even be arsed to shout abuse as they rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and stared about.

The drugs were under the sink, along with some CS gas bought in France, a hunting knife, some scales and an extendable baton. There was £300 in a sock. And cowering under a table was a puppy, huge ears, sad eyes, shaking with fear. Grubby and unloved as Chuck later described him.

One thing lead to another and after the intervention of the RSPCA and the general apathy of the previous owners, the little dog came to stay with the Gadgets, and has never looked back. This is Kibble Chops, my constant reminder that at least something can be saved from The Swamp.

Out of all of the rescued pets we keep, he is the one waiting for me at the foot of the stairs when I get home in the early hours. He is the only one in the house who really knows where I have been. The dog who unwittingly helped me find my humanity again. The inside story of the dog who saved my life.

Doublespeak – Crime is falling on Airstrip One.

Almost half a million victims are preyed upon every year according to the first joint overview of sexual offending in England and Wales by the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Office of National Statistics.

The study says there are about 473,000 adult victims of sex crimes every year and, while most involve unwanted touching and indecent exposure, they include 60,000 to 95,000 victims of rape.

The statistical analysis shows that rape and other sexual offences remain under-reported to the police compared with many other crimes. Only 15% of women said they reported the offence to the police. Their reasons for not going to the police included “embarrassing”, “didn’t think the police could do much to help”, “too trivial/not worth reporting”, and “private/family matter”.

The Home Office has produced an action plan to deal with this situation. Part of it contains the advice that if you are a victim of crime, you should contact the police, using the 999 system if appropriate.

What would happen if the 400,000 adult victims of sex crimes every year who have not reported the fact to the police decided to take the government’s advice, and do so?

With 15,000 police jobs gone or going, the so-called ‘back office staff’ made redundant, police stations being closed (leaving rape victims to either try to go through it all on the phone or in a supermarket) and specialist units being scrapped to push experienced detectives back on the beat, prisons due for closure and the probation service to be decimated in favour of the private sector, how do ministers suggest we cope if victims follow their (ministers) advice?

Also, while the business end of government says that only 15% of women are reporting crimes to the police, leaving a gap of 400,000 unreported sex crimes alone, the publicity-spin end is saying that the fact ‘reported crime is down’ shows that we can cut police numbers without compromising public safety.

So which government statement do we believe? The one that estimates 400,000 sexual offences are unreported each year? Or the one which says crime is down? These contradictory statements are not even from different government departments. You couldn’t make this up.

From useful addition to absolute necessity.

I made one of those ‘spur of the moment’ decisions allowed by our unique status last night.

I went down to a ‘suicidal male’ incident on the Swamp estate at the edge of Ruraltown. We get so many of these calls at the moment. PC Mickey ‘The Head’ Thompson and Sergeant ‘Irish’ Stew O’Sullivan spent a good hour talking to a man who had failed to secure a single job interview after thirty applications.

Yesterday, he suddenly managed to secure an interview at the food processing plant on the industrial estate, and the stress of the prospect of further failure had sent him over the edge.

Finally, with the danger passed and him sitting on the ground almost unable to comprehend what we were trying to say to him, the three of us made a momentous decision.

We stood in a small huddle thinking what to do. The crisis team wouldn’t come out to him and were insisting that we section him. We didn’t feel we had the justification. It was not one of those clear-cut jobs. Then it hit me. Let’s go to the job interview with him when we are ‘off duty’ today. Not actually in to the room you understand, but let’s get him up beforehand, take him to the factory and make sure his confidence is ‘up’ before he goes in.

Irish Stew and I looked at Thompson. His involvement was crucial to us. You need a senior PC to moderate crazy ideas at 2.00 am on a ten-hour night shift. ‘I’m in’ he said. ‘What could possibly go wrong?’

I know it is probably against every force policy ever written, I feel strangely unrestrained in this regard these days. Time is running out for us to be able to intervene in these kinds of way. Once we are a commercial business, and that is coming, the opportunity to change lives like this will be lost. This is an opportunity, free from any kind of financial or political restraint and we are damn well taking it.

So I have telephoned Bartek Kowalski at the ‘chicken factory’ as we call it, and I have explained what is happening. Kowlaski knows us because (to his huge relief) we locked up his daughter’s wife-beating boyfriend last year, but that’s another story. He tells me that three of the four applicants today will be accompanied by the Salvation Army, doing exactly the same thing as us!

It now occurs to me that if we hadn’t made this decision, our man would be the only one with no help on the day. Things have changed from this being a useful addition to it being an absolute necessity. We are going along in our civvies as three blokes who were there when a decent enough individual had a melt-down over a job interview.

When he is inside, we need to discuss what to do if he fails the test today. My thoughts are to hand him over to the Salvationists. We will do some networking with them today and find out what they are all about! The interview is at 3.30 pm. In the meantime, the Skipper thinks this man would be a good street pastor, once he has his head together. We need to make a few calls to them to find out if that is a possibility.

This post is dedicated to Paul McKeever 1956-2013. ‘He was good police’.

George Dixon wouldn’t have stood for this crap!

 

Here, as Rodgers and Hammerstein once wrote, are some of my favourite things.

 

Favourite Colour: Blue

 

Favourite Book: 1984, George Orwell.

 

Favourite Film: The Great Escape

 

Overall Favourite Quote:

 

“I am no Inspector Gadget”

 

Tim Godwin OBE QPM, Dep Commissioner, Met Police .

 

Favourite Quote about me:

 

“He is not an Inspector”

 

Nick Herbert, former Police Minister.

 

Favourite Ludicrous Quote:

 

“Let me make this clear, your mission is to cut crime, nothing more”

 

Theresa May, Home Secretary.

 

Favourite Policing Quote:

 

“Only merit, not gender, ethnicity or anything else should be criterion for advancement in policing”

 

Tom Winsor, HMIC.

 

Favourite Policing Facts:

 

We are unarmed
We lock up more criminals than any other European country
Our prisons are full
Crime has fallen each year for the last decade
A British police officer is assaulted every 20 minutes
We are accountable to five separate organisations

 

Abandoning the ‘Beat System’ was seen as ‘Police Reform’ at the time.

 

Favourite Song Lyrics:

 

The first four lines of ‘Knives Out’ by Radiohead.