Monthly Archives: March 2012
Browsing through my Twitter feed I noted a somewhat worrying exchange between two policing followers. The content reminded me of a personally harrowing event during the 1980′s.
I was single crewed in a police Mini van, during the final couple of hours of a night shift, heading for what I hoped would be the last job of the night. The interior of the windscreen was clad in a thin coating of ice whilst externally, the limp and inadequate wipers were fighting a loosing battle with the blizzard conditions of a midwinter Yorkshire snowstorm. Not even the van heater, something of a misnomer, could make an impression on those freezing conditions.
Suddenly and without any prior warning, I found my van careering towards a large millstone at the side of the road. If not for my shock induced automatism, and a modicum of prompt and nifty driving skill, serious injury or death which had been imminent, was thankfully averted. The millstone may have been placed to support the village nameplate affixed to it however; it was looking like its last job was going to be a tombstone to mark my final resting place… I had fallen asleep at the wheel, an incident which brings me back to that original Twitter exchange.
The most dangerous part of a night shift completed safely. The drive home…(@TheCustodySgt)
During the early part of my police career officers usually worked eight-hour shifts, and in my area, night shifts ran from 10pm to 6am. That said, they still got tired. Officers rarely had rest days cancelled, overtime was limited and in general, they always received 2, 3 or 4 days away from work after working for seven. Many police officers today would see those working conditions and shift patterns as luxury!
Sometimes we were also obliged to work night shifts alone and for me, this particular near death experience was one of those shifts. So what if something went wrong and/or you needed assistance? My nearest colleagues were fifteen or more miles away and, although available via radio, their help was dependent upon me being physically able to use it.
But all those years ago being a cop was (arguably) a lot less dangerous than it is today. There were greater levels of public respect for policing. Communities within our society usually displayed deeper social cohesion and importantly, violent criminality was far less apparent. But despite these factors, you were still often left with no doubt about your ultimate vulnerability
But it’s important to consider today’s working conditions. Massive reductions in staffing levels, extended working hours, regular shift deviations and often, a distinct lack of any real ’recovery time’ between shift patterns. This all means that officer fatigue is probably an even greater issue than it used to be. To be efficient, effective and safe in policing – cops need their rest.
Four in ten police officers suffering from sleep disorders which affects their performance at work…(dailymail.co.uk)
Tiredness and sleep disorders are a dangerous, they can result in drivers falling asleep at the wheel of a motor vehicle. These issues of fatigue on driving have been well documented and often, are also addressed by government led accident reduction campaigns. Despite this, many senior police managers have a tendency to almost belittle any police officer who has concerns about fatigue in the workplace. “What’s up lad? Spent your day off on the piss?”
These are often the same senior officers who agree to government designed and/or sponsored, but often politically motivated, road safety initiatives. They are happy to deplete staff from already woefully short response teams, then dedicate those officers to the campaign purpose. It’s usually just about ticking boxes and rhetorical public relations exercises. Ones which hopefully, will benefit the career prospects of the kudos seeking leadership. Something that in turn, the politicians are more than happy about after all, policing is all about pleasing the electorate, isn’t it?
But it’s interesting how so many road safety practitioners (and police officers) often equate the dangers of motor vehicles to those of loaded guns; in the wrong hands, or an incompetent/impaired set of hands, their use can often be fatal. Perhaps that analogy has finally been inextricably linked by medical evidence?
Union reps, trainers, and human behavior experts who have been campaigning to get police fatigue recognized and addressed as a critical professional and public safety problem have been given an armory of ammunition for their battle by a comprehensive and complex new study of cops and sleeping disorders…(Police Firearms Officers Association)
In December 2011 a study by the American Medical Association (AMA) found that “more than 40 per cent of police officers suffer from sleep disorders.” The researchers (rightly) pointed out that the problem has “serious implications for officers’ health” but, in addition to personal performance issues, this obviously also, “poses a threat to public safety.”
Although the research was based in the USA, this must be indicative of a similar problem in the UK. But nearer to home, statistical research here has shown that “almost 20% of accidents on major roads are sleep-related and that sleep-related accidents are more likely than others to result in a fatality or serious injury” (DirectGov).
For many, in particular those who work night shifts, it should be even more worrying that, the peak period of danger is during the early hours of the morning. As the RAC point out in the following clip, “Tiredness can Kill.”
The following animation, produced by AlphabetGB, a vehicle leasing business and part of the BMW group of companies, is part of their ’Road To Safer Driving’ scheme. These workshops are designed to promote safer driving within their company and those of their customers.
THINK! provides road safety information for road users, on the topic of driver fatigue, the following video is one part of that process.
The Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) also point out in their advice document (INF159) on the subject; ”although all drivers are subject to the pressures of modern life, many drivers are unaware that some medical conditions can also cause excessive sleepiness/tiredness.” Another pertinent and well documented medical condition is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).
OSA Facts from the DVLA
- OSA is the most common sleep related medical disorder.
- OSA significantly increases the risk of traffic accidents.
- OSA occurs most commonly, but not exclusively, in overweight individuals.
- OSA sufferers rarely wake from sleep feeling fully refreshed and tend to fall asleep easily when relaxing.
- Long distance lorry and bus drivers affected by OSA are of great concern as most will be driving on monotonous roads/motorways and the size or nature of the vehicle gives little room for error.
- Estimates suggest at least four in every hundred men have OSA. Sleep problems arise more commonly in older people.
If you have any ‘medical condition’ that impacts upon your driving ability, including EDS or OSA, you are legally obliged to inform the DVLA about it.
The issues outlined here have absolutely nothing to do with “fat lazy coppers swinging the lead” – despite what our government would have us believe. However, all the rhetorical retorts from politicians and police leadership on ”doing more with less” could well come to fruition. Stretching the already taught Thin Blue Line to breaking point means something has to give.
Less police officers (working harder for longer) will ultimately result in more illness, more injury and (sadly) more death. Are we really happy about letting these so-called reforms continue?
Note: “Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers” - Journal of the American Medical Assn (JAMA). A full copy of the 12-page report (see extract) can be ordered as a pdf document for a fee (see here).
- 40% Of Police Officers Have A Sleep Disorder, US, Canada (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Sleep Deprivation May Affect Police Performance, Safety – ABC News (abcnews.go.com)
- Coach Tragedy: Strict Rules For Drivers (news.sky.com)
- Study: 40 per cent of police officers suffer sleep disorders (time4sleep.co.uk)
The media last week was full of speculation and comment about police officers going on strike. But as usual, most of the coverage was little more than journalistic dross. Emotive and sensational headlines designed to provoke opinion and/or heated debate. Initially it probably achieved its aim however, public interest in the topic was mostly short-lived…
The Police Federation of England and Wales media release said that their national committee had voted “unanimously to hold a ballot of its membership on the question of whether police officers want full industrial rights.” Details of a rally in central London prior to the Police Federation’s annual conference in May was also planned. This was “to highlight the unprecedented attack on policing by this government and the consequences that these cuts will have for public safety” (see here).
British police officers angry with the coalition government’s plans to cut jobs and freeze pay will vote on whether they want the right to strike, the body representing them said on Thursday…(Reuters)
Before going any further I want to dispel the myths about the current tinkering with British policing. What is happening now has very little to do with ‘efficiency’ or ’performance’ but much to do with the public perception of political and police leaders. Oh yes, and a pretty poor effort to put cash back in the rusty public sector budget bucket, one that has had gaping holes in it for years.
Many police officers may begin to understand what ‘economics’ means from today… What happened in our factories and mines is now coming to the police. The question not asked is why this has taken so long and who is responsible for that – the answer being the ACPO ranks. In the factory model they would be delayered and sent packing because they have failed for so long and would not be seen fit to use the new broom…(allcoppedout)
As Allcoppedout rightly suggests (above), many of the problems faced by policing in the UK today can be attributed to that oligarchical private members club, The Association of Chief Police Officers. For years police officers (and ultimately the public) have suffered a level of servitude to this organisation of almost tyrannical proportions.
For several years, many ACPO members appear to have had far more interest in feathering their own nest of self-importance, rather than looking after the public service of policing. But recently and thankfully, people outside the service are also starting to ask questions, ones that many lower ranking police officers have been asking for years.
Questions like those raised in the Yorkshire Post recently; (1) “why has ACPO paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to consultants without applying the spending controls it tells forces up and down the country to abide by” (see here) and (2) “why is ACPO unable to provide evidence of contracts to so many ‘consultants’ employed by them” (see here), to mention just two.
In addition, a recent academic submission to the Justice Committee by Dr Rodger Patrick (see here), evidenced the self-serving nature of ACPO and much of its membership. Recognised as an expert in the field of exposing the manipulation of crime figures by police forces, Dr Patrick explained how police management methods disguise and skew crime statistics, mostly to reflect a perceived level of improved performance.
And who benefits from these unethical but ’sanctioned’ methods? Our senior police officers that’s who, they and ultimately the government ministers. All people responsible for the direction and leadership of a (supposedly) accountable service, one that is paid for by our society!
Many of the current police ‘reform’ proposals, Winsor Review (Parts 1 & 2) et al, are simply designed to disguise, or cover up, the years of undue political interference in a public service. One that is often, led by an inept and mostly self-serving leadership. I may be specifically talking about the police here however, ’reforms’ to our National Health Service is another prime example of what is happening in public services. It’s a great pity the public can’t summon up similar levels of angst for what is happening to policing, as they have appear to be doing for the NHS.
But the current reviews of policing aren’t really anything new per se. Policing has been in an almost constant state of flux for many years, mostly within the last decade or two. So, how the government can accuse the police, and the Police Federation in particular, of being ‘resistant’ to change, is ludicrous and laughable.
During this time policing has become ever more regulated and (arguably) more accountable than almost any other public service. It has been subjected to a constant stream of PR based political direction, along with a myriad of mostly whimsical plans and ‘initiatives’ from a self-interested leadership. People who are interested in making their mark and enhancing their personal career prospects. Is it any wonder that many police officers are angry about what is happening?
Not really however, all the current talk and posturing around greater industrial rights, maybe even the right to withdraw labour, although understandable, is probably a step too far. As many workers have found to their detriment throughout history, strike action rarely achieves the aims it intended.
Even the strongest and most militant unions can end up discovering the stark realities of protracted industrial disputes. Strikes actually result in so many unintended (or unseen) negative impacts, especially when a union decides to try to do battle with the government. Many of those involved in the strikes of the 1980′s, not just the miners, are still experiencing the fallout from that action. They have had problems with employment prospects and/or work conditions. The health and welfare of their families have also suffered, strikes divide families and communities - like warfare – they are mostly futile and ultimately painful, for all concerned.
So what of all the recently published comments on police academic ability, individual fitness and personal performance?
Far from police officers being over-weight neanderthals or an uneducated mob of working-class oiks, each rhetorical descriptions favoured by our politicians and their Winsoresque puppets, like the majority of us, they are mostly just hard-working people trying to do their best. Despite getting shafted by politicians who have lied and reneged on previous properly negotiated and in many respects, legal agreements.
But all those descriptions are mainly employed by politicians to create a public image, one that will hopefully, detract from any display of public support for those disengaged or disadvantaged police officers. Like the masking of fact by senior officers in the past, it’s all about creating an atmosphere conducive to implementing the plan.
In addition, the representative body of rank and file officers, the Police Federation, isn’t an antagonistic union trying to stand in the way of change for self-interested reasons. They are a Staff Association, one that has no intention of threatening the nation or holding our country to ransom, they are, as Tony Judge titled his historical reference, simply The Force of Persuasion!
The Force of Persuasion: The history of the Police Federation – Just weeks after the First World War ended, the British establishment was rocked by a sudden police strike in London, when almost every constable and sergeant in the Metropolitan Police refused to go on duty…(Purchase at Amazon.co.uk)
But what is the value of persuasion if all your efforts continually fall upon deaf ears?
Back in 1991, Professor Mark Skousen, a prolific American author and world-renowned speaker on economics and politics wrote about the powers of Persuasion vs. Force. In his piece he acknowledged the inspiration he gleaned from the book Adventures of Ideas, (ISBN: 0029351707), written by Alfred North Whitehead, the renowned British philosopher in 1933. Skousen quoted Whitehead’s use of Plato who said; “The creation of the world is the victory of persuasion over force… Civilization is the maintenance of social order, by its own inherent persuasiveness as embodying the nobler alternative.”
Professor Whitehead’s vision of civilized society as the triumph of persuasion over force should become paramount in the mind of all civic-minded individuals and government leaders. It should serve as the guideline for the political ideal…(Prof Mark Skousen)
Skousen continued by suggesting a new political creed; ”The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a civilized society.” As he also correctly pointed out; rightly said, “Surely this is a fundamental principle to which most citizens, no matter where they fit on the political spectrum, can agree.”
Although Skousen is American, and mostly writes about American issues, I chose him for this post intentionally. With the predominant social, political and economic love affair that generally exists between the UK and the USA, his views are more than relevant here.
But, a little nearer to home, and as one of my Twitter followers put it recently, it really is time they (politicians/ACPO ranks) started to head the advice of that Greek sage and stoic philosopher, Epictetus.
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak…(Epictetus AD 55 – AD 135)
Despite decades of success in negotiation, as opposed to confrontational ‘action’, even the Police Federation are now seeing from membership opinion that, enough really is enough. And, in a recent poll over at The Police Inspector’s Blog the author asked; Would you strike over Winsor?
Although perhaps only partly indicative of the overwhelming feelings within policing, the poll suggests a worrying picture for the future. Results in the Gadget Poll (as at 25th March) suggest that over 79% of respondents were in favour of strike action. However, even if police officers do eventually vote in favour of greater industrial rights, it will probably be mostly irrelevant… The government is unlikely to ever draw up laws that would allow police officers to (legally) take strike action.
If I was still a police officer, it is unlikely that I’d be prepared to withdraw my labour. In many respects it flies in the face of the reasons I actually joined the force in the first place. Unfortunately, the raison d’être of many cops today appears to differ somewhat from those possessed by many of their predecessors. However, ethical notions espoused from the moral high ground don’t put a roof over your head, or food on the table to feed your family. Could this be a driver at ACPO level one wonders? I doubt it.
All said, it will be sad day if the police service is obliged to return to the methods of the 1920′s, simply because politicians and police leadership, simply won’t bloody listen. One that has a potential for further damaging the original concept of policing by consent!
- Police to be asked for strike views (independent.co.uk)
- Police pay deal ‘will save £150m’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Police to be balloted on whether they want to strike in wake of 20 per cent budget cuts (dailymail.co.uk)
- Police Reform: More Rhetoric under the guise of Power to the People? (bankbabble.wordpress.com)
As a society, we’re not very good at helping those who really need some support, or even just a modicum of encouragement. Even our misguided, often prevalent, belief about the Nanny State picking up the pieces of our personal and social malaise, is usually an unrealistic pipe-dream of tsunami proportions. So what of our expectations when it comes to the rehabilitation of ‘habitual’ criminals and substance abusers, if indeed we actually have any?
In some respects I can partly understand the ethos of Owen Jones when he wrote his book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. In his acclaimed investigation, Jones explored how our working class has gone from “salt of the earth” to “scum of the earth.” He argues that, the chav stereotype is used by many, not least the government, as “a convenient fig leaf” to hide more complex issues and avoid genuine engagement with people and the social and economic problems impacting upon widening inequality.
In many respects, the Chav stereotype is no different to how we, in the main, predominantly view the criminal and drug dependant element of our society. Far too often the general social retort is simply ”lock ‘em up and throw away the keys.” Often incarceration is a requirement to protect society however; it can only ever partly resolve some (but not all) of the causation factors of criminality. There also has to be some form of rehabilitation involved in the punishment process, otherwise as now in many cases, criminality becomes little more than cyclic.
Writing in The Daily Mail recently, Kathy Gyngell, a drugs policy analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies said we are so soft on justice… Many would agree but she wasn’t falling into the usual sociopolitical and rhetorical tirade. The one so often favoured by politicians, and individuals who usually don’t fully understand, or even care about many of the issues.
The causation factors leading to someone being involved in crime, or substance abuse, aren’t important, are they? After all, it’s their choice, isn’t it? They made that ‘choice’ and they should accept the consequences, shouldn’t they? “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the crime” etc.
In her piece she explained why Alex Livingstone, a self-confessed ‘habitual’ crook and drug addicted thief, might complain about not being sent to jail (see here).
An offender being escorted from court for complaining his sentence is too lenient is the stuff of satire. It’s a better joke even than a judge letting Pete Doherty walk free from Court knowing his pockets were full of heroin that he said he’d forgotten about. (Both are true) Rumpole would have appreciated the bathos…(Kathy Gyngell)
Although the article began in a slightly humorous manner, it went on to fully discuss many of the issues around sentencing, imprisonment, community based orders and programs but importantly, it highlighted the almost constant failures in any realistic rehabilitation process.
As Gyngell also pointed out recently (see here), even more shocking is the fact that; more than 12,000 children under 16 were arrested for drugs offences last year, which partly shows the Government’s casual response to all the issues involved. Raymond Lunn, an ex-offender who now attempts to help others understand the process and issues around ‘going straight’ wrote on the experience of prison…
Damaged Goods: …despite the traumatic events that occur to people in prison, it doesn’t seem to then change their criminal behaviour once released, or at least not everyone which, included me. I put this down to the fact that the event is locked away, you put it to the dark recesses of the mind, and carry on as normal – until you begin to desist from crime & face the horrors of incarceration, it helps desisting, but it opens a psychological mess trapped for years in denial. We send young people to prison, often not for serious crimes – we expect the young person to come out rehabilitated, instead they come out more damaged than when they went into prison, damaged goods…(ex-offender)
But this rehabilitation failure isn’t new. It may partly be the result of our inability to really understand anything about our society, past or present - despite all the organisational “lessons learned” rhetoric. We simply continue to be happy to reside in the here and now of our small lives. But much of this poor understanding, around many of the issues that blight our society, is born out of a mostly myopic vision of the future. A lack of any real desire, or tangible action, to actually do something about it.
Back in the early 1980′s I had a regular ‘customer’ who was a petty criminal and minor drug user, we’ll call him Jim for the purposes of this post. Jim wasn’t what you could describe as an efficient crook, neither did he have any designs on making a ‘healthy’ living from his criminal activity. His sole requirement was to fund his habit, dole payments just weren’t enough. Often during interview, his desire was actually to get caught by the police most of the time, especially if he had the chance of Christmas at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
You see at home Jim had no Christmas, the family ‘Nash’ payments didn’t go any way near covering the ’requirements’ of his large family, non of whom worked and in any case, the TV had been repossessed by the rental company (again). How could he enjoy Christmas at home? No, a spell inside during the festive period allowed him to consume three square meals per day, have a proper Christmas dinner and watch the Morecambe & Wise Christmas special on TV. Why stay at home?
These were all things he’d never experienced, finances were tighter than the proverbial duck’s backside and in any case, his father was on the piss in the pub most of the time and his mother, well she was usually up the road at the local lorry park turning tricks for backy money. Jim almost prayed to be locked up, he wouldn’t be left fending and caring for his five siblings and he could even source his bit of recreational smoke whilst inside, without having to do a break to get it.
The ‘Jims’ of this world are still there and always will be, until they’re able to find a better way to support themselves (or their habits), in a more socially acceptable and/or legal manner. In the current social and financial climate things are probably even worse so, is it our fault or theirs? In many respects our society, but mostly the government and myriad of associated agencies, are the ones who should really shoulder much of the blame… Too much rhetorical hot air and not enough tangible action!
I agree we all have choices in life, most of us make sensible ones but many don’t. Many lack the life skills, education, intelligence and/or any realistic opportunity of actually making any difference to their plight, perceived or actual. Once caught and punished for their wrongdoings, is it really fair that we expect them to change, without giving them a helping hand?
But even those with ‘celebrity’ status (and the associated cash) like Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse, or perhaps even the obviously troubled Whitney Houston, have difficulties breaking free from their dark ’troubles’ without some help, despite having the funds to pay for that help. Is it fair that our society fails to help those without the financial ability for self-help funding? Yes some won’t accept any assistance or help, from anyone, let alone government agencies, to break free of their cyclic self-destruction however; is it right they are denied the help that is available, simply because we can’t be arsed?
I’m not suggesting that we simply throw more cash at the problem, that’s usually what the government does, at least for a short period to placate public angst, and especially in the periods leading up to elections. No, we really have to make a more concerted effort at ‘working in partnership’ (God how I hate that mostly synthetic platitude) for a change. All agencies and organisations involved, be they statutory or voluntary need to get a grip. Always assuming we actually want to address some, if not all of the issues impacting upon these individuals?
The first step in the process must be to actually provide more robust and effective rehabilitation efforts, at present it seems we’re sadly lacking in this area. How we actually go about it will be down to the ’experts’ but without it, we’re destined to continue down the road of cyclic criminality. One thing is for sure, especially with the current cuts to public resources, we can’t continue relying simply upon the police and the courts to stem this tidal flow. It’s like expecting the proverbial small Dutch boy to get his thumb out again.
Sometimes it needs a little more than just the individual ability to see light beyond the darkness!
- Judge slams soft justice after serial burglar thanks him for giving him lenient sentence (dailymail.co.uk)
- Amy Winehouse self-portrait painted in blood set to feature in Pete Doherty “arterial splatter” exhibition (mirror.co.uk)
- Alternative to Jail: Alcohol Rehab (alcoholic.org)
- Ken Clarke sparks anger with opposition to longer jail terms (dailymail.co.uk)
- Paul Vallely: Hating chavs is also a form of prejudice (independent.co.uk)