This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Policing Social Citizens: a rambling mini rant

Towards the end of June, Emma Daniel has organised a get together (a mix of Tedx & unconference) with the purpose of "generating conversations about policing in a social era". You can find more here. I plan to be there.

I expect that those attending will be active users of social media, may well have written about social media and its implication for daily living / professional practice and will, of course, have an abiding interest in all matters relating to police work, justice and community safety. And there may even be some people who don't fall into any of those categories! Although be warned, unconferences aim to engage participants not merely lecture to passive audiences (as this blog outlines).

Emma has been seeking people to write blogs in order to help build the buzz for this event and I am happy to oblige being a dutiful British citizen.

So this is it. (Do I need to write more Emma?)

As I have already blogged, I was approached the other day by the Deputy PCC for Thames Valley asking for my advice on how to engage young people. An easy start is just to Google 'engaging young people uk'. I got 'about 32,900,000 results in 0.42 seconds'. So there are lots of resources out there to advise. But I suspect they all take time, planning, money, commitment to listening and, probably, humility. But it can be done. (And I suspect there is at least one person in the Thames Valley Police who knows a lot about engaging with young people...)

My basic advice to the Deputy PCC, that night, was that you have to go to them, where they are. His immediate reaction was to look anxious and say that they could not possibly visit all the youth clubs and schools and so forth. I breathed in and said, he didn't have to, a fair few would be sufficient to get some real insight.

But had our conversation gone on longer, I would have been wanting to talk with him about social media and how many young people live a good chunk of their lives online. (As do many of us.) Going to where they are, means going online. It also means interacting online.

I have just checked out the @TV_PCC timeline over the last couple of weeks: it is all either announcements or retweets of announcements. I don't observe any dialogue with anyone on this account. Here is the tweet of the event I attended:

And note the words: "talking to the public". Not with, or listening to etc. And the whole room arrangement speaks volumes as well. If I had been there first, I would have put the chairs in a circle.

But back to social media: there is so much to learn. But you have to engage. You have to listen. You have to really, really want to hear what people are saying.

So my topic for the event in June is: How do you get people (involved in policing etc), who don't get social media, to get it?

(Bit of a rambling rant, Emma, but I hope it will do!)

UPDATE 0902 | 200214: just spotted this story via @SteveBachelder's scoopitMeet the teenage crime commissioners working with West Midlands Police - note that they were elected too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Police for hire?

A couple of weeks ago, Police Professional published an excellent article (by Parkinson & Johnson) beginning with this paragraph:
Last week, following the publication of a Court of Appeal judgment, it was revealed that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) had agreed to assist Virgin Media in a private fraud investigation. In exchange, Virgin Media had agreed to give a cash donation to the police amounting to 25 per cent of any compensation recovered in the private prosecution that followed. During the investigation officers involved had used restricted powers, including their powers of search and arrest.
Let those words sink in for a while....

So, a fraud was (strongly?) suspected. The investigation required police powers to uncover all the evidence. It was not of great public concern but mattered a great deal to the company in question. The police were paid a portion of the 'bounty' (re)gained.

The article asks and prompts some important questions, which I summarise as:

  • Could this be the beginning of wealthy benefactors skewing police resource deployment in their favour?
  • Could the police service (especially a strapped for cash one) end up chasing after the cases where there are financial rewards and leave others behind (which might be causing more harm)?
  • Since corporate fraud is unlikely to attract much public attention, do the companies suffering it have to do so in silence, hire private investigators (with no legal powers) or will we see more cases like this in the future?
  • How will all this play out in the public domain: will such sponsored action on fraud attract more or less public trust and confidence?
So what now? Are such investigations destined to become yet another income stream for the police (like adverts on the sides of police cars?) or do we have a moment to pause and think what are the choices, options and decisions...
  • Should the police ever take money for what may be termed standard policing work?
  • Should the police make a point of targeting even more criminals whose ill-gotten gains can be sequestered for the public purse?
  • Should private investigators be given extra powers so that companies can hire commercial entities to do these kinds of fraud investigations? 
  • Should large corporations be required to take out insurance policies against fraud which would provide cash for the police investigating such crime?
  • Has anyone spoken with the wider public as to what they think?
  • If the police do more of the same, how will they ensure that other parts of policing are not losing resources?
  • Should the police always make a surplus in such instances and then plough that 'profit' back into less well funded community policing (say)?
  • If companies can 'hire' the police, could a rich landowner do likewise to recover an expensive combine harvester that has been stolen (and pay for the privilege)?
  • Is there a argument for making in house investigators special police officers on a temporary basis so that police powers can be legally deployed?
  • Should more be done to persuade the public that fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion are not victimless crimes?
  • What strategic investment should the police now be making into becoming more commercial as it were... a lot, little or none?

Monday, February 17, 2014

What if #Robocop had a Twitter account?

SPOILER Alert: do not read this if you have not yet seen Robocop (2014) (and plan to...)

It has been a very long time since I saw the original Robocop, so I came to the 2014 version reasonably fresh. That said, as is often the case these days, you see almost the whole movie cut down for the trailers. So I was 'freshish' and waiting to be entertained / entranced / possibly frightened of the future. And I was: all three. This is a very tightly directed film with the kind of seamless special effects that filmmakers couldn't even dream of in the 1980s.

The story plays out a standard trajectory of how large corporations will stop at nothing, even murder, to add more money to the bottom line. (Do you remember Rollerball? This was where this narrative first came to my attention.) And do the good (& ethical) guys win in this year's Robocop? What do you think...! The acting is nothing to write home about: I felt both Keaton & Oldman were a tad too restrained, but then maybe my Beetle Juice / Fifth Element overdrive was kicking in. This is a slick & subtle SciFi movie with more ethical dilemmas than many. A film worth seeing.

Of course, Robocop faces the ultimate challenge as his wife is threatened: can he override his programming to protect the woman he loves or not? (I won't spoil it for you, but I think you probably know the answer...) And it is this point I will use as springboard for reflecting on leadership: what is the role of love in leadership?

And so now I am going to spoil it for you: Robocop shows that love is the ultimate & irresistible motivation for him. Likewise, all good leaders need to know what is their ultimate motivation. Understanding what a leader truly loves is the first step to understanding her/his leadership.

It is also the first step in understanding our own.... in the context of your leadership, who/what do you truly love?

This is the thirteenth  of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click here to see all the other similar postings.


I have just copied this over from my other blog: as it seemed relevant here too. In the context of the events surrounding @MentalHealthCop (see blog below) I thought it apposite to ask the title question. One of my answers would be:

What would yours be?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mental Health Cop

This is a very short blog to express my extreme disappointment at the suspension of the twitter account run by @MentalHealthCop. His twitter feed and associated blog (also inaccessible at present) have received international acclaim and he has been given awards by Mind and others. His contribution towards helping police officers and other public service professionals in how best to respond to people with mental health problems, especially in times of crisis is without compare. His blogs and tweets are what the internet was made for!

The suspension happened some time late yesterday as far as I know and resulted in a twitter storm of great concern and surprise.

I don't know why his twitter account has been suspended: the statement from his constabulary is now up on their West Midlands website here. The statement says:
Statement about suspension of ‘Mental Health Cop’ Twitter account
West Midlands Police has a force social media policy which details how channels, such as Twitter, should be used by officers in both an official and personal capacity. As a force, the Corporate Communications Department monitors all corporate use and should any inappropriate or operationally sensitive communication be identified, this will be taken up with the individual. In serious cases, the matter would be referred to the force’s Professional Standards Department. Recent monitoring has led to the suspension of an account operated by a response inspector whose focus was on mental health policing. Certain aspects of the officer’s communication is currently being investigated for alleged misuse of a force account and as such it would be inappropriate for the account to continue whilst further enquiries are made. Any breaches of force policy are taken extremely seriously and will be thoroughly and professionally investigated. ACC Garry Forsyth said: “Our policy is intended to enable officers and staff to communicate with our communities effectively to offer an insight into our work. “It does impose some restrictions but we are, of course, an organisation that holds sensitive information so we have to ensure that there is some restraint. I also can’t imagine any organisation that would want its employees to be openly critical of it - or indeed allow it. “The policy is not intended to discourage personal perspectives and I believe a human element assists with engagement."
West Midlands Police has been at the forefront of encouraging officers and staff to use social media to directly engage and communicate with the public for many years.
Twitter and blogs provide an opportunity for officers to communicate directly with the people we serve, giving them up-to-date information about policing in their area, and allowing the public to relate to the police. From neighbourhood PCSOs and PCs right through to Deputy Chief Constables, our social media accounts have featured everything from daily activity of local neighbourhood teams and arrests being made by response officers, to the work of contact centres, police dogs, the force helicopter, and the lighter side of a police officer’s day. Click here to view a copy of the force's Social and Digital Media Policy.
Saturday 15 February 2014
The officer concerned with making the decision has been on twitter this morning responding to the concerns being expressed by the growing number of police and police associated twitter accounts. You can read some of the exchanges here. I also recommend that you follow @GarryForsythWMP for updates on this matter.

I expect some sort of 'due process' must now ensue.

But I repeat: the blogs and tweets of @MentalHealthCop must continue. The resource that he has created is simply invaluable.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Adding depth to crime data in our funny old world

Last night, I travelled to Aylesbury for an evening "Have Your Say" meeting with the Thames Valley PCC, one Anthony Stansfeld. Also in attendance and on the panel was the Deputy PCC, David Carroll, the new Local Area Commander, Supt Gez Chiariello, his deputy CI Olly Wright, and the Community Safety Manager for AVDC, Kay Aitken.

There were 7 members of the public present. Although another person joined towards the end of the meeting.

The panel talked at us for over an hour. We sat patiently listening to them having their say.

We then got to ask a few questions which ranged from Aylesbury town centre safety and the role of the local Neighbourhood Action Group, whether there was endemic corruption in Thames Valley Police associated with tackling organised crime and how to get funding for programmes to divert young people from crime. I went prepared (as you might expect) with a number of questions.

I chose to highlight he fact that while Aylesbury Vale is a relatively low crime area, there are some significantly worrying trends in the wrong direction with certain types of crime. We then got into an interesting and useful debate, albeit briefly, about how raw data on crimes recorded could be coloured by adding in degree of harm to victims. For example, a "burglary dwelling" which resulted in the loss of an irreplaceable and treasured heirloom versus a "burglary non dwelling" loss of a drill from a farm shed both add '1' to the crime figures. The published data simply does not have the real depth and 'colour' about harm. (Which of course then begs the question about resource deployment across the Thames Valley...)

Before we went onto the next question, the PCC said "good question" and looked reflective.

After the meeting broke up, both the Deputy PCC came over to me to seek my thoughts on how they might get to hear from more young people. (Or even just younger people as I reckon the average age last night was well over 50). A short while later the PCC wandered over too. We talked and I suggested that even if a young person had turned up they would probably have left after ten minutes of being talked at (I nearly did). I also suggested that if they wanted to engage with younger people then they had to go to them, where they are: in schools, youth clubs, pubs even.

So there we were, the three of us, talking about community engagement and how to do it better.

It is a funny old world really...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This is what you get when you call citizens 'customers'...

News broke this morning that a local council is charging residents £7.50 (or 4 for £30) for sandbags to help protect their homes from flood damage (c/o Tom Pride's blog). No doubt this council is strapped for cash and I would expect has trained staff to think of the citizens and taxpayers that they serve as "customers". So it comes as no surprise really that they would see sandbags in this crisis as something of an income generation opportunity. After all, isn't that what you do with customers: you charge them for the services you provide and make a profit.


Except, just imagine what would happen if all public services did this? You are burgled and the police officer arrives at your door with a hand held credit card reader to take payment before any investigation happens. Indeed, there is probably already a call out charge to pay. Or you are raped and you are later sent a bill for "DNA and other forensic services"... Am I joking? Yes, I hope so. But...

I have blogged before on why "customer" is such a stupid word to describe the complex relationships that public services have with their citizens / users / taxpayers / voters / partners / community representatives etc etc etc.

And here today in the middle of flooding and storm crises, we have a local council charging people for the help that they need, for the help that (I guess) they thought they had already paid their council tax for, because some smart person thought "we can recoup our costs here and maybe even make a bit on top". Such good customer service... 

Now I am all for income generation and other creative ways to generate resources for public services. But this has to be done in a principled way!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Safer Internet Day 2014

Just to acknowledge the existence of this day today. A good initiative.

I cannot claim to have done much today but I was in a primary school yesterday in my voluntary role for the NSPCC/ChildLine Schools Service, giving a short assembly to some 9/10/11 year olds about child abuse, including online abuse.

If you do not know much about the "ground-breaking ChildLine Schools Service", please check us out. The service is growing and growing and is always in need of new volunteers. And if you cannot give your time, you can make a regular donation to the NSPCC. And if that is not possible for you, please let other people know about the service. Spreading the word is vital!

And you can always teach someone the 'Underwear Rule':

Privates are private
Always remember your body belongs to you
No means no
Talk about secrets that upset you
Speak up, someone can help

A dash cam moment?

Last night at about 1800 I was driving home, turning off the A5 at the Old Stratford roundabout onto the A422. It is a roundabout I know well, with very clear lanes for which exit you intend to take. I was in the correct lane and just as I was about to exit the roundabout, a large white Mercedes 4x4 cut me up from the next lane, switching lanes and diving in front of me. I beeped my horn and flashed my lights to indicate to him that he had made a serious error (I had to brake quite hard to avoid hitting him). Here is a picture of the road in daylight (it was dark last night). I have tried to represent the position of the vehicles. Mine is the red one. (Thank you Google Streetview)

I was travelling at about 30mph I reckon. You might be wondering what the black cross is for. That is the position the man stopped his car to get out and shout at me, pointing at his indicator lights, as if him indicating as he switched lanes, gave him the right to cut me up...

I remained in my car, shouting "you cut me up - you were in the wrong lane!" though I am not sure he heard me... I should add that he had stopped very quickly, perhaps wanting me to hit his rear end. I did not and managed to brake (a second time) in safety.

If I had been a police officer, I expect I would have remembered his number plate accurately. All I can recall now is BU13 EHM, but I could well be wrong.

So this has got me wondering: should I buy a dash cam? What do you think? Are there any readers out there who have? What would you recommend? 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Babylon 999 and barefoot specials

SPOILER ALERT: do not read this until after you have watched the TV programme.

I watched the much heralded Babylon on Channel 4 last night. It was a gripping, somewhat realistic and dark comedy about the march of social media in the Met Police. I say comedy (which is how it was billed) but there were few 'laugh out loud' moments (if any). Indeed it was laced with deep but almost off hand tragedy. Its pacey and disaggregated story line was a mix of 'In the thick of it', 'Love Actually' and 'Black Mirror'.

As a pilot, it satisfied. (As a one off, it didn't.) Some important trails were laid down during this opening episode but few were anywhere close to being resolved. I would also like to think that the Met is a little more on top of social media that the programme portrayed. I am not close enough to real live gold command to know whether the lamentable use of technology & leadership in communicating with the armed response unit on the ground reflected reality or not. I sincerely hope not.

However, it made one very strong point: the prevalence of smart phones is a game changer for policing. I know we know this already, but this programme made it very real. And I don't mean the rather crass scene where the PC is about to thump the lead protester but desists due to being on camera. No. I mean the scene where the woman photographs the number plate of the sniper and sends that information in to police control.

This is modern day policing by consent, with an active and supportive citizenry: empowered, enabled and inclined to take action to support the maintenance of the Queen's Peace. In other words, we the public are here to help, and we have a good deal of technology at our disposal. The opportunity for the police service is to keep on growing trust, confidence and accessibility so that community safety can be co-created with a legion of 'barefoot smart phone specials'.

How well are the police doing in making the most of this opportunity?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Being in touch?

A while back I inquired of my OPCC (using FoI):

How many items/threads of correspondence (letters and emails) from members of the public has the PCC received in his first year of office?

I received this reply:

Approximately 200 e-mails/letters have been received within the office per month since his appointment.

So that makes about 2400 items of correspondence from the public. There are about 2.1 million people living in Thames Valley, so I equate this to about 1 million households (give or take). So that means approximately 0.24% of the households have got in touch. (I am assuming here that the 200 items are all from separate people and does not include follow up letters or emails.)


It would be interesting to compare what % of the population get in touch with their councillor or MP. (Do you have those figures?)

This does seem very low. I would link this to the work that my colleague Bernard Rix is conducting at the moment into the levels and quality of public engagement that PCCs are practising. (Details here)

But what % of the population would you expect to want to be in touch with the PCC?