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Posts Tagged ‘Diary of an On Call Girl’

GEORGE ORWELL SUPPOSEDLY said that, in times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.

I know that Inspector Gadget isn’t all that popular with everyone – when his blog was in full flow, he was threatened with everything from exposure to death, and they certainly made serious attempts at the former.

But the weird thing is, Gadget has always been big on exposing the bad stuff that the police do, just like Copperfield and Bloggs.

The Home Office and the various police forces have been stuffed at the higher echelons with careerist yes men and women, liars and charlatans for as long as I can remember.

At a time when the criminal justice system is perpetrating a giant deceit on us all, these three brave police officers risked the loss of their careers (and by extension their homes) to tell the truth about fiddled crime figures, bureaucracy and mismanagement.

In return they suffered abuse, and attempts to discredit them from insignificant nonentities who somehow crawled their way to the highest places in the land.

Allowing us to publish those books was a revolutionary act.

Indeed, we nearly called Gadget’s book The Universal Deceit, and here was the draft jacket:

Peverting The Course Of Justice_Cover Art and AI_The Universal Deceit_concept2Why did they write their books?

They did it partly because they were bewildered and insulted that senior officers could spout self-serving lies and dishonesty to their faces, and partly because they are (were, in Copperfield’s case) at the sharp end of having to explain to the victims of crime exactly why it is that the police don’t always provide the best possible service.

Allowing for the idlers and incompetents found in every organisation, it’s generally not because the people at that sharp end don’t want to.

The following extract is from Inspector Gadget’s book Perverting The Course Of Justice (book here, kindle version here, it is still available!), and it is particularly apt as we head into the Christmas period – a time, for most bobbies, of aggressive texts, Facebook threats, and drunken brawls.

And it’s even worse when they go on duty.

 

LOTS OF PEOPLE probably don’t quite understand the words ‘crime’ and ‘detection’, and the role they play in modern policing.

That’s not surprising, because what they mean in reality and what they mean in surreality – ie modern policing – are often two completely different things.

In real life, a crime means something which we would all agree is against the law – theft, assault, burglary – and has an actual victim who has really suffered some harm.

In policing, a ‘crime’ – because of the ‘victim-focused’ National Crime Recording Standard I mentioned earlier – can mean, in practice, almost anything which half sounds like it might possibly be a bit like a crime and which is reported to us. (Because who are we to tell Mr Hughes that his ex’s nasty text message isn’t a crime?)

Here is one example of a non-crime taken seriously by us.

It’s late one afternoon in the middle of last December. The Christmas lights are ablaze on every house in Bigtown, and the concrete walkway outside the local Spar is covered in fresh white litter. Inside, there’s a queue of people waiting to pay for their groceries. Halfway down the line, a little girl and her mum are chatting about Santa Claus, and the presents he will be delivering in a fortnight.

In front of them is a typical Bigtown youth – Burberry scarf, Nike trainers, NY Yankees cap and a ton of bling.

Overhearing their conversation, he turns round, looks at the girl and says, ‘You don’t believe in Father Christmas, do ya? Your mum’s telling you lies… he ain’t real.’

The little girl bursts into tears and the angry mum storms out of the shop.

I like to think that, if that happened to me, I’d tell my daughter that the nasty man was talking rubbish, and chalk it up to experience.

But modern life being what it is, mum doesn’t do this; instead, she phones us on her mobile from the street outside, like it’s a police matter.

OK, so we get a call from a lady wanting to report a Santa denier.

We just tell her we’re awfully sorry but it’s not really one for us, right?

Wrong. The call-taker logs it on the system as a harassment offence.

We all know that if the woman had been calling to report a criminal damage that had happened the night before she’d have got someone out a week next Tuesday.

But because certain triggers are hit – there’s a child involved, this area happens to be a crime hotspot and the man is still at the scene – a patrol is despatched immediately, to speak to the mum and little girl and, if possible, grab the ‘offender’ and even seize the CCTV to see if they can ID him.

To me, that’s just about as mad as it gets. Is it, even at the edges of abstract technicality, a crime? Harassment is about causing alarm or distress to another.

As a senior officer asked in the SMT morning meeting, ‘How can it be harassment to tell someone Santa doesn’t exist? I mean, he doesn’t. Does he?’

He’s got a point. Short of producing Santa himself at an ID parade and proving he’s real, the case is going nowhere.

But time and resources have been wasted in a fairly ludicrous way.

Here’s another one.

Two young lads outside a newsagent. One, a 10-year-old, goes in and buys a packet of crisps. Walkers, salt and vinegar I believe. When he comes back out and opens the packet, his 11-year-old chum swoops on him, sticks a fist into the bag and legs it down the road, cackling in glee with a handful of crisps.

The first boy tells his mum and, yes, she calls us.

The ‘thief’ is questioned but – horror of horrors – he denies it.

This causes our whole system to collapse, because we’re all about getting people to cough to minor offences and accept cautions for them to make detections.

Where do we go from here?

Forensics?

ID parades with witnesses from the scene who saw the boy make off with the crisps?

Thankfully, there is some residual common sense in the police, and the case eventually got ‘no-crimed’ – but not before hours of police time was wasted, and only after submissions in triplicate to the crime auditors to get them to wipe it off the computer.

These aren’t isolated cases. Here are a few others from the papers recently:

- A man ‘found in possession of an egg with intent to throw’.

- A child who removed a slice of cucumber from a sandwich and threw it at another youngster.

- A woman arrested (on her wedding day) for criminal damage after her foot slipped on the accelerator and her vehicle damaged a car park barrier.

- Another child who threw cream buns at a bus.

- A 70-year-old pensioner arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour’s conifer trees.

- A man who threw a glass of water over his girlfriend.

I didn’t make any of these up. Anti-social, yes, and in some cases maybe we ought to have a quiet word with the people involved. But are they really ‘crimes’?

Once someone reports them to us as such, and the call-taker enters them onto our computer databases as such, then, yes, they are.

So that’s ‘crime’. What’s a ‘detection’?

You perhaps think this refers to a mechanism whereby the person responsible for a crime, real or surreal, is caught and punished for it.

In fact, it may just mean that a suspect has been charged* – he doesn’t have to be found guilty. Equally, he may have been cautioned, or reported for summons, or been issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder, or the offence may have been taken into consideration when he is sentenced for other matters.

What are the implications of all of this?

They are many and varied.

Firstly, all of a sudden anyone who has been looked at a bit funny can ring the police and demand a response.

Secondly, this will mean one extra recorded crime on the force’s figures (eg ‘harassment’ for looking at someone funny).

Thirdly, we can’t just ignore them. Under NCRS, we mostly have to take them seriously, which is just one reason why it takes us three days to show up for your burglary. Plus lots of undetected ‘crimes’ make Chief Constables look bad, and worry the Home Secretary, so they have to be detected with a response that is bureaucratic and slow and will take officers off the street for hours.

Fourthly, a boy who throws a piece of cucumber at a classmate may feel under pressure to accept a caution – and a permanent entry on his criminal record. This may affect his chances of employment later in life. (Though at the rate we’re criminalising the population, it won’t be long before pretty much everyone has a record, and it’s weird if you haven’t.)

Finally, in many forces, each officer now has an individual ‘Detection Target’. If he or she does not hit this target, he or she will end up with an ‘Action Plan’ on his or her Annual Appraisal. This is essentially a negative statement on your file, which can exclude you from an interview for a specialisation or promotion at the ‘paper-sift’ stage. Helping old ladies across the road, diving into swollen rivers to rescue drowning people and preventing or deterring crime from happening in the first place – none of these count against your individual target.

Of the above implications, the only one that really matters is our figures for undetected crimes. That’s because these are the only ones that affect senior police officers and politicians.

It doesn’t matter that bobbies might be so tied up looking for youths who don’t believe in Father Christmas that they can’t come out when you’re assaulted, because senior cops and MPs don’t very often get assaulted. If the young salt and vinegar crisps thief gets a criminal record, that doesn’t matter either, because who cares? And neither does the systematic degradation of what was once a force into a ‘service’ that often only seems to serve the non-contributory members of society, because if the Chief Constable or the Lord Chief Justice or The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith MP has a gang of rowdy youths hanging around outside late at night, you can bet there’ll be a rapid and forceful response to that. (Though remember, Jacqui, that you were once a humble schoolteacher, and you won’t be Home Secretary for ever.)

PC David Copperfield was the first to break ranks and tell people about this nonsense. Since then, there have been lots of noises about how it’s all going to change, and they’re going to slash bureaucracy and cut targets. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

Incidentally, the crisps theft was not a lone incident.

There were 500 similar thefts, of ‘nominal value under £1’, across my force in the past six months.

What are these £1 thefts?

Well, this might explain some of them: If your credit card is nicked and used, and the guy who stole it is later arrested with it still on him, this presents us with an opportunity. How about if the police crime this twice?

Once for the deception involved in using it to buy alloy rims for his Vauxhall Corsa, and once for the theft of the actual piece of plastic, nominal value under £1.

So some copper calls you up. ‘Mr Smith, isn’t it great? We got the guy who nicked your card. We’re talking to the bank about the loss of the money, and we also want to deal with him for the card itself. Can we just come and take a quick statement from you?’

This is called a ‘Loser’s Statement’ – it’s designed to head off a defence in court that you are the thief’s best mate and you always let him use your card.

You say, ‘Yep, no problem’, and the Old Bill nip round. Result: the theft of the credit card itself is detected and the crime figures for theft look a little better. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether we’d bother criming the theft of the card if we hadn’t actually already recovered it.

*The reason we’re judged on ‘detections’ and not the outcome of a case at court is that the police have no real influence over what some crazy buffoon of a magistrate decides to do, and no control over a jury in Crown Court. All we can really do is influence the investigation. Though in many cases we can’t really do that either – witnesses decide not to give evidence because they are a friend of the accused, or victims (often women in DV cases) are frightened to assist in prosecutions.

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A fifth of all crime goes unrecorded, according to ‘shocking’ new figures revealed by HMIC.

It depends on your definition of shocking, really.

We revealed this kind of thing some years ago in Wasting Police Time, Perverting the Course of Justice and Diary of an On-Call Girl.

Here is Inspector Gadget in Perverting the Course of Justice explaining why it is that even when they aren’t ‘no criming’ it as being down to badgers, the cops don’t always come out when your shed gets broken into (it’s not always because the bobbies at the sharp end don’t want to):

CONTROL STRATEGY CRIME, AND OTHER JARGON THAT WINDS PEOPLE UP

TWO other things I explain to people who complain, if they still have the will to live, are Control Strategy Crime and Volume Crime. They’re separate but intertwined, like much of the semi-impenetrable undergrowth of police bureaucracy.

I was at a dinner party the other night. As the only policeman there, I was obviously cornered for most of the evening by people who wanted to ask how many people I had shot (none) / ask if it’s true that you can drink three pints on a full stomach and still drive (it’s not) / complain about the police.

One chap, Steve, was quite persistent. He’d been the victim of a criminal damage: his garage door had been sprayed with the word ‘Tosser’ and the window in the side of the garage had been smashed.

‘I phoned your lot,’ said Steve. ‘All they were interested in was giving me a crime number to claim on my insurance. What about coming out to look for the buggers that did it?’

I couldn’t speak for his specific case – different force – but it was a familiar story.

This is about Control Strategy Crime and Volume Crime.

CS Crime means types of crime that bureaucrats, our own and those in the Home Office hundreds of miles away, dictate to us as priorities. They will always include the really big stuff like rape and murder, plus domestic burglary and street robbery, but the other six or so will be things that will come onto and drop off our crime control strategy from time to time. I’ve just looked, and today they are:

Commercial premises burglary

Burglary non-dwelling (sheds)

Criminal damage

Theft from motor vehicles

Theft of motor vehicles

Assaults

Shed burglaries just came onto our list at the expense of class A drug use.

That’s not because people round our way aren’t bothered about heroin addicts on the streets, and they really care about the theft of Strimmers, it’s because our analysts say we’ve got Class A drugs under control for the time being, so we aren’t worried about that any more.

On the other hand, we’ve had a few shed breaks, so we need to get right on it. This means that everything we’ve got in terms of proactive resources – cameras, technical, scenes of crime, surveillance units – is diverted to the sheds.

It means identifying offenders, looking into recent prison releases, leafleting homes, target-hardening and crime prevention.

It means putting people out in plain clothes at night, focusing all the down time on those areas, targeting handlers.

It means that every single person, when they are not doing a job, goes to those places where the sheds have been hit before, because it is not just a type of crime, it is an area too, a ‘hot spot’.

‘Volume Crime’, meanwhile, is stuff exactly like that in the list above – the thefts from motor vehicles, minor criminal damages, shed burglaries, graffiti and all the attempts to do these sorts of things – but which is not at such a level, locally, as to have made it to the Control Strategy Crime list.

The Home Office says, officially, that we need not investigate these crimes as long as they’re not currently on our Control Strategy, and they fit certain criteria.

These can be evidential (Did anyone witness the crime? Does anyone know who the offenders are? Did they leave anything behind? Is it on camera?) or value-based (If something was nicked or damaged, how much was it worth?)

The interplay between these two factors can, unsurprisingly, confuse and annoy our punters.

I assume Steve’s force didn’t have criminal damage on its list of Control Strategy Crime when he called, which is why they fobbed him off. If it is on the list the following week, after a spate of such incidents, and his neighbour’s garage gets done over, the neighbour will get the full works.

I understand how bad this looks.

I don’t like not investigating crimes, however minor they might be.

I would love it if every burglary victim got CSI and an investigating officer there within a reasonable time.

I think it would be great if we could attend every criminal damage report, even if it turns out there is nothing there for us in the way of leads.

Broken windows policing, pioneered in New York, where low-level crime is vigorously pursued, has a lot going for it (as long as the offenders get proper sanctions at court, which they wouldn’t in the UK but do in the States).

We like hassling petty criminals.

But we’re back to our old friend reality again. What I would like, and you would like, is one thing: what we can deliver with current resources and ways of working is another.

Steve’s garage is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you visit Google and type in the phrase ‘police fail to investigate crimes’ you come up with a stack of newspaper stories from November 2007.

A typical headline, from The Sunday Telegraph, is: ‘Official: Police leave two million crimes uninvestigated’.

In the story, the reporter explains how we are ‘refusing to investigate crimes including huge numbers of burglaries and thefts’.

The implication is that we are giving criminals an easy ride, and the story was widely commented upon, mostly by angry readers. The redoubtable Norman Brennan, the chairman of the Victims of Crime Trust and (then) a serving police officer, told the paper: ‘The public are our masters and have a right to know why we don’t turn up to every call and investigate every crime.’

There are two elements to this. The first is about solving crimes. The second is doing all we can to try to solve them.

There are some crimes we have no chance of ever clearing up.

I’m sorry if that sounds defeatist, but it’s the truth. Often, there just are no lines of enquiry – people smash up a bus stop at 2am and run off, there’s no CCTV and no-one sees them. There’s not much we can really do about that.

However, in many cases, as Steve would confirm, we don’t even turn up to have a look.

This is because, if we attended the scene and carried out an investigation every time anyone threw a brick through a window, or scratched a car, or wrote ‘Tosser’ on a garage, the whole law enforcement system as it currently stands, with existing resources, would grind to a halt and we would not be able to deal with more serious things.

If Sunday Telegraph readers really want us to investigate every one of those two million volume crimes, they need to understand that this will require a sizeable hike in the tax levy to pay for even more police.

A practical example. We regularly get people calling to complain that their neighbour’s burglar alarm has been ringing for hours and we haven’t turned up. I’ve read research suggesting that something like 13 million burglar alarms go off every year. If we attended them all, we’d need a police force twice the size of the US Army. So what we do is ask the caller to go and have a quick look and see if he can see anything suspicious, at which point he gets outraged, and starts asking what he pays his taxes for.

(Of course, if we cut back on our paperwork and got more of us out on the streets, we could certainly cover much more than we do with our current numbers.)

Most reasonable people understand this – even if they don’t like it – when you explain it to them.

It would help if police forces and the Government took that line, instead of making dream world promises about how they’re going to deal with minor crime through Neighbourhood Policing and Citizen Focus and whatever follows next.

It would also help if [Victims of Crime Trust founder] Norman Brennan’s suggestion that ‘the public have a right to know why we don’t turn up to every call and investigate every crime’ was accompanied by an explanation from Norman as to why this is the case.

The truth is, only people who can really deal with much of this stuff are the public themselves.

Indeed, they used to deal with it without us and, in many parts of the country, they still do. In the village where I live, for instance, we don’t have problems with kids smashing up the phone box, because our local parents control their kids. No-one else does that for us.

It’s not because of the massive police presence in the area, because there isn’t one. In a lot of places, people now look to the police to do that kind of job, but we just can’t do it, however much we might like to.

In the absence of 200,000 new bobbies or a radical change in working practices, I suppose we do have to have some method of getting crime down to a manageable heap.

Personally, I don’t think it should be done on how much of it there is; I think it should be done on the moral equivalence of it.

If 90-year-old Gladys has had some scumbag in her house nicking her life savings, that should be of greater priority than some drug dealer who gets boshed over the head when a deal goes wrong.

But it won’t be, because his is a ‘street crime’ and hers is just a theft.

Sorry, Gladys.

 

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…is all over the airwaves at the moment, in the wake of a serious case review (after which lessons will no doubt be learned, gold standard best practice adopted, and many new and more complex forms introduced).

I’ve just been listening to Sir Peter Fahy squirming on BBC 5 Live as Victoria Derbyshire asked him over and over again how it was that his officers failed to take seriously those complaints which were made.

It’s a very good question, and one I’d be asking were my daughters involved.

Of course, my daughters wouldn’t be involved, because I know where they are and who they are with at all times, as – doubtless – do any parents reading this. That is the point, really. Yes, there were other factors, but young teenage girls cannot be abused (systematically) by anyone if their parents or carers (most of the victims having been in care) know where they are, and who they are with.

But as The Guardian says,

There was a lack of strategies to respond to frequent “runaways”, which allowed them to return to their abusers.

‘Frequent runaways’ is a bit throwaway, isn’t it? I can think of at least one simple ‘strategy’ for stopping kids from ‘frequently’ running away, which is, don’t let them. Unfortunately, for reasons not unconnected to lawyers and other experts, it seems it’s not that easy.

But what is the relevance of this to our books? Well, a number of them have explained frequent runaways and the problems they cause.

In Wasting Police Time, PC David Copperfield defines ‘MISPER Enquiries’ as:

Enquiries into missing persons – usually kids who have run away from care homes or school to play in the amusement arcades and drink cider in the park.

But why don’t the care home staff or teachers bar the door? PC Bloggs (Diary of an On-Call Girl, criminally under-rated) explains why in this story of a missing child:

I AM STILL in custody, waiting for Will to find me, when the radio pipes up once more.

‘Could you attend the Benucci Foundation. Colin Roach has gone missing again.’

The Benucci Foundation is a Care Home, providing twenty-four hour supervision of troubled under-16s, and the name of Colin Roach is more familiar to me than my own. He goes for a jaunt two or three times a week, and the staff at the home do little to prevent it.

One of the rules of the twenty–four hour supervision is that it is the police’s responsibility to keep track of the youngsters who live under it. Thus, when a Missing Person is reported, a police officer will be dispatched to the relevant home, where a five-page description and Risk Assessment will be completed. This is actually the most crucial part of the whole process, as without knowing whether the Person is classified as High, Medium or Low Risk we are unable to determine which rank of officer will be fired if they are found dead.

Luckily, we are proficient at finding them alive. Not only do we have the ability to telephone their family members and ask if they’ve seen them, but we’re also good at driving to their favourite haunts or texting them on their mobiles to ask them where they are.

These skills take many years to master and should not be attempted by civilians.

Most Missing Persons are regulars. They are usually in care or foster homes, and have poor criminal or behavioural records. They are between 13 and 16, they drink, smoke and do drugs, and they ain’t scared of no Feds.

All of these factors mean that their carer is under a legal responsibility to inform the police when the Person goes Missing, even if Missing just happens to be going down the shop for a Mars bar. No matter: the police delight in spending hours on pointless tasks, so we are more than happy to cruise the streets of Blandmore searching for these youngsters, and, when we find them, it’s always a joy to spend half an hour trying to persuade them to go home without any actual power to make them do so.

Colin is 13 and I have located him three times already this year. On each occasion I found him in the same place: back at the Foundation sitting in front of the television.

This time, we are shown in by Carlita, one of the live-in carers. She makes me a cup of tea and apologises for having to call us out.

‘So,’ I say. ‘Why did he go this time?’

‘He went for some fags. We usually let him have one after doing his homework, but he wanted one now. So he just left.’

I look at the front door, a sturdy-looking PVC thing with two bolts. ‘How did he get out?’

‘He opened the door.’

‘Did anyone try to stop him?’

‘We aren’t allowed to do that!’ She looks horrified at the suggestion. ‘If they become violent, we retreat.’

‘But couldn’t you just lock the door?’

‘We don’t lock them in,’ she says. ‘That might make them violent.’

Perhaps I have misunderstood the nature of the Foundation. I ask for a recap. ‘Why are kids here again?’

‘High risk offenders. Most of them have committed rapes or sexual assaults on younger kids. Colin raped a younger boy last year.’

‘And they aren’t in prison because… ?’

‘Well, most of them were also abused as kids,’ Carlita explains. ‘They’re not even sixteen, so it wouldn’t be fair to just chuck them in jail and throw away the key. They’re mixed-up kids.’

‘So let me get this straight: you have a house full of boys who have been victims of sexual assault, living in a house with boys who have committed sexual assaults?’

‘Well, they aren’t allowed in each others’ rooms.’

Colin is under a Supervision Order from the court and Carlita shows me the Order. It lays down in no uncertain terms that Colin is to stay indoors at the Benucci Foundation all day, except when escorted to school and back by staff or taken on outings authorised by staff. He is to abide by the rules of the house and is not allowed to be rude or threatening or to assault anyone.

‘So he breaks this Order every time he goes storming out?’ I ask.

She nods. ‘If he does it again he’ll be put in a high security home.’

Will takes out the paperwork. ‘He’s done it… let’s see… 30 times in the last three months.’

Sadly, this is no exaggeration. Colin and others like him really exist, as do their records of going ‘missing’.

She shrugs. ‘Well, like I say. One of these days he’ll be put in high security.’

While the sergeant is there, I trick him into signing his name on my Missing Person paperwork; that means it is now he who will be fired if Colin Roach is not found. Even as he realises what he has done, the radio controller interrupts us to inform me that Colin is now back at the Foundation and could I please go and lay eyes on him so the incident log can be closed.

Inspector Gadget (Perverting the Course of Justice) has the issue in his area, too:

CHARLIE is 14 years old, he lives in a care home and he’s vanished.

Again.

Charlie is a MISPER.

There are two types of missing persons.

The first type is persons who are actually missing.

They might be stressed husbands who left work four hours ago and haven’t come home. They might be mums with post-natal depression, or old people with Alzheimer’s, or kids who are playing in the park and have just forgotten the time. We don’t get many calls like this, and we take them very seriously indeed.

The second type of MISPER are persons who aren’t really missing at all – like Charlie.

In fact, in our area – as in any area – the vast majority of these cases fall into this category.

Most of them are wayward teenagers who have disappeared from one of the foster/children’s homes on our patch. They’re kids with no obvious future except crime, unemployment and poverty: disturbed, unwanted youngsters from broken homes, born to underclass parents who just drop them and never bother to pick them up again. Usually, mum or dad is in the middle of some drug or alcohol daze, or has a new partner who doesn’t want to know. The result is young boys and girls left to fend for themselves, out in the big wide world at the age of 10 or so. They end up in care, and they abscond very regularly – some of them several times a week – after being told by the staff that they can’t smoke cannabis, or can’t drink, or simply because they want to go and hang around in town with their mates. The staff watch them stroll away (they are not allowed to detain them), and then they call us.

They’re undoubtedly tragic, these kids, and they’d break your heart if you let them.

[E]very time Charlie vanishes, we ramp up an entire system.

How this starts is with a risk assessment.

In theory, this is to decide which of three levels of response we adopt: high, medium or low.

In practice, it’s really about getting some poor bastard’s name on it – usually that of a Duty Inspector like me – so that if and when things get bent out of shape they have someone to stick it to. Call me cynical, but that’s the way I see it.

Let’s go back to the theory. It sounds sensible: if someone is at high risk, let’s have a high level of response.

The problem is, what is ‘high risk’? If it means any kid who goes missing, you can forget it. A high level response requires a helicopter. It needs search dogs, a Gold command (Assistant Chief Constable or above) and incident command posts. It needs large teams of level two-trained officers – the specialists who you see on the TV news, dressed in white overalls carrying out painstaking, fingertip searches. Charlie’s always disappearing and he’s not alone in that: if we act like this for every kid who goes missing in our area every time they do it, I’m going to need eight helicopters a day. I will need hundreds of people. It’s impossible.

As for low risk… well, no-one is ever going to be low risk, are they? I mean, would you put that on a form if you were me?

So what happens is, we end up recording the vast majority of MISPERs as ‘medium’ risk (I think I’m supposed to make that judgment based on an e-learning package I did on the computer once). Hence, the entire, bureaucratic, time-consuming, box-ticking, arse-covering exercise that is the risk assessment is actually a big fat sham.

Medium risk doesn’t mean we just shrug our shoulders and don’t do much about it, though. There’s still a whole list of things that have to be done – at least 50 of them, on forms which are about eight pages long.

For instance, you have to:

- Search Charlie’s home and any outbuildings

- Check for any diaries, letters and calendars he might have, seize them and put them in evidence bags

- Question all people in the home.

- Carry out house-to-house enquiries locally and in areas of interest.

- Do an area search of the places that Charlie is known to frequent.

- Alert CCTV.

- Broadcast his disappearance to other officers.

- Get it on to the briefing.

- Put him on the Police National Computer as ‘locate-and-trace’.

- Go to his school – even though it’s long after dark, and he doesn’t go to school most days anyway.

- Visit his last two known addresses.

- Contact his family and friends, and physically go round and check for him there.

The list goes on for quite a while yet – and everything, of course, has to be written down and recorded in triplicate, just in case something bad does happen, so you and your bosses can prove you did all that was humanly possible to prevent it.

So I take two officers off my shift and put them to work on finding Charlie. They trawl the canal towpaths and the children’s playgrounds and the underpasses and all the hidden away places Charlie likes to meet up with his mates and they eventually find him, mildly pissed, lying in a rosebed next to the bandstand in the park.

By that stage, he’s quite happy to get a lift back to the home. They drop him off, knowing they’ll be out looking for him again within the next three or four days.

I could give you many, many examples. Mandy is another 14-year-old who also lives in a care home in one of our towns. She has an ‘Acceptable Behaviour Contract’ with the home: if she generally does as she’s told, once a week she’s allowed out to go and buy cigarettes. Yes, I know this is illegal but they have to work with what they’ve got; if they just say No to her, what’s going to happen? What sanctions do they have?

(One day, undoubtedly, Mandy will find a no-win-no-fee lawyer who will sue the local authority on her behalf for allowing her to smoke.)

She’s supposed to go to the local shop, or to her mother, or to whoever it is that provides her with the fags, and then come straight back. She gets half an hour for this, and every single time she doesn’t come back. Instead, she goes into town, nicks a load of make-up from Dorothy Perkins, swipes some vodka from the offie and spends the afternoon getting smashed with a load of older kids. All our medium risk responses grind into action and we get officers out looking for her. Sometimes we find her, other times she comes back of her own accord. Depending on how she’s feeling, it might be that night, but more often it’ll be a day or two later. The following week, we’ll go through the same thing all over again. And the week after that, ad nauseam, until they’re no longer juveniles.

As a normal person, unfamiliar with the way these things work, you are probably thinking that this all sounds a bit mad.

If she keeps going missing, why don’t the care home staff just ban her from going out in the first place? (Because she’ll ignore them and go anyway.)

Why don’t they lock the doors? (They aren’t allowed to.)

Why don’t they grab hold of her? (They don’t want to get done for assault.)

And Mandy and Charlie are but two of many. At any one time, I will have half a dozen of these cases on the go.

In other news, our office cat Harry had to be put down this week. He would usually be sitting on my desk looking disdainfully at me as I batter yet more nonsense into my keyboard; 16 years we’ve had him (and his brother Percy, until he died a couple of years back). It’s a terribly sad thing.

Harry

Still, the office dog is sleeping easier:

molly.jpg

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In another shock, horror revelation, the Public Administration Committee was told yesterday that the cops sometimes fiddle the figures when recording crime.

A witness told the MPs that

“cuffing” crimes could involve officers deciding they did not believe complainants, recording multiple incidents in the same area as a single crime or recording thefts as “lost property”, burglaries as “theft from property” and attempted burglaries as “criminal damage”.

Hmm. Where have we heard this sort of thing before?

So how widespread is this, and why do they do it?

Today, Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon told an ACPO conference that ‘he had spoken to officers from many police forces who said senior officers were applying pressure on them to reduce the crime figures.’ They are

‘inadvertently… still putting pressure on officers to do all they can to manipulate and create crime reductions.  I don’t think they do it because they are inherently corrupt but because pressure is put down to reduce it. It is whether we have the nerve to step away from crime reduction and obsession with crime figures, and whether we can move to a real environment where we do properly record.

But why are these ‘senior officers’ putting this pressure on?

Probably hundreds of run of the mill bobbies have moaned to me about this since we published Wasting Police Time, Perverting the Course of Justice and the rest. They would probably answer the above question with three of their own:

1. Do senior officers get bonuses if the figures look good?

2. Do politicians get re-elected at least partly on the back of boasts and lies about crime?

3. What is a PDR?

Of course, it’s not just that sometimes a shed break-in gets recorded as damage by badgers, there’s also pressure to criminalise effectively innocent people – if you can create a ‘crime’ that you know you can ‘solve’, that’s so much better than recording actual crimes you know you probably can’t. Here’s probably my favourite piece from Inspector Gadget’s book:

LET’S go back to basics for a moment.

Lots of people probably don’t quite understand the words ‘crime’ and ‘detection’, and the role they play in modern policing.

That’s not surprising, because what they mean in reality and what they mean in surreality – ie modern policing – are often two completely different things.

In real life, a crime means something which we would all agree is against the law – theft, assault, burglary – and has an actual victim who has really suffered some harm.

In policing, a ‘crime’ – because of the ‘victim-focused’ National Crime Recording Standard I mentioned earlier – can mean, in practice, almost anything which half sounds like it might possibly be a bit like a crime and which is reported to us. (Because who are we to tell Mr Hughes that his ex’s nasty text message isn’t a crime?)

Here is one example of a non-crime taken seriously by us.

It’s late one afternoon in the middle of last December. The Christmas lights are ablaze on every house in Bigtown, and the concrete walkway outside the local Spar is covered in fresh white litter. Inside, there’s a queue of people waiting to pay for their groceries. Halfway down the line, a little girl and her mum are chatting about Santa Claus, and the presents he will be delivering in a fortnight.

In front of them is a typical Bigtown youth – Burberry scarf, Nike trainers, NY Yankees cap and a ton of bling.

Overhearing their conversation, he turns round, looks at the girl and says, ‘You don’t believe in Father Christmas, do ya? Your mum’s telling you lies… he ain’t real.’

The little girl bursts into tears and the angry mum storms out of the shop.

I like to think that, if that happened to me, I’d tell my daughter that the nasty man was talking rubbish, and chalk it up to experience.

But modern life being what it is, mum doesn’t do this; instead, she phones us on her mobile from the street outside, like it’s a police matter.

OK, so we get a call from a lady wanting to report a Santa denier.

We just tell her we’re awfully sorry but it’s not really one for us, right?

Wrong. The call-taker logs it on the system as a harassment offence. We all know that if the woman had been calling to report a criminal damage that had happened the night before she’d have got someone out a week next Tuesday. But because certain triggers are hit – there’s a child involved, this area happens to be a crime hot spot and the man is still at the scene – a patrol is despatched immediately, to speak to the mum and little girl and, if possible, grab the ‘offender’ (or seize the CCTV to see if they can ID him).

To me, that’s just about as mad as it gets. Is it, even at the edges of abstract technicality, a crime? Harassment is about causing alarm or distress to another. As a senior officer asked in the SMT morning meeting, ‘How can it be harassment to tell someone Santa doesn’t exist? I mean, he doesn’t. Does he?’

He’s got a point. Short of producing Santa himself at an ID parade and proving he’s real, the case is going nowhere. But time and resources have been wasted in a fairly ludicrous way.

Here’s another one.

Two young lads outside a newsagent. One, a 10-year-old, goes in and buys a packet of crisps. Walkers, salt and vinegar I believe. When he comes back out and opens the packet, his 11-year-old chum swoops on him, sticks a fist into the bag and legs it down the road, cackling in glee with a handful of crisps.

The first boy tells his mum and, yes, she calls us. The ‘thief’ is questioned but – horror of horrors – he denies it. This causes our whole system to collapse, because we’re all about getting people to cough to minor offences and accept cautions for them to make detections. Where do we go from here? Forensics? ID parades with witnesses from the scene who saw the boy make off with the crisps? Thankfully, there is some residual common sense in the police, and the case eventually got ‘no-crimed’ – but not before hours of police time was wasted, and only after submissions in triplicate to the crime auditors to get them to wipe it off the computer.

These aren’t isolated cases. Here are a few others from the papers recently:

– A man ‘found in possession of an egg with intent to throw’.

– A child who removed a slice of cucumber from a sandwich and threw it at another youngster.

– A woman arrested (on her wedding day) for criminal damage after her foot slipped on the accelerator and her vehicle damaged a car park barrier.

– Another child who threw cream buns at a bus.

– A 70-year-old pensioner arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour’s conifer trees.

– A man who threw a glass of water over his girlfriend.

I didn’t make any of these up. Anti-social, yes, and in some cases maybe we ought to have a quiet word with the people involved. But are they really ‘crimes’?

Once someone reports them to us as such, and the call-taker enters them onto our computer databases as such, then, yes, they are.

So that’s ‘crime’. What’s a ‘detection’?

You perhaps think this refers to a mechanism whereby the person responsible for a crime, real or surreal, is caught and punished for it.

In fact, it may just mean that a suspect has been charged* – he doesn’t have to be found guilty. Equally, he may have been cautioned, or reported for summons, or been issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder, or the offence may have been taken into consideration when he is sentenced for other matters.

What are the implications of all of this?

They are many and varied.

Firstly, all of a sudden anyone who has been looked at a bit funny can ring the police and demand a response.

Secondly, this will mean one extra recorded crime on the force’s figures (eg ‘harassment’ for looking at someone funny).

Thirdly, we can’t just ignore them. Under NCRS, we mostly have to take them seriously, which is just one reason why it takes us three days to show up for your burglary. Plus lots of undetected ‘crimes’ make Chief Constables look bad, and worry the Home Secretary, so they have to be detected with a response that is bureaucratic and slow and will take officers off the street for hours.

Fourthly, a boy who throws a piece of cucumber at a classmate may feel under pressure to accept a caution – and a permanent entry on his criminal record. This may affect his chances of employment later in life. (Though at the rate we’re criminalising the population, it won’t be long before pretty much everyone has a record, and it’s weird if you haven’t.)

Finally, in many forces, each officer now has an individual ‘Detection Target’. If he or she does not hit this target, he or she will end up with an ‘Action Plan’ on his or her Annual Appraisal. This is essentially a negative statement on your file, which can exclude you from an interview for a specialisation or promotion at the ‘paper-sift’ stage. Helping old ladies across the road, diving into swollen rivers to rescue drowning people and preventing or deterring crime from happening in the first place – none of these count against your individual target.

Of the above implications, the only one that really matters is our figures for undetected crimes. That’s because these are the only ones that affect senior police officers and politicians.

It doesn’t matter that bobbies might be so tied up looking for youths who don’t believe in Father Christmas that they can’t come out when you’re assaulted, because senior cops and MPs don’t very often get assaulted. If the young salt and vinegar crisps thief gets a criminal record, that doesn’t matter either, because who cares? And neither does the systematic degradation of what was once a force into a ‘service’ that often only seems to serve the non-contributory members of society, because if the Chief Constable or the Lord Chief Justice or The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith MP has a gang of rowdy youths hanging around outside late at night, you can bet there’ll be a rapid and forceful response to that. (Though remember, Jacqui, that you were once a humble schoolteacher, and you won’t be Home Secretary for ever.)

PC David Copperfield was the first to break ranks and tell people about this nonsense. Since then, there have been lots of noises about how it’s all going to change, and they’re going to slash bureaucracy and cut targets. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

Incidentally, the crisps theft was not a lone incident. There were 500 similar thefts, of ‘nominal value under £1’, across my force in the past six months. What are these £1 thefts? Well, this might explain some of them: If your credit card is nicked and used, and the guy who stole it is later arrested with it still on him, this presents us with an opportunity. How about if the police crime this twice? Once for the deception involved in using it to buy alloy rims for his Vauxhall Corsa, and once for the theft of the actual piece of plastic, nominal value under £1.

So some copper calls you up. ‘Mr Smith, isn’t it great? We got the guy who nicked your card. We’re talking to the bank about the loss of the money, and we also want to deal with him for the card itself. Can we just come and take a quick statement from you?’

This is called a ‘Loser’s Statement’ – it’s designed to head off a defence in court that you are the thief’s best mate and you always let him use your card.

You say, ‘Yep, no problem’, and the Old Bill nip round. Result: the theft of the credit card itself is detected and the crime figures for theft look a little better. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether we’d bother criming the theft of the card if we hadn’t actually already recovered it.

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The fall in crime in England and Wales ‘may be exaggerated’, says the BBC.

What? Crime figures being manipulated to meet targets set by the idiots in government?

Who knew?

PC David Copperfield in Wasting Police Time:

The country seems to be divided between those who think that things are getting worse, and those who think that things are getting better and that it’s all in our heads.

The latter includes most politicians, the liberal left, and ACPO. Many of these people earn quite impressive salaries and can afford to live in areas where crime is, for the time being, relatively low. This may explain their optimism.

The former includes: everyone else, many of whom live in areas where crime happens, and are people to whom crime happens.

The UK population has risen steadily over the last century or so, from 38 million in 1901 to around 60 million today (note, it hasn’t doubled).

In the same period, the total number of police officers employed by the State has risen from around 40,000 to close to 130,000 now (ie it has more than trebled).

What about crime? Well, the number of indictable offences known to the police in 1900 was 2.4 for every 1,000 of the population. In 1997, the figure was 89.1. I’d put my house on the fact that it’s gone up since then.

I suppose some cynics might interpret these figures as to show that the police are actually causing crime. I wouldn’t go that far. But I do wonder this: where are all these new police officers and what are they doing?

Inspector Gadget in Perverting the Course of Justice:

I don’t trust official crime figures… I know the Home Secretary says we have more police than ever, but how many of them are working Response? I know, too, that we have PCSOs now, and that they look a bit like police, but very few of them work beyond 9pm because it’s too dangerous (it’s not too dangerous for the public, note, but it is too dangerous for PCSOs, despite their stab vests and their radios). In the first few months of 24 hour licensing, we were given enormous amounts of centrally-funded extra money to put more bodies on the street – the overtime was great for the Sergeants and PCs. As a result, everywhere you turned there were police. Once that dried up, we were back to normal – and we really don’t have the numbers to do much more than control things to a just-about acceptable level.

So, what if we could do something to the figures, to make it look like things are better? If it’s not within our gift to stop the nations’ youth getting drunk and fighting, and it’s not, the only place left for us to go to, to get the reductions we need, is our bureaucrats.

If we arrest lots of people for relatively minor things, so we get lots of ‘detections’, we at least have some ammunition to use in our defence when people start squealing about NTE [‘night time economy’] crime. Or if police statisticians start to look at definitions of crime, maybe we can shift things that would have been counted into areas that wouldn’t be?

For instance, someone is being aggressive and drunk in the street. We have two options. We can arrest him for being ‘drunk and disorderly’ or for one of the offences under the Public Order Act 1986 – sections 3, 4 and 5 of which are more commonly known as ‘Affray’, ‘Threatening Behaviour’ and ‘Disorderly Conduct’.

What’s the difference? The difference is that ‘drunk and disorderly’ is not a recordable crime. You are found in that state by a police officer, arrested and bound over to keep the peace at court the next day (or, more often, given a Penalty Notice for Disorder and sent on your way). It doesn’t show up on our figures. S5 POA is recordable, and does.

There is widespread anecdotal evidence of PCs being put under pressure to arrest for drunk and disorderly. Even if they arrest for S5 POA, it can later be changed to d&d – this is perfectly legitimate, no-one is doing anything technically wrong or illegal, but it does have the added benefit of making the NTE figures look a lot better than they actually are, doesn’t it?

PC Bloggs in Diary of an On-Call Girl:

(M)y mobile rings. It is the Scrutineer Herself.

‘Hello, PC Bloggs? About this racist incident?’

‘Yes?’

‘We can’t just reclassify it.’

‘Why not?’

‘Well, how do you know it wasn’t racist?’

‘The victim doesn’t think it was.’

‘Well, how does she know it wasn’t?’

She’s got me there. I mean, just because Mrs Patel doesn’t think it was racist doesn’t mean it wasn’t, I suppose. But I recover like lightning. ‘Um… well, how do you know it was?’

There’s a momentary silence, and it sounds like an irritated one. Then she replies. ‘I will change it to a criminal damage, but unless you can provide verifiable evidence that it was not racist, the classification will have to stand.’

Will is now watching me with his head on one side, looking thoroughly amused. That’s the problem with more experienced officers: they treat all this Crime Managing stuff as a joke and just go along with what the Scrutineer wants.

I swivel my chair to face away from him and refuse to succumb. ‘Verifiable evidence that it was not racist? Like what?’

‘Perhaps if we knew the motives of the offender?’ She says this as though she is talking to a small child, or an idiot.

‘Perhaps if we knew who the offender was,’ I say, ‘I could arrest him or her and find out. Do you know who the offender was?’

‘Now, now, PC Bloggs, I know it seems pernickety, but we have to abide by ethical crime recording rules.’

‘But if it’s racist, I have to do a report to the Hate Crime Unit. I can’t do that because the victim doesn’t think it’s racist. So the report will just say that it isn’t racist, in which case why am I sending it to them?’

‘Well, I’m afraid that’s just the way it is.’

‘But…’ I am starting to doubt my sanity. ‘How did it become a racist incident in the first place? The victim doesn’t think it is, for goodness’ sake.’

‘If someone perceives it to be racist, then it is.’

‘It looks like the only person who perceives it to be racist is the Crime Centre.’

‘Well, that is ‘someone’.’

‘Look, this is just some kids chucking stuff at a door. It’s antisocial, it’s annoying and I’d love to arrest the little blighters if I knew who they were, but it isn’t racist.’

‘That’s your view.’

‘Fine… can we just file it then?’

‘Not without the report to the Hate Crime Unit. It won’t get through Crime Compliance.’

‘Fine, I’ll do the report.’ The call ends.

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Following the Manchester shootings, PC Bloggs wrote a comment piece for yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, entitled What life is like on the front line for policewomen.

(For those who haven’t read the book, a more detailed explanation can be found in Diary of an On Call Girl.)

It might read like a moan (‘Now I am a sergeant, with a team of mostly men under me. Our numbers are so depleted that I scarcely notice the gender of those turning up for work. My few female officers are as likely to work with each other as with a man, or by themselves. Extreme budget cuts have done more for gender equality than any amount of positive action.) but you’d be hard-pressed to find a less miserable person than Bloggsy.

The usual mix of sane and insane comments underneath.

One chap writes:

I do enjoy reading the comments below. Some are useful, most are not, pushing their own political square points into the round hole offered to them.
I have also been a police officer “on the front line” for over 15 years – the incident above is doubtless not the scariest thing that the author has encountered. It is however typical, and frequent. It is one that I recognise. However as a 16 stone male I am usually (but not always) able to fight them off physically – a 10 second brawl then translates into 6 hours of writing.
Equally telling, is the comment my colleague makes about being a sergeant and seeing not a team of men and women, but a team; numbers steadily declining (rapidly over the last few years regardless of who holds political office) necessitate single crewing, even at night, in the rural, or in the violent town centre I work in.
Our back up is not other officers, it is almost always doorstaff who are first to help on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday – Thursday nights as well thanks to licensing laws.
The  commentator below who babbles on about not arresting someone high on drugs, please remove your head from its current location, you will sit more comfortably – alcohol is a very potent drug and people do extraordinary things when they are pissed – as to arresting them all, you have no idea, really no idea, we do not have enough officers or enough cells.
I could write for hours about the state of policing, and the state of the country, but I see no point and I have no voice beyond this page, we are not a political entity. Just be happy we are there, our job is crap, but at least we aren’t soldiers, they have the toughest jobs.

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The terrible shooting of two bobbies in Manchester has led to the usual mixture of handwringing, lies, and radio phone-ins. The amazing thing is the ignorance exhibited by journalists about modern British policing. It’s not like it’s a secret.

On Radio 5 Live yesterday, Victoria Derbyshire appeared not to know either that the police often patrol alone, or that sentences for serious assaults on cops are woefully weak. There was also confusion from lots of people about bail (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act isn’t written in foreign) and over the question of whether the police put too many or too few resources into the hunt for the guy. Hard to win that one.

As for arming the police, I’ve spoken to many of them over the years since we published Wasting Police Time. It’s not scientific, but I’d say 95% of the front-line cops I’ve interviewed want to be armed. Life has changed since the mythical days of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ (who, let’s not forget, was actually shot dead while on duty). The argument that it makes officers unapproachable is hard to sustain: millions of Britons happily take their holidays in countries where the Old Bill are all tooled-up.

Anyway, from Wasting More Police Time:

Single-crewing is stupid. It only makes sense if you think the point of the police is this thing about ‘reassurance’, which is, the public see lots of police about so they feel better… The fact is, it’s a tacit admission that we have decided that a certain level of actual crime happening to some people is a price worth paying for this spurious reassurance of the rest. It’s an admission, actually, that we can’t do much about real crime, we can only massage your ‘feelings’ about it. I don’t personally buy the reassurance argument, anyway. Two years ago, if we went to a proper call needing four cops, we’d go in two cars. Now you’ll have four cops in four cars and everyone sees four pandas rock up and immediately assumes world war three is kicking off on their doorstep.

And:

It has been introduced by people who will never have to live the policy they force on the rest of us, and it doesn’t work for very obvious reasons, reasons you only wouldn’t see if you were a senior policeman or woman who doesn’t understand that things have changed on the streets in the 15 years since you last walked them, if you ever did…

And:

In my force, assaults on police increased dramatically after single patrolling was introduced. Scrotes who would have come relatively quietly when there were two of us now will chance their arm, on the basis that they might get away and if they don’t the courts will not add anything on to the ticket for assaulting a police officer as it’s supposed to be ‘part of our job’.

And:

I get assaulted, both verbally and physically. I’ve been spat at and bitten and then spent weeks waiting in fear to find out whether I’ve contracted hepatitis or HIV/Aids or whatever the person I was arresting told me they had – during which time I can’t live a normal life with my wife. I’ve never had any of these assailants prosecuted to the full extent of the law, because it’s part and parcel of the job, apparently, and not in the public interest to deal with these people.

And:

(F)ar from giving stronger sentences for assaults on police, the reverse often happens. As a uniformed Inspector, and before that, as a Sergeant, and a Fed rep, I’ve been involved in a large number of cases of assaults on my officers. The general pattern is one of the CPS refusing charge except in the most egregious cases. In the cases where they do charge, they will accept pleas to lesser offences – so the defendant says he won’t plead to GBH but he’ll plead to ABH, or he won’t plead to ABH but he will plead to common assault. Instead of saying, frankly, bollocks to that, we’ve got the evidence, let’s have a trial, they roll over to keep their own stats up. And then, the courts do next to nothing to offenders. I’ve had a young WPC bitten and scarred – no jail for that. I’ve had officers hit with iron bars, chains and bottles, and the offender is given anger management and a small fine. I’ve had an officer stabbed with a syringe where the offender claimed that he had AIDS, which turned out not to be true but was horrible for the officer. No jail for that. It makes me very angry.

And so on and so forth. We’ve published four books dealing with this sort of thing now – not far short of half a million words. Gadget has been blogging about it for years, as has Bloggs, and Copperfield before them both, and lots of others. Victoria Derbyshire even had Copperfield and Bloggs on her show!

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