Wasting Police Time opens with the pseudonymous PC David Copperfield reporting for duty in ‘Newtown’ and finding himself the only uniformed response officer on duty:
The other day I turned up on my own to the morning parade.
I don’t mean I had got the wrong room, or turned up late after everyone had gone.
I mean I was the only uniformed officer on duty that day, in a town of about 60,000 people.
Let me just spell that out again: the population of the town in which I work is about 60,000, and I was the ONLY UNIFORMED OFFICER ON DUTY AT THAT POINT.
True, there were other uniformed officers inside the police station; there were even a few officers on duty who were not wearing a uniform. But as for officers, in uniform, on duty and able to deploy to a call from a member of the public, there was only me.
The ‘thin blue line’ had become a very insignificant dot.
When PC Copperfield outed himself as PC Stuart Davidson and ‘Newtown’ as Burton on Trent, Staffordshire Police essentially said he was making this up, and that he had never paraded alone. The repulsive, reptilian then-Police Minister Tony ‘Second Home’ McNumpty went further and used parliamentary privilege to denounce Copperfield as a liar, his book being ‘more of a fiction than Dickens’. He later conceded, on the BBC’s Panorama special about Copperfield, that this was not the case and that the book was in fact an accurate portrayal of the woeful state of modern British policing.
We didn’t need the fatuous McNulty (who could himself call on armed police guards to protect him from the consequences of his government’s policies) to tell us this: we’d had literally hundreds of police officers ringing and emailing us to tell us that the book was spot on. There was also a recurring phrase in those conversations: ‘The wheels are going to come off.’
There are lots of cops, they said; the trouble is, most of them are sat on their backsides in police stations filling out forms and chasing government targets.
Of course, Copperfield, Gadget and Bloggs had also pointed this out, explaining what happens when a member of the already stretched thin blue line actually makes an arrest. In Perverting the Course of Justice, Gadget tells how – thanks to the mania for paperwork and box-ticking – arresting and dealing with ‘Mikey’ for smashing a window takes hours and hours and hours:
Here’s a list of the paperwork required from the patrol who were unlucky enough to arrive at the scene and arrest Mikey:
– A full, handwritten, pocket notebook entry detailing the incident, the grounds for his arrest and anything he said about the incident.
– A typed arrest statement containing exactly the same information, only in more detail.
– A typed form requesting the release of CCTV tapes. We don’t need the CCTV, but we still have to view it. If we don’t, Mikey’s lawyer will claim it contains evidence exonerating his client of the offence that four people and the CCTV operator saw him commit and to which he has confessed.
– A handwritten custody ’search and booking-in’ form.
– A property sheet, listing the contents of his pockets.
– A typed Persistent Offender form, containing the same information as the arrest statement but in a format which prevents ‘cut-and-paste’ (meaning everything has to be re-entered).
– A typed Young Offender form, containing the same information as above, but in yet another format.
– A typed or verbal ‘update’ for the computer log held by the Control Room, containing – guess what? – the same information as all of the above.
– A typed Crime Report, with the same information as in the notebook, arrest statement and Young Offender form, but with the details in different fields which, again, cannot be cut-and-pasted.
– At least two MG (Manual of Guidance) forms for the case file, summarising all of the above.
– Witness statements from at least two of the people who saw the whole thing occur.
– A PNC check of all his previous convictions.
– A witness statement from Beachtastic Breaks saying that Mikey didn’t have permission to smash their window.
– A print out with a map showing their address.
– An ‘intelligence report’ about the incident (the full details of which we can’t discuss here).
– A typed Domestic Violence form (because Nicci was mentioned by Mikey as a reason for his committing of the offence) with all of the same information again, and a complete risk assessment for her, even though she wasn’t there at the time. (This risk assessment will take hours and is likely to involve several appointments made with Nicci which will be broken by her when officers arrive at her home to find she’s gone out to the pub.)
– The paperwork for Mikey’s fingerprinting and DNA record. This will run into at least four pages.
– The Custody Record. This will be at least ten pages long (though admittedly this is completed by the custody team and not by the patrol).
– The brick will have been seized as evidence: there will be the forms and statements to be filled out for that.
– A typed ‘update’ on the ‘Night-time Economy Incident’ diary sheets.
– A three-page Community Impact Assessment briefing form for the Inspector (because Mikey is a ‘traveller’ and therefore his arrest has an ‘impact’ on the ‘community’). As the Inspector, this enables me then to fill out a longer version of the same thing, totalling six pages.
– A handwritten two-page form for the Licensing Officer discussing where Mikey might have purchased the alcohol he had drunk, again containing all the details of the offence.
There will also be a ‘control sample’ of the glass from the window for CSI, and associated paperwork, so that the defence can’t claim later that he did smash a window, just not that window
They then take it to the Sergeant, who looks at it and then fills out his paperwork, another huge tranche of forms and writing.
You may think that this is insane for such a simple job. You would be correct.
We collect all of this because we live in fear of Mikey getting to court and saying, ‘I didn’t do any of this. I just said I did because the police bullied me. Now prove it.’
It’s about worst-case scenario policing: every job we go to, we have to assume that it is going to go really bent at trial.
This isn’t a triple murder, it’s a smashed window. A smashed window, moreover, which Mikey has already admitted breaking.
Imagine what happens if it’s slightly more complicated than the incident described.
What if Mikey doesn’t admit the offence?
Or if there are two offenders, and each blames the other?
What if drugs or a weapon are found in his pockets when he’s searched – as they usually are? Mikey will be arrested for those offences, too.
We haven’t even talked about nicking him for resisting arrest, or assaulting the police, or about the lengthy booking-in process (we’ll get there in a minute).
If any or all of these factors come in to play, the whole process doubles or trebles in size and complexity.
If any of these forms contains a single mistake – even a genuinely unimportant error, like a digit wrong in a postcode, which could easily be corrected by the admin clerk who discovers it – it will be sent back to the arresting officers for correction.
We need paperwork. We need to know that the police are not fitting people up, or maltreating them in custody. We need to keep a close eye on domestic violence offenders. I don’t know a single police officer who believes otherwise. But do we really need all of this? Of these forms, half are duplicating information for the Crown Prosecution Service and the remainder are ‘data mining’ exercises to satisfy various national or local initiatives and ensure we’re hitting centrally-imposed targets.
As with reviews of our books about education (Frank Chalk just ‘hates kids’) and doctoring (Theodore Dalrymple just ‘hates his patients’), lots of people were quick to shoot the messengers as right wing apologists for ‘the man’ – ignoring the fact that the victims of crap schooling, unrestricted criminality and random violence are the poor, not the rich.
Well, now there are a lot of windows being smashed by ‘Mikey’ up and down the country, and the wheels really have come off. I’m sorry to say it, but we saw it coming.
Winston ‘Generation F‘ Smith may be on BBC 5 Live at 1pm today. They want to hear from him first hand what it’s like to work with the kind of people who are currently rioting. (Winston works with the Youth Offending team in Manchester.) Here’s a clue.