Archive for January, 2011

Policing:Further adventures on Twitter

Over the past 24 hours, the Local Policing Unit from Birmingham South have been tweeting live incidents and their officers’ responses to them. Armed only with a hashtag (#bsp24) and a new twitter account, they have ventured out into the world of social media. Judging by the excellent feedback they have received, I am sure they will be  extremely pleased with the results.

Two weeks ago, I spoke to the Commander from Birmingham South, Phil Kay, and discussed the idea with him. He is really forward thinking and had already set the ball rolling with his communications team. At that point they had around 70 people following them on Twitter. By the end of the 24 hour output they had well over 1000.

I have blogged before about the need for police forces to engage more pro-actively in the area of social media, and the example above really does illustrate the point.  The communities of South Birmingham clearly want to engage with and talk to the Police. The Commander and his staff now have the ability to communicate with 1000 more people than they had at this point two weeks ago, and perhaps more importantly (and this is the key strength of social media), the community has a way to talk back.

Throughout my years in the Police, we have always struggled to get some communities to engage with us. We labelled those communities as ‘hard to reach.’ It turns out that they were not that hard to reach, we were just reaching in the wrong places. Social media platforms provide us with an absolutely fantastic opportunity to have conversations with people, to recognise their problems and to tell them what we are doing about them.

In the 18 months or so since I first blogged about this issue, the situation in UK policing has improved significantly, there are now some fantastic examples of officers using social media in new and innovative ways. However there are still large areas where there is no social media presence, where officers are actively prevented from engaging by force policies which have simply not caught up with the technological advances of the last decade.

There are now hundreds of officers up and down the country using social media. To my knowledge no riots have been triggered, no officers have been sacked, we have not had to spend huge amounts of money and there have been no breaches of the official secrets act. What we have had is lots of conversations with the people we police and forged some really positive relationships.

To those police areas not currently engaged, I ask the same question as I did in my first blog; Why are you waiting?


Drugs; dealing with the dealers

This week my officers swooped on a large scale drug supplier, we recovered about 4 kilos of class A & class B drugs, together with several thousand pounds cash. The dealer and his accomplice have both been charged and remanded. The week before that the courts granted an order taking £56,000 off another dealer and a further order setting out a repayment order of over £800,000 against him.

I tweeted the result and got a great response, people seem to enjoy seeing drug dealers locked up. I also got another familiar response, ‘Great result but what about the drug dealers where I live?’  Communities see people dealing drugs outside their houses every day, and understandably get frustrated when they don’t see the police taking action. As somebody who has run a drugs job or two, I thought I might set out some of the issues that we have to address when we are dealing with the dealers.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, we have to prove that they have actually dealt some drugs, or intend to deal them. This is not as easy as you might assume. People caught with relatively large quantities of drugs will often claim they are for personal use, but as they are regular users they have ‘bought in bulk.’ Although this might seem ridiculous to normal people, you need to bear in mind that we have to prove everything to a court ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’ All the prospective dealer has to do is establish that doubt and they know they will get away with a simple possession of drugs charge which carries much lighter punishment. Therefore any dealer worth their salt will only carry small amounts at any one time, going back to their stash to stock up on a regular basis.

So if just finding somebody with quantities of drugs is not enough, we have to use different techniques to prove they are dealing. We will often watch several deals take place, arresting the buyer out of the sight of the dealer, to prove to a court that there is a course of action taking place. As you can imagine this carries quite a large risk of compromise. Dealers will tend to sell drugs in areas they know and where they are comfortable. Police activity in these areas will quickly get reported back to the dealers and they will shut up shop.

When we are told about a dealer, we often execute warrants at their houses. Again this does not always bring success. They do not leave their drugs lying about for us to stumble across, they hide them, and they actually put quite a lot of thought into it. The dealer who we took the £56,ooo at the start of this blog was burying his drugs in an old lady’s back garden which was insecure.

Taking out a good drug dealer often required many hours of painstaking surveillance and gathering of evidence. This is expensive and difficult. It requires the completion of reams of forms to get the authorities and the painstaking compilation of the evidence gathered. Drugs are exchanged in very small packages, and it is not always obvious when a deal has taken place, again the ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ argument is applied, we have to prove that our potential dealer is not a raging socialite who often meets up with 200 people a day for around thirty seconds at a time.

There are few things more satisfying than unearthing a dealers stash, knowing that you have the evidence to link them to it. Police officers continue to arrest dealers and enforce the law, but it is not as straightforward as you might think. I hope this blog has given you an insight into the day to day battle that we have with dealers, and the reasons why it might appear that we aren’t taking action.

It is really important that people work with us. If you suspect somebody is dealing drugs, tell us. You might not see immediate action, but it starts the ball rolling, and is sometimes the little piece of knowledge that we need. We know communities want to help us, they don’t want dealers on their street corners or outside their kids school. The best weapon we have at our disposal is information from the public.

Thanks for reading, let me have your thoughts…

Murder: From the inside out

There is a widespread fascination with murder investigation. Turn on your TV tonight and see how long it takes for a fictional detective to become embroiled in an investigation. Walk into a bookshop and see how many of the titles are thrillers where somebody is killed in the first chapter, and the rest of the novel features our very clever (but troubled) hero solving the crime.

I have spent a large part of my career as a Detective and have worked on and run plenty of murders. I thought it might be interesting to blog about the reality of murder investigation.

Each murder investigation is different, but there are threads that run through all of them.

The most obvious thread is that every murder is a tragedy. Victims vary from housewives to criminals, young to old, but every one will have a family and a story.

One of the most difficult but important jobs at the outset of an investigation is meeting the family. These are incredibly challenging and emotional meetings. Just imagine meeting somebody for the first time and telling them that you are responsible for solving the murder of their son, daughter, husband or wife. I have done this many times, and it never fails to have an impact on me.

During the initial hours, the pressure on the SIO (senior investigating officer) leading the investigation is immense. You are thinking about setting up the teams, preserving the scene, meeting the family, managing the media, setting up house to house trawls for witnesses, arranging the post mortem, starting a CCTV trawl, searching for offenders, securing vital evidence, setting a budget, talking to the coroner and a million other things.

You must also prepare to tell your own family that you probably won’t be at home for the next week.

I always visit the scene. I meet the forensic manager there, and always walk through the scene. Not all SIOs do this, but it helps me to get the lay out in my head, together with any blood splatter areas. On my last murder, analysis of the blood splatter patterns in the scene was crucial to understanding what went on. I try to keep the body in situ, as that often tells a story. I sometimes call the pathologist to the scene if I need an early opinion.

Dont believe any TV programme that shows simple post-mortems. They take hours, and they are always extremely unpleasant. Pathologists can’t generally give you reliable times of death, that is TV fiction.

Once the initial frenzy has died down and you have put some structure in place, you start to turn your attention to actually investigating. Almost all murders are solved through detailed examination of the evidence and forensics. The SIO has to make sure that they are aware of the detail of a huge amount of evidence. You reach a point where you feel as though you cannot absorb a single further piece of information, but you must because it may just be the vital link.

Once you have established your team, you need to brief them, I like to brief first and last thing, the amount of breakthroughs that occur when all the officers involved are in the same room is incredible.

The pursuit of an offender can last for minutes or months. I have recently had officers all over the country chasing down suspects and following up leads. I have run two protracted manhunts this year. They involved really long hours and require me to make dynamic and difficult decisions. Once you have located the offenders there is very often a requirement to run a firearms job to actually arrest them, if they have killed one person, how much risk are my officers at?

While all of this is going on, further demands are thrown at you; Who was the victim? What was their ethnicity? What is the impact on the community? Are more people at risk? What are the media saying? Are you prepared to speak to them? The pressure that I feel at this stage of an investigation is immense. Everybody is looking to you for answers, and it is really important to build in some time to actually think and plan.

Normally at this point you will realise that you haven’t eaten since breakfast and you will send somebody out to get the first in what will become a series of takeaways. Murder rooms are not healthy places.

Once the suspect is under arrest, the pressure continues to grow as the clock starts ticking. My interview teams will have been working on an interview plan whilst the hunt for the offender has carried on. There will be plans in place for the forensic recovery off the offender, doctors are called to assess their health, and the defence solicitor lands ready to be briefed.

There is a strange relationship at the best of times between police officers and defence solicitors. This is magnified during murder investigations. Partly this is because of what is at stake, but also officers investigating murders find it difficult to remain detached. You meet the victim’s family, find out every detail of their life, meet their friends, examine their movements, look at their phone messages, visit their workplace, and really do feel as though you know them. The defence solicitor has none of this, and it is their job to help the suspect. This is of course entirely right and proper, and officers and solicitors are professionals, but nonetheless these relationships are often awkward.

Once the interviews are finished, the Crown Prosecution Service enter the fray, as we engage with them regarding a charging decision. These are always long and complex discussions, but if the evidence is there (and it should be after all the effort) the suspect will be charged. The initial paperwork is put together and submitted (there will be months of follow up files to be submitted) and the suspect is sent to the cells waiting for the next court session.

In my opinion murder investigation is amongst the most demanding and rewarding work it is possible to do. I am waiting to be promoted, so I may have run my last investigation, but there is nothing more exhilarating, frustrating, exhausting and satisfying than investigating and solving murder . I hope that this has provided you with an insight into the reality, from the inside out.


RSS West Midlands Police Latest Appeals

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.