Monday, 22 February 2010

I think its time we had a bit of a chat

THERE'S been a couple of "freedom of speech" issues going on this week I wish to gently touch on.

Firstly, those who were unhappy with Jan Moir's article in The Mail about the death of Stephen Gately, were equally unhappy with the Press Complaints Commission finding that she was perfectly entitled to hint that the reason he died was not, as a coroner found, because he had died of natural causes, but that he was queer and well, probably died because that's what queer people do isn't it, especially if they go about picking up strange men...
Needless to say, my own feeling is there's a circle of hell found by Dante set aside for columnists. I have a map and will make my own way there, don't you worry.
A chappie on the radio (he was on the Jeremy Vine show, some sort of web editor for an online publication) suggested this was an example of free speech and fair comment, and - completely missing the irony of what he was saying - the bile which poured forth (aimed at Moir, as opposed to the bile that originally came from her) was unfair.
So, according to this chappie, the free speech afforded Moir to offer up comment (I won't say "fair" as to be classed as "fair comment" it has to be based on fact, and not much of what she wrote was based on fact) should not be afforded to those who took umbrage at what she said and then went posting comments in reply. Often with rather a lot of passion.
Whereas my feeling is if a) let he who is without sin cast the first stone and b) if you do think you're sinless and do start casting stones, don't be surprised if you're knocked out cold when a hail of stones comes back at you from very unhappy greenhouse owners who are sick to the back teeth of you throwing your bloody stones at their greenhouses and ruining their prize tomatoes...
Free speech is all well and good, but if you can't be responsible about it, then you can't complain when others go "oi, that's not nice, you slag".

Secondly, you whining, whinging, bitter and twisted folk of Plymouth and the absolute guttural tosh you come out with sometimes. All under the banner of "freedom of speech"

Oh, okay - so not all of you. The very large majority of you are rather lovely and I'd love to have you lot to tea and biscuits with maybe a sherry trifle afterwards.

But the rest of you, the ones who endlessly post on the Herald website at the end of every story you can, you really do get me hunting for my hob-nailed boots, gum-shield and lead-lined mittens.

I swear, there should be some kind of test which you must pass to be given a renewable license to post comments. It should start with spelling and include basic humanity.

Case in point - and take into account I've read comments on stories in the past about firms who've shut down losing jobs galore and seen heartfelt comments showing empathy and concern for those workers and their families - we had a story about the printing works shutting down at the glass ship here and talk about bile! Frankly, if there was a real market for bile to power cars, then the next ten drilling platforms will be dotted around this city.

I can't get over the level of complete ****-wittery shown. Such as the one where the Herald was described as "xenophobic", which made me laugh considering last year the amount of negative emails we got from locals after a reporter did a number sensitive pieces about Nigerian families and Kurdish men who had their final application for asylum turned down and were being nabbed in the middle of the night and sent home on the next flight, regardless of the kind of roots they'd put down over the past decade they'd lived here. One year we're liberal-lefty wets, the next year, xenophobes. Marvellous.

Then there's those who said good, the paper won't be missed, because there's no local news in it anyway...

So - no daily reports from Plymouth Crown or Plymouth Magistrates Courts on drug dealers, perverts, wayward youths, violent thugs, dumb vandals, dangerous drink drivers. No council chamber debates about gypsy land, bus company sell-offs, life centre and incinerator building plans. No football/basketball/rugby reports at professional and amateur level. No interest in live bands such as yearly contests set up by one single reporter with a passion for music, entitling it Battle of the Bands and getting young musicians from across the South West to take part. No offering up supplement pages for local schools to create their own Herald reports about what's bothering them or what they want to show of. No stories about local schools/teachers/head teachers/pupils, no stories about local theatre groups and their productions, local charitable organisations raising funds for things like a box of helpful items to be sent to Haiti, no stories about local soldiers based in local barracks who fight in very un-local countries or go training in ice-cold and boiling hot conditions

And for me, no stories about elderly women who suffer awful injuries and their face is put on a front page and as a direct result ends up with people calling police to assist with their inquiry and a suspect arrested and others offering the elderly women special gifts to give her her dignity back...

Nope - never seen any of those stories in the Herald. Must've been that other paper I read.... The Basildon Echo.

*deep breath... hold for five seconds... and relax... sigh*

I take it those of you who said there's no local news, can. actually. read. and. live. in. Plymouth?


Thought not.

It's times like this I actually feel morally superior. And, I should remind you, with me being from south Essex, that happens very, very, very rarely.

Anyway. What do I know? I'm not local.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Getting the munchies with the fuzz…

Surreal moment the other night – standing outside a cannabis factory, with several police officers, all of us eating a slice of pizza each, with me thinking to myself “if I’d’ve taken a few leaves, would anyone a) notice and b) mind?”

It was late into the day and I should’ve gone home an hour or so earlier when I got a call from an officer who has an unerring habit of finding drugs in her patch.

The officer had got my name put on the warrant by a magistrate and I was invited on the bust and the search of the premises, a basement flat.

Quick aside here - apparently the magistrate had told police it was rather unusual for a reporter to be put on the warrant. My response to that nugget when told was ‘he needs to get out a lot more then’ because across the rest of the UK for the past couple of decades it’s actually regular practice.

So, the officers who’d been brought to the party had completed their shift and were a bit hungry, as was I. So after having a good mooch around the flat, marvelling at the care which had gone into growing the cannabis, or marijuana if you’re over 50, we decamped to the back garden for the pizza.

As I said to the officers, it was like being a student again – a huge pile of grass and then pizza for the munchies. To their credit they all laughed. But I think my reference to putting on a Crosby Stills and Nash LP went right over their heads.

The point of this story was I found out the next day that the officers who sniffed out the drugs were actually two PCSO’s - Chris Kinski and Tom Bayley - who work the Efford patch but were on their way back to the station via St Jude’s. They caught the scent, did some sensible checking, then called up the regulars to carry out the formal search. And hey presto, a few thousand pounds of drugs are taken out of circulation.

For me this incident highlights why PCSOs are a valuable resource to modern policing.

The days of Dixon are long gone. No regular officer has time to roll up his sleeves and play cricket with the local kids, before nipping around to catch a cat burglar red handed, and then chatting over a cup of tea with Mrs Miggins and her cat Charlie about her new neighbours who keep funny hours and have too many visitors for her liking. Patrol officers hair it about from 999 call to 999 call, leaving less than a handful of neighbourhood beat officers to pick up the pieces and attempt to solve the far more complex and enduring problems of every Plymouthonian.

Pc’s have one weapon left in their armour and it’s called arrest. They see a problem, they arrest someone. Guidelines, public opinion and circumstances mean they can’t have a friendly word or issue a clip around the ear – it’s either arrest or nothing else.

But the neighbourhood teams, which are largely populated by PCSO’s can be far more inventive, more lateral in their approach. Oh they can bring in the heavy mob to do arrests if they want, but many of the PCSOs I’ve dealt with in Plymouth have been amazingly creative.

While you may scoff – and have scoffed – at streetdance groups, boxing/football/martial arts sessions, community parties and climbing clubs, along with in-school safety sessions on everything from knives and guns to Chlamydia and cyber-bulling, it’s been working. I’ve met local PCSOs who have resuscitated dying men, snapped up information about major drug dealers, fronted up to violent thugs as well as those who’ve taken the time to chat at length to a group of old dears who really don’t believe that youths on their street corner are probably more bored than bad and really, if you got to talk to them like the PCSO had, you’d find they were rather decent youngsters, if only you didn’t bitch, swear and moan at them every time you see them.

So, the next time you guffaw and refer to all PCSOs as Blunkett’s bobbies, keep in mind that a good percentage of them take more time and effort to make their hometown a better place than you ever will.

Anyway, I didn’t pocket any grass and the pizza was delicious.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

I'm doing OK, you're doing OK

The Government has come up with a new measuring/whipping stick to gauge how well the fuzz are doing. Needless to say, after a decade of using crime stats, arrest rates, detections, sanction detections, convictions and taken-into-considerations (I wouldn’t dream of mentioning how the unsafe convictions don’t result in minus figures, that would be so churlish, wouldn’t it?) they found that the figures had gone a bit stale.

It’s a bit like a humungous person who decides that they were definitely, absolutely, undoubtedly going to lose weight this time. The first few stone pour off, but the closer you get to the ideal weight, the slower and harder it is to crack those last few grammes.

Crime is much the same. The police, with current resources and legislation - and a bar on returning to the days when a flight or two of custody stairs was so very influential in a suspect’s version of events – will only ever reduce the crime rate to a certain level. We’ll debate the "has crime truly gone down" argument another day, but currently the statistics show a decrease.

Let’s just say that like fire-fighters, the filth have hit on the idea of prevention being better than cure. So instead of just solving crimes, they've found it’s better to prevent them. Please note, particularly those of you who use the “comment first, think later” approach to The Herald’s website, that I didn’t say easier… just better.

So this new measuring stick is called… wait for it… “Public Confidence”. Ta daaa!

I know… inspiring, isn’t it? Roll it in glitter and you can make a turd glitter. It still smells like a turd, but hey, that’s politics.

Here’s the scenario:

Govt minister: “I say Sir Humphrey… we’re coming to the end of our time in office, got anything which we can use to prove to the public that we were indeed tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime?”

Civil servant: “Short of hanging Tony Blair as a war criminal sir, no sir.”

Minister: “No, suppose not. I mean how do we show that the public are happier with the constabulary – and thus us - than in the past?

Civil servant: “Indeed sir, it is all a question of confidence, is it not?”

Minister: “By Jove Sir Humphrey, I think you’re onto something… take a memo…”

And thus, the new measurement was created. A yearly gauge as to whether you were more confident in what the police did these last 365 days than the year before.

Basically, it’s the laundry detergent test: “Are you happy with your wash?”

However, these two questions quickly arise:

a) how do you measure public confidence?

b) how do you increase it?

And there’s the rub. Confidence is such an ethereal thing, can it be measured? I mean, it can undoubtedly be faked but how do we truly gauge it? When you argue with the Mrs, you may well be confident you’re right, but you’re obviously wrong. You’re arguing with the Mrs, after all. So your confidence is a hollow sham despite your thoughts to the contrary.

Up at police headquarters in Exeter, they appear to have their own theory as to how to increase public confidence. It includes the use of regular newsletters, micro-websites and door-to-door visits. Some are even working on the theory that a) reading about crime in local newspapers is making people fear crime, thus b) no crime stories in the paper means no fear of crime, therefore c) stop local papers know about crime in their town and happy days are here again.

Now, some of those who wear a uniform and don’t work at headquarters, and thus it could be rudely argued, actually work at being a police officer for a living, think that every time they nick some oily heap of effluvium and get them banged up, even if it’s only until a magistrate or judge lets them go again, it’ll play a big part in increasing public confidence. They are also happy to work alongside PCSOs who have a remarkably creative and inventive way of tackling crime, by getting those who commit it to - as the programme used to say - “do something less boring instead”. Between the two of them, and with a lot of free help from the Specials, they are undoubtedly at the coalface of increasing public confidence.

So, whether you feel happier and more confident in your local rozzers because they are out there feeling collars, bidding you good morning and keeping local scallywags out of trouble with a spot of footie or street dancing, or because you get a nice little newsletter three times a year through your front door and never read about another incident in your local paper, remains to be seen.

Either way, you’ll be hearing a lot more about public confidence in the future. I would advise you that when asked “do you feel confident in the police” you may as well ask yourself “is this a confidence trick?”

How about that, a whole blog and no Janner-bashing. Don’t worry, I’m saving meself…