Dalston Riot – Time for Calm…

Dalston Riot from Sky News
Friday’s riot – Picture from Sky News

This is a topic that I have to admit, I have had many fears about touching upon. But people have a right to share their views on matters, regardless of their ethnicity. I’ve seen people innocently share their views online via Twitter (in a completely inoffensive fashion) and have been subject to some pretty scathing responses. But it is a subject that is relevant, a subject that is currently at the forefront of news reporting and needs discussing in order to resolve the issues that many perceive as present in our communities.

Firstly, I want to offer my sincere, heartfelt condolences to the family of Rashan Charles. Regardless of the circumstances (of which none of us are fully aware), they have lost a member of their family and I’m sure that everybody can empathise with the sadness and loss that they will be feeling at this time.

I, along I’m sure with many others, stand shoulder to shoulder with the family of Rashan Charles, but also shoulder to shoulder with the police, in awaiting news of what actually happened during the incident which led to his death. It is important that everybody, allows the IPCC to fully complete it’s investigation into the incident before jumping to conclusions. CCTV footage was released, but what none of us know is what happened before that. Why was he running from police? What did he appear to place in his mouth? Was it this that killed him? Did police try to save him? Why was the level of force used during his arrest deemed necessary? Were the police under the impression that he was armed? – all of these questions are those that we, as members of the public, simply cannot answer. We ALL need to remember this, and allow the full investigation to be completed without finger pointing and assumptions.

Throughout this tragic episode, Mr Charles’ family have shown great strength and urged people to demonstrate peacefully in his name not to allow violence to break out. Disappointingly, after the peaceful protest passed without incident, many did not listen and decided to riot in Dalston late into the night.

I have no doubt that those involved in Friday’s riot were not ‘protesting’ or looking for ‘#justice4rash’. I suspect that the family of Rashan Charles, and all of those who did protest in a peaceful manner alongside, in solidarity with them; were equally as disgusted at the behaviour of those who decided to hijack his name to justify their own agenda of destruction and pure thuggery as the rest of us.

On Twitter, I saw a post from somebody supporting the riot, asking “what about our civil rights?”, when people had criticised the actions of the rioters. I try not to get involved in such discussions, but I made an exception with this one.

I replied with “People have the right to walk/drive down a street without having thugs with their faces covered throwing bottles and bricks around. They have the right to not have their vehicles and property damaged…..you’re right, people do have the right to peaceful protest. But with criminal damage/assaults/bottle throwing, it is no longer peaceful.”. Needless to say, no reply came.

I’m not trying to take sides here, I’m asking that people take a step back and reflect. If you want to protest, then do so. But please, keep it peaceful. Everybody has the right to a peaceful life and to feel safe where they live and work. Walking/riding around in balaclavas, or with scarves covering your face intimidates innocent people within your community. Damaging property, throwing bricks and building illegal road blocks and setting fire to them achieves nothing other than ruining your own neighbourhood; which then costs a fortune to clean up – money which could be far better spent improving facilities and services in your community and improving the life chances of people within the area in the long term.

I’d just urge people to think, reach out to community workers and engage with police in a positive, proactive way to address the concerns that you have. Allow them to understand your cause and work with you to fix the issues you see. Scenes like those below, will do nothing to fix this.

Dalston Riot - from Sky News
Dalston riot – Picture from Sky News


Acid Attacks and Moped Gangs – Time to Act…

Why the debate?

Over recent weeks, we’ve all seen numerous shocking reports in the mainstream media of acid (or corrosive substance) attacks, predominantly happening in the east London area by gangs of youths using mopeds or motorbikes to make quick their escape.

Acid attacks - Sarah Cobbold:Reuters
The scene of a recent acid attack in London (photo credit – Sarah Cobbold/Reuters)

These attacks leave victims with potentially life changing injuries in both a physical and mental sense. These types of assaults are not necessarily a new thing, but the recent alarming increase has thrust the issue right into the limelight and the public rightly want action and reassurance.

BBC News states “Assaults involving corrosive substances have more than doubled in England since 2012 to 504 in 2016-17”, based on data gathered via Freedom of Information requests sent to UK Police forces.

Separately, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) state that between November 2016, and April 2017, there have been 408 incidents recorded between 39 forces and that one in five offenders have been under the age of 18.

Some of the recent victims of these crimes have bravely spoken openly about their traumatic experience and the pain and suffering it has caused them. Something needs to be done to address the issue and prevent more innocent people from getting hurt – but as things stand, it’s not that simple.

Why aren’t the police doing more to catch these people?

The simple answer to this is that the police are doing everything that they possibly can in order to address this problem, as can be seen by the fact that just last week, a 16 year old was arrested and charged in relation to five attacks which took place within a 90 minute period across north and east London.

However, many people seem unaware that as things stand, most forces do not allow officers to pursue suspects who are riding moped or motorbikes in any circumstances. My research has found that the Metropolitan Police do allow certain types of officers to conduct a pursuit if certain criteria are met (in the interests of not helping the criminals, I’ll not be specifying these criteria).

The reason for this is that if a police officer was to pursue these moped gangs as they flee the scene, and the moped was to crash and those onboard were to be hurt or killed; as things stand the individual officers may be held responsible and face criminal charges themselves. The fact is that these gangs are fully aware of this and are now choosing to exploit the situation which is enabling the alarming escalation in these types of attacks.

A serving officer in the north of England told me that “as things stand, it is very frustrating. We have so many bikes make off from us and we can’t do anything”. He also explained “I once saw a (motor)bike at night with no lights, two up wearing clown masks, I was unable to do anything”.

Many other officers from varying ranks have contacted me too, and it is evident that the police absolutely want to do more, but are limited with the current legal situation regarding police pursuits.

So what should be considered when addressing the issue?

  • Changing the Law – Good police officers embrace change as crime is changing all the time. It is important that Government and our Law makers are also open to embracing change and ensure that laws remain fit for purpose in this dynamic, ever changing field. Police (I’m sure everybody will agree) should not be above the law, but should they have laws to protect them in carrying out their duties to the wider public? Should they be empowered to make a judgement call that they can justify without fear of prosecution if a suspect is injured in the process of protecting the wider majority of citizens? Are the suspects old enough to know that actions have consequences and that if they behave in this way, they may ultimately get pursued and hurt? It is a difficult and fine balance to get right.
  • Increased use of Stop and Search¬†– A controversial subject for many, but in order to allow police to take preventative action to address the issue, should Stop and Search be increased in order to locate people carrying these substances before they have the chance to use them? It has proven effective in the past with knife crime.
  • Tougher sentences¬†– should far tougher sentences be brought in for those convicted of being in posession of these harmful substances with intent to harm or cause alarm to others; and those convicted of carrying out such attacks? Would tougher sentences act as a deterrent to those thinking about carrying out these acts? Should examples be made of those found guilty that society will not tolerate their behaviour and hand down a long custodial sentence?
  • Tighter control of sales of harmful substances¬†– Should there be tighter control over the sales of harmful chemicals (bleach, acid etc)? I’m sure that this will be discussed, but in reality would it make a great deal of difference? Most of these types of substances are in your everyday cleaning cupboard. What would prevent a gang member from just taking it from their kitchen cupboard? Or stealing it?

I haven’t put this article together in order to preach to people. There are no right or wrong answers. What I want to achieve is public interaction and to open up the debate within our communities. The issues raised are not purely London-centric, the ramifications run deeper and wider. Pursuit policy and the limitations inflicted on officers as a result of the current legal position affect the whole country. If more people engage in the discussion, and involve those around them and policy makers, we as a society can help the police in tackling these issues on a united front. They do a fantastic (and often thankless) job and deserve the public’s support in fighting this issue head on.

Please, carry on the debate with those around you and let me know your thoughts.

A job like no other…..

I have always had an interest in Policing, and for as long as I remember, I’ve wanted to be a Police Officer. It probably stems from when at the age of just two or three when I attended Elmwood Playgroup in Stockton-on-Tees (a pre-school playgroup which still operates today). They had arranged for Police Officers (along with other Emergency Services) to come in and speak to us about staying safe. They brought one of their Police horses, along with a motorbike and if I remember rightly, a car. I still remember the excitement today. We were able to ‘have a go’ on the horse and the bike, and were allowed to switch the blue lights and sirens on! The excitement was immense and something that stays with me now.

For whatever reason, be it through opting to stay in education, or lack of confidence (I’m not quite sure); I never got round to applying to join the Force. But recent events in my local area brought policing back to the forefront of my mind, fighting to protect services for my local force – but that’s another story.

Through the circumstances mentioned above, I managed to speak to many Police Officers – from my local area and nationally, of all ranks; some were still actively serving and some who have retired. I noticed something that every one of them – along with me – had in common, a real sense of pride in our communities and desire to help people. Teesside gets a lot of bad press, but it is my home. For every negative there is a positive; and despite its problems in the past, we have a Force here full of enthusiastic, committed staff and Officers, under new management and heading in the right direction.

I recently asked if it would be possible to experience a ‘ride along’, as I really wanted to get an understanding of what the job entails first hand. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, and interact with Officers, who would be able to give me an honest and open insight into the work they do – not the edited version that is broadcast on TV. That’s not to be critical of TV shows – they play an invaluable part of breaking down the barriers between Police and the public. Fortunately, the answer was yes, and arrangements were made for me to go on duty with two Officers (double crewed) who form part of the Emergency Response Team.

Naturally, I arrived early, having barely slept with excitement, armed with a large bag of biscuits and chocolate for all at the Station. Having seen tweets and been educated by the likes of Mike Pannett and Clive Chamberlain – I knew that this would be an ideal ice-breaker! I also managed to try the full kit on prior to heading out – it was heavier than I thought.

Me trying on the uniform, prior to going on patrol.
I was taken through to complete the relevant paperwork – including a confidentiality briefing (hence no specific information being shared about the incidents we attended), and had a safety briefing with the Officers I would be shadowing – they were a great pair with a fantastic amount of enthusiasm for the job – it helped that they also had a good sense of humour – something that during my time with them, I found was an important quality to have.

Before leaving the station, there had been two fantastic results already. Two vulnerable, missing people had been located. We were initially sent to complete some “welfare checks” – something that they explained that they do a lot of. Where (generally speaking), Officers need to check the welfare of vulnerable people who may have been missing and retuned home. I was told that although they always treat these scenarios with the same urgency, professionalism and concern, it can at times be a frustrating task.

One thing that I noticed and that was pointed out to me my one of the Officers was that Police Officers increasingly have to adapt their approach when they attend calls. For example, they sometimes need to act as a Social, Mental Health, or Family Support Worker, or give parenting advice on any call. I saw aspects of this on the tasks we were given to attend. One such example was where the Officer spoke to a young person about the concern that they had caused for their welfare through not keeping in contact. The Officer explained the potential implications of their actions and gave the necessary strong words of advice to the individual and their parent/carer.

We were also dispatched to a “Code Zero” call – or to you and I, a top priority 999 call. I have to be honest, when the sirens and lights were activated and we started to accelerate, the adrenaline did start to flow. It was like being on a live episode of Police Interceptors. The driving skills of the Officer were excellent, and I felt safe throughout the journey. As we travelled, information was being relayed to us, and the Officers explained the situation to me. As with the previous calls, for safety reasons, I was not able to enter the property, but I was able to get out of the vehicle and observe the actions of the officers. Another unit had got there first, and CS spray had been used on an aggressive individual. Handcuffs had been used, and the Officers I had been deployed with, brought the individual out and placed them into the back of a waiting van. Whilst coming out of the property, I saw the individual spit, which hit both Officers. They told him that they would not tolerate any further spitting. It was apparent to me that although the individual had spat, and it had hit the officers, it was unintentional. The subject’s eyes were closed due to the affects of the CS spray. Both Officers recognised this too, and therefore no charges were brought regarding this.

What struck me though, was the fact that these two exceptionally talented Officers seemed used to this happening. As if it was normal behaviour for them to experience. Their professionalism shone through. They treated the individual with respect and empathy, and continued to do so despite having the subject’s saliva land on them. They, like me, were concerned about the individual’s welfare. The Officers who arrived first, then took over and the outcome of the call would be down to their judgement call.

One thing that I found during this incident was that when we arrived, and I could hear what was happening. My first instinct was the urge to go and help “my colleagues”.  Obviously, I was not allowed to do so, but I had a strong desire to. I think many would have understandably wanted to run the other way! I not only learned about how Officers deal with such incidents during this call, I learned something about myself too. I also found that despite the spitting incident, and what was suspected to have led to the whole incident, I genuinely still felt a great deal of concern for the individual and sympathy for their family. All officers involved in this incident acted with great professionalism. They acted selflessly, and treated the individual with respect and used reasonable force, when required. They also displayed empathy when dealing with others who were there.

During the ride along, the Officers kept me fully informed of the calls we were attending, they gave me honest answers to my questions and explained fully why they took the actions that they did.

I also witnessed the polite way in which the officers interacted with the general public. Children really looked up to them, and they responded accordingly. The way in which the male officer I was out with interacted with a toddler when he saluted at him, was quite touching. This will have left a lasting impression for the child. His mother responded well too – community relation work at it’s best.

Whilst travelling between jobs, I was also pleasantly surprised at the respect shown by people of many ages towards the Officers. I saw drivers randomly waving to say hello, I saw a youth give a thumbs up as he walked past and a group of elderly people all waved at us as we drove past a bus stop. I couldn’t help but smile.

Just in the few hours that I spent on duty with these Officers, I learned that being a Police Officer really is a job like no other! It’s a job that involves a huge amount of hard work, dedication and commitment. It’s a job that requires you to sometimes be an expert in ten fields at once. It’s a job that requires you to put yourself in harms way to protect others. It’s a job with a huge amount of responsibility. It’s a job that is often thankless. But for me, more than anything, the impression that I got was that it is a job that despite everything is hugely rewarding. It’s a job that allows you to play a significant role in helping the community and making people feel safe and reassured. It’s a job where you can make a real difference in society.

I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity I was given. I’m exceptionally lucky to have done this. I hope to keep in contact with the Officers I worked with and thank them massively for really making me feel a part of the team. It’s a job like no other, and a brilliant one at that!

Alec and I enjoying a lighter moment during our shift