#PoliceWhistles

24 Jun

This is an excellent ANON Guest post,  I have blogged on whistleblowing myself which you can read here if you are so inclined http://wp.me/p31Nc4-iv

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PoliceWhistle

When Police Officers were issued whistles in the late 1800’s they were told that they should only blow the whistle to call for help and assistance and to catch the attention of the public…… How times change.

Everywhere I go lately I either read or hear people talking about of a word which immediately gets people’s (especially those in senior management) attention. The word is  “WHISTLEBLOWER”.

The term drives me mad and the associated fear and debate around it is phenomenal. A word used to describe somebody brave enough to be honest is now becoming a romanticised image like a “freedom fighter”. This blog will I am sure split opinion. Some will agree, some will disagree and some will call me and my sources whistleblowers whilst other call me something else entirely.

I want to start by looking at the term WHISTLEBLOWER. What it means, it’s legal definition, the stigma and the risks etc.

The term was coined in the 70’s by American activist Ralph Nader. Before that anybody who leaked information was known by the term “informer”, “snitch” or here in the UK “grass”. All these words carried negative connotations and as such Nader coined the term WHISTLEBLOWER.

Based on the idea of a referee blowing the whistle in sports when he/she sees any foul play, a Whistleblower is a person who works for a government agency or department or a private organisation who exposes or “leaks” information, usually to the public, in relation to alleged illegal & dishonest activity or information which is a matter of public safety.

Most agencies and companies now have an internal process in place for staff to report and deal with such matters, however, when a person fears that reporting it internally may result in reprisal or that it would be ignored, or when they have actually suffered reprisal or been ignored, they are often left with little choice but to bring it to the attention of external departments such as law enforcement, legal reps or quite commonly, the media. This is the form of whistleblowing which most of us are familiar with.

In the UK and USA there are a number of well known reported cases of a whistleblower exposing wrong doing via the media, blogs, books and social media. To the public these people are generally considered selfless and brave, putting their backsides on the line for the interest of public safety and confidence. However, whistleblowers are often considered, by the department, agency or business concerned, as industrial terrorists, rebels and trouble causers and are often pursued by those in charge through personal libellous attacks, legal channels or, if you believe conspiracy theories, sometimes more sinister means. A recent case springs to mind of RSPCA inspector Dawn Aubrey-Ward who committed suicide after she blew the whistle on the RSPCA and received an unprecedented personal attack which became too much for her to bare.

It is obvious why those in charge despise whistleblowers. Knowledge is power and a whistleblower has the ability and power to stop multi million or billion pound deals, topple government parties, prevent actions taking place, embarrass high profile people and in the case of the Police Service, “undermine public confidence”.

It is the Police Service which I will be focusing on here because I have recently been speaking to a few of our brave 999 services personnel, mainly Police Officers who are friends of mine. In the Police Service whistleblowers are often dealt with severely. They face losing their careers AND their freedom. So why then does a Police Officer decide to blow the metaphorical whistle?

The Police Service is, contrary to David Cameron’s recent spurious allegation, predominantly honest. It is a service built on honesty and on abiding and enforcing the law. Police Officers answer to the public (not the newly elected PCC) and every officer is hugely proud to serve the public interest. They know more than most (especially after recent events) the risk associated with revealing information to external agencies yet some still find the need (not desire) do it.

The Police Service, like most other public sector agencies, has in place a system for raising concerns or reporting wrong doing. When it comes to the wrong doing of fellow officers that system works very well I am told. However, problems begin when you want to raise concern over decisions or policy put in place by those on the top of the rank structure. Once you get past the rank of Sergeant it is very difficult for anybody to take your concerns seriously or to even allow your concerns and suggestions take up any space in their very busy minds. In fact, if your concern is regarding something decided or put in place by high ranking officers then it is almost impossible as a Constable to find a supervisor willing to listen and pursue your issue.

“Alan” an officer with over 20yrs tells me “Meagrely opposing or disagreeing with a policy or decision from above puts you in the “rebellious” box which carries with it stigma and, as many cops believe, the risk of being treated unfairly. By this I mean, cops believe that if they put their head above the parapet and speak up against something then when cuts need to be made or internal shuffles are needed then those who have had the balls to open their mouths for the greater good are treated negatively. Many Constables will tell you this is true. Most senior ranks will say its a lie and that such subsequent moves and cuts are purely coincidence. I have my own opinions on this based on personal experience but I wont get into that here”.

So with that in mind, if you are a Sergeant or Inspector and a PC comes to you with a concern, lets say for example, the policy of crime recording or solo deployment of all officers to give the impression there has been no reduction of frontline resources, why on earth would you want to listen to them and take their concerns higher up the chain putting YOUR head above the parapet too? And if they did, if they were as “rebellious” as that PC, would the higher ranks support or listen?

Well “Stacey” another serving officer tells me “I can say, in my experience, no they wont. My colleagues and I have on a number of occasions throughout my career, raised concerns with Sergeants to Superintendents. My concerns have been in relation to a number of things but most recently the implications of single crewing from not only an Officer safety and welfare POV but also from a public perception and transparency POV”.

Most officers I know and speak too have huge issues with what is happening but very few are willing to speak up. Some who have done so in their daily briefings with senior management were quickly dismissed with comments like “well are you sure you’re in the right job” or they were later dragged into the office and warned/silenced I am told. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the reactions my friends got from different ranks when they have raised concern about single crewing officers on nights…

Sergeant:- “I know mate, its shit but they aint gonna change their mind. Its coming from the top and they are looking to make examples of anybody who doesn’t do it”

Inspector:- “I know what you’re saying but it is happening regardless. There are no stats to suggest being double crewed is safer than single crewing and we have to save money”

Chief Inspector:- “I have heard it all every single time I have these briefings and trust me, nothing is going to change so long as these government cuts are being forced on us”

Superintendent:- “I agree, you’re right, there are huge issues with it but the Chief is pushing this not us. But I will speak to your Inspector and the chief super about it and suggest an alternative”

“Kev” tells me that that conversation with his Inspector did not take place, nothing ever changed and he was simply being pacified. He states that “Nobody is going to go to the Chief and say “Sir, this new policy you’ve spent weeks or months putting into place due to the stress and pressure from government…well its not very good. Constables are concerned about their safety and welfare and it could deceive the public and make the government believe we’re coping fine with these cuts. We reckon you should change your mind boss” it just isn’t gonna happen and who can blame them really when they’re scared of losing everything?”

All the Officers I spoke to are quick to point out that they do not bare any grudge against any of the ranks they have spoken to and they do not blame them for not wanting to pursue issues further. The Political types at the very top and the government are to blame for this culture of being fearful of speaking up within not only the Police but the entire public sector. Sooner or later the silence will get somebody hurt or worse still, killed. I believe this and it is a belief also held by those in the emergency services. “Alan” quite rightly points out “when things go tits up through no fault of our own, we will get thrown to the wolves and punished to guard those at the top. BUT when we speak out to try and stop things getting worse we are thrown to the wolves too. We genuinely are damned if we do, damned if we dont and these days the federation are toothless tigers and cant protect us anymore”.

So there is the huge problem with the internal whistleblowing procedure within the Police as I and Officers actually see it. Rightly or wrongly. Perhaps it is a generalisation. It may just be my local force that has this issue, I doubt it but I really don’t know. I would like to hear from other forces to see if this belief is echoed. All the people I spoke too have tried to raise issues the “right way” and it failed so what other options do they have?

This, I believe, is one of the main reasons why Police Officers choose to whistleblow, write blogs or letters to the press and I believe it will be similar reasons in other government agencies and private companies.

If you’re not listened too by your supervisors or employers and if you are lied too, pacified and ignored then what option do you have to bring issues of perceived and believed mistakes and wrong doing, safety and public confidence to light? That is where those who truly feel strongly about an issue choose to become a whistleblower. They can back down, ignore or turn a blind eye and risk becoming complicit and dragged through hell in weeks, months or years to come OR they can stand their ground and bring the issues to light forcing the hands of those in power to make a change.

Some choose to do so publicly in their own name and end up being immediately dragged through hell. Others do so using anonymous twitter accounts or via blogs and other social media and they run the risk of being investigated and found out before being pursued criminally AND via the internal discipline process. Those who take either route are treated like criminals and a service built on honesty and truth then tries to hurt a person who has simply been honest and truthful. They are accused of “undermining Public confidence” and breaching the Data Protection Act amongst other offences. It does not make sense. It almost mirrors the code of honour of omertà practiced by the Sicilian Mafia and other criminal organisations. Those at the top remain protected by a circle of fear and implied or perceived threat whilst those lower down the hierarchal ladder are punished brutally for opening their mouths. In the world of Organised Crime this is often death. In the public sector it is often suspension, investigation, dismissal, arrest and prison.

I would not care to claim the upper echelons of the Police Service are criminals or intentionally corrupt but at those dizzy, powerful, political and lets not forget well paid levels it seems to become instinct to try and hold things back from public knowledge (under the guise of “maintaining public confidence” or “the greater good”) in order to keep your job, your lifestyle, freedom and to feather ones own nest.

There is a well known saying within the Police “Kev” tells me… “Shit roles downhill”.

If your internal procedure does not work. If you do not listen to and work WITH your staff. If you ignore and pacify those who are brave or should I say honest and caring enough to jump over the parapet and into no-mans-land then you either push people to become a whistleblower or stay silent through fear and thus having these problems and issue continue or escalate.

Another blogger and twitter user @sherlockmr once tweeted this question some months ago and I saved it as I think it is worth considering…

“Who undermines public confidence? Is it the officer who reveals the policy and practices to the public or the chief who makes and implements the policy in the first place?”

If you accuse a Police Officer (or other public sector employee) of “undermining public confidence” because he/she has revealed issues with internal policy then what you are also saying is that your policy did not work and it did not have the welfare and confidence of the public at it’s core. If that is the case then it is YOU that should be questioned and given grief NOT the honest whistleblower.

Chief Constable Andy Trotter from the BTP stated his belief is that “Most whistleblowers are airing grievances,” and that “Most whistleblowing is internal gossip and attempts to embarrass others in the organisation.” Whilst this may be true for a small percentage, especially those exposing stories or gossip about individual officers and those who have not bothered to consider the internal process first, I believe it is wrong of him to make this assumption about “most” whistleblowers.

I may be wrong, but I dare say every whistleblower, at least those within the Police, WILL have raised or try to raise their issue with a supervisor before being desperate enough to go public. I also believe that whistleblowing is VERY rarely done maliciously, it is often done to try and make a difference. To make things work better. To TRY and raise awareness to a problem already being ignored. “Stacey” says “All good cops just want to get on and serve the public and it upsets and angers us when, due to government imposed cuts and restrictions, they are unable to give the public the service they deserve and are forced to take risks. It disappoints us when Police chiefs belittle and undermine those who feel they are left with no choice but to blow the whistle”.

In the wake of the Leveson Enquiry and the whole Plebgate saga we have seen Police Officers homes raided and them arrested which is not only unnecessary (as per Home Officer Necessity Criteria) and an abuse of power but it is also designed to further instil fear about speaking up and becoming a target.

So what more can be done to deal with this issue? There are a number of things which need to change, not only in the Police Service but within all public sector agencies.

“I believe we need to stop working to government agenda and let them see that these cuts are too much too quickly and they are putting immense pressure on resources. For too long the troops on the ground have been forced by management to “make it work” often to the detriment of welfare, safety and public confidence. Excessive cuts lead to overworked and over stressed staff which in turn leads to mistakes, sometimes tragical fatal errors” says “Alan”.

Recent revelations regarding crime recording stats is one perfect example of the Police Service “making it work” to appease the public and allow the government to stand on national TV and lie when they say “We told you the cuts wouldn’t affect frontline policing”. Sending officers single crewed to dangerous and violent incidents is another example. Officers forced to put themselves in greater danger just to keep things running smoothly. This is not just happening with the Police. Ambulances too are being turned out with a “crew” of one so my paramedic friend tells me.

“Alan” tells me “It’s what we do. We strive to serve the public as best we can often to our detriment and that is the right thing to do, I believe, as a Police Officer”. Admirable words from a passionate and dedicated cop BUT I also believe the Police Service should be shouting loudly about the pressure they’re under and dangers they’re facing whilst doing this, and they’re not. Why? Because those higher up the ladder don’t wish to rock the boat and those taking the strain are scared to do so.

For some reason somewhere at the top a decision has been made by somebody to take the risk of trying to trick, fool and deceive the public about the current state of the Police Service which all to often results in exposure further down the line and the Police being deemed as liars, dishonest and corrupt. That person or group of people will rarely be revealed, instead it is left for those on the streets, the public faces of the Police Service, to shoulder the burdens and take the punishments. As “Kev” says “Shit roles downhill”.

Instead they could just be open and honest and tell the public that they are actually worried and concerned and that they’re struggling to maintain a quality service BUT they are working their arses off to keep things going and keep the public safe. I know which one would give me greater confidence, respect and trust in the Police and its leaders.

Those in the top ranks need to engage with, listen too, support and help those who actually do the grafting. Those who actually know what works practically not those who have either been out of the game too long or have never been in the game in the first place. The guys and gals on the ground and the public too can tell or suggest to the chiefs what ACTUALLY works and where cuts would be best implemented. What looks good on paper does not always work practically.

Management need to extinguish the internal fear of reprisal or punishment for those who dare to raise their voices and question policy or decisions. Rather than looking to punish a whistleblower, look instead at where the internal policy went wrong and why a staff member felt the need to go public. Whilst it is accepted the Police and other agencies are disciplined services lead by the higher ranks it should also be accepted that consultation with those on the ground DOES prove beneficial. This will be even more important if direct entry management comes into place.

Perhaps, to alleviate fear there could be an anonymous suggestion scheme or similar system to raise concerns or questions with senior management much like the system in place for reporting misconduct to professional standards departments. Kind of like an internal CRIMESTOPPERS or WATCHDOG (without Anne Robinson!). A system where officers can engage in anonymous email correspondence with those in charge to discuss, debate and make suggestions (professionally of course) without entering no-mans-land and being taken out and silenced by an angry, insulted or embarrassed high ranker. It shouldn’t need to be anonymous but sadly, whilst that fear remains nobody will feel safe speaking “freely”.

Management at ALL levels need to be more accessible and approachable to those at the lowest levels of the rank structure and they need to actually LISTEN to them. Not listen, pacify and ignore but listen, take on board and perhaps even let those suggestion shape policy. We live in a democracy so we should work in a democratic environment.

I decided to write this blog because not only does it interest me but it also angers me. I have many friends, some close, within all emergency services and other areas of the  public sector. I am not a reporter or journalist I am just an observant blogger. It is hugely important to state that none of the cops mentioned within were interviewed or offered to help with this blog. They simply made these comments during a private conversation at the pub over a week ago before I decided to write this blog. They did not agree to partake in the blog and for that reason their names have been changed. I think it is important to express not only my views and opinions on the matter but most importantly the views of those actually being affected and subjected to the “put up, shut up or get locked up” culture within the increasingly politicised emergency services. If any of my mates actually read this, which i doubt, and recognise the comments then I know they will be fine with me writing this blog voicing their concerns.

To any high rankers reading this, please focus on fixing the problems highlighted as the Public Sector changes more and more as the tories mould it into their own private business. Rather than looking to destroy those who cry out, look instead at destroying the circle of fear surrounding your staff.

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The time is always right to do what is right. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr

A fine piece I’m sure you’ll agree and share…

Jules 🙂

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2 Responses to “#PoliceWhistles”

  1. Flood Tide July 2, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    The funny part of the whistle blowing instructions were that if you required assistance you should blow three blasts on the whistle in the direction from where you would expect that help. I think that was written before it was established that sound is transmitted in the 360 degree mode.

    • julieanneda July 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

      Thanks for your comment 🙂 do you have a twitter account i could follow?

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