Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Happy to help you,.... by passing the buck back to you

A story I heard from an `A1` source last week. Young woman drives off from home in the family Land Rover, with toddler, Labrador and associated baby gear on board. Unbeknown to her, there is a big leak in the diesel fuel line somewhere. She has driven about 3 miles when, at her first stop, she notices the diesel smell, pulls over and sees a growing puddle underneath the vehicle and the trail of diesel behind it. She also notices the fuel gauge has dropped notceably. She pulls off the road and switches off the engine. Having motorcyclists in the family, she knows the risk diesel spillages poses to bikers, plus the spillage at the place she stops is large and she feels she must report the hazard so someone else can assess any appropriate action. She telephones the Hampshire police, taking the trouble to use the non-emergency 0845 number. She relays her story, and her route, to the call centre where one of the call handlers tells her "Nothing to do with us, you need to ring the fire brigade luv". Asking how she does that and being a helpful soul she requests a local number but is told, "Dial emergency 999". She queries this, apprehensively, but is nevertheless told a second time to do so. The Fire and Rescue service tell her this is not an emergency and she should notify the police who will probably contact the local highways authority. She concurs, but tells them the police told her to call them via the 999 system. There is a moment of silence. Being now more concerned about getting off the side of the road with her son and doggy, she disregards plan A as a bad idea and sets about looking after herself and arranging personal recovery. Speaking as an ex control room type, we would have accepted the call, logged the message and then we would have passed it on to Fire and Rescue or the local highways authority. From personal experience, it would have been the latter as diesel does not represent a fire hazard in the same way that an equivalent pool of petrol would have. We'd have thanked Ms Joanne Public for the call and asked if she needed any help before ringing off. Job done. Bloody `helpful` these non-emergency call centres. Actually, that was not the balanced view I like to apply, so I'll re-phrase my last - that particular call-centre operator was not as helpful as s/he could otherwise have been and would benefit from operational advice or closer supervision otherwise everyone else in there, as well as the real police, will get a bad name. That's better. But how many experienced call centre supervisors or police advisors are there available in these places anyway? They must be frazzled. Oh and there's an epilogue. When she got home her neighbour informed her that two cycling PCSO's had called ( on their own initiative, the control centre hadn't directed them) having discovered and followed the oily slick back, from about half a mile from her house, to tell her she had a leak. So a hip-hip hoo for the other non-police, non-emergency service who, had the call centre taken the bloody call, could have squared the circle and made them (and the police, who the public think they are) look on top of their game. Ain't hindsight wonderful. Whereas I admire someone public spirited enough to become a PCSO, I was not convinced of the wisdom of the move in such large numbers, towards what I somewhat cynically saw as a real sleight of Government hand in dressing them up in almost police uniform but only empowering and training them to deal with :
  • issuing of fixed penalty notices (e.g. riding on footpath; dog fouling; litter)
  • Power to confiscate alcohol and tobacco
  • Power to demand the name and address of a person acting in an anti-social manner
  • Power of entry to save life or prevent damage
  • Removal of abandoned vehicles
  • Bloody hell, there isn't even any mention of Ghostbusting in there. Tapping into my cycnical side again, I might call this a Government exercise in `bullshit` or a `con`. Whose idea was it anyway?


    Blue Eyes said...

    The PCSO role attracts an unusual demographic. It doesn't pay well, so it doesn't attract those interested in a "career" rather than a "job". Some will use it as a springboard on the way to being a fully-fledged police officer, but I worry about those who just see it as slightly better paid than, say, something more mundane.

    We need the elite on our streets, in the call centres, in the senior management.

    Hogday said...

    Thanks Blue. This scheme started to roll into life as I pulled my ejector seat lever. I did not like the sound of it one bit. I reiterate my respects to folks who want to work for the greater good of the community, but the way this was put together left me feeling let down and rather short changed.