Monday, 20 July 2009
Risk Assessments are Risky
I read a post by PC Ellie Bloggs this morning and, as usual, she flagged up a very interesting topic about risk assessments, decision making stuff and the operational juggernaut that can often be unleashed as a result - something that happens pretty much daily, any town, anywhere. Read it here. It made me remember this one: I was sat at my desk pushing reports and files about, when I heard a call come in over the radio. Yes, I used to have a police radio on my desk as well as my kit belt hanging up ready to don, much to the suspicion of my superintendent in the next office who thought me a weirdo. I thought exactly the same about him, a man who thought that going out on patrol once a year, on New Year's Eve, would somehow endear him to his officers as a `policeman's policeman`. I had missed the first part of the radio traffic but the general gist of the call was that an armed response vehicle had been dispatched to my station on the authority of the force control room(FCR) inspector, a job I used to do. One of the higher authorities delegated to the FCR inspector was to be able to arm-up and deploy the ARV before asking the assistant chief constable `Ops`. Some of these inspectors were pretty good but most had never been trained in firearms or tactical options and you could hardly call a one hour lesson in a classroom on such matters `adequate preparation`. As a result, the timing and quality of their decisions was inconsistent. I went down to the front office and found the acting sergeant. She was a graduate entry high flyer who I had a lot of time for. She was highly intelligent, conscientious and very keen to learn the art of climbing the ladder quickly and had crammed quite a bit into her two and a half years of police service. She clearly had her hands and mind full and so I asked her to tell me all about it. It seemed that a MoP had just left the railway station and walked past a line of taxis. As she glimpsed into the last one on the rank, she thought she saw the driver holding a silvery handgun. Keeping her cool, she walked into the police station to report her sighting. She was a good witness, having memorised the cab company and the cab licence number. I asked the acting sergeant what she had done so far and she told me that the area control room had flagged the call to FCR as they were required to do (policy on serious incidents) and the FCR inspector had deployed the ARV and was notifying the assistant chief constable `ops` to ratify the decision. I asked her how she intended to resolve the incident and her reply was to find the cab and ask the ARV to do an armed stop on it. I suggested we explore other options that might not involve the ARV but she couldn't see what these might be. I contacted FCR and told them to keep the ARV coming but that this was now not an urgent call and to slow them down and turn off the blue lights. I told her that I would help her resolve this incident and asked her what intelligence she had on the taxi driver. She hadn't yet delegated anyone to work on that (a primary objective) so I told her to get onto it straight away. The inspector at FCR called me back. He was a guy I knew and he was happy to hear that I had been tuned in because he couldn't raise an inspector on our division to notify. I told him that I would take overall responsibility for it and to enter me on the message log accordingly. By now my acting sergeant had come back with some good info. The cab company was one of the good ones and, as luck would have it, one of our special constables worked there and was today's duty supervisor. I entrusted him with some of the information and of our need to speak to his driver but without raising any suspicions. Our special thought the driver may have had associates in the drug dealing fraternity but had no evidence, apart from that he had a clean sheet. Once again I spoke to the acting sergeant. She was quite adamant that an armed vehicle stop was the only option. I offered her my plan, which was based on the following facts: 1. We had no evidence linking the taxi driver to criminality, although we did know that some dealers used taxis and may have `tipped the drivers heavily` and anyway on this occasion there was no other reported suspcious activity 2. Our division had a very low crime rate with no heavy main dealers living in our midst. It wasn't `middle England blue rinse` territory but it wasn't sin city either - not that this is a reason to be careless 3. We knew his cab, we knew where he lived, we had a friendly contact in the taxi office and he was still on duty so we could put this taxi anywhere we pleased. Therefore, I suggested, we get the taxi duty supervisor (our special) to task him to attend the police station to `pick up a fare`, waiting in the front office. This was a typical call for taxis and would cause no suspicion. We deploy an officer to be casually waiting outside, near where the cabs always stop - again a typical sight for a cab driver to see. We watch him get out and, providing he doesn't get out with guns blazing (highly likely? I think not), we have a quiet word with him and search his cab. I explained to the acting sergeant that as long as you can see the suspect has empty hands then he can't shoot you. She was not too happy but I had relieved her of that decision and said that if she was unhappy to approach him, then I would gladly be the person who made the initial move as he parked up, such was my confidence in this plan. She relented, but I insisted I would be there as well -It was my plan, she was a bit windy, so I would take the lead. The ARV arrived and I told them I did not need an armed stop but that as they were there they could position themselves nearby. They were cool about the whole thing and knew me very well. I used to work alongside and, latterly, train these guys. The call was made to the cab concerned, it turned up in 5 minutes, the driver got out to collect his fare and was duly stopped and checked. His cab was checked and he produced a novelty cigarette lighter in the style of a small self loading pistol. I explained a little of the reception that could have greeted him and he immediately signed it over to me against a form of disclaimer. No high risk blue light run, no armed stop, no guns up someone's nose. The acting sergeants plan would have worked too and would have been quite legitimate. I did explain to her that had we been in certain other areas of some of our gun-prevalent cities then tactics could be different. This was about nine years ago. She's done well for herself. I think she's a detective superintendent now.