Saturday, 12 February 2011

Memento Mori, Chief Superintendent, Memento Mori

Another well observed post from Officer Bloggs. For me this translates into the often denied fact by senior police officers that, as good as they think they are at understanding life on the streets, the more senior they are in rank, the greater their credibility gap.  It is obvious when you think about it.

I recall a conversation with a former chief constable of mine who was considered to be what is often described as a `coppers copper`. My take on this expression in his case was that he was  very good at playing the fatherly figure and gave out the aura of a man with the `common touch`, who took time for a chat with the junior ranks when he encountered any. As a result he had a certain popularity. His operational track record was also pretty good despite scooting up through the ranks, albeit not as quickly as many that I watched disappearing into the smoke and mirrors world of accelerated promotion. The weak link in this will always be the fact that these people just do not perform the day to day job any more and their personal experiences of it are at best a decade or more out of date.

On this occasion, I was out and about in our ballistically protected Land Rover - an armoured car by any other name, the sort of vehicle normally associated with the RUC/PSNI during the more public troubled years.(I said `more public` because we don't hear a lot of what is happening still).  Quite a few forces had one of these vehicles and the bigger forces had several. They were used in firearms operations when the tactical options required it. Ours was a V8 powered beast. Ballistic steel hull and doors with similarly heavy duty ballistic glass. Inside this and you were pretty safe from all but high velocity ball/AP ammunition. It was a bit of a pig to drive and required special training and regular use to keep you up to spec on its very different and unforgiving handling characteristics, especially when trying to stop it, as any ex squaddie or RUC officer will tell you. At over 4,000Kgs before anyone else and their kit gets in, the brakes will only allow you about 4 heavy stops in any one journey before going on strike and leaving Sir Isaac Newton in charge of slowing you down.

Unbeknown to me and my driving school instructor, my check run through the town was spotted by the chief who was out in his staff car. A couple of days later he strolled into my department, en route to a meeting, and was obviously going to tackle me about something. "Ah, Mr Hogday, can you tell me what you were doing in that bloody horrible armoured Land Rover monstrosity the other day"? I explained that it was a re-authorisation check run and also the mileage on it was so low that I was advised by workshops to put more miles on it to keep the systems active as it was better for the overall maintenance of the vehicle. He replied, with that steely edge to his voice that was rarely heard outside of ACPO group meetings or disciplinary hearings and hence the rest of the Force who only got the kindly father treatment. "Keep it off the bloody roads, it's a PR disaster". I didn't go into details about advice contained in the ACPO manual of guidance on the police use of firearms or any of the other perfectly good reasons why his predecessor had purchased it and why we had to train with it. Nor did I mention that the reason his Tactical Firearms Unit were so good at their job was precisely because of the hard, regular and realistic training we performed. I didn't mention that because I could read his mood and his attitude and it just wasn't worth it. I thought about it for a while, discussed it with the team and we decided to ditch the white paint and dayglo police stripes of our bullet stopping Landy and had it painted a dark, non descript colour with no police markings or signs on it. I never told the chief.

A similar tale to make my point about being `out of touch` relates to a major security event involving many visiting foreign heads of state. Our  plan, discussed with the advance liaison security teams of the foreign visitors, included the deployment of our snipers (since re-named `riflemen`, presumably to make them sound less ruthless). Anyway, I stated my intention to include this in the plan which I was presenting to the assistant chief (Operations) but not before being told by a very senior Special Branch officer, "Oh the snipers won't be allowed to take their rifles, he's never authorised that, so good luck". I was a little surprised to hear this as my predecessor had many previous jobs where the tactics would have benefited from a sniper team, but then I recalled that in all my years as a PC and sergeant on the Tac team I'd never actually seen our snipers deployed, other than on the ranges. Still, off I went to see the assistant chief, a man who I had great respect for and who I rated.

Sure enough, as soon as the sniper team was mentioned he said that he assumed they would just be used as `spotters` and would not have their rifles. I strongly disagreed, to which he said that there was no way he would authorise a sniper because `shooting at someone in a crowd, even a would be assassin, was totally unacceptable because of the great power of the rifles`. I told him I totally agreed with him and that his judgment on this issue was sound, but insisted that my snipers have their rifles and went on to explain exactly why. This included the fact that close protection was not part of the snipers duty because of the reasons he'd already cited, but that they would be invaluable to counter a criminal/terrorist sniper who would have no such regard for hitting other people beyond his intended target. If such a threat was spotted, it would only be another sniper who could have any chance of stopping the shot and that to this end my officers would, as likely as not, be looking away from the VIP's to where such a threat might come from - and they were good at finding those positions, because they were snipers QED. Taking on a gun or knife in the crowd was the job of the close protection officer, not a police sniper. After a few moments he said, "Approved, Mr Hogday. You know, it's never been explained to me in that way before". Frankly, I was amazed to hear this and wondered just how many other jobs had been denied this option but for a proper explanation to the man at the top who had to sign it off.

I just do not believe that sufficient of the current police high command have a sufficient grasp of the reality of the difficulties faced by the systemic bog that they and their predecessors have created over the decades. Those that say they do understand have a duty to do something about it and prove that they are not thinking a decade or more behind the real thing. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the wisdom of the Roman Emporers and ensure that a junior officer be on hand to whisper in the emporer's ear, "Memento Mori" - `Remember your mortality (Sir or Ma`am)`


CI-Roller Dude said...

I like the idea of painting the Land Crusher a plain colour. I think I would have saved the paint and whenever we were going to take a test drive, find out where the dumbass was-- as long as he was in his office, the world was a safer place.

And explaining what a counter sniper was used for---I'm sure most desk commando types have no idea what most of the other kit is for either.

I also found if I took the time to explain things, like I was teaching a 5 year old, it worked better. but most 5 year olds have more common sense than police admin pukes.

Anonymous said...

I was looking long and hard (as an academic)at how 'best practice' spreads. At one point in this, I found myself listening to a bunch of academic worthies. After a couple of hours they were deciding it should be called 'good practice' - and I knew I wasn't in the middle of any.
I have a theory on what we might term senior corruption, but have to say, at gut level it feels like Roller-Dude's.

JuliaM said...

"...had it painted a dark, non descript colour with no police markings or signs on it."

So, ACPO members are rather like 'Jurassic Park' T-rexes then? If they can't see it moving, it isn't 'there'..? ;)

TonyF said...

Ahh, bullshit baffles brains. Paint it a different colour, and it ceases to exist.

Blue Eyes said...

"You know, it's never been explained to me in that way before."

Often the way with "boss" types...

Lana Banana said...

to whisper, "memento mori"?


how about to say, loud and clear, "what the fuck are you talking about? and what the hell is wrong with you? and can you please pull your head out of your ass?"

far too subtle . . .

Hogdayafternoon said...

Roller-Dude: I too am a firm believer in the old adage, "knowledge is power" with these types and I guess they just tried to kid us that they had the knowledge, to admit otherwise would be too much for their egos. If only they twigged that to defer to someone with greater experience and then support them in the task, is the mark of a good leader.

ACO: The Roller does have a way with words, doesn't he ;)

JuilaM: Correct, as long as one remembers they can still stomp on you - sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally, but either way they can ruin your entire day.

TonyF: Maybe the RAF will try it? In the current climate it seems like a bloody good plan.

Blue: Indeed, I used to refer to a some of my bosses as `Diesel` (no spark).
The assistant chief I referred to in the post was actually a bloody good bloke, so I fear that others before me may not have taken the trouble to tell it like it is.

LanaBanana(out of the blue after 12 months, she didn't write, she didn't call....): If only Americans had been around in ancient Rome :D (We'd have had Caesarburgers for starters ;)

Lana Banana said...

a whole year. i know . . . i'm an asshole and an american.

wait. did i even need to make the distinction?

TonyF said...

It's true, when GSE went for blue to IRR green, it kept getting lost/run into, so they put a bright yellow stripe down the side with 'Royal Air Force' written on it. Soon letters disappeared, we had a tractors called 'Roy' and 'al'....