[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC OnePanorama


Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Transcript - Wasting Police Time



DATE: 17:09:07

JEREMY VINE: Hello, I'm Jeremy Vine and this is Panorama. There are more police officers than ever but what are they actually doing?

STUART DAVIDSON: 80% of what I did was a waste of time.

VINE: Tonight officers tell us they can't do the job they're paid to do.

ANONYMOUS OFFICER: They are never there on the streets to provide reassurance and to prevent people from becoming a victim of crime.

VINE: And we reveal the identity of the ordinary copper who risked his job to expose the reality of modern day policing.

When you need their help - and every year they get some 80 million calls - the sight of a police officer is a welcome one. But the very people whom we expect to safeguard our streets have told me that the founding principles of our police force to prevent crime and disorder are being eroded. Tonight we'll hear from officers who are quitting and heading abroad as police forces worldwide find it all too easy to recruit our brightest and our best.

You can't help feeling at east in Edmonton, oil capital of Canada, home to over a million people, watched over by the 1400 officers of the Edmonton Police Service. Actually make that 1401: Stuart Davidson will soon be pounding the beat as a cop. He's moving here, having thrown in his job as a British police officer, the work was so frustrating.

Former police Constable, Staffs Police
I've come here to do the job that I thought I'd be doing when I joined the police in Britain, essentially to actually first go out and first of all catch criminals and secondly by your presence out there on the street to prevent them doing bad things.

VINE: Stuart will soon be putting on a Canadian Police uniform and doing drill in this room as a new recruit. Edmonton's latest intake has 9 Brits. They're here for quality of life, for a nice house, fresh air, old-fashioned courtesy, but they're here for quality of policing too. Until May Stuart was an officer in Burton on Trent in Staffordshire. He wrote an online diary, a blog about life on the beat. He wanted to tell the real story, but bringing the force into disrepute is against the police code of conduct. To avoid getting sacked he used the pseudonym PC David Copperfield.

[Blog] I am an ordinary policeman here in..... Waste is not only tolerated but.....

STUART: I looked at the internet for information about policing. You can find loads of information about police cars, or loads of information about serial killers, but you can't find anywhere on the internet where it says this is what it's like being an ordinary policeman, and that's what I was, just an ordinary police man. I wasn't a detective or some sort of specialist unit dealing with firearms or anything like that, I was just an ordinary policeman, and nobody else was writing about what that job was like.

VINE: Ordinary policemen maybe, but one with two commendations for outstanding performance. His blog went bigger than he ever imagined. There were over a million hits.

[Responses] This is so true. Keep up the good work. Keep up the good work PC Copperfield. It's brilliant.

STUART: I think one of the reasons it has been so popular is because the stories that I tell about my life as a policeman aren't unique. Initially I thought they were, I thought nobody else can be doing things that are so insane. But it transpires that there are thousands and thousands of other police officers out there doing exactly the same kinds of things which is completely insane.

VINE: His blog made the politicians twitch. The police minister took a swipe at him in the Commons.

23rd October 2006

TONY McNULTY: And I wouldn't believe David Copperfield either because it's more fiction that Dickens.

VINE: Far from fiction, many of Stuart's fellow police officers thought his blog was spot on. We spoke to some of the ones who got in touch with him through it as well as other police officers around the country. They have risked their jobs to talk to us about life on the beat.

Serving Officer
Actor's voice
PC Copperfield is quite infamous now within the police and you almost can't believe what you're reading because it's like a diary of your working life as a frontline officer.

Testimony of serving police officers

This is not the job it was supposed to be. I feel less and less like a police officer now than when I joined...

.. lost their commonsense.

If I could get another job to pay my mortgage I'd leave tomorrow.

VINE: This is not just coppers moaning. Last week the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Ronnie Flanagan published a major review of policing. His findings supported much of what we'd been told. Stuart joined up four years ago, part of a government drive for more officers and less bureaucracy, but he was amazed at what he found when he turned up to work.

Former Police Constable, Staffs police
The town that I work in, round about 60,000 people, and you turn up to work, the car park is full and I am the only uniformed police officer available for deployment to any incident.

VINE: You could turn up for work and be the only uniformed policeman available to go out and look for some crime?

STUART: Yes, but that's not unusual. I mean.. it's not me... it wouldn't surprise anybody else to hear that.

VINE: It might surprise the 60,000 people in the town.

STUART: It certainly would, yes.

VINE: Staffordshire police say they couldn't check this because PC Davidson could not give dates, but they still rubbished his claim that he was ever the only officer available, saying they can always call on other officers to respond. They say they ensure they have the right officers in the right place at the right time. But it's a problem that's been highlighted in forces across England and Wales, and that's supported by officers we've spoken to around the country.

Actor's voice
Serving Officer
When I first joined, six years ago, there'd be 17, 18 people on shift. Now the night shift often turns out 3 or 4 officers, single crew. You know, there's supervision on top but doing their own thing, so essentially you've got four officers policing an area that 17 used to.

VINE: And when specialist units are set up, it can take officers away from normal duties.

So where have all these extra policemen gone?

OFFICER: There'll be a problem with car crime, so a car crime team is set up, and that's great initially, but the parameters of what they'll deal with keep getting narrower. So before you know it, they only deal with theft of motor vehicles, or just theft of motor vehicles, and they tend to work day shifts during the week so at the weekends, when it's busy, there's no one to be seen.

VINE: If officers do work the busy shifts, they say they're often so tied up responding to calls they're unable to do much else.

OFFICER: There's not much proactive police work being done at all. The officers are just going from job to job, responding to the radio. Passing people carrying screwdrivers, knives, drugs whatever, who are potentially on their way to commit crimes, in the past they could have been stopped and searched.

VINE: It's difficult for officers to be proactive if they're not on the streets.

What proportion of your day was spent inside the police station ?

Former Officer 2003-07
Easily two thirds.

VINE: Really?!

FORMER OFFICER: Absolutely, without question.

VINE: Recent Home Office figures show that just 14% of all officers time is spent on patrol, and of course what's really inconvenient is that if they actually catch a criminal they get submerged in paperwork.

Serving Officer
By the time you've put a crime report in, investigated it, done pocket notebooks, put files together if necessary, a simple job of somebody stealing a Mars Bar from a shop could easily tie you up for 2, 3, 4 hours.

STUART: You arrest somebody and it'll take you the rest of the shift, say 8-10 hours to deal with that.

VINE: 8-10 hours?!

STUART: If it's an even slightly complicated offence.

VINE: Last week's review of policing also highlighted the need to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy to free up police time. There are more than 140,000 police officers in England and Wales and all but the most senior are represented by the Police Federation. Now to test their mood we asked the Fed to send out a questionnaire to 2000 beat officers, and we heard back from more than 700 of them. Some were saying they'd spent on their last shift 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11 hours just doing paperwork. A few even said that paperwork took up the whole of their last shift.

1000 Police Federation reps were asked to give the questionnaire to two beat officers on shift

VINE: Stuart showed us the stack of paperwork he'd typically carry in his patrol car.

STUART: These are stop search forms, and then I've got obviously the witness statements, the child witness statements, interview forms, road traffic accident forms, continuation forms, domestic incident forms where there's no crime. This is a form that you fill in when you have to see some CCTV, forms for traffic accidents and getting medical records.

VINE: You're wondering how a bobby on foot carries this lot? They don't. When they need them, it's back to the station.

ANONYMOUS OFFICER: A lot of officers would think twice about stopping somebody because of the paperwork involved.

VINE: Do you actually put off arresting people?

STUART: Um... yes, at certain times we would. You have to think hard before you arrest somebody, partly because if you do arrest them you're going to be off the streets, dealing with them while they're in custody and preparing the file and all that.

VINE: Staffordshire police say officers like Stuart spend nearly two thirds of their time outside the station. But they agree there's too much paperwork and they say they're working hard to change that, and in the words of Sir Ronnie Flanagan last week, forces in England and Wales "over-record and under-deliver" for fear of missing something or being criticised. A member of the public listening to this might say yeah, filling out forms is boring, but actually it's the only way we find out what you're actually doing.

Former Officer 2003-07
Yes, but it's about the duplication, it's about the repetition, you know, it's about filling in one form and then filling in another 30 forms with exactly the same information as the first form that I filled out. So I'm no more accountable after form number 30 than I am after form number one.

VINE: Now back to the minister who didn't believe PC Copperfield. He's since decided he was a bit too harsh that day.

Home Office Minister
I inadvertently said in the House of Commons one time that it owed more to fiction than Charles Dickens did but I recanted that because I think there is something in what he's saying about where we've got to with policing, only round the edges.

VINE: Oh really, he's right about some of it?

McNULTY: No, no, I'm not conceding the massive nature of it but round the edges... is there too much paperwork? Yes we agree. Are there better things we can do in terms of bureaucracy? Are there other things we can do to constantly improve the lot of policing and how we police? Yes there are.

VINE: That's the minister speaking. He and his colleagues now measure the police on almost everything they do. Each force has to prove how well it detects crime, but the really big question is whether the pressure to meet those targets is interfering with the way the police do their job.

STUART: As a police officer detection culture means that every incident that you attend you're thinking at the back or your mind: "How can I get a detection out of this?"

Testimony of serving police officers

We've lost our discretion. Bureaucratic policies dictates how we deal with incidents.

If you're low on detections, you'll get an email going round saying we're 20 short.

The sergeant will say where's your quota, you're not performing.

VINE: Some police admit to focusing on trivial incidents to get the numbers up. Let's give an example.


VINE: A playground fight spills into the park. The police have been called.


OFFICER: Hey, hey, stop this, come off it, both of you. Now what's going on here?

BOY 1: He's been winding me up all day and he's been hitting me.

BOY 2: You kicked me first.

VINE: No one has been hurt, so what do you think would happen now?

Actor's voice
Serving Officer
Previously with a minor incident like this they'd have been taken home, they'd have been spoken to in front of their parents and warned and that would have been the end of it.

OFFICER: [Dramatisation] Right, we've got your details and we will be informing your parents...

VINE: But just a second, officially a crime has been reported, so these could be criminals. The officers can clear up the crime.

OFFICER: Did you start this?

BOY: No.


STUART: Clearly there's an offender and there's a victim, so you arrest the offender and if he should admit the offence then all well and good, he may receive a caution if he's eligible for one. That's one crime detected.

VINE: What if somebody says look, sorry, this is just ridiculous, this is a playground fight and whoever it was reported the crime shouldn't have reported it as a crime. They're not even hurt.

Former Officer 2003-07
Well unfortunately an assault has actually taken place. Now it wouldn't look very good to any force I've worked for if there is a named offender and then there is no clear up or no way to show that an offence has been detected.

VINE: Hang on, why just one crime detected? It could be two.

STUART: At the back of your mind is always the counter allegation as very often happens: oh no, he hit me first.


OFFICER: So you hit him?

BOY 1: Yeah, he hit me.

OFFICER: And you hit him?

BOY 2: [nods affirmatively]

STUART: Well "He hit me first" isn't a problem because you then simply turn the scenario around and then you've got the victim and the offender in reverse if you like and we give the other person a caution as well.

VINE: So you've got two crimes...

STUART: You've got two crimes and...

VINE: Successfully solved, yes.

Serving Officer
So then we can turn round and say that our force has got an extra detected crime out of something that's quite trivial.

VINE: Officers are telling us things that once got sorted out on the spot at school or at home now end up in the police station. In the past three years the number of children going through the Criminal Justice System has shot up by a quarter. Are they all young criminals in the making, or were some just a quick way to hit a target? Work out on the street is complex, but targets make things simple, says Stuart.

STUART: In terms of the figures, what it means is, that we get exactly the same points if you like for cautioning a girl for pulling another girl's hair as we would for a domestic burglary.

FORMER OFFICER: The station will empty for a shop lifting because it's an instant result, it's an instant tick in the box. For a crime that's happened a couple of days ago where there's no likelihood of something on the end of it, that will wait.

VINE: What, it's a couple of days by the time you arrive, is it?

FORMER OFFICER: Yes, it is in some cases.

VINE: And there's the elderly person who's been burgled and how is she feeling?

FORMER OFFICER: Disappointed.

VINE: She wants to see you.

FORMER OFFICER: Absolutely she does, and she deserves to. The public think that we solve burglaries. The public think that we're actually on patrol accosting thieves and people who are up to no good. But what we actually do is attempt to meet government statistics by solving trivial crime.

Testimony of serving police officers

We spend too much time picking on easy targets...

We're forced to make arrests, sometimes against the wishes of the victim.

I'd lose my job if I did not do this.

You can meet targets, you just have to sacrifice quality to the public.

VINE: Last week's review into policing actually referred to playground assault as the sort of minor crime being investigated by officers all for the sake of detections even when that is "clearly not in the public interest".

Actor's voice
Serving Officer
Police officers and detectives are like anyone else, they'll go for the easy option, you know, the path of least resistance, and if that means getting easy detections when they should be dealing with serious unsolved crimes on their desks then that's what they'll do.

Former Officer 2003-07
If it came to the 28th day of the month and I only had one or two detections when my quota was five, then yes I would specifically seek out very, very low level crime, and I would be dealing more readily with people who weren't ever certain to become career criminals, rather than getting in the face of the people I ought to have been dealing with.


VINE: Hello, 'ello, 'ello, what's going on here then? A stake out for a known villain? Intelligence gather? Hardly.


OFFICER: [to colleague in car] Let's check that out.

What are you smoking?

BOY: A spliff.

OFFICER: A spliff? Have you got anymore on you?

BOY: A little bit.

OFFICER: Hand it over.

STUART: I don't know (laughs) many 16, 17 year olds these days that I stop that don't have some cannabis on them and then.. you know, once a week you do one stop a week, you're meeting your drugs targets, and you're giving them official warnings and ah... it's so easy.

OFFICER: [Dramatisation] Is that it?

BOY: Yeah.

VINE: At a stroke, a crime is discovered and detected, case closed. This one will look great on paper, but it was an easy target.

So for you, as a police officer, if you're target driven, the person with cannabis is the easiest way to put the tick in the box.

FORMER OFFICER: Absolutely, without question.

VINE: And where would you stand to get these ticks?

FORMER OFFICER: By pubs; by... obviously.. you know, walking round the town centre on a Friday or a Saturday night; going to recreation grounds, going to the seafronts.

VINE: Cannabis was reclassified in 2004 to free up police time for other more serious offences, but it seems officers are still busy searching for joints. Last year figures rocketed by 69% to 66,000 official warnings.

FORMER OFFICER: I see that as dealing with crime but I see it as seeking out a particular type of crime for exactly the wrong reasons, you know, I would have sought that out in order to fulfil performance criteria when something that perhaps would have been more important to me would be going to a burglary hotspot where I know that Billy Burglar is trying to creep his way into Mrs Miggins' house and be ready to deal with him.

Serving Officer
Actor's voice
We'll turn up at an incident an hour or two after it's over and it's: "Where have you been?" and you know they think we're just sat round the office drinking coffee and eating scones when in reality we're very busy, just busy with the wrong things.

VINE: And the bad news for Mrs Miggins is, it's not just cannabis warnings that are keeping officers busy. On the spot fines were introduced four years ago as a quick way of tackling petty crime and antisocial behaviour, but have they become yet another easy way of hitting those targets?

FORMER OFFICER: We give them out like confetti. I would be out in the town centre, you know, I would probably go down a back alleyway and if I saw somebody peeing up a wall I would give them an 80 ticket.

VINE: But I mean as a taxpayer that's what I'm paying for, isn't it? I want you to go out and find people for urinating in public.

FORMER OFFICER: Yes, absolutely, but I would not have expected in every single case where the circumstances didn't require it, to deal with it by criminalising somebody.

VINE: In that questionnaire we sent out through the Police Federation, more than 500 officers said they'd arrested, cautioned, or fined someone purely to hit targets. Of course that may not be representative and there are over 140,000 officers in England and Wales.

Why not just think the big thought that maybe every single target you bring in has the unintended consequence of taking the police away from real crime and just scrap them all?

Home Office Minister
Because in reality, if what we want is more police on the front line, if what we want is more visibility, more accountability and all the other elements, somehow you've got to measure whether you've got that or not.

VINE: But the measuring gets them into the office, that's the job.

McNULTY: Well now that's the key, that's the balance, absolutely right. I accept that, that is the balance. I do not want stand-in armies of performance counters and inspectors crawling all over police forces just for the sake of it. I want there to be accountability, but I do not want that getting in the way of effective policing and crucially restoring some discretion to the frontline.

VINE: Government figures show more and more offences are being cleared up. Sounds great, but it doesn't mean criminals land up in court for all those offences. In fact, more than a third of them are dealt with by cautions, penalty notices or cannabis warnings, and for every 100 reported crimes, in only three does a criminal get convicted in court. There is one target officers we spoke to would love to see. A target showing how well they prevent crime.

Detecting crime arguably is what the police should be doing.

Former Officer 2003-07
It's one of their functions, absolutely, but if you consider the basic principle, the basic founding principle, is to prevent crime and disorder. Now that's been turned on its head and that comes way down the list of priorities.

Former Police Constable, Staffs police
You don't want to be a victim of crime, you'd rather it didn't happen in the first place, so you know, you're out there maintaining a presence on the street and dealing with criminals before they commit their crimes.

[Promotion Video]
Edmonton police service wants to give you more than just a job. We'll give you a career. If you're ready to pursue a life dedicated to protecting the public...

VINE: So Stuart is off to Canada, to do what he thinks of as proper coppering.

STUART: It's the quality of life and it's a chance to... it's perhaps a chance to do what I imagined I'd be doing before I joined the police.

VINE: He's hoping to spend less time filling in forms.

Would it surprise you to know that if I told you that in England every time we asked somebody to account for the reason they're in a particular place doing a particular thing we have to complete documentation?

CONSTABLE RANKIN: Sounds rather time-consuming.

VINE: It rather time-consuming, yes.

Constable Darren Rankin
Edmonton police
We don't have to do that. It all comes down to what you think is relevant, what you think is important, because I mean here you'd be doing paperwork all day long if that's the case, you know.

STUART: You'd be doing paperwork as well.. (laugh)

VINE: Like every force worldwide, Edmonton's police have their paperwork. But in some situations an old-fashioned notebook will do. They come across two men drinking in public. You don't do that in this town.

RANKIN: Drinking in public and trespassing, that's a good start.

VINE: A radio check reveals both have outstanding warrants for unpaid fines, so they're busted and it's off to the station.

RANKIN: Grab your own bag and start walking.

VINE: So what did you make of that?

STUART: Well it's a very practical approach, isn't it. It's no.. the reports that you've got to do on the street are minimal and the officers get to use their discretion.

VINE: At the police station the officers have only one form to fill in and the men are bailed. Stuart reckons back home this would have involved forms like a front sheet, the MG1, MG6A, MG11 and more.

The first guy came out after I think 16 minutes I timed it at.


VINE: Is that quick?

STUART: Very quick. I mean in the UK you're still looking at another two hours.

VINE: And the second one was a bit longer but...

RANKIN: An out of town warrant, that's why.

VINE: When he says 2 hours you flinch as if to say - what?! Are you shocked by that?

RANKIN: Yeah. (laughs)

VINE: One British bobby who's already crossed the Atlantic is Richard Walton. He says he is out on patrol much more here.

STUART: So you're not taking statements off people.


STUART: You're not interviewing people.


STUART: That gives you a lot more time to go to calls.


STUART: And so you're a lot more productive?

RICHARD: Yep. You've got a lot more proactive time to go and find stuff yourself rather than just being reactive.

STUART: How much time do you spend in the police station as a proportion of the whole shift?

Edmonton Police
About 20%, it's very little, so you can do a lot of the stuff outside.

VINE: A big difference for Stuart who says he'd regularly spend half his shift in the station. The other former British officers out here are already training hard to become fully fledged Canadian cops.

Recruit, Edmonton Police
There's no doubt that I was going to remain as a police officer wherever I went in the world but it was just an opportunity for me to come to Canada which is a country I visited before and already fallen in love with.

Recruit, Edmonton Police
I mean.. I've got a five year old and a two year old and I can see more opportunities for them here, you know, ice hockey...

VINE: But for some of them it's not just the ice hockey that's brought them here.

Is there a single thing that's making people leave the British police and come here?

Recruit, Edmonton Police
I think the way it was for me was it became too much to do with statistics, not giving the public perhaps the service that they want from the police.

ANDY: I was looking to leaving a specialised department and going back out onto the streets and we have booklets to do this, booklets to do that. It tends to be the discretion that they say that you have to use has been taken away from people.

VINE: Back here in Britain other countries are fishing for our police, not just Canada, New Zealand and Australia come with films to make the mouth water.

[Promotional Video]
To meet the requirements of providing high quality policing to this growing community, Westminster ?? police are committed to recruiting an additional 500 police officers.

VINE: There are no official figures for how many British officers have left to join forces abroad.

RECRUITMENT OFFICER: What we are targeting is frontline officers.

VINE: On this trip alone they're aiming to recruit 500 police, mostly from this country. This week the Aussies are in town. If we move this way you'll see British officers who are sitting an exam to try and join the force in Western Australia.

Overseas Recruitment
Western Australia Police
We're just not getting the local applicant at a standard that we require, so that has led us to look overseas, and that's why we're here.

VINE: So there'll be people watching this who think my goodness they are actually coming to poach the best British police officers, we shouldn't be letting them go.

GARRY CUNNINGHAM: I don't know whether the turn 'poaching'... we're offering an opportunity for employment, we're offering opportunity to enter our country, we're offering a new life, and we are in the need of officers. If they come from other countries, well then if they'd like to come and work for us we'd like to have them.

VINE: Remember that questionnaire that we sent out through the police federation? This is it. The overwhelming view of officers was that they knew somebody who'd left or was planning to leave to join a force abroad, and some knew a few.

What would you say to the guys we met in Edmonton? They want a new life as police officers there, they want to actually catch criminals. What do you say to them?

Home Office Minister
I would say I hope they enjoy their life in Canada but there are plenty of police up and down the country in the UK very happily for us as a society, catching criminals, seeing them banged up and it's my job to make sure they are freer and freer from bureaucracy targets and all the other elements to do just as good a job if not better than their counterparts in Edmonton.

VINE: You didn't say: "Come back"?

McNULTY: Well I don't know if they want to. They made their choice, didn't they. If they want to come back I'd welcome them with open arms and look forward to having a cup of tea and a chat with them.

VINE: If we do want to hang on to the kind of experienced officers Panorama has met, the minister will need to listen carefully when they come for that cup of tea.

Serving Officer
Actor's voice
It's just frustrating that there's so many simple things can be implemented to make the job that much easier and unfortunately they're not, they're overlooked.

Serving Officer
Actor's voice
The surprising thing now is just how quickly even new recruits can become quite disillusioned with what they're doing. I don't think they realise. That's the job these days.

STUART: Most of what we do I suspect is a waste of time.

VINE: Did you really feel that, a waste of time?

STUART: In most cases I.. in total, it's hard to say of course but 80% of what I did was a waste of time.

VINE: Yet another British copper poached by a foreign force to pound the beat abroad. Can we really afford to lose them?

Next week something that may actually mean we can do with fewer police officers but at what price? In "Give us Your DNA" we examine the case for a compulsory database of everybody's DNA.

Wasting police time
16 Sep 07 |  Panorama

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific