For years we’ve heard that the police force is getting worse, that there is more and more bureaucracy for officers to deal with, and having more paperwork means less time doing the job they actually want to do, which is helping people who have faced crime and preventing it in the first place.  Despite the news reports and debates over the years, the state of the police force never really affected me.  I was never directly affected by any crimes, thank fully, so I never really thought about how bad the situation was getting.  But what happens when your own family goes through a crime, even a small one, and the police are unwilling to help?

Three weeks ago a family member of mine was mugged.  Mugged is probably the wrong term to use though because it implies you were ‘jumped’ by someone and this isn’t the same.  More precisely they had their purse** stolen from their person while browsing books in a local store.  The correct term is pickpocketing.  They felt something tug at their jacket and only realised when the ‘muggers’ had left that their purse had been taken.  It had been stolen along with all the money they had inside.  This family member is someone I’m close to, let’s call her ‘Mary’*.

Immediate reaction

Mary wasn’t stupid, she kept her purse** safe and on her person, but she likes to pay with cash and had just visited an ATM to take out some money.  After visiting the ATM she popped into a local bookstore, a big one, and started browsing the books and magazines on the shelf.  It’s something she does regularly, as there’s always new books coming out every month, and this month, like any other, she was checking some of the latest releases.  But after a few minutes of browsing in a very empty aisle, she suddenly became aware of several people around her at once.  Before she knew it, someone had rushed past her, and her jacket had been pulled in an awkward way.  The motion was quick and so sudden that she felt stunned for a few minutes before suddenly checking her pockets for her purse. But it wasn’t there.  It was gone.  It had been stolen.

She immediately realised what had happened and looked around, but it was too late.  Whoever had taken her purse had gone and it upset her because that purse was special to her.  I know, because it was special to me too.  I gave it to her as a gift one year and she used it for so many years afterwards. It was a special artisan purse, a special one-off designed purse, so there’s little chance of replacing it.  The purse had sentimental value, and a monatary one too, with the money that was inside.  Now you may ask why was the purse in a pocket and not her bag, but the truth is that her jacket was one with many pockets (the type with zips and pockets that press against your body) and she felt it better to keep it on her person, espeically as she wasn’t in the best health to walk and carrying a bag would just add awkward weight and be a hindrence to her.

The moment she realised what had happened, and searched the shop for signs of the people who had stolen it she rushed to a staff member to ask for their help.  They took her near the back and went through CCTV footage until they located the pickpocketer and their accomplice.  It was two women, the CCTV was so clear that you could even see their faces.  There was no doubt you could recognise them, one even had unmistakable hair.  The two of them apparently looked like professionals too, with one acting as a decoy while the other rushed her to take the purse.  They couldn’t have known about the purse’s location without following Mary after the ATM.  These two knew what they were doing, it probably wasn’t their first time picking pockets, but with their faces so clearly shown on CCTV, all Mary had to do was call the police, right?

Contacting the police

She was told to calll the police force on the 101 number (here in the UK this is used for non-urgent reporting of crimes), but a first attempt just made her credit run out on her phone.  She waited until the next day, the pickpocketing had happened quite late on Friday evening, and instead resorted to filling in an online form.  When she completed the form she was told it would take 48 hours before she would get a response, so she diligently waited for the whole weekend, and then waited some more.

48 hours past.  And then 48 hours of working days past.  By now it was Wednesday and she didn’t know what to do.  She decided to try calling the local police instead, she found the number for the very local police (literally the ones in the local neighbourhood) and they were very kind and lovely about everything.  She explained what had happened and they diligently listened, but in the end they said they couldn’t do anything, she had to call the non-emergency number 101 instead.

So she tried again, this time waiting a long time until someone answered.  In the end they did, and she asked about the form she had sent, reporting a crime.  She had been very thorough in the report, even listing the exact time of the CCTV footage, the manager of the store who had confirmed they would pass it on and all the other details they needed to follow this up.  The person on the end of the phone was very strange, they didn’t seem all that bothered about Mary’s experience.  They said that they’ll check on the form she filled in, taking details of its reference number and then hung up.

A result?

Only about half an hour after the phone call did a response, via email, come through from the police.  They had her details and she could expect a phone call back from an unknown number in the next day or two.  By now it was Wednesday and the incident had happened the previous Friday.  Mary was worried the CCTV footage would be wiped by the shop if too much time passed.  She did make a note of explaining her concerns to the 101 operator, but they said all CCTV footage is “usually kept for a month”…’usually’ that was reassuring. 🙄

So she waited, and waited, and waited until one day there was a phone call when she was in another room.  She rushed to the phone, letting it ring only a few times (the equivelent of running from the kitchen while holding a pan, putting it down and then rushing into the next room to pick up the phone.  But it was too late.  Whoever it was, it was labelled as an ‘unknown number’ had already hung up.  And that was the last Mary every heard from the police.

We don’t even know if the unknown number who was calling her was the police, as she does get other calls kisted with an ‘unknown number’ displayed on the caller ID.  But those last two days she kept the line free, and nobody else had called.  So it may or may not have been the police, but whoever it was certainly didn’t wait long for her to pick up.  If they’d read the report they would have known how she couldn’t walk properly, how her mobility wasn’t perfect and that running to a phone wasn’t something she could do fast.  But despite that, whoever called her only waited for four or so rings before hanging up the phone.  And just to make a point I was with her at the time of that phone call, in another room of the house and I couldn’t reach the phone in time either and I ran to it!***

The state of police today

The state of the UK police force today is a joke, at least when it comes to dealing with smaller crimes.  Just because it wasn’t a serious crime, doesn’t make it any less traumatic or upsetting for my family, or anyone who goes through this.  The crime wasn’t violent, but stealing and pickpocketing are still crimes which shouldn’t go unpunished.  The purse may not have had a huge amount of money in it, but it was money that she could ill afford to lose at the time.  Plus, if nothing else, the sentimental value of the purse was enough to be truly upsetting to her.

For years I’d heard about the police having to deal with more and more paperwork and this is a prime example of it.  Even though the form was filled in by my my own family member, essentially doing half the job for the police, they still couldn’t even file it properly and only dealt with her form/report after she had phoned them up.  The emailed report should have been enough.

The local police aren’t at fault here.  The local police were lovely and even followed up what was happening with several phone calls.  They kept in touch, wanting to know how the case was progressing and wanted to help.  The problem is with a more the more centralised reporting of crimes these days.  While the London police were the ones dealing with this issue, why couldn’t it have been handled by the very local neighbourhood ones.  On top of that, having to report non-urgent crimes with the 101 service really is a joke and just shows that all the reports over the years in the news were correct.

The 101 phone line for reporting non-urgent crimes to the police was introduced in 2011 and clearly has shown itself to be useless.  I don’t blame the staff who work there, I blame whoever implemented the strategy, and it was done to free up the emergency service but it clearly doesn’t work and hasn’t done what it was intended to do.  While writing this article I’ve also found out that it was trialed back in 2006 but scraped due to being inefficient and, well…useless.

Last thoughts

I don’t know what to say after all this.  I want to be mad but it just makes me sad instead.  There’s CCTV footage of the pickpocketers, which I have no doubt will soon be wiped from the system, if it hasn’t been already.  These people could have been caught, or at the very least put on a watchlist, but they never will, because the police or the system just doesn’t care.  I’m sad for my family, I’m sad for the thousands or millions of other people who try to go through this system and get the same useless results.  I’m also sad that here in the UK today, in 2019, this is the state of our police service.  Our world is not a place that’s getting better.  Sure there are things that are improving, but on the whole, this world, or this country at least, just feels like its getting more and more sad with each passing year.  Now someone in my family has experienced a crime, and there’s nobody and no system to help her.  It’s a world away from the bobbies on the beat you could just go up to and talk to, that I remember for so many years walking down my street when I was a child.

*Name have been changed. 

**The term ‘purse’ is the UK term for where money is held (i.e. wallet) not a bag.

***To clear things up we have both attempted to contact the police service since this time, the local police can do nothing though they are very nice, and the 101 service just won’t help or answer phone calls :/

What do you think of policing today?  Have you experienced any issues with police or emergency services in your area of the UK, or in your country if you are not from the UK?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂