This months Guest is Mike Pannett
WHO IS Mike Pannett?
Here we find out who the real Mike Pannett is, the passionate gritty Yorkshire man finding his way in Police retirement as an author.
Mike Pannett was born in York, and joined the Metropolitan Police in 1988. He became one of the youngest officers to be given his own patch, and served on the Divisional Crime Squad, Murder Squad and TSG (Riot Police). He transferred to North Yorkshire police in 1997 as he missed the countryside – and fly fishing! He became a rural beat officer and eventually, a wildlife officer. In 2005 he starred in the BBC’s Country Cops and was inspired to write about his adventures in the North Yorks force. Mike served nearly twenty years in the police, during which he became one of the highest commended officers. He lives with his wife Ann, and their three children in a small village in the shadow of the North Yorkshire moors.
You began your police career with the Metropolitan Police and then moved back to be a policeman in rural North Yorkshire. What made you move back?
Being a country boy, I think it is the pull of the countryside and the outdoors, missing family and friends, and the general pace of life. And fly fishing of course. I really enjoyed my time with the Met; I worked with and met some brilliant people.
I am still in contact with a lot of ex colleagues and friends and still feel passionate about what’s happening in London.
The perception is that there is much less crime in the country than in the cities. Is this true?
Yes it is. Generally you get the same types of incidents in the countryside as you do in the cities, but there are far fewer crimes. But then you have far less people in the countryside and far fewer officers.
The problem for the rural forces is not necessarily the number of crimes but the spread of the population over larger distances combined with fewer officers. For Police Officers it can be more dangerous working in the isolated rural areas, a long way from back up.
You saw a lot of disturbing and distressing sights as a police officer. How did you deal with that?
At the time that you deal with such an incident, you concentrate on being professional and following procedure. However, the Police are only human and you have learnt to deal with horrific sights and situations. Everyone is different and has different mechanisms for coping. For me it was to allow yourself a time to feel emotion and compassion, but then to try and file it away in a box at the back of your mind. If you were to dwell on things for too long you would soon become ill and not be able to do your job, because the next day you would be dealing with the next traumatic incident and so it goes on.
You never forget the things that you deal with, but you put them to the back of your mind.
You mentioned in your new book that sometimes there were only two of you available to patrol 600 square miles. How did you cope with that?
By the use of common sense and judgement, the old saying of not jumping in with both feet - you have to adapt your style of policing, make judgement calls of when to hold back and wait for back up. It can be very frustrating knowing that you cannot cover the whole area effectively and that you are relying on the public to help you out and call in with anything suspicious. You feel very responsible for your own patch and do your best to prevent crimes, but it can be very difficult given the geographical size of the beat.
What made you start writing?
People have always told me that I tell a good tale. A few years ago I did a fly on the wall police documentary called Country Cops. The program was quite popular in Yorkshire and I had a lot of comments from people suggesting that I write a book. I live and work around Herriot and Heartbeat country and thought people might like something along those lines but modern and up to date.
There is a lot of humour in your books. How important is it to have a sense of humour as a policeman?
It’s vital. Humour and camaraderie is what gets you through. I suppose it’s a release or coping mechanism for the sights, the violence and incidents that you have to deal with. The humour in the police can be quite dark, it’s similar in the military, but unless you have worked in or experienced that type of environment, some people find it hard to understand.
Generally my memories of being a police officer are filled with a lot of humour and that is what I try to portray in the books. It also gives a balance to the books against the harder hitting stories.
You say that one of the great pleasures of your job as a country copper was getting to know your community. Do you think this is important and why?
It is essential that the police are part of the community, to be seen, to be recognised and to be trusted. You need to spend time getting to know people and through that getting to know what is going on and who is doing what. It is amazing how much intelligence I was able to gather over a cup of tea. The trust does not come overnight, it takes time to build.
What is Country Watch and how did it work?
I realised that my area was so vast and the officers so few, that it was impossible to police it effectively on my own. I called a meeting at a local pub and asked for volunteers to set up what was effectively a mobile neighbourhood watch.The response was amazing and over time local farmers, game keepers and other volunteers from the local community came to work with the police patrolling the countryside. I managed to secure police radios for the scheme and we instantly had dozens more eyes and ears on the ground. We had some fantastic results in working together to arrest traveling criminals, some which I write about in the books.
What do you think the public want from the police?
To be made to feel safe and protected, to have their concerns taken seriously, to trust the police and rely on them to be there when needed. A lot of people like the style of policing depicted in my books – both the public and police officers. But we also have to be realistic and you cannot have a police officer on every corner. These are very challenging times for the police with austerity measures biting hard. The police on the ground feel very frustrated and want to do a good job. We hear a lot from politicians about what the police should and should not be doing – perhaps it is the time for the public to have their say?
In your latest book you talk about the endless form filling for ‘frontline troops’ leaving them little time to be out on the beat. Would you like to comment on this?
Yes, the layers and layers of bureaucracy have grown year on year with directives and requirements from the Government, the Home Office and ACPO to name a few. Police officers find themselves spending more and more time filling in forms to comply with The Human Rights Act, Crime Recording Standards, statistics, etc, etc, The most basic and simple jobs are turned into hours of repetitive paperwork. The front line police officer has been un-empowered, their discretion and decision making skills removed. Each incident is to be dealt with as per guidelines in a robotic and often unnecessary way. Each Government states it will reduce red tape, this is just political spin.
There is a constant fear of litigation leading to paranoia over even the simplest of tasks. As was seen in the riots, this fear slows down the whole decision making process. The recording of every decision and thought process has gone too far, it affects all of the emergency services and something has to give.
The policing cuts scheduled for after the Olympics have made headlines this week. Police officers have admitted that they were stretched to the limit during the riots last summer. What impact do you think the police cuts will have?
Less money equals less cops equals a lesser service. Of course the police service has to take its share of cuts; the country is in serious financial trouble. The HMIC recommended that policing could cope with around 12% cuts, but the Government has gone ahead with front loaded 20% cuts. The whole criminal justice system is a large cog in the wheel – the police service is just one part of it and yet they are bearing the brunt. To me this Government should immediately cut the legal aid bill by 20% and direct those funds into protecting the public. The first job of a Government is to protect its people.
If we have to cope with less officers then there has to be less bureaucracy and longer prison sentences. There will not be the staff to deal with arresting the same people day after day. Something has to give.
You are a great supporter of the work that the police and emergency services do. What do you think is the biggest issue facing the police today?
Poor leadership and political interference combined with excessive and deep financial cuts. This is leading to a fatigued workforce with low morale.
You are in demand from the media to comment on current policing issues. What is the question that you’re asked most frequently?
What will cuts to the front line mean? That’s a difficult question because no one can agree on what front line is and the policing minister, Nick Herbert can shed no light on it. To me the front line is a large police family made up of various departments and squads who are all doing a vital and irreplaceable job. The misconception of the ‘front line’ just being the officer in uniform walking the beat is wrong. How do we manage without the Robbery Squad, Burglary Squad, Drug Squad, Counter Terrorism Unit, Surveillance Unit, Traffic officers, Mounted and Dog sections, domestic violence and child protection, Intelligence….the list goes on. If this Government thinks these roles can be fulfilled by a private security company they are very wrong. You have to police for the public not for profit.
How do you unwind?
By spending time with my family. Watching the newly promoted york City FC and having a pint of Black Sheep.