March 31st, 2006

Crossing the Picket Line

Posted in The Job - Experience by 200
Police Officers aren’t allowed to srike. I guess there are good reasons for this. I reckon if we had the right to strike it would be my fourth favourite shift; after rest days, annual leave and sick.
Unison, the union, went on strike this week taking with it quite a few Police Support Staff.
A few years ago I was given a course enabling me to work the command and control system. This is great for when there is rest day working going at HQ or in one of the Control Rooms but not so good when the civilian controllers go on strike.

The presence of my company was requested this week to work at 12 hour shift in the control room. They keep a stock of police officers in the control room but it is mainly staffed by civilians who seem to like shouting at people, either on the phone or down the radio. So when it was announced that some of them were going on strike, one of them trawlled through the resource screen looking for police officers who could work in the control room. My name came up as well as several others who haven’t been in a control room for years.

I turned up duly at 6.45am t be met with some rather jolly and cheering pickets at the front gates of the nick where the control room is based. They handed me a form and aksed how I was, much more pleasant than the  last group of strikers I came across (miners, firefighters, ambulance staff).
I then spent 12 hours pretending to be a controller. The great thing was that because they now have a ‘call centre’ I didn’t have to talk to any members of the public calling in and interupting the latest issue of Amateur Photographer. I spent the day sitting on my arse and telling people what to do, much like a senior officer.
Towards the latter half of the shift it became apparent to those who run these things that the night shift, coming on at 7pm probably wouldn’t have enough staff to cope. Now given that they knew about the strike several weeks in advance and they had plenty of opportunity to get sufficient police cover, it came as no surprise when I was asked to stay on until 10pm because they had completely  cocked up their ‘resource allocation model’.

I managed to get out of there at 8pm having had a thoroughly busy time, as did many others of us in there. The one thing which struck me was that when I paused to look around the room to be met with a sea of white uniform shirts, and not the usual polyglot of jeans & t-shirts that the support staff wear, I was struck by the air of calm. Usually the room is filled with screaming women shouting “caller…Caller…CALLER” down the phone, there was none of that.

Perhaps there is something to be said with keeping police officers in control rooms rather than civilianising the whole thing.

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