Interview with Sergeant Lee Burns Little Park Police Station 18/05/07
First of all, last time I was here the main purpose of my interview was to gauge your opinion on drink driving. How has it been since Christmas ? Has it been up or down ?
The exact figures I couldn't give you. However, it has been identified that drink driving isn't just a problem at Christmas, it's a problem throughout the year, especially when you get into the summer months. A number of people want to go to country pubs, have a few drinks because of the warm weather and then feel that they want to drive. Now clearly this is a problem because we are seeing accidents that are drink-related during that time as well. Around the World cup last year we had a big campaign and we were actually targeting drink-drivers. After the England football game or a large football game like the Final we would have officers out stopping people who may have consumed alcohol and giving them a roadside check. These activities were going on during the World Cup but they will be ongoing during the summer as well.
Do you think the Press are doing a good job in combating this problem, or could we be doing more as an organisation ?
I think the media play a vital part because the media is also involved in promoting drink through advertising, and obviously that is very successful. As an organisation, as the law enforcement side, we're only just catching up with the type of advertising to actually stress how dangerous it is. However what you see is in the press, there's a lot of reports about young girls struck down by a drink- driver, but what it needs is some sizeable sentences to make the risk of drink-driving and having an accident too much to take on. At the moment I don't think there's that balance yet, but that's a personal view. I think we need tough sentences to actually deter people from drink-driving.
You only have to watch programmes like Traffic Cops. People are always being breathalysed. I always think, why bother putting your life at risk but everybody else's life on the road as well.
You're right, it is a danger. It is a danger to the passengers in the car. Quite often you'll find that they're the casualties. You see how the car is built. They have air bags and the driver often survives. But the people without seat belts in the back seats are the ones who are flying out of the windows. Cars aren't designed to hit people who are pedestrians, so they don't crumple in the way they are meant to, and as a result you find that fatalities can be quite high.
Another big issue which comes in to effect on July 1 is the smoking ban. Is that going to be hard to enforce ?
At the moment we have a finite number of resources and we are dealing with alcohol- related violence and alcohol- related violence around the pubs in the evenings. If we then have to start trying to enforce a law where quite a sizeable amount of our population do actually like to smoke, and we then have to enforce and tell them not to. I think it could cause a lot of tension, but if we look what's happened in Ireland, they have adopted it reasonably well. Very much like the 24- hour drinking, we need to be very flexible how we respond to it.
Going slightly back to the drink, do you think that 24-hour drinking was a good thing, or do you think drink-driving has gone up because of it ?
I don't think that drink-driving has gone up as a result of it. I think 24-hour drinking was never going to cause us any extra problems because it takes away the urge to binge drink and rapidly drink towards the end of the evening because you are trying to out a number of drinks inside you before the bar closes. 24-hour drinking should actually make it a more relaxed and more responsible way of drinking because you are actually spreading out the amount of drink you can have over a longer period, and maybe you won't be in such a rush or have such a large quantity in a short space of time.
What do you, as a member of the Police Force, come across in the way of prejudice against the gay community ?
We see the aftermath and that's in the form of hate crime, and this is crime against racial groups, religious groups, disabled groups, the gay community and anyone where they are a minority community and there is a degree of prejudice towards them which is a factor within the reason for the victimisation. That will be a hate crime. Now we have a clear strategy and all forces do, about how they deal with hate crime. As I said, there is a number of offences that are reported, and in Coventry it is in excess of 400 offences every year. However, we strongly suspect that this is vastly underreported, and what we are launching is a policy whereby not only hate crime are reported, actual offences, but also incidents, so that we can understand the type of prejudice that is out there. By gauging the amount of prejudice there is out there, we can look at tackling the bigger problem.
What do you think is the most common hate crime ?
I think we understand more about racial hate crime because it is so visible. I think there are sections of the community, like the disabled section and the gay community, who don't bring these matters forward. For the gay community it is because they feel they might be outed, so they would rather ignore it and just pass it off and accept it as part of their life. They don't come to the Police because the demands of the Police are such that they are going to take them to court or ask them to give evidence. And for the disabled, like yourself Ed, it becomes access to the Police Station, how you're going to be treated. There's a lot of training for the Police, how to deal with people who are suffering from a disability, how to deal with a person with a mental disability, and it is how we can actually deal with those things and make ourselves more accessible, and that's what we need to get right before we are actually going to have a true reflection reported to us.
On a regular basis I come into university on the 21 bus. Some of the drivers are a problem and won't even get the ramp out for us.
That's unacceptable because there's a standard that they should provide service to, and all members of the community whether they are disabled or not, and their behaviour is unacceptable. But clearly you've highlighted something that you're accepting as part of the everyday occurrence when in fact that is some disabled phobia, and they are being discriminatory towards you.
For example, I need to go down to London on the train today, and even though I book assistance a long time before we need it, the amount of ramps that aren't there when I want them to be. I have to be quite snotty with them, but I shouldn't have to be like that.
If you fight the cause you will get what's needed, but that shouldn't be the case. It should be there as a matter of course. I know from the recent Disability Discrimination Act quite clearly that it shouldn't be that we should get to this point where adjustments are being made. It should be a matter of course already, so I can fully support and understand what you are going through because of the amount of reporting that has been going on.
I mean, I have tried to run various campaigns, and it's just that people are scared to talk to me about it. They think that because I'm in this, I am thick.
That's not the case at all. From the questions you are asking, you're clearly going to try and test my mettle.
People didn't think I would be able to get a degree, but I proved them wrong.
That's all credit to you.
My next question is : Would it be possible for a person with a disability to join
the Police Force ?
Yes. We have a full range of jobs to do. If you are asking me, could a person in a wheelchair become a Police Officer, at the moment I would say the job does restrict that probably happening. There needs to be a degree of fitness, the job actually demands you to physically tackle offenders, to be driven around in cars, to get out of cars, tackle offenders, be able to do personal safety training. That is the situation at the moment but I think the Police would without a shadow of a doubt have people in wheelchairs being Police Officers if it wasn't for that physical restriction on that. And it's not for lack of will, but I think what we'll have in the future is different layers of Police. So we'll have Police Officers who can do interviews and there's nothing I could see that would prevent a Police Officer in a wheelchair from conducting an interview, and you can be the Ironside for the modern day and carry out those interviews. However, if it's in the patrol aspect in the street I think it would be very difficult. However that doesn't mean that someone with a limited disability, a wooden leg, a prosthetic leg or prosthetic arm couldn't be a Police Officer. I know of officers that have one eye, so they are partially blind, and they are still fulfilling a role as a Police Officer.
It's just getting the message out there, and I'm trying to make people aware, and listen out for this, employers : I'm coming out there, and if you don't employ me, there'll be trouble.
That's quite a dramatic statement.
Some cities have had problems with racial tension. What's the situation like in Coventry ?
We have quite well established links with the minority community, since obviously the likes of Handsworth that happened so many years ago, and with urban street rioting. What we have learned is that we need to be very sensitive to their needs and we need to be able to understand that they are a minority community, they are a vulnerable community. They do suffer hate crime and for us to police them without a degree of sensitivity will cause problems because they feel alienated. So what we've learned to do is liase strongly with their leaders, and recently we've seen tension in Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford .
Newcastle. And that's because the links aren't as strong as in other places. In Coventry we have a large percentage of our community from the minority groups, and what we have done is to develop things like community forums. We've formed clear strategies for actually communicating with them. If there is any tension we can find out quite quickly from our contacts that there is a problem and we start actively trying to talk with them and allow them to police their own issues. There might be a big event coming up that might have some tension, and it might be the Coventry Vaisahkhi, which is similar to the Birmingham one. The Birmingham one ended in disorder. The Coventry one, because we were able to ask the community how they would like us to police their event, they gave us strong guidance as to what they wanted to do, and we gave them the responsibility of managing it themselves, so that they are able to reduce the tension and work within their own community to manage that tension so that we didn't have to get involved. But there's a lot of close liaison with them, and that's the real future. We need to integrate fully and understand our communities.
I suppose it's a bit like doing an interview in a way. I note what questions I want to ask somebody and you have to do your best to answer them. It's all about working together.
Yes. It is very much working together, and policing today is by the consent of the whole community, and it's only by having their consent to police that we can actually offer that service. If we don't have that consent and we don't have their respect we are never going to be able to properly police them so we certainly do have to listen to them.
Do you think the situation with the youth of today has got worse or better ?
This is a situation which the government and the local authorities have created themselves, through the withdrawal of lots of diversionary schemes like youth clubs and amenities for youths. This did actually create a culture where the youths stand on street corners and have nothing to do. They become bored and they become disorderly. Also we've made the situation (and the parents as well) where children can get access to alcohol. It's very profitable for off- licences and supermarkets to sell alcohol because they are a market that's eager to have that. For the police we need to work on several fronts, because quite clearly youths are being targeted. They are not a minority group but they are an underrepresented group in the city and in the country, and what we need to do is actually work by providing them with some strong provisions, making sure that their behaviour is challenged, tackling the alcohol that they have access to. That's why you've seen a lot of test-purchasing being done on off-licences, and we really need to show them the way forward and listen to them as well. Some of the things the Council has done is Youth Parliament, the Youth Council, actually set them up so that they have a voice and that is actually fed back to the Council themselves. So yes I do think they struggle, I can understand why they are having difficulties. We created this, and we have to find a way to solve it.
I suppose, a question I would like to put to you is : What made you want to join the Police Force ?
For me I joined late in my career. I joined at the age of 29. I was an insurance broker, a corporate insurance broker, and I travelled the country selling large policies to different companies. I did that for a number of years and then got thoroughly bored, so I joined the Police Force for stimulation and a very good pension and to enjoy myself. Only one day out of all the years I have been doing this have I regretted joining the Police. It is an excellent career and you get the opportunity to speak to a wide variety of people. Meeting yourself today has been a pleasure for me.
Thank you very much. I presume you don't have a lot of time to yourself, but what do you do to relax when you are not working ?
Oh, that's a tricky one. What do I do ? Firstly I've got two teenage daughters. Both do lots of sport so I am a taxi driver and a sounding post that listens to all their gossip, all their woes. I do a lot of housework. I am very domesticated. Sounds like an advert for a personal. I am domesticated. I lift the toilet seat and put the toilet seat down. I do a lot of DIY around the house, as much as my wife can find me, and I watch a lot of rugby and films. If I get any time from that I study as well.
What do you study ?
I've just finished the second part of my Inspector's Exam. Hopefully within a couple of months I will pass an interview for my MBA.
That is the Masters for Business Administration for the Public Sector. Like yourself, I did my degree, my Law degree about two years ago after five years of study, so I am used to study.
It's just that initial getting all the work in and everything.
Yes, coursework was a bind.
And you think I won't use the actual word, you can imagine what it is, but you think: My God, I've got to get this in, I've got to get that in, I've got to do this, I've got that on.
Very much so and I can understand the pressures of any student and even young children now that have to put in exams, and it wasn't like that in my day.
Obviously I can't do this interview without touching on this case which has been constantly, constantly in the news over the past two weeks, the Madeleine Mc Cann case. What is your view on it ?
I think it's an extremely sad case. As a parent I'm distressed by the fact that a child has been abducted for whatever reason. I believe that if that person was abducted in this country, there would have been a quicker response by the Police, and we would have maybe locked down the area a lot quicker, and we would have been dealing with this a lot quicker and given it high priority. I think it is by the pressure of the media and the fact that it is very high profile that has brought some of the policing over there to be as active as it is now. However if it maybe was a different way round and it wasn't so high profile, it may not have got the attention and the services it deserved. However, I think two and a half weeks now is a very long period of time for a three- year- old to be kept.
So I would say, and anybody else who is listening, if you know anything, please contact your local Police or you can call Crimestoppers as well. The number is 088 555111.
I would support that view. We can forward that information on to the Portuguese authorities via Leicestershire Constabulary.
Sergeant Lee Burns, thank you very much indeed.
Ed, thank you very much.
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