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Honoured ex-policewoman rang 999 and this is what happened

Retired police sergeant Izzy Knowles had never dialled 999 – until the second successive night her garage was targeted by potential intruders trying to break in.

Izzy, who didn’t say she was a former police officer when she made the call, said no officers were sent in a patrol car.

Instead of feeling reassured by her decision to call for help, Izzy told her near-3,000 followers on Twitter: ‘Sad & embarrassed to say the response by @WMPolice was woeful’.

Read more:Burglaries rise over Christmas in West Midlands and most go unsolved

Some 48 hours later, Izzy’s perceptions were no longer as black and white as they seemed in the heat of the moment – but her unexpected transition from being a service provider to a service user now sheds a fresh light on what it’s like to be on either side of the thin blue line.

In other words, what’s like to be a (former in this case) police officer who needs to call 999 themselves?

Having spotted Izzy’s tweet on Thursday, BirminghamLive had asked West Midlands Police why it did not send a car to her house – and its detailed response suggests the force had been taking more notice than Izzy had realised at the time of her duress.

Izzy, 64, was awarded the BEM in the Queen’s New Year Honours List after a citation ran to 15 bullet points. It included 30 years’ service with the police across south Birmingham as well as a vast amount of community work.

But with the benefit of hindsight viewed through the prism of a detailed response from West Midlands Police about her case, Izzy today said if the force had explained things a bit more in her hour of need then her feelings would have been different.

“I wanted to feel reassured,” said Izzy. “I didn’t say I was a former police sergeant when I called up so that I would be treated as fairly as everyone else.

“I think if they’d phoned me back and said they weren’t planning to attend – but would send the log to CID for investigation – I wouldn’t have tweeted what I did.

“I was thinking ‘the call handler hadn’t asked me enough questions including whether I was alone’.

“I don’t want this (report) to be about me, just about the best way for everyone to feel safer in their own homes.”

Resolute on behalf of others: Izzy Knowles called 999 after an attempted break-in

West Midlands Police reaction to ‘woeful’ service claim

In a full statement, Supt Hasson Shigdar, from Force Contact, said: “We were contacted via Live Chat just after 9.30pm on Tuesday by a woman reporting that a man had tried to break into her garage but that her husband had disturbed him and he had fled.

“Her details were taken, and the report was sent on to our Force CID for investigation.Te

“The following day, she phoned 999 just after 8.30pm to report that someone had again tried to break into her garage and that she had heard noises and people running away.

“We have since been given details of a car carrying two men near the scene, and the case is being reviewed by Force CID.

“All burglaries in progress are given our highest priority grading by call handlers and we will aim to get officers to the scene within 15 minutes.

“However, on this occasion, since there were no suspects still at the scene, no immediate lines of enquiry, no immediate threat to victims or witnesses, and no confirmed CCTV available, there was no need to send officers to the scene immediately.

“The victim was contacted the following day to provide further details to help with the investigation.”

Izzy said there were still lessons to be learned about how people in the position she found herself in on Wednesday night should be treated if they felt compelled to dial 999 – and communication was key.

Speaking below before West Midlands Police responded above to our own inquiries, Izzy told BirminghamLive on Thursday: “I want to defend the police because I know how hard the job is.

“I’ve been there and you’re never going to please everybody. Some people expect miracles.

“I am sure individual officers do care, still care and want to do a good job.

“But the way things are at the moment, they are ‘fire-brigade policing’. That’s not sustainable and you only end up with more crime.

“I think anyone who calls 999 has an expectation that police will respond and ensure they are safe.

“When I was working, officers at Kings Heath would have been straight round for any attempted burglary.”

What happened

Izzy said she was alerted to an attempt to break into her garage on Tuesday, January 11.

She then used the online Live Chat facility to report what she knew and to get a crime reference number.

On Wednesday, January 12, she realised her new lock had been attacked and dialled 999.

Izzy said: “For two nights running, people were trying to get into our garage even though there is nothing of value inside.

“An unoccupied house had been burgled and, on Tuesday, a neighbour saw three ‘kids’ acting suspiciously.

“They’d tried to cut the lock to our garage, but had all gone by then so I used Live Chat to report it.

Izzy Knowles (left) helping out with a city clean-up operation in 2019
Proactive: Izzy Knowles (left) helping out with a city clean-up operation in 2019

“On Wednesday we had a different lock on and they cut that so I called 999.

“Even when you know there’s only so much they can do, for them to talk to you, to have a look around and to be local – I know that makes you feel so much more reassured.

“The neighbourhood team came around the day after on Thursday – a PC and PCSO.”

In her tweet, Izzy said her 999 call had been ’20 seconds’.

West Midlands Police told BirminghamLive it was more than two minutes – a fact Izzy agreed upon once she then checked her phone’s log.

“It felt like only 20 seconds at the time (I was reporting the incident),” she said.

“But there was a second call with details of a car number plate and that was much shorter.

“I think what I wanted from the first call was for the call handler to have asked if I was alone and simply to have asked me more questions to help to reassure me (they were taking my call seriously).”

Perceived lack of action

Izzy said local residents and contacts across South Birmingham were often saying they were looking for more support from the police – and that had helped her own mindset to think the police hadn’t taken her own call seriously.

“People are reporting quite serious stuff from burglaries to robberies and serious crashes,” said Izzy.

“But when there’s no feedback, they then feel as if they are not being taken seriously and when you start to feel like that you are not then reporting stuff.

“The police then start to miss out on information and intelligence and criminals then start to feel like they are getting away with it.

“When the police are not solving burglaries… it really unnerves people to think that someone has been in their house taking things of sentimental value. That creates a lasting trauma.

Community champion: Izzy Knowles was awarded the BEM in the 2022 New Year Honours List
Community champion: Izzy Knowles was awarded the BEM in the 2022 New Year Honours List

“When there was a burglary of a dwelling, officers would visit, to check CCTV, to ask neighbours and make you feel they were taking your case seriously so the more intelligence you can get to pin them down makes a big difference.

“You catch them and (these incidents) stop for a while.

“When neighbourhood teams are on the ball, the (criminals) know that you know (who they might be).

“When that doesn’t happen, groups can feel uncatchable, they’re emboldened.”

Prevention best but ‘hard to measure’

Izzy claimed that closing police stations impacted on the way areas were policed.

“The police lose their sense of ownership of an area,” she said. “You don’t know if they are coming from the city centre or Stechford or wherever.”

Izzy argued that preventative work was “hard to reflect in statistics”, so neighbourhood officers were “often being diverted elsewhere.

“A lot of organised and serious crime is often drugs related, but neighbourhood teams are often taken away and when you lose that local intelligence crime then goes up.

“Covid hasn’t helped, of course it hasn’t. Good neighbourhood officers used to serve for years and getting to know who people were so they could even ring the mothers of kids hanging around.

“To have those kinds of numbers is a powerful thing.”

Simon Foster, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner
Simon Foster, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner

Burglaries and West Midlands Police

On December 31, 2021, BirminghamLive reported that West Midlands Police was ‘bottom of the league’ when it came to unsolved burglary rates over the Christmas period.

Also playing on Izzy’s mind when she dialled 999 was whether her call would lead to anyone being apprehended?

Commenting on the local arrest rate, Simon Foster, the Labour West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, told BirminghamLive in that report: “To be burgled at any time of the year is always deeply distressing and I fully understand the concern people have.

“Sadly, despite West Midlands Police working incredibly hard to prevent and tackle burglaries, the force has faced huge government cuts over the last decade, reducing the number of officers in our region by a quarter.

“That is why I have urged MPs in our area to join me in my campaign for fairer funding, so I can return officer numbers to the levels last seen in 2010 and bring burglary levels down.”

  • What’s your 999 story? Have you ever called for help and been disappointed – only to change your mind later? Have you called 999 and been amazed by the response? Did your prompt action save a life? Do the police deserve more praise? Tell us your story in the comments below, or email [email protected] and put ‘999 reaction’ as the subject

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Read more:West Midlands police station closures slammed as ‘utterly disgraceful’ in fiery Commons debate




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