Back from Greece and just too too busy in fact far to busy to keep this up with any real meaning.
From the 10th June this blog will cease to exist; my friend Crofty will explain why.
I’ve been on a bit of an operation this week aimed at curbing incidents so frequent that they are simply titled YCA: Youths Causing Annoyance. What this basically means is tackling instances of anti-social behaviour by disenchanted young people hanging around – apparently- aimlessly. For us it means the wielding of techniques and powers such as the power to seize alcohol form under eighteens in public – an anomaly in the law being, until we were given this power, that all the offences relate to licensed premises i.e. the purchase and sale of alcohol to young people, not the possession of it by them. We also use a video team to capture images of the offenders, to use, where there are no blatant offences, to show their parents later – the idea being that the parents will be shocked into better parenting and curb their offspring’s excesses. That’s fine as far as it goes but presupposes that the parents actually give a damn.
I have to say though that the tolerance in the UK for all things young is low. Youths seem not to have to do very much to cause annoyance; simply hanging around on a street corner is annoying apparently and explanations to callers to the police by our control room staff of what the law considers anti-social behaviour to be, doesn’t wash. So I often feel that I am treading a line between enforcing the law and harassing kids who simply want to ‘hang’ with their mates. There is precious little will, it seems to me, to spend any money on providing the sorts of places that are actually likely to be used by today’s young people.
Anyway on a lighter note and talking of all things young; I have a week off next week and am hanging with my good friends Jacqui and Tracy in – this was an impulsive last minute thing – Argassi…what? you don’t know where it is?…it’s on the delightful (I am told) island of Zante (Greece, you uncultured lot!). And as if that wasn’t enough I shall be returning not to my regular beat but straight to the Force Driving School for my driving course – oh joy! I am very excited, though curious to see what the driving instructors are like, I am told they are predominantly older traffic officers and they – traffic officers – are a funny breed. So, from pedalo to police car: should be fun.
P.S. Sorry about the dodgy picture, I don’t know him – honest!
It could have been any one of us, anywhere across the UK. A routine call to some unhappy ex throwing stones at windows; only on this occasion he had a shotgun that he blasted at the armed response cop who turned up to rescue two colleagues held at gun point and then himself.
There will be an investigation about guns, body armour; and the tabloid press will be full of the usual (and what a sign of the times that is: to be able to say usual) calls to routinely arm the British police.
For now though, lets just think of the families and colleagues of PC Richard Gray ripped unexpectedly from their lives. And that’s the hardest thing in circumstances like this, it always comes out of the blue: Stephen Oake, Alison Armitage, Sharon Beshenivsky- I could mention more – all just carrying out their days work and then gone.
Just once in a while you get the feeling that the battle against evil is not lost. Do you remember the old lady who was conned by the dodgy gardeners? We had some success: firstly the CCTV from the garage identified the van, but not the driver; but the van was stopped in another area when someone reported suspicious gardeners (you must look really dodgy to be a suspicious gardener). The driver was identified as Shane McDogger a well known crook of the travelling fraternity. He wasn’t arrested because he wasn’t wanted for anything – no outstanding warrants, nothing – but there’s more.
While I was mooning about and being generally over- emotional about the poor old lady’s plight, other more professional officers – Crime Scene Examiners to be precise – were reinterviewing the woman, who was a bit more astute than she looked when I met her. She was able to point out that, whilst savaging her garden, the unpleasant pair were smoking and discarding their dimps beneath the bushes; in fact the ace witness was even able to point some out to the scientific sleuths. And you know what cigarette ends are good for don’t you? DNA. Whose DNA do you think was on the tip of about half of the dog ends? Yep, Mc Dogger.
As the officer in the case I have, with great pleasure, arranged for a Wanted marker to placed on his record on the Police National Computer so that the next time an officer comes across him, he will be arrested – I do hope he is stopped by a dog handler and runs away.
It is worth mentioning at this juncture, that our CSIs do not have the glamour of their counterparts in LasVegas or Miami; they are not allowed to waltz all over crime scenes in amazing Armani or Gorgeous Gucci; but with ruthless professionalism they do a marvellous job. They are definitely not as good looking as Jonathon Togo ; but I forgive them.
Girls, have you ever wondered what men really say about us when we are not there? Read the latest News From The Nick for an insight into men’s minds. I’m breathless just thinking about it.
The comment from Grateful in my last post set me thinking about some of the reasons people give for being in the police and some of the qualities – if I can call them that – that are a prerequisite of being a cop. Grateful pointed out how the police had responded to an incident with professionalism and without judging any of the parties involved. I guess what they did was to carry out their duty without fear or favour. When you start to unpick that old fashioned cliché you see how that works in practice. For example I helped to police a demonstration against the war in Iraq a while ago. Marching alongside older people and young families, as well as the usual smattering of grubby anarchists, I found myself feeling that, inside, my views and feelings were such that I could just have easily have been out of uniform joining in the procession; but I didn’t, neither did I give any hint of my views or opinions even when goaded by the black flag waving types who assumed that I was only one step away from being a member of the third Reich: without fear or favour.
On another occasion I dealt with the victim of a vicious assault; this was different because the people who attacked him were members of his own community who felt that the law and judiciary had failed them. He was an alleged paedophile who, in the absence of forensic evidence and faced with a victim too young to give a detailed account had, as they say, got off with it. A community had decided that they would ensure that he did not get off with it and taken the matter into their own hands. No matter how distasteful or abhorrent his alleged crimes I still had to simply see a man who was suffering horrific injuries: without fear of favour.
Interestingly, it is often people who feel that they deserve being favoured who try to influence the way in which we do our job; a number of my colleagues have dealt with incidents involving celebrities – premiership footballers or soap stars – and been faced with “do you know who I am?..” and taken great pleasure in responding “No…should I?”
There is a world of difference – at least in today’s world – between some poor lonely chap far from home becoming the victim of the theft of his wallet out of his back trouser pocket by a young lady positioned in front so as to – ahem- reach into his pocket unnoticed; and the same thing happening to a premiership footballer – sigh - we could make a fortune…damned sense of duty!
I’m so busy at the moment: work is a bit mad; I’ve been given a date for my driving course, which is very exciting; and I spent a day last week at Crown Court in a wounding case where I had chased a suspect before a colleague had caught them ahead. And that is what I’m going to write about: Crown Court.
This case, on the face of it, was a strong one: a glass-in-the-face attack at a pub, the suspect legged it as we turned up. I chased him until I lost sight of him rounding a corner, a colleague was on that street ready for him. He had blood all over his clothes and another officer, at the scene, seized the glass that had his fingerprints on it and the victim’s blood. So, even without witnesses – and there were some – the guy was stuffed.
But, as is often the case, they plead not guilty and opt for Crown Court trial. That means that all the witnesses have to turn up on the day and hang around while well- spoken men and women in gowns and wigs bargain with each other. The offender was in custody but we still had his family hanging menacingly around; though we made sure that the witnesses were well away from them in the witness care area. They stay there until they are called to give evidence.
All day we paced and waited, eventually the court had whipped through the easy stuff, like plea and direction hearings and sentencing, and then, after lunch, it was our turn. So having sat there all morning we got to the point of having a jury sworn in and guess what he did (at this point anyone who knows anything about the legal process will be shouting the answer at their computer screens): he pleaded guilty. Agghhhhhh.
Why do they do it? A whole morning waiting – time off work for witnesses, court time booked etc etc. The simple answer is that a guilty plea, even at this late stage, will get them a sentencing concession; they wait until the last minute just to see whether all the witnesses will turn up -they don’t always, and this means frantic chasing around to find them.
Anyway, I suppose the result is still the same: GUILTY.
OK, public order training: all operational cops – those who don’t wear suits; you know, the ones who turn up at your house when you dial 999 – have to do a minimum of two days a year training for the occasion when the societal wheel comes off and there is large scale public disorder. You’ll have seen the sort of thing on TV: cops dressed in crash hats, dark coloured overalls, looking mean and dodging missiles.
The training takes place at our purpose-built training centre, with a layout of streets, junctions, houses and shops, all there for rioters to riot in and for the police to save the world in. For most of us who like physical activity, it’s two days of fun and frolics, with no paperwork at the end; for those who don’t like physical activity it’s two days of hot, sweaty hell.
The two-day course consists of, on day one: running through the already familiar routines for dealing with crowds; dealing with angry armed people; dealing with brick hurling rioters (wooden bricks – but they still hurt if they hit an unprotected bit); taking junctions with a shield team; forcefully entering buildings whilst having tyres and bricks dropped on you from above; and dealing with petrol bombs. Day two of the course consists of an exercise that involves senior officers tackling a staged public order situation and designing a strategy and tactics that we then fulfil (with varying degrees of success).
The kit is heavy and uncomfortable; the only concession I make to femininity is to ensure that I have sufficient perfume (Issey Miyake is good: nice and fresh) to counter the sweaty, musty smell that lingers around your boiler suit by the end of the first session – I only wish my male colleagues would make the same concession.
Our PSU serial was lead by Sergeant Khan: he has been a sergeant for about 7 years and doesn’t , at the moment, feel that he has to be the best at everything – this makes for a good couple of days. His briefing went like this:
“You don’t have to be the best at this – we can have a laugh and enjoy it so long as, when the chips are down and the bosses are watching, we get it right.”
So that’s what we did; take this example:
A line of helmeted and booted police officers fill the width of a road carrying riot shields; they chant rhythmically to keep in line with each other: “One, two, one, two, one, two”; at a junction the cry goes up “Hold the line” and the wall of shields stop. We wait poised, bent slightly holding our shields, waiting for the familiar drill: the sergeant shouts loudly,
“Shield to the left what can you see?”
“ROAD CLEAR SARGE” comes the over-loud, enthusiastic response from a probationer who is on his first course with us.
“Shield to the right what can you see?”
The reply comes in a voice that is a remarkably good impression of the upper class accent of John LeMesurier,
“There are a number of people in the street sergeant, they look rather cross to me and I don’t quite like the look of them.”
The line of shields wobbles and sways with suppressed mirth until the cry goes up,
“Missile” and the first of a hail of wooden blocks come raining on and over us, bouncing of the helmets of those who haven’t learnt to keep their heads down. We wheel into the junction and disperse the rioters.
Taking off our helmets after defeating the rioters we have a break; the end of the break is something I dread: during the exercise we sweat profusely into the soft padding of our helmets; during the break the sweat cools in the foam of the helmet; after break replacing the soggy cold sweaty helmet is a truly unpleasant experience.
The angry person exercise is quite good, it is meant to replicate the, not uncommon, situation when someone really loses it in a house and we have to don protective clothing and use shields to subdue them in a corner of the room. This is one occasion when the lighter officers (and I don’t just mean the women, because there are some hefty policewomen and some very slight policemen) have a disadvantage. The theory is that you pin the person in the corner with your shields and lift the shields so the they cannot hit you with the weapon – in this case a pickaxe handle or baseball bat. The most successful way is not to beat around the bush in the doorway too long and to ram them quickly, people who hesitate end up with the angry person dodging behind them: you don’t want that. It works well in an empty room; but, I am told by those who have tried it, is a nightmare in a furnished one. As an aside, this routine for tackling a wild weapon wielding person used to be called the ‘angry man’; political correctness intervened and made it the angry person – there are many quips expressing surprise that it hasn’t yet become the ‘reasonably cross person with a justifiable grievance’.
The climax of the first day is the outdoor exercise to deal with petrol bombs. For this we don our flame-proof overalls and all take it seriously. In pairs we have to walk through a wall of flame as the instructors smash petrol bombs at our feet: chins down, shields held in front, you lose all vision as the whoosh of heat bursts over and around you as you step through the flames. It is quite amusing for everyone though, when a probationer has not been before – especially when their colleagues have been winding them up before hand, by telling them that the course instructors expect a smart appearance and will check that their boots are properly cleaned; in short, they are encouraged to ensure that there is plenty of boot polish on their boots. The boots are flame-proof but boot polish is highly flammable. As they step through the wall of fire you can see the momentary panic as two flaming feet dance around in order to extinguish their boots.
At the end of the day we have done well: had a laugh but also ensured that we can all work together at the drills and techniques if we need to for real. Then it’s off home for a long hot bath – a shower just won’t cut it when you feel like this.
I sometimes worry that my mum feels left out of some of the conversations I have with my dad about policing. Watching The Bill on TV I constantly carp about procedure and dad constantly compares to ‘his day’. The series Life On Mars had provided him with a host of reminiscences; he joined the police in 1972: right at the heart of the Mars years. “Was it really like that?” I ask, knowing the answer already – some of my older colleagues still remember the back end of that era – my dad goes misty eyed as he remembers the pre PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) days when the rules that governed the detention and treatment of prisoners were far fewer and, in the main, left to the discretion of the honourable police. I ask my dad whether he thinks it was better:
“No not better” he replies, “It was often brutal and open to corruption, PACE is restrictive but it was necessary. We cocked it up for ourselves by not sorting out some of the bastards in the job at the time.”
At this stage my mum tells my dad to calm down; I can only guess at some of the memories that put so much bite into the word ‘bastards’.
I have two days public order training this week where men are men – and so are the women! I’ll tell you all about it soon.
Oh yes; seeing as everyone is talking about it: I loved the Life on Mars ending…ahh bless.