Bank Holidays: a time for family, friends and fighting

There are recognised trends that, pretty much, give the cops an idea of the types of incidents they might have deal with in a particular tour of duty. Bank Holiday weekends, for instance, often combine families, friends and alcohol; add sunshine, barbecues and neighbours and you have a heady mixture. In our house when we have a row we cross swords with sarcasm, spite and verbosity; other families’ lack of education, failure to have learnt adequate social skills and poor communication skills make their techniques for resolving family disputes more limited.

The radio message we received, early yesterday evening, filled us with dread:
“We’ve got a report of a large scale disturbance in Jade Goody Way – can you attend, over.”
This wasn’t really a question but an order,
“Roger, show us to it – any back up?”
That was a real question; Jade Goody Way is a hell hole where some of the worst families in our city uneasily rub shoulders with each other. Sirens on, to alert people of our impending arrival, as much as to get us through the traffic, we made our way with haste, though our insides screamed at us to run away, rather than face fighting with these hard bitten people.

Pulling into Jade Goody, apart from the usual thud of an object hitting the side of the car – in this case a chicken leg, we were met with an eerily silent scene of mayhem. Burger buns strewn across the street, blood or ketchup splashes on the road – and no we didn’t dip our finger in it to test- a sherry trifle apparently flung at the front of a house, a glass topped table splintered in the street and fence panels kicked out of a number of scruffy front gardens. At the centre of it all a ’03 black Range Rover with its door open and engine running. We approached the car and were joined by a skin headed man aged about 35yrs wearing a smart brown suit and cream crew neck sweater; around his neck was more gold than I could afford with six month’s wages – but not nice gold: thick garish kerb necklaces and the like. If he had been a dog he would have been an Staffordshire Bull Terrier, I recognised him as Terry O’Neil a National Crime Squad target criminal:
“Can I help you officers?”, his voice an amused, feigned, interest in us,
“We’ve had a report of a disturbance in the street here – it looks like there’s been quite a scrap” I said,
“No problem here miss” he replied, using the term of address of people who have spent time in prison.
“All the same, we’ve got to investigate, I’ll knock on some doors”.
“Help yourself miss, but nothing has happened, you’ll see.”
He leant against the Range Rover and casually lit a cigarette, watching as we picked our way through the debris towards the trifle-attacked address. The door was open so we shouted and entered, there was nobody in the house, but at the back was a group of two women and a man; he was nursing a bloody nose; the gas barbecue was incinerating forgotten chicken legs. Our inquiries were met with stone-wall denials of any incident; we met the same response at each of the houses we visited. At the houses that seemed to have escaped involvement, there was no reply, at the others the best explanation we were given was that it had been a ‘wild party’.

Frustrated we left, O’Neil nodded consiprationally at us as we left, our tyres crunching on crockery; he strolled over to the first address we visited as we pulled away. We had spent 30 minutes for what?

Later, I bumped into one of the Jade Goody alcoholics leaving the off licence with three 3- litre bottles of White Lightening; I asked him what was at the bottom of the dispute. To save face for him I made it look like I was turning him over – not that I had cause – he emptied his pockets as he told me that O’Neil’s brother lives in the close and had revealed, in a drunken state of O’Neil family invulnerability, that he had been shagging women at three different addresses in the street. Not unexpectedly it had kicked off and O’Neil had been called by his brother, whisked away somewhere and O’ Neil had returned with compensation – though how much you get for having your girlfriend/wife/lover shagged by the brother of a big league crook goodness only knows.

I had some useful intelligence for the National Crime Squad (who, for all I know, could have O’Neil under surveillance and been watching it all); but I find incidents like this madly frustrating. In this climate of targets, we – the police – can not afford to spend time investigating incidents and crimes where we are not welcome. What did I have to show for this? No crime recorded, no victim identified, no suspect arrested: no tick in the box.

And on another level, are there communities that, with people like O’Neil in them, live outside the rules and morals that govern the rest of us, I felt superfluous on that street: O’Neil was the man sorting it out, not us.

April 9, 2007. alcohol, anti-social behaviour, crime, Easter, life, philosophy, police, sex. 6 comments.

More News from the Nick

I realised, during last night’s unusually quiet shift, that I hadn’t shared my latest snippet of news with you as I promised. It also gives me the opportunity to introduce one of the latest additions to our shift; this one particularly notable because he is an new sergeant and particularly hunky; that said there are reasons, as you will gather, that he might not make the ideal future partner for a girl…not that I’m in the market you understand.

I’ll write more about the weekend night in the next couple of days; today I’m taking advantage of the lovely sun and the fact that, in view of the quietness of last night, I was able to take 2 hours time owning and got to bed at shortly after 5 am.

There are many theories about the best way to recover from night-duty, mine is that you should get out of  bed after as little sleep as you can bear, make good use of the day and then collapse into bed at a normal time later thus getting back into a regular sleep pattern quickly; others sleep late and go out on the lash till late…a not unattractive prospect but only delaying the inevitable struggle to return to normality, in my view.

April 2, 2007. alcohol, girl-stuff, gossip, night duty, police. 2 comments.

Domestic Bliss…not!

I realised the other night that I hadn’t told you anything more about last week’s night duty; what reminded me was a Channel 4 programme about domestic violence. Domestic disputes are one of our most common incidents; you can almost guarantee at least one on each night or evening shift and many of my colleagues are cynical about them (oh come on Sarah, I thought you were going to be honest. Oh all right then, I too am sometimes cynical).

On night duty I was working with Gary; I don’t particularly like Gary , he is chauvinistic and, after an acrimonious divorce, cynical about women. His idea of ‘down-time’ patrolling is to take a detour into the nearby City Centre to leer at scantily clad women half his age, which makes me uneasy, not least, because they are my age – what does he think about? Don’t get me wrong, Gary is a good cop, experienced and hard working, brilliant in a violent situation and a good thief taker, but I think life has made him hard and he seems to have little compassion.

On Thursday night at about 2am we received a call to attend a domestic dispute, the radio operator told us that the address had a Domestic Violence marker – these are tags placed on the computer system to show where there is a history of domestic violence. The call had come from an anonymous neighbour who reported the sound of the couple fighting; we put on the ‘blues and twos’ and hurried to the address – we used the vehicle’s emergency equipment not to get through the traffic, there wasn’t much of it, but rather to give advance warning that we were on our way, that sometimes has the effect of stopping violence taking place – we wouldn’t have used the equipment if we were hoping to catch a thief.

Gary hates domestic disputes, all the way there he gave me his rant about what a waste of time it was helping these women, when all they do is end up going back to their abusers. And he’s right – about them going back – many women return again and again to men who mistreat them (it is predominantly, but not exclusively, women who are the victims).

I dislike domestic disputes for different reasons, they make me nervous: always volatile and charged with emotion, you can never tell what they will hold. Often you end up in the kitchen of a house, I don’t know why, and that is the worst place: full of potential weapons.

We knew, when we arrived, that it might be bad. As we pulled into the street there were two or three women stood at the front of their own houses, arms folded looking in the direction of the address. As we pulled up they turned away and went inside, not wanting to be involved. We could hear shouting from a man inside and shouting/crying from a woman, but couldn’t hear what was being said. Gary banged on the door loudly, I stood to the side holding my Asp hidden behind my forearm. The shouting stopped, Gary banged on the door again, the curtains flicked momentarily to the side and we got a glimpse of a male face.

“Get in there, it’s the ****ing law”, shouted the male voice. The door opened a crack, into which Gary inserted his large Magnum boot.
“What’s going on mate, people are phoning us saying it’s world war three in here…” said Gary,
“****ing can’t have a conversation with your bride these days can you. We don’t need you, it’s sorted”, came the reply through clenched teeth, from a face contorted with anger.
“We need to come in, where’s your wife?”
“She’s inside, doesn’t want to speak to you”, each word virtually spat out.

I could feel the knot in my stomach tightening as the inevitable approached,
“You know the score, we need to come in and make sure everyone’s alright.” I said,
“Oh the woman speaks does she, want to check on your sister do you? I told you we’re fine”, sneered the male.
“So you’re both OK then”, said Gary, his tone lightening,
“Yes, we’re fine” said the male attempting to reassure us. I was becoming anxious that we hadn’t made sure the female was OK.

“Right then,” said Gary. The male visibly relaxed as he thought that we weren’t going to force the issue, at which Gary heaved all his fifteen stones through the door and in a second pinned the male into a corner of the porch.
“As my colleague said, we need to come in, …” explained Gary very close to the cursing males face.

There was already evidence enough to arrest at least one of the parties to prevent a further Breach of The Peace from what we had heard outside and by now the van had arrived to back us up. The male was cuffed and taken into the rear of the van while we established what had taken place.

The female was stood in the kitchen with defiant expression, long hair stuck to her face with sweat. She had a burst lip and a red mark on the side of her face, she also looked like she was holding her ribs on the left side. It was clear she had been assaulted, I passed this information to Gary whose response was,
“We’re wasting our time, she won’t make a statement.”
I replied,
“He’s coming in for Breach of the Peace anyway, if you book him in I’ll see what we can do here.”
“You’re wasting your time; shout me up when we you’re ready, I’ll come and get you.”
Gary went off with the male to the custody office; I stayed, the female had still barely spoken a word and was stood, her back to the sink, arms folded staring at me with resent and anger.
“You look like you are in pain.” I said,
“You know nothing,” she replied through gritted teeth, “Why does it have to be like this, he’s so good with me, and I just wind him up. Now you bastards have taken him it’ll just make it worse”
“It doesn’t mean that it’s OK for him to kick shit out of you when he feels like it.”

And so it went on almost predictably, she refused to give an account of how she got her injuries, despite it being as plain as day, and refused medical treatment. The background of the couple was a sorry tale of violence, drink, depression and prescription drugs: she always having him back in a tearful reconciliation, he dodging prosecution for violence against her.

In the event he was detained overnight for a Breach of the Peace based on our evidence of what we had heard and seen. He went to court the following morning when, if all went to plan, the Domestic Violence Officer (DVO) would get round to see her in the cool light of day before he got back. The DVO would have another go at convincing her to support a prosecution, if nothing else to get him into some sort of sentence that features Anger Management training or similar work.

The incident was a perfect example of what the Channel 4 programme was trying to demonstrate, that men who commit violence against women are often manipulative and create a dependency that makes it even harder for women to escape their situation.

On the face of it Gary seems to be right, we do often seem to waste our time but I think that’s a very superficial view. We, the police have a role to play in dealing with domestic disputes but we, not necessarily the police – society as a whole, have a role to play in breaking the hold that these bullies have on vulnerable women.

March 20, 2007. alcohol, Domestic Violence, drugs, night duty, police. 6 comments.

Strange people in strange places

One of the things I love about my job – apart from the uniform, and the chance to carry weapons around, obviously – is the fact that I meet lots of really interesting people and get the chance to go into places that people don’t normally. On my patrol area is a crematorium; early in my career I had to take a report of criminal damage there when some of the leaded windows were smashed by, presumably, rock chucking youths. After taking the details in the office I went around the back to speak to the ‘technician’ to see if he had had any particular problems with youths. There started a strange acquaintance – I step back from saying relationship; and no I’m not going to tell you I fell in love with the guy (please!) – the place is warm, has a kettle and there is someone to chat to, who is always glad of a bit of company, on quiet cold days. But, it is the weirdest thing to sit next to a stack of coffins waiting their turn to go into the fiery furnace, drinking tea with a backdrop muffled funeral sounds coming from beyond the curtain.

John the guy in charge of the furnace takes great pride in his work – which is quite technical, there is more to the process than simply sticking the box in the fire – he has dignity and respect for the dead people he incinerates. I do have to say though, that he is almost a caricature of himself, over six feet tall, skinny, with big hands, his lank hair is thinning and always looks like it could do with a cut; and guess what, he lives at home with his mum. I think he spends too much time on his own but I’m not about to do a Cold Comfort Farm job on him; and I know he passes an appraising eye over me – but why wouldn’t he god dammit? I might be doing him a disservice because he is really interesting to talk to, all that time on his own makes him quite well read, he doesn’t seem to spend (all) his time poring over porn books but reads a wide range of novels and historical books.

In the UK we have a very hands-off approach to death, disposal of its products is all very clean and is done for us. This isn’t the case all over the world. A girlfriend of mine went to India in her gap year; where it wasn’t unusual to witness bodies burning on rafts of wood on the river Ganges, the bodies being subsequently left to decompose in the river. Incidentally, the quality of that burning depends on the amount of wood a family can afford for the fire, this isn’t always enough and partly burnt bodies are often to be seen in the water. Anyway, the point of mentioning all that is to say that I dared myself to watch one of the bodies being burnt; looking through the little glass window in the furnace door I was surprised how unsurprising it was; it burnt like you would expect it to, fat sizzled, skin blistered, hair singed. Sounds grotesque but it made me think about spirituality and reinforced the fact that all we dispose of in the flames is the container, whatever the element of life is is long gone by that stage.

Anyway, enough of all that philosophising, I only mentioned it because I popped in there for a cup of tea today. Tonight is Friday night, a night very much for the living. I am on night duty next week so intend to feel good this weekend because I know I’ll feel shit by next Friday morning. Me and my good mates Jacqui and Tracy are going in to town tonight for a dance and a drink (or two) and an expensive taxi back to Jacqui’s flat.

Look out guys we’re gonna be gorgeous!A good night out

March 9, 2007. alcohol, dares, death, gore, life, philosophy, working women. 2 comments.

Evil Drink

It’s not often that you get to see life as an objective outsider but that is what city centre patrol at weekend is like. We all get drunk sometimes; it’s not often though that you see what a prat you look when you do!

Every other cycle of shifts we do a weekend of late shifts that start at 5pm and end at 3am (in theory); we are bussed into the city centre to carry out foot patrol in support of our city centre colleagues. The lads love it, the seem to welcome the attention of pissed girls wearing next to no clothes; I, on the other hand, find the  lurid suggestions of pissed men faced with a woman in uniform irritating, I don’t have much patience for them and my threshold for anti-social behaviour seems, sometimes, lower than the boys on the shift who think it’s a bit of a laugh – come to think of it, if you’d seen some of them on a night out..!

My ideal patrolling night, on this shift, is to be teamed up with one of the older, more mature members of my team; preferably one of the ones who have young children and simply want to get through the night and get some sleep before doing family stuff the following day; and on Saturday night I did: working with John who has two small girls (3yrs and 5yrs) and who he adores. You can almost see him cringing at some of the alcohol soaked wrecks we see, inwardly hoping that his own daughters don’t turn out like them (I hope he hopes they turn out like me!).

The night passed reasonably well, John and I had a fairly companionable time taking the mickey out of some of the more lurid sights. We only had one serious job to attend, where a lad had been glassed in the face – he was a bit of a mess. The city centre lads dealt with the crime report, so no work there for us, we just helped to calm down the drunken crowd and get details of witnesses.

I’m on early shifts the next few days starting tomorrow; these are the most tiring for me; at least on lates and nights I can stay in bed for ever, on earlies I’m up at 5.30am but still want to stay up and watch TV in the evening.

March 6, 2007. alcohol, anti-social behaviour, police, working women. Leave a comment.