Duty – an old fashioned word

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!

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April 29, 2007. crime, life, philosophy, police, Prostitutes, sex, Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Dads and Daughters

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.

April 12, 2007. life, parents, philosophy, police, TV cops. Leave a comment.

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.

“Are you never off duty?”

Having shaken off the malaise that comes with night duty I went shopping into town with my mum on Saturday. We haven’t shopped together as girls for ages so, it being Mother’s Day, I thought it would be nice. Besides, call me mercenary, but I hardly ever come back without something she has treated me to. The question in the title of this post arises from a conversation we had, among the scarily priced handbags, in Selfridges; it went like this:

“What are you looking at?”
“Nothing, why?”
“Yes you are, you’ve seen something haven’t you; your dad was always doing it, it drives me mad.
“Sorry, I can’t help it; I just sort of notice stuff that I didn’t used to.”
“Are you never off duty? – silly question, I’ve lived with your father for thirty five years.”

And that short conversation summed up a great deal because what was happening behind the scenes was that, I had spotted a woman whose furtive glances around, and particularly at the ceiling, gave away her intentions. Nothing exciting happened, and our shopping trip wasn’t spoilt; but I caught her eye and in that glance something passed between us that simply said “I know what you are up to”. The glance I received in return said “…and I know who you are…”, though she probably thought I was a store detective rather than the real police, anyway off she sidled to, no doubt, steal something from somewhere else.

My mum’s comments though, lingered. Of course when you join the police you are made fully aware of the legal restrictions on the private lives of Police Officers: things like not being able to have certain business interests and having a discipline code that extends into your private life. The real restrictions, I think, are in the standards you apply to yourself; these are the cheesy reasons that you put on the application form and mention at the final interview in response to the question: why do you want to be a Police Officer? Had I seen a blatant criminal act in Selfridges I would have done something about it, I would have had to; and my mum knew it.

As it was we carried on shopping and I ended up with a gorgeous shirt dress from Monsoon and a pair of black footless tights. It’s a funny thing fashion though: the shirt dress, on its own, is short enough to be indecent, but worn with the footless tights is attractively stylish (I hope); and I was right about the treats: we spent forty minutes in the make-up section of Debenhams and I came away with a new Clinique foundation and mascara – a treat because I’m normally a No 7 girl.

I’m on 1-9 shifts today, tomorrow and Wednesday so will write some more another morning.

March 19, 2007. girl-stuff, life, make-up, philosophy, police. Comments off.

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.