As I’m not at work today, two little stories from days gone by today, to illustrate a point.
The police are undeniably a slave to routine and method. Sometimes it’s because we’ve evolved our methods to what works best – hard evidence from thousands of crime reports shows for example, that following a burglary, there’s no point in knocking more than four doors either side of the attacked premises for witnesses, as you will never ever find one.
Sometimes the justification for doing something is ‘we do that because we’ve always done it’. The same logic by which we used to deny women the vote and burn witches at the stake, but that logic is being challenged on all levels now, from ACPO ranks challenging expectations of the government, down to the duty inspector ringing children’s homes back and saying ‘you know where he is? Then he’s not missing, is he?’ and making them handle their own transport issues.
The first story, then, sadly for me completely true, showing why we do it by the book:
Years ago, a colleague and I (let’s call him Bob), were flagged down at a road accident. Two cars stuck into each other, driver of one car says ‘two guys got out the front, one reached in the back window and then they ran off, then a girl got out the back and walked off, two minutes ago’ and pointed up the road. No-one was injured, the road wasn’t blocked, he described her so off we went.
We find her at a bus stop 200 yards away, bag over her shoulder waiting for the no 42, and invite her into the back of our car. We ask her details, and somethings not quite right. She says she’s never been arrested, but the details she gives have been banged up 6 times. She’s also shorter than the PNC entry says she is – people grow since the last time we measured them, but very rarely shrink. She doesn’t know who her apparent neighbours are, she says they’re Asian, with a name like O’Reilly on the voters register for next door, somehow I doubt it.
Having gone back to the RTC, we find screwdrivers and other naughty things in the rear footwell, so based on that, her amnesia about her name and the behaviour of her and the two men who ran, she gets locked up for going equipped. She’s sat in the back of our car, not handcuffed as she’s not playing up, 18, female so not searched by me and Bob, and she’s perfectly calm.
It didn’t help when while we were watching a recovery truck move one of the cars, we saw one rubbernecker drive his £70,000 BMW into the back of another equally expensive car, and had a good chortle at that.
We both get in the front and head off to custody. To the uninitiated, one of us should have been sat in the back with her. To all the bobbies reading this and horrified at the professional buffoonery, I can only humbly say I was young in service, stupid, and I have learnt.
We get to custody, and when the custody officer starts the booking in procedure, it is obvious that she and her property will have to be searched. She says ‘I’ve got something in my bag you ought to have’. That’s the stock opening gambit in the ‘I’ve been arrested with drugs on me’ scenario, to be followed by ‘I found it and was going to hand it in’, so idly wondering why she didn’t just stuff it under the car seat, I invited her to drop it on the counter.
She upends her bag on the counter and out drops lippy, tissues, a diary and a Desert Eagle handgun.
With a loaded magazine.
And a round in the chamber.
And the safety catch off.
The same bag that had been sat in the back, with her, all alone.
In short, I had a horrendous bollocking, which I entirely deserved, she got 18 months inside which was very lucky, explaining to her family what she was doing in a car with two guys with a handgun, neither of whom were her husband, would have been trickier. I’m frankly surprised she didn’t end up in a suitcase under someone’s patio afterwards.
So that’s why we do things by the book, ever since then I’ve handcuffed EVERY prisoner, and always, always got in the back with them, them behind the passenger seat so they can’t lash out at the driver.
So when do we bend the rules? Also a while ago, a colleague, a sergeant at the time, let’s call him Bob, was sent as supervisor to a guy hanging off a road bridge and threatening to jump. Bob, I should add at this point, is a nightmare to his supervisors for his total inability to tolerate bullsh*t without challenging it, but his officers think he walks on water, and the criminals are genuinely terrified of him. If it’s your life falling apart, you want Bob there.
Negotiators are called out, but it’s on a call-out basis, they’re frequently coming from home, so it’s going to be a while, you have to try and establish a rapport at the very least before the cavalry get there.
Bob approaches said guy and starts talking to him. Pretty soon he comes in with ‘Is there anything I can reasonably do to persuade you to come back over to me?’, expecting anything, mental health issues, a long rant about police harassment or why his ex took his access away when he didn’t really mean to hit her etc etc.
Bob is surprised to hear ‘I’d come back over for a can of Carling just now.’, but acts swiftly. A Bobby is sent to the nearest off licence, normally they can’t sell to officers in uniform, but it’s not every day you get to save someone’s life through the medium of alcohol, a four pack is swiftly purchased and brought to the scene.
Bob is honest and tells the guy that he will be arrested for breach of the peace when he comes over, not to punish him, but once he’s in custody we can fast-track him the help he so clearly needs. Bob gives his word the guy will have 15 minutes in the back of the car with his can and a quick chat with Bob first, before they go in, and sticks to it.
So. No prolonged death in police contact enquiry, no blocking the major arterial road off for a day, no dead guy, everyone is happy.
2 hours later, Bob gets a phone call from the head of the negotiation team, ranting and foaming at the mouth and demanding to know why Bob thought it was a good idea to give alcohol to a suicidal man. Bob calmly goes through the above, adding also the longer term plus that next time the guy comes into contact with the police, he will know we can be trusted. Bob finishes with
‘Do you know the best bit, sir?’
‘I’ve got three left. Do you want one?’.
At this point the phone is slammed down, but Bob hears nothing more about it. He retires next year and will be a sad loss to the force.
So, happy days all round, hopefully you have some insight into why we usually follow the book, but sometimes don’t. Nobody died, a result in anyone’s book, and learning all round.
Especially for me.