And they give these people guns?



We had an armed response vehicle attend our last training day, so we can keep up to date on what they want from us and vice versa during incidents. As usual, it’s an excuse to go down to their car and look at all their toys. When I joined 20 years ago, they had unmarked Volvo Saloons, and you could always tell the firearms cars from unmarked traffic cars from the dents in the boot – there was so much stuff in there, it would only shut if you slammed the boot down on the contents. Battering ram and various other MOE (Method Of Entry) gear, ballistic shields, high power lamps, paramedic gear, bags of ammo, bags of god knows what, Volvo didn’t make cars with this stuff in mind.

These days, we have high performance German estate cars with much more room, especially under the bonnet. They have bulletproof windscreens, kevlar built into the doors, run-flat tyres, satnav, vastly improved handling (the volvos had a turning circle like an oil tanker), better radios, better storage for the toys. The users don’t seem to have improved in quite the same way, however. One of the crew referred to the other as Gollum, and to be fair, there was a slight resemblance. I enquired what his nickname was, if his oppo was a Lord of the Rings character, and he smugly said he didn’t have a nickname as he hadn’t done anything stupid at work yet. Which led onto the following nicknames for other members of the shift.

There was Sparky, so named for a little faux pax on his last taser requalification course. The X-26 taser has a second cartridge clipped into the handle, so if you need to reload it in a hurry, you’re simply reaching for one hand with the other, not fumbling around in a pouch on your belt whilst some crack-crazed lunatic runs at you with a knife, hell-bent on carving your face off then eating it. Simple drill. Release trigger, take off and drop the fired cartridge, grab the new one, stick it on the front, remove hand and fire. All can be done without taking your eyes off the target.

Sparky had a go on the range, and under the pressure of the scenario being run at speed, neglected to take his finger off the trigger when touching the old cartridge to take it off. Tasering himself in the process. Oops. As the taser tightens your muscles, he couldn’t take his finger off the trigger, or his hand off the contacts on the nasty end of the taser, thus tasering himself continuously until someone could force his finger off the trigger. Oh, how we laughed.

Or there’s Snuggles, who sent a soppy message to his wife on Whatsapp. Unfortunately for him, he mistakenly posted it on the team Whatsapp group instead. Which will take a while to live down.

Or there’s Banger. The ARV’s carry stun grenades, basically the worlds loudest firework, which temporarily blind you and throw out several bangs so loud they will blow your eardrums out, by the time you can see and balance again, you’re in cuffs. It’s unpleasant, but if you’re being naughty with a firearm it certainly beats a rifle bullet through the chest. These used to be stored in a bag in the passenger footwell, along with the two carbines they carry – a short barrelled rifle, more than accurate enough to take baddies out from 200M away.

Banger took the carbine out of the bag to repack it while his oppo was driving, and somehow managed to snag the pin of the stun grenade with the carbine as he pulled it out. It went off in the footwell, trashing the rest of the bags contents and setting fire to it in the process. How the driver managed not to crash as it went off, I’ll never know.

Stun grenades are now stored in a separate metal box with a clip closure lid.


That really takes the biscuit…

Sitting down this evening, I didn’t even have time to get my computer logged on and my epaulettes on before the phone rang with one control room asking for help with workload. The suitably sympathetic noises made, I ended the call and scoured the system for the workload in our different areas and rang round for the staff numbers, to see who’s worse off.

They weren’t unreasonable in asking for help, but one of the other divisions had twice as many calls to get to per officer, including one where someone has been shot in the head with a shotgun, and has already had ten officers from the support unit/reserve. As there was a good case for two of the other, less busy divisions to provide a bit of help, I approached them, only to be told in no uncertain terms to go away, as they had both just had shootings land too, both with injuries. So, division one rung back and politely told ‘You’re on your own’, division 2 told ‘We’ll try and find you some beat bobbies or PCSO’s to stand on scenes to release your response officers’ and divisions 3 and 4 told ‘Oops, sorry, don’t shoot the messenger. The log count has gone up another 150 open jobs since yesterday. The duty superintendent is trying to find extra resources, with about as much effectiveness as dancing to make it rain.

So that’s the first 45 minutes of my working day. On the plus side, someone’s brought doughnuts in. Which is nice. And now I’ve got the time to write this, as there’s very little for me to do just now. 

I’m beginning to think this spurt in demand is more than just a spurt. It’s lasted about 3 weeks now, a normal workload of about 1200-1500 open calls at any given time, (obvious peak times like New Years Eve apart), has been bouncing around the 1800-2200 area for the last 3 weeks, and drafting lots of beat bobbies in to deal with it sounds great, but it’s barely keeping pace.

Much though we like to poke fun at beat bobbies for being semi-retired and all having a shiny seat on their trousers as they spend all day sitting down, their normal community work needs doing, and it just isn’t getting done. As we approach Summer, it’s only going to get worse. I may start a surreptitious sweepstake about the highest open job count between now and September. If this doesn’t scuttle the Maybot’s stupid observation that how to deploy staff matters and numbers do not, I don’t know what does.

Meanwhile, in the Met, an officer has been taken off response duties, for A YEAR, over an open half-eaten packet of biscuits he found left on a table at work, and shared out with his team at the end of a shift. A year. A rough calculation, allowing for annual leave, court dates and training courses, suggests he could have gone to approximately 700 or so response jobs in that time. We don’t help ourselves.

It’s a good start to the day when…

You’re three hours late to work, because of someone threatening to jump off a motorway bridge and kill themselves. I’ll be bringing the cakes in tomorrow for lateness, courtesy of the Independent Cake Punishment Commission, the ICPC. Any similarity to any genuine independent organisations who investigate the police is a pure coincidence. The ICPC don’t take 4 years to investigate something, the decisions are quick, just and final.

Or you get in the door at work to find your sergeant struggling on the floor with a geriatric having a paranoid mental breakdown through too much cannabis use. As one half of the fracas is trained, half the age of the other and twice the weight, it seems rude to get involved, so you just stand and watch in amazement.

On the plus side, it gets better. I’ve made myself semi-redundant today. Normally, my job consists of listening to peoples request for more officers, looking sympathetic, then saying ‘no’, as there’s no-one available I can suggest moving. Today I passed a milestone, when someone actually assessed their situation for themselves, came up and pretty much asked and answered their own question all in one go. With the word ‘No’. I didn’t even have to speak. So, back to the crossword.

I don’t take joy in not being able to help, I just refuse to feel bad about it either. It’s not my fault there’s so few toys in the box. And this is when we’re 12% over minimum staffing today on earlies. Lates, when we’re predicted to be 10% under, will be a nightmare. I’ll be in the garden with an iced lolly or two by then, listening to my son tell me about the last day of his SATS.

Total jobs ongoing just now, around 1300. It’ll hit 1450 or so by 9pm tonight. With less than 200 officers to deal with it all. Not my problem.

What is my problem right now is an eternal one, namely “Why can I never find a bloody fork in a police station when I want one?” There’s thousands of spoons in the various kitchens round the building, enough knives to carve Michaelangelos David out of the nearest tree, but can I find a fork? No. I’m reduced to eating a reheated Chicken Fajita with two spoons. Paranoid thoughts start creeping in about which one of my colleagues has opened a highly profitable second-hand fork shop, until the fajita is gone.

 P.S. finishing this off the day after it happened, I found out why the woman wanted to jump. She was a single mum who’d met a new fella, who moved in and months later murdered her child. Grief and guilt being what they are, I’d probably want to jump too. My son got an extra big hug before bed tonight. 

For want of a brain, the escape was lost, AKA Natural Selection VI

A Natural Selection nominee only this week, time will yet tell if he receives his award or not, but the groundwork has already been done. 

Charles Victor Thompson was arrested, tried and sentenced to death in America in 1999 for shooting his ex-girlfriend and her new fella dead. He attended their flat the night before and caused a disturbance, was escorted away by the police and told to stay away. He didn’t listen and came back early the following morning with a gun. First mistake. 

He then booted the door down and shot both the occupants dead. Second mistake, both on moral and practical grounds. 

Whilst on death row, he won an appeal for a new sentencing. Whilst meeting his lawyer in the court cells, he waited until his lawyer went to the bathroom, unlocked his handcuffs with a key he had procured from somewhere, quickly changed into civilian clothes he had concealed in his appeal paperwork case, and simply walked out of prison. 

On being challenged, he waved his prison ID badge, claimed to be a state official and simply bluffed his way past the apparently dim guard who challenged him. Biggest cake offence ever. So far so good, you would think, he’s outside the wire, unchallenged and in civvies, so he calmly walks off. Between this, having civvy clothes in his cell and the sloppy security that effectively let him walk out of death row, it’s fair to say the authorities did not cover themselves with glory. 

Charles, however, ends up firmly back on the ‘mistake’ track and gets himself arrested 4 days later. His third and ultimately potentially fatal mistake, was getting blind drunk on alcohol he had stolen from a local liquor store, then coming back and using a payphone outside the same store to ring friends. 

Much though he was clever enough to take advantage of the embarassingly bad security, Charles is nominated for having a good plan and then executing it very very badly indeed. While I don’t agree with the death penalty by and large, it happens to be the law of the land over there, and he really should have been more conscious of the consequences of getting caught a second time. 

While the example isn’t directly relevant to this country, it goes to show that human stupidity is a universal language. Ranging from the Great Train Robbers, who executed a very good high value robbery, then got caught due to leaving fingerprints behind, amongst other things, to the more recent Hatton Garden safety deposit box burglary, where the muppets involved bought the very unusual circular drills required using their own names, they don’t half make it easy a lot of the time. Long may it continue.

Having a blast

Not long after I started working in the control room the first time round, the station got evacuated. The CID did a warrant on some guys house, based on intel he was illegally boosting the power of air rifles past the point they become proper firearms and selling them. Tsk tsk.

They find the air weapons, lock him up, and search for more. They turn up a few more, and also a zip-lock bag of a flaky white substance. Presuming illegal drugs, that gets thrown in the goodies bag too.

Chummy wisely decides that honesty is the best policy and fesses up in record time. It’s almost time to wrap up the interview when the lead detective, Bob, says ‘I almost forgot, there’s this – we can’t decide if it’s coke or amphetamines, which is it?’, and lobs the bag of stuff onto the table.

Chummy went as white as a sheet, backed up his chair against the wall and said ‘Neither. It’s explosives. I’d REALLY like to leave the room now. Please.’ Bob looked up, getting ready to tell chummy not to be a dick, and realised he was deathly serious.

They left the room, being very careful not to slam the door all of a sudden, and went for a quick chat up the other end of the cell block. There are all sorts of rules about what constitutes an interview, and rightly so, including the well known one of doing it on tape. You can break these rules and interview someone without a solicitor, and pretty much anywhere, on the street, in the back of a car etc, if you can justify it on the grounds of urgent safety, and boy, was that true.

In short, he’d read about home made explosives on the web and thought he’d have a go. He made this stuff, didn’t really know what to do with it, and was wondering how to safely get rid of it when the old bill came’a’knocking. He’d left it in a ziplock bag, exactly the sort of thing you might store drugs in. Also scarily, just the sort of thing you might casually throw in the back of a car, or throw across the desk to a colleague when asking them to book it into property for you. 

They evacuated the whole station, apart from the control room, someone had to coordinate all the fun, and called the army explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team. Their little wheeled robot came in and gently took the bag down to a garage at the back of the station, where there were the most walls between it and people if anything should go wrong, before examining it and gently placing it into a blast container and taking it away.

While this was going on, my suggestion to the duty inspector that we put masking tape crosses on all the windows, like they did in the blitz, did not go down particularly well. Up yours sprang to mind, you’re the one who made us stay. 

The EOD guy from the army said they rate explosives stability on a scale from 1 to 200-something, with 1 being so unstable you daren’t even look at it funny, and in the 200’s, you can hit it, burn it, shoot it, jump on it and nothing happens. Chummys little home chemistry experiment was a 7, edging towards a 6 as it decayed.

I have no doubt he went to prison, but the more pressing issue was poor Bob, who for weeks afterwards couldn’t enter a room or go anywhere without someone shouting ‘Duck!’, diving under a table and putting their fingers in their ears to a giggling audience. He had the patience of a saint, and boy, was it tested.

Fooled me once, Shane on you…

Young Shane was naughty. 25 at the time, the same as me, and he was an idiot. Shane’s life consisted of stealing valuable items from Boots, WH Smith, razor blades, posh shampoo, parker pens, printer cartridges, you name it, selling said items round the back of one or two local pubs, spending the money on heroin, then starting again. It’s probably a good job he’s an idiot, if he was intelligent he would realise what a messed up life he has and suicide would start to appeal. Ignorance is bliss, and he was particularly blissful.

His lifestyle brings him into regular contact with the police. Some offenders move from time to time, they’ve upset one dealer too many and have to leave town, or they move to try and break the cycle. There’s a never ending parade of faces on the briefing system, the same gormless expressions and the same gormless events, like a dirty, violent soap opera written by someone with the imagination of a fence post. At this point, not long after I got out of training college, Shane was very much part of the weekly script.

One merry day, Shane was in custody but had to go to hospital. He told the custody officer he’d swallowed a couple of wraps of heroin prior to arrest, so had a precautionary trip to the poisons ward for the weekend. I’m not surprised, the beds are more comfy than ours, the food’s better, there’s pretty nurses (sometimes) to look at, and they know it’s a pain in the backside to us, to have to sit and guard them. Not to mention the possibility of escape.

Shane was behaving himself today, so I was left with him on my own initially. No biggie, the ward door is locked and it was on the second floor of the hospital. So when Shane asked to go to the loo, I wasn’t bothered about standing watching him. The loo had a small window at the back of the cubicle, high in the wall, but no other doors. Watching people urinate is not high on my list of things to do, so I shut the door and waited outside.

After about 3 minutes, when I hadn’t heard the taps running yet, I got a little worried, and opened the door. No Shane. The window was open now though. Bugger. He’d done a good impression of Spider-Man and gone out the window, and jumped 20+ feet out of the window onto concrete. 

I managed to look out of the window, squinted down and couldn’t see his bloody corpse lying there, so that was a plus. Schoolboy error though.

I rang the custody officer to tell her, and bless her, she told me to come straight back in and not tell anyone else. I then had one of the biggest (and entirely deserved) bollockings of my life so far, made well aware of how much shit I’d be in if he hurt anyone prior to being rearrested, and then hallelujah.

The startled rabbit impression I was clearly giving must have struck a chord, as she then asked if I had learnt from the mistake. Most definitely. She then wrote up the custody record to say she’d bailed him from hospital, tying up officers for the entire weekend being a tad excessive in her opinion, rung me to release him, and he’d run off before I could give him his property back.

Thanks, Sarge.

It cost me a round of cakes for the custody staff, which would have been a bargain if they’d come from Fortnum & Mason, in the circumstances. Young Shane got rearrested a couple of hours later, a particularly inept shoplifting, he was arrested on another division, so I didn’t get the pleasure of his company again. 

Since then, sad to say, watching prisoners urinate has moved up my priority list somewhat. The same custody officer, still a sergeant but working elsewhere now, is universally liked and respected by people who work under her, and I’m always inclined to go the extra mile if I answer the phone and she’s asking for a favour. I never saw it happen, but rumour has it if she was considering whether to bail or remand a prisoner in custody, and it wasn’t a clear cut decision, she’d ask if they knew who A.A. Milne was, and the right answer could tip the balance.

Shane came back to the force area recently after a long period living somewhere else, and settled back into his old tricks again. He runs slower now, so gets caught more often, but doesn’t know how to do anything else.

Ever since this incident, and another close shave, I’ve learnt to watch everyone like hawks, not just the ones you think need it.