Burning questions

Morning log count – 2550

One fringe benefit, if I can call it that, of terrorism is an increase in armed response vehicles, such that they are usually much more readily available for non-terrorism incidents. Although as detailed before, they have a wide variety of lethal toys on board, an ideal scenario is one where they finish the day with the same number of bullets as they started. 

So meet Bob. Bob split up with his wife and moved out, and retained access to their child, Bob junior. One day, bringing Bob junior back to his mum, Bob lost the plot completely about his forthcoming divorce, and the soon-to-be ex-wife rang hysterically as he had locked himself and Bob junior in the car on her drive, after pouring petrol over the car, and was now sat in the front with a lighter, Bob junior strapped in his car seat in the front, and the petrol can on the back seat. 

An armed response car is sent along with everyone else, including the Fire Brigade, and having heard the job over the radio, request authority from the inspector to take a critical shot when they get there, i.e. shoot Bob through the head with a rifle before he starts trying to light the lighter. The boss considers it, but declines at this stage based on the grounds that : 

*The petrol sloshed around was on the outside of the car, not the inside, and will be difficult to ignite from inside the car.

*Bob has had several minutes to try and light up should that really be his intention, and has not done so. 

*Petrol burning on the outside of a car will not be immediately dangerous to the occupants. 

*Fire Brigade are on scene and in a position to drench the car in foam in a couple of seconds, should Bob be so silly. 

An officer, armed or otherwise, can always use lethal force despite lack of such authority, if such a situation changes and there isn’t time to discuss the changes with anyone, largely common sense, but also national police policy, thank God, but there turns out to be no need. Although a negotiator is called, Bob is talked out of the car fairly shortly and arrested. Good luck trying to get access to your child through the courts once you get out of prison. 

Anyway,  as always, there is a debrief after an incident where we’ve come close to shooting someone. Questions raised : 

If the petrol had been sloshed around INSIDE the car, would they have been given the authority? Yes. A bullet passing through glass is very unlikely to cause a spark. It will, however, then pass through  Bobs skull, and cause him to stop doing what he’s doing. 

Would a bullet have been deflected by the glass enough to endanger Bob junior? Almost impossible. A bullet going at 2,500 feet a second will not be deflected much in the 1 or 2 foot gap between the window and Bobs head. 

Once the bullet had passed through Bob, would it have caused harm anywhere else? Very unlikely, we use hollow-point bullets which fragment on impact for that exact reason. He was parked near to a wall which would have stopped any fragments going further. 

Unpleasant questions to ask, but necessary. Some of the questions asked have to be answered at the scene in a few seconds, some after the event, we have all day, but we would prefer to learn from success as well as failure.


Finders Keepers, Finders weepers, AKA Buffoon of the week VII

This buffoon of the week winner was dealt with by a friend of mine, not me, so is a third party winner, but worthy of note nontheless.

Bob was stupid and a small time burglar, who was happier burgling abandoned houses as there was less chance of being disturbed or bothered with. He would steal copper piping and other metalwork from boilers in abandoned or neglected houses and sell it to scrap yards, for pennies. He must have been paying himself well under the national minimum wage given how much time the whole process would take, no holiday pay or sick pay either, it would have been better to get a job stacking shelves in Tescos, but that was his problem, not mine.

One day, Bob hit the jackpot. He was burgling an abandoned house, when hidden in the kitchen, he found £70,000 in cash! Happy days. Drug money, concealed in a house by someone unwilling to keep it at home, and not concealed very well. Bob has just collected more money in a five minute expedition than he will possibly ever earn in a lifetime of burgling empty houses. The sensible thing to do, bearing in mind it must have crossed his feeble brain what sort of person has £70,000 in cash and a need to hide it, would have been to keep very very quiet indeed about it. Bob cannot have been unaware of drug gang activity in the area, even if he wasn’t involved in it except as a customer.

So silence would have been golden. What was NOT golden was going on Facebook and bragging about having found said sum of money. Although keeping it instead of handing it in is illegal, the police were the least of Bob’s problems from here on in. Bob received a death threat fairly quickly, giving him a day to make arrangements to hand the money back, or else. Unfortunately for Bob, he spoke to the police and spilled the beans, who came, promptly confiscated the money, then served an Osman warning on him and his family.

For the uninitiated, an Osman warning arose out of the case of Osman v United Kingdom [1998] , in a nutshell the police had information that the victims life was under threat, from an obsessive teacher at his sons school. They didn’t take effective measures to protect the families lifes, the teacher ended up killing two people and wounding two more, and out of this arose the Osman warning – If the police have information suggesting your life is at risk, but not enough evidence to arrest someone yet, they have a legal duty to come and tell you that information suggests there is a risk, and to take appropriate precautions. This normally means moving house in a hurry, and if you choose to ignore the advice and something bad happens to you, then they aren’t liable.

Frequently they are served on gang members because of threats from rival gangs, in which case it would be tempting to stand back and let natural selection sort out the problem and then arrest the survivors, but the law is there to protect everyone, even those who break it. But I digress.

Bob now knew who he had taken the money from, and suddenly unable to give it back, needed no encouragement for him and his family to move house. My friend, who relayed the tale to me, took a statement about the threats while the family were packing their life into a removals van and moving to Scotland. To be specific, he persuaded them to leave the washing machine in the hallway until last, and he used it as a desk, quizzing them for details as they passed him at speed whilst loading the removals van and writing them up in the periods they were out of speaking range. He finished the statement just as they came for the washing machine, practically threw it onto the van in their haste, and were the far side of Hadrians Wall several hours later, never to return.

For his sheer ability to snatch disaster from the jaws of good fortune, Bob certainly deserves his buffoon of the week award.

Crystal balls…

No surprises, the Monday morning inquest / hindsight brigade are out in force in the papers today. Why was this allowed to happen? One of the London Bridge attackers was known to the police and the security services!

Along with about 20,000 other people.

His ‘footprint’ on the system was minimal. He associated with Anjem Choudary, along with thousands of other people over the last fifteen years or so. He ended up featured in a documentary recently about extremism, although I haven’t watched it, I’m pretty sure he didn’t break the law on screen – the dire ‘Benefits Street’ program resulted in prosecutions when this happened, and I’m pretty sure if they’ll do it for benefit fraud they’ll do it for terrorism.

There have been plenty of people who have done more to be of interest to the security services than him – as evidenced here, for example, nearly 300 arrests in 2015-2016, of which 100 resulted in prosecution. So he simply wasn’t towards the head of the queue. Bar a crystal ball, I invite any of the armchair critics to say how they would have done better, without infinite resources.

It appears to have escaped the notice of those who write for the Sun and the Daily Mail that associating with someone of interest or ranting and raving on TV isn’t actually evidence of criminality in itself. The moment we decide to lower the standard of proof, we simply make the problem worse – detention without trial based on suspicion only was tried in Northern Ireland in the 70’s. It was called Internment, and it did more for IRA recruitment than anything they could ever do.

I can only conclude that they’re writing this ‘Why?’ drivel because it sells papers, rather than because they’re genuinely stupid enough to not know the answer. The police and security services have been saying for years that it’s impossible to watch everyone, and it’s not a difficult concept to get your head round.

Big boys games, big boys rules…

It’s difficult to decide who should have less sympathy here, but on balance, I’m going to go with the family. Complaining about the police ‘executing’ your son when he had a silenced pistol and ammunition in his possession is just too ironic for words.

Not that I’m excusing it, but most armed criminals don’t actually want to pull the trigger. Not on moral grounds, they just want to rob whoever it is successfully with the minimum of fuss. The mere presence of a firearm is normally all that’s needed. The days of baddies not loading their guns before a robbery so there’d be no ‘accidents’ that put them on the wrong end of a rope are gone, as, thankfully, is the rope, but the principle is the same.

But having a silencer on a gun is a pain. They’re expensive, more difficult to get hold of, they make the weapon more bulky, difficult to operate and less powerful, all those payoffs are only worth it if you actually intend to shoot someone.  The resistance once assassinated a Nazi collaborator in hospital in Copenhagen in 1944, a single assassin dressed as a doctor walked into a ward full of patients with a silenced pistol called a Welrod concealed, walked up to their bed as if doing a checkup and shot them in the head without anyone noticing. But they’re a big bulky thing, you wouldn’t take it out if you just wanted to scare someone, and the same applies today.

So on balance, tough. As the saying goes, play stupid games, win stupid prizes. The surviving occupants of the car aren’t saying much to the IPCC, which is slowing things down, probably because they might end up facing charges of supplying class A drugs, possessing firearms or conspiracy to murder even, but that’s hardly the IPCC’s fault.

Sympathy meter reading? Zero.

On a lighter note, forks found at work today? Also zero. Today’s lunch was reheated Risotto. Eaten with a teaspoon.

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. 

Figure it out

Part of my job involves moving cars from one area to another when required, to iron out spikes in demand. Nothing revolutionary in that, you might think, except it seems not many forces have actually thought of it. A temporary fix is better than no fix, to be sure, but more staff is the only thing that will make a difference long term to workload. The more you move staff, the more time they spend travelling and the less time they spend actually doing. ‘More staff’ is the recurring theme when our senior management ask what we need to do the job better.

We have a major recruitment drive on for more civilian control room staff, our last intake had forty people successfully pass the interview stage. However…twenty of those then failed a drug screening test. Goodbye. Of the twenty that were left, ten subsequently decided the job wasn’t for them fairly early on. Fair enough, better to accept that than carry on, but the ten survivors disappear into the staff pot like a drop in the ocean. It’s still virtually impossible to book leave when you want it, which doesn’t improve morale and encourages people to leave.

So the job is also dragging officers off the streets into control rooms. They can do that without notice, part of the joys of being a PC not a civilian is there’s no set contract, you do what the job tells you to do, even if it changes from day to day. But due to the lack of civilians, we’re taking PC’s off the streets to fill gaps. The fact that some of them are even volunteering speaks volumes about how run ragged they are on response, controlling has never been a popular job, until now. But it’s directly opposite to the ‘get rid of back office jobs, bobbies back on the beat’ mantra that the tabloid press like to trot out without really understanding. Yawn.

The response teams on lates and nights are lucky if we achieve minimum staffing 3 shifts a month, and we’re having to cut them back more to fill gaps elsewhere. Meanwhile, the number of domestic violence incidents we don’t see for two or three days after they make the call climbs slowly, which is a disgrace.

So, I’m reluctant to move cars about unless essential. Passing the time between decisions or requests for help, I watch a monitor on the wall, downlinking live police helicopter footage. I have the joys of watching a hard-stop on a car involved in a shooting. Although it’s a little blurry and white as we’re watching via the thermal camera, it’s still fun watching a car full of wannabe gangsters get rapidly blocked in, seeing numerous rifles pointed at the car, then watch the occupants get dragged out and flung to the tarmac one after the other. Pretty soon they’e all doing the pavement starfish – face down and spreadeagled on the floor with an armed officer pointing a rifle at your back and suggesting that you moving would be a really bad idea. If you’re watching in the daytime, there’s good odds that when you stand them up once they’re cuffed and searched, you’ll be able to see on the video downlink that at least one of them has wet themselves in terror, but the night time thermal camera isn’t quite that good.

Once searched they will be cuffed and taken into custody, but until then, it’s the starfish. The pavement is cold, wet and probably hurt a bit on the way down, but hey, big boys games, big boys rules. Quite why Mark Duggan thought his last idea was going to work well for him, I will never know. Thousands of hard stops take place every year, the number that end with shots fired can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. These idiots have figured it out, so it ends calmly.

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.