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.

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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.

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.

Monkey Business

One of our cars was asked to account for why they hadn’t got to a job they’d been sent to nearly two hours before. A reasonable question that I ask regularly, but the answer was one of the most surreal ones I’ve ever heard. 

In short, the two officers had been sent to the job this quiet Sunday morning, and were on the way, when they saw two young lads pulling a green wheely bin along the pavement. Gardening not normally being an activity associated with 14 year old boys, they stopped for a word, and enquired as to what was inside the bin. The lads were reluctant to say, but lifting the lid revealed a brightly painted statue of a monkey, that only just fit inside the bin, and the monkey was eating a banana. Kitsch in the extreme.

The issue of where it had come from arose, and they hotly denied having stolen it from anyone, and the one says to the officer ‘We didn’t steal it, we found it, I can show you where to prove it. There’s a gun there as well!’  

Dubious, but going with it, they make the two lads load the monkey into the car and go and have a look. Sure enough, in the garden of the void house the monkey came from, they show the officers a firearm, hidden behind some woodwork in the garden. It turns out to be real, a WWII relic but still perfectly serviceable, so that’s recovered for forensics too. 

Then to top it off, one of the lads reveals that he cut himself whilst loading the monkey into the car, and bursts into floods of tears. As the house was unoccupied, there’s no actual victim for theft of monkey, so they are driven home and told we’ll come round and take it further if anyone comes forward later on. 

I’ve heard some genuine but mundane reasons why people haven’t got somewhere on time, some interesting ones and some that were pathetic, but this takes the biscuit. Or rather, the banana…

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.

A day in the life…

Force total of outstanding response jobs – 1450

Number of officers – 10% below minimum staffing. On a busy Saturday evening.

Isolated incidents amongst the fog of more routine work:

Bloke walking down the road with what looks remarkably like a samurai sword slung over his back. As no ARV is immediately available, a response car drives up to him for a chat, on the grounds if its genuine, he’s unlikely to be able to slice through the roof of a Vauxhall Insignia before they drive off, turn round and prepare to run him over if he doesn’t put it down.

We watch on CCTV as they speak, there’s a few laughs and he hands it to an officer, who takes hold of the ‘scabbard’ and slides it up to reveal it is in fact an umbrella. Amusing though it is to watch the officers Mary Poppins impression, he could have been approached by armed police. Recently some idiot at a gaming convention at the NEC near Birmingham walked from his hotel to the NEC, through Birmingham Airport. In full black combat gear and an imitation rifle over his shoulder. In the current environment, he was lucky not to be shot – a panicked move towards his pocket to produce his ID could have been mistaken for something else. Umbrella man carries on with smiles and a handshake, lucky boy.

Caller rings as there’s a pile of cigarette butts in their garden that wasn’t there the day before.  What’s worse is the call taker originally puts an appointment in for an officer to go see them, instead of tactfully explaining that littering into someone’s garden / civil trespass is not a police matter. It’s not even so low down the priority list as to be unreachable, it just shouldn’t be on the list in the first place.

If you think that’s bad, Avon & Somerset once had a call about one neighbour complaining about the neighbour above hims hanging baskets dripping water onto the path after they had been watered, which he claimed was ASB. And they wonder why we don’t have enough officers to get to 999 calls when we’re wading through trivia like this.

Revisiting this a few days after the Manchester bombing to polish it a little prior to posting, with a lot of hard work and another round of ruthless decisions about garden related trivial we weren’t going to entertain, the total outstanding job count was pushed below the 1,200 barrier. Two days after the bombing as I went onto a little mini-break in London chez wife, it was at 1570 and rising, I’m pondering which side of 2,000 it’ll be when I go back next week. Back to square one…

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.