A day in the life of Bravo Mike 1

Callsign Bravo Mike one is a randomly chosen response car. Double crewed, both officers male and both have around 8 years service, which is more than average for response policing. Neither one is Taser equipped.

Job one, a family ring about their brother, who was arrested for breach of the peace last night. He was released this morning when he calmed down and came home this morning. He changed clothes, collected his wallet and phone and left, repeatedly saying sorry to his family. He left, saying he felt the same as yesterday and he didn’t want to be here any more and was going to book into a hotel. His marriage was breaking down, and as he self harmed yesterday, family reported him missing this morning when he left, fearing he was suicidal.

He had no car, as he’s been previously locked up for supplying controlled drugs, we have a description and photograph of him saved, and his photo is quickly emailed out to the officers looking for him. Several cars go, he is quickly located at a local hotel. Spoken to, he is not suicidal, just trying to make a clean break and move on, which right now involves a large cooked breakfast and then a few hours sleep. We leave him with it.

Job two, a tenant at the local YMCA starts kicking off at the staff, for no apparent reason. Suspecting he’s either drunk or on drugs, they lock themselves in the office while he merrily tries to smash his way round the lobby. They have his details, and a PNC check shows he has markers for violence, mental health issues namely depression for at least the last 4 years and alcoholism. We attend and speak to him, as he’s now in a calmer frame of mind.

Like a number of forces, we run a triage car system, a car with one PC, a paramedic and a qualified mental health nurse on board, the combination of medical knowledge, access to mental health information systems and legal powers on board can get people assessed and into mental health care much more speedily than before. Our man has no recent history with the mental health services, however, so there’s nothing they can add. As he’s calmed down, staff don’t want to kick him out, so on the understanding he stays calm, he’s allowed to remain. The same location had a heroin overdose death yesterday, so compared to that, todays visit ends well for everyone.
Job three, we’re contacted by an outside force, who have a victim reporting rape in a hotel in our force area. The nature of hotel rooms being cleaned every day dictates we preserve it as soon as possible, so the car blue lights there, only to find out the room number they were given was not used last night. The outside force is still speaking to the victim, as there were no guests last night who match the description of the suspect staff are aware of, we clear until some tactful questioning of the victim clarifies if we’ve been given the wrong room number or wrong hotel. Meanwhile, the correct room somewhere has probably already been vaccuumed, surfaces wiped and sheets changed, so goodbye to the forensic evidence.

Job four, a suicidal woman rings the police claiming to have taken an overdose, shouting and screaming at the operators. The address she gives doesn’t exist, so we’re struggling to find her, as are the ambulance service. We eventually find her after a third call, along with several boxes of tablets, and hand her over to the ambulance service.

Job five, caller rings as her neighbour has reversed into someone accidentally, and the other driver got out with a baseball bat and assaulted him. Like you do. By the time we get there a few minutes later, it’s over and he’s not badly hurt. The offending driver has left the scene, and the victim has to take his kids to a tuition class, so can’t stop too long. An appointment is arranged to see him tomorrow.

Hometime!

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999’s

A random sample of 999 calls today.

The AA ring, attending a vehicle broken down on the motorway. As the AA are already sending a vehicle which is far more visible than our, no-one gains anything from us coming out, so we politely decline to attend.

The ambulance service ring as one of their crews has gone past some traffic lights which are out. Nothing to do with us, one phone call to the council to come and fix them and we move on. If there were a dozen calls about it, then maybe the congestion would justify us attending and trying to direct traffic until they are fixed, but based on one call only? Nope.

A crazy man doing cartwheels in the road. Not normal behaviour, especially when you’re naked. In the middle of winter. Although he’s clearly got mental health problems, you can’t expect medical staff to try sectioning him in the middle of the road, so we detain him under Sn 136 of the Mental Health act and take him to a secure hospital. Under a blanket.

A rather angry male rings complaining about the guy down the road from him, who’s dealing cannabis from his works van in the local pub car park, then driving home after a skinful. He’s angry because he’s rung us about it a few times before, so he says, and nothing has happened. he’s right, he has rung us before, so in calming him down on the phone and getting further details, I take the opportunity to tell him just how many open jobs we have at that point, and how many response cars there are to deal with it.

And moving on to the easily avoidable and therefore frustrating calls…

A rather stupid taxi driver who’s complaining as the prostitute he’s been seeing has taken intimate photos of them together and is now blackmailing him with them. Apparently, he thought it was romantic when she took them, although I fail to see what’s romantic about the back seat of an old Ford Mondeo. There’s not a lot we can do, as he won’t identify her, all we can do is suggest he make a discreet visit to an STD clinic, and stop seeing her. This sort of thing often happens from apparently random facebook friend requests, leading quickly to intimate video conversations and then demands for money, people have been known to commit suicide as a result. He doesn’t seem that bothered, so neither are we.

A depressingly large amount of front-line police work involves doing the thinking for people who are just incapable of doing it for themselves, and he is no exception.

In the cold snap, there’s also the usual swathe of idiots leaving their car running unattended outside to defrost while they stay in the house nice and warm. Only when someone gets in your car and drives off, it’s not quite so convenient. Even less convenient when the insurance company rightly refuse to pay out.

If you wait longer than you’d like for the police, you are probably waiting in the queue behind people like these.

Triage

Another night on control, and it seems to be a night of changing priorities. A frequent complaint is ‘We called you about <insert serious offence here>, they got away before you got there, then we had to wait for ages’.

No-one enjoys making people wait to be seen, but current risk is usually more of an urgent concern than the offence itself. Pissed off though you may be at having to wait for hours, if the risk is over and the delay doesn't cause you further risk, then it's sometimes just tough luck. So...a sample of things that slipped down the running order, 6 jobs that landed within a couple of minutes of each other, with no cars then available. 

A mobile phone robbery. Graded as immediate as it should be, but the offenders are long gone. We catch personal robbery offenders either because we get a description, swamp the area with officers and catch them running off, or they're morons and they rob people they know. We have neither advantage here, so the victim is told to go home where they'll be safe, and we'll see them as soon as we can. He's probably still fuming about it, but he was safe and no worse off.

A domestic violence offender is seen near his ex's house. He's not right outside, not trying to force the door open or vandalise her car, and she can't see him any more. Although he needs locking up for the original assault, he's not a current immediate risk, so it's deferred for a visit in the morning, with the proviso that she's to ring 999 again should he return.

Theft from a car. In a similar fashion to robberies, we only catch people for this if we catch them running away, and with no staff free and no personal risk involved, it waits. If they don't leave any blood on the broken car window, there's no point sending for scenes of crime, fingerprints are recovered in only around 2% of car breaks. Recorded as a crime over the phone, sending a bobby in person to say 'Yep, there's definitely a broken window and no stereo' and then record it takes longer and is no more effective. So no visit.

Suicidal male rang the 999's. As he'd taken an overdose, rather than using sharp objects, and we have no previous history of violence from the address, we left that with the ambulance service, as it's purely a medical issue.

Previously violent shoplifter, who returns to the same shop. Although he needs locking up still, and is committing another offence on this occasion, he's not being violent this time. It waits.

Suicidal woman, self harming with razor blades. That is down to us, so it's next in the queue. Hopefully she won't inflict fatal injuries before we get there, as the ambulance service won't go without us.

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.

The 1%

A list of the most recent ten jobs in force: 

1. Domestic abuse. Caller reports his mother is being verbally abused and threatened by estranged husband, who wants money for prostitutes. There is already a restraining order against him, and he’s stated that the prostitutes ‘manager’ has threatened to harm his estranged family unless he pays up. 

2. Elderly male, reporting £300 stolen from his address overnight, he found the door open this morning and the money gone and his chequebook missing also. There’s a hint of alzheimers about it, as there’s no damage to his door, but no previous history to the address to support this or to rule it out. 

3. Caller reporting someone going through black bin bags, concerned about ID fraud. 

4. Silent 999 call, no reply on callback. 

5. A repeat shoplifter violently resisting staff who are detaining him. 

6. Male with apparent mental health issues being very angry in the middle of the road, throwing bins around, and last seen heading into an off-licence. 

7. Caller at a petrol station reporting a bilking (drive off without paying) last night, £112 worth of diesel fuel taken, and the registration plate given says the car is a Nissan Micra. I used to own one, there is NO WAY you can get that much fuel into a Micra unless you’re pouring it in the boot. Either the registration taken is wrong, or it was a false plate. 

8. Contact from a triage car – several forces are trialling these, it’s a vehicle jointly crewed by a police officer, a paramedic and a qualified mental health nurse, streamlining the process of getting mental health patients into care. They contact ambulance service over a patient and log it, he is taken straight to a hospital for his own safety, and doesn’t have to come through a custody suite first. 

9. Front window to a Pizza takeaway smashed in by a large rock, which is still at the scene, making the premises vulnerable to being burgled. 

10. Semi-abandoned 999 call from a hairdressers, the number has previously been used to report a domestic assault, as the female caller this time sound confused and distressed and can’t really tell us what is going on, it is initially treated as a domestic assault this time. 

The next ten are similar. A fairly typical random survey of response work. We have over 2,000 such calls in the system at present, so that’s less than 1% of the total, and around 160 officers on each incoming shift to deal with it all. All this against a backdrop of massively increased workload after last weeks failed bomb attempt on the underground, plenty of officers are taken off normal duties to patrol (i.e. stand around visibly) nearby certain public locations to reassure people. All response officers are moving onto 12 hour shifts for at least a week. 

More routine work will inevitably have to wait longer, and the overtime bill will go through the roof. Thanks to last weeks payrise, the money we as a force have to spend on overtime has just gone down. As an individual, I’m glad to get a 2% payrise this year, not the usual 1% and there’s no point in saying otherwise. But as a taxpayer, knowing that government imposed the payrise on forces but didn’t give them any extra money for that payrise, means I know the money has to be cut from somewhere else. As around 2/3 of force budgets are on wages, which have gone up by 1% in real terms, this means a roughly 2% cut in everything else our money is spent on to balance the books. So cars will take longer to get fixed, uniform will take longer to arrive, when computers break, they will take longer to get fixed. Maybe less officers will be recruited in future.

So the 1% isn’t really an improvement from your point of view.

La la, la la la la, la la la la la!

smurfTaking the train to work for a little bit as my car’s off the road, I was not best pleased to get half-way in one day and realise I’d neglected to pack a work-shirt in my bag. Especially as I was wearing a Smurfs t-shirt for the journey to work, that won’t be appreciated in the afternoon strategy meeting. Thankfully I manage to find a spare fleece hung up somewhere and conceal said Smurf.

Last week, I had to help the conductor throw an angry woman off the train for shouting abuse at random passengers because the compartment didn’t have fitted TV screens. Like you do. We get free rail travel in this force area as long as the journey is to, from or during work, on the understanding that you get involved in something like this if you have to, this was the first time for me in 20 years, so I haven’t done bad.

I mention the Smurf episode as talking to the duty Chief Inspector yesterday about why so many of his staff were on restricted duties, normally due to injury/pregnancy etc, one of them is restricted purely because he’s transferred from another force, and he hasn’t been supplied with uniform yet. It’s strange how I can find spare uniform when required, but the force who’s supposed to supply it to me can’t. I’ve got new trousers on order, and I’ve been waiting 2 months so far for them to arrive.

Incidentally, ‘Smurfing’ is a phrase used in financial crime. If you’re a drug dealer, and you have lots and lots of paper money to bank, you can’t just turn up at the bank and drop 5 carrier bags of £20 notes on the counter and not expect to get remarked upon. There are limits above which any financial transaction has to be reported to the authorities in one form or another, to try and identify suspicious transactions.

Let’s say the limit is £10,000. You employ lots of minions to take £9,900 each and go transfer it by Western Union, bank and then eBay, bank it etc, to go just below the trigger level for reporting. As this can involve lots of little people running around like lunatics to get a job done as efficiently as possible, it became known as Smurfing. Perhaps we should employ some of them to run the stores?

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.