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.


Groundhog Day

Every day I attend a meeting shortly after the start of each shift, where the duty superintendent liaises with various department reps via internal Skype. The format is the same – recent serious incidents, high risk missing people, current threat to life jobs, then the staff / workload position (my bit) and so on. It can tactfully be described as 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. As most people do in most meetings, I try not to let my eyes glaze over during the bits that don’t apply to me, and summarise my bit as quickly as possible so others eyes don’t start to do the same. 

 The meeting inevitably ends with the Supt’s summary, the mission statement for the day, if you like, which is always ‘Our priorities are gun crime and demand’ (i.e. the constant flow of incoming 999 and 101 calls). So much so, I can recite each meeting virtually word for word, the way cinema buffs can for their favourite film. And the film is Groundhog Day. 

 Earlier this year, our live jobs total was around the 1,200 mark. For as yet unknown reasons, given that we have essentially the same population as last year, over Summer the total climbed to 2,500. Twice the workload. Twice as many people requiring some form of contact with the same number of police. With a hint of panic in the air, training courses were cancelled. Overtime was thrown around like confetti at a particularly extravagant wedding – on one day last month, we spent £70,000 in overtime in ONE DAY, to try and get the total down. 

Beat officers stopped walking the beat, detectives stopped detecting jobs handed them by other people and started picking up routine jobs, so did the child abuse and adult abuse specialists. All hands to the pumps, you might say. Stubbornly hammering away at the list, it gets slowly battered down to 1,600 jobs over the course of Summer, at the cost of a great many other things, and plans were made to gradually start tapering down the extra support.

 Then the London Tube bomb happened, a combination of the twitchiness after that and a busy weekend, and we’re back up to 2,300 jobs again. Summers hard work undone in a weekend. We’re failing, as simple as that. No fault of the staff, they work non-stop 24/7, but if you’re in a queue to see the police, the queue is nearly twice as long as it was 6 months ago.

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.

It’s not how many police officers you’ve got…

…it’s how you use them that matters. Yeah, right. While the Queens Speech meanders its way through Parliament, we meander through another day.

The total of outstanding 999/101 calls to be dealt with is around 2100 (having been down to 1200 only a month ago), thanks largely to cheap alcohol, plus hot weather and stupidity, which are free. For this week, neighbourhood policing basically stops and it’s all hands to the pumps to bring the workload down. Not out of concern for the response staff, (someone will always find us something to do whether it’s 999 calls or getting cats out of trees – true story), but the longer apparently inane calls go unseen, the longer the occasional one that’s actually really nasty goes unseen too. As mentioned previously, I’ve been to rapes and murders that came in as ‘we’ve had a bit of a row’ and minor verbal arguments over a garden fence called in as ‘The neighbour is killing my husband’, and I’m pretty sure every cop around the world has had similar. Until you’re actually there, you just don’t know for sure. 

As the Prime Minister said, “It’s not the number of MP’s you’ve got that matters, it’s how you use them that counts”. Oops, I meant to say officers, not MP’s. Silly me. Apparently if you’re in government and some of your MP’s are taken away by the electorate, you get to negotiate the issue to get new ones, even if they are someone else’s. if it happens to public services, not so much.

Looking at the Queens Speech, the draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill illustrates the point perfectly. It will be welcome, but like any legislation, it’s futile unless the staff are there to enforce it. After having the obvious pointed out to them, again, by Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley of the Met police recently, that moving staff to counter-terrorist functions moves them away from other areas of work, such as domestic abuse, child abuse and so on, the Home Office response can be summarised as 1) Overall police funding will be protected in real terms and 2) Counter-terrorism funding will increase by 30% over the next five years. 

So where’s this 30% increase coming from? If your salary doesn’t rise but your mortgage does, a small child can work out that you’ll have to cut back somewhere else. So whatever good work is required by the Domestic Violence bill will simply enter a queue, that will just get longer and longer. As you’re far far more likely to die at the hands of a violent ex-partner or a drunk driver than a terrorist, I’d question the logic of such a disparity in funding. 

Governments and propsective governments love trumpeting new legislation, but we don’t need new laws, we need the resources to enforce the existing ones. It’s quite simple, but from a government where the Home Secretary doesn’t even know the starting salary of police officers, a figure set by the very Winsor report that they commissioned, I’m not holding out much hope. 

Our queue of jobs has gone up 60% in the last 2 months, even with drafting in almost all beat officers for the forseeable future, the staff level has not. Notable jobs in the last few days are a teenage boy drowning whilst swimming in a local lake, a tragic sign of the weather. One idiot with a firearm chases another idiot (presumably without a firearm) through a school grounds, taking potshots at him, thankfully hitting no-one but terrifying children in the process. A call about a possible helicopter crash thankfully turns out to be a false alarm. We plan for a far-right protest march at the weekend, taking a number of officers away from attending 999 calls for the day. Football season is thankfully over for a couple of months, otherwise we’d be planning for regular weekend matches on top of marches. 

To add to the fun today, one of the radio servers fails due to the heat. Our radio and telephone traffic is handled over three redundant servers, each sited in a different building, and one of those starts dropping out radio traffic and telephone calls. So we’re proof against hacking, car bomb attacks and the like, but not the sun. Hmm. There was a news article on the BBC a couple of days ago, about certain airline flights in the USA that were cancelled due to the heat. 

Without going into the tedium of fluid dynamics too much, air changes its behaviour as it gets hotter, both as it flows over the wings and goes through the engine, and above certain temperatures, some models of plane cannot safely be flown. Which begs the question of why our computer servers aren’t tested through a proper temperature range, and fitted with adequate cooling systems. Imagine having something like July 7th or any of the more recent attacks happen, and 1/3 of your radio coverage being taken away at the same time, it doesn’t bear thinking about. 

On the plus side, due to a sudden resupply of plastic forks (thanks mum!), I am no longer reduced to eating my dinner with teaspoons. So it’s not all bad.

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.

Parliament attack

Today’s attack in London need not be described in detail here, I’m not a journalist and I don’t pretend to be. Two members of the public and one police officer dead so far. I’m not religious, so I’m hoping rather than praying it stops there, casualty-wise.

As of 6pm, one attacker is dead and it doesn’t appear there were any more. I’d hoped he survived, not out of concern for him, but because most of these idiots are too full of their own self-importance to keep their mouths shut in interview, and the more they say, the better, as they usually implicate others. Seeing as he obviously hoped to die in the attack, I’d rather he’d spent the rest of his life, forgotten and decaying in a maximum security prison, staying still while the rest of the world moves on, but not today.

A sad way to find out, but extra armed officers were on scene much much quicker than in the killing of Lee Rigby, so it would seem the Met’s plans since then for such attacks work well.