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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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.

I thought I’d herd it all before…

Moped or motorbike based crime is big news at the moment, and we are no exception. Most nights we get to watch on the helicopter video downlink as a pursuit pans out of one of the dregs of society on a bike after they’ve committed a robbery or a burglary, and more often than not, they get away. 

Tonight, though, Bob lucked out. He made off from a burglary on his scrambler bike, thinking life will be easy from here on in, but was distressed to be chased by a police motorcyclist, who can follow places where a response car cannot. Bob struggles to get far from the police rider, who is a much better biker on a much more powerful machine, and eventually ditches his bike and runs off across a field, probably reasoning (correctly) that at 20 odd years old and in jeans, he can probably outrun a 40 something year old bloke in bike leathers and carrying a stab vest and a belt full of clobber.

We watch on thermal camera black-and-white-o’vision as he runs across the field, stumbling and slowing down as he goes, eventually dropping to a walk. Soon he starts waving his arms around. At first, it seemed as if he was gesturing at the helicopter, but then the camera zoomed out and it was apparent there were cows in the field, and he wanted them out of the way. They moved, and he made progress. 

Then the camera zoomed out another level, and it became apparent there were a LOT of cows in the field. The herd formed up behind him, and started moving towards him. He looked back, and started to pick up speed, unfortunately so did they, and he had to make a run for it. Amusing though it was to watch, if they’d fatally trampled him it would have to be investigated as a death in police contact.

He makes it to the fence finally, vaults it with an agility he probably never knew he had. After gathering his breath he shuffles off, straight into the waiting arms of two bobbies. Compared to being used as a doormat by 100+ cows, being banged up is fairly tame. Anyway, off to jail for you. He might have been a ‘Natural Selection’ winner, but not today.

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.

Buffoon of the week VI

There hasn’t been a buffoon of the week for a while, I’ve not seen anyone who I think really qualifies.

Until now.

Young Saddam Miah, drain on society that he so clearly is with 25 convictions on his CV, was lucky to get a suspended sentence for supplying class A drugs. In places like Thailand or Iran, he’d be hanging from a crane before long, and in the USA, he’d be in for so long, he’d forget what the sun looked like.

But here, he gets away with a suspended sentence. While it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and rant about the judiciary going soft, I obviously haven’t read the judges summing up or any pre-sentence reports, so I’ll refrain. But it’s fair to say he was happy with the outcome.

So happy, in fact, that he went out, got blind drunk in a hotel to celebrate, then threw a vase round reception to get the staffs attention. When they objected to his behaviour, he went outside and smashed up someones car, for reasons best known to himself.

That being naughty, he went back to court, and was promptly sent to prison for celebrating NOT going to prison.

The irony made me smile, but I doubt it had the same effect on him.

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.