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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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.

Buffoon of the week IX

Bob met the future Mrs Bob, and they marry and have a couple of kids. Things go wrong, Bob attacks Mrs. Bob and bravely runs off before the police arrive. The assault is duly recorded.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Bob, as yet unarrested, has moved back in, and things are calmer somewhat. It was difficult to understand why anyone would let their spouse back in the house like this before I joined, but life is invariably less simple than it appears. Fear of further attacks if you refuse, financial needs, especially where children are involved, family pressures etc. Both experience at work and someone outside the job helped me understand why it sometimes happens. Thank you, you know who you are, and you made me a better police officer and a more patient person.

Anyway, the police ring Mrs Bob up to see how she is, unaware that he has moved back in. When she speaks to the call taker she is hesitant, a strong indication that there’s someone else there, telling her what to say.

Bob does not help his situation by saying “Tell them you want to drop the charges or I’ll batter you again”.

Loud enough to be heard by the call taker.

On a phone call that is naturally recorded.

As he’s a known offender in contact with a vulnerable victim and committing further offences, it’s put on as a high-priority job, and in the space of 20 minutes, Bob goes from his version of domestic bliss to being under arrest for both the original assault and witness intimidation, which will be frowned upon by the judge.

Bob has earnt his Buffoon of the Week award.

Well played.

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.

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. 

Care in the community

Tonights most random call ‘Come quick! There’s two Asian men in my back garden, setting up an anti-aircraft gun!’.

Not the wierdest I’ve ever heard or been to. That prize goes to the lady who rang to report her ex-partner had abducted their child and was going to take him out of the country. On speaking to her, in her rather dingy flat, it was a perfectly plausible tale of boy meets girl, boy moves in with girl, boy and girl have a child, then all of a sudden, boy moves out for no reason, then a short while later, boy takes child out for the day and plans to abduct child back to America.

Although I was mildly intrigued as to why you’d come all the way from the US of A to this particular tobacco-and-cheap-cider reeking ghetto hell hole, no actual alarm bells were ringing at this point. This was a while ago, I’m far more cynical now. Then I asked for her ex’s details, thinking we’d need them if he needed stopping at the airport etc etc.

Her reply? ‘It’s the Hollywood actor Brian Dennehy!’. And she was being sincere. Although he plays a good serial killer, he was just acting in a film – I don’t think he abducts people in real life.

The more I asked, the more it appeared that her grip on reality was tenuous, to put it mildly. But as long as there’s no harm in being mad, it’s not really a police matter. Referring people to the mental health services is what we mostly do. Not that we think they’re perfect, any more than they think we are, but that’s how it works.

Good old Sn 136 of the mental health act gives us the power to detain people for assessment if they are a) exhibiting signs of a serious mental disorder, b) that disorder appears to be putting either them or someone else at risk and c) they are in public. Only a) applied in this case, so I said we’d look into it, left sharpish and referred her.

But back to Asian men and anti-aircraft weaponry. I sent a crew out to this – it wasn’t long after September 11th, and we’re under the flight path for the nearest airport, so who knows? They get there soon, and it immediately becomes apparent the poor caller is riding the crazy train. There is no anti-aircraft weaponry there, no burn marks from the backblast of a shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile, and definitely no Asian men either.

His back garden is like a jungle, you’d need a strimmer to get more than 2 feet from his kitchen window, if they had been in his back garden, he’d never have seen them. Somewhere in the local mental health system, there is a syringe of haloperidol or something similar with his name on it.

This is not a criticism of the mental health services, merely a criticism of the system they have to operate and the resources they’re given to do it. If a family member of mine suffered a dangerous mental illness, I’d rather they were treated in hospital than in the community, as from what I’ve seen, the latter leaves too much to unmonitored chance. I’ve been to, or sent units to, too many incidents involving care in the community patients where either they or someone around them have come to harm.

A number of years ago, a colleague of mine was murdered by a psychiatric patient who was being monitored in the community. It’s the only time I’ve ever cried in this job, ringing my parents the moment I saw it on the news so they’d know it wasn’t me, then feeling guilty that I was able to. The offender was visited weekly by his CPN (community psychiatric nurse) and given his anti-psychotic drugs to take, when they searched his flat after his arrest, they found 6 months of the drug neatly stored in his bathroom cabinet alongside the aspirin and toothpaste.

Frequently a limiting factor on patients like him being hospitalised is bed availability. You have to have a bed available, the mental health team available to actually assess and section them, the police there in case it gets physical and an ambulance there to transport them to hospital. Four groups from four different agencies, getting them all in the same place at the same time is like herding cats.

Despicable Me…

The camera never lies…
But it sometimes shows the strangest of things. Like many control rooms around the country, we have access to a variety of CCTV cameras, some council provided, some provided by us. A useful piece of kit, for a variety of reasons.

We can view an incident and filter out and ignore the calls that are exaggerated or frankly complete fantasy. Accurate descriptions of offenders to improve on those provided by people who couldn’t describe their way out of a brown paper bag. Following an offender and identifying where they hid themselves or ditched stolen property, drugs, weapons etc. Rapidly identifying where a suicidal person on a motorway is. The list goes on. And on and on.

I don’t buy the civil liberties argument that they’re a needless intrusion into peoples lives. Invariably they cover public places, where there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy anyway. Inevitably the operators are far too busy to mindlessly watch people because they look fit or their car is nice. And even if there was an intrusion, it’s much less than that of getting robbed, raped or assaulted by a criminal whose chances of evading justice are higher because there’s no cameras in the area. There’s a reason the brighter element (still not very bright) in the criminal fraternity wear hoods and scarves over their faces – they don’t like CCTV, and anything criminals don’t like is good.

Rant over.

They also let you see things you rarely see in your everyday life, people who have no idea they’re on camera. To quote Richard Burton in War of the Worlds : “No-one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” Some of the ‘creatures’ do the strangest of things.

There’s been a run of wierdness on CCTV this week. Job one was a man with mental health problems arguing with passers-by and then officers, very agitated and bouncing round like Zebedee on crystal meth. And wearing a full length Minions outfit. I kid you not.

The officers had the patience of Job, listening calmly to delusional paranoid rantings from a 6 foot tall bright yellow cartoon character while waiting for an ambulance to come and transport him to a secure mental hospital. I hoped the cuffs would go round his big bright yellow wrists if necessary.

The poor man is believed to be homeless – his other belongings look as if they are gifts from a homeless charity. This begs the question of did he have the Minions costume through choice, or was that the only option from a clothes bank? In December, to be fair, if you’re homeless and it’s a choice between dressing as a Minion or walking round in your pants, then it’s yellow cartoon fun every time, but you won’t pass unnoticed. Anyway, the ambulance arrives eventually (strange though the patient is, he was no immediate risk, so not top of the queue), and he is taken off for treatment.

Job two was a strange man trying and failing to cross the road. Backpack on and his pants round his ankles, although he has trousers on under the pants, like some kind of dirty homeless Superman. He was clearly either drunk, on drugs, mentally ill or some combination of the three. He was constantly trying to reach down for something on the floor, but our concern was he was by the kerb and in serious danger of toppling over in front of traffic. A car gets sent for his safety, before they get there he manages to get down off the kerb into the road without falling, and starts obstructing traffic.

After a couple of near misses, we are pleased to see him walk back towards the kerb, trip on it and fall flat on his face on the pavement. A rough landing to be sure, but he landed in a safe place. Picks himself up and bizarrely is much more stable now, but he too is carted off in an ambulance.

Wierd job no 3 is a male threatening to jump off a multi-storey car park. CCTV picks him up sitting on the edge of the paraper, legs over the wrong side and hunched over, like some kind of suicidal garden gnome, minus the fishing rod. His details are gathered from the phone he used to ring us, and it transpires he too has a long mental health and suicidal history – he previously stepped off a building 60 feet up and survived somehow, but from the 8th floor of the local NCP today, he has no chance.

Officers get to him very quickly, and engage with him. A negotiator is called out, when I finished my shift he was just about to arrive, I didn’t look at work the day afterwards what happened, but there was nothing on the local news about him jumping, so it must have ended well. Although bobbies aren’t trained in how to talk to suicidal people, it’s amazing how well you can do by just talking and being non-judgemental. Most people consider suicide as they think no-one gives a shit about them, that’s why only 2 out of 5 suicides leave a note, the other 3 think no-one cares enough to read one.

The key thing in all these three jobs is that the CCTV was used for people’s benefit. While I felt slightly guilty at the amusement factor in the first two jobs, the people in question in all 3 jobs benefited from prompt attendance, which was made easier by CCTV.