Last night it dawned on me… and then I fell into utter confusion again. I joined the police to… wait for it, yes, ‘to help people’ and I have come to work for the past 27 years on continual shifts and on front line in order to do that, and there is nothing more exciting and satisfying than walking away, looking back and seeing the smile on a previously frightened face. But that seems to be disappearing and without me having noticed it.
Tanja swings the Astra patrol car into the driveway. “Ah great” she remarks, “The family are here. We can get on with this”. She’s careful how she opens the drivers door. She doesn’t want the family to see her hit their car parked next to her. That would not get them off on the right footing. Tanja’s crew mate Jo jumps out of his seat and is already on his way over to a woman in her mid 40’s who’s standing on the front door step. Her 18 year old daughter is looking bored next to her. It’s 9.30 on a cold boxing night, and the first thing Tanja notices is the nervousness on the mother’s face.
A statement I wrote of a relatively common event that caused me a little concern at the time and one that officers have to face every night somewhere in a village / town / city near you. We simply ask this is not treated as an occupational hazard. I have kept exactly as was the statement I read in court but have disguised the names of those involved.
“Where Si, where is he?” I repeated as I screamed the car into the dark car park. A man who’d been sent to prison for 10 years for a horrific assault with a knife on his wife was out again, and he had smashed a glass fish tank over her head this time. She was in a bad way and he was on the run with a 12″ kitchen knife. He’s been seen by CCTV entering the car park but it’s dark, very dark, and my headlights are scanning across the car park. Adrenalin surges through my veins as Si and I prepare ourselves. I mumble under my breath and Si turns his head towards me. “He’s going to fight mate” I said, “He has a lot to get away for.”
What is it which makes policing so different to other occupations? What makes that something which runs through your veins and sends excitement through every pore when it’s most unexpected. It’s the feeling of wondering into the dark on your own with just your wits and your uniform as your primary protection shield. It’s the fact that you are one tiny part of a huge support network that will come rushing to your aid when called for, and that support is something that not only you know, but they out there know.
Sitting at home contemplating life and the universe, and everything has suddenly come clear to me. I have solved the meaning of life and not a drop of alcohol has been drunk, only copious amounts of coffee from a new machine that kicks out caffeine drinks two to the dozen by means of hateful non recyclable plastic capsules. That’s a battle with my conscience I am going to have to tussle with later.
The theater is dark, the lights go down and they have little idea what they are in store for. 2000 students, of the age to start driving or just started driving. A few mobile phones are flickering whilst Snapchats are read, and whatsapps are contributed to… and then silence. The projection screen comes up with a short film where some teenagers get into a car and start driving. Statistically a lethal cocktail with inexperienced and confident young people. There’s an innocent distraction in the car and it ends up crashing. The scene shows the occupants unconscious with a little blood, but mainly steam from the engine and the music that had been playing in the car is now silenced. The darkness envelopes the car before a scream joins the atmospheric scene. You can feel the panic, and you can then see the blue lights of a police car approaching.
Storm is a 3 year old German Shepherd Police dog, who his owner Jim adores. They have spent those 3 hard years nurturing each other through 13 initial weeks hard training and numerous courses and training sessions since. They are always at each others side, can wholeheartedly trust each other, and will gladly put themselves in harms way to protect the other from evil. The bond, is unequivocal.
It’s a Saturday afternoon, and Jim is steering his Police Ford Focus Estate through the back streets towards the report of the burglary. It’s been called in by a neighbour and it sounds like a good one. A man in his late teens has been seen dropping down from a flat roof at the rear of a rather affluent looking detached house which backs on to some fields. He’s been seen running with a small clutch of items towards the hedge of the rear garden when the witness sensibly decides to give up the view in priority for phoning the police.
This is a true account…
I’m single crewed coming off the motorway at the end of a late shift. The radio operator says, “You are wanted on channel 181”
I flick across channels sitting at the main Junction 30 of the M5 Motorway and introduce myself to the new operator. “You are wanted at Exeter Custody. They have a situation there where they may need a taser”
I have a glock 9mm and a G36 semi automatic and a baton gun, all safely secured, but I also have Taser and Pepper spray. A little array of delights, each suited for a particular incident which may arise, constantly assessed and re assessed to ensure I choose the correct option in a split second of decision making. I blue light it to custody and press the intercom button. The door immediately opens which highlights their haste. Scanning the monitors the custody Sergeant points to one which has a pink glow to it. “Strange, didn’t know you had a chill out room?” I say.
“We don’t” he replied, “That’s blood. He’s poured water all over his cell floor and cut his wrists”.
I know the detained person. Very violent and suffering from an extreme mental health issue. This man had been holding a street ransome climbing on to roofs and throwing slate tiles like frisbees for 100’s of meters around. He is now lying completely naked in a foetal position against the wall with his back to the centre of the room.
“Slashed his wrists?” I ask? It is clear I am wondering who messed up with this one.
“He managed to smash his toilet and used the sharp edge of the bowl. That’s where all the water has come from. We are calling some public order officers in but it’s taking time.”
My other armed response unit is now with me. We all go down to the cell with a detention officer. “It’s hard to tell how bad his cut is with that water and blood, and he’s been still for too long for my liking. Guess there’s no time to wait!”
I nod to the detention officer and he cracks the door open. I move in immediately finding the floor extremely slippery. My taser packed safely away because of the water. I call out to him, but there’s no movement, and no answer. I move closer and see his pale body looking drained of blood. I hasten my step and touch his torso to feel the temperature. His head facing the wall still and still no response. I tug at his side and I feel a smack of something in my face and mouth, no time to react but step back and fall over, he’s span around and is fighting. I am grabbing at him to get a grip of him somehow but he’s like a wet fish at the bottom of the boat writhing about and he is too slippery, my only hope is to work him towards the door where my colleagues can help me control him. Now we have him outside in the dry corridor, we are constantly fearful of positional asphyxia where we know we will be up for manslaughter, so no weight on his chest or his back, but it is still impossible to control his slippery torso especially when you are thinking not only for the moment but for the inquest further down the road. He had huge strength and was tossing us about like rag dolls, and I was beginning to think we had lost this one.
“Taser, taser, taser” I hear, and we jump back. Simon fires the taser and our fighter is now arched and motionless. I view where the barbs are and realise I can get a cuff on, then the other is safely applied, and now all four of us are panting huge gasps of air.
I can taste the metallic taste of blood in my mouth. My mind goes back to my first encounter with him in the cell and realise he has hit me with a well aimed lump of phlegm. I spit on the ground but I know it’s too late. I feel disgusted, especially as I know this man has a lifestyle of drugs and poor health. Still that’s for another time. We don’t have spit hoods so we have to just ensure his head is turned the other way. An ambulance arrives, his wrists are not too bad. The water has made the blood look more than it actually is. We cover him with a blanket but he’s obviously not too shy and kicks it off. Simon gets in to the ambulance with him and later reports that he has been spat at full in the face again. They get to the hospital, and Simon has held the blanket between him and the suspects face. But as the doctor distracts Simon, he feels another blast of well aimed phlegm dripping down off his top lip over his mouth. It’s ridiculous.
That man is now dead. He died 18 months later from a drug over dose. I wondered for a while whether I was infected with a disease that would effect the rest of my life and the relationship with my wife and children. Simon did the same, until it happened again 3 months later.
It’s a no brainer to me and when people argue that it takes the dignity away from the suspect, then I say more than my dignity was taken that night. I say that we police are feeling like punching bags right now with little judicial, national media or political back up. I fear for the coming generation who have to do it all on much less money and prospects.
I propose, that without Mayor or other Political intervention, spit guards are tried for all Forces as indeed some have them already, especially in Scotland. The Met do not. Not to be placed on every detained person, no cop wants that, but many politicians and public have jumped to the conclusion we do, and that it is some black hood which disorientates the wearer like some Daesh prisoner. Nothing like this at all, they are in fact, a fine mesh which is perfectly breathable and is a hood / guard which is placed over the head to stop any ‘further’ spitting for those that have previously spat and put on those that threaten or are believed to spit again as in this case.
It’s simple, and it’s common sense.
A Beautiful Sunday morning in Devon. I’m single crewed with guns in the safe and some traffic and Armed units out and about. We are dual rolled in Devon and Cornwall. Blessed with a lower crime rate than many but just as many fast roads so Traffic and Armed response go hand in hand.
10 o’clock and the scenery is passing much more quickly as I am on my way to a collision between a car and a pedestrian. It’s in a car park so can’t be too bad surely. My armed response is there. I strain at the radio to hear their tone of voice. Hard as nails when they need to be, but soft as pussy cats when you bring in humanity, real people and families.