“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.”
My partner was Simon that night, and we had just been authorised for a firearms incident. The man had a knife on him. He had used one 10 years previously on the same woman, so we knew he was capable of using it. Okay we had Glock 17’s in holsters but against knives it’s often very useful to have the AEP (Baton Gun) available from the car safe. This is a less lethal option which means we can try to knock an armed suspect off their feet from a distance. That would not only prevent the man from getting away to do more harm, it would also stop him being shot if he’s still wielding the knife in front of us.
“There!” Si shouts urgently from the passenger’s side, “There, Harry, there!” I’m searching through the gloom and can see, through the darkness quite a distance ahead, a trainer catching the glow from the street light. I speed towards the man. Si updates the Comms room and we close in. I throw the BMW past the suspect who is sprinting for an alleyway. My only option is to get ahead and cut him off.
I pull up sharply ahead, and shout, “You ready, Si?” It’s not an ideal scenario – the suspect is now physically close – but if he makes it to the alleyway we could lose him, and that would be a disaster. If he runs for Simon with the knife there will be no time to be sure that a taser will hit both barbs at a good spread through thin enough clothing. No time either to level aim and shoot a Baton Gun. Only enough time for a reflex shot with the H&K G36 Carbine rifle strapped across Simon’s chest. Batons and Tasers fail too often. It’s not a precise science and I won’t risk my life or my colleague’s hoping they will be effective when someone is rushing me with a knife.
Si, jumps out and challenges, “ARMED POLICE, STAND STILL”. The suspect darts to the side and Si gives chase. Si doesn’t see the knife and so he doesn’t shoot. I jump out of the car and sprint after him towards the alley. We are wearing a lot of heavy gear and this race has to end soon or we will lose it. From running at full speed the man suddenly slows, throwing his hands up in surrender, “Okay, Okay”.
He was arrested, we found the kitchen knife in his belt, and he went back to prison for a long time. The woman lived, but barely. And after we had booked this chap in we went back to work; a road traffic collision and a noisy group of youths I believe.
Now having dealt with numerous incidents just like this, and having levelled the red dot sights of my rifle at a man carrying a gun who had just carjacked a car salesman, I know all too well how these incidents could so easily have turned out differently. So far I have been very fortunate. The man with the gun stared at me… Was it death by cop? Was he going to level it at me in the hope I end things for him? Or was he going to try to get a reputation in prison for shooting a Police Officer? As my red dot in my sites danced around his chest, echoing the rise and fall of my deep breathing, and the police helicopter above relayed everything back to the comms room, I knew I couldn’t let my colleague down. I must follow the simple rules. Simple but deadly. If he raises that gun at me or my colleague, then I shoot… He dropped the gun, and went back to prison for 10 years.
But over my 20 or so years on front line armed response policing, in which I have been an operational firearms commander, a tactics advisor, and completed a Post Incident Management course, I have known of several shootings and known the officers involved very well. None of them had an easy ride post incident and it still continues today. They were all pretty much dragged through the mill. The result is that the IPCC are not trusted by armed police officers. It is felt by most there is a hunger to feed when a police shooting occurs. A hunger to ensure the families of the deceased feel satisfied with the investigation, no matter how unreasonable their demands are. Politics enters. Threats of riots are common.
I don’t feel safe anymore. I will do as I always have done. I only have to satisfy myself, knowing I had no alternative and that my actions were proportionate, reasonable and necessary. But these judgements are not a precise science and if you play by the sword as a criminal, you may just die by the sword one day. However hard I have tried to do my job to the very best of my ability the moment after a shooting is going to be filled with trauma. The IPCC are suggesting that officers be separated after a shooting until after they have given their accounts. This may sound reasonable but I want you to imagine what it’s like after a shooting.
The gun goes off. There is a momentary silence as both officers can’t quite believe what has happened. The officers glance at each other and the man falls to the ground. He’s not motionless like on a cop film. He’s kicking and thrashing about. The officers sprint up to him with their advanced medic pack ripping it open. One has the scissors, cutting up the sleeves and body of the shirt to reveal the man’s chest. One tries to push celox gauze – a clotting agent in a bandage – into the wound which is pumping blood. They struggle with him to stop him moving so they can treat him, but he’s fighting. He soon becomes weak. Another officer opens the defibrillator pack. The male is motionless now, his eyes fixed. The officers are slipping on fluid. They think it is rain from the road but it is blood. They are pumping on the man’s chest, defib pads applied, and the machine is speaking demands in clear slow robotic tones… “Stand clear of patient” The officers lean back on their haunches… their faces are drained, their eyes wide and black and they are covered in blood as they stare at each other.
They are in a room at the police station 15 miles away. The procedures are in place and the IPCC has been called. Local investigation teams are controlling the scene and containing any evidence. The officer’s weapon that was fired is left in situ. There are two principal officers and from staring at each other back on that street, they are now separated, alone in a room in the police station, sitting with only a faceless chaperone. They are in a daze. The world swirls around their heads.
One is looked at by the medic. One sits and waits in another room. His chaperone doesn’t know what to say or indeed what he can say. He offers a drink of coffee. A minute feels like an hour. Nothing. Something smells. He glances down and sees the heavy congealed blood on his vest. The spare magazine still in its pouch, the silver bullets smeared with blood. He checks himself over quickly. He is covered, even his hair; he must have put his hands through it. He feels dirty. He feels disgusting. He wants to shower and get this stuff off his face. He thinks of his wife and his little girl. How did it come to this? Hours go by. He cannot talk. The IPCC have to travel some distance. They can delegate urgent work but the waits are always hours and hours. The officers sits on in silence. He looks at his smart phone, stupidly views what is on it. “Police shoot unarmed grandad of two”. A doting picture of his victim stares up at him with two children on his lap. “What have I done? Those poor kids, Christ, I’m going to jail, how did this all happen?”
An investigator comes into the room with a piece of paper. “We need you to write down exactly what happened”. They leave.
It will be months before the truth comes out. Months to show how the grandad of two attempted to kill him with a machete whilst under a drug induced psychotic episode. It’s old news by then and very little of this detail makes it into the media. Months of teasing for his daughter in the school playground. Months of wondering if he’s going to jail. Immense pressure on his marriage. Months of hearing the subjects family being apologised to. Months of self-doubt.
Armed Response Officers are volunteers. Quite for how much longer, I don’t know.