We need you, but we don’t want you

“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.

Harry Tangye

twitter @DC_ARVSgt

 

 

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20 thoughts on “We need you, but we don’t want you

  1. Wow, I’m speechless!! Split decisions are life or death situations and it could quite often end up badly for both sides of the law. In you we trust to always do the right thing but, such a rewarding job when things go right!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for doing a job like this, it’s a dangerous one and those who do it have my respect. Being allowed to compare notes before giving a statement has always bugged me though. I thought it was just procedure that all witnesses in any criminal case have to give their account separately. I heard someone say it was to get all the facts of the incident right, because not everyone remembers everything the same way especially with adrenaline in play. But surely that’s not what individual statements are for – They are for you to give your account of what you believe you saw and heard, not for you to say what the group collectively agrees they saw and heard. Everyone knows the effect that adrenaline can have and I don’t think you’d need to worry about the public jumping on you over tiny discrepancies, so I’ve never seen a need for cops or indeed any other witnesses to talk with other witnesses before giving a statement. But that’s just my take, it would be interesting to hear what you as a cop think on it. Thanks again for your service.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. There are already very strict protocols regarding conferring and the fact is we are not allowed to and it would be obvious if we did. But certain things we are, such at time date where etc and certain facts. This is because it is known that what you do right, may be pulled apart for months in the future. Your mind is in no state to write full accounts on your own straight after is the issue. The fact made here is that the IPCC wish to separate officers at their most dire need. Thanks again for taking the time to read.

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  3. So much to say, but for now – Thank you for this. And thank you to you & all firearms officers for their service. I thank you for being willing to undergo all the training & assessment, to face all the risks and endure the “tensions”. I know that seriously oversimplifies the case. But just now my point is to Thank You and your family& friends for the daily sacrifice you make, because it is not just when a firearms incident is called – it is that it could happen anytime on anyday and there could be any kind of outcome.
    I for one want you & think we need you and I’m not convinced that the alternative to volunteer, carefully selected & highly trained AFOs is one the UK really wants. If only they truly understood.

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  4. I’m absolutely behind the police, with good reason. This piece gives a deep insight into things few of us ever experience, thankfully. Having done a bit of SAT training, I can appreciate the difficulty of making snap decisions.
    The police are highly trained and skilled.
    If offenders are separated before interview for very good reasons, the same logic applies to the police. The real villains are not the IPCC, but the (very few) coppers who betray their mates and the force who do collude and make it necessary for the police to give individual and truly personal accounts.

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  5. Anyone who says the PIP procedure is a cozy experience and a chat between chums has clearly never been through it. Back in the days of the old Police Complaints Authority I remember one of their staff saying something along the lines of ‘if a police firearm has been discharged we MUST be able to pin some kind of offence on an officer somewhere’. In my experience they not only examined the actual shooter but the whole chain of command i.e who put that officer in the situation where they opened fire and why were they there? The decision making process and command structure is examined in minute detail after every police shooting and any failings are highlighted.
    I fear that we are going back to the days when AFO’s would be sat in a paper suit in a custody suite somewhere after a shooting. Police discharges of firearms must be investigated thoroughly but somewhere along the line the plot has been well and truly lost.
    I could go on about the subject of memory and recall after stressful incidents. The keyboard rattlers who say they could give a full account after a shooting (remember, we are talking about shooting at real people, not a paper target) are wide of the mark.
    There have been enough experiments conducted to show that several people can view the same incident and all give widely differing accounts. They are not lying, Each person believes that what they saw was the truth, despite the fact it varies from other witness accounts and often video evidence. Remember that perceptual distortion will kick in no matter how well trained an officer is and this will affect recall. Experience seems to show that initial accounts aren’t really that useful and that recall comes back in the hours/days after an incident.
    For all of the armchair critics remember that for all the talk of ‘trigger happy cops’ the number of police shootings is still in the low single figures per year in the UK.

    Retired

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Harry, my compliments to you and your colleagues. Please pass on my support and let them know that many of us fully support our armed officers. Don’t stop volunteering as that really is what makes you all special,keep us safe from monsters.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The only profession where you are “Guilty until proven innocent” Thank you and all your firearm colleagues for volunteering for this thankless task of protecting us and yourselves from the worst criminals devoid of any sense of responsibility. Yet when you fulfill your duty to your best ability, you are so often made to feel the guilty party. You get criticism from all quarters, not just from the family and “friends” of the criminal but also from your own management and worst of all from politicans who feel very safe and comfortable in their House of Commons surrounded by your colleagues providing that safety. Such a hypocritical world we live in. Keep up the good work and great respect from the silent majority to you and your families.

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  8. Decisions taken in split seconds while under duress are poured over by the IPCC for months, adding to the stress of the officers and their families. Unfortunately, we now need armed police on the streets to keep us safe. This is not because of any action by the police but a consequence of political ineptitude and liberalism. if there has to be an investigation after a shooting, it should be short to minimise stress on officers and their families and weighted to take into account the dangers officers face to their own lives. They should not fear the consequences of using weapons to the extent that their own or innocent lives are risked. Too often the liberalist view has prevailed over common sense, for example the irrational opposition to the ‘stun gun’. The public need these armed officers and we should not allow the vociferous complaints of criminal families or sanctimonious liberals to influence public opinion against them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Incredible insight… I felt like I was going through the trauma with you. Being an armed officer is an exciting but scary thought, it takes very brave people and all the good they have, but it also appears to be a thankless job that can leave you formidably anxious, and wrapped up in a quagmire of very sticky red tape. I think I will stick to clay pigeon shooting! All the fun with nobody getting shot. That said, you have my full respect for what you do.

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  10. Excellent piece Harry, it depicts really effectively the challenges facing today’s armed officers . As a former TFC and PIM until I retired just over a year ago and an ARV operator in the nineties I can really identify with the sentiments . I wish the critics would take the time to understand what armed officers take on as volunteers , well done .

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  11. Harry, this is a lovely piece and helps to paint a picture of a part of life few of us would ever wish to experience. I am a member of Sussex Police Independent Advisory Group and following a shooting in Sussex I participated in a Gold group which spent a long time focusing on a multitude of issues. One of the most important aspects of the agenda for each meeting was the welfare of the officers involved. I appreciate that you would not know about such meetings, just as most present would not have known of the identity of the officers. It is a rigerous firewall process but the care and concern is very deep even if out of sight.

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  12. Thank you so very much for doing the job that you do. I just wish you were appreciated and treated better by the powers that be. It’s shameful.

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