Monday, 12 January 2015

A day in the life of a ‘Police Constable’. On duty with the Metropolitan Police. (PART 2)

Those of you who read ‘Part one’ on my blog page last week will know that in December, last month, I had the privilege of following a Metropolitan Police Emergency Response Team for four of their shifts. Being granted exclusive access into such a critically important work environment, to sample the greater good of the work these officers selflessly deliver around the clock, is not your everyday experience.

‘Part one’ covered the first of my two shifts; this blog will cover my final two shifts. If you have not read ‘Part one’ may I suggest you do so before reading ‘Part two’.

The purpose of these blogs is to give those of you who are interested a true insight into my experiences over the four shifts, and without revealing suspects names or locations, a description of some the calls we attended. I will detail the work of the officers, but also how I felt as a law abiding citizen, experiencing some of these scenes for real.

Each Metropolitan Police Emergency Response Team runs through a rotation of six shifts; two ‘Early’ turns, straight into two ‘Late’ turns, finishing with two ‘Night’ turns. The team then has four days off before the cycle starts again. There are five teams (A-E) in order for the system to function correctly. My final two shifts were once again with Emergency Response Team A, operating out of Kingston Police station.

Already after only two shifts, I was starting to feel part of the team. I touched on this in ‘Part one’ but I cannot emphasise enough how welcome Team A made me feel over my four shifts. There is a lot of camaraderie amongst the team, a group of individuals who spend a lot of time together. There is an underlying friendship and a real ‘work hard, play hard’ ethic within the core of the team. This was pleasant to see, because if you put a group of individuals into a room long enough they will normally find something to fall out about and this is a challenge that every ‘team’ has to overcome, be it in business, sport or in the police. With this in mind I was happy to see a jovial and humorous under current to the environment. No one person takes themselves too seriously, and from the top down there is plenty of good natured banter. For example; PC Jones was still getting plenty of stick for having the handbrake on during the chase we’d had the day before. NB: I was trying to back his corner, honest!

I arrived for my third shift at 1:30PM and walked in from where I parked with the Sergeant, another example of why I have felt so welcome throughout the four shifts. The ‘Late’ turn is scheduled from 2PM till 11PM, but due to nature of the job the team members very rarely finish on time. In fact the day before was also a ‘Late’ turn however two of the team members did not get home until 5AM! Luckily, I had got my seven hours sleep and after the compulsory briefing I joined PC Ellis and PC Miles on patrol.

Our first call was to assist an officer (PC Bowyer) who had ‘intuitively’ arrested a female in a car park for being drunk, whilst in charge of a motor vehicle. In situations like this the challenge for the arresting officer is collecting enough evidence for the suspect to be firstly charged but then convicted by the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service). In this case there was no doubt the arrest was lawful but here lies a clear divide between the priorities of the arresting officers, and the CPS. The arresting officers at the scene regard it from a very different perspective to the CPS, who looks at the case purely from a legal viewpoint. That is not to say the CPS do not want to see a conviction, but they have a responsibility to the British judicial system to ensure only cases with a realistic of  prospect of conviction are heard before a judge. Therefore if the arresting officers cannot collect the necessary evidence, even if the arrest is lawful, the suspect may not be convicted. This is obviously a ‘grey area’ because if it is a lawful arrest, how could a subsequent conviction not be realised? If I am honest this ‘grey area’ in my eyes, adversely affects the reputation of the police. A lot of proactive, intuitive police work goes unrecognised when the cases are not brought before a court, and unfortunately the police tend to wear the public blame for this. With this in mind, I feel it is important to realise that the police can only do their jobs to the best of their abilities and the arresting officers do feel incredibly frustrated when their arrests do not progress to a conviction due to the competing priorities of the CPS.

Back to the shift, we were quickly called away from assisting PC Bowyer with our first ‘i grade’ call of the shift. This is an emergency call requiring blue lights, sirens and nerves of steel. A reported knifepoint robbery in Kingston town centre meant we were in a real hurry. The thought of a knife sends shivers down my spine, and with young victims reported, it was essential we got there as quickly as we could. In these situations, not only must the officers find the location of the victims, but the control team relays to the teams en route an ongoing crime report; victim descriptions, suspect descriptions, whether the suspects are still present and so forth. The information is distributed via the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch). In each police response car there is a computer system through which the CAD information is accessed. The first officers on scene always head to the victims, whilst the following teams may go in search of the suspects (if they have left the scene). All of these decisions are executed through good communication and quick thinking, all whilst managing the apprehension of what you may be facing on arrival. This was my first call to a knifepoint robbery and I was very nervous. Once again, the realisation that we were rapidly heading to an uncertain and potentially volatile crime scene had dawned on me.

We were first on scene and located the victims instantly; luckily they were not injured, just extremely shaken. The suspects had fled the scene so obtaining descriptions of the gang from the victims was a matter of urgency. With two young adults this had to be carried out in a sensitive and caring manner, skills that both PC Ellis and PC Miles displayed excellently, comforting and supporting the victims’ needs with professionalism and empathy. The suspect’s descriptions were immediately disseminated to the surrounding officers via the CAD, and also the town centres CCTV operators, another useful crime detection tool. PC Ellis and PC Miles then put one of the victims into our patrol car and we headed into the centre of town to see if we could spot any of the suspects. With no joy there, we headed to Kingston Railway Station, where all the trains had been held in attempt to prevent any of the suspects fleeing the area by train. Unfortunately, after a forty-five minute thorough search of the town, the suspects had clearly dispersed. The immediate disappointment was palpable; all the officers involved had not left a stone unturned. Seeing firsthand the upset and torment the young victims had been through was thought provoking. The desire to find these suspects felt almost personal now to us. I remember thinking at the time how hard it must be for PC Ellis and PC Miles to manage this emotion and endeavour, especially after the disappointment of not unearthing any leads during the search. With the search called off, we safely delivered the victims back to their parents and handed the investigation immediately onto CID (Criminal Investigations Department).

 Our next call was a very different experience once again, this time involving the London Fire Brigade. The emergency calls can come thick and fast, and you definitely need to be adaptable in coping with this dynamic. I found that aspect of my experience challenging. As a police officer you need a clear mind for each emergency response that you attend, however having to hit Control, Alt, Delete every time you leave a scene to attend the next emergency is far easier said than done. The spectrum of the emergencies is vast too, from the adrenalin of a knifepoint robbery; we had soon arrived at a gas leak in a residential road. Here, the challenge was managing the concerns of the local residents and working with the Fire Brigade to ensure a safe zone was established, whilst they investigated the incident further. Thankfully for the residents the incident was downgraded by the Fire Brigade and the gas board were called to resolve the matter.
They say situations come in threes. Well, we had not even made it back to the patrol car before the next ‘i grade’ call had sounded over the radio, a reported burglary with suspects still inside the building. When we arrived on scene, there was already a unit there; however they were waiting for the ‘Dog Unit’ to arrive before entering the derelict property. However with the ‘Dog Unit’ twenty five minutes away, the officers asked the ‘Skip’ as he is affectionately known, (or more formally, Sergeant) for clearance to enter the property without the ‘Dog Unit’. The reason being, the officers on scene were concerned that they could not contain the property, meaning if they waited for the dogs the suspects could escape via the multiple exits, prior to the dogs arrival. Once given the all clear, I have to say I was particularly apprehensive about entering this property, especially without the dogs. Not only was it derelict, but it was also very dark outside and thus, unsurprisingly, inside too. I am not scared of the dark but this was different. It could have been a trap, the suspects could surround us; my imagination was running wild with fear and uncertainty.

I took my place behind the four officers and followed them in. The property was cold, damp and littered with broken glass. The officers were firm with their repetitive shouts of ‘Police, reveal yourself .... Police, reveal yourself’. The officers have to be assertive and in control with their voices and actions, as any weakness will be exploited by the suspects. I, however, was ready to leave at any moment. Any small noise sparked a millisecond of panic within me, yet this was not evident with the officers. Suddenly, the team paused. The officers were sure they had located the suspects on the other side of an internal wall. My heartbeat shot through the roof! Who were they? Where were they? Were they armed? Were they going to reveal themselves, or would we have to flush them out? I was hoping and praying for the primary option, when all of a sudden, they appeared peacefully from the darkness. Honestly, I have never felt such relief. Out of all the incidents I had attended so far this was by far the one that had caused me the most anxiety. Once we had the located the suspects, it was clear that they were simply homeless and trying to find a place to sleep for the night. With a full search and no forced entry detected, the suspects were asked to collect their belongings and were then sent on their way.

Gas Leak – London Fire Brigade

With the Dog Unit
After a brief respite back at the station and a much-needed meal, we were back on patrol and off to our final call of the shift. Another ‘i grade’ call this time, to assist two female officers dealing with a young male wielding a knife. Neither officer was armed with a Taser and with the suspect refusing to drop his weapon the situation had the potential to be very serious indeed. Just like the incident in ‘Part one’ of my blog, fellow officers in trouble carries a certain stigma to it. There was definitely an atmosphere of urgency inside our car on the way to the scene. Hearing an officer in distress over the radio is an unpleasant experience. The severity and gravity of the situation is immediately evident by the discernible panic in the officer’s voice. Unlike the other calls, you do not really feel apprehension en route; you simply want to get there to assist. On arrival, the officers in attendance had thankfully brought the incident under control without any injuries to either the officers or the suspect. The PC first on scene had disarmed the suspect by herself after the suspect came towards her with the knife. She had promptly and calmly used her baton to disarm the young male and he was arrested for being in position of a knife. I simply cannot imagine being in her shoes, putting her life on the line to protect the public around her. Bravery personified; an officer that the Kingston borough are lucky to have protecting them.

My final shift with Team A was a ‘Night’ turn. I was particularly excited and intrigued, as historically the ‘Night’ turns tend to be the busiest of the three shift patterns; I was not to be disappointed. The routine prior to each shift remains the same, arrive, change and straight into the briefing. During the briefing the officers are assigned a partner and a call name for the shift. They are then briefed on the local and national intelligence, as well as any handovers from the earlier shift. Officers carrying Tasers then head to the armoury to have their weapons signed out by the Sergeant, and then it is straight out onto patrol.

Our first ‘i grade’ call of the shift came very early on; an attempted robbery at a hospital with the suspects possibly still on, meaning still at the scene. En route, PC Ellis and PC Graham informed me that a ‘Dog Unit’ was also on its way. I had not yet seen the dogs in action but had heard a lot about them, so I was particularly excited. The ‘Dog Unit’ arrived on scene shortly after us. The scene was a remote part of the hospital grounds, backing onto a golf course. With no clear sight of the suspects, it was time to deploy the ‘Furry Crocodile’ - or police dog to you and me. The dogs can clearly sense the adrenalin of a job in progress, and this was immediately evident by his energy, enthusiasm and body language. At 48 kilograms (over 7 stone) he was a big dog, and I was intimidated by his size and wary of his presence. That said, as a highly-trained dog, his handler had a disciplined process with him. Their bond and respect for each other was instantly recognisable. They are a team after all, and in this case they had been together since the dog was a puppy. The dogs also go home with their handlers, so they are effectively never apart.

Once on the long harness, the dog and its handler were quickly over the small fence and onto the golf course. I could not believe the speed at which the dog picked up the scent of the suspects and the urgency at which he tracked their scent. Soon the dog and its handler had disappeared into the darkness, the handler maintaining constant radio communication with us. Still, I remember thinking dog, or no dog, rather him than me! Especially alone, and surrounded in darkness. I am guessing that unpredictable element of the job once again. These are officers tirelessly and selflessly entering themselves into unknown and potentially dangerous situations. The handler had requested to be alone with the dog on the golf course to preserve any trail or scent, even though we had offered to track with them. It was not long until they had reached the end of the trail, a main road interrupting the scent and clearly where the suspects had made their escape, via car or bike, or maybe still on foot. With the chase off and no crime detected, it was clear we had arrived just in time to disturb the suspects, who were after the hospitals supply of Nitrous Oxide canisters. Apparently, Nitrous Oxide is being increasingly used as a ‘party’ drug.  

With the dog now back empty-handed, the handler asked if I wouldn’t mind hiding where the dog could find me, but could not get at me. By creating a manufactured ending, the dog could feel a sense of accomplishment, which is apparently really important as the dogs are motivated by an outcome. I obviously jumped at the opportunity, only after having reiterating the point that he could NOT get at me, about hundred times with the handler. That said, once hidden (on top of a storage container) in the pitch black and all alone, I did suddenly question my sanity. Too late - I could not jump down as the dog had been deployed and was busy tracking my scent. I had in my hand the dog’s toy too, with the instructions to throw this toy to him once he had found me. I am not joking when I say I was seriously concerned. You can hear the thud of each paw, and the panting of the dog approaching, the anticipation of his him finding me was terrifying. Suddenly, we were almost face to face and he was barking with serious intent. Out came the toy, and it will come as no surprise to those of you reading this, that I did not wait ten barks as instructed before deploying it. You really have to experience this LIVE, in order to get a true understanding of just how mightily impressive these animals really are.

The ‘Night’ shifts are just too busy for me to chart every call, so with that in mind our next ‘i grade call’ of note was to a residential address. A vulnerable male had tried to cut his own throat with a knife. As soon as I heard this over the radio, my heart started racing immediately, however yet again the officers I was shadowing remained remarkably calm. There was clearly an underlying trend here and I touched on it earlier; the need for versatility and resilience to cope daily with the wide spectrum of emergencies. The officers clearly have a personal coping strategy born from experience and a professional protocol which they follow religiously. However, I had neither experience nor a protocol to follow, and so my imagination, with nothing to focus on, was running wild with apprehension. This is the side to policing that most of us simply do not see, as normal members of the general public. As a human being, how do you ready yourself to deal with someone who has cut their throat? Thankfully, by the time we had arrived, the vulnerable male had had the knife removed from him, during a scuffle with a family member. Luckily, the blade was so blunt that his injuries were also minor. With a London Ambulance on its way, but not yet at the scene, it was down to PC Ellis and PC Graham to primarily calm the individual down and then tend to his wounds. The skill set and understanding needed to deal with a suicidal person is not something we all possess but the officers showed a professional and empathetic consideration that shone through until the Ambulance crew arrived. In fact, PC Graham had built up such a rapport with the vulnerable male that he travelled in the ambulance with him to the hospital, to ensure all parties arrived safely. Both PC Ellis and I followed in the patrol car.

Our last call of the evening came as we were leaving the hospital, around 3:30AM. The initial information on the CAD reported two males fighting, one armed with a knife and a baseball bat. On blues, we hurried our way to the scene, a residential address. We were first on scene and the minutes that followed will stay with me forever. It was immediately apparent that this was a very serious incident. There were cries for help coming from the open front door of one address, coupled with warnings that the suspect was still present and armed, albeit holed up in a property above. I was genuinely frightened and panicked for the first time, and I could see the concern on the officers' faces too.

The scene presented a man with very serious cuts who was bleeding heavily, and a dangerous suspect who was not yet contained. Without doubt, we had to wait for other officers before any sort of real containment and arrest could take place. In the meantime, we were alone and the threat was evident. The emotions of the victim’s family and friends were running high too. There was a lot for PC Ellis and PC Graham to get a handle on initially. Those first few minutes were all-encompassing if I am honest, so much to cope with and piece together, in a very short period of time. Above all this, the victim had to be kept alive, as well as safely containing the armed suspect. Moments later the ‘Area’ car arrived with vital reinforcements. Now, with more officers and the victim successfully being treated by PC Graham, it was crucial the suspect was apprehended. I remember the harrowing path of the victim's blood leading up the communal stairs and along to the suspect's front door. The outside windows of the suspect's residential property were all smashed; it certainly was a scene I had never experienced before in my life. My heart was pumping and I just could not stop thinking about the two officers at either side of the front door. They were armed with Tasers and a large shield, shouting forcefully for the suspect to come out with his hands where they could see them, yet he was refusing. There commands were growing in volume and urgency; there was effectively a standoff between the suspect and the officers. I had experienced fear in the derelict house but nothing like this. Quite how the officers either side of that door held their nerve, I do not know. I was concerned for them too; they had become friends in this short space of time. A very real example of the camaraderie the officers share, washing off on me. You cannot face what these individuals face, without having a unique respect for one another. The incident was still not contained and the suspect stubbornly refused to come out with his hands displayed. However, on the officers' last request the suspect surrendered and was arrested on the spot for attempted murder. It was chilling hearing those words and seeing the suspect led away in handcuffs. Where we were standing was now officially a serious crime scene, my first and only crime scene of the four shifts, thankfully. In an unexpected twist, the victim was also arrested in the ambulance for GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm), a decision made by the senior officers at the scene, based on several witnesses' accounts.

My time with Emergency Response Team A finally finished at 6AM, after a long and turbulent eight hour shift. The officers at the crime scene finished around 11AM some five hours later than me. As I said, some of those final moments will stay with me forever.

There is no doubt that these four shifts have given me the most incredible insight into what the police officers of Kingston face on a day to day basis; crimes and incidents that are almost unimaginable to the average law abiding citizen. However, when you see firsthand the threat and adversity the officers of this borough face, you are left with a completely novel viewpoint into how remarkably selfless and brave these individuals are.

I am leaving my unforgettable experience with Kingston Response Team A, with a new-found admiration and gratitude towards the officers who risk their lives to keep this borough safe, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

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