Sunday, 4 January 2015

A day in the life of a ‘Police Constable’. On duty with the Metropolitan Police. (PART 1)

Those who follow my Twitter (@TomGaymor) will know that in December, last month, I had the privilege of following a Metropolitan Police Emergency Response Team for four of their shifts. I do not use the word ‘privilege’ lightly, as being invited 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. In fact, for me it was far from an everyday experience. My background as a professional sportsman turned TV Presenter/Commentator meant that prior to these shifts I had little or no experience of the work undertaken by the police, bar the propaganda one reads in the media. With that in mind, the purpose of this blog 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.

The team I followed for my four shifts was Kingston’s Emergency Response Team A. Operating out of Kingston Metropolitan Police Station; the team consists of seventeen Police Constables, two Sergeants, or ‘Skip’ as he is known by the PCs, and an Inspector. Prior to my time with Team A, we decided that in order to achieve a varied viewpoint of their work I would cover an ‘early’ shift, two ‘late’ shifts and a ‘night’ shift.

My first shift with Team A was an ‘early’. I arrived at Kingston Police Station at 05:30AM, just in time to see the suspects who had stayed overnight at Her Majesty’s pleasure, leaving for court to be charged. I was shown immediately to the briefing room and introduced to the team. I was instantly made to feel very welcome, and each and every team member made a conscious effort to talk to me. The briefing was led by the Sergeant, who assigned the officers their duties and also briefed them on any handovers from the night shift. The team then went through new and current intelligence; however due to the sensitivity of the information being distributed, I sat this part out. The two officers (PC Ellis and PC Resteghini) I was shadowing were one of two teams on that shift to be carrying Tasers. After the briefing we went immediately to the armoury so the two teams could be issued with their Tasers and I could pick up my body armour. It was now that my excitement turned to realisation and apprehension. That apprehension never left me, throughout the four shifts; the realisation that, as a police officer, you never know what lies ahead. The Tasers and the body armour cemented this point for me.

It was not long after visiting the armoury that we were out on patrol and off to our first call. I may be talking for myself here, but ever since I was a little boy I have always been curious when it comes to emergency vehicles with their flashing blue lights and blaring sirens. I was always intrigued to know where they were going and what the emergency was. Now I was sat in the back of a police car on blue lights and sirens, heading towards a reported burglary with the suspect reported ‘still on site’. My heart was pounding and my thoughts were full of apprehension and intrigue. I remember thinking how must the officers be feeling? How do they manage the adrenalin? Yet they came across so controlled and serene, simply going through their processes and protocols. We arrived on scene within minutes, the suspect had already left the residential property and the owner was out. Surprisingly, it was not long before the suspect returned to the property, drunk. Unsurprisingly, he was promptly arrested by the officers for burglary. The suspect then proceeded to subject the officers to a torrent of verbal abuse, quite incredible considering how respectfully they had treated him. It quickly became evident from the Intel (intelligence) received that the suspect had just been released from court that morning.  He was also subject to a restraining order, based on a history of domestic violence towards the victim, whose house he had broken into. Once the abusive suspect had left for the police station in the police van, the officers I was with set about securing the victim’s house, a job they are not obliged to do. PC Ellis and PC Resteghini could not raise the victim, who was at work, so they took it upon themselves to source some wood and board up her broken window to ensure the safety of the property. I was particularly touched by the sentiment of the officers, clearly going above and beyond their duties to help a vulnerable female victim.

(PC Ellis – Cutting wood to board the window)

(PC Ellis and myself – On duty in the ‘Area’car)

Processing a prisoner was my next experience. Police Custody is an extremely busy environment, with prisoners from all walks of life. Booking in a prisoner is a fairly timely process. First of all the arresting officer has to divulge the grounds for the arrest to the Custody Sergeant, who will then decide whether or not the arrest is lawful and based on their decision order the detention of the prisoner, or simply order their release.  This process is where good policing meets the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), but I will park that for now and expand on this point in my second blog. After two hours in police custody and the successful detention of our abusive burglar we were back out on the streets of Kingston, in the patrol car. 

Lunch, although a minor part of some people’s day is a large part of my day. So far we had been on the go since 6AM and I was starving. When on call you simply cannot pick or choose a good time for food, or any sort of refreshments for that matter; you cannot plan. We had already left behind half of our breakfast earlier in the day to attend the burglary, so I was hoping and praying for a window of opportunity to grab a sandwich on the go. Needless to say, that did not happen. Lunch was interrupted by the calls of a fellow officer shouting for help down his radio. A police officer in trouble - I could immediately see the anxiety in the eyes of the officers I was with, not to mention hear the panic of the officer in trouble. We were one of only two cars carrying Tasers that shift so it was of utmost importance that we got there as quickly as we could. A Taser is a weapon that can end any confrontation, however it is not carried by all Metropolitan Police officers and the officers in distress were not carrying them. That journey on blues and sirens was a blur if I am honest. I could sense the gravity of the situation based solely on the officer’s cries over the radio and if I could sense his distress, so could the officers I was with. Fortunately, we were called off the call prior to arrival as the other Taser car had arrived before us and the situation had been brought under control. The officers in distress had spotted and approached a ‘wanted’ suspect who had turned violent. Outnumbered and facing an armed suspect, the officers called for backup. The ‘wanted’ suspect was promptly arrested and the officers escaped injury. This was my first experience of the true dangers that police officers face on a daily basis. I appreciate it is tough for you to picture unless you see it for your own eyes, but for me to hear the officers in distress and to see the apprehension on the eyes of the officers I was with, is a feeling that I will remember forever.

My second shift with Kingston’s Emergency Response Team A was a ‘late’ shift. The ‘late’ shift follows on from the ‘early’ and starts at 2PM. I arrived at Kingston Police station at 1:30PM and promptly followed the same protocol as I did with the ‘early’ shift. For this shift I was shadowing PC Ellis and PC Jones in the ‘Area’ car. This is a car that is fitted with an ANPR (Automatic number plate recognition) system and unsurprisingly has ANPR Interceptor clearly marked on the car. The ANPR gives the officers an added responsibility. The cameras on the car clearly pick up any motorists committing motoring offences such as driving without insurance or tax. The system is also linked to any new or past intelligence, meaning that any motorists or any cars which have links to known crimes are immediately recognised. For example, our first stop of the day was a male RSO (Registered Sex Offender). The ANPR detected his number plate and he was pulled over in order for the officers to check he was not breaking any of his release conditions. As it stood, he was not breaking any of his release conditions and he was immediately sent on his way. Based on that example, it was patently clear that officers do not leave a stone unturned when it comes to tracking suspects known to the police. The ANPR system provides a large database of information and intelligence, allowing the officers to be very proactive and intuitive.

The first ‘I grade’ call (Emergency call) to come through on the radio soon followed. An informant had called 999, reporting screams coming from a residential address. The informant also allegedly heard a female shouting ‘Get your hands off my throat’. On blues and en route, it was clear this was a potentially very serious domestic incident. We arrived within minutes and immediately faced the challenge of trying to locate the premises concerned, which was within a large block of flats. I can tell you now, that it is not as easy as it sounds and with time ticking, every second counts. Once we had located the address, the two parties had separated voluntarily and both sides were clearly reluctant to speak to the police. It was obvious to me that PC Ellis and PC Jones were sensing, not all was right, but without any evidence of a crime being committed and neither party wishing to make a complaint, it was a tough situation for them to manage. They clearly did not want to leave a vulnerable female alone, especially once the intelligence came in that this was not the first call to this address for domestic violence. The time the officers took with the female alone and their personable approach made the difference; no charges were brought but the male agreed to leave the property and the relief was there to see. He had no keys to get back in and the female could rest assured, for the evening at least. It was fitting to see her emotion once the male had left. Had PC Ellis and PC Jones not persevered with their diligent and caring approach; I feel without doubt, we would have been back at that address before the night was out.

Having experienced my first domestic violence call, I was unwittingly about to experience my first high-speed police chase. Whilst en route back to the police station, the officers spotted a car overtaking another car in a 30 mph zone. Obviously keen to have a chat with the driver we pulled up behind the car in question and signalled for it to pull over, however the suspect failed to stop and sped off at high speed. Having retired as a racing driver through injury, I should be used to high speeds and calculated risk, but that was me behind the wheel. As a passenger, it is a very different sensation and in the back of a police car, it is an even more alien sensation. I think it is fair to say I would have got out if I could have, purely to save my nervous system! The sensation of adrenalin was colossal and yet PC Ellis and PC Jones were again so calm, and firmly engulfed in their process. For PC Ellis in the passenger seat there was a lot to do regarding protocol, especially as India 99 (Metropolitan Police helicopter) was joining the chase; police stingers (tyre deflation devices) had also been authorised. The radio traffic was overwhelming, on top of the siren noise and the impact of hitting speed bumps at high speed. I honestly did not know where to look, or what to hold onto in those fraught few minutes. Suddenly the suspect disappeared. The disappointment of the officers I was with was evident immediately, purely from their reaction. The suspect’s driving had been so reckless that they really wanted that arrest. They were not about to give up either. India 99 arrived moments later, but even with their help, the suspect had vanished. Still, PC Ellis and PC Jones were not going to be beaten. Their intensity and willpower to bring this suspect to justice was powerful to see firsthand; believe me, they were NOT going home until they had apprehended this dangerous driver. I am pleased to reveal that after a brief ‘stakeout’ the suspect was arrested by us, outside a residential property in another MPS borough, a mere four hours after he had gone to ground. PC Ellis and PC Jones’ perseverance and hunger to make this arrest for the protection and safety of fellow road users was not lost on me in the backseat.

The first two of my four shifts with Team A has really opened up my eyes to the great work our police officers deliver on a daily basis. The officers I met were all incredibly selfless and very personable human beings. Husbands, wives, sons and daughters that all go to work on our streets to keep us safe. The skill sets, bravery and patience required to deal with the wide array of situations presented to them has really stuck with me. I have nothing but respect; I am not sure I could do what they do.

The final two shifts with Kingston’s Emergency Response Team A will be covered in my next blog. If you have enjoyed this article I think you will really like what you read in the next one, especially as it features a busy ‘night’ shift, an attempted murder and a knife point robbery.

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