Not long ago, I was in the United States on a short holiday. We ended up in Chicago, in a rather, well, ‘authentic’ pizza place. In the corner, there was a table of Chicago’s Finest.
I’ve always been a little curious about how real-life policing happens in the colonies, so I asked if I could join them for a bit. “Uhm… Yeah”, one of them said, seemingly unsure. I could see his brain spinning into action in attempt to tell me to eff off in a manner becoming of a Man in Blue, Chicago-style.
“It’s OK, I’m a cop back in London”, I said. They seemed relieved, asked me to join them, bought me a donut (!!) and we got down to the business of comparing notes.
They got the ball rolling by telling me a little about the computer systems they use in the police cruisers. Suffice to say, they use laptops that are a damn sight more advanced than the stuff we have – These cops were able to do full-on police reports right there in the car, without having to go back to the station. Of course, our MDTs (Mobile Data Terminals) are useful, but they’re not exactly fast to use, and are mostly just used by the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) dispatchers, plus the odd PNC (Police National Computer) check.
In comparison, at the end of a long day, I’m stuck waiting for a free computer in the writing room. There are eight computers, but five of them will invariably be out of service, and the rest are so old that odds are they’re coal-powered. The writing room also frequently reeks of weed – not because the coppers smoke it, but because people find it hilarious to bring the weed into the writing room in evidence bags to show off their haul, and to let the stench seep into the pores of all of our colleagues. All good and well, but the result is that we all keep getting singled out by drug dogs at tube stations. It’s just our sense of humour I suppose.
After I finished my grilling of the Boys in Blue, they decided to ask me a few questions. After confirming I worked in London, the first question I was asked was “So… When was the last time you shot anyone”?
I won’t lie to you. I was completely baffled by the question. I have never been an Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO). In fact, I’ve scarcely even touched a handgun, never mind fired one – and certainly not shot it at somebody.
I must have looked more confused than a freshly released fart in a wicker chair. I think I may have been opening and closing my mouth like a fish on dry land, because the US coppers burst out laughing. “Well.. Have you all shot someone”? I asked.
“I haven’t”, one of the younger cops said, with a look of regret on his 20-year-old face. “But I’m the only one”, he added, with an embarrassed glance around the rest of the table. What followed was a tale of one-upmanship about guns-drawn bravado in the line of duty. I won’t lie: it was a very informative, interesting and entertaining afternoon, but I’m sort of glad that I am never faced with the choice whether I need to shoot a suspect or not.
What’s in your arsenal, then?
My blog is syndicated over on Gizmodo, and in the comments over there, people were asking me what I do carry around with me. So, on to the real point of this blog post: a bit of background about the tech and kit I carry.
One of the things I’m asked most often is what I carry around with me when I’m on duty. In addition to a lot of gloves, some first aid stuff, my PPB (Police Pocketbook), and a stack of FPN(E)s (Fixed Penalty Notices, both of the Endorsable – as in, they’ll get you points on your licence – and the non-endorsable kind), CARBs (Collision and Accident Report Book), EABs (Evidence and Action Book), 5090 (stop and search forms), 124D’s (domestic violence process books), and about half a dozen other pieces of paper, forms, booklets, and suchlike. Paperless office? Only in my most beatiful and efficient dreams.
In addition to being three quarters of a walking filing cabinet, I carry a load of of other stuff with me; unsurprisingly, it appears that people tend to find the gadgets more interesting than my six and a half tonnes of dead trees.
My Personal Protection kit consists of:
Metvest – this is a slash- and ballistic vest that is meant to protect us against slashing- and stabbing attacks with knives, and small-calibre gunfire. It’s also good as general impact protection: I had a colleague who received the business end of a cricket bat across her back, and she walked away from it. Without the metvest, she would at the very least have had a long night in A&E, as the lovely fellow who decided to have a go at her certainly wasn’t holding back.
As far as I can tell, the Metvest’s main purpose is to make you sweat like a randy otter, and to provide some nice big pockets you can use to can carry the six hundred forms you need on an average shift.
The ASP – Back in the mists of time, all batons used by the Met were made by a company called Armament Systems and Procedures, and had ASP written on the side of them. As such, everybody still refers to them as Asps, even though the current-issue batons are made by Monadnock. The one I have is a 21″ telescopic, friction lock extendable baton – or the FLB, as the TLA (Three-Letter-Acronym) happy Met likes to call them.
It’s a clever piece of kit; stays out of the way most of the time, but when you need it, it’s rather reassuring to have 21 inches of steel at your beck and call.
When it comes to the batons, we do a fair bit of training with them every six months, as part of our OST (Officer Safety Training). I’m rather glad to report that whilst I won’t hesitate to ‘rack’ my baton if the situation calls for it, I haven’t had to use itall that often. I’m sure there’ll be stories about those occations coming up in later installments of this blog…
CS incapacitant spray – In addition to the asp, we’re issued with a small canister of CS spray. Under English law, it is technically defined as a firearm; specifically, “any weapon designed for the discharge of any noxious liquid”. Our canisters don’t fire a thin mist (as you’d expect from, say, a spray deodorant); instead, they project a stream of liquid (much like a water pistol). CS is a curious weapon to issue us with; about 10% of people have very little response to CS gas, and a further 10% react rather extremely to it.
In training, we all have to ‘get gassed’ ourselves, so we know what the effects are, how long they last, and what you have to do to make it wear off as quickly as possible. It turns out that my reaction to CS is rather extreme, a situation not helped by the fact that I wear contact lenses when I’m on duty. Basically, whenever CS is used by one of my colleagues, we are likely to be subjected to at least a little bit of the stuff as well, and when I am, I’m on the floor, tears and snot and sweat flowing everywhere. Not very dignified, I suppose, but that’s the main reason I’ve never discharged my own CS yet – I know it’s a rubbish tactical option.
Handcuffs – Finally, I’ve got a set of lovely Hiatt Speedcuffs. They are a set of rigid handcuffs (as opposed to the ones with a chain between each wrist), and they’re rather nifty. They’re quite clunky to carry around with you, but they are solid enough to be used as a weapon as required: If I’m approaching a suspect holding a set of handcuffs, and they suddenly turn violent, it’s more economical, from a time point of view, to give them a couple of jabs with my cuffs than to have to take a step back, put my cuffs away, and reach for my baton, for example.
I’d say that my handcuffs are probably my most oft-used piece of PPE; I use them several times per week, whereas I might draw my baton a few times per month, and my CS has stayed in its holster for as long as I’ve had it.
It stands to reason that, since I carry a good 15 kgs of paperwork and other crap with me, it’s rather hard to run in all this equipment. Even the fastest, fittest of police officers don’t stand a chance against a 17-year-old in his physical prime carrying only a tracksuit and a pair of running shoes. And, it saddens me to say, I’m neither the fastest nor fittest police officer on the Metropolitan Police payroll.
So, you have a stick, a set of fashion faux-pas bangles, and some particularly nasty deodorant, basically?
Well, I suppose you could look at it that way. I do have one more ‘weapon’, however, which comes in handy every now and again: my radio. It has a red button on it that I can press when it all goes a bit pete tong, for example if I’m facing a psycho with a pistol, or a madman with a machete (it has happened…). A quick press of that button and a shout for Trojan assistance, and the guys with the guns come flying in their BMW 5-shaped armed response vehicles.
The radios we use are Motorola MTH800 units, operating on the Airwave network. They’re generally pretty good, apart from the bit where they don’t work very well indoors. They are particularly useless in some of the lovely council-provided habitation facilities on my borough. That’s rather unfortunate – as you might be able to guess, this is precisely where things go wrong a lot of the time.
As far as weaponry goes, I know that a lot of coppers are in favour of us being armed with tasers, or even that more constables should be routinely armed with firearms. Personally, I don’t really see the point. If all police start carrying weapons, I imagine the criminals we are up against are going to escalate their side of the arms race as well. As it is, I don’t think I’ve been in many situations where it’d have been helpful for me to carry an oversize bug-zapper with me. Although, having said that, I think I would have felt a lot more comfortable if I had been able to tase the guy who came at me with a hypodermic needle recently…
Stay out of trouble,