Dawn on a Tuesday morning, and I’m sitting in the briefing room, contemplating why I am doing this job again. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but the first early start after four days off really gets to me. Every. Single. Time. The muted half-conversation and the stingless banter around the room indicates that, like every other first shift after a short break, I’m not the only one contemplating a change of career, or a quick nap in changing rooms before heading out.
“(…) is Mike Delta 592 and Mike Delta 5112″, I hear.
I engage the one spider-sense you (eventually) develop as a police officer: The ability to rewind a conversation in your head. It’s one of those weird things; You start reacting to your shoulder number almost instinctively, and even if you weren’t really paying attention, you’ll somehow be able to recall the whole conversation without even really trying. The beginning of the skipper’s statement had been “Today, two-six (…)”.
So; I’m posted on a panda, which is vaguely annoying me, because I was driving the area car most of the last set of shifts. Then I get annoyed at my own annoyance, because I realise that on any other day, it wouldn’t matter to me what my posting was: As an advanced driver, I’ll do just as many blue-light runs in a panda as in the area car; the only real difference is the kind of jobs we’d be assigned to
I’m not familiar with the other guy’s shoulder number either, but his four-digit-number-starting-with-a-five, so that means he or she is a Special Constable; a volunteer who donates their time to being a police officer. I look around the room, and I spot two unfamiliar faces; A not unattractive woman. I automatically think IC3 female, about 20 years old, around five-foot-three in my head, which annoys me further. To make light of the situation mentally, I continue the police radio description; “Wearing a white business shirt with a chequered tie, and what appears to be a Metropolitan Police stab-vest. She is armed with a stick and is carrying handcuffs. Spray not seen but assumed present”. If I were to have to make a risk assessment of her, it’d have to be high; she’s carrying an offensive weapon (a gravity friction-lock baton) and a firearm (technically, the CS gas cannisters we are issued with are firearms under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968). She’s also wearing a stab-proof and bullet-resistant vest, which indicates that she is prepared for a confrontation, which would further raise my threat level.
I shake my head sadly. If I’m doing ‘dynamic risk assessments’, as they like to call them in the Met, on my colleagues, I must really be having a useless morning.
I think I’ve seen her before. I spend a few seconds studying the girl, but eventually Simon, who is sitting next to her, leans back a little, and I spot her shoulder number. She’s not a special. Maybe she’s a newcomer, or on loan from another team, or perhaps she’s just sitting in on our briefing for no good reason. Either way, she’s cute (which is a bonus) but she also seems taken by Simon, which means I don’t stand a chance.
After the briefing, I bolt out of the briefing room to secure my favourite car. We’ve recently taken delivery of a couple of Ford Focus pandas that have reasonably beefy turbodiesel engines; but more importantly, the seats are more comfortable than those we have in the Astras. If I’m going to spend eight hours stuck in a motor, I want to sit in one that has at least some semblance of comfort.
As I’m doing the full pre-tour-of-duty inspection check, 5112 comes up to me.
“Hi”, he says, nervously. “I think I am with you. Is this car two-six?” he asks, and looks at the various markings on the car.
“It is today”, I reply. “Two-six is a callsign, you won’t find it written on the car. I’m Matt”, I say, and stick my hand out, “What’s your name?”
“Uh. Hi Matt. I am Sydney. But my friends call me Syd”, he says.
“Well, I’m going to be your friend then”, I reply, “Because, no offence, I ain’t calling you Sydney”.
“Yeah, I think my parents have a funny sense of humour. Between you and me, I think I was named after the city I was conceived in”, he says, “I’m just glad they didn’t get down to business in Scunthorpe”.
We both laugh. I think I’ll get along with this guy just fine.
“Do you want a tip, Syd? Write my shoulder number and our callsign on your hand. If you need to radio in, it’ll be the first thing you forget, and you’ll feel like a right idiot as you’re standing there holding the transmit button. I had to do that for the first year or so in this job, until it finally became second nature remembering these things”
“That’s a good idea,” he said, and showed me his right hand. He had already written it down.
“Good stuff, I said. But you should have written it on your left hand”, I mumbled, and flicked the sirens on and off again. Yup, they work, all right.
After the checks have been completed, we get in the car and drive off on patrol.
“So, how long have you been a special?”, I ask.
“Only about six months, but I’ve been really busy at work, so I haven’t been able to do that many shifts. This is my fifth”, he says.
“Your fifth shift?”, I ask, and glance across to the guy next to me, “And you get put with me? Oh boy have they made a mistake”
He looks back, and I spot something in his eyes. Nerves.
“I kid, I kid…”, I say, and I see him relax a little.
“So what have you done so far? Any arrests?”
“The first few shifts I was out with other specials”, he said. “It was interesting, but to be honest, I didn’t really get to do anything, because the more experienced officers were quicker out of the van every time. I’ve done a few stops and searches, I suppose, and a ticket for someone who ran a red light. No arrests yet, though.”
“Well, do you know your caution?”
“Yes!” he said, and started reciting it.
“All right, all right, I believe you. So, if you were to arrest me for spray-painting on that wall over there”, I nodded at a wall that had been graffittied so much it was hard to tell what its original colour might have been. “What would you say and do?”
The special spent the next few minutes in a monologue, stammered his way through everything without making too many mistakes, but at least he didn’t miss any of the steps out.
“Right-oh”, I said, when he finally fell silent. “Better practice the caution some more, eh? The only thing I would have done different, is to make sure you don’t give him the chance to turn that spray-can on you. Up against the wall, straight in handcuffs. It’s not much of a weapon, but it’s extremely unpleasant to get a blast of paint in your eyes, and ordering new uniform items because they’re covered in paint is a pain in the backside”, I said. “Anyway, we’ll see if we can’t find you a body today. Keep an ear on your radio, and put us up for any jobs you like the sound of. A shoplifter is a nice easy first arrest, so if that comes up, we’ll go and deal with it.”
“Seriously? Thanks dude”, he said.
“Call me dude again, and you’re walking”, I said sternly. He looked over at me, and started on an apology.
“Dude, lighten up”, I said, with a grin. “If you can’t take a bit of banter, you’re not gonna last in this job. So, why did you become a special?”
“I want to become a regular”, he said. “But when I tried to apply, the recruitment office said that they’ve got a full freeze on all recruitment, and that if I wanted to become an officer, the best thing was to become a PCSO or a special. So here I am…”
“Good idea; being old bill doesn’t work for everybody. It’s a good way to get a feeling for things, I think”.
“It’s a bit cheeky, too, though, huh?”, he said.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, being a special is a voluntary thing. We get like nine quid per shift towards food and our travel expenses, but that’s it. So basically, we’re paying for our own training, aren’t we?”
I thought about that for a little while.
“I suppose so,” I said, “but for a lot of other jobs, you do a degree, and you have to pay for that too, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but in my day job, I work for a bank. We had three months of training, and there’s no way I’d have paid for that.”
“Hmm. Yes, I guess that is a little cheeky. I did get paid during my training,” I said, “but that was in the good old days, before Boris and the recession. Everything was better (…)”
“Hey, did you see that”, Syd said.
“That red Corsa. The passenger was holding a baby in her arms”.
“Shall we pull them over?”, I asked.
“Wanna do the talking?”
“All right then,” I said, and turned on the blues on the car, before doing a 3-point turn and pointing the car the right way.
The Corsa was ambling along the thinly trafficked road, and the four cars between us and the Corsa all pulled over to let us pass. When there was only one car left between us, I turned off the flashing cavalcade of LED-disco on the roof, following our little Corsa from two cars behind.
“Run them”, I said.
Syd started fiddling with the in-car computer, not really seeming as if he knew what he was doing. We weren’t in much of a rush, so I decided to leave him to it. Eventually he figured out how to get to the right page. He typed in the number plate.
“I didn’t get the last group of letters”, he said.
“It’s Echo Romeo Echo”, I replied.
The car came back insured to a mr Simpson, without any other markers on it; not stolen, not suspicious, not used in crime, etc.
“Check him as well”, I said.
Syd copied the driver’s details over to the person-check screen, and ran them through the computer as well.
“There’s a match”, he said, “but I don’t really know what all of this means”, he said.
I looked at the screen.
“He has been arrested before, and has a marker on him; he is a known drugs user. He doesn’t flash violent or weapons, however, so that means he hasn’t attacked anyone, and he’s not known for carrying weapons. These are all things you take into consideration. If he had flashed firearms, for example, we’d have to call in Trojan assistance to pull the car over”.
“So how would you assess the risk on this one?”, I asked him.
“Well, his car is insured and has a valid MOT, and his arrest was about seven years ago. I’m guessing he’s a low risk”, Syd said.
“A low risk? Are you sure?”
“Ah. No. He’s an unknown risk.”
“That’s better. For all we know, he’s on drugs, or hates cops, or he may have kidnapped the woman and child. Remember what you were taught in Officer Safety; people are either high or unknown risk.”
“Yeah, I should have remembered that. Sorry”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t apologise! Right, let’s wait for a bus stop and try and pull them over, so we have a bit of space to work.”, I said.
“What about that petrol station over there?”
“Not a bad shout, but it’s hard to get someone to pull over into a petrol station. Usually, when we put the blues on, people think we were just wanting to pass.”, I said. I saw a bus-stop come up, and flicked on my blues. The car in front pulled over to the side nearly immediately, and we zipped past. The Corsa took a couple of seconds to notice us, so I briefly turned the sirens on. When I did, they pulled over to the side, and I followed them across. They came to a complete stop, and the driver bounded out of the car, clearly agitated.
“Why are you always picking on me!”, he shouted before we had even made it out of the car fully.
Oh dear. I opened my mouth, but Syd jumped in.
“Sir, I’m going to need you to calm down”, Syd said.
“Calm down?”, he said, facing Syd. “What the hell are you talking about. This is the third time I’ve been pulled over this week”.
“What were you pulled over for the previous times”, Syd said. A smart move; the man doesn’t have to answer him, of course, but if it turns out he has been stopped for seatbelt things recently, it would change things slightly, and I would have been less inclined to let him off with a warning.
“Drink driving”, he man said.
“And were you?” Syd replied.
“Of course not! I’m a recovering fucking alcoholic, aren’t I? I don’t drink or do…” he paused briefly, and it seemed like he changed his mind about the sentence that was about to roll out of his mouth. “anything… else… anymore!”
“I’m sorry about the misunderstanding in those cases, then, sir”, Syd said. “My dad was an alcoholic, it was very hard. I’m glad you’re on the wagon, how long have you been dry?”
Syd’s questions took the man completely by surprise, and the transformation in the man was astonishing. From being a children’s balloon, over-inflated with rage, threatening to pop at any second, he changed completely. He dropped his arms down along the sides of his body. He was speaking slower. He wasn’t shouting anymore, and he didn’t look like he might take a swing at us anymore.
“Er… Just over a year”, he said, after looking Syd up and down. “A year and two months, to be precise”.
“That’s amazing. Keep it up”, Syd said. “However, that wasn’t why we stopped you.”
“The lady in your passenger seat…”
“My wife”, the man interrupted.
“Your wife. She seems to be holding a baby.”
“Well, that is incredibly dangerous.”
“What are you talking about? Is this about a car seat? We’re just on the way to her parents, we left the car seat there last week, and we’re going to go pick it up”, he said.
“Where is their house?”
“Only a couple of miles up the road.”
“And where do you live?”
“Over there”, he said, and pointed vaguely.
“About five minutes?”
“Well, would it be possible to talk to you and your wife at the same time just for a moment?”
“Er… Okay?”, he said, and walked to the car, saying something to the woman in the passenger seat. She came out and joined us on the pavement next to the bus stop.
“Hi. Sorry to get you out of the car like that, but there’s something I wanted to talk to you about”, Syd said. I leaned against the police car; he seemed to be doing rather well.
“And what’s that”, she snapped, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Syd was about to say something, but the man interrupted.
“No need to be mean, he’s all right”, he said. I blinked and looked over at Syd. He glanced back with an almost imperceptible shrug.
“Well, I noted that you were wearing a seat belt, but that your baby wasn’t”, he said to the woman.
“I was holding onto him”, she interjected. “I would never let anything happen to him!”
“I understand that, but please hear me out”, Syd said. “You guys were driving… How fast?”
“30 mph exactly, officer”, the man said, with an uncertain grin that showed that he was stretching the truth a little.
“Okay, 30mph. I’m not going to give you a citation for excessive speed”, Syd agreed, using all the words slightly annoyed police officers use. “citation”? “excessive speed?”.
The kid’s been watching too many episodes of the Bill, I thought to myself.
“Let’s say your baby weighs a stone. Is that about right?”, Syd asked.
“Yeah, he’s about fifteen pounds”, the woman replies.
“Let’s call it a stone, it makes the maths easier. The problem we have here, is that you guys were driving at”, he said, glancing back and forth at both of the briefly, before placing a comical amount of emphasis on the next word, “exactly 30 mph. The problem is that if you are in a crash, you are going to slow down awfully fast. Say, for the sake of argument, that you are extremely unlucky and end up in a head-on collision. When that happens, your car goes from exactly 30mph to exactly zero mph in a very short distance. Agreed?”
“Yeah, that’s about right” the man said.
I walked around to the car behind the couple to take a quick glance inside; I didn’t have any grounds for search, really, but I figured if I could see any drug paraphernalia from outside the car, we could search it. It seemed messy, but nothing was immediately visible.
“But I’m holding on to him!”, the woman started saying, but by the time she made it to the end of her sentence, she was full-on screaming, completely losing her cool. “Nothing bad is going to happen to him!!”
“Right, please hear me out,” Syd got them back on track. “Say that you go from 30 miles per hour to zero in the space of about a foot and a half, right? That is an acceleration of about 20 times the earth’s gravity. That means that your 1-stone baby would go from 1 stone of weight in your arms, to about 20 stone moving away from you.”
The woman just stared at Syd, but her eyes showed that she was trying to envision holding on to a 20-stone baby.
“I guess what I am asking: Would you be able to hold a 20-stone item the size of a large watermelon in your arms in the middle of a car crash?”
“I…”, she said.
“Be honest.” he said. “No, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t have a chance. Which means that if you guys had been in a crash, your baby would have gone flying straight into the windshield. There, he wouldn’t have had the benefit of being slowed down gradually: Instead of being slowed down by the seat belt over a distance of about a foot and a half, he would be brought to a stop in an inch or less. Then…”
Syd was on a roll, and I could tell that he was about to launch into a further explanation. He was so caught up in his own discussion, that he hadn’t seen how pale the woman had gotten. I shook my head at him. He spotted me, and stopped his train of thought.
“You get the picture; I don’t need to explain. Suffice to say that it’s unlikely that your baby would survive an impact like that.”
The woman went even more pale, and was hugging her child closely. She looked, for a moment, as if she might keel over, but her husband stepped in and put an arm around her.
“So, I’ll give you guys a choice. Either you and the baby go for a nice cup of tea over there, in that cafe, whilst your husband goes to fetch the baby seat”, Syd said, turning from mother and child to the man as he stuck his hands into his Metvest, “Or I’m going to give you a ticket for £60 and three points on your licence, and I’m not going to let you drive off unless the baby is in a child seat.”
The couple looked at each other. She nodded, and he shrugged in reply.
“Do you need money?”, the man said to his wife.
“I’ve got a tenner” she said. “Drive carefully.”
Turning to Syd, she said. “Thank you for explaining, officer. Why don’t they explain it like that when you learn how to drive?”
“They kind of do…”, Syd said. “But never mind. Just remember; It’s your baby’s life at stake. Use your seat belt, and a car seat for the little one. He’s cute, what his name?”
“Jimmy”, she said.
“Hi Jimmy”, Syd said to the baby, who as fast asleep in his mothers arms.
As the man drove off and the woman carried her baby across the road to the cafe, we got back in our car.
“How did I do”, Syd said.
“That was really impressive,” I said. “I think you’re going to do well in this job. You made one mistake though…”
“Should I have given them a ticket? I’m not sure I have the right form on me”, he said.
“No”, I laughed, “That’s up to you, and if we have to, we can keep them here until someone brings us the right ticket. Besides, I always carry some in my bag in the boot. Anyway; I think you showed some good discretion there: I think your little speech is going to be more effective than a ticket for them. How did you know all that stuff?”
“It’s basic physics”, he said. “… And my driving teacher explained it all to me exactly like that. It kind of stuck with me, you know. What was my mistake?”
“You threatened to ticket the man and give him points, but a seatbelt offence only carries a £60 fine. No points.”
“Seriously? But you get points for talking on your mobile? I’d have thought it should have been the other way around…”
“Yeah, I agree”, I said. “The only other thing is… I think you dealt with the situation very very well, but you should have checked his details. We checked the car and its insurance status, but we don’t even know the name of the guy; it may not have been mr Simpson at all, and for all you know, the car may have been stolen.”
“Oh shit, do you think so?” he said. “Why did you let me let them get away then?”
“When you were talking to them, I radioed in and did another check on him via the support channel. Since he has been arrested, they keep things like distinguishing marks on file about him. Did you see anything that might have qualified?”
“He had an Everton tattoo on his forearm?”, Syd asked.
“Yeah. When I did a name-check on mr Simpson, they said he had that tattoo. Also, his age looked like it might be OK, and his vague description of ’5 minutes that way’ is roughly where his car is registered. It’s not foolproof, of course, but given the circumstances, I was happy that we had the right person, and so I didn’t want to knock you off your stride. It’s worth keeping in mind, however: never assume anything.”
“Never assume anything” Syd echoed, and looked out of the window.
A call came in over the radio, and we looked at each other.
“A shoplifter”, I said. “Let’s go get you that first arrest”.
He beamed, and pressed the transmit button on his personal radio.
“Show…”, a long pause followed. He stopped transmitting, and lifted the radio away from his face, flipped it upside down so he could see the back of his right hand. He read our call sign, before returning the radio back to his face, and transmitting again.
“Show two-six”, he said. As he finished his transmission, he produced a pen, and wrote “2-6″ on the back of his left hand as well.