I slump back against a tree stump at the edge of the park, watching the two youths run off into the distance, only dimly aware of the device I’m holding in my hand. “Hello? Hello!?”. The little machine I’m holding is making sounds, but it only barely registers. Somehow, I hear my watch beep twice, signifying that it’s 3am.
“This”, I think to myself, “Has been a particularly rotten day”.
Cycling in the park after dark... What's the worst that could happen?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was meant to be introducing yours truly. Hi. I’m Matt. I’m a police officer, but I wasn’t always. I’ve had quite a few different jobs in my time, including working in a petrol station (that was a barrel of laughs, I would tell you, if it wasn’t such an easy-to-detect lie). I briefly worked as a runner for the BBC as well. That was interesting, as I got to meet all sorts of celebrities. Jeremy Clarkson told me to f*ck off once, which is probably the highlight of my pre-police career. I suppose that explains why I didn’t quite decide to stick with it.
I’d like to invite you, for a minute, to think about what your average day consists of. No, go on, I’ll just sit back and have a few sips of my coffee whilst you ponder. Got it? Cool. Well, unless you’re my OP/IRV*, your days are rather likely to be somewhat different than mine, and that’s why I decided to start writing this blog. I have a few friends left who aren’t in the job (hi, Simon), but there aren’t many left of them, because I appear to be spending most of my time either in uniform or hiding from the world under my duvet. But that’s a different matter altogether. This blog is to give all the lovely non-police people out there a chance to get a taste of what it’s really like. One quick hint before we get started: It’s not like anything you may have seen on telly.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, slumped against a tree stump. Allow me to rewind just another four minutes. I had just come off duty after a particularly long shift, and was cycling home. Cycling, because my motorbike had an unfortunate run-in with a bin lorry whilst it was parked outside the police station. I don’t really know if it was an accident or whether the bin-man was grumpy, but that’s by the by.
Anyway, I am cycling through the park, and it’s quite dark. In the corner of my eye, I spot some movement. At nearly 3am, in a dark park, that’s generally bad news, so I slow down to take a closer look. Slowing down probably saved my life, because the next thing I know, I’m thrown off my bicycle. The movement I had spotted was a teenager ducking in behind a tree, and the reason he was there was that he and a friend had spanned a length of steel wire across the cycle path, roughly at neck level. It’s an old trick: Get the cyclist off the bike, then nick their bike and possessions whilst they are dazed and confused. Or, in some cases, dead.
I was flat on my back, and the two youths came out of the darkness. One of them grabbed my bike, the other stole my gym bag. They briefly dug through my pockets, and then ran off into the darkness.
“Hello? Is there anybody there”? I look down at the thing in my hand. It is my old, crappy Nokia phone that the thieves didn’t want. The screen is lit up and reads 999. “Hah”, I think, “I guess I must have called them”.
“Yeah, hello, this is Matt Delito, I’m a police constable Mike Delta five-nine-two. I’ve just been attacked with a garrot-wire in the park by two youths, IC1, slim build, approximately five foot tall, wearing black tracksuits. One had white trainers, the other was wearing a baseball cap. Red, I think. Also, I need an ambulance, I think I may have broken my wrist.”
Within seconds, I hear the sirens of a passing police car flick on, and in less than a minute, I can see the silhouettes of Tom and Jennie come running toward me. A couple of minutes later, a second car shows up, with one of the boys – the one with the red baseball cap – in tow.
I’m still on the ground, heart pounding, with a god-awful pain in my wrist. I look up at the young man. “You’ve made a few terrible mistakes today, young man”, I say, as he half-heartedly struggles against his handcuffs. “You’re lucky I am tall. If I’d have been 6 inches shorter, that cable could have taken my windpipe off, and you’d have gone down for murder”.
I don’t have the heart to tell him that his other mistake was not stealing my little Nokia. Sure, it’s hardly the most fancy piece of equipment, but being able to dial 999 immediately was probably the only reason the two of them were arrested. If I had waited for even a couple of minutes, there’s not a doubt in my mind that they would have gotten away.
I’ve already done a 14-hour shift, but it looks as if I’m going to be spending the next ten hours being ferried back and forth to the hospital to have my wrist set, being lectured about concussions, giving witness statements back at the police station, and shake my head at the idiocy of it all. It turns out he is 18 years old, and is going to get locked up for grievous bodily harm (GBH).
The arm hurts, and my chest is aching from where the wire cut into it. I’ll be honest with you, though, most of all, I’m pissed off that I don’t get a good night’s sleep.
I’m starting with this particular story because it’s been at the forefront of my mind for a while, recently. I’m out there chasing after burglars, arresting shoplifters, breaking up fights, dealing with traffic collisions, reports of thefts, and the odd assault here and there all the time. It wasn’t until I was a victim of a violent crime myself that I realised how nice it is to be in a borough of London where the police does show up quickly, and are able to help.
In this case, the boys were arrested within minutes; a lucky break perhaps, helped along by the fact that the numnuts didn’t steal my phone as well, and that I know exactly what to say to the 999 operators to get the search started as soon as possible. I would hate to think what would have happened if they'd stolen my phone -- would they have finished me off once I gathered my courage to scramble away?
It’s not the only time I’ve been a victim of crime, but it’s probably the only time worth mentioning – mostly, because this incident is what spurred me to start writing this blog.
>IC1 means “white ethnicity”. For the other IC codes, Wikipedia is about to become your best friend.
>OP/IRV is an Incident Response Vehicle Operator. It’s the person who isn’t driving the police car, basically.
>"The Job" is how police refer to, well, "the police". So a “job car” is a police car, a “job phone” is a police-issue mobile, and a “job bonus” is a joke
Matt Delito is a pseudonym for a policeman working for the Metropolitan Police. All Notes from the Frontline are not entirely “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” due to the sensitive nature of the business, but are all based on actual events. These days, he’s on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Matt has a book based on his Notes from the Front Line column out now - you can get it from Amazon, in paperback or on Kindle.
If you missed his previous columns on Giz UK, check them out over here.