His name was Jamie. “My friend, I have absolutely nothing against the police”, he confided, still leaning against the car, “but this really is rather a bit of an inconvenience, and I wish you weren’t doing this”.
In this job, every blue moon, you come across cases that are just plain bizarre. There was the 12-year-old I arrested for sexual assault; the 80-year-old that got nicked for stealing fully-inflated party balloons, and tried to do a runner with his zimmerframe. And the car thief whom I completely failed to arrest after she flashed her boobs at me. She caused such a mishegas among the group of deeply religious bystanders, that I was distracted for long enough that she simply left the car where it was, sauntered off, and got on the tube.
Right from when I first spotted Jamie, there was something just a little bit off about him. I wasn’t able to pinpoint what. In retrospect, he did drive meticulously, with both his hands on the steering wheel, and seemed to drive to the system, much like they teach us in our advanced driving course. Perhaps it was his demeanour when I pulled him over for talking on his mobile phone whilst driving… Or maybe I caught something subconsciously. Or perhaps I’m only noticing all of this because I know what I know now.
“Please turn off your ignition, leave your keys in the car, and join me on the pavement, please”, I asked him. He shrugged, turned off his car, took his keys out of the ignition and lobbed them on the dashboard, looked carefully to see if there were any cars coming, then got out, walked around, and leaned against the slightly battered, but overall rather well-maintained Audi A4 saloon.
“Do you know why I stopped you?”, I asked him, in that ever-so-fishing-for-self-incriminatory-information kind of way that I seemed to perfect the day I graduated out of Hendon. “I believe I do”, he said, to my surprise. “I was talking on my mobile phone, contravening Section 26 of the Road Safety Act of 2006, and, I suppose, regulation 104 of the Road Vehicles Regulations of 1986, officer”. He flashed a half-smile at me, that I wasn’t quite able to ascertain the meaning of. I was staring in the face of a man who knew exactly what he had been stopped for, and why.
That… doesn’t happen very often; usually, people pretend to not have spoken on the phone (a daft move, it’s pretty easy to see when you’re driving behind somebody), then they pretend they didn’t know it was illegal, and when that doesn’t work, they usually tell me that they’ve never done it before, and that it was a really important call, and that they will never do it again if they please, please, please don’t get a ticket because their insurance is going to go up if I issue that ticket.
It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to these things; the black rats caught me for various motoring offences, including speeding and being on the car phone (car phones! Does anyone even remember those?) whilst driving. However, after I started this job, I put a swift end to silliness behind the wheel. Y’see, part of my job is to go to traffic collisions, and they are easily my least favourite part of the job. Accidents are almost never caused by technical failure; I would probably say that stupidity and complacence are the two main causes for accidents.
The combination of stupidity and complacence is a particularly nasty cocktail: Only because you’ve driven yourself to work every day for the past 3 years without an incident, it doesn’t mean that a cyclist isn’t going to be on your left as you turn without looking. It doesn’t mean that you can text your friend about your plans for the weekend because there wasn’t a kid playing in that particular part of the road the day before. And it doesn’t mean you can put in your contact lenses whilst driving because you didn’t have time before you jumped in the car. Yup, I’ve seen all three scenarios happen.
Normally after I ask someone whether they know why I stopped them, I explain all these things to them. Nobody likes being stopped by the police, nobody likes to get a ticket; but I won’t apologise; endanger my roads where I can see you, and you’re fair game.
But I digress.
Jamie was standing there, hands in his jeans pockets, as my radio buzzed into life. “592 receiving Mike Delta”, it chimed. I turned the volume down a couple of clicks before responding. “592 receiving”. “Are you still on scene?”. “Yes yes. I’ll be about twenty minutes”. “Are you Charlie Papa“?
Now, I should explain that the last question normally means trouble. Charlie Papa is short for Close Proximity, which means that they want to talk to me without my suspect overhearing it. This normally means that they’ve found a marker on the person or the car that I am dealing with, and have a piece of news that I need to know about. They may need to tell me that there is a warrant for his arrest, that he is known for guns or violence, or similar. “Spare please”, I request. “Changing”, the CAD operator replies, and I change my radio to the spare channel.
“Jamie, I won’t be a minute”, I say, and walk out of earshot. “No worries, take your time”, he says, still leaned against the grey Audi, fiddling with, but not lighting, a cigarette.
“Can you repeat the index please”, the CAD operator asks me; she wants me to read out the number plate again. “Yes yes. It’s Kilo Alpha Five Four Mike Bravo X-Ray”. The radio goes quiet. “Stand by”, the CAD operator says.
After what seems like an eternity, the operator comes back on. “592 receiving”, she says. “Go ahead”, I reply. “Er, there’s a marker on the car, do you have your mobile on you?”. It’s an unusual request; why would I need my mobile phone? “Yes yes”, I reply, and hesitantly add… “Is everything OK?”. “Stand by your mobile”, was her only reply, “Mike Delta Out”.
The busy A-road is buzzing with traffic pulling past us at a slow pace. The park behind me sends a fresh breeze my way, and Jamie is finally lighting the cigarette he was fiddling with, without taking his eyes off me for a nanosecond.
I switch my radio back to the main despatch channel, and just as I finish doing that, my phone rings with a withheld number. “Hi, is that Delito 592 Mike Delta?”, “Uhm… Yes, it is. Who is speaking, please?”
“Yeah, this is commander Smith from CO15“. My brain is racing. What the hell do counter terrorism want from me, and why do I suddenly have a commander on the line? “We just had a phonecall from special branch. Did you just pull Kilo Alpha 54 Mike Bravo X-Ray?”. “Er… Yes, sir, I did”. “Who is the driver of the vehicle?”. I glance over at Jamie. Is he a terrorist? What the hell is going on? “It’s a Jamie, sir…” I read the name on the licence. “Cancel that. His name is James Robert Simpson, sir.”
“Okay, that’s all right”, the man on the phone says. “Jamie is a good man. What did you stop him for”? he asked. “He was driving whilst talking on his mobile, sir”, I reply. “That’s fine. Give him a ticket, but don’t run his name through PNC. Once he’s left, make sure to destroy the ticket, and please give me a call once you’re back in the office.”
Commander Smith rings off after giving me an internal Metropolitan Police telephone number. I check with despatch to make sure that I was to do what the Commander had just told me, and then I walk over to Jamie. I calmly start writing him out a £60 endorsable fixed penalty notice. I explain to him that he has to pay within twenty-eight days, and that he will get 3 points on his licence. Jamie is completely unfazed by any of it. He listens politely – carefully, even – and doesn’t say a word.
Once the process is completed, he speaks. “Thanks, buddy. Stay safe”. He extends his hand to shake mine, but I curtly shake my head; I wouldn’t usually shake someone’s hand after handing them a ticket – it’s a safety thing. He shrugs, flashes me another smile, raises an eyebrow briefly, and then gets back into his car.
The silver Audi glides off the sidewalk back into traffic, fading into the invisibility afforded by being a boring, unnoticeworthy motor in a sea of metal as soon as all four wheels are back on the road. I spot Jamie waving a greeting of thanks to the driver that let him back into traffic, and I’m kicking myself. I should have said or done something cool. At least have shook his hand. Or perhaps invited him for a pint.
Or borrowed a cigarette off him.
I don’t even smoke.
I try to call commander Smith, but am instead greeted by an Inspector who says he’ll meet me at the police station for a debriefing in person. It turns out that the system should have flagged up a warning message as soon as I ran the car through the PNC (Police National Computer). Normally, the message that would have shown was “Must not be stopped without Trojan assistance“, but due to a glitch that didn’t happen.
They never did tell me who Jamie was or what he did (or, indeed, if that was his real name), except that he was not ‘job’ (so, not working for the police), but did work for the government.
Jamie was not particularly tall, not particularly well-dressed, not especially noteworthy in any way. And yet, out of all the traffic stops I’ve done, he’ll probably be the only spy I’ve ever seen… That I know of
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.