"Mate, if you don't get back in your car and shut the hell up, I'm nicking you for breach of the peace". I'm trying to stay as calm as I can, as my face is about an inch away from his.
He's tall, athletically built, and for the first time in a very, very long time, I'm finding myself wishing that someone would take a swing at me. There's nothing I'd rather do right now than to take this belligerent yuppie c*nt to the ground in handcuffs.
Let's start at the beginning...
Some days, you just know that you should have stayed in bed. This was most definitely one of them. So far today, I had helped a probationer do one of their first arrests, for an alleged assault where a bartender had shoved a manager around a little bit. Nothing serious, but it's a tidy arrest: You show up at their house, read out the allegation, invite them into the cage at the back of the van, and take them to the station. There wasn't even much of a wait to be booked into a custody suite, and the bartender was suitably embarrassed about it all, which made things go rather smoothly. Even the smoothest of arrests take several hours by the time they're handed over to the case progression unit, however -- especially with a probationer who hasn't done all the steps before.
By the time we were done, I was starving, but we were called away on an I-grade to a non-dom (non-domestic; usually shops or factories or similar) burglary in progress. The next hour we were playing cat-and-mouse with a couple of lads who had broken into a shop's warehouse. We managed to get them both after we got a bit of help from India 99 (that's the police helicopter, or the 'helicopper', as they tend to be childishly referred to on my borough) and a dogs unit. Back to the station to book in two more prisoners; one for me, and another one for the probationer. The custody sergeant saw us come back in, and drily noted that "you wait for weeks for a prisoner...". A joke, of course, because there was a 45-minute queue to get booked in, during which my prisoner racked up an assault charge in addition to his burglary charge, when he punched his co-conspirator.
It was actually a little bit funny, to watch someone who was handcuffed to the back punch another person who was handcuffed. Funny, but no joke: Once someone is arrested, we are responsible for their well-being, and if someone gets clocked in the face whilst in our care, it's bad news all around. I had to get an inspector to come down (and this particular guy hates to leave his office), and he had to take statements both from me, my probationer, and the two idiots who were in our care, before writing up a report. Messy stuff.
By the time we were finally done, there was still an hour left of my shift, but I was bloody exhausted. I really wanted to hide out in the writing room and write up some notes and deal with my emails, but we were short-staffed that day, and another call came out.
"We've just had a call, youths fighting with knives in Church Park". Balls. We were only four police-cars in our end of the borough today; two of them were busy with prisoners, one was dealing with an RTC, so there was only me left. My probationer was still futzing about with his prisoner (they found a quantity of drugs on him, which means that there's more procedures that need to be followed).
"Show Mike Delta 22", I sigh. I grab the hat next to my computer and stroll out of the police station, putting it on, only to realise it's several sizes too small. Typical - I'd picked up the wrong hat. Or one of my hilarious colleagues had swapped my hat with someone else's. I'm all for pranks, but I just really wasn't in the mood.
I got in my car, and kept an ear out to find out whether anybody else was attending. I didn't particularly fancy going into a knife fight on my own. As I started the car, I reached for my radio.
"Mike Delta receiving 592...", I transmitted, as I checked my blind spot and pulled out into traffic, flicking my blues on.
"592 go ahead", came the response. "Yeah, about these youths, do we know how many there are?", "We're just calling back the informant. They said there were five or six. She wasn't sure whether a knife had been seen", the CAD operator said. Fair enough.
I drive to the park in question, and sure enough, there is a group of youths. I turn off my blues and get out of the car.
"Show TOA 22", I say, and stand there, in the shade of the trees. It's night, it's winter, and I don't think they've spotted me. I'm just there, watching the youths for a second. There are two groups of them; two and three. I recognised one of them as a gang member who I'd arrested for OffWeap once before.
"You have a fucking piece?", one of the three shouted. "Well fucking show it then. You're full of shit. I'll fucking shank you. I'll shank you in the face, you c*nt. Your fucking mum won't even fucking recognise you".
So, threatening with guns and knives? I didn't particularly like the look of this one. I reach for my radio to call in some Trojan assistance, but think better of it, and decide to intervene first.
"Oi!", I shouted out, safely from behind the metal fence around the perimeter of the park, half my mind preparing to bolt back to the car if they decide to do anything stupid. My gamble paid off, and all five of them star-burst as fast as their little legs could carry them. One of them was coming my way, so I decided to stretch my legs a little. I ran after him. The kid was a fast runner, and I, well, am not. Especially not when carrying all my personal protective kit around with me.
I get back on the radio. "Mike Delta receiving 592". "Go ahead". "Yeah, I've just seen the five youths. They were threatening each other with guns and knives, but I didn't see any weapons. One of them is Johnny Smith, from the Tower Block Gang. I didn't recognise the others". "Received, can you do a drive-around?". "Sure thing".
I get back in my car, and crawl around the area for a while, seeing if I can spot any of them. As I roll past a narrow alley that ends in a busy road, I see two dark shadows move away quickly when they spot me. The kids from earlier? Or just some other kids smoking a joint, worried about getting caught? I put the panda in reverse and take another look. I can see into the alley just in time to see one of the boys jump over the fence at the far end of the alley. There's an A-road at the other side of that fence; a busy road at the best of times, but it's about 7pm on a Thursday, so it's a very busy road indeed. What a daft thing to do, jumping over a fence like that.
Then I spot why he jumped: One of the youths from before moves into the light cone of a street light. I'm about 20 meters away, but I can see him dump a small item that glistens in the street light into a bush. Then he runs. The boy who had jumped the fence stumbles, and falls on the road. A car comes screeching to a halt. The boy doesn't move. Shit.
I am facing a choice: I can drive down the alley and get to the kid quickly, but if I do that, I don't have my car to block traffic. I decide to drive around. Blues on, sirens on their most hectic, feverish pitch. The sound reflects my mental state well: I'm hungry, I'm tired, I'm fuelled only by adrenaline, and I'm pissed off. I'm meant to go home after a long and shitty day in only 20 minutes.
When on blues and twos, there are some things you can do, and there are some things you can't. Technically, you're not allowed to speed or run red lights; the blue lights don't mean that you're not breaking the law - they just mean that the police commissioner has given you a promise: They won't prosecute you for breaking traffic laws, as long as you do so safely and within the parameters of your training. It also means that when I drive out of the Metropolitan Police area, I'm not technically supposed to use my blue lights at all: The police force hasn't granted me, personally, a promise they won't prosecute me.
One of the things I'm not supposed to do, even on blue lights, is to drive the wrong way down a one-way street. In this instance, I can either go the wrong way down this 10-meter street, or the boy on the dual carriageway has to wait another minute for me to take a route that's fully legal. I make a quick executive decision: If the commissioner has a problem, I'm happy to stand up for myself, and explain why I made this choice. I go down the one-way street at what feels like a crawl. I want to get to this kid as fast as I can, but I can't risk crashing into a driver who doesn't expect me coming the wrong down this street.
After what feels like an hour and a half, I come out of the one-way street. I see there is a steady flow of cars going around the boy on the ground. Nobody is stopping to help, and no-one is paying any attention.
I park my car diagonally across the road, blues and reds flashing, to direct cars away from the boy on the ground. I grab my radio.
A punctured teenager
"Mike Delta receiving 592", I say. "Go ahead". "I've just witnessed a stabbing, I think. I need LAS on the hurry-up. The victim is an IC3 male, around 15 years of age. He is breathing and responsive, but appears to have been stabbed". I gave my location as well.
As I finish my sentence, two sets of sirens come around the bend -- it's a traffic copper in an estate, and an ambulance motorcycle. That was quick!
The traffic guys turn out to be a sergeant and a PC; I briefly outline what has happened, as the paramedic starts taking care of the boy. "We have to shut down this lane, and the next one on that side", the traffic skipper says. His PC moves my car across both lanes, blocking traffic completely. I hear the traffic sergeant get on the radio, instructing the ambulance crew to come in from the other side, and I see him manoeuvre his car into place blocking traffic on the other side of the road. The PC starts directing the 4 lanes of traffic into a single lane on the far side of the dual carriageway, as a couple of PCSOs show up out of nowhere. They ask me if they can help. "Not much you can do here, boys", I say, "but the traffic guys may need a spot of help, talk to them!"
I get some crime scene tape out of the back of the traffic car, and I block off a large chunk of the walkway where the original stabbing happened, a large part of the road and the central reservation, plus a part of the other side of the road.
The traffic cops spring into action, and more people start arriving at the scene.
At one point, about an hour into the event, I'm standing by the side of the road. The area is crawling with people: a couple of PCSOs are stopping people from crossing the police line on the pavement, a load of SOCOs are doing their thing gathering evidence, the traffic lads are directing traffic, and I'm just standing there, exhausted, not much good to anyone.
I realise everything is under control, and I lean leaning against the black railing, surveying the scene. A patch of blood on the road. Blue flashing lights everywhere, interspersed with the odd flashbulb going off as the SOCOs are taking photos of the scene.
It's all over?
To a bystander, the scene must have looked like utter chaos, but to me, a zen-like calm sinks over me: There's nothing I can do at the moment. The kid who got stabbed is no longer considered to be in critical condition. I'm about four hours into overtime pay, and everything is okay.
Of course, sod's law stikes. Just when you think everything is going well, it happens: I hear a lot of shouting, and the familiar sound of someone trying to calm somebody else down. Since I haven't got anything better to do, I walk over to see what's going on.
A man is half-standing out of his car: One foot in the foot-well, one on the road. He's leaning over his car door, shouting loudly at a PCSO.
"Fuck you, you don't have any power over me. I'm running late, what the fuck is going on here?", the man shouts at the PCSO.
"Please calm down, sir, there has been an assault, and we are trying to find out..." "I don't give a fuck about your fucking assault. There's not even an ambulance here any more! When are you going to open the fucking road? I'm running late!".
I'm strolling over at a leisurely pace.
"Look, I don't know when we can open the road. The forensics people will tell us when..." the PCSO tries, but is interrupted.
"What the fuck? Do you know how fucking late I am? This is ridiculous. What's the number for your boss", the man says, waving a Blackberry in the air. "I'm not having this", he rants. "I'm paying my taxes, there's no fucking reason why this road shouldn't be available to me".
He spots me as I'm about a car-length away. "Ah!", he exclaims. "Finally someone with some fucking authority". He turns to the PCSO. "Jog on, douchebag", he says, and turns back to me.
"Mate, what's the problem?" I ask him.
"I'm not your fucking mate", he says.
Now, the use of the c-word in the very first paragraph of this blog post notwithstanding, I'm not actually a big fan of swearing. There's a time and a place, and the scene of the stabbing of a teenager, in front of two people in uniform, is neither.
"Hey, pipe down. I'm not swearing at you, there's no reason for you to swear at me", I say, already tired of the guy.
"That prick", the man says, nodding to the PCSO, "is trying to stop me from getting to my dinner reservation. I'm already half an hour late. Can I leave the keys for my car with you? I'll walk to Upper Street and get a cab".
"Uhmm, no, you can't leave your keys with me, and I really don't appreciate you talking to my colleague like that", I say to him. It's no secret that PCSOs and police officers occasionally don't really see eye to eye, but I'm generally a big fan of 'em. This one in particular I know quite well: He's smart, hard-working, and became a PCSO as a stepping stone to becoming a police officer. He's one of the good guys.
The man goes off on one: "You have no fucking idea who I am, do you? I know your inspector, you know!", he says.
"I don't really care who you know", I say. "We've had a stabbing, and a 15 year old boy might be dying as you stand here insulting me. Show some respect".
The man fully steps out of his car, closes the door, and squares up to me. "What did you say to me?" he says.
"I told you to show some respect. I don't know you, and you don't know me. The only thing I know is that ever since I set eyes on you, you've done nothing but insult me and my colleague. A kid might be dying, and in order to have a chance at convicting the guy who did this, we have to do a proper investigation. If that means that we have to keep the road shut for an hour, so be it. In fact, I don't care if we have to keep the road closed for a month, you're not getting through before anyone else. There's an officer over there directing traffic, so you should be through in about twenty minutes, at the most."
"That's unacceptable. I need to get through now. Why don't I just park over there" he says, pointing at a bicycle path on the other side of a flower bed.
By now, I've had it with him. "It's a 20 minute wait. You can wait for 20 minutes. Use that phone of yours to call the restaurant, explain what happened, I'm sure they won't mind. If you drive through that flower bed", I say, and nod towards the area he indicated he would drive through, "I'll do you for careless driving and criminal damage". I turn around to talk to the PCSO for a second, but the man places a hand on my shoulder, and turns me around forcibly.
"Get. Your. Hands. Off. Me" I say.
He withdraws his hand quickly, but stays too close to me for comfort.
"Now, get in your car, shut up, and stop causing a scene".
"You fucking dickholes are all the same", he mutters, just loud enough for me and the PCSO to hear.
"Excuse me? What was that?!" I said, as I take my handcuffs out of their holder. "You have exactly three seconds to get your ass back in your car, before I arrest you for a breach of the peace".
The cars in front of his have started moving along. He takes a long stare at me, and it looks briefly as if he is going to pull back and take a swing at me. I've had it with him. It's been a very, very long time -- I don't really like fighting -- but I'm finding myself wishing that he takes a punch at me. I'm itching to arrest him.
I lean forward, my nose nearly touching his. "Three...", I say. "Two...". I make a clicking sound with my handcuffs. "One...".
"Fuck you", the man says, and gets into his car. As he drives off, he very nearly runs over my foot. The PCSO is running his number plate through CAD and PNC, but it comes back clean.
I turn to the PCSO. "You OK?" I ask him. He nods, and shrugs. "What a cock" he observes, with the conviction of a man who knows he is absolutely, irrefutably, 100 per cent correct. It's my turn to nod. We walk back to the crime scene together.
Just another day in the life of a police officer.
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.