Last week, our resident anonymous police cop was so rushed off his feet that he wasn't able to do his usual weekly story; so instead, we opened up for questions from the gallery. Today, in a super-special edition of Notes from the Front Line, Matt answers...
Q: What’s the biggest bribe you’ve been offered – OR – what’s the best bribe you’ve been offered?
Ha! Great question. To be honest, I'm not offered bribes all that often. It does happen, but people are usually pretty circumspect about it; they'll ask if there "isn't any other way to solve this matter", or whether it's possible to "please just pay the fine to you in cash on the spot". When that happens, I'm able to just say 'no' and move on with my business.
It gets more interesting when people slip a twenty in with their driver's licence. When I try to give the money back, they say "Oh, that isn't mine, officer" or similar. I hate it when that happens, because it puts me in an impossible situation. As a police officer, my word has to be acceptable as truth, and trying to encourage me to take a bribe means that people think I would be willing to take it in the first place. Pretty offensive stuff.
The biggest/best bribe I've ever been offered? Some of the most memorable ones involve members of the opposite sex and distinctly indecent proposals... But I think you've just given me an idea for another Notes from the Front Line story, so I won't tell the full story here...
Q: Is it illegal to swear in the street/at a police officer, and if so what law does this break and have you ever arrested anyone for it? Also wanted to say that I love your stories, please keep them coming
It is illegal to swear in the street (saying the f word out really loudly where someone can hear you would be covered by s5 public order act), and it's even more illegal to swear at someone in specific (saying 'f you' to someone - s4a of the same act).
However, in both these laws, there is a proviso that someone has to feel 'alarm or distress', and in recent times, there has been some argument about whether police officers are sworn at so much that they are unable to feel 'alarm or distress' by being sworn at. If the answer is 'no', then the law wouldn't apply, and we wouldn't be able to arrest.
Myself, I think it's hogwash: If I am offended by someone swearing at me (it depends what they say...), but the defence is, essentially, that I should be used to it by now, that's a bit harsh...
Sexism and the City.
Kat Hannaford asked...
Q: Matt, as a big fan of Gene Hunt from Life On Mars, I’d like to know if you’ve ever seen any examples of sexism amongst your colleagues towards female members of the force?
Univocally, yes. But I think it is a rather complicated matter, for many reasons. There is a lot of banter flying about about all topics imaginable. Some of them are less acceptable than others, but it's worth keeping in mind that we're all pretty good friends on a shift. We have women officers, black officers, ginger, tall, skinny, chubby, vegetarian, tories, lefties, gays, a couple of asians... And everybody gets as good as they give, where banter is concerned. Sure, some of it is pretty close to the bone, but I think the banter is one of the parts that's absolutely crucial to being able to function in high-stress environments. And, well, a response team is certainly that.
On the other hand, there's also other kinds of sexism in play, I think. If you look at the statistics for promotions etc, I wouldn't be surprised if you'll find that the proportion of male to female brass is different than the proportion of male to female frontline officers. How that happened, and whether it's sexism or something else, I wouldn't want to speculate (I haven't seen the numbers, and to be honest, I don't really care -- it's far above my pay-grade) -- but it would certainly be interesting to know!
Dead trees everywhere
Q: Is there too much paper work in your job, (probably obvious answer..) but if there is, are you seeing electronic methods making this more tolerable?
The Met has a form for everything, but ultimately, there's a pretty important reason for the paperwork: We deal with people committing crime, and if we want them to be put away for any duration of time, the paperwork has to be in order. By having ridiculously strict processes, it means that paperwork is consistent, and I suppose, in the long run, in theory, it means it secures convictions.
I'm not going to tell you that I enjoy spending the last four hours of an already-too-long shift filling in paperwork, but it's part of the package: I get to drive around London with a blue mobile disco on my roof, but in return I have to use three pens' worth of ink every month.
There are some electronic things we do -- a lot of officers carry PDAs they can use to do certain checks and to issue tickets and/or stop-and-search slips, for example, but I'm not completely convinced this saves as much time as the brass thinks it does. Besides, not all officers have access to a PDA (I don't...), so now they have the joyful situation of having to deal with two parallel workflows: Paperwork and digital.
Q: Have you ever crashed into something during a blue’s and two’s run? or better yet, have you ever fired any guns!
Pew, pew, pew! But seriously, no, I've barely even touched a firearm, never mind fired one.
I haven't had a serious crash in a police car, luckily, and the few scrapes I've had, happened when I wasn't on a blue-light run. (Yes, backing into something in a police Astra is twice as embarrassing as backing into something in my Civic).
Sgt Angel, reporting for duty
Q: Have you ever fired any guns whilst jumping through the air?
If you want to be a big man in a small city, fuck off down the model village.
"Do you think we got away with it?"
Q: Is there such a thing as the “perfect crime”? Have you ever seen a case where you just have no idea how the criminal did it?
I'm on response duties, which means that in 99.97 per cent of cases, issues I deal with are only dealt with for one day -- things that need followup are usually dealt with by other units. Having said that, I have arrested shoplifters who admit they've been getting away with shoplifting for the best part of a decade -- so I suppose they have been committing 'perfect crimes' for years.
Some questions are weirder than others
Q: and can you eat a Roundtrees Fruit Pastel with out chewing?
Q: I am not usually one for this soap opera-esq type need to know, however I am sure this is a burning question for others aswell. Have you had that little chat with kim yet?
Kim is... A complicated story. Most of the things you guys have heard of involving Kim and myself are quite a while ago, and a lot has happened since then. Stay tuned...
Aw, sorry, officer, I am late for a meeting
Q: You pull someone over for minor speeding or “an other” minor road traffic offence…. what’s the one surefire first impression that they could make that would determine that you’ll let them off with a warning…
I don't work traffic, so it's not really the core part of my job. However, I do pick up traffic infractions when I'm on a long, boring shift.
The key thing I look for when I pull someone for minor traffic offences, is whether they are wanted for other things, too. Statistically, you may be surprised: Out of people who are willing to run a red light (I'm not talking about waiting until the light is a very deep shade of amber -- I mean actually running the light), a large number of them are known by police already. They are also statistically more likely to be breaking other rules: No MOT, no insurance, or perhaps wanted for another criminal matter.
So: If you are pulled over for running a red light, I'm not looking for why you ran a red light. I'm looking for whether you're a drug dealer wanted by police.
With that in mind: Be polite, be honest, and don't be a dick. Officially, there's no such thing as the 'attitude test', but think about it: If you work in a bank, and someone is rude to you for no good reason, are you going to go out of your way to help them out? Of course you are not -- and the same applies to me. "Why don't you go catch some real criminals" and similar statements... Yeah, I'm not a fan, and it's unlikely to put me in a better mood.
If you were talking on your mobile, don't deny it; it's a waste of time: I saw you, and claiming that I was wrong (or, worse, that I lied) is a silly thing to do. If we absolutely have to, we can prove it one way or another.
Be truthful, polite, and straightforward, and we're talking the same language: I can get on with checking your details, and if your insurance, MOT, and all your other details are fine, you're quite likely to get off with a warning. After all: I don't know when my next call is coming in, and I can't spend my whole shift rapping people on the fingers for minor stuff.
However: If I catch you doing something actually dangerous (not paying attention to the road; not wearing a seatbelt; not securing your kids in the car) in addition to not having a valid MOT and speeding? Well, you may as well get settled in, because we'll be spending some quality time together filling in a stack of paperwork.
How very arresting.
Q: Have you ever arrested anyone you have known personally?
Yes. It was extremely awkward; but I was professional about it, and so were they, so it was fine.
Q: Was it ever true that pregnant women were allowed to relieve themselves in public in a policeman’s helmet, and if so is that still the case with their current headwear options…? (In case any of the questions started getting too sensible… )
Supposedly so, but it ain't going to happen. I have had people ask me, but I've just pointed at the nearest pub and told them to not be silly. It was funny the first six hundred times I was asked, but it got a bit old after that...
Bonus: Did you know... a 'policeman's helmet' is usually known as a Custodian helmet, but if you dig deep enough, you'll find it's technically known as a 'Home Office pattern helmet'. Here's a snipped from the Discovery Channel about how they are made, too!
About this anonymity thing...
Q: Do your colleagues/superiors know you are a writer for Giz and if not are you worried that “Kim” might read this and figure out she’s the Kim you are speaking of?
Nobody knows. As far as I know...
Alfred Heflander asked...
Q: Personally, I’d be worried about Kim’s husband finding out… ‘he was lured back to the gun-carrying elite of the Metropolitan Police’.
I think the guys who are allowed to carry guns are pretty specifically screened to be mentally balanced; and guns live in gun lockers, not in somebody's house...
But I won't say the thought hasn't crossed my mind.
Q: How hard is the training when you become a Police Officer?
It's extremely varied, but I wouldn't say it is even harder than, say, exam week at university.
A lot of it is based on classroom training (lots of repetition on law, use of force, and force policy), some is Officer Safety Training (OST), which includes self defence, handcuffing, searching, making arrests, etc. It's pretty intense, and there is a lot to learn, but then, that's probably a good thing.
Q: Is it true that police officers have to do some kind of mini MOT on their vehicle before they start the shift, and if it hasn’t been carried out you can just drive off if they pull you over?
We do have to run through a checklist on the vehicle, yes, and if the vehicle turns out not to be roadworthy, we have to 54 it (i.e. park it up and notify the mechanic).
Having said that, something in your question makes me a little uncomfortable: How would you find out? If I pull you over for something, how would you ask me whether I have done my 'mini MOT'? Also: What makes you think that 'just driving off' would be an appropriate response, no matter what the state of my police car?
Join the Force, Luke
Q: How would you advise getting into the police? I’m thinking of becoming a “Special” and eventually joining in a couple of years. Would it be a good way of going about it?
Recruitment has been on its arse for a while now, but I would definitely encourage you to become a special if you're looking to join as a regular. Policing isn't for everybody, and being a special is a good try-before-you-buy solution, I think. Plus, it gives you a feel for what it's really like.
Whatever happened to...
There were a few questions like this; but the answer for all of them is the same: Sorry, I can't comment.
Filming the po-po
Q: I have read many conflicting reports about being able to photograph or film police. As a photographer and film maker, I often worry when doing test shots of street photography that I will accidentally capture some police activity and have to deal with a lot of hassle and possibly confiscation of my equipment. I’m not so much asking for a clarification of the law from you, it would be less hassle for us both for me to just Google it, but more about what you would do if someone randomly took a photo or started to film you at some point, or if it has happened, what you did or had to do about it. How serious is it?
Legally, there is nothing I can do about someone fishing out a mobile phone (or even a high-end cinematographic camera, for that matter) and starting to film me. As long as you're on public ground, not obstructing the highway, and not causing a disturbance, then there's no reason why you couldn't film.
The official line from the Met can be found here.
Q: When using the helicopter to search for someone on foot, do they tend to hear/notice it? I always hear on police things that most people don’t notice, but I’ve always been skeptical. I can see how in a car you might not hear it, but it’s so loud if you are on foot!
You're forgetting that when you're on the run, you have a complete adrenaline dump, and you forget everything that's irrelevant to you getting away. People simply forget about the helicopter hovering over-head; and yes, they rarely notice it.
Is it 'cos I is black?
Q: Thanks for an excellent column Matt. Keep up your good work, both on the beat and in front of the computer. Racism at the Met is on the front pages yet again, (...)
I hate racism, and I try to stay out of politics, but the one time I broke that rule was when the matter of racism came up. The cover is big, complicated, and worth discussing in depth, but start here, and then read this one.
Making things hard (oo-er matron)
Q: Do you agree with NightJack’s blog that if you’re arrested (say for a bit of fisticuffs) your best option is to make things difficult for the police (refuse to talk, insist on legal representation etc) so they’ll give up and let you go, rather than the “you’ve got it all wrong officer I’m a good guy, this is what happened” approach?
I have a feeling I'm missing some context here, and I've got to say; I disagree with the basic premise of your question. Yes, not saying anything and demanding a solicitor is making things go slower, but it isn't making things 'difficult' for us.
It is completely within your right to 'refuse to talk' and 'insist on legal representation', and if you are in a situation where you are likely to be convicted of anything, I would certainly recommend taking all the help I could get.
Of course, if you're arrested for something, we'd be more than happy to keep you in a cell -- we wouldn't 'give up and let you go'
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.