"So basically, you want to have your neighbour's kid arrested for splashing you with a bit of water?" I ask the man standing in front of me, more to summarise the situation in my head than to get any actual confirmation out of him.
"It wasn't just a bit of water" the man snaps. "It was a whole glass full!"
I'm looking through my notes. Yes, there it is. A tea-cup worth of water.
I look up at him. He's a nervous man, of about medium height. His eyes look small behind the lenses of the cure of his myopia, his hair graying, recently cut into what looks like an expensive haircut.
The old sweats -- the veteran officers I work with -- would insert a rant here about how much better it was back in the Cretaceous period, when police officers were able to just give the naughty kid a clip around the air, tell him to get his shit together, and leave it at that. Of course, those times are gone, and smacking someone for being naughty is more likely to get me to the inside of a gaol cell with an assault charge, than to actually have an positive effect on the situation at hand. To be perfectly honest, I have my doubt whether doling out open-palmed justice on the street would be something I'd be all that comfortable with anyway.
"When did this happen, mr Jones?"
"The day before yesterday."
"So, on Tuesday," I calculate.
"Yes." he spat. "Tuesday."
"Did anybody see what happened?"
"I have it on video!"
"Oh? Where is the camera?"
Mr Jones points to a first-floor window, where a small video camera is pointing down at us.
"Ah." I say, and I realise that the camera covers me where I am standing.
Since I am on the pavement outside Mr Jones' house, that means it is filming a bit of public road. My brain is racing; of course, I have to take any evidence proving to a crime having taken place into consideration, but at the same time, there is very little doubt in my mind that this is an illegal CCTV camera. As a response officer, I don't really deal with the data protection act and its finer details on an everyday basis, and as I'm standing outside the man's house, I can't remember -- or perhaps I never actually knew -- what the implications are of having that particular camera in that particular location.
The situation is a massive pain in the back-end, and not just because of the dubiously acquired video evidence. Mr Jones is an influential local business owner who is used to getting his way, and he has very little patience for my trying to help find a resolution between the 16-year-old neighbour kid's parents, Rudi himself, and him. Technically, there's no way around the fact that Rudi has committed assault and criminal damage in throwing a cup of water over his neighbour. At the same time, I'll be damned before I'll haul him into a police station over what scarcely even registers as a prank. He has apologised to the neighbour on three occasions -- most recently with me standing right there - but the neighbour is resolutely refusing to accept the apology. He claims that the splash of water made him late for a meeting, which caused him to lose a lot of money, and now he wants the kid taken in, because -- according to solicitor he spoke to - the boy is guilty of assault.
"I can't believe you are not taking assault seriously anymore." he says, and demands to talk to my boss.
"You are in luck," I say drily, "he is on his way down here already".
I called the shift skipper right away when I arrived -- there was simply no way I was going to arrest Rudi, and as soon as mr Jones started insisting, I decided to get some bosses involved.
"We take assaults very seriously, Mr Jones, but in this case, I've spoken to Rudi. He is a hard-working student. He has never had any trouble. Not ten minutes ago, he was standing right in front of us out here, crying his eyes out, obviously petrified of me and my uniform. He even offered to wash your car for you to make up for it."
"My car?" he said, enraged, "Don't be ridiculous, I wouldn't let him near my car, he would just scratch it." he said, and waved in the vague direction of an expensive and new-looking Audi parked next to us.
"Mr Jones, whether or not you decide to accept his offer of a free car wash is completely up to you, but I've got to say; that's not really the point. Rudi is sorry, he regrets what he's done, and he is trying to make amends any way he can think of."
"I lost a really big business deal because of it, and I want to press charges!"
"If you want to try and sue him, that's, again, up to you, but a lawsuit is not a criminal matter. You would have to talk to your solicitor and file a civil claim."
"But he assaulted me! What if he had stabbed me, would you still let him off with an apology?"
"Did he stab you?" I asked, getting very close to losing my patience with mr Jones.
"He assaulted me!"
"Did he stab you?"
"Sir!" Interjected, a little bit more loudly than I had planned.
"Did he stab you?"
"No, of course not."
"Well then. Of course we would have taken very serious action if he had tried to stab you, or even if he had caused any actual bodily harm. As it was, he had a water fight with some friends, and thought it would be funny to include you in that fight."
"Well I did not think it was funny." Mr Jones interrupted me.
"I gathered as much," I said, and hoped that I sounded a little bit less sarcastic than I was feeling. "But he point is that there is no pattern here. As far as we can tell, he has never been in contact with police before, and he is genuinely sorry."
"That may be, but..."
The marked Vauxhall Zafira used as the patrol supervisor's car pulled up. Spotting the sergeants' three bars on his shoulder, Mr Jones harrumphed.
"Finally", he grunted at me. "Someone with some authority."
He walked over to the car, and started talking before the two sergeants had as much as opened the door of the car.
Whenever there is an allegation of a crime, we have to thoroughly investigate. In most cases, that involves hearing an allegation, making an arrest, and doing a proper interview on tape. In this case, however, I really felt it was an NPM -- Not a Police Matter. Both Mr Jones' address and that of his neighbour failed to appear in any of our police databases, which means that there have been no reports of any crimes involving anybody at the address, no calls from the address, and that neither house had been as much as a victim of crime in the past decade or so. Of course, that would change after today's report, and I'm sure if the neighbour's kid developed a pattern for bullying Mr Jones, we would soon make an effort a stop to it, but as it stands, the whole situation was just painfully absurd. I was more than happy to let the skippers deal with Mr Jones in what was rapidly devolving into an epic episode of wasting police time.
"FUCK DA POLICE", my radio suddenly sounded, in a sharp burst of static. followed by an unbearably long period of silence.
"Last transmitting, identify and repeat your message, I didn't quite catch that", the CAD operator replied, coolly.
There was a long silence. Mr Jones was still sputtering at the skippers, but one of them told him to please hang on for a second, because they had to listen to the radio for just a minute.
Finally, Seventy-One, one of the skippers, reached for his radio.
"Mike Delta from Mike Delta Five", he transmitted.
"Whose radio was used for the last transmission?"
"It comes back to a PC from Golf Delta," came the response.
Golf Delta. That's Hackney, I remembered.
"BRAP BRAP", the radio came again. It was unmistakably the same voice, and there was laughter in the background.
"Mike Delta," 71 transmitted, "kill that radio, and find out from Golf Delta if all their officers are accounted for."
One of the skippers switched their radio to GD's radio channel, as 71 switched to the support channel.
"Do we have a GPS lock on that rogue radio?" he transmitted, and started walking back to his patrol car.
"Negative, 71", the reply came nearly immediately. "We are attempting to activate its GPS now".
The radios we use have GPS built in, but to conserve battery, the functionality isn't turned on by default. Some units have them turned on all the time (firearms officers, for example), but for the rest of us, it can be turned on from the control room when they need to know where we are. Obviously, the GPS is also activated whenever we press the orange 'oh shit I'm going to need some help here' button.
"Mr Jones", the remaining skipper said to Mr Jones, who was looking a little forlorn in his front garden, "we are going to have to go deal with something, and we need our colleague here to come with us. Please go to the police station on the main street to file a formal report."
In one fell swoop, 71 had rescued me from having to spend the next few hours to-ing and fro-ing with Mr Jones. I could have kissed him.
71 and the other skipper got back in the MPV, and beckoned for me to follow them. Three blocks down the road, they pulled into a fast food restaurant car park. I parked next to the Zafira.
"What's going on?" I asked, as we both rolled our windows down at the same time.
"The radio belongs to a PC from Golf Delta", 71 said. "He was on the late turn on GD last night, but he lives on our borough."
"Have they been able to contact him?" I asked.
"Not yet. But we have his address. Would you mind going to check up on him?", the skipper said.
"Of course, no problem. What's the address?"
"We have to assume something has happened to the officer - get there as soon as you can. I hope it has a simple explanation, but I don't like missing radios" he said.
Within seconds, I had left the car park, and was flogging my poor little Astra -- lights and sirens a-blazing -- on my way to the officer's house. It was only a two-mile drive from where we had stopped, so it wasn't long before I pulled up outside the officer's house. The first thing I spotted when I pulled up outside number 83, was the front door hanging askew, clinging on to the door frame by a single remaining hinge.
"Mike Delta receiving 592", I transmitted, as I climbed out of my car.
"Go ahead 592"
"I am at what supposedly is the house of the officer whose radio had gone AWOL. The front door looks like it has been broken open."
"Proceed with caution, 592, we'll send backup right away."
"Received", I replied, and stuck my head in through the partially splintered door.
"Hello?" I called, and was rewarded with a large-sounding dog going off into a frenzied round of barking in a neighbour's house.
"Is there anybody here?" I shouted.
My heart was racing, and I felt cold sweat trickle down my chest underneath my met vest. I was standing in the doorway of a colleague, whose radio was being abused by some nasty little hoodlums that thought it would be hilarious to shout obscenities down a police radio. There were a whole lot of reasons why that didn't make any sense.
I don't live on the same borough where I am a police officer -- most officers 'don't shit where they sleep' as the saying goes -- but unless I am deployed on some sort of special operation or Aid (policing football games and large events, for example), my radio rarely leaves the Mike Delta radio channels. Also, I don't think I've ever taken my radio home, far less switched it on whilst I'm off duty. The whole thing just stank to high heaven, and for all my feverishly spun theories, I just couldn't make any sense of things.
I decided to go inside and take a closer look, in case the officer was in there, injured in some way. I took my baton out of its holster just in case, using it to push open doors as I was systematically making my way through the flat.
The whole place was a mess, as if someone had searched through it; drawers and cabinets were open everywhere, the contents of several of them were strewn on the floor. The mattress on the bed had been lifted up; the pillows on the floor. All in all, it didn't half look like a burglary, but why the obviously kicked-open front door? And what about the radio?
My radio grunted into life.
"Show TOA two-two," it spoke.
"Received," came the reply from the CAD operator, who followed up with "592, your backup should be on location."
"Received." I keyed back. "Two-seven, I'm upstairs; no trace so far."
Two-two turned out to be Craig and Pete, who were crewing the area car.
"Hey Matt -- found anything?" Pete said, as he was bounding up the stairs.
"Nothing; looks like a burglary, though."
"It's weird, man," Pete mused. "The officer came off duty at about 4am last night, and haven't been seen or heard from since. His mobile is off, nobody is answering the home phone, his door has been kicked in, his radio is missing and somehow was changed to the Mike Delta despatch channel..."
I nodded; That did seem like a pretty succinct summary of the acid-pit I was feeling in my stomach. I couldn't shake the feeling that something deeply horrible had happened. Whenever I get off shift at 4am, the first thing I do is to bee-line it to my bed, land face-first in my pillow, and not leave my exhausted hibernation until my iPhone yanks me back to reality. Occasionally, I even remember to take my clothes off before I collapse into bed. The only thing that occasionally broke that pattern...
"Hey," I said, having an idea. "Does the officer have a missus?"
"Way ahead of ya," Pete said. "We called a few of his team mates out of bed. Nobody knows of any love interest."
Dammit, that was my only vaguely plausible theory out of the window. I looked at my watch -- it was only ten in the morning, and I couldn't think of any good reason for my colleague not being in his bed.
"Either way," I said, "Clearly we need to get this place boarded up and get SOCO on the case."
"Yeah, I just hailed them", Pete confirmed. He had already contacted the Scene of Crime Officers (They like it better when we call them CSI -- or Crime Scene Investigators -- but it is in their bad fortune that the Met calls them SOCOs. We like to joke that their sex appeal would improve by at least 50 per cent of their job title matched the title of the famous TV show) and the crew who board up doors for us.
"Now what?" I said.
"Well... I honestly don't know," Pete replied.
"Mike Delta 71 receiving 592," I transmitted.
"Go ahead 592," came the reply.
I took the radio off the clip on my Metvest, and fiddled with the menu system to change my radio channel to spare.
"You there?" it sounded, immediately after I changed the channel.
I walked into the hallway with an idea.
"Yep." I transmitted. "Hey, any news on the GPS tracking on that radio?"
"No; They bricked the radio remotely," the skipper said, "which also shuts down the GPS radio again."
"Couldn't they have waited?" I asked.
"Maybe. But I don't want those little toe-rags listening in on operations." the skipper pointed out.
"We're at the house. His door has been kicked in, by the looks of things. We've called Soco and a carpenter, but we haven't found trace of him. His phone is turned off, too."
"Any sign of a struggle?"
"Hard to say; looks like the place has been upended in a burglary or something", I said.
Pete came out of the bedroom, waving something triumphantly. It looked like an old-fashioned mobile phone charger. I shrugged at him, mouthing "what?". He plugged it into the bottom of the radio clipped to his stab-vest.
"You still there 71?" I transmitted.
"Pete just found a wall-wart charger for the personal radios."
"Seems like he got home -- his boots are in the hallway", I said, picking up one of the police boots, "and then left again for some reason."
"And the charger?"
"Well... I can't really think of any reason to have a wall charger for the radio at home, unless..."
"You reckon he was listening to our channel?"
"Probably. I mean; whoever has the radio now... Well... Let's put it this way; Since they re-programmed our radios recently, I've been struggling enough to switch between despatch and the spare channel, never mind switching from one channel group to another."
"So my best guess is that he switched his radio to the Mike Delta channel himself -- for god knows what reason -- popped out for something, and that his house was broken into when he was out."
"That all makes sense. I guess he's not a misper yet..." the skipper said. True enough; it was a pretty weird situation, but there was no real reason to believe he was a Missing Person, nor that anything untoward had happened, beyond his house being broken into, and someone stealing a police radio that was left turned on.
As I stood there, holding a boot in one hand, and my police radio and my baton in the other, someone came in through the front door.
"What the..." the man said.
"Er?" I said.
"What are you doing with my boot?" he asked.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"I'm Beckett," he said, identifying himself as the missing officer.
"Beckett's just turned up at his house," I radioed.
"He looks all right." I added.
"Are you all right?" I asked him.
"I'm all right," he said.
"He's all right," I radioed via the spare channel.
"Beckett's all right," Pete's radio echoed, as the skipper who had been with 71 relayed the new information on the despatch channel.
"What the hell's going on here?" Beckett asked.
"Where's your radio?" I asked him.
"Your personal radio." I said, and wiggled my Motorola at him. "Where is it?"
"Upstairs," he said. "On charge."
"Not anymore", I said.
"Looks like someone broke into your house."
"That explains the footprint on the outside of my door," he deadpanned. "What did they take?"
"No idea." I said. "well, apart from your radio. Whoever nicked it used it to sing 'Fuck da police' at us."
"Oh no..." he said.
"Yeah." I said.
"Fuck." he said.
"Yeah." I said.
"How much trouble am I in?" he asked.
"Ha. Well, that's probably going to be up to your skipper", I said. "But if your guys are anything like ours, you're going to be in a world of shit."
"For one thing, they spiked your radio."
Beckett fell silent.
The police radios can be 'spiked' remotely. When required, central operations can send a special signal to the radio, which disables it permanently the next time it tried to connect to any of the Met's police networks. When the radio receives that signal, it is completely wiped, and it means that it cannot be reinstated for use. Supposedly, not even Motorola can un-spike a spiked radio. It's a security measure designed exactly for this kind of situation: A police radio that has gone missing, and has ended up in the wrong hands.
"Seriously? They were singing down my radio?" he laughed.
"Yeah," I said, and couldn't help but smiling myself.
Beckett was going to be facing some serious disciplinary action; taking a radio home in the first place is frowned upon; leaving it plugged in and turned on was pretty much unforgivable; and there might be some additional fallout from having been caught red-handed listening to a channel he wasn't supposed to be monitoring, too. Nonetheless, that was all none of our business; we were just happy that we didn't find Beckett dead or injured.
"So where were you?" I asked.
"Er..." he replied, and crudely mimed a curvy human figure in front of him.
Pete burst out laughing right next to me.
"Where'd you find her in the middle of the bloody night?" he said, still laughing.
"My operator's seat", he shrugged.
"Ah..." Pete said. "That explains why your colleagues didn't know you had a missus."
"He's not a missus," Beckett said, with a shrug, "and yeah, we've been keeping it on the down-low."
"Good luck with that", Craig said, joining us. "SOCO's on the way, and you may want to call a locksmith."
Beckett turned and looked at the door, before looking back at us.
"Thanks lads," he said. "I've got it from here."
"Call your station," Pete concluded, in a pretty good approximation of the arch-typical New York jewish grandmother television cliché. "They're worried sick about you."
Craig and I were laughing, as Beckett fished his phone out of his pocket. The battery was dead -- which solved the mini-mystery of why he was so hard to get a hold of, too.
"Here, use mine," Pete said, passing Beckett his iPhone.
I shook my head as I walked back to my panda. It was still merrily flashing its red lights at anybody who tried to get past it on the narrow road. As I got in, the CAD operator hi-jacked me, shipping me off to a domestic disturbance. No rest for the wicked
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.