"When was the last time this happened to ya," John says, reaching for the handle underneath the passenger seat. He stops mid-sentence, before finally finding the right handle, leaning the seat further back by a few notches.
"Hmmh?" I ask.
I briefly turn on the ignition so I can roll the window down a little, before turning it back off.
"I'm on front office duty, right, and this broad comes in. Says her mobile has been nicked."
"Yeah, well, this was one day after the iPhone 4S was launched. I remembered, because I was bloody annoyed that I'd bought the iPhone 4 not two months ago. Anyway, so she claims her iPhone 4 was nicked, right? So I look her up, and she's got this fantastic pattern of her phones being stolen around the same time as their replacements being launched."
"Hey, nobody ever said that thieves wanted the most current phones." I shot back, and flashed a short grin at John. He looked back, taking his eye off the woman standing near the lamp post for only a fraction of a second. He smiled back.
"Anyway, so she says it was stolen in a bar down the road. And I'm all 'What is it called', and she says 'Oh, the Fox and Fiddle'".
"Not a bad choice, to be fair. Shit gets nicked there all the time." I conclude.
"True. But here's the kicker: I ask her if she happens to know the address to the bar at all. For the crime report, like. So she says she doesn't. And I tell her that unless she gets the address, I can't put on a crime report, and I'm unable to give her her crime reference number for the insurance."
"No way. But it's the bloody Fiddle, man; I know the address off by heart. Surely, you must have been to a couple of fights over there by now? How long have you been on MD? At least six months, right?"
"That's the beautify of it. Of course I knew the place. Besides, I had already typed the address into the crime report. But I figured I'd test her. You'll never guess what she used to look up the address."
"No way... You're joking?!"
"Yup, seriously. She started looking up the address to the bar where her phone was supposedly stolen on the supposedly stolen phone."
"Fuck me, I didn't know they still made 'em that stupid. So what'd you do?"
"I thanked her kindly, and asked her to sit down whilst I 'finished my report', and then got one of the specials to nick her for making a false report."
"Beautiful", I say, shaking my head slowly, keeping my eye on the scantily-clad blonde, still loitering near the lamp post. "I had a similar story at one point; this woman comes in with a driving licence. She says she was nicked for something or other. Speeding I think. She has to send in her licence, but she says she doesn't want it to be mailed anywhere, because she needs it. But she eventually hands over the licence and counterpart. So, by force of habit, I check them, and the two numbers don't match."
Someone approaches the blonde by the lamp post. John places a hand over his radio, ready to transmit. But the man walks away again. Our radio crackles.
"01:05. Was asked for directions", the radio says, before falling silent again.
"Then what?", John relaxes back into his seat, and offers me half a bar of Snickers. I decline at first, immediately change my mind, and am still chewing as I continue my story.
"Well, I tell her. I say 'Hey, the numbers don't match. Did you ever get a replacement licence?'. So she says 'yeah, I reported it stolen a few years ago'. So I asked her whether it actually was stolen. But then she told me that she just wanted a spare. 'Why' I asked her. She didn't reply. But somehow, she fishes out another driving licence from her bag, this time it did match the paper licence. Anyway, so I take both licences, but she snatches the one where the number doesn't match back, and says she's keeping it. So I tell her she can't do that. But she says 'it's reported as stolen anyway, so who cares?' and starts to walk away. I had to run out of the front office and stop her from leaving. I ask her: 'What do you think will happen if you get pulled over, and you produce a licence that was reported stolen?' I ask. 'Nothing', she says. 'I've done it', she says."
"Seriously?" John asks.
"Yeah. I mean, it kind of makes sense; how often do you check the DL number? If the name and DOB matches..."
"Hmm. I guess you're right. So what did you do?"
"I told her that I would arrest her."
"Ha! What the hell for?"
"Document forgery. Well that's what I told her anyway."
"Do you reckon you could have made that stick?"
"You know... I have no idea. I just wasn't going to let her walk out of the building with a driver's licence that was supposedly stolen at some point."
"So what happened?"
"..." John egged me on with a silent nod.
"I said I would let her leave, if she would let me cut her 'stolen' driving licence into pieces and throw it away for her."
"And she went for that?"
"Elegant solution, Delito!" he laughed loudly.
"See, that's what I thought!"
A car pulls up next to the blonde, and talks to her for a few seconds, and our radios jump back into life.
"Offence committed. Offence committed. Stand by." I hear a voice, recognising the voice of the skipper.
"The car is a black Chrysler Voyager", John transmits, as he jots something down on a pad. "Driver and passenger. Vehicle index number is Foxtrot Uniform Zero Three..."
As John finishes transmitting the description and registration of the car, I'm peering in through the rear side windows of the car. I thought I saw some movement in the back of the car, but couldn't really tell whether it was another person, or just a shadow of the blonde on the other side of the Chrysler.
"The vehicle has turned right onto Roscoe Park", John transmits, as I start reaching for the ignition key.
"Charlie Two. We're right behind the Chrysler," another voice comes back. I shrug, let go of the key, and slump back into my seat again.
The Chrysler had magically transmogrified into a typical case of SEP -- Someone Else's Problem.
"Stick with them for a couple of blocks, marked car on its way," a third voice says.
"The exact words were 'How much' and 'Do you do anal'" the skipper says.
"Saucy," he adds, just before releasing the mike button. I can't tell whether he meant for us to hear that, but I can't help giggling. What can I say -- it's late...
"Another piece of chocolate?" John asks, stifling a yawn, and I repeat my declining-then-immediately-changing-my-mind routine.
We're on a "vice" operation. The blonde across the road is out decoy officer; she's fitted with a wire, which means that another set of officers can hear everything that is said to or near the decoy officer. Two burly-looking 'drunks' on a bench not far from the decoy officer are our safety officers: If anyone tries to attack or threaten our decoy in any way, they'll be there in a wink to put a stop to it. John and myself are in a Q-car, ready to start the engine and pounce into action if anything goes wrong.
On our borough, we've had a huge amount of problems with Janes (the prostitutes) and Johns (their customers). It's understandable that it's seen as a problem; of all the thing to be going on in your street, being propositioned for sex by some random idiot hanging out of a BMW window is unpleasant, but that's only a sliver of the problem. The drug abuse, violence, gang activity and other crime that the World's Oldest Profession attracts can very quickly turn a reasonable neighbourhood into one that's unbearable. And so, we're cracking down hard.
"Chrysler is stopped in Brown Lane," comes the voice of the operator of the marked car we use to pull over the cars with the offenders.
"Arrest made. One man arrested" the radio reports.
"We're taking them back to base." they say shortly after.
The driver of the Chrysler is taken to the local police station for an interview, and to be charged for their crimes. Sadly, this job is like shooting fish in a barrel. On the other hand, all the arrests are pretty much the easiest ones imaginable, and it's a really easy tasking. We have a ready-written Word template, where we just fill in the time of the offense; the time of arrest; the words that were spoken, and our own details. Then, at the end of the night, the skipper copies the wire tape onto a CD for evidence, which means that the suspects can deny all they like to, but doesn't take a very vivid imagination to envision that it's a tiny smidge tricky to explain away "how much" and "do you do anal" as an innocent exchange with a complete stranger at 2am on a Tuesday night.
When everything runs according to plan, we can rattle through more than a dozen arrests in a single shift; about two or three arrests per arrest team. Back at base, we pass our prisoners on to the officer who drew the boringest straw: He processes them all, and within a couple of hours, the suspects can climb back into their cars to -- more often than not -- go home to their wives. Ah, family bliss.
"Decoy back on plot" the skipper advises us, and the sexy bottle-blonde woman who stands in the ghastly-yellow glow of the lamp post moves her hand through her hair. I imagine she's looking my way.
She is, of course, a police officer.
Which helps, if any of these cases ever go to court: I've watched cocky suspects go pale when they see the police officer out of her street-walking costume, and instead crisply presented in her freshly-pressed parade uniform in court, looking as un-protitute-like as anybody you could possibly imagine. I've seen her in action in court "Yes, your honour. This was the man who rolled down the window, revealing a cloud of marijuana smoke, and asked if I would do a blowjob for some brown." The straight-faced delivery, followed by the horror in the suspect's faces. It's absolutely priceless.
I take my job as a safety officer seriously; the women who pose as prostitutes are well-trained officers, of course, but in the outfits they wear, there isn't space for any Personal Protection Equipment. (Despite the context, I'm referring to CS spray, stab vest and baton here, not condoms). So; the support officers are the only thing that stand between the decoy officer and the treatment some of the pond-scum feel is appropriate for women who prostitute themselves.
I take my job as a safety officer extra seriously with our current decoy; regular readers of this blog can't have failed to notice that I have a Kim-sized soft-spot for Kim. And tonight, the astonishingly lovely mother-of-two is our decoy officer. I think John knows about my weakness, but to his credit, he hasn't asked or commented.
John is a veteran officer, but he's new on the borough. He speaks softly and almost painfully slowly, a west-country dialect that makes him sound like a friendly, slightly mentally-challenged grandfather. I later realised that it was mostly an act, designed to put people at ease and off guard. John, in other words, had perfected the art of being smart but playing dumb. It is the ultimate weapon against many of our 'customers', who pretend to be smart, but really, couldn't map out the bicontinuous qualities of a topological isomorphism if it slapped them in the face with a Möbius strip.
The first time I worked with him was when we executed the arrest warrant on the little toe-rag who clobbered me in the face with a length of plank when I tried to arrest him after he spat in my face. It was a pretty messy arrest, but John turned out to be a bit of a super-hero. He hunted the little scoundrel down after he managed to slip away over a roof, and literally sat on him until the rest of us managed to get out to him. John might look like a slightly pudgy 50-year old, but he's fast as a peregrine falcon when he needs to be.
And, of course, it was great to have some fresh stories to listen to, and a relief to be able to tell my own old stories to someone who hadn't heard them all fifty times already.
Another car pulled up next to Kim; a Saab which, if I didn't know that the Saab designers tend to have better taste than this, I could have sworn looked burgundy.
"What the hell kind of colour is that?" I asked.
"Dark red?" John said, doubt showing in his voice
"Yeah, that's what I thought. On a Saab, though? Hardly seems likely, does it?"
"Well they did make those horrible brown 900 Turbos for a while."
"Yeah, but this is a ... What. A 9-3? I know there's this whole hipster retro thing going on, but there's no way they'd do that again now, surely?"
"Offence committed, offence committed. Stand by." the radio blurted out.
John was craning his neck to get a look at the number plate, but the number plate light on the Saab was out, and the little ledge over the plate blocked the street lighting from hitting the number plate, effectively shrouding it in darkness. John muttered under his breath.
Suddenly, one of the 'drunks' on the park bench leaps up, and starts running toward the Saab. The second 'drunk' does the same, but hangs back enough to reach for his radio.
"They tried to grab the decoy", he shouted into his radio. "They've..." but the rest of his transmission was cut off when he had to choose between continuing to transmit, or to let go of his radio and leap out of the way of the Saab, that was accelerating vigorously. Wisely, he chose the latter.
I started the engine on the Q-car, and turned on my high beams; the two safety officers were at Kim's side, helping her up from knee-standing.
"Decoy is safe, but has taken a strike to the face," the previous voice said. "We didn't see which way the Saab went."
"I did," I hear a curious stereo of John's voice right beside me, and the same voice, distorted and delayed, coming out of the radio clipped to my vest. "Right, right onto Ribald Crescent".
I switch the in-car set to the pan-london radio channel.
"Mike Delta Five-Five in pursuit of a dark red Saab. We are on a Vice Operation; the occupants of the Saab assaulted a police officer. They are turning right, right onto Church Road" I transmit.
"You're up," I said to John, "I gotta drive."
John grabs the handset for the in-car radio, and relays the relevant details to the pan-London station: The index number of the car; the crime committed; the status of our car and my driving qualifications. These are all the things that have to be transmitted at the beginning of what might turn out to be a car chase, so the co-ordinators and other drivers know which pieces they have to play in the otherwise potentially chaotic world of a bona-fide car chase.
"All received" says the pan-London operator. "India 99 is in the area, and en-route. They are switching to this channel."
Oh wow. Vice operations are easy arrests, and car chases never happen; but yet here I am, in a rather lovely Volkswagen Passat, blue lights and sires piercing the 3am morning. The roads are deserted, and I'm flogging my engine to within a metric whisker of its life, in pursuit of someone in a 2-litre sports saloon, who's just made the grave mistake of punching the only woman I really care about. This is the kind of crazy stuff action films are made of, I'm thinking.
We reach a large roundabout at the edge of our borough, and are crossing into the next borough over. They have a couple of Range Rovers that belong to traffic, and we're informed they're on their way to join in the hunt. Nonetheless, this chase has gone on for nearly five minutes -- an eternity, when you're racing through an inner-city London borough in a turbocharged Passat Q-car.
"Mike Delta Five-Five receiving London One."
"Go ahead", I say, nudging the push-to-talk switch on my steering wheel whilst changing down into second gear, accelerating tyres-a-squeeling, around a tight set of corners between a pair of buildings.
"India 99 has them, stand down."
I swear under my breath. I really wanted to hunt them down, but no amount of horsepower beats the police helicopter. I turn off my blues and slow down to the speed limit.
"Received, following from a safe distance." I transmit.
"Negative, drop back."
"Received, stopping for a cup of tea and some scones." I transmit.
"Negative. Stay where you are."
"Received." I say.
The operators on the pan-London channels are not known for their sense of humour.
On the other hand, it doesn't really matter how far or how fast the lads in the Saab are planning to go; they're on the FLIR cameras of India 99, which means they can calmly follow them from an uncannily long distance.
In about two minutes, they'll be piss nervous, wondering what the hell happened, and why the determined-looking man in the Passat vanished from their rear-view mirrors.
In about five minutes, they'll think they'll have beaten us.
In about seven minutes, they'll be elated, unable to believe how bloody stupid the London Metropolitan Police are.
In about ten minutes, they'll pull into a fast food restaurant.
In about ten minutes and six seconds... I'll receive a message on the radio.
"Mike Delta five-five receiving India 99?"
"The suspects are out of the car. They have just entered a fast food restaurant -- a KFC, I believe -- on Main Street. Local units are on their way to make the arrest."
"Received. Thank you, India 99".
"Only doing our jobs. We'll hang around until he's in bracelets."
"So, shall we take a look?" John grins.
"Damn right," I respond. I turn my blues back on, and race to Main Street, two boroughs over. Strictly speaking, there's no need for the blues, but... Eh, I just want to get there as quickly as I can.
Just when John and I rock up, two men are led out of the KFC in handcuffs, into a waiting caged van.
"Where's he going?" I ask the driver.
"Hey... Delito", he says, reading the velcro name tag on my stab vest. "You're from Mike Delta? Are you lost?"
"No, I was there when they committed the crime."
"Did you see anything?"
"Er... No. I started the pursuit, is all."
"Well, it's my lucky day. Could you lead me back to your nick? We've been asked to bring him there, which suits me nicely, as our cells are full up. And I didn't really know where your police station was, but now you're here to show me the way. Lucky me," he deadpans.
I can't tell whether he actually means 'lucky me' or the other thing, but I'm happy to lead the van back.
We pull into the police station, and I spot Kim, holding an ice-pack to her head.
"Holy... Are you okay? What did they actually do?" I asked her.
"Hey Matt." she said, with a shrug. "They..." she says, but trails off. She looks like she's on the verge of tears, and I step closer, giving her a hug. In front of everybody in the yard of the police station. It wouldn't be such a weird thing, really; our team is generally quite huggy, and it would be far from the first time that someone's got a hug in the yard after a rough shift. My mistake, possibly, was holding on for about five times longer than what was strictly necessary. And Kim's mistake... Was to not make any sort of attempt to break away from my embrace.
"So, er, when you lovebirds are quite finished," I hear a familiar voice. The Inspector.
"Yes, guv. Sorry, I just, er..." I started, pushing Kim away from me, slightly, before breaking the by-now comically long hug, before catching his eyes. He just winked at me.
"We need to get Kim here to hospital for a routine check, and we need someone to take a statement from her about the assault." He looked over at Kim, who had raised her ice-pack back to her face. He looked over at me, just as I felt the blood welling into my face. I just hoped the light in the yard was low enough that nobody could see I was blushing.
"Delito, I know it was home-time about an hour ago, but would you mind giving Kim a lift to A&E for her check-up? You can take her statement while you're waiting," he said, tossing me an Evidence and Action Book.
"Er. Sure." I said, placing my arm around Kim, leading her back towards the Passat I had arrived in.
"Hey Matt," John called after me, jogging up to me. I figured he had left his bag in the trunk of the car, so I reached down to open it for him. He grabbed his blue Adidas bag, and leaned over to me.
"Don't do anything stupid," he said, as he peeled off, heading for the dressing rooms
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.