Notes from the Frontline: The Shoe on the Other Foot

By Matt Delito on at

"God damn it", I mutter to myself, standing in the aisle of Tesco. I'm holding two different bags of sugar; one of Caster sugar, and one of powdered sugar. At the same time, I'm facing a third kind of sugar; the kind that goes in tea, I think.

I fish my mobile out of my pocket, dialling a number the old-fashioned way. Not because I haven't got my mother stored in my iPhone, but because (apart from 911, 999, 112, and 101), it's practically the only number I remember off by heart these days.

"Hi mum," I say, placing one of the packs of sugar under my arm, so I can talk to her better.

I let her rattle on for a while.

"I'll see you in just an hour, mum, but I'm in the supermarket, and I need to pick up a few things. Emily", I say, referring to my older sister, "said she was going to bake a cake for my birthday, and she needed some bits and pieces. I got the eggs and the self-raising flour, but she said she needed a particular kind of sugar. Of course, I've forgotten what it is, do you know?"

She didn't, so I'm left to contemplating whether I should buy two different kinds of sugar, and whether there was, realistically, even the slightest amount of difference between the three kinds. Of course, my mum would have the typical granulated sugar-for-tea, but...

"Ah fuck it", I mutter to myself, and I put the powdered sugar back on the shelf, bringing the caster sugar. If she needs the other kind, I'll just have to pop to the local shop; no point in buying sugar nobody's ever going to use, and at least you can use caster sugar in tea... Can't you? Who knows... And how would you even know? Where do you learn stuff like that?

I decide that perhaps I need to do a cooking class or something, but the thought doesn't immediately ring as such a bright idea. I really shouldn't be allowed anywhere near any knives, far less sharp ones, I pontificate to myself, as I drop the sugar into my basket.

Still caught in my own little world, I use the self-service check-out to pay for my goods. A semi-nice bottle of wine for my mum and dad. A couple of bottles of water for the drive to my mum's house in Kent. Some chocolate for my sister's kid. The cake ingredients for my sister. A magazine. Some vitamin A-Z pills that I've promised myself I'll start taking, but invariably will just stay in my bathroom cabinet until someone eventually notices they're past their expiry date and will have to take a one-way journey down the porcelain trumpet. As I drop everything in the plastic bag, because I have yet again forgotten my bag-for-life (no wonder they are so confident they'll replace it when it breaks; it's not as if anyone ever remembers the damn things.)

As I'm stepping out of the front door, I feel a hand on my shoulder.

"Would you come with me, please sir", I hear a voice. I turn around slowly, and I see a tall, broad-shouldered security guard.

"Can I help you?"

"I just want to talk with you for a moment."

"Er... Okay? Go ahead?" I say, assuming that the guard has recognised me from one of the many times I've arrested people in the various supermarkets around, and just wanted to follow-up on a case or something.

"No, I would like to talk with you inside, please."

"Uhm, I can't help you with that, I am on my way to my mum's house, and I really haven't got the time. I can make an appointment and come back if you like?"

"Sir, I'm going to need to search you."

"Wh... What?"

"I saw you on CCTV, taking a bag of sugar."

"What the..." I stutter, before it dawns on me what happened. "Oh! No, I just put it under my arm because I was on the phone to my mother!"

"Do you always put things under your arm instead of in your shopping basket?"

"Ha! No, of course not. But I wasn't sure which sugar I needed, so I..."

"You're going to have to come inside with me, please. I need to search you."

"Mate, I know you're doing your job but..." I say.

"Inside. Now."

"Seriously?" I say, incredulous that this is happening to me. I glance at my watch, and spot that it's less late than I thought: I have plenty of time to get to my mum's... And so I decide to wait and see where this is going. "Okay, okay. I'll come with you."

Completely unnecessarily, he shoves me towards the doors, back into the shop.

"Hey! There's no need for the shoving, I'm coming with you."

"Well, be quick about it", he fired back.

In the back room of the Tesco shop - a room I knew well, given that I was in my home borough, and had done more than a few arrests here - I sat down and asked if I could please open the bottle of water I had purchased.

"No you may not."

"Don't be silly. We're going to be here for a while. I paid for this water. It is mine. I'm going to open it and drink it now, please." I said, and reached for the Tesco bag.

The security guard snatched the bags away from me, placing them at the far-end of the cheap Formica table.

"Really? Seriously?", I say. I can't really believe what's happening to me.

"I'm going to search you now", he says. "Please stand up."

"Sir, with the utmost respect, you will not be searching me. In fact, you are not going to touch me."

"Do you want me to call the police?" he asks.

"Actually, that might not be such a bad idea." I said.

"Have it your way. It could take several hours for them to get here, though." he says.

"And... You are planning to keep me here until they get here?" I ask.

"Yes."

"No matter how long it takes them to arrive?"

"Yes."

"And what happens if I try to leave?"

"I'm going to stop you."

"So am I under arrest?"

"No."

"So I can leave?"

"No. You are staying here."

"So what you are telling me, is that I am not under arrest, but I am not allowed to leave?"

"Yes."

"So you have kidnapped me?"

"No, of course not."

"Mate," I start, about to explain to him that he has made a serious number of mistakes.

If he were to hold me, he should have done so under a section 24A arrest under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act; commonly known as a citizen's arrest. Next, he would have to call the police, who would be sent out on an S-grade, and they would show up within the hour. Holding me for significantly more than an hour would be unlawful imprisonment - or Kidnapping, if you will.

"Shut your face", he says to me, menacingly. "I've just called the police; they are on their way. Whilst we're waiting, I'm going to search you."

"Sorry, can I just ask you a question first?" I ask.

"All right then?"

"What happens if you find that I have stolen something from your shop?"

"The police will arrest you. Why, did you steal something?"

"I didn't say that. What if you don't find anything that is stolen? Can I leave?"

"I suppose so..."

"And you say that I have stolen a pack of sugar?"

"Yes. I saw you on CCTV."

"Mate, it's obvious that I am not wearing anything that could hide a pack of sugar." I stand up, hold my hands up, and slowly turn around. I'm wearing jeans - not the hipster skinny-jeans, but I'm not wearing particularly baggy jeans either. I'm wearing a T-shirt as well. And trainers.

"I still need to search you."

"You just told me you were searching for a pack of sugar. I am not wearing anything that could conceal a pack of sugar. You've already checked my shopping bags, where I do have a pack of sugar, but I also have a receipt for that very same bag of sugar. In summary: There's no way I could have stolen that bag of sugar, so there's no need to search me for a bag of sugar."

"What else did you steal?"

"I never stole anything!" I say, exasperated.

"So why do you keep saying 'bag of sugar'? You said you hadn't stolen a bag of sugar. What else did you steal?"

"Nothing!" I shout at the man, losing my temper. "I stole nothing. I said 'bag of sugar' because you were talking about a bag of sugar. What else did you see me steal?"

"I only saw the sugar." he said. "And now I need to search you to make sure you didn't steal anything else."

"Right; two things: You are not going to touch me. But if you would want to search me, I propose you bring someone else in here as a witness."

"Why are you being so fucking difficult?" the man swore. "What have you got to hide?"

"I've nothing to hide, but if you search me without anybody as a witness, I will tell the police that you tried to touch me up, and there is nobody in the world who could say otherwise."

"Fuck you, you pervert." he said.

I remain quiet, but at least he has stopped talking about trying to search me.

A few minutes pass in silence, and I can't contain my curiosity any further.

"So," I start, carefully. "Do you get a lot of people who refuse being searched?"

"Not really. If people are guilty", he says, "they normally just fish out whatever they stole. If they're innocent, they have nothing to hide, so a quick search later, and they are on their way."

"Aha. And would you happen to know under which law it is OK for you to search people?"

"Don't you start again..."

"I'm not starting! I'm not starting." I protest. "I'm just curious."

"Are you a fucking lawyer or what?"

"Not really. I'm just..." I say, briefly pausing to consider my next words. "... Interested in law, is all."

"Well, you shouldn't be going around stealing things, then should you?"

"That hasn't been proven yet." I say.

"So?"

"So I have allegedly stolen something."

"Look, mate, only because you have a semester of law studies, it doesn't make you smarter than me."

"No, don't worry. I didn't say that..." I said and fell silent again.

After another five minutes of extremely awkward silence, there's a knock on the door, and it swings open.

Before I even see who it is, I swing my finger to my lips, in the universal 'hush' gesture. The first face popping around the door is Jeremy, followed by Pete.

"What have we here", Pete says, barely able to keep a straight face. "What is your name please?"

"My name is Matthew Delito. Date of birth 10 May 1979", I say.

"What is your profession, mr Delito", Pete said, with a sparkle in his eyes

"I'd rather not say." I said.

"Fair enough", Pete replied. "Mr Delito, I am about to hear mr Jensen's allegations. You need to listen carefully, because what he says relates to you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, officer", I say, sweetly.

"I saw this man take a bag of sugar, and place it under his arm", the security guard, mr Jensen, says. "I then observed him go to the cash register, and pay for some goods. I brought him back here, but he refused to let himself be searched."

"Does that sound correct, mr Delito?" Pete said.

"I believe so, yes." I replied.

"How big is this pack of sugar, mr Jensen?" Pete asked.

"Oh, a normal size bag of sugar. One kilo.", he said. "Maybe a half-kilo bag."

Pete looks me up and down, and finally understands what all of this is about.

"Mr Jensen, I don't want to appear rude, and I will search Delito in just a minute, but where do you propose he might have hidden this bag of sugar? Even a half-kilo bag... I can't really see where he might have hidden it..."

"But what if he has stolen something else?"

"We can only search someone if we have a reason to search someone. If you think you saw him steal a bag of sugar, I will search him for a bag of sugar, and if we find out that he's also stolen some postage stamps, we'll arrest him for that. However, without even searching mr Delito here, I can guarantee that he doesn't have a bag of sugar on him."

"So you're not going to search him?"

"What you have to understand, is that from our point of view, Delito here is clearly not guilty of what you are accusing him off, so if we search him, it would be entirely speculative. Imagine what would happen if we insisted on searching every person who left Tesco, in case they had stolen something. Do you think that would be reasonable?"

"No, of course not."

"Can I say something?" I said.

"Go ahead" Pete said.

"I'm happy for you to search me, officer", I said. "I have nothing to hide. I did have a problem with having mr Jensen here search me, however. He was going to do so without grounds for a search, and without any witnesses."

"Seriously?" Pete asked, glancing over at Jensen.

"Yup."

"Mr Jensen," he started. "You're going to want to be very careful with that. A sexual harassment suit is just waiting to happen there. Also, if you search anyone without having legal grounds for it, there's a word for that: Assault."

"I'm only doing my fucking job, asshole", the shop detective said, making a really, really silly mistake.

"Excuse me?" Pete said, placing a hand behind his ear, as if he hadn't heard properly.

"I mean... I am only doing my job, officer."

"Yeah, that's what I thought you said. Now, you need to watch this, and listen to me very carefully." he said, turning to me. "Mr Delito, could you please take the items out of your left front pocket of your jeans?"

I did, producing a small black leather wallet, and a larger, brown leather wallet.

"Now, if you please, would you open that small black wallet and show it to mr Jensen?"

I tried my hardest to suppress a smile, as I simply pushed the small black wallet across the table to mr Jensen. He picked it up, opened it, and was staring at my warrant card, with POLICE OFFICER emblazoned in red letters across the top.

"I... Er...", he said.

"Okay, I guess that search won't be necessary after all", I said. "But I am going to have to speak to the store manager. In my half-hour since you put your hand on my shoulder, you've sworn at me in a public place, which is a section 4A public order act offence. You shoved me, which is an assault. You failed to arrest me but held me against my will, which is kidnapping. You said you were going to keep me there for as long as it took, which, even if you had done a proper citizen's arrest, would have been unlawful imprisonment. You also said you were going to search me, even though you have absolutely no right to. If you'd have insisted, you'd have been guilty of another assault. And finally, I thought you were being a bit rude when you refused to let me drink my own bottle of water, that I purchased with my own money."

"Er..."

I looked at my watch.

"Shit, I really do have to run now, going for dinner at my mum's." I said. "Pete, would you mind having a chat with the store manager? I'm happy to come in and talk to him next week, if he needs me to." I said.

"Sure thing, Delito. Say hi to your sister from me", he grinned. Bastard. He had been trying to seduce my (happily married) sister ever since the very first time he met her, at a small gathering of friends at my house a few years ago.

"I'll consider it." I lied

***

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.

Image credit: Police image from Shutterstock.

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