Notes From the Frontline: From Insult to Injury

By Matt Delito on at

It was going to be such a ridiculously easy arrest. Only a shoplifter - I've done hundreds of those, right? Besides, the shopping centre where the arrest was to take place is right across the road from the police station, and whilst we're not meant to 'march prisoners', if this was a reasonable chap, we'd just cross the street together, and not wait for 20 minutes for the busy caged van. What could be easier?

As I entered the shop - a retail outlet of a very large and famous sporting goods store, I knew exactly where to go. The last time I had an arrest in here was only a couple of weeks ago, and the time before that was late last month.

"Hey Mick, I've got a stonker of an idea," I remember joking to the caged van driver. "We should just set up a regular shuttle service to this place. You know it makes sense."

We laugh about it, but it's bloody depressing, really. In any pub in a 3-block radius, if you sit in the pub, someone will come up to you and ask if you want to buy a brand new pair of trainers. At one point, the shop actually tried to counteract that by only putting size 6 shoes out on display (so the stolen shoes would be harder to steal), but the only outcome was that the toe-rags stopped stealing shoes and started nicking bulkier items instead.

"Mornin' Simon," I said to the shop manager.

"Heya Matt" he replied, and did a mock salute. I think he's in the Territorial army; he gets ridiculously excited when uniforms wander about in his shop. And, given the location and type of shop he runs, that happens a lot. He's one of these relentlessly, unbearably optimistic kinds of people that I love to hate for always smiling, whilst simultaneously being secretly jealous of them. I did try for a few weeks to smile at everybody and be optimistic about everything, but I've got to be honest with you; this job makes that really hard.

"What have you got for me then?"

"This friendly fellow," Simon beamed, nodding to his office door, "Tried to run off with a set of dumbbells".

"Seriously?"

"Yup. A whole set of them."

"How many?"

"Six. Their combined weight was just under 45 lbs."

"Wait, so this lad thought he could run away from your lads," I laughed, calculating, "with over 3 stone worth of dead weight?"

"Yeah!" Simon roared. "In his defence, he also stole a set of really nice running shoes by wearing them, so at least he had a fighting chance!"

"How far did they get?"

"To the Starlight Cafe!" Simon laughed. I laughed with him - The Starlight is next door to the sports shop - so this particularly clueless thief managed to make it a whole, oh, perhaps six or seven steps, before Simon's rather large 'merchandise protection team' (security guards, basically) got to him. Poor bastard.

Simon gave me the details of what had happened - One of his MPT's had spotted our young lad on CCTV as he was trying on a pair of shoes, then casually walking over to a rack of boxes containing exercise equipment, before bolting out the door. Of course, they realised right away what was going to happen, so they already sent a couple of their guys outside to wait for him, and once he came running out the door, all they had to do was grab him and wrestle him back inside.

"He's a bit rowdy," Simon said, in a warning I really ought to have heeded, as I walked inside the office.

I recognised the young man immediately. He's a heavy user of various class A drugs, and most of the time when we pick him up he's so wasted that when he wakes up in a custody cell, we have to explain to him exactly why he is there - and what year it is, for that matter.

I talked him though the allegation, arrested and cautioned him, and put a set of handcuffs on him. Now usually, I would stick him in a back-to-back, or a front stack (for extremely high-risk prisoners, we also use a rear stack at times, but that's tricky to apply, especially to a struggling customer) - but since my prisoner was pretty zoned out and compliant, and because I was planning to march him across a road and around a corner to the police station, I decided to put him in a palm-to-palm instead. A palm-to-palm has the fewest advantages to me as a police officer (the prisoner basically has full use of their arms), but the upside is that if I do walk someone from one place to another, if they have their hands in front of them and clumsily fall over, at least they have a chance to catch themselves.

If you watch a lot of American cop shows (or, y'know, if you listen to conspiracy theorists in this country) There are plenty of stories where a 'customer' has to walk a short distance - even if it is only down to the van parked on the street - and then ends up face-first into the ground or down a flight of stairs because they can't keep their balance properly, or because when they fall, they can't catch themselves from smacking their heads against the ground. Now, I won't speculate whether our customers do this sort of thing deliberately, in order to make us look bad, or whether there is sometimes foul play, where a police officer gives someone a shove and they fall over. The point is that as soon as you deprive someone of their freedom, they're 100% your responsibility. Which means - as you might imagine - that if someone falls down a flight of stairs or takes a tumble, face-first into the asphalt, it may not be our fault per se, but it it is per definition our responsibility.

So; a palm-to-palm it was to be for this particular prisoner's short shuffle to the police cells.

Simon's security guard had already given me a signed MG11 witness statement. I glanced at it, and realised it was everything I needed. This used to be a problem, but we came up with an elegant solution - a few years ago, I e-mailed Simon a template which included a bullet-pointed aide memoire so they would include all the information we need to prosecute. "I observed X take item Y and place it in pocket Z", "I was approximately X meters away from them and did/did not have a clear view of the action", "X did not attempt to pay for the goods", "We do not permit customers to leave the store without paying for their goods." etc - basically, all the points to prove* for theft.

*) Incidentally, if you're really interested in all this police stuff, you could do a lot worse than buying a copy of Points to Prove, the Beat Officer's Companion, and the Traffic Officer's Companion: They ain't cheap, but if there are easier, more practical guides to the bits of law police officers have to deal with, I'm not aware of them.

With the MG11 witness statement tucked into my Metvest, an arm wrapped tightly around my prisoners', and a suitably grim look on my face, I started the 3-minute walk to the police station.

Suddenly, my radio makes the blood-curdling beeping noise signifying that someone has pressed the Orange Button. One of my colleagues is in trouble; and it's only about 200 yards down the road.

"I'm under attack! Two men with sticks! Queen avenue, outside number 11! Hey! Will you fucking cut that out!" I hear a familiar voice shout. It's Kim, and she's being assaulted by two men, presumably wielding baseball bats or similar.

The radio waves turn into a flurry of traffic, as literally every officer drops what they are doing and run to the car. Six officers come bursting out of the front doors of the station, and start sprinting up the road towards Queen Avenue.

"CS Deployed! CS Deployed!" I hear Kim shout over the radio. "I'm going to need an ambul..." she's cut off mid-sentence, and the radio falls silent, as my colleagues are turning the corner down Queen Avenue, and the entire area turns into a pandemonium of police sirens; from all over the borough, people are rushing to Kim's assistance, and I'm dragging a semi-comatose prisoner along to a prison cell, unable to do anything at all.

Semi-comatose? Really? I feel a tug at my arm, and tear my eyes away from my colleagues running to Kim's side. The man I'm holding on to is looking up at me, and I realise he is up to something; but I'm also distracted. He's in handcuffs and bare-foot; I'm a highly trained martial artist in police uniform and a stab-vest. At this point, I'll happily admit to some degree of complacency - I figured I had the situation under control. And I continued figuring that, until suddenly my prisoner yanks away from me, and I hear a sound that I really shouldn't have been hearing at that point.

A very familiar sound.

The sound of a baton being racked.

The sound of my baton being racked.

My hand shoots to my holster; it's empty. Somehow, this seemingly drugged-off-his-face junkie had managed to liberate me of my own baton, and then torn himself free of my grip. Since he was in a palm-to-palm handcuff configuration, he still had full use of his arms. And there was the small issue of him having my baton.

Fuck.

I get on the radio.

"Outside the police station! I have a prisoner with a stick; could do with some help, here!".

Nothing.

Fuck.

Now, as a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu, we train against people who are holding weapons all the time. In class, on the mats, wearing my angry pyjamas, I'm very confident of disarming people with knives, broken bottles, and sticks. Even pistols, if they are stupid enough to come close enough that I can grab a hold of them. However, my current predicament shows a gap in my training: All our training is done against people who have their arms free, which means I'm very well trained in spotting how someone is likely to strike. With both his hands in handcuffs, my prisoner moves aggressively, but I can't read him, and I don't really know what he's doing.

I grab my CS spray. I hate the stuff, but with my weapon of choice taken away from me, I'm stuck with my second choice.

"Put down the stick", I say to my prisoner, "because if you don't, in about two seconds, you'll get a face-full of this. You won't get far - you're right outside a police station, for christ's sake!"

Then it happens; The prisoner comes for me, and has the wherewithal to feint a strike from the left before reversing his movement. I press down the button on my CS spray, hitting the prisoner first in the chest, then raising the beam to catch him in the face - but it's too little, too late, I realise, as my own baton connects with the side of my left knee in a crunching sound, followed by a wave of absolute agony.

As I crash to the ground, I see two officers come out of the police station, batons drawn; But they didn't stand a chance of catching my prisoner; he was already on his toes, sprinting down the street, turning down a sidestreet, and discarding my baton into a little front garden as he ran.

My knee hurt like an cascade of absolute horror, but nothing hurt quite as much as my pride: A prisoner in handcuffs, stealing my baton, getting a strike in, and then running off? That wasn't going to look good.

***

I spent a day in hospital on a lot of pain killers going in and out of X-ray machines; my knee had taken quite a blow, but the doctors said I mustn't worry - it'd hurt for a while, but nothing was seriously broken or mangled in there. Given that I knew the name of the prisoner, he was picked up at his own house before I even made it out of hospital.

There was one good thing about all of this, however; as I spent a lot of time waiting for doctors to poke and prod me, I was able to spend the rest of the day with Kim, who was also shipped to the same hospital with a couple of serious injuries to her arms and a blow to the head. Like me, however, she walked away from it without permanent injuries.

It's days like this that I really wonder what the hell the Met is thinking. Single patrolling is a great way to get the illusion of more police on the streets, but if the policy had been to never go out on your own, the bastards who did Kim in wouldn't have been able to ambush her; and with two of us, there's no way my prisoner would have been able to get away like that.

Worst of all, though, since I'm now walking with a bit of a limp, they won't let me out on patrol for a while, so I'm stuck on all the duties I don't enjoy all that much.

"At least it has been a rainy week", Kim said, a few days later, "So you don't have to feel that bad to be stuck in an office with me for a while."

"No," I said, looking at Kim. "It's not all bad...

***

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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