"Delito, I need to talk to you at the end of the briefing."
I looked up. There are plenty of innocent reasons for why that phrase might be uttered - they might need me to do an arrest inquiry, for example, or perhaps I've been selected for a course I put myself forward for - but there was something about the look on the shift skipper's face that made me think that that this might not be one of those instances. Once the briefing was completed, I went to find him in the yard. He was dealing with a panda that had been 54'd (basically, it can't be used until a mechanic has had its dirty ways with the police car, oil-wrestling it back into a roadworthy condition), and trying to sort out another car for a unit that was meant to respond to a burglary.
"All right skip?" I said, when he looked idle for a fraction of a second.
"Ah. Yeah, sorry. Do you remember that arrest last week", he said, and flicked his notebook open. "Of a miss.... Fletcher? Last week?"
I scanned my brain. Fletcher. It did ring a bell somewhere in the distant darkness of my mind. Yes! I had it. Fletcher. That was a particularly ridiculous arrest; she had been absolutely off her face on heroin, and called police about having been assaulted. When we got to the location - a crackden in a dingy, foul-smelling, sorry excuse for a house - we couldn't get out of her exactly who might have assaulted her, with what, or why. More importantly, as far as we could tell, she didn't have a scratch on her. She is a well-known 'customer', however, and she does have a history of fabricating silly stories so we will give her a lift either to her house or to A&E. In this case, however, she decided to attack the probationer I went to the call with. We ended up arresting her for assaulting my colleague; a long, drawn-out scuffle during which she somehow managed to get a hold of the probationer's baton, and ended up whacking him against his stab-vest with it a few times.
"Yes," I said. "I do remember. Arrested for assault, and on the subsequent search, we found a pretty large amount of heroin on her, then when we did the section 18 search, we also found a tiny amount of drugs hidden in the toilet cistern at her flat."
"That's the one."
"What about it?"
"How good is your writing on that one?"
Oh dear. We always have to do an awful lot of writing when we make arrests, but the question the sergeant had just asked me could mean one of two things: Either, I had missed out something crucial in my arrest notes, or someone else had made a statement that flatly contradicted mine. Either way, this was Bad News™ for a lot of different reasons. I thought back to the day in question - we had been on the graveyard shift, which meant that we had gone out on patrol around 10pm. The arrest had been at about 2am, and I had been tucked up with it for the rest of the shift; the section 18 search of the woman's property had taken most of the night (and we completely failed to find anything until the drug dogs finally showed up). I had left it quite a while before I had finally been able to write up my arrest notes. I remembered that I hadn't gotten started on the notes until about 12 hours into the shift, which means I was already 3 hours on overtime when I started writing it all up. I probably didn't make it home until about noon the next day. There was, I suppose, a pretty decent chance that I might have missed something out.
"It was a pretty late one, sarge," I admitted, waving my hand in a gesture of vague apology and resignation. "What with the section 18 and all. But I think I wrote it up pretty well?"
Don't let my occasionally eloquent writing on this blog fool you - writing up police report is a dark art that I cannot say I have fully mastered even now. There is no room for creative flourish (although I do try to sneak some cunning linguistics past my supervisors from time to time), but more importantly, anything that isn't written down on an MG11 (witness statement) or EAB (Evidence and Action Book), didn't happen.
Some times, that is an absolute curse. For example: I've done god-knows-how-many arrests in my career, and I've got the patter down to an automata: I am arresting you for X, the arrest is necessary to Y, then the police caution, then the time of arrest. Without fail, it's always the same; only the cause, reason, and time of arrest ever change. I would merrily swear on a stack of bibles, quorans and vedas, that I've never gotten the arrest procedure wrong as I was doing it. Ever.
Nonetheless: if I somehow, at the end of a 15-hour shift, manage to forget to add the four words 'the suspect was cautioned' to my arrest notes - even though I will swear on my grandmother's grave that I cautioned my prisoner - there's a solid chance the Crown Prosecution Service won't even touch the case. It's dreary, but you can't blame them - them's the rules, that's the game: if I don't write up my notes just so, it would make it way too easy for a defence barrister. The exchange would go something like: 'so, mr Delito, did you caution my client?' 'Yes I did.' 'At what point did you caution my client.' 'At the time of arrest.' 'Could you please refer to your notes.' 'It is not in my notes.' 'Why not.' 'I may have forgotten to add it to the notes.' 'What else did you forget to add to your notes, mr Delito?'. And from there on, they will have a field day, reminding the jury or judges about a quarter of a bazillion times of my incompetence. It's deeply unpleasant, but it's part of the job: You have to write your notes as well as you possibly can, but invariably, you'll eventually miss something important out. And if it is important enough, it could be the difference between someone going to prison, or someone walking free.
"I bloody well hope so, Delito" the sergeant said. "She's claiming you sexually assaulted her."
"She made a formal complaint, stating that as you tried to handcuff her, that you groped her breasts."
"I... Groped?" I said. I stared at the sergeant for a second, half expecting him to crack a smile and tell me it was an elaborate hoax.
No such smile was forthcoming.
"That's absolute bullshit." I concluded.
"I know that; but as you know, any allegations..." he started.
"... Must be investigated," I interrupted, with a sigh. "I know, I know..."
I ransacked my brain; how good were my notes? This was meant to be such an incredibly simple arrest; we were called to an alleged assault, then we were assaulted by the person who called us, and then we put her in the cells to sleep off whatever she had been shooting into her veins. The next morning, the assault case was thrown out since it wasn't much of an assault - not even an Actual Bodily Harm. She was bailed to return on the drug charges, and as soon as she left custody, she 'remembered' my 'transgression'.
I've got to be honest, I normally pride myself in writing great notes, but if there was ever any situation where I might let my standards slip, it would be precisely in a case such as this one; a throw-away arrest for an assault which I never really thought was going to go anywhere, followed by the discovery of a vanishingly small amount of drugs... She was hardly Al Capone in all of this.
So, did I touch her boobs? I will be perfectly, inescapably honest: I haven't the faintest inkling of a hint of a shadow of a memory of a long-since-forgotten dream of an idea. Some arrests are by their very nature pretty physical - and in this case, there was wrestling on the floor of a house where the floor is strewn with needles. We're up against a she-tiger who is so far gone on drugs that se cannot feel pain, trying to wrest her hands onto her back, just so we can slap some cuffs on her and try to get her into the caged van. As it turned out, the van arrived quickly, and the driver and operator of the caged van helped us make the arrest in the end. I found an injection needle stuck into the sole of my boot later the same day, and I have no doubt that I 'picked it up' as we were making the arrest. It gets messy. It gets physical. It gets chaotic, violent, confusing, and adrenaline-laden.
Did I touch her boobs? Who knows - but if I did, I certainly didn't mean to.
And so, as I am writing this, I'm stuck in an office at the police station, on telephone duty (basically, taking police reports over the phone), whilst waiting for this whole bloody thing to be sorted out. I'm meant to get interviewed by a colleague from another shift later today about 'the allegations of sexual assault which we take very seriously'.
I'm not actually suspended, but they haven't put me in a car for a couple of days either, which is extremely unusual, to say the least. I'm relatively confident that I'm not going to lose my job over this one - but I'm sure as hell losing an unhealthy amount of sleep over it.
It just goes to show that even when you try your cursed best, this job will some times land you neck-deep in excrement.
It is certainly not the best way to start a week-end, that's for sure
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.