I'm in the driver's seat of a BMW area car for the occasion, on the slowest shift I can remember in a very, very long time. Sure, we sometimes have extremely busy shifts, but even a quiet shift has a steady trickle of jobs to do, most of the time.
Today, bizarrely, there was absolutely nothing going on. Nada. Zip. Sweet cock-all. No traffic collisions. No burglaries. Not even any shoplifters, sudden deaths, or loitering teenagers.
It was almost eerie, in fact.
I was posted with Kim, who I hadn't seen for a while; she had been on secondment to Vice (that's the guys who deal with prostitutes and the people who use their services; known as 'Janes' and 'Johns' among friends) for some sort of sting operation on another borough. Not seeing her for a while was good, actually - she's a married woman, after all, and her husband is a lovely guy. It turned out to be a bit of a relief to discover that when she wasn't there on a day-to-day basis, she would eventually slip from my mind.
The flipside of that, of course, is that as soon as she returned, the familiar old feeling hit me like a 8-tonne lorry with an attractive police officer tied to the grille. If I didn't know better, I'd think I were in love.
We had a special constable with us today as well. He had been around for about a year or so, but having worked with Syd a few times, I was just a little bit spoiled. This guy - Ahmed - was friendly enough, but that was about the only thing I would be able to say about him. Having worked with him a few times now, I was wondering whether I should report back to the Special Sergeant, and recommend he gets some additional training - when push comes to shove, Ahmed simply doesn't have what it takes to be an officer. Sure, he can run fast enough to pass the bleep test required to become a police officer, and he's a sharp cookie, full of good stories and a good memory for laws etc, but he seems to spend most of his time avoiding confrontation, and seems afraid to give someone a good talking to.
To be fair, I didn't enjoy much having to exert power over other people myself, but after a while, you realise that when you're wearing an uniform, you're playing a role that people expect you to fulfil. So if two people are having a bit of a tussle, the bystanders expect a stern 'Oi, cut that out'. And if, when you're making an arrest, you don't sound like you know what you're doing, the little toe-rags will run circles around you. One of the most important things you learn as a cop, is that actual confidence and pretend confidence are exactly the same thing. (Keep that in mind, by the way, the next time you have a job interview. Pretend to be confident, pretend you'll get the job. It's never failed me yet).
On my last shift with Ahmed, we were posted together just the two of us, and if it's up to me, that won't happen again. We were going into a house to execute an arrest warrant. Christopher - the man we had a warrant for - is well known to police, and he is good as gold; he likes a bit of banter, but would never actually be violent to us. So, I took Ahmed along, and I figured this would make an easy first arrest for him. We went inside, and Christopher asked Ahmed to take his shoes off. Before I had time to protest, he had already bent down, and started to undo his shoelaces. All good and well, of course, but as Ahmed was struggling with his shoes, he took his eyes off Christopher altogether - and this was before we even explained why we were there.
Now, I don't mind so much, in the end, the arrest happened quickly, and once Ahmed had stammered his way through the arrest procedure, it all went pretty smoothly. However, Ahmed didn't know that Christopher was a non-violent man, and getting someone to bend down for any reason is a very old self defence trick. One I've used myself, once: Before I joined the police, someone tried to steal my wallet at knife-point, but I realised he was not completely with it - so I 'dropped' the wallet on the ground right in front of my toes. He bent down to pick it up. You see where this one is going; long story short: I broke his nose with my knee, before disarming him and dragging him into the police station around the corner.
"Mate, you really can't be taking your shoes off in houses like that." I said to Ahmed afterward. "What if there is crap on the floor? Or what if the suspect manages to slip past you and runs out the door? Do you really want to run around in these council estates on your socks?"
"The thing is, those boots are part of your protective equipment; they can be weapons in a fight, or they keep you safe if you have to walk through a field of needles."
"It's not very polite though. I was in his home, after all. I'm not like you. I don't want to insult people."
"You're a police officer. By doing your job well, you will insult people." I started, but decided not to lay into him after all. "Have you ever had to give out a traffic ticket?"
"No, I let them off with a warning."
"What, all of them?"
"What were the warnings for?"
"Oh, all sorts. Seat belts, red lights, mobile phone use..."
"You do realise that letting people off - using your discretion - is lovely, but only if you think it's the better option? Your default should be to give a ticket - not to be a bastard to people, but because if people start thinking they can get away with speaking on their phones, running through red lights, and not wearing seatbelts, they'll never bother."
"They said they wouldn't do it again."
"Don't you think that giving them a ticket would be the best way to remind them to keep that promise?"
"My sergeant says that you can't tell me who to arrest or what to give tickets for..." Ahmed said.
"That is correct. I cannot. And you need to think very carefully about whether you want to listen to people if they tell you to make an arrest, especially if you aren't completely sure. Any arrest you make and any ticket you issue has to be a hundred per cent your responsibility. But I just want you to think about it a little bit."
I left it at that, and made a mental note to go have a chat with his sergeant - A police officer who is so scared to insult someone that they refuse to issue a ticket isn't really going to do the Met an awful lot of good; but that's only a small part of it. The fact that he's more concerned with not insulting someone he knows he is going to arrest than his own (and my) safety? That's not someone I can work with. In fact, late that evening, over a fine pint of London Pride, it struck me that I might actually be safer on my own than with Ahmed - At least on my own, I have a healthy degree of risk aversion. With Ahmed, I would have to operate on the assumption that he had my back if everything went south... But I'm not at all sure that is the case.
And that's why Kim was now in my passenger seat, and Ahmed in the back; I need at least one sensible police officer with me to ensure we're all safe and going home at the end of the day.
In the long, quiet day, we were all reduced to sharing useless factoids with each other.
"Did you know that a CD holds 74 minutes' worth of music, because Sony's president decided that a single CD should be able to contain the longest recorded version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?" Ahmed shared, to many responses of 'no bloody way'.
"Did you know that hippos is the creature that kills the second most humans every year?" Kim offered, "It's second only to the Malaria mosquito." she added.
Of course, that particular 'fact' prompted a discussion as to whether there was such a thing as a Malaria mosquito, whether it was the mosquito or the malaria itself killing the humans, and whether it would be possible to install a laser gun that was so accurate it could shoot down mosquitos in flight. (Apparently, you can...)
"Did you know there's a restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill, where if you weigh more than 25 stone, you eat for free?" I shared my favourite factoid. "It's in Vegas, apparently. Although, to be honest, I can't think of anything worse than sitting in a room full of 25-stone men and women, no matter how tasty the burgers." Which, of course, prompted a heated discussion as to whether or not I was fattist.
As we were sharing factoids, we were slowly driving around the borough, keeping our eyes peeled for anything - anything - that could let us do any actual police-work. At this point, I'd take a cyclist on a footpath or a driver with a broken tail light - but no... Nothing.
Eventually, Ahmed spotted something.
"What is that bus driver doing?" he said.
Three pairs of eyes went to the bus driver, on the number 8 bus coming the other way. He had his window open, and was making the 'slow down' movement with his hand out of the window, followed by a pointed finger at us, followed by a wave that could only mean 'follow me'. Trouble on the bus?
"Mike Delta 20 for Mike Delta", Kim called into her radio, as I spun the car around.
"We've just been signaled by a bus driver of the number 8 bus on Roman Alley. Not sure what the deal is, but if there's anyone else in the area...?"
"Sure, we'll send you some back-up. Is anyone ready to put down their cup of tea and do some work?" the CAD operator said.
"Show 22" came a response.
"Show 84" came another.
Within seconds, the whole team had put themselves up for our call which - for all we knew - was just a bus driver listening to some music and doing dance moves out of the window.
The bus driver stopped his bus in a bus stop, and we pulled up beside.
"How can we help", Kim called up to him.
"Two boys are up on the second deck, smoking weed and being abusive."
"All right, we'll have a word."
We went into the bus and upstairs; Kim first, then me, then Ahmed. It wasn't hard to find the young men; there were three of them, aged around 18-19, all obviously spoiling for trouble. There were only about half a dozen other passengers on the second deck, but they all looked moderately terrified.
"What the fuck do you want", one of the teenagers said, squaring up to Kim. She took half a step back, and I saw her undo the clasp on her handcuffs pouch. The problem with a bus, of course, is that the gangway is rather narrow, and if Kim needs support, it's tricky: I can't easily get past her to help her.
"I want you to take a step back and explain to me what's going on here."
"Yeah?" he said, and took a step forward instead, bumping into Kim with his chest. "Or what are you going to do, little girl?" he said, menacingly, to half-hearted cheering from his half-baked friends.
With one smooth move, Kim had taken another step back, removed the cuffs from the pouch, and lashed the man across the face with them. He squealed in pain, and brought both his hands to his face. Kim took the opportunity when it was offered, and clicked one of his wrists into the cuffs, before putting a foot against his hip, kicking back and spinning him around, whilst keeping hold of the cuffs. I leaped forward and grabbed his other arm, wrestling his wrist into the other cuff.
"I am arresting you for assault", Kim concluded, before giving him a quick search. "And possession of an offensive weapon", she added, holding up a butterfly knife with a snake blade - the kind designed especially to wiggle around back and forth inside someone's rib cage for maximum damage. "And possession of a suspected class A drug with intent to supply", she added again, dropping a small plastic bag containing several wraps next to the knife on the bus seat.
As Kim continued the search, she found another knife on the man as well. His two friends were looking nervous further back in the bus, but unable to do anything to escape.
"Do any of you have knives on you, too?" I asked them, to a perfectly synchronised set of Kanye shrugs.
"No, seriously. Do you?" Again. Another shrug.
"Look. If I don't get a straight answer out of you, we'll assume you are armed, and act accordingly." Another, absolutely infuriating shrug.
"You", I said, turning to the remaining passengers on the top deck. "Please go downstairs." They did.
When they were all out of harms way, I reached for my radio.
"Delito here; You guys can come in now." I said.
As soon as I finished the transmission, about thirty officers piled up the stairs; the entire shift of bored-beyond-their-wits officers had turned out to come take a look. What the little hoodlums hadn't seen, was one police car after the other parking in front of, or behind, the bus.
"So." I said. "We can do this two ways. Either you put your hands above you so we can come up and search you..."
They didn't look convinced.
"...Or my riot-trained colleagues, here," I said, with what I hoped would come across as an elegant introduction of the frankly completely unnecessary number of officers waiting behind me, "will take care of you."
With a sigh, their hands went to the ceiling, and Ahmed and I were able to arrest them both without further incident.
Clearly, these kids hadn't really thought their little mission through; most small-time criminals have the wherewithal to at least make sure that only one of them carries the drugs and weapons, so if they are searched, only one gets arrested. In this case, the haul was seven knives, two sharpened screwdrivers, a large quantity of Class A's, a little bit of cannabis, and - ultimately - a sexual assault charge from one of the girls who had been on the upper deck. Apparently the first kid we arrested had decided to fondle her breasts whilst making lewd suggestions in front of half a dozen witnesses and the bus CCTV camera. Smooth move.
Since our colleagues had turned out rather useful as a show of force, but not actually involved with anything, three of them wrote up a quick MG-11 witness statement to explain what they had seen, whilst the rest of them were left to nurse their cups of tea or cruise around aimlessly in what was to become known as the Quiet Bus Day of 2012
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.