If you thought ‘having a case of the Mondays’ was bad, you should try dragging yourself out of bed at 4am to make it to work and into uniform for 6am after four days off. Our shift patterns have always been a bit nutty, but the pattern we are on at the moment is actually pretty decent — in theory, we’re six days on, four days off. In practice, we’re often six days on, one day on secondment or similar, and three days off. The upside is that we do, indeed, occasionally get four delicious days off on the trot.
“529, you’re on a section 18 today, full details available from the Borough Intelligence Unit”, I heard through my Tuesday morning haze after four delicious days off work.
“Huh?” I eloquently replied, to much laughter from my team mates.
“Matt! Section 18! Wake up!” the sergeant barked with a grin. I hang my head in mock shame, as the rest of the team settle back into their chairs for the rest of the briefing. Sometimes, a bit of light ribbing is all it takes to bring the whole team out of their first-shift-of-the-set funk; this was one of those times, and somehow, I could feel the whole team wake up around me.
The ‘Section 18′ the skipper had assigned me to refers to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984. A section 18 search is a constable’s power to ‘enter and search without a search warrant’. A s18 would most usually be done after someone has been arrested, and it appears that they may be hiding items or goods related to their arrest at their home. Basically, if someone is arrested for selling drugs, we usually end up searching their residence under s18, under the (usually accurate) assumption that if they have drugs for sale on them, they may also have additional drugs at home.
So, my assignment today would be to root through someone’s stuff to find something untoward.
Searching another person’s home is a really, really weird experience the first time you do it. And, come to think of it, it never really becomes un-weird (although, obviously, you do get used to it). For most drug searches, it’s a pretty easy job; people aren’t particularly good at hiding their drugs stash. For one thing, street-level dealers aren’t known for their intellect and insight (the higher-ups might be slightly more well-equipped in the intelligence quotient score card stakes, but then, they are unlikely to keep their own wares in their houses), but also, when it comes to drugs and money that’s actually in circulation, it needs to be easily accessible, which means that the hiding places tend to be relatively obvious.
Of course, we also have another arrow in our proverbial quivers: we have a large squad of furry canines that have no greater joy in life than sniffing out drugs. The first time you meet a drug dog, you might be surprised, too: When most people think ‘police dog’, they think the big, bitey kind of dog — German shepherds, for example, are a perennial favourite. However, drug dogs don’t actually have to do any of the running, biting, and scaring people, so the Met uses other clever dogs instead — cocker spaniels seem to be a favourite at the moment, which always seemed pretty hilarious to me — they aren’t the scariest of dogs, exactly. But then, they don’t need to be.
A well-trained drug dog will simply happily tromp around the house, and when they find drugs, they’ll mark the spot by…sitting down next to the drawer, cupboard, or floor board. No barking, no whining; they just sit down, look at their handler in expectation of pets and perhaps a cuddle. It’s absolutely astonishing to see them in action — and if we know we’re looking for drugs, it makes our job very easy indeed.
Today’s search was in a house I can only describe as positively filthy. Disgustingly squalid. It was the kind of place where I felt it necessary to start putting my search gloves on before we even knocked on the door. Of course nobody answered.
“Did we get his keys?” I asked Jeremy, who was standing right behind me.
“Nope”, Jeremy said. “He chucked them away as he was arrested apparently.”
“Yes. This was why the inspector decided we had better take a closer look at his house.”
“What a daft move”, I said, looking at the door in front of me. I knocked again.
“I don’t think anyone is in”, Jeremy said.
“So, shall we open the door?”
“Have you got a Big Red Key?” I asked, referring to the battering ram we keep in the arrest vans.
“Nah, but we can’t let that stop us,” Jeremy grinned, producing his baton. He gave the glass pane next to the door a sharp rap, and my shoes were suddenly covered in glass.
Jeremy stuck his head though the broken window pane and took a look at the lock inside. It was just a simple lock with a lever on the inside, so he stuck his arm in, turned the lock, and we were inside.
Jeremy pushed a door open and went inside. A fraction of a second later I heard a shout, and Jeremy came flying backwards out of the door he had just pushed open, stumbling around with blood pouring out of his arm.
“Fucking fucks!” he exclaimed, clutching his arm.
I dragged him out of the house so I could take a better look in the daylight. He had a large flap of skin — several inches worth — hanging loosely from the back of his left arm.
I heard the dog unit get on the radio to get an ambulance to us, and one of the other officers ran over.
“I’m an Army paramedic,” he shouted. I looked up, and I can’t say I recognised him — I later learned he was part of the drugs squad; they were just along to have a look at the place. The paramedic pushed me aside, reached into the bag he had on his shoulder and produced a bandage of some sort. He flipped the flap of loose skin back onto Jeremy’s arm with a sickening, juicy ‘thwap’ sound, before quickly wrapping the wound in bandages. I was standing back, still not completely sure what, exactly, had just happened.
The K9 guys came back out of the house a few moments later — as soon as they had called an ambulance, they ran inside to see whether they could arrest Jeremy’s assailant.
“Booby trap”, one of them said. “They had rigged ropes connected to the door, with a kitchen knife tied to two 2-litre plastic bottles filled with water for extra weight.”
“What the fuck?” I said. We are regularly briefed about the possibility of booby traps, but I’ve got to say that I’ve never actually experienced one in real life, and I always just sort of assumed they were Metropolitan Police propaganda to keep us on our toes.
“We do see them quite often, actually,” the Army Paramedic said grimly. “But I’ve never seen one that actually worked before.”
Jeremy slowly came out of his state of utter shock.
“Mother… Fucker…” he said. “It hurts so much!”
“Ambulance is on the way, buddy,” I said, and wondered if perhaps I should throw him into the police car and rush him to hospital myself. I looked over at the medic, but he didn’t seem to think there was much of a rush, so we decided to just wait around until LAS (London Ambulance Service) showed up.
“I just saw a huge fuck-off knife coming for me,” Jeremy said, “so I threw my arms up. If the damn thing had just hit my metvest, I’d probably have been all right!”
“Or not,” I said. “You never know, man. Much more importantly is that you’re all right now — you’re not going to die, and soon you get lots of busty nurses taking care of you. They love a man in uniform.”
“Dude, that’s gross,” he laughed, before wincing in pain. “The only reason the nurses in that hospital are busty, is that they are huge all ’round.”
“Whatever, man,” I said. “Take it where you can get it, I say,” and nudged Jeremy in the ribs.
“Why the booby-traps?” Jeremy asked, directing his question at the medic.
“No idea. I guess they might be targeted at rival gangs, perhaps” he mused. “Or aimed at us perhaps. No idea. We’ll leave it to the SOCO guys to find out who actually set that trap; I don’t think we’ll be going inside of there until we’ve had the house cleared, just in case there are additional traps.”
Jeremy grunted, just as I could hear the ambulance sirens turn the corner at the top of the road.
As the ambulance crew started doing their thing, I went into the house to have a look at the booby-trap. It was a pretty simple installation, but what I realised was particularly grisly, was that the knife was exactly at chest height on me. Which means that on an averagely tall person, the knife would be throat or face height…
Jeremy was going to be all right, I remember thinking, but I could feel a cold shiver running down my spine. Jeremy is about four inches shorter than me, and it doesn’t bear thinking about what might have happened if he hadn’t parried the knife with his arm
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.