Notes from the Frontline: Dealing with the Fringes

By Matt Delito on at

One of the most challenging aspects of policing, in my opinion, is trying to figure out how to deal with people who have lost perspective to such a degree that they have left all reason behind.

I think of myself as someone who is a relatively good talker, and in this job, that's a positive. The better you are at defusing a situation with your words, the less you have to rely on the other, more injury-causing options. However, words only work on people who can hear, understand, and process what you are saying to them, and who then somehow take these words and put them into a worldview that makes sense to them.

The police are often the first people who are called when a situation is escalating, which means that we are frequently called to extremely difficult scenes. One particularly memorable incident I attended was when we entered a house, and were faced with a smashed flat-screen TV, upturned furniture, and a young man standing at the verandah doors, staring quietly out at the garden outside.

As soon as we arrived, we heard a door being unlocked, and a woman came out of the room. Behind her, we found two children cowering. The woman had a black eye.

"What happened here?" I asked.

"They said he was okay to come home," she replied, nodding to the living room.

"Who is 'they'?" I asked, already anticipating the answer. It turns out that the young man was her son, and that he had been taken away to a facility to be treated for a serious mental disorder of some sort. Schizophrenia, possibly, or severe autism of some sort? I had no idea.

The bottom line is that this wasn't the first time police had attended the house, and it wouldn't be the last time either, I suspected.

In the pub and among friends, it's not all that uncommon to describe someone a 'not being fully there' -- but it's hard to convey quite how scary it is to face someone where you cannot understand what drives them, what would excite or anger them, nor what they are capable of doing. Part of this is that I think that even the police aren't trained particularly well in how to deal with mental health issues (and, come to think of it, that's why I'm so grateful people like Mental Health Cop are blogging about some of these things).

I write all of this mostly to frame something that happened to me the other morning.

I should add that mostly, I'm able to leave work at work. I'm not able to check my Police email from home (I think it's a security thing, but it's probably better for my home life that I'm not able to keep working unless I'm at the nick), and I generally don't come across that many things that I feel I need to intervene in when I'm not in uniform. In other words: I work when I work, and I don't when I don't.

The exception, of course, is my Matt Delito email address, which isn't that hard to find (or guess), and when I woke up to an email that comes from someone whose mental status I cannot judge, it becomes a scary one.

Allow me to quote:

Hi Matt,
Been reading your blog, and basically I've come to the conclusion that you are a transparent fantasist who at the very, very least may have served in the Specials or some other tin-pot cop-play position, but YOU ARE MOST DEFINITELY NOT A COP.

Your entire blog reads like hackneyed teenage fiction, and your emphasis on all things cop are so overwrought it utterly screams 'Please believe me!'

Quite frankly, fantasist twats like you are even more worrying than proper cops, so I'm going to expose you for the utter fake you are on [url removed]We got rid of Inspector Gadget within about 3 months of running the site. How long do you think it will take to fell you?

Regards

T.

As you may have garnered from my other blog posts, I'm no stranger to being sworn at when I'm in uniform. It almost, almost makes sense to me, too -- people don't tend to swear at you personally. Come to think of it, the people you arrest or otherwise deal with on the street don't even see you as a person -- they see you as a tiny, uniform-clad cog in the enormous machine that is the Metropolitan Police; as such they hate you, and they think it's okay to swear at you, call you names, and call your matrilineal heritage into dispute. Is it OK? No, but it has a certain logic to it.

So, when I received the above email, I automatically started thinking; What does Mr T want? I don't even particularly care that he thinks I was "at least" a Special Constable (I'm guessing he meant 'at most', but I only have what he wrote to go on). What is his motivation for emailing me, and why does he feel that 'getting rid' of police bloggers is so important?

I have no answers, of course, but I thought I'd post this email in public, to illustrate some of the interesting challenges we face from people who enjoy skirting the fringes of society. Although, I've got to say, T, if you're reading this, there are many great hobbies out there that don't involve being horrible to people. You could, for example, start playing with sharp objects, and, in the tradition of honourable figures like Dame Judy Dench, you could even get an outlet for your potty-mouth (apparently she does sweary cross-stitching for her fellow cast members on movies! Who knew!)

If it's all the same to you guys, I'm going to work. You don't have to admire what I do -- hell, you don't even have to like me -- but if you need me in a hurry, call 999; I'm about 10 minutes away, from anywhere in London.

***

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.