"We’ve just had report of criminal damage in progress, outside 12 Church walk. An IC2 youth, around 12 years of age, smashing up a car. On an I-grade".
Today, I’m the IRV driver, callsign Mike Delta 20, and it’s been a dreadfully slow day, and the call coming in over the radio engages me enough to stir myself into some semblance of excitement. I don’t mind chasing after a group of troublemaking kids for a few minutes to wake me up. I reach for the PTT (Push-to-talk) lever in my car, hold it down, and say "Show 20" to the microphone mounted next to my sun visor. I’m hearing my own voice, slightly distorted, feeding back through the radio I’ve got clipped to my stab vest. “Received”, replies the operator.
I press the '999' button on my dash, and the car’s mobile disco facilities spring into life. The siren wails, as I spin the car around. Church walk is just around the corner. I come careening around the last bend with the slightest hint of a squeal from my tyres against the asphalt, where I see one chap climbing over a low fence. He's not running away. In fact, he's coming towards me. "Show TOA for Mike Delta 20", I say, as I engage the run lock and climb out of the Vauxhall Astra.
"Hi there. You OK?", I ask the kid, as he comes toward me. He nods. "Hey", I continue, "You haven't seen anyone trying to smash up a car, have you?". He nods again. “Where", I ask, looking around for broken glass.
"That was me", he says, and shrugs with a lack of commitment that makes me stop in my tracks for a moment. How do you make a motion showing a lack of caring without caring? Mentally, I’m shaking my head at this kid's utter lack of... well... anything.
I blink a couple of times. "Uhm.. Okay? Why did you smash up a car? Where is it?". He points at a dark red Volvo parked outside number 10. We walk over to the car together, just as another police car shows up. "TOA two-six", my radio crackles, as the two officers climb out of the car and wander towards us. I’m about to send them on their way again, when someone comes out of number 12. He’s extremely agitated.
"He smash the car! He smash the car!", the man shouts in a Turkish accent. He is walking briskly whilst gesticulating wildly. I take another look at the car. It could do with a wash, but all the windows seem to be intact, and I can’t see any obvious damage. "What did he do?", I asked the man, as I give him a once-over. He's wearing a pair of tracksuit bottoms, a food-stained t-shirt, and the air of someone who has just rolled out of bed. "He smash the car!", he says again.
I glance back and forth at my colleagues. We deal with traffic collisions on a daily basis, and we’ve seen a lot of smashed cars in our time. This, I conclude, is not a smashed car.
"In June! He smash the car!".
"What exactly did you tell the people when you called 999?", I asked him, as it dawns on me what's going on. "I say he smash the car"!
“Sir”, I say, "You can’t dial 999 about an incident that happened several months ago. If someone is smashing up your car, breaking into your house, or attacking you, call 999. With this…", I wave my hand half-heartedly, sigh, and change tack. "Do you know this young man?" I ask him, pointing at the kid.
"Yes", he says. "Is my son".
The kid pipes up. "He stole my Blackberry".
I’ll save you the confounding banality of reporting a running dialogue for a little while; it took us the best part of forty minutes to complete the puzzle of what, exactly, had happened. It was the kind of puzzle that was bought at an Oxfam shop as a gift from a well-meaning yet misguided family member, and that has subsequently been sitting on the shelf for just a little bit too long, where the cat has taken off with half a dozen pieces, and where nobody really cares whether the puzzle is ever completed or not. I would be lying if I said that my job didn’t involve dealing with a lot of these types of puzzles.
It turns out that back in June, the father had taken the son’s Blackberry as punishment for something or other, as parents are wont to do. In my day, we were sent to our room right after dinner, or deprived of watching Columbo for an evening. These days, the kids have to give up their BlackBerry privileges. Fair enough.
The kid retaliated for the grave miscarriage of justice of being deprived of Blackberry Messenger for a few hours by taking a cricket bat to the family car, smashing up the bonnet, the windshield, and a couple of the side windows. The police were called, and the kid was taken in for criminal damage. This time, the scoundrel had started a fight at school, so the dad took his mobile away again. The youngster got a little unhinged, did a lot of screaming, and the dad thought he was going to smash up the car again, so he called the police.
I took the boy aside.
"Mate, why do you do stuff like that? You can’t go around starting fights and smashing up cars; that’s not going to get you any friends. I understand you get frustrated and angry, but you’re a clever kid, and it’s not good news if your own dad has to keep calling the police on you".
I swear to god this isn’t a word of a lie: his reply was "I have anger management issues".
"Uhm… Who told you that?", I inquired. "Have you been to see a doctor?" He hadn’t. This was a 13 year old kid who had self-diagnosed himself with anger management issues. Throughout our conversation, over the past hour, I had already caught him out in half a dozen lies, so I wasn’t really sure what to make of all of this.
"He’s in a gang, you know", the kid suddenly says.
"Who?" I try to clarify. "My dad. He’s in a gang". I’m expecting another set of lies, but just as a precaution, I call my colleague over, and ask him to run the father and the kid through the PNC, CAD, and CrimInt, to check whether we have any intel on them.
"What does he do?", I ask him, mostly just to keep him talking. "He has a gun", the kid replies, looking at the tips of his converse as he says it. My colleague is just getting off the radio, comes towards me, and shrugs, shaking his head in a manner that I take to mean there’s nothing particularly suspicious about either of them.
"A gun? Really? Where does he keep it?" I ask him. "In his car, under where the spare wheel is", he says, and glances up at my face to gauge my reaction. "I’ve seen it. It’s black", he says.
Now, I’m facing a choice. If there’s a suspicion of guns, I can’t really do anything without Trojan assistance, but the kid’s been lying to me all morning, and he has already implied several bad things about his dad, apparently only to get back at him. At the same time, I can’t actually ignore this piece of intel either. Since the dad indicated that the car was the suspected goal for the son’s attack, it gave me an idea.
"Can I see your keys for a second", I ask the dad. He digs the car keys out of his pocket, and as he does so, I take a closer look at him. He doesn’t appear to have any clothing on him that could hide a firearm. I take the keys off him and call my colleague over. "The kid’s just told me his dad has a gun in the car. Nick him for suspicion of possession of a section 5 firearm. Get Belinda to help you", I tell him.
He walks over to Belinda, says a few words, and they then grab the dad, and cuff him with his hands on his back before he has any idea of what’s happening. He was handcuffed in a a ‘back to back’, so-called because the backs of your hands are facing each other. Other ways of handcuffing people are a front stack, or a rear stack. It’s also possible to do a “palm to palm”, but since we use rigid handcuffs, if you’re cuffing someone palm-to-palm, you may as well not bother handcuffing them at all.
He starts struggling and shouting abuse at my colleagues as they search him, but he doesn’t have anything on him. I keep an eye on them, just to make sure everything is OK, but it seems they have the situation under control; the father’s relentless stream of abuse, delivered in staccato Turkish, notwithstanding.
I start walking over to the Volvo, but the kid stops me. "Not that one". he says, and points toward a little Mazda MX-5 parked further up the road. "That one", he says.
I am rather doubtful at this point; I’ve had an MX-5. They are great fun, proper little driver’s cars, but there’s one thing they don’t have, and that’s a spare wheel. I take a look at the key ring the dad gave me, but there aren’t any Mazda keys. “Do you know where the keys are?", I ask him. "Yeah", he says, and sprints off. Two seconds later, he comes running back out of the house, clutching a set of keys.
I open the MX-5′s boot. There are a couple of hold-alls there, but they seem to be empty. I’m pissed off with the kid – lying about a gun in your father’s car? In my head, I’m already formulating a stern talking to for him, and I’m already envisioning the groveling I’m going to have to do to the dad for us arresting him for no reason whatsoever. I have images of formal complaints and having to explain myself to the borough commander flickering through my brain. It’s going to be a long day.
Lifting up the floor carpet, I notice something… The whole floor carpet in the boot is raised up on a block of carefully cut styrofoam by just an inch or so. The styrofoam is clad in a thin layer of fabric, and there’s a hole cut in the material. There’s a small loop. I grab it with the tip of my biro, and lift it up slowly. True enough, there’s a gun in there. A Glock, perhaps? I don’t know; I’m not that great with firearms.
I push the flap shut, move the floor carpet back into place, and close the boot, locking the car up carefully. I walk over to the father, and nod to Belinda. "It’s a gun", I say. She arrests him for possession, and I get on the radio.
"Mike Delta receiving 592", I transmit. "592 go ahead". "I’m going to need Trojan assistance. We found a gun in the boot of a car", I say. "Oh, and could you send a van on the hurry-up, please, I don’t know if anyone is watching us. We’ve also got a kid we’re going to have to take into custody."
Every damn time I complain -- even if it’s just in my head -- that a shift is too quiet, something like this happens. It’s moments like this that remind people in the emergency sentences to never mention the Q word. I suppose this is why we generally refer to it as QT -- in order to avoid saying “Quiet Time”.
In this case, we were on the scene for another ten hours.
My colleagues went back to the nick with the father and son team, and another five officers had to come out to do a a Section 18 search on the dad’s house. We found another two hand-guns; a rifle; a small amount of class A drugs, and a sizeable stash of ammunition for all the weapons in the house, not to mention another handgun taped under the passenger seat of the MX-5. It turned out that the dad wasn’t an active gang member, but that the local gangs used him as a handler, to make sure their guns weren’t found during raids on the houses of active gang members.
I guess if there’s anything to learn from this, it is not to take your kid’s Blackberry away from him if you’ve got a gun in the back of your car. And if you do, to not call the police on him yourself. Or, you know, not hold weapons for gang members
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.