“I have my first amendment rights!” the man shouted. “You can’t tell me what I can say and what I can’t say! You’ll hear from my embassy, you fucking nazis! This is the last time I’ll visit your stinking little island! Fuck you, get off me!” he screamed, as he was struggling against the two sets of handcuffs. He wasn’t a pretty sight.
“Hey Delito”, the sarge said to me that morning, in the daily briefing. “Thompson is off ill today, can you take care of the SD gang?”
SD is Streetduties – it’s a programme where new police officers are put through their paces, dealing with cases from beginning to end. They might do an arrest for a shoplifting, for example, and they’ll go through the whole process. Arrest, booking into custody, interview on tape, investigation, and the whole process through to court. It means that each case you deal with takes a lot of time, but it means you get a full understanding of how the whole process works. It’s incredibly interesting, and I recall my Streetduties sessions fondly – the PC who was my mentor/instructor is still one of my best friends to this day.
“Delito. You listening?” I jolted back into the room when hearing the sergeant call out my name, to much merriment of my fellow officers. Daydreaming already? Oh dear, today really is going to be a long day.
“Sure thing, sarge, I’ll do my best”, I reply.
At the end of the briefing, I head over to the classroom and meet Sasha and Pete, the Streetduties probationers. They’re coming up to the end of their Streetduties, and they’ve generally got their ducks in a row.
Pete is one of those people who seems to be fuelled by air and love for the Job. He’s got one of those looks that – when combined with the uniform – makes women swoon when they see him. In some officers – the ones who are able to pretend they don’t notice, or don’t know – that can be a fantastic trait, because it makes quick quests for information all that much quicker. Pete knows what he’s doing, and he’s a solid police officer. If the women think “He can fuck me”, the men think “He can fuck me up” – Pete spends every minute he doesn’t spend in uniform in a gym. I’ve run into him at the gym a couple of times, and he doesn’t mess around; he may very well be the fittest officer on the entire borough. He’s not particularly tall – about five foot seven – but he’s built like a row of brick-and-mortar outhouses, and inspires confidence through and through.
Sasha is not entirely unlike Pete in many ways; she’s witty, knows her laws and white notes (the training notes you use to become a Met officer) inside out, and she’s no slouch either: She regularly runs half marathons, and is apparently trying for her Tae Kwon Do black belt. She’s about as tall as Pete. Her slender build, short hair, and fragile-looking glasses make her positively androgynous-looking – especially when she’s fully kitted out in her stab vest. She famously disposed of the rumours of her being a lesbian by sleeping with Pete just for long enough that everybody knew about it, before dumping him and returning to single life. The “everybody knew about it” part was secured when she, early one Tuesday morning, transmitted over the radio, on the open channel, “Mike Delta 223, do you have any johnnies?” She got in some trouble with the brass about that one, but she gained major points with the rest of the team over it, and she’s now well known as someone who doesn’t mince her words – quite refreshing, really.
Needless to say, both Pete and Sasha are characters, but more importantly than that, in their unique ways, they managed to get themselves accepted and integrated as part of the team faster than anybody else I’ve ever seen.
We sit down briefly and talk about some questions they had, before breaking out the boot polish, giving our shoes a quick shine, and hitting the streets. Street duties is generally foot patrolling, so you get a proper work-out in the process, but seeing as I spend most of my time either driving around in a car or doing quick sprints after naughty little toe-rags, I figured a walking session wouldn’t be that bad.
It was a pretty slow morning. The radio was so dead that people occasionally ran a radio check, just to make sure their radios hadn’t stopped working. We decided to do a ‘reassurance patrol’. Reassurance patrolling is usually done in areas where something bad has happened recently, and since this was only a few weeks after the riots had calmed down – more or less – we figured we’d take a stroll down the streets that had been worst affected, go have a chat with some of the shop owners, and generally just see how things were looking. It’s quite amazing how quickly they have been able to put the city back in order.
As the morning crawled to an end, we had handed out five traffic tickets (all for mobile phone use); we had taken some weed off some young troublemakers and issued them with a formal warning, and we’d spent a bit of time running after a shoplifter who was unlucky enough to come across our path, before continuing his unlucky streak by running straight into a blind alley where a van-load of bored riot-coppers were hanging out. The man was very swiftly arrested by half a dozen burly, top-trained riot cops. Sasha offered to take over the arrest, but the riot cops were so bored that they suggested they’d deal with the arrest themselves.
“Knock yourselves out”, we said, and decided to pop into KFC for some lunch. This particular branch of the Kentucky Fried Chicken (or Unlucky Fried Kitten, as we tend to call it 'round these parts) is weirdly L-shaped, and we took our seats in the short leg of the ‘L’ to chomp down our meals.
As we were idly chatting along, we heard a commotion by the counter. As we had come in, we had spotted a security guard, so I figured he’d take care of things, but things rapidly escalated.
“I gave you 40 pounds, you fat whore” a voice broke through to our gentle luncheon table-of-three, ending our genteel luncheon abruptly. Sasha and Pete looked at each other, then at me.
“Hey, you’re the cops,” I said, grinning, as I took the last bite of my Zinger Tower meal. With a full mouth, I continued: “Go deal with it.”
The dashing duo rounded the corner with me on their heels, and we were met with the case at hand. With one hand on the counter, leaned forward, was a very large man wearing a bright patterned shirt. When I say large, I mean very, very large indeed. Positively obese in fact – larger than any man I had ever seen before in my life. For every movement he made with his arm, another part of his body seemed to be moving, as if it was echoing – or perhaps protesting – under the weight of the man.
Behind him was a shorter, but no less formidable woman, who turned out to be his wife. The couple was on their honeymoon from Texas, and decided to come to London. “Because we love musicals” they told me, eventually.
I recognised his accent as American, but I wasn’t really sure who he had shouted at. In addition to the couple, the security guard was standing very close to them, making sounds designed – but failing – to calm them down.
“What’s going on here?” Sasha took the lead.
“Ah, thank fuck for that!” the man exclaimed.
“This fat whore stole my money,” he said again. I half expected him to point to his wife, but he nodded to the serving counter. I looked. At first glance, the counter was empty, but then I spotted a girl – not older than twenty – cowering behind one of the friers.
“Excuse me, could you come out?” Pete asked, waving to the girl for her to come closer, and smiled that broad, winning smile of his. “We just want to find out what’s been going on here.”
Pete was in front of me, so I have no idea what he was doing, but based on how the girl reacted, I can’t help but think that he must at least have winked at her. For a moment, I entertained myself with the idea that he might conceivably have blown her a kiss.
The girl – her name-tag revealed her name to be Cecilie – was 5 feet tall at the most. She could probably do with going jogging every now and again, perhaps, but calling her “fat” hardly seemed fair, especially considering the girth of both the man and his wife. As soon as Cecilie stepped out, the man went off again.
I was driven out of my daydream by a guttural groan of a grumble emanating from the spheroid swain leaning over the counter, panting with passionate petulance.
“I paid you 40 pounds! You gave me change for thirty! Where is my change, you dim-witted bitch?!”, he hissed at the lady.
“Hey!” said the security guard. “There’s no need for that kind of language. We have CCTV covering all the cash registers, and can easily check whether you got short-changed. If that’s the case, we’ll of course make sure you get the right change”.
The way the security guard had taken control of the situation was admirable; a perfect example of conflict resolution: Admit there may have been a mistake, offer to look into it, and propose a resolution. Surely, nobody could have a problem with that?
Very, very slowly, with all the eager acceleration of an iceberg, the American man turned around, and took a couple of tiny, shuffling steps towards the security guard. The only reason they weren’t nose-to-nose was that the guest’s remarkably-sized stomach prevented him from getting any closer to the security guard.
“Fuck you, you fucking nigger”, the American said, followed by what seemed like an eternity of silence. The security guard just stared at him. I expected him to be angry, but instead, he was completely shocked. Even working as a security guard in a fast-food restaurant in a relatively gritty part of town, he obviously didn’t experience ‘the N word’ all that often.
“Right, that’s it”, Sasha said. “I’m arresting you for offences under sections 4a and 18 of the public order act. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if, when questioned, you fail to mention something you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?”
“What did he do?” the man’s wife squealed, but her outburst was interrupted by her husband’s caged-animal roar
“What the fuck? No, you can’t arrest me. I haven’t done anything.” He turned to me. “You can fuck off.” he turned to Pete. “You can fuck off.” He turned to Sasha. “And you, especially, can fuck off. Come on, Maggie, let’s get the fuck out of here.” He extended a hand towards his wife, meaning for her to take his hand, but Sasha was quick. She whipped her handcuffs out of her holder, and slapped one side of the cuffs on his wrist.
“You didn’t seem to hear me, sir, but I am arresting you for intending to cause alarm and distress, and for using a racial slur against this gentleman here.” Sasha said.
It’s admirable that Sasha was able to get a cuff on him so quickly. I’ve seen her deal with prisoners very elegantly before – but there was no way she was going to be able to hold this ample-sized gelatinous mess of misplaced anger by herself.
“Pete, get some backup and a caged van”, I said. He took half a step back to get outside of the angry man’s range, and reached for his radio immediately. The man pointed at me.
“Are you in charge here? What happened to my rights, eh? I know my fucking rights; you can’t arrest me. You don’t have a fucking warrant. This is fucking kidnapping”. As he was jabbing his finger half-heartedly in the direction of my eyes, I saw my chance. Keeping eye-contact, I snuck my right hand to my handcuffs, took them out of the holster, and attached them to the hand that was pointing into my face.
We use Hiatt Speedcuffs, which are handcuffs with bars between the two shackles, instead of a chain. They’re bulkier than the cuffs you tend to see police officers in US cop shows carry around with them, but they do have a huge advantage: Once you have one cuff attached to your prisoner, you can use the cuffs for leverage. Dubbed “pain compliance” by the Officer Safety Training team at Hendon, it means that if it looks as if you’re standing to lose control of a prisoner, you can use the cuffs to force them to do what you want.
“Place your hands behind your back, sir, and I will explain everything to you”.
“Fuck you.” he said, without paying much attention to my suggestion.
“Sir, you do understand that swearing at me isn’t going to do you any good, right?” I say.
“What the fuck are you going to do? Isn’t this a fucking free country? I know my fucking rights, and you’ve got no fucking reason for fucking kidnapping me! Now let me get the fuck out of these hand-fucking-cuffs, before I fuck you up.” My strategy for getting him to swear less was clearly less than efficient. As his already lubricious language took a swift segue down Tourettes terrace, I decided to change tack.
“Sir, are you threatening me?” I asked, as light-hearted as I could.
“Fucking right I am, I’ll fuck you up you little bastard. What are you gonna do? Shout at me a little? You’re not the police, You haven’t even got a fucking gun, you gutless pussy.” I didn’t have the heart to share with him that, to my best anatomical knowledge, vaginas didn’t come with their own intestines, and so that his deep blue barrage of foul language was inaccurate at best.
“My friend, you see this little badge here?” I say, pointing at the name badge on my stab vest. “You see where it says Police Constable?” I whip out my warrant card with one hand, as I’m still holding on to the cuff that is holding his right hand . “And here’s my identification. Can you see the bit where it says ‘Warrant’? That’s all the warrant I need to arrest you. I assure you that all three of us are police officers. You’re going to get arrested now, and we’ll have a chat about all of this at the station.”
The man suddenly moves both his hands up at high speed. I only just manage to hold on to the cuff on my side, but Sasha’s cuff slips out of her hand. The metal cuff glances her across her face, and sends her glasses flying. She yelps in pain, but recomposes herself quickly. She takes one step onto one of the chairs behind the man, then another to get onto the table. Now, she’s tall enough to reach the hand cuff. She jumps, grabs the cuff, and comes crashing back to the ground, taking the man’s arm with her.
“Place your arms behind your back now”, I say. As the word “now” passes my lips, I twist and move the cuffs towards his back. In training, it’s a move we train on each other all the time – trust me when I say it usually makes you follow commands.
Pete has finished his radio call, and runs up to grab the man’s wife.
“Come this way please, miss”, he says and flashes her a charm-buster of a smile before he firmly guides her away from the struggle that’s happening. He fears that she might stick in an oar and start fighting herself, or perhaps that she would get caught in the struggle.
Sasha and I somehow manage to get the man’s hands behind his back at the same time, and we click the free handcuff shackles behind his back.
A small crowd has gathered around us, and Pete is in the middle of placating both them and the people around us.
“Let’s just step over this way”, Sasha says, pointing towards the awkwardly-shaped short-leg of the L in an attempt to at least get this guy a little bit out of the way, away from the other guests in the restaurant.
To my surprise, he goes along with the command, but not without protesting.
“I have my first amendment right!” the man shouted. “You can’t tell me what I can say and what I can’t say! You’ll hear from my embassy, you fucking nazis! This is the last time I’ll visit your stinking little island! Fuck you, get off me.” he screamed, as he was struggling against the two sets of handcuffs. He wasn’t a pretty sight.
“I have the right to free speech! I didn’t punch anybody, I didn’t steal anything. Why the fuck am I wearing these handcuffs”, he says, before re-iterating, like a tediously skipping record playing at just a tiny-little-bit-too-fast a speed, that he knows his rights.
“Right, let me explain this to you,” I start. “The truth of the matter is that your first amendment doesn’t apply.” I am about to try to explain why, but he interrupts me with another tirade.
“Fuck you. Like hell my first amendment doesn’t apply”, he shouts at the top of his considerable lung capacity and vocal volume. “Have you ever heard of the fucking constitution? I want my lawyer. Why didn’t you offer me a lawyer? That’s one of my fucking rights, you know!”
“Mate, I don’t care what you think your rights are”, I explode. I’ve had it with this guy; nothing pisses me off more than people who ‘know their rights’ after having watched one too many American cop shows. “You have the right to a solicitor, but not until we make it back to the police station. In the meantime, do you remember the bit Sasha here told you about ‘you do not have to say anything’? That’s basically the same as ‘your right to remain silent’, and I suggest you use it. Please just listen to me for a minute.” Finally, there’s some indication that he’s actually listening to me. He half-grunts, half-snorts, which I take to mean “My good sir, I do apologise for causing you such inconvenience, I would relish in silently listening to you for the foreseeable future”, or something synonymously to that effect.
“So, your first amendment is part of the bill of rights. I appreciate that piece of legislation, but you are in the UK, and the first amendment – along with the rest of the US Constitution – is part of US law. It does not apply here.” I say.
“But I’m an American citizen.” he starts. I interject.
“When I am in the US, I have to adhere to US law. When I’m here, I have to stick to local laws. The same goes for you; when you’re in England, that means you’re bound by English law. I don’t know how you normally speak to people in the US, but in the UK, we’ve got a piece of legislation known as the Public Order Act.
“The POA is a set of laws that was designed to make England a nicer place. At its most serious, in Section 1, it covers riots. At its least serious, it covers people wandering around in the streets yelling obscenities.”
“Do you recall what you said to the security guard earlier? A word starting with an N?” I enquire.
“Yeah. When someone is being a fucking nigger, I’ll call them a nigger.” the man grunted.
“Well, there’s a problem with that: Your freedom of speech does not extend to swearing at random strangers, especially if you use racial slurs.” I explain. “That’s a pretty serious matter, and I won’t stand for it. It’s bad enough that you were swearing at me and my colleagues, but calling the security guy, who was only trying to help sort things out, the N-word, is not appropriate.”
I am about to explain in further depth exactly how much trouble he is in, when I spot Pete. He is waving for me to come over. I look over at Sasha. She shrugs. “I got this”, she says, and takes a firmer grip of the man’s handcuff.
I believe her.
I walk over to Pete.
“Just got off the radio.” He starts. “Something’s kicked off in the next borough, and they’ve sent the riot gang and all the vans over there.”
Given the riots that have been raging over the past few months, I know better than to ask any questions.
“Keep an eye on our American friend over here”, I tell Pete, and I walk over to the security guard.
“Hey, have you had a chance to look at the security tape?” I ask him.
“Yeah, he clearly handed over a tenner and a twenty. I guess he’s just not used to the money over here”, he said, with a shrug. He didn’t seem particularly upset.
“We’ve got a bit of a problem. I don’t feel comfortable transporting this fellow on foot, and all the vans are tied up at the moment.” The security guard nods; he understands where this is going. “If I encourage him to calm down and apologise, would that be OK?”
“I’m not happy, man”, he says, and hands me Sasha’s glasses; they must have come off during the struggle, but they seem more or less in one piece. “But yeah, if he apologises and gets the hell out of my shop, I’m happy. I haven’t got time for shit like this, but I’m not here to be abused neither.”
“Yeah, I completely understand. I’m sorry about the vans, I’d much rather have taken him in, but apparently something rather big is going down, and I don’t really know what it is.” I shrug apologetically.
“No worries, I understand”, he says.
I go back to the American.
“Right, buddy, there’s two ways we can do this. We can either sit here and wait for a van to arrive, check you into custody, interview you, and deal with you properly, or we can send you on your way. What would you prefer?” I ask.
“I get to choose?”, he says, clearly thinking I’m trying some sort of practical joke.
“Well, yes. But if you just want to walk away, you’re going to need to do some serious apologising, starting with my colleagues here, then with me, and then the staff here.” I say.
“Could you please take these handcuffs off me,” he says. “I would like to shake everyone’s hands, and apologise properly.”
I wasn’t too sure what to do about that particular request; it was more luck than skill that we managed to get him in cuffs in the first place, and I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to pull off the same stunt again to re-restrain him if necessary.
I took my eyes off the American for the first time since I came back from the security guard, to confer with Pete and Sasha. They were both sitting just behind the American. First I spotted Sasha; her face was completely red. Glancing over at Pete, I realised he was shaking with laughter as well. Both of them were trying their best to keep the giggles under control, and I was getting pissed off. What the hell was going on?
“Are you okay to take the cuffs off?” I asked them. Pete opened his mouth, but didn’t trust his voice not to break into all-out laughter, and so simply nodded and produced his handcuff keys. He let the over-weight giant free from his captivity.
“So, about those apologies…” I said.
“Ehm, yes. Of course. Sir.” As if struck with a magic wand, his behaviour has changed completely. He’s as polite as they come, and turns to Sasha first.
“I let anger get the better of me, ma’am. I am so very sorry. Please forgive me.” he says, and turns to Pete, then to me, with riffs on the same theme.
With that out of the way, he bounded out to the main shop; much faster than I would have expected from a man his size. I run after him, but he is the very picture of grace and politeness. He tries to tip them both £20 for their trouble and offence caused. They refuse to take his money, although they are happy to receive a spectacularly well-performed grovel of an apology.
Finally, he turns to me again, apologises once more, and slinks out of the restaurant, with his wife in tow.
“Mike Delta receiving five nine two” I call into my radio, as I see the couple hobble down the street together.
“Go ahead”, the reply comes immediately.
“Yeah, cancel the call from two-two-three; we sent the suspect on their way after some stern words of advice, so we don’t need the van anymore. Cancel, cancel the van, please.”
“Received. Can you guys come back to Mike Delta, please,” the operator said. “You’re being redeployed on a carrier to prevent further breaches of the peace in the north of the borough”
“Yes yes, received. We’ll take the bus”, I radio back.
“What the hell happened back there?” I ask, as I re-enter the area next to the counter, where I find Pete and Sasha collapsed on the floor, howling with laughter, and gasping for breath.
“He…”, Sasha begins, but has to abort her explanation attempt in favour of gasping for breath.
“She…” Pete says, but is similarly overcome with giggles.
“Jesus,” I say, annoyed, and go to the restaurant staff to get a couple of short statements from them, confirming that they were happy that the case was resolved by the American apologising to them.
When we finally left the restaurant, my two colleagues had gathered their wits a little.
“What the…” I ask.
“Well, when you went to speak to the security guard,” Pete says, “The wife walked up to her husband, and said if they had to stay here for another fifteen minutes, that he wouldn’t get any blow-jobs for the rest of the year.” The last part of his sentence was barely audible, as the explanation set both him and Sasha off in fits of laughter again.
“Jeez.” I say. I am now left fighting off my inner eye from envisioning any sort of sexual encounter between the two of them. With no success whatsoever, it saddens me to report.
“Jeez.” I say again. “You are buying the beers at the end of this shift, Pete. I’m definitely going to need some mental bleach to get that picture out of my mind”.
The reason I remembered this story was because of the recent “My Tram Experience” (and the even more recent “My Train Experience”) that has been doing the rounds, and the disbelief from people across the pond that someone in the UK could get arrested for ‘stating their opinion’.
I’m as strong a believer in free speech as anyone, but I think England and Wales are a much better place for having laws against ‘words intended to cause alarm, harassment or distress’ (POA 1986 s4A) and a separate clause for the ‘racially aggravated’ version of the same offence (POA 1986 s18). It is depressing, of course, that we have to legislate in order for people to behave like mostly-decent human beings, but that’s a discussion for another day..
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.