Notes From the Front Line: A First Time For Anything

By Matt Delito on at

The custody sergeant turned to me. "I think Mr. DiCaprio here might be under the influence of drugs or other substances, and to ensure we haven't missed any drugs on his person, I authorise a strip-search of the prisoner at this time". He took a quick glance at the whiteboard behind him. "Please use cell M5 to do the search".


"Never assume anything" Syd echoed my sentiment from seconds before, and looked out of the window.

Syd is a member of the Metropolitan Police Special Constabulary, or a 'special' as they tend to be called. They are the voluntary police force, that many people seem to confuse with Police Community Support Officers (PCSO's). The main difference between them is that specials don't get paid. Also, unlike PCSO's, they have the same powers as myself, and have been sworn in, warranted by the queen to do arrests, talk sternly to inebriated teenagers, wag your finger at people failing to wear seat belts, heroically rescuing kittens out of trees, and so on and so forth.

Actually, I will have to admit a lie. Saving kittens out of trees is something we're specifically forbidden to do for health and safety reasons. Same thing with jumping into a pond to save a drowning child. Don't tell the health and safety boffins at the Met, but I have done both. In the case of the former, because the kittens owner was a rather attractive girl. For the latter, well, frankly, I don't give a damn that my manual says I shouldn't jump in a pond. I understand that some might choose not to (saving someone from water is much trickier than it sounds), but I was a lifeguard when I was in university, and the day I don't swim 10 meters to save a 4-year-old may as well be the day I hand back my warrant card.

Anyway; A few of the specials we work with are… very special indeed. I'll have to admit that for a few of them, I reckon the streets of London were safer if they didn't try to 'help'. Mind you, that's the case for some full-time officers, too, so there's that, I suppose.

Syd was a great example of a good special; he was a lad about my age (so, mid-30s, but obviously not looking a day over 27, and dastardly handsome, if I may say so myself), standing about six foot above sea level. He didn't seem particularly strong or fast, but more than anything, he seemed to have a well-developed sense of risk aversion. I like that in an operator in my car. Despite the odd stories of heroics, I have to admit I prefer to get home in one piece every day. As a police officer, I spend enough time in A&E as it is - usually with prisoners who claim to suffer from 'chest pain' or weird side effects of having tried to swallow their drugs so we wouldn't find them - and I make a point of wasting as little of my own time on making like humpty dumpty and having to be super-glued back together again, no matter how cute the A&E doctor is.

My trusty sidekick and I had just finished a successful traffic stop where a woman had been holding a baby in her arms. In a cornucopia of logic, physics, and dealing elegantly with people, Syd had defused the situation, and explained the situation to the couple in such a way that fills me with hope that they might actually take his advice to heart, and stop putting their toddler at risk though ignorance and stupidity.

So, the kid's got brains, and had shown some potential. The one thing he hadn't done so far, was to complete an arrest. At the beginning of the shift, I had promised him to get him his first arrest, if a suitable call came out. Lo and behold, our radios beeped to life, offering up a shoplifter detained by staff at a local supermarket.


An arrest

"Show two-six", Syd transmitted, and we were on our way to his very first arrest...

"Do you remember what you need to do", I checked.

"I think so," he said. "Is there a signal I can send you if there's something I'm unsure about? I could pull my ear or something?"

"That could work, if you want to look beyond ridiculous. I don't believe in ambiguity, to be honest. How about you just say 'hey Delito, what do I do next?' I find that does the trick very well."

"Won't that look unprofessional?"

"Who cares; it's looking unprofessional is preferable to getting something wrong, so ask away. If things go pear-shaped, I promise to rescue you. Do you want this arrest, or not?"

"Yes!", Syd said, before I had even completed my sentence.

"Yeah, thought so!", I said. "That's the spirit."

We parked up directly outside the supermarket, and I turned the red rear strobes on; I was parked on a double yellow line, but I really dislike straying too far away from the car.

"Show two-six on location", I heard Syd transmit when we were climbing out of the Focus. We walked in through the front door, and were met by store security.

"Hey", he said. "I'm Nick Andersen, I'm shop security. Glad you boys could make it. We've got the guy in the break room. He seemed a bit out of it, not really sure what's going on with him"

"What did he nick?" Syd asked.

"That's the weird thing; I had him on CCTV, and I thought he was acting weird, so I kept an eye on him. Then, at the end of the shop, he went to the cashiers, tried to pay for the goods in his basket, but his card was declined when he got the pin wrong several times", Nick said. "Then, he started shouting abuse at the check-out girl, and started loading cans of lager into the pockets of his coat, before trying to leave the shop".

"So, he tried to pay for stuff, then his card was declined, and he took - how many cans of beer?"

"Four in his pockets", Nick said, "And one in his hand. He was about to open it as he was leaving the shop, but I walked up and challenged him. I thought I only had to talk to him about his abusive behaviour, to be honest, but then I saw the beers sticking out of his pockets"

"Hmm. What was the value of the goods?" Syd asked.

"I did a receipt for you", Nick said, and gave Syd the receipt he had been holding throughout their whole conversation.

Syd looked down at the receipt. "So, £5.80 for five cans of beer? How does that work? One quid sixteen per can seems like a weird price..."

I looked at Syd, and so did the store security manager.

"Er." said Nick. "Did you just do that in your head?"

"Yeah", Syd said, looking slightly perturbed. "It's easy - Five goes into five five times, so thats a pound, and 80 divided by five is 16... Isn't it?"

It turned out that the cans of lager had been on a £4-for-4 deal, and that the fifth can had cost £1.80, bringing the total to £5.80. It took us a minute to work out what the till had done, but we got there in the end; I made a mental note of testing Syd's maths skills in more depth - it looked as if that might provide some entertainment on a slow shift one day.

"I guess even shoplifters get special offers", Syd quipped. "So... If you steal two things, and they are on a 2-for-1 deal, do you get charged with one theft, or two?"

I was stumped for the second time in as many minutes.

"Mate, it really doesn't matter if you steal for £1 or £60; the law doesn't say that theft is 'the dishonest appropriation of property worth over £10'. Do you remember what it says?", I asked him, mostly just to change the topic.

"Yeah. It's, er, the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another, with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it", he said, and thought for a moment. "Or something like that".

"Something very much like that", I grinned. "But shouldn't we be doing some actual arresting? Are you stalling?"

Syd laughed nervously. My joke seemed to have hit very close to the bone.

"Seriously, mate, don't worry about it", I said.

"First arrest, eh?", Nick asked.

"Yes", Syd confessed.

"Good luck, son", Nick said, and grabbed the door handle to the break room, pushing it open. The door swung with a creak, and we were met with a defiant looking young man sitting on a chair behind a table, sipping a can of beer.

"What the hell", Nick exclaimed, looking at one of the other people in the room. "Why is he drinking that?"

The security guard sitting next to the shoplifter spoke up. "Well, he said he had stolen it and was about to get arrested for it, so he might as well enjoy it."

The absurdity of the situation struck me hard, and I couldn't help but bursting out laughing. To be fair, there was a certain logic to that.

"Right", Syd said. "Put down that beer."

The man did what he was told. Syd picked up the can, and poured the rest out in the sink in the corner of the room.

"I'm going to need you to listen to what I am asking this man", he said. "What we are saying concerns you".

Syd repeated his earlier questions to Nick, who replied exactly as he had before, explaining the course of events.

"Did you hear all of that?" Syd asked. The man sitting at the table nodded.

"Good. Based on what I have been told by this man, I am arresting you for shoplifting, and... and...", he looked over at me, panic-stricken. I nodded encouragingly, but Syd wasn't able to continue. He looked particularly special as he was opening and closing his mouth, trying to find the next words to say.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Shoplifting is not a crime!", he said.

"What do you mean?" I said.

"Well, it's been nice knowing you guys", the shoplifter said, and started getting up off his chair. "Thanks for the beer, but this fine officer here just said that wot I did ain't a crime, so I'll be on my way, then."

"You're going nowhere", Syd barked. I looked at him, bewildered. "Can I arrest him for shoplifting? What's the crime?" he asked me.

Finally I twigged what he was talking about.

"Ah. Yeah. Technically, there is no crime called shoplifting, but there's nothing wrong with arresting him for that; everybody knows what you mean. Later on, he'll be charged with making off without payment, under..."

My brain completely froze. Balls. I take great pride in knowing all my wordings and sections and acts and years that I'm doing arrests for, although I technically don't really have to; Even if I'm not completely sure that what I have witnessed is a crime, I have the power to arrest somebody for investigation. To be fair, in my particular job as a response copper, it's pretty straight-forward: Most things that look as if they should be illegal, are, and I can always figure out the exact wording of the law when my prisoner is safely in the back of a caged police van. I figure it's probably better to make the arrest and seek advice over the radio to find out what to do next. It seems to me that it's better to arrest someone in good faith and be wrong, than to not arrest them and let them get away.

"Er.... ", I said, after a pause that felt like it had lasted several minutes. Suddenly, I remembered. "Section 3 of the Theft act of 1978," I said. Crikey, that was lodged deep, in some dark recess of what is masquerading as my brain. Embarrassing, considering that this is one of the most common crimes we run into. "Either way, that's irrelevant for now. He's got to be nicked first.", I concluded.

"What the hell is this?", the shoplifter roared. "Some kind of ridiculous fucking joke? Where's the hidden cameras, you fucking clowns?"

"Shut it and listen to this officer", I told him. The man glowered, shifting his eyes between Syd and myself a few times.

"Whatevz", he said, sinking back into his chair.

"So, I'm arresting you for theft. The arrest is necessary to effect a prompt and effective investigation of the matter", Syd said, ticking the boxes for grounds (the offence of theft) and necessity (prompt and effective investigation) for his arrest.

"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", he continued with the caution. "Do you understand?"

"You can both fuck off", the shoplifter said.

Syd nodded in great seriousness, and leaned over his pocket book, speaking as he was writing. "You... Can... Both... Fuck... Off..." Syd looked up at me, and I tapped my wrist. He nodded, and mouthed an inaudible 'thanks' back to me.

"Time of arrest..." Syd said, fishing his iPhone out of his pocket, "is... 14:39." He scribbled the time down in his pocket book as well.


Searching our prisoner

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to search you now", Syd said, as he stood up from the chair across from the man, ready for the Section 18 search of his body. "Stand up, and please empty your pockets onto the table"

I bit my tongue, not ure that was such a good idea: There was still a table between him and our prisoner, and I didn't really like the idea of our shoplifter sticking his hands in his pockets. I decided to speak up. "Actually, don't do that", I said. "Come over here, and stand with your arms spread to the sides please, we'll do a proper search".

Syd shrugged, and approached to search the shoplifter. "Do you have anything on you you shouldn't have?"


"Do you have anything on you that might hurt me or my colleague?"


Syd produced a pair of gloves, and started searching the man, whilst I kept a close watch on them both. He found a wallet in the man's pocket, and handed it to me. I took a look inside.

"What's your name, please?" I asked the man.

"Leonardo DiCaprio", he said.

"That's not what your ID says", I replied.

"Donald Duck?", he said.

"Right. I bet you're Jack Nicholson as well, then, are you?", I asked.

"Sure, if that turns you on, darling", he said, with broad grin, revealing a couple of missing teeth.

As Syd ran his hand around the man's trouser lining, his hand must have grazed something. He grabbed it, and held it up. It was a small flat-head screwdriver.

"What's this?" Syd asked.

"A loaf of bread", DiCaprio replied.

"Stop being a smart-arse", Syd snapped. "What do you use a screwdriver for?"

"Driving screws?", DiCaprio said, lamely.

"Do you usually carry a screwdriver down the back of your trousers, stuck into your underwear?"

"Only when I have loose nuts", the man said, and started laughing at his own hilarity.

"Give it here for a sec", I said. Syd passed the screwdriver over to me, and I took a close look at it. It was a relatively new screwdriver, with a hard plastic handle. I put the screwdriver down on the table, took a quick step across to the man, and grabbed my handcuffs out of its pouch. I managed to get him by surprise, and the cuff ratcheted in place on his right wrist before he had time to react. He immediately yanked down hard.

"Grab him!" I shout at Syd.

Syd leaps forward and grabs the man's arm, trying to pull it backwards to meet his other hand. Our new friend DiCaprio turns out to be deceptively strong. He is resisting fiercely, tugging his body this way and that.

"Hey!" I shout at the man, "Stop struggling right now, or you're going on the floor".

He screams several incoherent, consonant-devoid sentences loudly enough to bring a couple of nearby shop workers to the break room. Syd is having problems holding on to him.

"Stop struggling NOW", I shout. DiCaprio does exactly the opposite. He arches his back, putting all his power into trying to wrestle his arms back from Syd.

I swear an oath, pull back, and jab him sharply in the stomach, aiming roughly for his solar plexus. He immediately doubles forward, and crashes to the floor. As he does, he relaxes enough that Syd is able to get his arm under control. He wrenches it behind DiCaprio's back, where his left wrist meets his right, and clicks into place into the handcuff. Together, we pull him back to his feet.

I push him up against a wall, where he is breathing heavily for a few breaths.

"Two choices, mate, we can put you back on the ground and get more officers in here, or you can calm the hell down, all right?"

He relaxes a little, realising he has lost now.

"Fuck off" he concludes.

Syd takes up a position behind the man, and grabs him firmly. I nod to him. He takes his handcuff key off the quick-release holder on his duty belt, and double-locks the handcuffs, so they can't get any tighter.

"You all right?" I ask. Syd nods and shrugs, as if to ask 'what happened then?'

"Our friend here", I said, before reconsidering my sentence.

"I recognise his name on his driving licence. I think he's wanted for gang stuff," I said to Syd, and turn to our prisoner. "Aren't you, buddy?"

He grumbles something in reply. I didn't catch what it was, but I didn't care all that much either, to be honest.

"And if you take a close look at that screwdriver", I said, turning to the table where I had left it, "You would have noticed that... HEY WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING", I shouted.

The cashier who had picked up the screwdriver dropped it on the table. From there, it tumbled onto the floor.

"What the hell is your problem?", I snarled at the girl, who went bright red and immediately burst into tears.

I felt a tiny sparkle of regret for exploding at her. In retrospect, it looked as if she was just idly fiddling with something she'd found on a table, as some people are wont to do, rather than actually trying to interfere with the screwdriver.

She bent down to pick up the screwdriver for me, and I exploded again. "LEAVE IT", I shouted. "Get the hell out of here", I hissed, and she ran off, around the table, out of the door, into the shop.

"For the love of...", I said, shaking my head, before picking the screwdriver up with my gloved hand, placing it back on the table.

I turned to DiCaprio.

"Why are you carrying a screwdriver," I repeated Syd's question from a few minutes ago. "No kidding around. Not in the mood."

"To fix radios."

"Really? You fix radios?"


"When did you last fix a radio?"

"Er... Last week?"

"Were you planning on fixing any radios today?"



"Later today?"

"For whom?"

"A friend of mine. His radio broke."

"What's his name"


"Where does he live?"


"Do you always use a sharpened screwdriver to repair radios?"


"That's what I thought. I suggest you were carrying that thing as a weapon, and that you may have done so already at some point in the past"


"Syd, re-arrest him for the new offence, and throw in an assault charge for that little fight there as well", I said to Syd.

He looked at me, wide-eyed, shaking his head slowly.

"Right, DiCaprio, or whatever your name is, I further arrest you for assault, and for being in possession of an article intended to cause injury. You are still under caution.", I snapped. "Have you got him?" I asked Syd. He nodded.

When it comes to weapons in public, they generally fall into three categories. A made offensive weapon is any weapon that is specifically made to cause harm: Swords fall under this category, as do things like throwing stars, guns (although they are obviously covered by other laws as well), knives especially designed for fighting, knuckle-dusters, etc. The next category is an adapted offensive weapon; this is any item that has been especially adapted to be used as a weapon. A large nail with cloth wrapped around it becomes a shiv, for example, and a 50p coin that has been sharpened so it can be inserted between your knuckles or for throwing, or a bottle that has been broken so it can be used as a stabbing weapon, all fall into this category. The final group are intended offensive weapons: This can be absolutely anything, provided that someone intends to use it to harm somebody else. One particularly bizarre example of this was a 70-odd year old lady who was suffering from paranoia, and who held up a knitting needle. She shouted "I will stab you in the throat if you come any closer". With those words, her intention became clear, and the needles were taken off her and entered in evidence as intended weapons. Of course, it's difficult to prove whether somebody who carries a screwdriver or a corkscrew around with them intends to fix radios, open wine bottles, or stab somebody else in the eye, but if you carry a screwdriver into a crowded nightclub without being dressed as a workman, I'm probably going to assume the worst and nick you for offensive weapons - unless you have a good and reasonable explanation, of course.

"Technically", I continued my pre-tangential sentence, "It's not just an intended offensive weapon - since it's been sharpened, it's an adapted offensive weapon. Easier to prove, so that's a bonus."

I got on my radio on the support channel "Mike Delta receiving five-two-nine?"

"Stand by, 529, you're in the queue", came the reply, as the CAD operator continued dealing with dispatching a couple of cars to a domestic incident in progress. When they finally finished it was my turn.

"529, are you still on this channel?"

"Yeah, receiving"

"Go ahead"

"Have we got space for an adult male in custody, please? Shoplifting, assault, and OffWeap", I transmitted.

"Let me check, 529, stand by", came the response, as the CAD operator got on the phone to custody to see if they had any free cells. It only took a few seconds.

"529 receiving?"

"Go ahead"

"Yeah, we've got a space reserved for your guest. Need a van?"

"Yes please"

"On the hurry-up?"

"Yeah, that'd be good, we've had a bit of a struggle with him", I replied.

A flurry of radio traffic followed, as they tracked down a caged van that wasn't in use, and we radioed in some more details about the goings on (No, we didn't need an ambulance. No, nobody was injured. Yes, Mike Delta 5112 was the arresting officer. No we weren't sure who we had arrested, he had refused to give his name)

The van arrived, and we loaded the prisoner into the cage.

"I'll follow behind in the panda," I said to Syd, "see you there. You stay in the van; keep a close eye on him, all right?"

"Sure thing"


At the police station

Once we got to the police station, there was a queue for people to be booked into custody - two were being processed inside and a third was in the cage outside, so we just left our prisoner in the cage in the van for now.

"That all happened very fast", Syd said, after a long pause.

"Yeah, it usually does. It's quite dangerous to ask someone to empty their pockets. Chances of anyone having a gun, for example, are quite low, but not impossible. I'd much rather that one of us found it, than being faced with a prisoner who we've invited to take his own gun out of his pocket"

"Shit, didn't think of that", Syd replied.

"No harm done. As it turned out, he probably wouldn't have volunteered that screwdriver anyway. But I'm much happier that you found it, than letting him stand there with a sharpened piece of steel in his hands, if you know what I mean"

"Yeah, definitely..."

"Do you know what happens next?", I said.

"We book him into custody?"

"Yeah. You're going to take him through to custody, and you'll have to present the prisoner to the custody sergeant. Then, you'll have to explain what you arrested him for, and the grounds for your arrest, along with a load of other questions. You'll know all the answers, but just take it easy. This custody skipper is a good guy, and he'lll help you out. Some of them can be complete jerks, and will try to catch you out. Quite unprofessional, if you ask me, but it's their call, really; they're the kings of the custody suites, and they have to be sure that only people who need to be detained are placed in the cells".

"All right", he said.

"Fancy a cup of tea?", I asked.

"I could murder one", he said.

I flashed him a huge, mischievous grin and walked off towards the cafeteria. A slight look of confusion crossed Syd's face. He could recognise my "I'm definitely up to something" face as well as anyone, but there was no way he was going to figure out what I was about to do.

I came out a couple of minutes later, with two freshly brewed mugs of tea. He gratefully accepted one, remembered my grin, and asked if I wanted to swap cups with him.

"What do you mean?", I said, innocently.

"Well, I know you're up to something... And I don't want to drink it if you've put something in my tea", he replied.

"Hah, paranoid much?", I asked, and handed over my cup of tea, watching him take a sip.

"Of course," I said casually, "maybe I thought you'd demand to swap the mugs, and so I put something in my own mug instead".

He looked at me, mouth half-open, before staring at his tea.

"I just want some sodding tea", he said, suddenly looking exhausted. "Seriously."

I laughed. "No, mate, don't worry, both cups are exactly the same," I said, "Which realistically means that both are pretty disappointing, given that they came from the mess hall in a police station"...

He smiled, and gratefully tucked into his tea.

A good twenty minutes later, we heard a gruff voice from inside the custody suites. "Next!"

"You're up", I said to Syd.

He walked over to the caged van, and let DiCaprio out, leading him through the cage, into the custody suites.


In custody

The custody suites can be a pretty imposing place at the best of times: The custody sergeants sit on a small podium behind plexiglass walls (people have a nasty habit of assaulting the custody skippers), with computers and banks of CCTV monitors that cover every corner of custody. When we walked in, Syd was met by a pretty harrowing sight indeed, and the punchline to my little prank.

Well, I say 'my prank', but Syd was about to be victim of one of the oldest traditions we had: Whenever you bring in your first prisoner, every officer who isn't busy with something else comes to look at you presenting your first prisoner to the custody sergeant. In my day, you'd complete your booking in procedure and then go on the lash with your colleagues; it was a rite of passage of sorts, and hell, since I was there to help Syd with his first body, I wasn't going to let tradition fall by the wayside.

Even when met with a room full of 30-odd officers, I've got to give it to Syd, he didn't skip a beat.

"Afternoon sarge", he said.

"Afternoon constable", the skipper said. "What have we here"

"A prisoner, sarge"

"Reeeeeally?", the skipper said, his voice so laden with sarcasm I swear I could feel sarcasm-juice filling the custody reception, flowing into my boots.

"Well. You're in the right place then, aren't you?" he said, to everybody's surprise, to much laughter.

"Well... Go on", said the sergeant.

"At around 1400 we were given a message over our radio that a shoplifter had been detained at the Central Super Market on the high street", Syd started. "When we attended, we heard that a shop security officer had seen this gentleman take several cans of beer, and attempted to leave without paying. He was stopped, and detained in a break room. We arrived at about 1415. I questioned the man briefly, and arrested him for shopl..."

Syd swallowed. "I arrested him for theft. Upon searching him, I found a sharpened screwdriver on his person, and he started struggling. When we were able to handcuff him, I further arrested him for assault and offweap."

"Off... Weap?", the sarge said. "And what's that, then?"

"Er. Offensive weapons, sir," Syd stammered. "He had, I mean, He..."

Syd paused briefly to compose himself, and looked over at me. I gave him a double thumbs up, low enough that the custody skipper couldn't see my hands as I did. Syd smiled at me, before letting his face fade back to serious-mode, and turning back to the custody sergeant.

"Possession of an offensive weapon, sarge. Specifically, an article adapted for causing injury".

"Good." The sergeant said, leaning forward to take a closer look at the prisoner.

"So", he said, "What was the necessity for the arrest?"

"To facilitate a prompt and effective investigation into these allegations", Syd said without skipping a beat.

"Very well." he said. "And the time of arrest?"

Syd told him.

"You look familiar", the sarge said to the prisoner. "What is your name?"

The prisoner remained silent.

"What's his name, officer?" he asked.

"Well..." Syd said, and fell quiet.

He was blushing slightly.

"He claims to be called Leonardo DiCaprio", he said. The other officers in the room replied with laughter. When it had died down, Syd added, "But I have my doubts, sarge."

"Did he have any ID on him?"

"Yeah, the ID in the wallet he was carrying claims his name is Daniel Simpson"

"But you're not sure it's his?"

"No, not really, sarge. I don't think the picture looks like him, to be honest."

"Well, we'll get to the bottom of that. Mr DiCaprio, I am authorising your detention so you can be interviewed on tape around this matter. You also have one more chance to tell me your real name."

Again, DiCaprio remained silent, and merely shrugged and fidgeted.

"DiCaprio", the skipper said. "Have you taken anything? Drugs?"

More fidgeting.

The custody sergeant turned to me. "I think Mr DiCaprio here might be under the influence of drugs or other substances, and to ensure we haven't missed any drugs on his person, I authorise a strip-search of the prisoner at this time". He took a quick glance at the whiteboard behind him. "Please use cell M5 to do the search".


Strip search

As I led DiCaprio towards the cell, the rest of the team came over and started patting Syd on the back; A few were clapping their hands quietly, and he got more than a few thumbs-up. The sarge had authorised the detention of Syd's first prisoner, meaning he had passed his test. There was still a lot of work to do though... Starting with the strip search.

When you're taken into custody, you're going to be subjected to a thorough search, to make sure you don't have anything on you that could be used to hurt yourself or others, or any items that could be evidence in a crime. There are three different levels of search that can be authorised; A regular search involves a more thorough search than we can do on the street. The next level up is a strip search, which means that we remove one or more items of clothing from the prisoner, and the top level is an 'intimate search', which is every bit as unpleasant as it sounds for everybody concerned. Luckily, you have to do a special course in order to be authorised to do intimate searches, and I've been able to avoid doing that course so far.

"Right, let's get this search out of the way", I said.

Syd had assisted on strip-searches before, so I let him take the lead. First he asked our prisoner to take his sweatshirt off; he passed it to me, and I went through all the pockets and the lining. We repeated the procedure for the t-shirt. Next, he took off his shoes and socks, and I searched them as well. Then his jeans; I checked the linings, pockets, and stitchings in detail. I found a crumpled-up £5 note that Syd had missed in the first search, but other than that we didn't find anything.

Standing there just in his boxers, Syd asked DiCaprio to put his t-shirt back on, before taking his boxers off. There's no reason to make someone be completely naked for a strip-search: It's not necessary in order to complete the search, and there's no point in denigrating people either. Once DiCaprio took his boxers off, Syd handed them to me for a closer inspection. It pains me to report that they should probably have been washed a few weeks prior. I didn't actually try, but I'm relatively sure that if I had placed the boxers on the floor, they would have kept their shape, and stood up by themselves. They may even have tried dancing the Macarena. Most unglamorous.

Once de-boxered, Syd asked DiCaprio to squat down, turn 180 degrees, and squat down again. He then asked DiCaprio to hold his testicles out of the way, and do the same again. We took a good look, and concluded that whilst DiCaprio could most definitely do with learning a few lessons about personal hygiene, he certainly wasn't keeping any drugs clenched between his butt-cheeks.

"Here you go", Syd said, and gave him his clothes back, minus his sweatshirt and his shoelaces. "I'll be keeping these," he said, "or I can cut the cord out of your sweater and take it out, if you like, but it's unlikely you'll be able to get the cord back in there if I do."

DiCaprio muttered something that sounded like he invited Syd to go do something anatomically unlikely, so we figured he didn't want his sweatshirt cord cut into slices. We placed his £5 note and the items we had taken off him into evidence bags.

"He's clean", Syd said, as we returned to the custody sergeant.

"Well..." I said with a smirk. "I'm not sure about that. But at at least we're pretty confident he doesn't have any drugs on him."

"Right-oh" said the sergeant. "Go play with DNA and Livescan, and go get me some beauty-shots of him", he said, before returning to his telephone call. I overheard him saying something about a detective into the receiver.

Syd and I took DiCaprio though to the room that keeps the Livescan machine. It sounds posh, but really, it's just a digital fingerprint scanner hooked up to a central database. It's not very hard to use (unless the prisoner doesn't want to be fingerprinted. It is, in fact, possible to fingerprint somebody against their will, but to do so requires half a dozen officers and generally results in a lot of bruises all around), and it's one of the better pieces of kits we have available to us. It took the machine all of twenty seconds to spit out our prisoner's real name; it appears he had been arrested before. Jackpot.

I pretended I didn't know anything, and we continued taking not-DiCaprio's DNA (a quick cheek swab), and his mug shots for the police database and arrest records.

Once we walked back to the custody desk, I signalled to the skipper to look at his screen. The results of the Livescan check would be showing up in front of him. He nodded as if he already knew what the result was going to be, and pressed a few buttons on his computer, before taking Syd aside briefly. The custody skipper was careful about not being overheard, and I didn't really know what they were talking about, but from the look on Syd's face, I could see it was something rather serious. He turned away from us, and talked into his radio briefly.

The custody skipper idly chatted with not-DiCaprio for a few minutes, about toothache-inducingly inane things; I had a feeling he was doing that mostly to stop him from listening in on Syd's conversation.

A few seconds later, three officers from my team casually strolled into the custody suite, taking up positions all around the custody desk.

"Thank you Syd", the skipper said, before turning to not-DiCaprio.

"The machine you just used, Mr Simpson, was a fingerprinting machine. We have positively identified you, so I know who you are. First of all; Who is Daniel Simpson?"

"It's Dan."

"Right. Who's Dan Simpson, then?"

"My brother."

"Where is he?"


"Why do you have his wallet?"


"Right. Well, that doesn't really matter. I know that your name is Lee Simpson, and this officer here", he said, pointing to Syd with his hand shaped like a gun, "has something to tell you. Listen to him carefully."

Sid took a step forward, and all the other officers surrounding the-man-formerly-known-as-Leonardo-DiCaprio-now-known-to-be-Lee-Simpson seemed to tense up and lean forward as well.


An unexpected turn of events

"Mr Simpson," Syd began, "I have heard evidence of an incident that happened on Thursday, where your brother was seriously injured during a vicious assault from an unknown assailant. He has not regained consciousness yet, but witnesses state that you and your brother had a loud argument hours before the assault. In light of this, I am further arresting you for the attempted murder of Daniel Simpson. You do not have to say anything, but..."

As Syd completed the caution, I contemplated what had just happened. Sure, he didn't technically have to caution him again, but since this chap was suddenly a suspect in a murder investigation, it couldn't harm to re-caution him to make sure he understood what was going on. I have to say; I was a little bit envious of Syd. I've been a police officer for quite a few years now, but I've never actually done an arrest for anything quite as serious as attempted murder.

I was keeping a close eye on Lee, who was standing in the middle of the custody suite floor. He was surrounded by five police officers, and the usual number of Designated Detention Officers and custody sergeants that mill around in custody. On hearing the word 'murder' the FME - Forensic Medical Examiner - popped out of his office as well, to take a look at our suspect.

When Syd completed his caution, custody fell completely silent, barring the almost inaudible hum of the ventilation system, and a distant howl from one of the prisoners who, came to think of it, had been screaming the whole time we were there. Not an uncommon occurrence, really.

Finally, the custody skipper broke the silence.

"Right. You should know that every inch of the custody suites are covered in CCTV and audio recording. As this officer just reminded you, everything you say may be given in evidence; that includes the CCTV tapes. I have to ask you a few questions before we move you to your cell, so please approach the desk."

The skipper nodded at the officers who had shown up in case Lee reacted badly to the news of being arrested for attempted murder. They left.

Lee, in turn, stood limply, like a hot air balloon that was being slowly deflated. He became a lot more cooperative; answering all the standard questions asked by the custody sergeants. Questions about your welfare (whether you've ever tried to self-harm; whether you have suicidal thoughts; whether you use any medication; whether you want to talk to a drugs worker) and that of others (whether you look after kids, or whether anybody might suffer from you being detained), and a whole series of other questions as well. Lee answered each of them with a "yes" or "no", signed all the things he needed to sign, and we eventually moved him to cell M5 - the same one where we had strip-searched him about forty-five minutes earlier.


The aftermath

"So, how are you feeling", I asked Syd, as we were sitting in the writing room doing the reams and reams of paperwork involved with preparing the case for the case progression unit.

"Pretty good. How did I do?", he asked

"How do you think you did?"

"I'm not sure. I was piss nervous, barely remember any of it all, to be honest"

I laughed. "Don't worry, you did really well. A couple of little glitches here and there, but bugger me if it didn't turn out that your very first arrest was one for attempted murder! I've never done a murder arrest before in my life!"

"Seriously?!" Syd asked.

"No! Unless you find someone at the scene, it's usually the BSU that get used for doing those arrests," I said, referring to the Borough Support Unit. "Makes sense, I suppose; when someone knows they may go down for murder, they might feel as if they have nothing to lose, which could make them violent."

"Ha." Syd said, and suddenly remembered the sharpened screwdriver. "Holy shit, do you think that screwdriver might have been the murder weapon?"

"Well, I can tell you for sure that it isn't a murder weapon, since his brother isn't dead... But either way, you know more than me, mate; I only found out he might be an attempted murder suspect when you arrested him for it!"

"The skipper didn't say anything about the specifics of his injuries, so I don't really know. Can we look it up on CRIS?", Syd said, wondering whether we could look at the case notes for investigation of the assault in the Crime Reporting Information System. I have to admit having to Google that myself, by the way; I had no idea what CRIS stands for.

"Answer your own question, my friend", I said. "Is the CRIS report relevant to the notes we're writing up?"

"Yeah, of course, I arrested the guy for it!"

"Hmm.. Not quite: You arrested him based on information given to you by the custody skipper, and that is what needs to go into your notes."

"And after I've written my notes?"

"Are you involved in the investigation of the assault?"


"Well, then no. I don't want to be an arse, but the computer guys are really strict about stuff like this: If you start poking about in databases around cases you aren't actively working on, you could get in trouble. Everything is logged, and you had best have a really good explanation for why you're looking at a particular case."

"But... I'm really curious now!"

I grinned "Me too! Tell you what; Write down the CRIS reference number from the custody cover sheet, and then, once we've written up our notes, ask the team skipper; tell him you want to learn more, and that you've just made an arrest for attempted murder. He'll tell you whether you can take a peek, or perhaps explain you how you can find out more. Call me paranoid, but I never go deeper than I absolutely have to for investigations I'm working on."

I helped Syd write up his reports statements; the first one for the initial arrests, from when we were first made aware of the shoplifter, the altercation in the store room, and everything else leading up to arriving in the custody suite. We had to go back to the supermarket to get a statement from Nick the shop security guy; to my delight, he had one ready filled in when we got there.

"Wow, I guess you get a lot of shoplifters, eh?" Syd said.

"Yeah, a few. One of the Neighbourhood Policing guys came in here one day and gave me a template we could use, to save us some time and to make their life easier, so we always included the right bits and pieces"

Syd looked at the A4 sheet in his hand, mumbling as he read "Observed a male aged approximately... Attempted to pay... Card declined... Placed goods in pockets... Attempted to leave..." He looked up at Nick. "This is fab, thank you! If you wouldn't mind just signing it as well, we'll be on our way!"

The second was a simple MG11 witness statement explaining the circumstances and events of the attempted murder arrest.

When the printer next to up woke from its slumber to print out the final versions of our statements, Syd sat back, and looked at his iPhone. "Jeeze, this arrest took nearly five hours! Is that normal?"

"Some things go a little bit faster once you get used to it: If there's no queue at custody, I can do a shoplifting arrest in a couple of hours or so. Yours took longer because you're not used to the forms, and because you're still having to think about how to put together your statements. Don't worry - it'll become second nature, and you'll soon be able to do your witness statements as fast as you can type 'em up. Like anything else, it comes with practice." I concluded.

We walked through to the custody suite to use the ATR (Automatic Time Recorder), to stamp our statements and other paperwork, and walked over to the stuffy office occupied by the Crime Progression Unit, where we handed over the cases for shoplifting and assault.

"So what's going to happen next", Syd asked.

"Well, I don't know about you, but my shift finished about an hour ago, so I think I'm going to the pub, and I'm bringing you with me. We've got to celebrate your first arrest!"

Syd laughed. "Well, I can't say no to that, but I meant with the guy"

"Oh. Well, the CPU are going to take over from here; they'll interview him on tape and prepare a case. They then hand it over to the Crown Prosecution Service to see if they want to prosecute the case. I have a funny feeling that detective Carson is going to get on him first though; he's the guy investigating the assault of Lee's brother. Lee will be up in Magistrate's court soon, and they'll probably bounce him straight on to Crown court, because I'll imagine he's going to be charged with at least grievous bodily harm, if not attempted murder or - if his brother dies - actual murder. Either way, the punishment for any of those crimes is longer than six months imprisonment, which is the maximum sentence a Magistrate can impose, so it'll be a one-way ticket to crown court for Mr. Simpson"

"That makes sense", Syd said.

We walked out of the changing rooms and into the yard behind the police station, straight into the arm of about ten guys from our response team, all waiting for us. Once they spotted us, they burst into applause and cheers.

"Welcome to the team properly," said the team skipper. "Obviously, it's your round. Mine's a lager top.


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.