Saturday 30 June 2007

I See Dead People

One of the things I get asked about a lot by people who are sensible enough to have a job where they sleep at night, is dead people and deaths. "Sudden Deaths" as it is known in the trade. I'm usually asked these questions after someone has had their fill of beer and gets curious about bodily details.To the people that ask for a little too much detail, I always offer them a visit to watch a Post Mortem, something I've done more than once and find fascinating.

They always decline the offer.

We call them "Sudden Deaths," which makes it sound glamorous, as far as death can be. And yes, we deal with murders, and suicides, and road accidents and all manner of interesting ways that life ends. But the vast majority of Sudden Deaths that I come across are in homes, elderly people, very ill people, chronic alcoholics. Not glamorous, and most aren't suspicious. However, police are required to attend nearly every death outside a hospital or medical care facility, to check for suspicious circumstances.

In some cases this is easy - if there is a bloodied knife fifteen feet away from the body covered in stab wounds, I'll be thinking it's suspicious.

The problem is we are not medical experts by any definition. We can not pronounce a person dead (hence our notes always read "the apparently lifeless body"), and we can't diagnose diseases, infections and poisoning pre or post death. Again, this is when the wonderful London Ambulance Service come into play. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou boys and girls for pointing out things that we have no idea about or miss on our very cursory inspection of the body.

I don't like the goryness, no one does, but I can cope with it. The smell is pretty appalling, but again I can usually cope, and keep a pack of airwaves chewing gum on me to mask the smell. The strange thing is that I can not stand on-screen blood and gore, and get squeamish watching Holby City or similar. Yet I've checked rotting bodies for ID, attempted resus on an 18 month old baby, sat next to a very dead old man for two hours on his only sofa whilst waiting for undertakers to attend to remove him, checked toddlers and children who have died, and fought with bleeding vomiting messy drunken injured people in A&E whilst hospital staff fiddle and stick various implements in them. Show me an episode of ER and I'll feel faint and sick. I can't work that one out at all.

Of course, the really hard bit is dealing with families. As many other bloggers have mentioned, technically I have failed as a Police Officer if I spend five hours with a newly widowed woman and her children trying to help and comfort them. No detections, no arrests, only one call resulted. But conversely, I think that is when I justify my salary, not stopping middle class students for smoking cannabis in the park on summer's evenings.

These experiences are usually massively draining to officers who deal with them. They are also a huge source of letters of good work in your file. That is obviously the last thing in your mind at a scene, but so many officers have more than one pat on the back sitting in their personal files after dealing with a bereaved family.

I find this more upsetting than anything else, and amazingly humbling; people who have gone through the worst pain possible, who have had their lives shattered by the appearance of a person wearing the blue serge then take the time to write a letter, or visit the police station, or phone a senior officer to thank us for what we've done. It is something that I am still unprepared for every time, and something that I just can not get my head around. It's also something that makes me particularly proud of the job I do, and of the officers I work with. Training can NOT teach you to do this, it is a time when what you need is humanity. After spending a huge amount of time in every shift having to keep a lid on their feelings and trying to be emotionless, impassive observers, Police Officers have to step up and then truly care for someone in a difficult situation - and they do it.

Friday 29 June 2007

I'm sure this will get major discussion on the many police themed blogs and forums over the coming days:

I'm going to ignore the politics behind it for a while as there are people far better qualified than me to talk about it. What struck me though, was the actions of the door staff.

According to the Evening Standard they noticed the car and became suspicious, and checked it out before phoning the police. It made me think - how many times have I received calls from door staff and other security staff about next to nothing?

How many times have I read the text of the call from security staff, and sighed, thinking "bloody jobsworth?"

In this case the only thing that made the security staff heroes rather than jobsworths wasting police time was the contents of the vehicle. It's easy for coppers to get hacked off with some security companies (understandably), and the amount of times I hear "come on mate, we're in the same job..."

We're not in the same job - but early this morning the door staff were definitely in the same business as us, saving lives.

Hats off to those door staff, and all other security staff that have the gumption to actually get involved and do their thankless job.

NEXT WEEK: Why I hate bouncers and love nicking them...

EDIT - it appears that the press, wait for it, may have got some details wrong (gasp). I am being told that the security staff had nothing to do with it and it was all down to the magic LAS again. I wasn't there and don't know the truth, but I suppose it serves me right for buying the evening standard. And my point still stands re: jobsworth/hero. Even if it maybe fits better for Westminster CCTV. Ah well.

Thursday 28 June 2007

Bank Holiday

A while back I was working a late turn major bank holiday, which is always nice for the bank balance if not so much for my excuse for a social life. As usual, the already short response teams had been hugely cut down in numbers to save money on overtime, and as usual we had alcohol induced fights and domestics happening all over the shop more frequently than we could effectively deal with.

It's on shifts like this that you start to appreciate the people you work with, and when you instinctively work harder and work smarter.

After a ridiculously busy shift, as it got darker and colder, and people's alcohol imbibing reached break point, things started getting really bent. Calls were coming out all over our area for fights and domestics, officers were rushing to one, "Area Search No Trace, where's the next one control?" Lower grade calls weren't even being assigned to officers as we were so short and the control room was desperately trying to keep the emergency calls in check. Every call was finished with us hustling out to the car to turn the blues and two tones on and blat back across the division for the next call. We took a call to a possible domestic - a male smashing up two women's car with a metal baseball bat. We were second unit on scene, and went off to do the area search for the guy who had just made off leaving two very shaken girls. As we were doing the search we were diverted to someone being attacked in her flat.

We started heading in that direction whilst keeping an eye out for the fella, as it was close by. As we did our van unit TOA'd at a pub fight nearby. My partner and me both turned the radio up as they gave their location - two female officers turning up without back up to a pub fight on bank holiday can get nasty. It shouldn't matter that they are females, but it does. They can take care of themselves, but both of us made a mental note of the location in case they called for assistance. Every unit was assigned to a call or off the road. We arrived at our call and found the house in darkness, all seemed quiet and neighbours told us they haven't seen anyone.

We come out of the block of flats and the radio was screaming, whilst we've been inside the block where our radios don't work it all went wrong. A stabbing was reported close to the baseball bat call and the pub fight, by males of the same description. The van unit attended leaving the now calmed down pub and called for urgent assistance. Another unit arrived on scene and also called for assistance.

I broke into a run towards the car and we leapt in and headed towards.

I arrive on scene I see a crowd of people, blood on the floor, lots of angry people shouting. Some are witnesses, some are victims, I assume some must be suspects, and some are just pissed and enjoy shouting at coppers.

We have six officers there against the large crowd. We TOA but don't cancel other units, there aren't enough on to guarantee help otherwise. I wade in and start trying to give first aid to a couple of bleeding, drunk and abusive girls, one of which is the girlfriend of the suspect. I am helped by a drunk neighbour who repeatedly tries to steal my radio "for a laugh." The main suspect for the stabbing has made off, but there is a lot of aggressive people around shouting. I leave the pushing and shoving to the other officers as I try to hold one of the girls still so the little that is left of her nose that is attached to her face remains in place. Maybe the doctors will be able to sew it back on, and stitch up her upper lip. They really do work wonders at the hospital, despite being overstretched, overworked and underpaid. She tells me to fuck off and that she hopes I die of cancer. I love my job.

London Ambulance Service turn up and start to clear away the injured and pissed, working their magic (I love the LAS).

There are now quite a few officers with us, but we are hugely outnumbered. Our Inspector gets on the radio and tells the control room we might need more units soon. The control room says there are none to send. Guvnor: "I appreciate that, but tell officers with prisoners to leave them at the nick. Officers with paperwork can leave that and come out, get people de-assigned and available." The control room comes back. "Yes guv, we appreciate that, but everyone is there. There is no one else to send."

This is when the call comes out for Urgent Assistance from the LAS a few roads away. This is probably the only thing that could get us away from the scene. As me and my partner were first aiding not crowd control, and ambo were on scene, we ran for it.

We turn up and the ambulance is surrounded by drunken angry young men, chief amongst them is the main suspect for the stabbings, and the baseball bat. Happy days, he's quickly arrested and we escort the Ambulance away. I look at my watch; it's fifteen minutes past my shift end time. I won't be off for hours. I hope CID, the CPS and whoever else gets involved make sure this bugger doesn't get bail and goes straight to court. I spend hours seizing his clothes and writing up my notes well, and the officers at the scene do the same, getting statements and seizing evidence and manning crime scenes.

He gets bail.

Four days later his girlfriend, the original victim, is killed by him.

I have to keep reminding myself I love this job sometimes.

Area Search No Trace

I suppose I better explain the title of this blog - Police readers will no doubt "get it" straight away, but the only person I have shown this to is a non police type, and her only comment was "It's a stupid title. Why not call it the Policeman's blog?"

For every call created in the world of Policing, there has to be a result. This does not mean that we have to arrest a person from every call unfortunately, but means there needs to be something on the computer to justify why we've stopped playing with that call and moved on to pastures new. "Area Search No Trace" is a common result for calls, throughout the UK as far as I'm aware. Youths hanging around on the street corner? "Area Search No Trace." Sounds of a gunshot, no persons seen? "Area Search No Trace."

Sometimes it means you've driven past the incident location and seen nothing: "Abandoned call from telephone box, Pelican Street, sounds like kids messing about." You know it'll be ASNT before you get there, but you still go to make sure.

Sometimes it means you've been throwing yourself around an area trying to find a couple of burglary suspects, with the furry land sharks and chopper coppers all trying to help (and unable to due to a bunch of overexcited response team officers messing up the scent and getting in the way of the chopper's magic night time camera).

The beauty of the result is it can be used for so many calls. The "joke" in the title of this blog is the twisted way of saying it, "Area Trace No Search," which obviously has a slightly different meaning. It used to get a snigger or two and people would get the implication, that this was a quality call from start to finish. In these more modern times when control room staff are supervised heavily and without discretion, and when every transmission is recorded for further alnalysis, you have to be a little more careful.

Quite often now control staff will put exactly what the officer says on the CAD. Which isn't so much of a problem with Area Trace No Search, but when an officer pops up to give a result and says "he was looking to get arrested" then it's liable to be written on the cad "Subject asked to be arrested."

And don't even think about using the LOB result...

Truck Drivers and Refs

It's a wonderfully rainy Early Turn and I'm on the way to the CJU (Criminal Justice Unit) to sign a statement, when a call is assigned to us to deal with.
"Caller states a lorry parked in her road last night and is still there. Believed suspicious. Foreign registered vehicle. Informant states that it is suspicious as it is bigger than the trucks that usually park there overnight."

After calming ourselves down from the excitement of the call text, then trying to work out what they expect us to do with it, we trundle over there. It is not an emergency call, but due to the lack of traffic we are on scene very quickly.

Sure enough, there is a lorry parked there. And it is foreign registered. It's a shame, as I can't give my favourite result for this call, but hey ho. The rain is easing but still steady, and as the engine performs the diesel death shudder and the wipers stop, the windscreen is quickly covered with drops which hide the lorry. I grab my hat and pull the collar of my goretex jacket up and step outside to brave the wind followed by my intrepid partner.

We put the VRM (registration number) on the CAD (control room computer system), but as it is Polish registered we can't check anything on PNC (Police National Computer) for it, and I am struggling to work out why it is suspicious. As my partner stares blankly at the back of the trailer, I walk idly round the truck wondering whether we'll be going back to our nick for breakfast, or whether we can stay on this side of the ground for some more of the shift - it's nicer over here and you get a better class of domestics to report.

I get to the cab and I hear movement inside. I knock on the door and the movement stops. "Ah ha," I think, "Perhaps some naughty miscreants have removed this truck from the rightful owners and now are shaking in fear on the approach of the police."

I call my partner over. He is almost as excited as me at this turn of events, and shows it by saying "are we getting refs today or not?"

I try the door handle and it opens, so I climb up into the cab of the truck. At the back of the truck is a bed area with a curtain across, which I pull back. Sure enough, there are three people inside the truck. A young fella in his mid twenties, and two girls. In the bed. Together. Nekkid all of them. Ah.I feel that a tactical withdrawal is in order as the three people stop their activities and stare at me open mouthed.
"One minute," I say.

I jump out and say to my partner "You've done traffic before haven't you? HGVs and tachos and all that? This is more up your street." He sighs and climbs up, and I see him come to a stop halfway up. I even hear what may well be a very naughty word uttered by a shocked PC. This is reassuring as I wasn't sure whether I had really seen what I thought I had - I didn't stay long enough to take details down.

My partner is talking to them, and I hear him say something about getting dressed. His voice is getting louder and more insistent and I suspect that more naughty words may be forthcoming, but he seems to get the message across and the bloke from inside the truck climbs out wearing a pair of jeans and clutching a tshirt. "Czesc," I say. I'm talented like that.

Turns out this Polish driver has met two local girls out and about in town the evening before, and the girls had a little argument about who liked him more, which ended up in them coming back to his truck to "prove themselves." The driver wants to know if he will be arrested. I want to know where our breakfast is going to be. Documents seem ok, and we wave them goodbye; I result the call as "no offences." Good luck to the fella.

We decide to get refs on this side of the ground, which makes me happy as I'm starving. An emergency call comes out: "any unit for a domestic disturbance off the high street, informant states her husband is drunk and won't leave the address." I look at my watch, it's 0640hours. Me and my partner sigh as we know that we need to take the call as we're available and working that area, he answers up for the call and I press the nee-nar button and we start trundling over that way.

Looks like we're going back to our side of the ground for refs.

Wednesday 27 June 2007


My first post!

After reading and being inspired by the many bloggers on the web, I've decided to put the pension on the line and join in the fun and games.

I will try not to make it just a rant but I make no promises about that, everything in here will be inspired by what has happened at work - warts and all.

Wish me luck...