Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Once upon a time, long, long ago, police officers used to decorate their vehicles with tinsel and lights at Christmas in keeping with the festive spirit of the season. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, this is a practice that hasn’t been allowed by senior officers for a very long time.
Back in the early days of George’s career there was an R/T Driver on his team called Tim. He was over six foot six inches tall and weighed in at a magnificent 20 stone, or 280 pounds for those of you outside the UK, who went by the name of Tiny. In those days, George’s team worked a four-week shift pattern that included a full week of Night Duties, which meant that they worked Night Duty on Christmas Eve for six years on the trot. Tiny saw this as an opportunity to spread a little festive cheer and so each year he paraded for Night Duty dressed as Santa Claus complete with hooded red robes and breeches, spit-shined black boots and an enormous white beard. His generous girth meant that he had no need for any additional padding under his tunic to create the jolly persona of Saint Nicholas.
He thought that on what should be the happiest and most peaceful night of the year, his appearance would help bring a little light and possibly a smile to anyone that had been unfortunate enough to find themselves the victim of a crime. After parade he would climb into his R/T Car accompanied by his radio operator who often joined in with the celebrations by dressing as one of Santa’s elves. The car would then drive majestically out of the rear yard, bedecked with tinsel and mistletoe and begin its patrol.
One year, as luck would have it, Tiny and his operator responded to a ‘suspects on premises’ call at about 2am and after a short stand-off, they took two teenage lads into custody on suspicion of burglary. George arrived with the van just in time to see Santa Claus, resplendent in red robe and flowing white beard, stroll out of the premises with a handcuffed burglar tucked under one arm and dragging the second behind him by his collar. Tiny heaved the two thieves into the back of the van and slammed the door on them before picking up his elf and returning to the police station where the booked the failed thieves in.
A few days later the instruction was handed down from the Divisional Commander through the Duty Officer that all police vehicles would be stripped of Christmas decorations and that in future uniformed police officers would not wear any form of costume while on duty at any time of year. A member of the public had complained to the Division about a police officer dressed on duty as Father Christmas that had upset his two children. Apparently the family had been driving home in the early hours of Christmas morning and had passed the scene of the burglary. The two young children in the back of the car had been confused and reduced to tears after seeing Santa Claus dragging the two struggling prisoners out of the house, surrounded by police cars and blue flashing lights.
They didn’t understand why he was helping the police when by rights he should have been flying around the world delivering presents from his reindeer drawn sleigh.
Wednesday, 17 September 2014
George thought to himself “If I were ever to write this as a story, no one would believe me. They’d say I made it up”.
The day had started so well, his team was in early and was all in plain clothes and the covert radios were all working, that in itself was a minor miracle. The unmarked cars had all been arranged and parked in the yard and the battered old plumber’s van with the dark windows was out in the street. George had given the briefing, grateful that one of his team mates was so handy with Powerpoint and it had been so complete there hadn’t been any questions. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do and where they were going to do it.
The mission was actually fairly simple, Billy the burglar had been released from prison two weeks earlier and since then wouldn’t you know it, burglaries had sprung up all over the area. An operation had been planned and authority for Directed Surveillance had been authorised without any hesitation at all, another minor miracle. All they had to do was to plot up around Billy’s home covering every likely route out and, as soon as he emerged, follow him. As soon as he did something naughty like climb up a drainpipe of a house that wasn’t his, the team would be all over him and he’d be arrested for an attempted burglary. If all went well he’d also put his hands up to most of the recent spate of break-ins as well and George’s team would be able to add a list of Clear-Ups to their tally.
All that would remain would be to agree on a suitable venue for the medal presentation ceremonies.
Even though it was still early, the sun hadn’t even begun to lighten the horizon, George and the team were in good spirits. The unmarked vehicles were crewed and driven away in ones and twos then finally the rusty old plumber’s van lumbered off with George at the wheel. As everyone called in one after the other to say they were in position, George turned the heavy van into Billy’s street, the only thing that could go wrong now would be that he wouldn’t be able to park within sight of Billy’s front door and so not be able to see him leave.
George’s jaw dropped as he pulled to a halt in front of the young lad wearing a day-glo vest. Behind him there were dozens of people milling around under the bright glare of powerful floodlights. Television cameras on trolleys rolled along the pavement and thick power cables crisscrossed the road.
“Sorry mate,” called up the lad in yellow vest, “We’re filming an episode of The Beat and it’s going to take all day I’m afraid. You’ll have to find another route around.” George looked up again and realised that there were at least a dozen people wearing police uniforms wandering around and there were three marked police vehicles. The TV Company was recording an episode of their weekly Police drama series outside the front door of the area’s most prolific burglar.
Realising that the team was more likely to be able to carry out covert surveillance of the street if they went back to the police station and changed into their uniforms and brought back a couple of marked response cars, George sighed and picked up the radio.
Keying the tansmit button he said “Listen up everyone, you’re not going to believe this, but ...”
Wednesday, 10 September 2014
It is true to say that most of us become a little complacent about the work we do and the things we deal with. As we become more familiar with them it’s easy to forget how difficult others may find tasks that we take for granted.
George had just arrived back in the rear yard of the police station having collected a stray dog that had been roaming the streets nearby. He’d had little trouble getting the dog into the caged section of the van although this may in part have been because it was raining and the van was warm and dry. Standing at the rear of the van with his hand on the handle of the cage door he was reassessing the dog, in particular the size of its teeth, which it seemed keen to display in an angry snarl aimed at George.
“Best get the experts,” grinned George as he grabbed the radio and asked the Control Room to put a call in for the Dog Section to attend. Fifteen minutes later, and just before breakfast, the dog van arrived and two burly dog handlers emerged from it.
“What’s up here ladies, are you having trouble getting a little pooch out of your van and over to the kennel?” one of them laughed. George smiled and said “He’s a bit of a handful and I haven’t got a lead let alone one of those nice poles with the noose other end like you guys carry in your vans.”
“Rubbish, it’s only a dog and even my old mum could get him out of there,” said the dog handler, “You just need to know how to handle them, don’t let him think you’re afraid of him and he’ll be as good as gold. Have you never seen the Dog Whisperer?” He produced an ordinary leather collar and lead and opened the rear door of the van. George made himself comfortable, leaning against the side of a car he folded his arms and watched with a smile.
The bull terrier inside the van threw itself noisily at the fortunately still closed inner cage door. It snarled and barked viciously at the dog handler as it attempted to tear its way through the cage mesh. The dog handler stepped back hastily, almost tripping over the lead. He stood staring at the dog for a few seconds, his mouth opening and closing silently before finally turning back to his own van, mumbling “I think I’ll go get the pole for this one.”
Returning a minute later with a noose on the end of a long pole, the dog handler and his colleague eventually snared the dog and managed to get it out of the back of the van. The dog promptly dragged the dog handler across the yard as it attempted to latch its teeth into any one of the police officers that had turned out to watch the display of canine control. The dog was eventually secured in the kennel to a round of applause and the dog handlers slipped quietly back into their van, apparently planning to find another canteen to have their breakfast. They left behind them a yard filled with laughter from the officers on George’s team. George had tears rolling down his cheeks and he held his sides as he laughed with the rest of them, happy that for once it wasn’t him that was cause of everyone’s amusement.
Wednesday, 3 September 2014
George remembers quite vividly his days of being tutored on shift. It was a great time for him, his first foray into real police work. As a very 'wet behind the ears' probationer, he experienced confrontation on an unprecendented scale, had a taste of man's inhumanity to man and witnessed the social degradation that goes hand in hand with some of the more colorful characters police officers meet in their daily work lives. And he loved it.
His tutor was a silver haired, old school copper called Bill. George had no idea how old he was, only that he was 'more than likely' in his early forties although the lines on his face no doubt belied his real age. George knew he had been around since the miners' strike and that he had seen the big changes in the criminal justice system as well as policing in the UK change forever. Bill had been a beat officer all his working life, spent some time as schools liasion officer before becoming a tutor. He used to 'swing the lamp', furnishing George with tales, most of them touched with some wisdom in an effort to highlight where he had perhaps gone wrong or needed some development. Bill was old school. His younger shift colleagues regarded him as a 'dinosaur' and 'out of touch' but he had more policing skills in his left small finger than most of them could muster collectively.
George had the upmost respect for Bill and his time with him has stayed with him. He taught him patience and how to use his communication skills to their full advantage. "Who wants to fight when we can just talk?" Bill used to say. George has witnessed first hand this silver fox outsmart drunks and druggies more than once, even talking them into handcuffs. At 6'2" Bill was no lightweight and could handle himself and he often said he wanted to go home after a shift, not casualty.
Some years later George finds himself in Bill's boots, he's tutoring and for the most part he loves it. He meets the young guns and forms bonds with them, he's genuinely interested in seeing how they develop and likes to be the one to give them their handshake when they reach confirmation. It means a lot to him.
So, what about Bill? Well he's still about, his silver hair is now white and he has a little desk job that keeps him off the front line. He and George do catch up every now and then and a little while ago he came up to George's office and asked to speak to him.
"George" he said, "I haven't got much use for this now, I would like you to have it". Bill handed him a small silver key, it was well worn and a bit bent at the end. "It's a key to all the park gates in the area" he muttered. It was a special moment, George didn't know how long Bill had had it or even if it still worked but he took it and thanked him. Of all the probationers Bill had taught George felt touched that he had chosen him to pass it to. Perhaps it is because Bill saw a lot of himself in George, or perhaps just that he was now a tutor. George really didn't know.
For the record the key doesn't work. George tried it one night after a group of lads had decamped from a stolen vehicle and made off over the railings into a park. He didn't curse Bill, he knew it probably wouldn't work given that the council change the locks on all the park gates every 5 years. He just placed it back onto his key chain and when his probationer asked why he wanted to keep it, because it clearly didnt work he replied "It's more than just a key", before pulling himself up over the fence. "Besides" he continued, "I need to hand it down to someone at some point. I've just got to find the right person."