This is not a very recent incident, in fact it occurred quite a while ago before I started this blog, but it does highlight very graphically what I believe is wrong with those who frequent the Top Floor at Bigtown Police Station, and on reflection, probably what is wrong nationally with many of the people trusted with operationally managing our fine police forces …… sorry, services throughout the country.
At approximately 20.40 hours on the night in question your Worships, I was proceeding in a North, North-Easterly direction along Graydon Avenue, patrolling my sector, on the lookout for miscreants and vagabonds, whence the crackle in my left ear from the incoming transmission on my personal wireless set caught my attention.
The dispatcher was updating our inspector that a call was coming in from a ‘distressed female’ saying she had been ‘robbed at gunpoint at the petrol station where she worked’ which, as luck (if that’s the right word) would have it, was literally two streets away from my location. The caller said the man had run off along Western Road– which meant the suspect was heading either directly towards or away from me.
Now I’m long enough in the tooth to know that the magic word in the callers sentence (no not petrol) would mean that bums would already be squeaking on seats at our Headquarters, and there would be an almighty panic whilst someone found the ‘BIg Dummies Guide and Instruction Manual for Control Room People when Things Go Badly Wrong’. The Duty Officer would frantically be trying to telephone the On Call Silver Commander in order that he/she could pass the buck as quickly as possible; someone else would be trying to find the number for a Tactical Advisor (one that’s not currently on holiday in the Maldives, washing his hair or down the pub having consumed 32 pints of strong ale and so could not possibly come back in) and several other people would be huddled round the screen of the relevant call taker like little kids round a sweetie box, eager to find out the up-to-the-second gossip on what’s actually going on.
No one, of course, will be considering at this point, doing anything clever like sending a police patrol to the location to help.
Our inspector, bless him, could only ask “What’s the update from HQ ?” As weak as that may sound, he knows that it’s more than his jobs worth to even think about making a decision to send the police round now the Duty Officer is on the case …. he foolishly asked the Control Room to “get an ARV rolling towards the location in any case” and was quickly snapped down over the air by the Duty Officer telling him to “stand by while I liaise with Tac Ad”.
To my, somewhat simple, and still down there on the ground floor mind, the most important part of the update given so far was that ‘the man had run off along Western Road’. Now I don’t know, dear reader, if that means the same to you as it did to me, but to my way of thinking, that meant the one place the offender wasn’t at this time, was at the petrol station, the scene of the crime and location at whence there was now a very, very distressed victim – radical thinking I know, but that’s just me for you !
With faith in my conviction, I stuck the pedal to the metal in my trusty bag of nails, 100,000 mile plus, ‘fast response’ diesel panda, and was on the forecourt of the petrol station in well under two minutes. Within a few seconds more, I was inside the garage shop; faced with a hysterically screaming 19 year old girl, who had only taken the part time job on for spending money while at college and had now been confronted by a masked man pointing a very real looking gun in her face. She, in my eyes, had every reason not to be very happy.
In fact, so fast was the initial police response to this incident, that the Control Room was still on the telephone to the girl as I arrived, asking 101 stupid and completely irrelevant questions but nothing that we actually needed to know at this point. I mean, yes, they had asked the girls age ??, colour of skin, why she thought this was happening to her and whether she plucked or shaved her nasal hair, but they hadn’t asked any of the three rather important questions any sane and sensible bobby responding to the incident might have liked to know the answers to straight away;
- Are you hurt ?
- What did he look like ?
- Which way did he go ?
Apparently these questions aren’t on their list so they don’t get asked – talk about using common sense once in a while !!!
So fast was I there that the Control Room operator on the end of the phone line refused to accept the cashier’s account that the police were on scene. “We haven’t sent anybody yet” is what they told her !!!! What !!!! I mean, not despatching patrols is bad enough, but telling the victim that is unbelievable !!!!
In any case, within a couple of minutes, I had secured the building and forecourt, locking it down thereby preserving any forensic opportunities; stopped and seized the CCTV hard disk to review back at the station, had the witness safely in my police vehicle ready to be taken back to the relative safety of the nick to be debriefed and statemented. I had obtained what most police officers would consider the vital bits of information in this investigation – the description of the attacker and his last direction of travel and passed this information via my radio so that everybody knew what was going on. I even remembered to ask for and broadcast a description of the weapon which, in fairness, the girl was able to describe pretty well – but then you would when you’d just been staring down the barrel of it I guess.
I had also called her boyfriend to meet us there to offer some moral support. All in all, a fairly prompt and effective initial response … or so you would think.
Even more luckily for the poor girl involved, and for me come to think of it, the on duty ARV (Armed Response Vehicle for the uninformed) had adopted the same approach I had; the guys on board had thought to themselves ‘bugger this for a game of soldiers, waiting for some desk bod to make a decision, we’re on the way’ and had managed to cover an awful lot of ground from where they were pretty damn quickly !! Based on the description we now had of the offender, within a couple of minutes the ARV guys had located him – at a bus stop – waiting for the number 43.
I’m not sure what scared the willies out of everyone else at the bus stop more; Ninja Tom diving out of the quickly screeched to a halt BMW with everything flashing and throwing matey boy to the ground or the sight of what was clearly a black automatic type pistol being removed from his jacket pocket and passed to Tom’s cohort who by now had managed to get out of the drivers seat and do a Starsky & Hutch special manoeuvre over the police cars bonnet. Well that’s how they told the story anyway – who am I to argue.
So, to recount, within ten minutes of the call being received, the victim was safe, the scene was secure, the offender had been located and the weapon and several hundred pounds cash recovered. Job done ! By this time, the Duty Officer, Silver and Tac Ad would probably have just got to page four of the Janet and John Guide to Difficult Situations and it was all over.
The following day, the ARV crew and I were invited to the ‘Incident Debrief’ – we have these for all major incidents we attend, murders, fatal RTC’s, serious sexual offences and of course, firearms incidents. We all sat in the Super’s office at Bigtown with nice cups and saucers and even free biscuits – some of them even had chocolate on !!!
The Chief Inspector conducting the debrief firstly congratulated the Duty DS from CID for so quickly getting the offender charged and remanded (bless) and then he turned his attention to my good self. “PC Chaos” he began “do you think it was safe to attend the scene of a firearms incident before the Duty had agreed his tactical plan ?”. “Yup” I replied. I could see where this was going and wasn’t about to make it easy for them.
“What would you have done if you’d been shot then PC Chaos ?” the CI asked next. “Well I wouldn’t have been, would I Sir” The CI looked blankly at me. Here’s someone who obviously hadn’t researched the incident very well but knew exactly what us naughty front line troops had done wrong, because the Duty Officer had complained to him. I thought I’d best put him out of his misery “The first thing the caller said Sir, which I’m sure you will have noted from the CAD log, is that the offender had left the scene, so the one place we knew he wasn’t was at the petrol station”.
I could see by the look on his face that the cogs were beginning to turn, albeit very slowly. “And what if he’d returned to the scene whilst you were on the way, you would easily have been a target”. Now we were scraping the barrel a bit, clearly trying to justify someone’s inaction from the previous day. “Well Sir” I started “I would suggest that’s statistically unlikely, but in any case, should the guy have been walking back towards the garage I wouldn’t have known because the control room never asked for a description”.
“But what if he had PC Chaos, and still had the gun in his hand” I was beginning to get bored now. “There’s probably a higher chance I might have got crushed by an escaped herd of stampeding wildebeest from the local Safari Park but, if if he had been coming back down the road towards me or the petrol station, and I could see he still had a gun in his hand, I’d have stuck my foot down and run him over”.
Well, you could have heard a pin drop from several miles away. The only sound was the giggles from the ARV lads sat next to me. You could plainly see the colour draining from the CI’s face amongst visions of the newspaper headlines.
I broke the silence “You are talking here about a guy who has already pointed a gun in the face of a nineteen year old girl, threatened to shoot her and frightened her half to death – he’s now walking along a street in a busy town centre, heading back towards the scene of his crime, possibly to finish off the witness, and he sees a police car coming towards him. He’s going to see me as a threat and I more than believe he poses a threat to the life of me, the petrol station girl and the public around us. I’d have no problem justifying taking him out”.
With nowhere else to go on that one, and with the fear of an impending heart attack looming, the Chief Inspector turned his attention to the ARV lads. “And why did you not wait for authority to deploy form the Duty Officer ?” he questioned. Tom answered “Because we’re police officers, it’s what we do and as firearms officers it what we’re trained to deal with”. The CI was about to speak again when Tom interjected “In any case, we don’t actually need the Duty Officers permission, if we arrive, and believe the threat level to be high enough, we’ll self-arm anyway”.
Jeez, I’m going to have to call the paramedics in a minute. The Superintendent, who up until now had remained silent, and just listened to the proceedings pointed out that we have to follow the guidelines and protocols that the Senior Officers have agreed. “These” he said “are such serious incidents we can’t just go rushing in without planning”. Tom was having none of that; he was getting into his flow now “with all due respect Sir” he started “policing on the streets does not do what the book says, the people out there haven’t read your book, I bet most of them don’t reading anything except the Sunday Sport. There do have to be guidelines but when peoples lives are at risk we have to take risks ourselves”.
“And what would you have done” the Superintendent asked “if you’d come along the street and the offender was walking towards you, gun in hand. Would you have run him over as well ?” I ducked for cover at this point. I’ve known Tom long enough to know what he was going to say next.
“If the gun was down and there was time I’d have given him a hard challenge, if the risk was too high or he pointed the gun at us I’d have shot him. What would you have done boss, if us or Chaos hadn’t bothered going and he’d gone back to the garage and shot the girl dead ?” Good come back Tom I thought to myself, possibly not very silently.
The Super began to fluster a tad. The Chief Inspector stepped in “Well he didn’t did he”. Tom wasn’t letting go now “But what if he did; The Duty and Silver were still reading the manual, and the bloke walked straight into the garage and popped one into her head while she’s still on the phone to the police and it comes out there was a police car round the corner and they couldn’t go because all the boxes hadn’t been ticked ?”.
I’m sure it wasn’t a deliberate choice of words that came out of the Chief Inspector’s mouth, but all he could sum up was “Well, that would be very unfortunate”. “Unfortunate” bounced back Tom “Well it wouldn’t be me knocking on the girl’s mothers door saying I’m sorry your daughters dead, she got shot while the police read a book. It’s very unfortunate. I think we need to stop reading books and remember what we’re here to do”.
Around this point, the DS who had been so positively commended for …. erm …. getting someone to interview and then formally charge the suspect …. chirped in “Well of course the gun wasn’t real, you do know that”. I’m sure he was trying to help; or more likely trying to curry favour with the bigwigs present but I did have to point out it was unlikely at the time in question that either the girl in the petrol station, myself or the ARV lads would have had the opportunity to discuss the finer points of imitation firearms with the offender as he stuck it under someone’s nose. If it looks like a gun, feels like a gun, and you want someone to think it is a gun, then it is a gun.
By now I think the need for CPR to be carried out on several high ranking officers present in the room was getting nearer. The Chief Inspector clearly thought the same and saw sense enough to bring the ‘debrief’ to an end. “The are many issues raised here today” he said “that will need to be fed back into the Chief Officers planning meetings. Please rest assured that I will update you all on the findings once they are made”. And with that the CI told us to all clear off and don’t come anywhere near the top floor again …. or else ! Actually he thanked us for our time and bid us farewell, but we knew what he really meant.