“Yeah Chaos, sorry ‘bout this, I know its not your patch but we’re a bit thin on the ground this morning. Any chance you could help out with a concern for welfare over Medbury way ?”
I swear that transmission from the Comms Room is just a recording someone taped and gets played out two dozen times a day; it’s always the same now, “everyone’s committed”, “can anyone break off the grade 1 they’re on …”
Not that many weekends ago, we broke off from Grade 1 to Grade 1 so many times, never actually landed at any of the jobs we were being sent to – Pete and I spent best part of two hours just diverting from call to call backing other officers up across what seemed to be half the county.
“No problem” was my reply, “go with details”
It was a problem, quite a big one actually. I’d already got a workload growing the size of an acne patch on a spotty teenager with no sign of it ever getting any smaller, plus a RTC report file about to go out of date in four days; it having spent most of the past six months bouncing around the ether of an internal mail system (There will be a lot of heads out the right now nodding in agreement … or at lest empathy).
“Thanks Chaos, call from Community Mental Health, worried one of their clients who’s been on the phone to them not making much sense. Talking about there being dragons in his flat. They suspect he may have taken something. Just doing the checks now…”
My heart had already sunk at the mere mention of the CMH team. A call from them can normally be interpreted if we’re lucky as ‘we haven’t got enough staff to cope and there is a real, genuine, bona fide concern for this persons health and wellbeing, and we really need your help’ or, as more often than not the case ‘congratulations, we’ve just passed the buck, it’s your problem now’.
I suppose I should have been glad for small mercies and the fact it was just gone 9.30am in the morning rather than 4.55pm in the afternoon so on the balance of probabilities, this call was more likely to fall into the first category rather than the second.
Having been given the address for the incident, which was a good 25 minutes drive from where I was, I did have to ponder the fact for the moment that by some strange fluke, I was apparently the only available police officer that could be despatched to this incident.
It didn’t pass me by that to get from my current location, to where this chap lived, would involve driving past Medbury police station, quite a substantial building, less than 10 minutes drive from the job and home, at this time of day, to probably in excess of 100 workers; police officers and admin staff combined.
But of course, the small number of response and neighbourhood officers based there would, like those at ChaosTown nick, already be out and about, committed with jobs they had been given or enquiries they had to follow up.
There’s no way the amassed ranks of ‘specialist departments’ could possibly be disturbed and asked to attend such a trivial matter as a bloke who appears to have taken some sort of hallucinogenic substance and could quite easily by now be in a battle for his own very existence. This after all is a job for response.
Makes you wonder a bit about that definition of ‘front line’ doesn’t it ??
The radio crackled and squawked back into life and some sort of garbled message was transmitted from the other end. “If that was aimed at me you sound like a Dalek, stick 50p in the meter and try again” was my response. Not very radio comms policy compliant I know but the message was the same.
“Is that better ?“ asked the Comms Op and then proceeded to carry on talking without giving me a chance to answer anyway “male you are on way to has all the normal warnings, mental health, alcohol, self harm, violence, I’ll get you some back up …. anyone able to break off and back up a single crewed officer?”
And more silence …………
Eventually Pete called up on the radio “I’m in custody at Medbury with my prisoner but if there really is no one else available he’ll have to wait and I’ll go back Chaos up”
I can just imagine the look on the Custody Sergeants face, and possibly the defence brief, at that little gem but hey ho, not my problem.
The Furnace Park estate wasn’t hard to find. Just a few years ago it would have been even easier to spot just by following the seemingly constant trail of black rising smoke from one car or another being set on fire by its joyriding resident yoof.
Perhaps they were just trying to recreate the areas former existence as a foundry from a time when Britain ruled the waves (and most of the rest of the world) and we actually made things; real solid metal things that we sold around the world and made ourselves a proper world power … or slave drivers (sorry I digress).
Furnace Park is another of those squished together compacted living areas full of blocks of flats and houses smaller than a hamster cage which in someones mind, back in the 50’s or 60’s, were going to be the panacea of modern living. It’s the real reason we all had a fascination with flying cars – upwards was the only way out, the roads were so small and narrow there was no chance of driving forwards.
Nowadays it’s the sort of place that the rats go to their doctors and get a tetanus jab before entering, wear wellies and carry little pouches of anti-bacterial gel strapped to their tails.
“If we think this chap’s having some sort of episode or taken an overdose have we called an ambo, or more importantly did Mental Health Team call one before they called us ?” I asked whilst making my way to the location. It was a foolish question to which I already knew the answer on both accounts – experience does that to you – but it made me feel better to ask anyway.”
“No. Caller hasn’t and nor have we at this time. Supervisor asks that you make an assessment at the scene and take it from there…”
Excellent. So now we have a situation where a person has called the Community Mental Health team for help. They in turn have assessed that this person is in need of some sort of assistance AND that they may be under the influence of one kind of substance or another, legal or not. They haven’t summoned medical assistance for this person. Nor have they made any direct effort to visit the caller and check on their welfare. Instead they have called the police. Buck passed.
So now our Comms Room has the information that as member of the public is in need of help, they they may be in some form of distress, physically or mentally, that they may be under the influence of some form of substance which is affecting their wellbeing, and now the police haven’t summoned medical assistance either. And remember, we also have a history record on this person, and have created lots of ‘warning markers’ to highlight the various issues they have.
This will no doubt be down to some risk assessment procedure and in the vast majority of cases ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ … but what about that odd occasion when it’s not, and the subsequent enquiry starts shouting very loudly that ‘police knew of the situation and did nothing’. Because I can guarantee you that will be the first line of defence from the agency that called us, no matter who they are.
Factor in the time delays between the call to the third party agency who then decides on their course of action which is to call police; the time for someone in our call desk to take down all the information and enter a job onto our systems; the time for that job to then be assessed and categorised before being sent to the despatch supervisor; the time for them to pick the job up, re-asses it and then find a unit to deploy; and then the travelling time for the officers being tasked (in this case 25 minutes) and we are quickly in the region of 40-45 minutes AFTER the initial calls for assistance in the lucky circumstance we have someone to deploy straight away. Golden Hour and all that …..??
Anyway we got there. Pete had just pulled in ahead of me and was out of his panda and moaning before I even got the handbrake on. Custody Sergeant moaning he couldn’t just leave with a prisoner in the traps; PACE this, defence solicitor complaining that blah,blah … I can just imagine his reply though.
As would be typical, the address we were heading for was never going to be on the ground floor but at least it was only a two floor journey via a flight of concrete steps that judging by the debris, mess and graffiti could tell many a tale if only it could speak.
The first thing that struck me as odd on the balcony style walkway outside the door of the flat we were heading for were the potted plants. Quite a few of them actually, and well looked after too.
The immediate reaction was ‘we’ve been given the wrong flippin’ address’ and so a quick radio call to the Control Room was in order to verify the incident location and details. This wasn’t an area either Pete or myself had been to before; it’s not ‘our town’ and so we don’t know any of their local characters – we have more than enough to deal with on our own patch thank you very much.
Address verified, it was shrugged shoulders from the both of us and a knock on the door.
It was answered by quite a pleasant young chap in his mid thirties. “Can I help you officers” he said.
Now we were completely conflumuxed. None of this was adding up. “Yeah” I said “we’re looking for a guy named Michael”. “That’s me” he replied, “is something wrong ?”
“Errrmmmm … we’re not really sure, can we pop in for a chat for a couple of minutes”” ?” Confusion overload was well and truly in operation by now.
“Is my mum okay” asked Michael, clearly his brain scrambling to find a logical reason as to why we were knocking his door just as much as we were.
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing to do with mum or in fact anyone else Michael” Pete quipped in, “we’ve been asked to come and check you’re okay”. This seemed to puzzle Michael even further.
Looking round to find the inside of his flat quite neat and tidy, sparsely furnished but clean, certainly moreso than the bedroom of your average teenage lad by any stretch of the imagination, I said “Might seem an odd question Michael but have you had any dealings with the Community Mental Health Team ?”
Michael sat down. “Yes I have actually, I had a bad time after my wife died when we lived up north, she got killed by a drunk driver and I didn’t cope with it; I still don’t really. I got into a fair bit of bother at the time but it was all just what the heck, my life had ended really you just sort of carry on best you can don’t you ?”
And with that, all of our thoughts and presumptions just came crashing down around us.
“They aren’t much good really, I suppose they’re short staffed as well but whenever I feel a bit down and ring them, they just fob you off. I rang them this morning actually. to find out when they were next planning to come out. They are supposed to come and see me every so often but they haven’t been for over a year. Anyway how does that lead to you guys being here ?”
“Well Michael” I began, “they actually rang us this morning to say they were worried about you; thought you might be having some sort of episode or have taken something …”
“Taken something ???” interrupted Michael before I could say any more “taken something, what planet are they on ? … I know I drank too much after everything but I’ve never taken drugs in my life”
“I’m not too sure chap” I said “but the message we’ve had from them is that you were hallucinating and chasing dragons round your flat. They thought you were off your head”
Michael began to laugh. Quite a lot actually.
“You’ve gonna love this” he said. “I was on the phone having a bit of a rant because they couldn’t give me a visit date and I said I can’t be waiting for them any longer, my dragons got out and I need to catch it”. Michael stood up “come with me” he said walking towards another room.
Michael led us into his bedroom, closed the door behind us and then we began to laugh. “They are a pain when they want to be” Michael said “They hide under the bed and if I go one side they just come out the other”.
Then something must have twigged in Michael’s head. He now had two extra pairs of hands to assist. “Don’t suppose you’d give me a hand to catch them would you. It’d be easier with three of us ?”
‘They’ were Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Michael’s two pet bearded dragons.
It appeared Michael had been cleaning their vivarium out, having placed the terrible twosome on the floor for a wander around as normal, and his mind had then strayed into his need to speak to the Community Mental Health Service. It was whilst on the phone to them, his eyes being distracted by one of the creatures walking past him that he suddenly remembered he’d forgotten to put them away.
The next few minutes consisted of two six foot blokes, full kitted up in stab vests and belt kit, on their hands and knees in a strange blokes bedroom, with their heads stuck under a bed being taunted by two small spiky scaly things who clearly saw the amusing side of things.
“How do we get hold of these things” Pete called out to Michael “are these the things that their tails fall off if we grab them ??”
Luckily we were soon informed the best course of action was simply to usher the elusive twosome in a particular direction where Michael could then grab them when they finally appeared from the dark recesses under the bed where normally the bogeyman lurks.
With situation normal returned, Michael was quick to apologise for ‘wasting our time’
“Mate” said Pete “not your fault and certainly not your problem”. “You ain’t wasting our time and if anything, you’ve shown us not to make too many presumptions before we know all the facts”
“Well thank you anyway” said Michael “least I can do is offer you a brew before you go”
Sadly, and before we even had time to utter “that’d be fab thanks” our radios broke back into life “Anyone able to break off the job they’re on for a grade one domestic in Chaostown ..?”
“We’ll take a raincheck on that matey, this isn’t our patch but we’ll make a point of getting back over to see you and have that brew soon as”
“Custody skipper’s gonna be proper pi***d, looks like my guy’ll be sat in a cell a bit longer” said Pete.
And with that we were out of the door and running back to our vehicles.