The radio squawked into life with that ear shattering, high pitched feedback noise reminiscent of the days when every other bobby in the room used to turn their handset onto full volume just as you were about to transmit …. in other words, 07.05 this morning … !!
“Chaos, any chance you can head over to the Mega-Super-HyperMart on Medbury Retail Park, they’ve got a detained shoplifter playing up a bit and there’s no local units free at the mo …?”
Not only is Medbury Retail Park not on my ‘patch’, it’s not even in the town where I work …. but such is the state of play at the moment with cutbacks, attachments (for that read frontline staff nicked by CID cos they’re ‘sooooo busy’), sickness, leave, courses etc, etc, etc, that we long ago passed the so called ‘line drawn in the sand’ and are now well out to sea without that proverbial paddle.
It quickly transpired that, according to the ‘system’ myself and Big Pete were the nearest available units over in ChaosTown, some 15-20 miles away from the location where we were now needed, and on top of that ‘playing up a bit’ can mean anything from being a bit argumentative to the shop staff to there being a full-scale almost war taking place on the shop floor. “It’s an Immediate Response please due to the circs” went on the Despatcher, meaning 15-20 miles across two towns for two police cars on blues and two’s, with all the risks and danger that poses to the attending officers and public alike.
Trying to justify my attempt to re-enact the last Silverstone Grand Prix in my super-charged, racetrack ready, 135,000 miles on the clock, 1.7 diesel Vauxhall Astra, I asked the control room “what do they mean by ‘playing up a bit’ ? is there some sort of disorder going on ?”.
“They haven’t said, all we have is the info passed” came the reply. “You mean we haven’t asked” I replied, which was met with the normal level of silence expected. It’s a blatantly obvious fact to anyone that spends the odd micro-second thinking about it, that when someone calls the police (or in fact and emergency service) in need of help, they are often in a state of panic that results in them trying to disseminate an awful lot of information in a very short amount of time – that’s just human nature. It’s the job of our trained and skilled call-takers, to actually extract the information that’s relevant to our immediate needs and obtain any extra useful information the caller may have that they hadn’t even thought about telling us.
But sadly, again due to cutbacks, increased workload, and a myriad of completely inane and unnecessary questions the call-handlers have to ask immediately or risk instantaneous death or even worse from above, the useful information often gets forgotten.
Therefore, hoping for the best yet having to fear the worst, Big Pete and I both set off to do battle with two sets of town centre traffic in the middle of the day – just being thankful it wasn’t school kicking out time or the rush hour. It was bad enough though, with the vast majority of drivers on the road either being completely unable to see two cars, with big reflective yellow and blue squares down the sides, alternately flashing headlights and flashing blue lights on the tops and in the grilles (ohh yessy, after years of arguing and throwing our teddies out of the pram, we finally got grille lights … in SOME of the panda’s … not all of them mind you, because that was too expensive).
I don’t mention the sirens on the cars, because they are so pathetically quiet and therefore useless, that I could forgive anyone, other than a monk, whilst praying, in a remote hilltop monastery, with a panda, sirens blaring, in the room with him, for not hearing them. In fact it’s not that long since we pointed our to our vehicle workshops that they had fitted the sirens within the front plastic bumpers of the panda’s, forward facing, as they are supposed to (modern sirens are designed to be highly directional with their sound output you know), but hadn’t actually gone as far as drilling any holes in the bumper or fitting the siren behind the actual grille area so that the sound waves, and therefore relevant noise, could freely travel and be heard by anyone other than the spiders that resided therein.
Big Pete arrived moments before myself and as we both abandoned our cars in the ‘pick up point’ bays directly outside the front doors of the store, I think we both noted the immediate looks of disdain and tutting from the jolly unfriendly members of the public (and regular customers of the constabulary) waiting for their taxi’s to remove them and their bags full of cheap cider and fags back to their furnace-level heated flats on the Meadow View estate.
As we entered the shop foyer, the spotty-faced, very young ‘security officer’ glanced up at us from his iPhone and said …. absolutely nothing ! “Shoplifter …… playing up …. ?” I said to him, with not a small amount of sarcasm and an effort at displaying urgency through hand motions thrown in for good measure.
Queue the shrugged shoulders and “Dunno mate, I’ll give ‘em a call”. I mean pardon us for thinking, as this young lad in front of us was the first line of the stores defence against the light-fingered tea-leaves visiting the establishment, that he may have had a tad of knowledge, or even more so, interest, in the on-going events that were occurring around him.
We waited …. for longer whilst he finished his current level on Candy Crush than we did for a reply from the store security office …. to find out there was absolutely nothing going on there that had required the police being called, and more importantly, the shop had not called the police.
The manager quickly came out to see us, showing a great deal more enthusiasm than the lad he had employed to protect his store from such miscreants as those we had now carelessly misplaced. “Are you sure it’s not the ‘Local’ store over in ChaosTown you need, they’re having a right problem with shoplifters at the moment.” You just knew, before any more was said, that he was going to be right. “I’ll give them a call for you if you like” said the manager.
Whilst all this was going on, Big Pete was relaying the reality of the situation back to our Control Room via his radio. The store manager where we were came back with the answer we expected quicker than the Police Control Room did. As he thought, the incident was taking place 15-20 miles aware from where we now were …. but less than a mile away from where I was when the call first came through, and even less distance from where Big Pete had been carrying out enquiries …..
“Sorry about that” came the reply from the Control Room supervisor “I’ve asked the call-takers to replay the tape of the call to clarify and it was the shop in ChaosTown, they’ve just entered the wrong details on the system, can you both make back over there please ?”
I couldn’t help myself “It’s a good job no-one was getting stabbed to death isn’t it” I replied “and that neither of us hit anything on the way here” (or words to that effect) trying my best to get over the gravity of the situation we had been unnecessarily placed into. Mistakes happen, I appreciate, but in our job, it’s not just the initial mistake than can cause things to go badly wrong. In this case, they only detail correctly recorded was the shop name – the actual address was different, the town was different, even the telephone dialling code the call came from was different – so there were plenty of clues there.
“I’ll make back over to the correct location” I said over the radio “Pete’s busy with things to do, and there’s no rush now, we’ve spoken to the staff there and they’ve had to let the guy go – he was playing up too much and they couldn’t keep hold of him” that long”.
Cue a more leisurely drive back to our ‘patch’, and lots of apologies to the disgruntled staff at the store amid the obligatory quips about how ‘useless the police are’ and ‘can’t even get a simple address right’.
And to rub salt into their wounds, we never did find the shoplifter. He certainly wasn’t one of our ‘regulars’ and on viewing the CCTV it was clear he was working as one of a pair but his mate had already got away …. along with a few hundred quids worth of Jack Daniels and whisky.