Monday, 17 August 2009

Some Days

How quickly can you run out of police officers? It is always touch and go but somehow we just about manage, except for some days. I don't know why it is, but occasionally you will just have a hellish shift when the box is empty and things are about to implode.

I should have known when the day team picked up an armed robbery at the arse end of their shift. Straight away there would be a scene to be secured and night shift officers deploying to relieve the others. The two early cars who parade an hour before the main shift to take up the slack had already been deployed to calls. The team were under minimum strength as often happens, but tonight we would be caught out. I brief my community team and hear the next call come out. Somebody had fallen several floors from a tower block with the inevitable result. It was going to be a long night. I find a vehicle and take my small team down to help out.

There are plenty of entrances and exits that need to be cordoned off. The duty officer is present and knows he needs more boots on the ground. Everything he has available is here, but the calls are stacking up too. He is able to pull in an additional community team to help, but they will take a while to get here. This is not a straightforward job, the circumstances are suspicious and will require a specialist squad to investigate. We are 45 minutes into the 12 hour shift and have no more units to deal.

The forensic tent is quickly deployed to cover the deceased, and offer some dignity. The other flat dwellers have a front row view of proceedings from their balconies. Everything is secured and officers briefed. Entry into the block is going to be managed by us. The deceased is known to us and to most of the other residents, who have put up with years of anti-social behaviour from the flat.

The caretakers cupboard is located, which has a toilet off of it and a power point. I drive the officers who were first on scene and a material witness back to the station, finding the tea club open and unused, so I liberate the kettle and some instant drinks from the custody suite. I also grab some soft toilet paper for use of the female officers on the cordons. That cupboard will be our sanctuary for the duration of this job.

Family members are beginning to turn up. They ask questions and I don't have any answers. A family liaison officer is being called in from home but will take a couple of hours. This group grows considerably and includes the teenage children of the deceased. The daughter is understandably distressed but consoles herself by swigging from a bottle of alcopop. The blue line is sombre and exercises discretion in not enforcing the no public drinking legislation. The other residents are not blessed with as much empathy. Somebody has made a comment to the group, not very complimentary about the deceased and a scuffle ensues. We break it up and escort the resident to her flat. She tells us they might get some peace and quiet now the deceased won't be around. What can you say?

The duty officer has sorted this out well. He's also trying to manage other scenes by phone and borrow some troops from the next door Division. This will free up a unit to answer some calls on the ever growing list. There will be a lot of peeved people tonight waiting for us. The specialised squad turn up in dribs and drabs, with red A4 notebooks. There's plenty of nodding as the area is in lockdown. We will hold the scene but the decisions are now for them to make. They speak to the family and the group dwindles. After a few more hours the body is removed and we move in some cordons and release team officers. Just my team and a couple from a neighbouring Division are left.

We are waiting for the local authority to clean away the body fluids. It's now the early hours and nobody is looking out anymore, they're safely tucked up in their beds. The quiet is shattered by a road sweeping lorry, one of those little one's with the little brushes that sweep up shite from the gutters before it's sucked up into the gunnel's. I speak to the driver expecting him to have a bag of specialised granules to soak up the blood. No this is it - I think we call this a communication break down.

More phone calls and talk of health and safety. We have to wait for a specialised clean up. We're in luck, a couple of hours later one turns up. He has a look and scrapes up some congealed blood and hairs into a contaminated waste bag. A quick spray with something and he hoovers up the rest. We have a look and there's still a redness in the concrete. Unbelievably he's got a power hose and sprays down the rest whilst telling me about the jumper he dealt with who came down 15 floors. Apparently there was only a blood pool of about a fists size on that job - fascinating stuff. He departs and we're nearly done.

The son of the deceased is nearby and asks if he can leave a flower. I just want to check everything's done and then see some more blood and hairs the other side of a low wall. Luckily the caretakers office has a hard broom. I scrub the blood away and also clear the area of beer cans and other litter. It's now ready and he can come forward. He lays a single flower probably pulled from somebodies garden, but it means something, it is his tribute. No doubt it will the first of many.

It's an hour to shifts end and our relief turn up. Some early turn have been called in on overtime to take over. There's only two needed for the front door of the flat. Another Sunday night is over.

The outstanding incident list was a mess and I shuddered when seeing the type of calls we never got to. Dozens of people thinking we are crap as we never turned up, but some days are just like this, us being very busy dealing with a serious incident.


Dandelion said...

If people are phoning the police and they don't show up, that's absolutely inexcusable. If the outstanding list made you shudder, then I expect they weren't all trivial matters, were they?

It's hard to see how one incident, however serious, could swallow up the entire man-power. Either the man-power level, or the deployment clearly is crap. Whoever's responsible, I hope you don't let them get away with it.

Stressed Out Cop said...


One incident does swallow up the entire team. The strength levels for response teams are always a juggling act as more and more people call up. We can't just open a box to send more officers, especially outside of certain hours and week-ends.

You are right they were not all trivial matters, obviously I'm not going to put more detail in the posting. Not turning up is excusable as we were elsewhere but not excusable to a mop if they were needing us urgently.

A serious incident involving death will get everything. It must do and securing a scene is vital. A scene can be a large area.

Response is rarely flush with officers no matter where you police. In fact most places would not have had CPT to use on a Sunday night.

Blue Eyes said...

It sounds like one of those no-win situations. If there were enough resources available to cope with the usual level of calls PLUS a major incident many people would be screaming about how the police service costs too much, but when there aren't enough resources people complain because nobody turns up to their burglary or pub fight.

Here's a simplistic idea from someone who doesn't know what he's talking about: how about all those officers who work for local teams work in the same shift patterns as the response teams so that if when there is something big going on they can drop some of their nice "neighbourhoods" stuff and help out at a crime scene for a few hours?

Dandelion said...

SoC you seem to have a rather blinkered view. If the police do not turn up when they are called, especially for a non-trivial matter, then that is inexcusable, and would suggest that the police force in question is not fit for purpose.

Obviously it isn't the fault of the individual officers, but equally obviously, someone isn't doing a good job if they are keeping staffing levels a hair's breadth away from insufficiency.

Also, while many police people think acronymns are cool, they are largely meaningless for everyone but them. Plain English is a much better way to communicate to the world at large. Just thought I'd mention it.

Anonymous said...

Should have called in The Specials!

Joking apart, there was a major incident on our patch a while back and some of us were posted on the cordon and although it was quite dull after the crowds had dispersed it felt good to be useful- knowing that the PCs we had replaced were able to get back to work on the backlog.

I think something that "MOPs" often misunderstand is quite how stretched the resources sometimes are. Of course it's not good enough if we can't get to things promptly but we really do have to prioritise. Those on street level are dealing with the results of decisions made much higher up the chain of command and probably higher up even than the police services themselves. It's convenient to knock The Police, but the problems go much deeper.

Stressed Out Cop said...

Blue Eyes

You are spot on. However I was on one of those type of teams (CPT = community police team - Thank you Dandelion for putting me straight . as usual) but one of these days is relatively rare.


It's called risk management. Sunday should be a day of rest and you just won't have the 9-5 Mon Fri to call upon if it goes bent. It's the way it is - as per Mr Blue Eyes comment. You can't send what you don't have.

Even today I think we had 6/7 I grades in 10 mins at 6PM . Luckily the night shift came out early to deal and bail us out.

You are right there should be more on response but sometimes it's just so busy you'll still need more .... hence some days


The specials have saved the day many occassions on a Fri / Sat night. Anybody on a cordon be it PCSO Special frees up a response unit. I just feel a tad guilty we can't pick up the paperwork for you too .. you know what I mean.