District Nurse attacked.

The other night, I drove like the wind to get to an assistance shout up at the twelve.

Response Officer Mickey “The Head” Thompson and his new crew-mate had gone to an assistance call from a district nurse who was having her head kicked in by three hoodies trying to steal the medication they think she carries. She doesn’t carry any drugs. She had grabbed one by the arm and was hanging on for dear life while the others repeatedly kicked and punched her.

Even on the Swamp this was regarded as ‘bang out of order, like’. A resident from Winnie Mandela block called crime stoppers who patched it through to the 999 system. ‘Not being funny, but is there a reward, like?’

Cue the involvement of Response Team Foxtrot, with by me, Sergeant Dan and whoever can scrape together a half decent argument when one of us is off, which is hardly ever. PC Thompson never uses his emergency button so all over the Division, when he did, a grand total of six officers (all that was left of a shift of 12) started to make progress towards playground number twelve.

This included me, on my own, in a big old German cell-van. I like this big van because people get out of the way, thinking it is an ambulance. People don’t move over for police vehicles on the Swamp.

When I arrived it was total mayhem. The team was all over the place, some on the floor, some fighting with people and some trying to nick the original offenders. We ended up with five in custody. Three from the original assault on the nurse and two for trying to prevent Thompson from making the arrests when he arrived. ‘Trying to prevent’ is actually a polite way of saying that they tried to kick the shit out of him and his crew-mate.

Amazingly enough, and to his eternal credit, the nurses practice manager arrived in his own car, right in the middle of it all, to rescue her and bring her down to the Nick. She must have put a call into him at some point. Not bad, considering they all had their NHS issue mobile phones taken off them recently to save money.

Back at Ruraltown Nick it was like a scene from Blackhawk Down. The offenders were kicking off, shouting, protesting their innocence and trying to violently attack the escorting police officers all the way to the cells. We did four ‘cell-exit procedures’ with no help what-so-ever from anyone else. It took the best part of an hour just to get it all sorted out with the custody sergeant.

When the final cell door slammed shut, we had a quick review of what had just gone on. The prisoners had spat, head butted and kicked their way through custody. They were still shouting from the cells, they hope our kids get cancer etc The nurse had a broken finger, a bruised jaw, a black eye and had lost all her personal possessions in the mele. Her phone, keys, purse and cash were gone, an opportunist theft by one of the foul-mouthed kids watching at the edges of the fight.

Her husband (how unfashionable) arrived at the Nick to see her. He was not a happy man. Wait until he sees the sentencing! Now we have to ‘process’ each one of the prisoners. Free solicitors, forensic samples, clothing, interviewing officers from CID, ID parades for the nurse. All this followed no doubt by endless tactical adjournments, five expert character assassinations of the nurse by the defence, grinning, inane mouth-breathing defendants waving at fat, useless, chain-smoking baby-mothers in the public gallery. And for what? Some kind of meaningless community sentence. Each prisoner has so much previous that we have lost count.

And the paperwork for a job like this will be massive. But we don’t have time to worry about these issues. It is now past 11.00 pm and thing are really kicking off in Ruraltown. We have to go. I speak briefly to Mr District Nurse. He went to school with Debbie Gadget’s brother. I apologise for all the crap his wife has been through tonight. Thanks for getting there so fast, he says. I shrug and mumble something about that being the least we can do.

Back out into the night. I have lost at least two of my team to the paperwork for that job. The custody sergeant will soon be asking me for some more officers to help with ‘constant supervision’ in custody. The prisoners, having failed to threaten their way out of custody, will soon start to complain of spurious chest pains, say they are going to kill themselves or just start banging their heads against the walls. It happens all the time.

PC Thompson looks like he has been hit by a bus but he thinks it was ‘a great job’ and promises to come back for more tomorrow night. His crew-mate is our dedicated Special Constable. We tell him that at least his mother thinks he is special. As for the nurse, I’ll get Debbie to give her a ring in a couple of days for a welfare check. Victim Support pulled out from our Nick months ago. Something about funding problems.

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The Rich Girls Are Weeping.

I have that nervous feeling you get while trying to drive, read a map, listen to urgent updates coming over the radio and talk to Control on the hands-free. As usual I’m on my way to a serious drama. As a PC a small percentage of the calls I attended were real dramas. Now, all the calls I attend are real dramas.

This is because there is only one uniformed Duty Inspector at a time in F Division, and we are expected to attend the serious incidents personally. F Division is so huge that there is more or less always a serious drama for me to rush to.

Dealing with the incidents does not present me with a problem. I have spent my entire career in response or specialist uniformed front-line policing of one kind or another.

One of my correspondents summed it up nicely once by saying it is like going to watch the same play each night, only with different actors.

This one is a double fatal road crash on some fast road in the North of F Division. Four more are seriously injured.
I’m using the map to see how to avoid the road closures the response teams have already put in. The Controller; he is phoning me every ten seconds with information I already know, easing the conscience of a man who can only stand by in horror by transferring the tension to someone else.

This is the worst kind of drama for us. It’s the kind where we have arrived before the other emergency services, specifically, before the paramedics. The officers from the response team are trying to save lives and calm the shattered pleas from relatives who were in the car behind and saw it all.

This has taken place outside a private school for girls. The daughters of the privileged have just returned from the ski slopes of Europe.

The snow is not as good this year in Villars-Gryon.

And now life will never be as good again because you shouldn’t see what they have just seen, and are still seeing, at 15 years of age. Or at any age.

My people work fast without speaking. They eye their Sergeant as he sweats under his armour. He nods at a car, points at a victim, puts a finger to his lips indicating a distressed witness and all the time on the radio closing roads, eyes tightly shut as he accesses his mental map of the area. They know what he means by every gesture and they respond.

I arrive. It’s my old section. I was their Sergeant once. I’m there to keep a broader perspective and to think strategically about what the Division need to do next. This lasts for as long as it takes me to see the first body.

Everyone is here now. Like some bizarre, colourful ritual; fire and rescue personnel, paramedics, an air-ambulance. The huge rumbling dual carriageway is a silent, deep red stained strip of concrete. I stand and catch my breath.

And behind me, the rich girls are weeping.

Feeling it all begin to slide.

Ruraltown is always cold and dark. The local economy has not declined during the recession because there never was a local economy. Physical disability, poor mental health and general despair are the default positions for people here. Everyone else is gone, including me.

The Russians are here in large numbers. UKBA sometimes raid their maisonettes on The Swamp, but they abscond and return later, with strange haircuts and a new set of fake papers.

The town centre is a one-way concrete wasteland too terrible to describe. Even my Satnav cannot cope.

Ruraltown is where the people of Ruralshire go to die prematurely.

People travel miles to jump from our multi-storey carpark. The multi-storey is attached to our ‘great shopping experience for all the family’, known as the ‘Reservation’, due to the danger faced by anyone who goes there after about 3.00 pm.

‘The Rez’ is now mainly burger bars, betting shops, charity stores, and in the current climate the particularly inappropriately named ‘Payday loan’ companies.

If you have a dozen screaming kids, tattoos on your face and neck, a slot machine addiction and you love undercooked frozen chips and microwaved pizza, come to Ruraltown.

Last night alone, 60% of all the emergency calls we received on F Division (which includes Ruraltown) were nothing to do with crime.

Attempted suicides, successful suicides, ‘concern’ calls, child neglect issues which turn out to be tit-for-tat revenge missions by discarded former booze and sex-partners, madness and drug-induced public acts of psychosis.  Car crashes both literally and metaphorically. Missing people, closed roads, people on railway tracks and hospital absconders. No crime at all.

This is our bread and butter in Ruraltown.

It is hard to be told that our mission is ‘nothing more or less’ than to cut crime.

Our customers are the public, usually via A&E, the ambulance service, probation officers and social workers all of whom they have exhausted before coming to us with a final desperate act of self-destruction or attention seeking.

We are the opposite to a commercial business. The people who use our services never pay; the whole undertaking is funded by people who live far away and who rarely need us. This is the real reason for the disconnect between the silent majority and the police. Most people don’t live in Ruraltown, or visit the Rez after 3.00 pm. People who do both those things have plenty police visibility, believe me!

I try to make it like an army of liberation instead of occupation, but we are always so undermined by the weak sentencing which destroys any effort put in by us and local people when offenders walk free with some meaningless (and never completed) so-called community sentence.

The wonderful, motivated, cheerful, tough and compassionate youngsters on my response team and in the beleaguered Neighbourhood policing unit spend every day and night of their working lives swimming against the tide of these foul circumstances. Trying to do some good and having it thrown back in their faces by Magistrates, Judges, senior police ‘performance managers’ and newspaper reporters. If we can save one decent person for ten minutes then the whole ten hours is worth it.

I was recently offered a post back on the Tactical Aid Unit running from FHQ. I turned it down. I’m staying here. My people need me and I need them. Citizens may come here to die but I would be finished if I ever left.

Policing is not what you do it’s what you are. That is all.

Gadget Note: Thanks to Response Team B, F Division, Ruralshire Constabulary and RT Div, Ruralshire Ambulance Service for the last set of night shifts.

‘Playground Number 12′

Standing in a pool of watery engine oil in the middle of  the Winnie Mandela block on the Swamp Estate at the edge of Ruraltown at 9.00 pm is probably not the best time to be trying to remember the name of a song.

‘Winnie’ as it is known locally, is a giant low-slung concrete square. There is a handy drug dealing area in the middle of this area, known locally as ‘Playground Number 12′. The Orwellian name ‘Playground Number 12′ is actually a misunderstanding of the words left on the original sign which said ‘Playground No persons over the age of 12′.

Legend has it that after being set on fire, spray painted and shot at, the sign read ‘Playground No. 12‘. The local council used National Lottery money to ‘re-invigorate this exciting communal space using locally based community volunteers’. When it came to a new sign for the play area, no one involved could speak proper English so the replacement was made in the manner of the vandalised original. This is how Playground Number 12 came into existence, and I always think it is a perfect social comment on the whole area.

When we ask local youths where they get drugs they grin ‘Up at the twelve’. Tonight, I am ‘up at the twelve’ and apart from the discarded, used condoms all over the ground, I am alone. The condoms have been used for bringing drugs into the country and are, how can I put this delicately, ‘expelled’ in a squatting position by the mules under the swings after dark. The more professional mules swallow drugs, the swamp mules stick them elsewhere. Condoms are not used for birth control here; reproduction and the subsequent child benefit payments on this estate are a major source of income. Along with being a mule.

I have come here as part of a ‘Tasking’ which has promised local councillors that we will see if it is true that Playground Number 12 is a ‘no-go area’ after dark. If the definition of a ‘no-go area’ is that no one goes there, the councillors are correct. There is indeed, no one here. I do these tasks myself to save emergency response patrol time (the only officers out after dark) and so that I can get an idea of what disturbs the good citizens of the leafy suburbs 10 miles away.

The place is deserted except for me and some foul evidence of the presence on board flight 713 from Kingston, Jamaica of a mule from the ‘Winnie’.

I remember the song. It is Pleasant Valley Sunday, the version by The Wedding Present, not the Monkees original.

The truth behind falling crime figures.

Down on the Swamp Estate at the edge of Ruraltown, people do not believe in the criminal justice system. Time after time, in complete contradiction to perceived wisdom, they see convicted offenders walk away from court with a meaningless ‘community sentence’, right back to the estate. I have been involved in cases which have taken months of preparation, cajoling witnesses to appear, making all kinds of promises about how ‘supporting the system’ is the right thing to do, only to face angry victims and their friends afterwards when they see a gleeful offender set free.

It is very soul-destroying and very stressful for everyone (except the offender).

The situation is exactly the same for us as police officers. I know personally of a man who suddenly punched an officer to the floor with no warning, then took a swing at his head with a kick which only failed because the man was drunk, and finally drag him along the road until the officer managed to fight himself free. The man then walked away from the court with a set of meaningless fines and community based conditions.

This happened in front of many people at a local bus stop, probably all of whom will have heard about the court disposal and learned the obvious message from it!

People do not want to be arrested or questioned themselves. If a person reports a crime and names a suspect on the Swamp, that suspect will usually immediately make ‘counter allegations’ against his accuser. The CPS will tell the investigating officer that these counter allegations will have to be fully investigated in order for any future court case to stand a chance. The police then have two choices. Arrest or call in the witness and threat them as a suspect or drop the case. If a suspect makes counter allegations against a single crewed police officer who has witnessed a crime, that officer can be suspended and investigated too.

People do not want to be targeted after a court case. Witness intimidation is rife because the additional sentencing for doing so is negligible. People are sick of being treated badly by the courts, having to miss work and endure endless adjournments just because the suspect has a sniffle, a new baby, child care issues, a sick mother, delete as appropriate.

Experienced police officers have court-fatigue. No investigating officer will ever make any suggestion to a victim or witness that anything other than complete disappointment will follow a court appearance. Our new PCC called this “being negative about the exciting possibility of making a difference in court”. Our senior managers call it “Managing expectations”.

With all but the most serious offences, the court system has ensured that reporting crime is a mostly pointless exercise for everyone concerned except the offender. The kind of street cred earned by defeating ‘the man’ even if you plead guilty, cannot be achieved in any other way on the Swamp. People on the Swamp tend not to be insured, so reporting crime isn’t even worth it for a crime number.

Crime has fallen over the last ten years largely because the courts have beaten reporting out of people, including assaults on police, in my experience only about 1/3 of which are reported. This is hardly something to crow about.

Successful Muskrat Farming and beyond.

Ruralshire General Hospital A&E looks like one of those US Federal prisons we should (but don’t) have in England. More money has been spent on huge secure electronic doors to the treatment areas, swipe card access control systems and high-resolution CCTV than on medical equipment.

I am standing in front of 3 inches of armoured glass in A&E with Sergeant Dan, Mickey “The Head” Thompson and “Irish Stu” waiting for a bored gum-chewing receptionist to finish her protracted telephone call before she will deign to look up and meet my gaze.

We have been there for at least four minutes.

There we stand in all our gear, radios blasting while dozens of tired, sad-looking prospective patients look on. It is freezing outside, so they only leave the department to smoke furiously by the ambulances. They are at hospital because they are ill or injured, so they smoke. Strange.

Eventually, having exhausted the phone conversation with Tracy about what a bastard Tyler was not telling her that he was seeing Shelly, and that she always let him see kids on a Saturday and this is how he rewards her, she looks up and asks me what we want. The gum keeps moving, round and round, it is fascinating to watch. So white against all that red lipstick. I am transfixed with it.

I notice the others looking at me. “Oh sorry, yes, ahem, the personal attack alarm from inside the department has been pressed” I tell her. Do I want her to let us in? Yes, that might be a plan. She can’t do this. It is against ‘the contract’ to let anyone in without a Serbian security guard present, and he is not present. He is not present, because behind the sound proof doors, he is being attacked by a maniac, hence the panic alarm.

In the old days, I would have argued about this obvious masterpiece of jobsworthness. I would have become agitated at the thought of  a person having the life crushed out of them a few feet away, while we were being kept out for no reason at all. That was the old days. The days before every member of staff is an agency worker with no ability to make any decision, terrified of losing one of the only jobs left in the town, burdened by rules and deserted by management at the slightest whiff of any incident which might jeopardise ‘the contract’.

I sigh. OK. Can I just have your name so we can record who it was that refused entry to the police when the panic alarm had been activated? She is not allowed to give out her name unless I am a patient. It’s in the contract. But I need to know who you are for when the security guy is seriously injured, I say. She won’t ell me, emboldened by her armoured glass. I whip out my cell phone and take her photo. Now I have your picture, I don’t need your name any more I say.

I am not allowed to take her photo, she says, not on hospital property. It is against the contract.

The time for messing about is over. Open the doors immediately or we will get a specialist team down here and break them down I say, this time with my strictest face. After we have broken the doors down, if any of the staff inside are dead or seriously injured, you will be held to account and probably arrested, depending upon the circumstances.

I am exaggerating of course. We have no specialist team at this time of the night in Ruralshire any more. Two years ago we would have, but not any more.

At this point, one of the paramedics comes running down the corridor inside and lets us in. Where the hell have you been? she asks, it’s murder in there! We belt down towards the screaming alarm. The three of us try to pull an 18 stone maniac off one of the doctors. The Serbian guard watches. He will not intervene because it is not in the contract. If there is any violence, he has been told that he must call the police. On no account must he get involved, it is not in the contract and besides, if anyone is injured by him, he will lose his job and the firm will lose the contract.

I can’t help but see all of this as an omen for the future under Winsor, Gibbs and May.

As we transport the offender to custody, where no doubt he will be immediately sent back to hospital by a risk averse custody skipper, backed up by the nurse provided by the same firm as the Serbian guard, I see that Sergeant Dan keeps a book in the back of the van to read while we wait in the endless queue for custody. I decide to give it a go. Successful Muskrat Farming by Robert G Hodgson.

The very fact that our Skipper has such a strange but interesting book sums up everything you need to know about being on a Response team; and not a contract in site.

The Inside Story of the Dog Who Saved My Life

Cocaine is never a solution.

Unless of course, you dissolve it in water.

There were many solutions to the problems of social exclusion, apathy and cultural restraint shown by those who resided in The Swamp, Ruraltown’s notorious housing estate near the Metro City Road.

These solutions could be found typed on small white cards, posted in the windows of the Job Centre on Ruraltown High Street. The balkanization of Ruralshire effectively meant that the County was filled with people who were prepared to work. When the Poles went home, the vacancy cards almost covered the glass.

Back then, there were no takers.

We drove past on the way to raid a crack house on The Swamp one Tuesday morning. There were three Job Centre employees standing in the entrance hall, all clipboards and smiles, waiting to greet visitors who would never arrive. Couples pushed their double buggies down the road, chain-smoking and shouting into slim-line iPhones, dressed in Kappa and looking pale, with bad skin and teeth.

Despite a totally state dependent lifestyle, they didn’t even glance at the window cards. There was no interest.  Why should there be? The key to free housing lies in her belly and the pain in his back funds the rest.

We arrived on The Swamp, knocked down a door and found the usual loosely associated group of wayward females, multi-fathered kids and thin, pale skinned man-boys, asleep in baseball caps with cigarette ash, dog shit and rotten chips strewn around the floor. They couldn’t even be arsed to shout abuse as they rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and stared about.

The drugs were under the sink, along with some CS gas bought in France, a hunting knife, some scales and an extendable baton. There was £300 in a sock. And cowering under a table was a puppy, huge ears, sad eyes, shaking with fear. Grubby and unloved as Chuck later described him.

One thing lead to another and after the intervention of the RSPCA and the general apathy of the previous owners, the little dog came to stay with the Gadgets, and has never looked back. This is Kibble Chops, my constant reminder that at least something can be saved from The Swamp.

Out of all of the rescued pets we keep, he is the one waiting for me at the foot of the stairs when I get home in the early hours. He is the only one in the house who really knows where I have been. The dog who unwittingly helped me find my humanity again. The inside story of the dog who saved my life.