The Longest Day

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After coming off a fifteen hour shift having made my first arrest the day before, I neglected my eleven hour mandatory rest to make it into Whitechapel for just after eight thirty. Today’s going to be quiet I told myself. Tonight for the first time on field training I’m hoping to finish up for seven o’clock and have just an eleven hour day. Honestly I never really expected to finish then, but neither did I expect that twenty hours later I would still be on duty having had my longest, and toughest, day yet.

The rush to field training was much like normal and by quarter to two I’m sitting in the canteen listening to my bronze leaders give me the daily brief. I’m quite calm, I’ve now completed nine out of ten of my assessed PACs and I’m even joking with a few colleagues about racing them to make the first volume arrest and become the first member of the Police Now cohort to complete the assessed components of field training. In just over an hour I couldn’t care less about my PACs.

It all starts on the carrier as we head toward Stratford. We’re fully loaded up with six Police Nowers and two Sergeants off to patrol Westfield. That is until a red Audi A3 abruptly changes lanes in front of us. I don’t think much of it. My Sergeants certainly do. Piqued by its dark tinted windows they’ve run its plates. “We’re making a stop”. Blue lights on, here we go. I’ve never stopped a vehicle before, much less so abruptly. I’m not quite sure what to say. So I stumble through giving an explanation to the driver until I notice the smell of cannabis and the young child sitting in the back seat. I look to my Sergeant, Chris. “We’re doing a section 23 search”. Good I know some friends in the carrier needed to carry out a vehicle search, so I thought I’ll be sitting this one out.

That is until the driver moves out of the car and round to the boot. As Chris explains the search grounds, it all happens. The driver suddenly makes a violent movement, pushing both their hands down her own trousers. Chris grabs her securing their arms. My colleagues rush forward. “You’re under arrest…get your hands out…don’t resist”. Chris’s voice quivers, showing the humanity beneath the tough no-nonsense exterior of a Metropolitan Police Sergeant, as he begs for the driver not to do this in front of their child. Now I’ve removed my handcuffs and I’m rushing forward too. The driver’s on the ground. I’m quickly there and I’m wrestling to control the arm and get her hands out. Everyone’s there now. This is my first, this is everyone’s first, incident where someone has resisted. Chris is directing us well and we’ve established control, it’s taken five of us though. And now we’re being watched.

Incidents like this attract crowds, rightly so. From the outside it can give an impression of excessive police action, from the inside I could see how it allowed us to safely control the driver to protect us and them. After a few long minutes the driver is up and being moved to a van and I’m searching the vehicle. My friend, Lucy, who needed the vehicle search PAC has instead taken on the responsibility of caring for the distraught child. Right now PACs don’t matter.

Vehicle search complete, we realise that the driver is back on the ground and a large crowd has formed. Camera phones are out and the crowd has moved close in to the other officers and the driver.

In Police Now a lot is made of the eighty/twenty rule. It says that ten percent of people are good as gold while another ten percent are almost always difficult and hostile, the eighty percent in the middle, well they go the way of your leadership. The academy taught us the importance of communication, empathy and resilience in leadership and now we’re practising that philosophy. We began to move the crowd back. Keeping as polite as possible I listened and explained what was happening. I could sense the atmosphere of the crowd gradually change. Honesty and humility seemed to cancel out hostility. On all sides the crowd began to come around. We all knew this was a big win.

Back in the van Lucy had already built up a rapport with the young child. When I clambered back in I was met by her smiling face wearing Lucy’s hat. After the circumstances of her mother’s arrest just a few minutes before I’d have expected her to be distraught, but she wasn’t. Soon she was running round wearing my hat too. I’ve lost that hat so many times already I don’t normally let it move from arms reach. If I lost it this time though, it’d be lost to a good cause.

Her mother had relaxed a lot by this point, possibly eased by the sight of her child happy arresting me with my own handcuffs. With the atmosphere much improved we all loaded up in the carrier; parent, child and police. The mother and I were talking nicely and dare I say it even getting along well. Sometimes you can just get off on the wrong foot. Looking at my watch I’m still optimistic I’ll get home at a reasonable time…

Sometimes criminals are smart, sometimes they’re not. The disqualified and uninsured driver of the Renault Clio who attempted, and failed, to U-turn to avoid driving past our carrier fell well into the latter category of criminals. Bouncing hard off the kerb, and stalling the vehicle on the pavement this criminal driver had been criminally stupid and had guaranteed our attention. Blue lights on, here we go again.

Straight out the van and straight up to the car. Whilst everyone in the car denies being the driver, Chris spots drugs paraphernalia on the car floor. Our other Sergeant, Louise, having run the plates calls out “the car is uninsured”. Looks like everyone is having a second s.23 search and I’ll be having a second asset seizure in as many days.

Our second incident of the day progressed much more smoothly than the first, and after a lengthy wait we released two of the passengers but arrested the driver for driving offences and another passenger for handling stolen goods.

We arrived at Leytonstone custody after six o’clock. Lucy had built up the best rapport with the child but as she’d made an arrest she was required to go to custody. So I went with the child up to the police canteen to wait. Child care surprisingly isn’t part of our training, but it is part of our job. After what felt like hours out of communication with the rest of my team, and having lost spectacularly at monopoly, I could feel a sense of anxiety building. What is taking so long? The little one, having smarts and skills beyond any other seven year old I’ve ever met, had taken notice. She kept asking how her mummy was, when she can see her mummy and what did she do wrong. I couldn’t give any answers. We both needed a change in scenery. “Let’s go get some more chocolate for you and your mum”. The little one burst up and straight to the door. “Wait a minute! You’re in a police station now, so you need to look the part”. Wearing my helmet, tie and Met vest that went down to her knees we decided that pacing the corridors between the canteen and the interview room is the best way to pass the time. Every officer that passed us smiled at the Met’s newest and youngest recruit.

One by one the rest of the team joined us in the canteen. The to-do-list was lengthy but all important. It didn’t matter that it was ten o’clock and we’d already worked a 14 hour shift because we still had work to do. But first we all needed food. A lot is made of the camaraderie of coppers. Sitting as one team sharing the most disappointing kebab in history whilst enviously watching the little one eating her McDonalds Happy Meal I could understand why. Dare I say it we even had an outbreak of morale on our hands.

One of my colleagues, Rich, would need that morale too. He’d taken on the task of liaising with social services to find the best carer for the child. With the clock well past midnight and having been bounced from pillar to post burning through three different mobile phone batteries Rich had finally made some progress. My progress meanwhile had slowed considerably as I’d managed to lose my helmet once again. Sarge is going to kill me.

A little after 2am and Chris tells me and another one of the team, Gabi, that we’d be taking the child to a foster family and that afterwards Gabi and I were to be stood down for the night. I knew saying goodbye to the little one and leaving her with strangers was going to be tough, but the last thing either of us wanted was to leave the rest of the team whilst they still had so much to do. Yet the decision had been made. The little one, who’d I’d now officially deputised as my Deputy Officer, knew she was leaving her mother and I still couldn’t give her any answers. With tears running down her face and carrying a policeman’s hat full of sweets that she wouldn’t be able to give to her mother she climbed into the carrier. Chris, Gabi and I all shared a momentary pause.

On that journey I couldn’t think of much to say. Mercifully Gabi had brought the little one back round and I just sat there listening to her tell us a story all about her mum’s driving escapades.

Arriving at the foster home, Chris and I went in first. The lady living there seemed kind. Content, we all went outside to make first introductions. The little one climbed down and the foster carer softly approached to say hello. Obviously nervous the little one ran back to where she felt safest. Surprisingly that was us. She hugged me tightly and I held her as the kind lady continued to introduce herself. “What’s your name?” She didn’t respond. “You can call me Aunty Dionne if you’d like.” She looked up. “What should I call you?” I smiled as the little one began the same story of her name as she’d told Lucy and me all those hours earlier. She’ll be ok.

Gabi and I walked her into the house, but she knew we were leaving her and the tears started to stream again. “Now Deputy, no more of that”. “Be brave now”. “Gimmie a high five”. She obliged and I thought I saw a small smile break through the tears now. “One more high five”. She smiled just a bit more. “One more now.” I could feel the lump in my throat grow. “Great work Deputy…we’ve got to go now…goodbye Deputy”. Gabi and I walked back toward the carrier. “That was awful”. I climbed into the back of the carrier and was relieved to have a moment alone in the dark. I released the Velcro on the Met vest to let me breath just a bit easier. That really was awful. A few minutes passed and we’re driving back toward Newham. “Ben”. Gabi reached into the back, offering me something I couldn’t quite make out in the dark. “I’ve found your helmet”. I couldn’t help but smile.

This blog was first published on the Constablexl Blog by PC Ben Baker – one of the Police Now 2015 Cohort.