Tuesday, 28 July 2009

First Swine Flu and now this

For the second day running, these beasties have been flying low over my house. Yesterday there was only one, but today there were two of these awesome machines that have the backs of our troops in Afghanistan and fill them with confidence, unlike our political masters. It is an Apache "Longbow", an American attack helicopter now in the skilled hands of those gallant men and women of the Army Air Corps. But these Apache are equipped with the `Longbow` radar (the swiss cheese above the rotor) and further enhanced to British Army spec by our brilliant people at Westlands, which actually makes it a superior being to the ones the Americans have - true, ask any pilot - we should be proud of that one, a triumph for the British Army. They are not as noisy as a Chinook, nor are they as big and only carry two, but I reiterate, they are definitely multiplying around here (location undisclosed in the interests of security) and I do hope they will soon be covering our soldiers in theatre. Knowing that he reads my blog, I am waiting to hear Gordon Brown announce this as a 100% increase in the supply thereof and living `proof` that the Government really is providing our troops with all the helicopters they need. Hang on, there's something else going over - I think it's a pig.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Dear Nanny - piss off!

Once again we have our Nanny state, bereft of any actual ideas on how to stop hooligans and idiot drivers, come up with a great system for punishing eveyone as an alternative to them being actually able to do what they are paid for - You will see from the attached link that another reduction in speed limits is on the cards. As there are no traffic divisions left this leaves only one way to enforce it - ie more cameras. Please click on this link and add your vote - if you have a mind to support it.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Armed Robbery Part 2

I am really impressed by the quality of comments on the Armed Robbery post, below, which was in turn prompted by some valid comments from ex pat British officer, PC Copperfield, now serving in Canada. Pc Copperfield was commenting on my post, Risk Assesments are Risky. He will be familiar with this and will once again be glad that he has a .40cal Glock pistol for company whilst out on patrol - so would I!

From our armchairs, desks or laptops we seem to have pretty much topped this one off and have got very close to a workable solution, or at least the plan thereof. Insp LT Hobbes, ably assisted by Blue Eyes had got very close to the plan that was utilised and there was equally sound logic with very well considered comments from Conan and David. Conan's suggestion of snipers (referred to as `riflemen` in the polis) are excellent spotters and would be a serious consideration but the rules of engagement would mitigate against the use of these weapons, as would other technicalities that I won't divulge due to the need for tactical confidentiality. However, I’m so impressed I’m almost ready to sign up to the main plan and options and allow officers with real firearms to go and get them. The difference is that on this occasion I have nothing to lose sleep over. I’m glad I quit while I was ahead. Incidentally, Powdergirl, the sort of thing you suggested is actually not far from reality, particularly relating to the activities of drug dealers. I’ve heard of some instances where the tactic of an up-front confrontation on a villains doorstep has been used, where they were put on notice that their activities are known about. Not in my town, I should add..

Hopefully, blog visitors of a non-police persuasion will have had a little peek into the decision making processes of these sorts of tasks. If you’re from a place where guns and the police are `bread and butter` you may be amazed at the list of `what if's` we are required to have an answer for, over here in Merrie England, Bonnie Scotland and er Wales, but you clearly already realise that just because your police are all armed, all the time, doesn’t solve this problem alone. Guns on the belts of police officers are primarily for their personal protection. Arresting these cunning, determined nasty bastards needs teamwork, skill, lots of training, specialised equipment and communications and above all courage under fire. Officers on routine patrol may have many, if not all, of these qualities but on these pre-planned tasks against these type of people, all of the required skills have to be drawn together into one cohesive unit to stand a chance of planned success, hence the existence of tactical teams like those pictured above, in all modern police forces. So, I’ll add a little more info and bring you closer to the chosen option:

The ACC initially wants us to just `blow the job out`, meaning to make it obvious to the blaggers that we know about the job so that they don’t do it. He asks why we don’t just put a marked police unit outside the bank at the allotted time? Not good Sir. Consider this: The gang are well drilled and have their escape well planned and have already shown that they were of such ferocity and determination that they would think nothing of blasting a security guard, so why not blast the police? The penalty is exactly the same for shooting a police officer, but they still have to be caught and convicted and penalties don’t compensate individuals for loss of eyes, limbs or their life. Also, what about the risk to the informant when the gang twigs its been grassed up, surely we have a duty to try and protect him from being kneecapped or topped? And what of their previous victims and the police forces wanting to bring these violent thugs to justice? Or the next town in the next police area that gets hit and another guard gets shot because we just played `pass the parcel`? What of our liability in respect of Health and Safety? Isn’t that what the Met got saddled with after the De Menezes homicide? OK that’s unfair because this job was a while before suicide bombers hit the UK. Bit trickier than checking the typing pool for wobbly chairs or a loose carpet isn’t it though? OK, we won’t blow the job out.

Then why don’t we let them do it and then get them on the way out of town in a safe area? This is getting warm, but they may shoot someone in the bank or another guard and a passing MoP with her babe in arms may get hit by a stray blast from a sawn-off – these people are not trained police marksmen who can be sued if they make an error, plus they don’t care about anyone else’s safety. Dead guard? Dead police? Dead MoP? Same penalty. No, we must be seen to prevent the crime, after all its the primary objective of an efficient police. Fortunately an attempt carries the same penalty as the full offence, but they have to do things more than just `preparatory`. What a legal minefield we have to work around in this liberal democracy of ours. The price of freedom ain’t cheap.

So we don’t want them getting in the bank, we don’t want to arrest them before they get there because we then only have a conspiracy/possible possession of firearms (we don’t know if they collect them en route as part of a counter-surveillance measure) and we have no firm evidence linking them directly with the previous jobs, only the informant drip- feeding bits of information for this current job and some, as yet, unproved intelligence. Its just not enough to know in our hearts its them, we have to prove it. All of the comments made after Armed Robbery part 1 were right on the money as far as safety of the public is concerned. It is just not enough for the police to step into the spotlight with guns drawn and call on the baddies to surrender. If this were to happen and the response was, `You’ll never take me alive copper` followed by a blast from handguns and sawn off shotguns loaded with 00-buck, the High Street would be full of flying lead, police would be obliged to return fire to defend themselves and the world could be turning bright red all around. The aftermath and Daily Laim headlines would reveal a pre-planned operation where the police, by their actions, provoked a shoot out resulting in `x` innocent victims, casualties of a gung ho bungling police force. If, by pure luck, only the villains got killed, then the headlines would be of heroics, until the follow up stories revealed `what could have happened`. It is against this background that ACC’s have a weather eye.

Consensus seems to lean towards us plotting up the location with armed arrest teams concealed in the immediate area, with the clearly defined objective of safeguarding the security van crew and the public from reckless armed criminals who may hurt them anyway, if the police aren’t there to stop them. We’ll place a high visibility police unit on foot patrol in the High Street, just like any other day, but at a safe distance from the bank with instructions to go no closer than a set point and to then act, with others in support nearby, in a rapid cordon manoeuvre to cut off the High Street and clear public from the immediate area if called upon. Why this? Well it was argued that in the event they went ahead this would indicate that they were so determined to commit the crime that they ignored the presence of a uniformed patrol officer. It was not quite blowing out the job but it was argued as useful, for any subsequent post incident enquiry, that an attempt was made to deter the gang (?). We have our Air Support unit on patrol at a discrete distance and altitude. We have Dog Units and a surveillance unit acting to give us accurate information as to their movements. Armed arrest teams will intervene to protect the guards and prevent threats to life and, if practicable, arrest, but if not practicable will allow them to clear the crowded area of the High Street, pursue in a follow operation of armed mobile units, guided by the Air Support Unit and `Stinger` units on strategic exit routes. Objective, to stop and arrest at a location where there is minimum risk to the general public. The people who decide this location are the frontline officers in the arrest team vehicles. No more talk of tactics in detail.

The bottom line is that several options based on this premise would be acceptable and might work, but this plan also has its weaknesses and could be challenged. Time, place, resources and any number of other factors will determine the lengths that one goes to, to protect the public and police involved. The plan has to show that we considered all the likely risks, discussed them in depth and took all reasonable steps to minimise them – some can be eliminated altogether, but rarely can all of them, especially as the criminals never attend the briefing and so don’t always do what is expected of them. Some jobs are even performed in the `half dark` because of the sensitivity of information and of the need to protect sources and it is these that, in my time on firearms operations, have proved to be the most frustrating. The plan has to be committed to paper and signed off by a senior officer. Oh the responsibility.

This `tabletop exercise` was little bit of fun and was in respect of an armed robbery. Terrorists and suicide bombers take a little more planning, but the principles are the same - how can the police stop a crime of an atrocious nature and safeguard the public, and themselves, at the same time? You'll need a big postcard to send in your answers.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Armed Robbery

My last post, Risk Assessments Can Be Risky, was in response to something I read by PC Ellie Bloggs on the subject of the vortex of caution and accountability one can find one`s self being sucked into as a frontline police supervisor. Comments from ex pat, ex Britcop and published author, PC Copperfield (now of an Alberta Canada PD) on that post, showed how much simpler it can be in a country where all police officers are armed with a self loading pistol. It has the effect of raising the threshold so that a call to a possible sighting of a possible firearm doesn't set in motion the command-chain juggernaut that happens in UK PLC. In this way, the more `run of the mill` calls where a firearm `may have been seen` (a very commonplace call) are responded to in a much quicker and less bureaucratic way because all police are armed for their own (and the public's) protection. The spin off is that if the subject happens to be innocent, as in my post's example, he gets a couple of real firearms pointed at him and will be ordered to kneel or lie down in the street (or dragged to the ground if he doesn't comply) and be cuffed while the information given in the original call is checked out. This would happen in the UK in a very similar manner if armed officers are deployed. When this happens to an innocent person in the UK, saying "sorry" is rarely enough, although when this happened to me many years ago my `victim` was just so delighted that we didn't kill him (as would have happened in his own country, Pakistan as it happened) he didn't even complain about his dislocated shoulder, but I think that can be saved for another bedtime story. At least doing things PC Copperfield's way the officer has a fighting chance of surviving if the call turns out to be a bad one. His main point was that the decision to draw the firearm and point it at someone is a matter for the individual officer and that individual officers perception of the threat. One officer might draw his weapon, another may choose to keep her pistol holstered. Up close and personal on the street, only they can decide and in his force in Canada they are given that option. In the UK, at least up until I quit a few years back, the perceived threat of a firearm went through many ranks before a decision was made to either deploy an Armed Response Vehicle or deny it and let the officers on the ground devise their own plan. Sometimes the decision to arm and deploy an ARV was obvious and pretty much instant, but the obvious calls weren't the problem calls - they were also in the minority. I ought to mention that even though a police force might have all its officers armed with sidearms, it still has to maintain `Tactical Units` where the officers are trained to a much higher level of competency and skill at arms than the standard patrol officer. Pre-planned jobs to deal with armed criminals, hostages and the like or counter terrorism tasks right up to the point where the risk assessment is to hand over the situation to military special forces, will always fall to Tactical Firearms Teams, Tactical Advisers and a senior officer in overall command. The junior ranks facing spontaneous firearms or deadly weapon incidents on the street do not have that luxury. Apart from the obvious need for highly skilled professionals to carry firearms, this is also a matter of economics. By having a small number of highly trained officers, a much greater shooting skill level and tactical effectiveness can be achieved as the force can allow much more training time and equipment. If every officer in the UK were armed they would be lucky to receive more than a days training a year on top of the need to requalify once or twice. There would just not be the time allocated to do any more than the very basics. Shooting standards would, as a result, have to be set at a lower level than is currently the case. Training, although an investment, is also viewed as a heavy burden on a force's budget. Something would have to give, somewhere. However, this was not my point, nor was it PC Copperfields either so I'll leave it there. The picture at the top is of a typical English High Street. Information has been received that there will be an armed robbery within a few days, by a team of `top ten nasty` blaggers who are suspected of committing a string of robberies across several force areas. They do not hesitate to shoot security guards, in the legs, who show the slightest resistance. One has already been hospitalised by being blasted by a sawn off shot gun loaded with heavy buckshot - like being shot by nine handguns simultaneously. He was lucky he didn't bleed to death. The informant has told the CID that they plan to hit a security van as it arrives to collect the days takings from two banks. The first is the 2nd to last red brick building on the far side of the street. The second bank is on the opposite side and just a few yards further down. This will happen at about 3pm and the street will look pretty much like it does in the picture, except that a local school will have turned out by this time and there will be a lot of teenagers wending their way home via the shops to add to the crowds of pedestrians. Your task is to devise a plan to arrest the armed robbers. Hint: Uppermost in policy and planning will be the need to ensure you act in the interests of the public, who's safety is always number one, so before you think up the classic police ambush plan remember that if you jump out of cover shouting armed police and someone opens fire at you and a few stray rounds hit a young mother and her 2 yr old child, you'd better have another think before you sign up to that one. I'll leave that as food for thought, after all, I don't have to worry about this stuff anymore. Feel free to submit your questions or plan in the comments section. After all, its just a bit of fun.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Risk Assessments are Risky

I read a post by PC Ellie Bloggs this morning and, as usual, she flagged up a very interesting topic about risk assessments, decision making stuff and the operational juggernaut that can often be unleashed as a result - something that happens pretty much daily, any town, anywhere. Read it here. It made me remember this one: I was sat at my desk pushing reports and files about, when I heard a call come in over the radio. Yes, I used to have a police radio on my desk as well as my kit belt hanging up ready to don, much to the suspicion of my superintendent in the next office who thought me a weirdo. I thought exactly the same about him, a man who thought that going out on patrol once a year, on New Year's Eve, would somehow endear him to his officers as a `policeman's policeman`. I had missed the first part of the radio traffic but the general gist of the call was that an armed response vehicle had been dispatched to my station on the authority of the force control room(FCR) inspector, a job I used to do. One of the higher authorities delegated to the FCR inspector was to be able to arm-up and deploy the ARV before asking the assistant chief constable `Ops`. Some of these inspectors were pretty good but most had never been trained in firearms or tactical options and you could hardly call a one hour lesson in a classroom on such matters `adequate preparation`. As a result, the timing and quality of their decisions was inconsistent. I went down to the front office and found the acting sergeant. She was a graduate entry high flyer who I had a lot of time for. She was highly intelligent, conscientious and very keen to learn the art of climbing the ladder quickly and had crammed quite a bit into her two and a half years of police service. She clearly had her hands and mind full and so I asked her to tell me all about it. It seemed that a MoP had just left the railway station and walked past a line of taxis. As she glimpsed into the last one on the rank, she thought she saw the driver holding a silvery handgun. Keeping her cool, she walked into the police station to report her sighting. She was a good witness, having memorised the cab company and the cab licence number. I asked the acting sergeant what she had done so far and she told me that the area control room had flagged the call to FCR as they were required to do (policy on serious incidents) and the FCR inspector had deployed the ARV and was notifying the assistant chief constable `ops` to ratify the decision. I asked her how she intended to resolve the incident and her reply was to find the cab and ask the ARV to do an armed stop on it. I suggested we explore other options that might not involve the ARV but she couldn't see what these might be. I contacted FCR and told them to keep the ARV coming but that this was now not an urgent call and to slow them down and turn off the blue lights. I told her that I would help her resolve this incident and asked her what intelligence she had on the taxi driver. She hadn't yet delegated anyone to work on that (a primary objective) so I told her to get onto it straight away. The inspector at FCR called me back. He was a guy I knew and he was happy to hear that I had been tuned in because he couldn't raise an inspector on our division to notify. I told him that I would take overall responsibility for it and to enter me on the message log accordingly. By now my acting sergeant had come back with some good info. The cab company was one of the good ones and, as luck would have it, one of our special constables worked there and was today's duty supervisor. I entrusted him with some of the information and of our need to speak to his driver but without raising any suspicions. Our special thought the driver may have had associates in the drug dealing fraternity but had no evidence, apart from that he had a clean sheet. Once again I spoke to the acting sergeant. She was quite adamant that an armed vehicle stop was the only option. I offered her my plan, which was based on the following facts: 1. We had no evidence linking the taxi driver to criminality, although we did know that some dealers used taxis and may have `tipped the drivers heavily` and anyway on this occasion there was no other reported suspcious activity 2. Our division had a very low crime rate with no heavy main dealers living in our midst. It wasn't `middle England blue rinse` territory but it wasn't sin city either - not that this is a reason to be careless 3. We knew his cab, we knew where he lived, we had a friendly contact in the taxi office and he was still on duty so we could put this taxi anywhere we pleased. Therefore, I suggested, we get the taxi duty supervisor (our special) to task him to attend the police station to `pick up a fare`, waiting in the front office. This was a typical call for taxis and would cause no suspicion. We deploy an officer to be casually waiting outside, near where the cabs always stop - again a typical sight for a cab driver to see. We watch him get out and, providing he doesn't get out with guns blazing (highly likely? I think not), we have a quiet word with him and search his cab. I explained to the acting sergeant that as long as you can see the suspect has empty hands then he can't shoot you. She was not too happy but I had relieved her of that decision and said that if she was unhappy to approach him, then I would gladly be the person who made the initial move as he parked up, such was my confidence in this plan. She relented, but I insisted I would be there as well -It was my plan, she was a bit windy, so I would take the lead. The ARV arrived and I told them I did not need an armed stop but that as they were there they could position themselves nearby. They were cool about the whole thing and knew me very well. I used to work alongside and, latterly, train these guys. The call was made to the cab concerned, it turned up in 5 minutes, the driver got out to collect his fare and was duly stopped and checked. His cab was checked and he produced a novelty cigarette lighter in the style of a small self loading pistol. I explained a little of the reception that could have greeted him and he immediately signed it over to me against a form of disclaimer. No high risk blue light run, no armed stop, no guns up someone's nose. The acting sergeants plan would have worked too and would have been quite legitimate. I did explain to her that had we been in certain other areas of some of our gun-prevalent cities then tactics could be different. This was about nine years ago. She's done well for herself. I think she's a detective superintendent now.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be

In my previous Blog post I briefly mentioned that I booked out a firearm before going out on patrol and so I thought I'd better clarify that for any non British residents who might read this old blarney. Carrying a firearm on patrol was not common practice in the Met Police but it certainly was the case in a couple of central London stations where there were high numbers of Government, Royalty and diplomatic missions and consular offices on the patch. In these `nicks` the sight of an officer sat in the canteen, playing cards during a meal break with a revolver or pistol on his belt was a pretty common sight, but as I also said, no body armour. We had great faith in those issue blue cotton shirts with separate collars and collar studs.

That said, an armed Met policeman on patrol was nothing new. In fact, right up until the start of WW2, Regulations allowed any Met police officer, `suitably experienced`, to draw a revolver if they wished, but for some strange reason only on night duty. The long held belief that British police are unique in being `unarmed` has always been ever so slightly at odds with the real history of British policing although for the vast majority of officers, it was truncheons and whistles only – these days it’s still the vast majority (over 99%) who patrol with just a baton, CS spray and stab resistant vest. If they come up with a different uniform then they might find room to hang a Taser on them too, somewhere.

My first station in the Metropolis always had the highest concentration of armed policemen deployed in Britain and it followed that as long as I remained on that particular division, I would eventually become one of them although it has never been part of the job spec’ of a British police officer to carry a firearm and it still isn’t. Firearms trained officers are all volunteers. It would be a most interesting situation if they all decided, en masse, to choose not to do so any more. However, in my first few years, if and when you were earmarked for what used to be called the “Defensive Weapons Course” you always had the option to decline it.

Courses were run at Old Street police station, a place that even today is still very much associated with the Met’s firearms unit, CO19. By current standards the course was incredibly short, a mere 5 days duration, and focussed almost totally on pure marksmanship and weapon drills. If there was any training in tactical planning and deployment I certainly don’t remember it although we did do some sessions on building searches for armed suspects that were quite exciting and the closest we came to confronting a realistic threat, rather than just a paper target. That first course was quite memorable and at times quite amusing. I feel another story coming on.....

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was taking the first steps into what would be many years of armed policing and the scope and intensity of the training I would receive over the following 25 years was beyond the imagination of most senior officers of that generation. For me and my mates on the front line, the need for the Met to seriously professionalise its approach to firearms operations was already evident and a subject that was often discussed after live incidents, which were many and varied. Perhaps I should reveal more.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

There's no justice like slow justice

9.45pm, paraded for night duty. 10pm booked out radio, Walther PP self loading pistol and 14 rounds of ammunition in two magazines. Loaded and made ready (one up the spout, safety catch off) holstered pistol. Went out on patrol. No body armour, because there wasn't any, by that I mean no one had any. It just wasn't issued, whether you needed it or not. 10.30pm, stopped a car, breath tested the driver, arrested the driver and conveyed him to police station. Went through the station procedures. He elected to give blood. Doctor was 15 minutes away. Samples taken, man released pending sample analysis. 11.35pm, back on patrol. 00.10am, called to fight in nightclub. Complainant seen. Suspect identified. Complainant states he's prepared to attend station and sign charge sheet if necessary. Suspect arrested for assault and conveyed to station. Statement taken from complainant. Suspect interviewed and voluntary statement taken. Suspect charged and held in custody pending court. 01.30am, relieve a colleague on an armed protection post for their meal (thats why I had the Walther PP). 02.30am had meal. 03.15am back out on patrol in park because of spate of robberies on backpacking tourists sleeping out. 03.30am, report of noise from vicinity of park cafe. 03.35am arrest male for criminal damage to cafe windows. Van collects us and conveys us to station. 04.30am, the man, having admitted offences (Iwitnessed him break the last one) charged with criminal damage and held in custody. My paperwork consists of my pocket note book entries, descriptive forms and a copy of the charge sheets which I will take to court. 5am, allowed to book off duty as I will be in court later than morning with my 2 prisoners. There is no such thing as the CPS, I am the prosecutor. 10am I am in Bow Street Magistrates Court. I find my prisoners from the night shift in the holding cells and bid them good morning. I go to a telephone and do criminal record bureau checks on them and get their previous convictions. They have over 20 between them and this will be conveyed to the magistrate if they are convicted or plead guilty, but I will only give the court details of the last 3 convictions. I scribble the details down. No one in court will get any copies of anything off me. My first case is called. I stand in front of the clerk, announce myself, request a summary trial and ask that the charge be put to the defendant. The Clerk of the court does so and asks how he pleads. "Guilty". I step into the witness box and read out the brief facts and then his previous convictions. He is asked if he wants to speak and mumbles an apology and starts to go on about too much to drink, but the magistrate, a professional or Stipendiary, cuts him off and fines him £25. He can pay there and then. Case closed. I await my next case. In he comes and I go through the same procedure. He too pleads "Guilty". I give the facts and his previous convictions. He is fined £20 and after a brief discussion is allowed seven days to pay. Had they pleaded `not guilty` I would simply have taken the oath, delivered my evidence and cross examined them if they chose to give evidence under oath. This would have taken a little longer. I leave the court, return to my station, type out two forms about both cases and send them off to central records. I am back in bed by 12.30pm to catch up on my sleep before going back on duty at 9.45pm that night to do it all over again. I incur a couple of hours overtime. There were lots of us on my shift that night and we weren't all getting arrests but I wasn't the only one by any means. No 21st Century police officer could do this. It is just not possible. It's how it was when I first joined. Just thought I'd share.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Salute to a Great American

My tiny tribute A son of the State of Maine; gifted scholar; academic; patriot; teacher and mentor; man of peace; inspiring leader of men in battle; Hero of Little Round Top, this day, 1863, Gettysburg. We could use a few more like him right now. For an inspiring read