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.

13 comments:

Blue Eyes said...

It must have been the blue dye which made the shirts bullet-proof. The white shirts have to be covered by a black vest to do a similar job.

Hogday said...

Seriously Blue, we never gave it a moments thought. I was carrying a firearm pretty much every day until I transferred out to the counties and even there I never saw ballistic body armour until the tactical firearms unit was formed. I think teenaged drug dealers were probably wearing them before we were!

Blue Eyes said...

I suspect the risk of getting shot or stabbed was low. I suspect it still is, but the fear of "blame" being attached when things inevitably go wrong is more prevalent than the fear of things inevitably going wrong............

Welcome to New Britain.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Your photo of the chopper there reminded me of an old friend.
His height, weight and habit of wearing an old grey greatcoat topped with a battered Wehrmacht stahlhelm got him the nickname "Schulz" after the character in "Hogan's Heros".
He disappeared into his shed one winter, dropping hints of "A Project"
The great day dawned, and he revealed a stunning bike, sissy bar, stars and stripes tank, monkey bars and the longest forks I had ever seen; all built around an Ariel square four.
The effect was ruined when he got on the bike, wheelied out of his front gate, and bent the front wheel up to the engine on his neighbours wall.
As he was a very large guy nobody laughed.
Aloud.

Hogday said...

Conan: Priceless! Look up "Leroy Gets a Harley" on You Tube.

Hogday said...

Blue: But I would always start the day with a bowl of porridge, blueberries, Lyle's Golden Syrup, followed by a strict regime of fashwash and moisturiser.

Blue Eyes said...

Well if those anti-oxidants didn't keep you safe then what would have done?!

Inspector Leviathan Hobbes said...

"porridge, blueberries, Lyle's Golden Syrup, followed by a strict regime of fashwash and moisturiser" - all moistened with London Pride? My tooth paste has beer in it.

powdergirl said...

OT, HD.
That pic made me laugh. Past friday morning as I drove my rehab ladies around the little city a similar bike pulled into the left turn lane next to me. The biker was blowing me kisses, to the great amusement of my passengers. (hey, I make friends easily.)
As soon as I looked at him squarely he stalled his bike, he looked so silly sitting there with his arms way up on his handle bars,his Harley silenced, that I had to roll down my window to laugh at him a little.
He said sheepishly " I'm just going to get it painted, hope you don't recognize it after"
Hah, it was cute. Maybe he'll get a flag on his bike too.

Nickie Goomba said...

The protection came not from the shirt. It came from the air of competence and confidence.

Hogday said...

LH: Beer flavoured toothpaste? What an excuse.

PG: I hate it when that happens! Thankfully, I don't have the `apehangers` - totally pointless IMO. Being the only man in a pilates class full of ladies is my reminder never to show off or get cocky;)

NickieG: Right on the money - If you look and act the part it does tend to keep the chancers at bay and the rest at a respectable distance :)

Dave Pie-n-Mash said...

I like your blog. Only read a few posts so far, so I need to read the archives! Is that you on the motorbike at the top of the pic?

Hogday said...

Hi Dave - No mate! That is the venerable Peter Fonda, he of "Easy Rider". Thanks for looking in and I hope you're amused or at least mildly entertaiuned by the archives.

PS. My cousin Lenny (now `retired of Wickford`) used to work for Fords. Have sunk a few in the Good Intent, Rainham, myself.