Friday, 23 January 2009

They've Given Her a Gun (at last)

During my time as an armed officer and with tactical firearms units (that's `SWAT` or similar acronyms, to any US readers) women were noticeable by their absence. The resistance to female officers joining these specialist teams was considerable, emanating primarily from senior officers including those in charge of the units. Let me state from the outset that I had no real views on this at the time, as I simply wanted to get on with my job, train hard and become as competent as I could be in the multitude of tasks I was expected to fulfill. If the person covering the doorway I was about to step quickly through was male, female or something in between, I wouldn't be bothered as long as they were on the ball and on my side. When I joined the police, female officers had their own, quite separate, department so I wasn't used to seeing them patrolling the streets. Of course this changed almost overnight, around mid 1976 I bel;ieve, when in the wake of legislation, the Policewomens Department was disbanded and suddenly my shift had a female officer parading with us at what was, for her, the unearthly hour of 10pm. Previously they didn't work shifts so it was as much a shock for her as it was a surprise for us. Latterly as a Tactical Firearms Team member it became clear, to even the most resistant, that women would be most useful, especially as we started to do more and more u/c work where it was essential not to show out. For something like a counter terrorist job, e.g. trying to deploy inconspicuously, where the band of the Coldstream Guards (God bless `em) were playing at a public event that was tipped as a possible hit by the IRA, was not easy. Pairs of fit blokes in loose fitting T shirts that concealed self loading pistols and a radio tended to show out a bit and the British public in `military towns` were switched on to security and would report us as suspects. If they were spotting this, then so were the opposition who were very surveillance conscious. Now, you deploy a man and a woman strolling around said location, and immediately they would blend more easily into a public venue. That's just one example but you get my argument. When I found myself in a stronger position to argue for some pro-active recruiting of female officers for armed duties I got these responses (my replies are in italics): "Their hands are too small for the self loading pistols". "Well we'll get them pistols with smaller grips". "Well it means the armourer will have to maintain a different weapon". "Isn't that his job?". "Our flameproof coveralls mean women won't be able to take a quick leak". "If YOU wanted to take a number 2 you'd have to strip down just the same, so maybe we ought to get two piece suits or get the suppliers to modify the bottom half anyway". And so it continued. I doubt the same arguments will apply now, especially as TASER is being rolled out across the UK for issue to all frontline officers. No excuses for small feminine hands now, eh? Eventually, female officers started to apply to the Tac' Teams, but in very small numbers. A reminder for any US folks reading this; It is not a condition of police service that you must carry a firearm at some time and its only Armed Response Vehicle* and Tactical Team officers who are always armed and who volunteered for this duty, representing a very small percentage of their respective police force. However, I see from the attached article of less than 2 years ago, that some years after I left all this malarkey behind me it's still a problem and I don't think it would have been helped by what seemed to be some slightly condescending comments in the said attached article. * The Metropolitan Police ARV's are deployed to approx 1000 gun related calls per month but unarmed officers are often the ones that get there first or are unexpectedly confronted by these threats. Since posting this article I have had quite a few enquiries about recorded figures for firearms offences. This link shows the Metropolitan (London) Police crime figures, including those they term gun enabled crimes. They are for recorded crimes and as such may well differ from figures recorded by other surveys such as The British Crime Survey.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Gotta Love Victorian Ladies' Underwear

`Bustle punching` was the nickname given, by Met Police officers working Central London, to a particularly annoying activity that took place in large crowds. It was quite prevalent at the Buckingham Palace guard change where, every day at 11.30, around 20,000 tourists flood to the gates and monuments to watch the ceremony. The bustle puncher is a male of the species, who, taking advantage of the pressing crowd, would position himself behind his female victim and using the pressure of the crowd as his cover, would press himself against her buttocks and rub said parts with either his hands or groin to gain sexual gratification. Spotting and arresting them was a skill that many officers of that division acquired, myself included. The bustle punchers would inevitably be arrested for "conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace", although there would occasionally be sufficient evidence for a charge of "insulting behaviour" or even "indecent assault". This offence may be familiar to any woman who is a frequent traveller on the London Underground trains at rush hours – or perhaps you just didn’t notice in the crush? However, in those days an indecent assault on a female over 14yrs was, amazingly, not an offence that carried a power of arrest. Only an indecent assault on a female under 14yrs was arrestable. Men of any age were OK though. If you indecently assaulted us, that was absolutely an arrestable offence. Sexist legislation at its most blatant. This law wasn’t amended until the 1980’s when it was equalised and made arrestable for victims of either sex and any age. The bustle punchers are doubtless still at it, human nature being what it is, so keep your eyes open next time you pay a visit to the Queen.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Knives on the streets

I hear there's to be a `knife expose shock horror programme` on the BBC tonight, probably Pan `O Rama. Apparantly, some knife carrying types are saying that if they knew they'd be sent to jail for a decent stretch they wouldn't have carried a blade. Bloody hell, is that so? Can it be that simple? Is this a new phenomenon? When I was released onto the streets of South East London and then later posted `up town` as a young copper, knives were always at the forefront of our mind and were frequently revealed as we exercised our powers of stop and search, using reasonable suspicion and discretion. My first experience of watching a colleague `grooming a street informer` was as a cadet in the final phase of my training. I had already been slashed at by a man weilding a knife, an early lesson and one that focussed my young mind on survival. My observations of a typical copper of that era, and area, went something like this. (Disclaimer: In the unlikely event any recently recruited 21st century probationers read this next bit, they should brace themselves, for it contains material that shows `corrupting and highly immoral` conduct or what one campaigner once dubbed, "low-level, high morals corruption", that should be reported to a senior officer immediately). South East London, Surrey Docks area: One of our regulars, a suspected person and reputed dealer, was stopped and searched. In his jacket pocket was a large flick knife - an offensive weapon in it's own right. The street search also revealed a tiny piece of cannabis resin. My hard faced colleague, an old soldier and veteran of the Korean War, quietly handed the knife to me and then to my amazement, made a most compelling proposition to the clearly very nervous suspect (At that time, possession of a flick knife would often attract a short custodial sentence). The following is a precis of the conversation that followed: `Now you're looking at a possible 28 days for the knife and I think the little bit of cannabis might just add something extra. But I think we might be able to help each other so here's the deal. I confiscate the knife and let you off, here and now, on probation. Your part of the deal is to tell me all the faces round here who carry weapons and drugs. You do that and eventually you'll have served your probation, the knife goes away for good and you don't go to prison. If you don't play your part, then you have two choices, you'll be my number one target and stopped and searched again and your probation for this offence will be revoked. Your other choice is never show your face on these streets until I've retired`. This officer achieved impressive results in both drug and knife arrests. I have no idea if his intention really was to plant the knife back on the bloke and `re-instate the offence` in some future stop and search, but he certainly put some fear into the suspect that he might. He also received a lot of good information over the coming weeks and in so doing took a lot of blades off the streets. Custodial sentences, albet short terms, for such offences was certainly high on the agenda of the presiding magistrates. The fear of being caught and the fear of the punishment was pretty much the driver in this policeman's strategy and the bad people he mixed it with gave him and those like him a considerable degree of respect the - `you'd better watch out if you mess up with this guy` type of respect. Witnessing this episode left me with something of a quandary. No way did I want to become a corrupt practitioner of the law at my level in the game, but I did realise that the level of fear and apprehension placed in the mind of this particular knife carrier was tangible and a very powerful tool. It taught me that it was ok if bad people were scared of me and my colleagues and that the effectiveness of my job was as much about using subtlties as it was the application of force and the law. Sadly, today, it seems that its just the good people who are scared of the police and not for what the police are capable of doing, but for what they seem incapable of doing. Incidentally, as someone who was firearms trained ultimately to `hostage rescue` level, I was taught that someone threatening me or a member of the public with a big knife, like the one in the picture, was a legitimate target for a live round aimed at the centre of the chest. Even with the current (no pun intended) introduction of Tasers across the UK, this does not make the threat, or the police's response to it, any less lethal. If anything it just muddies the waters a little. But that's for another story.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A Night Intruder Vanquished

If anyone has been harrassed by an un-neutered tomcat they will understand this story. Picture the scene, its 1am, the night is freezing and the Hogday's and their cats are asleep, Hogdays in bed and cats on the kitchen chairs or anywhere else they fancy. Suddenly the sound of `the intruder` woke both cats and humans, but there was a cunning plan and a trap had been set. Ha ha ha ha ha ha (Maniacal laughter like Vincent Price at the end of Michael Jackson's "Thriller"). Mrs Hogday was already out of bed, naked (just threw that in to sex it up a bit)and halfway to the pre-arranged rendezvous point. She called it in, there was indeed a suspect on premises and he's been tumbled and was now desparately trying to claw his way back out, as if he sensed retribution was on its way. Retribution for all the disturbed nights, frightened resident cats and sundry pee-spray markings from previous break-ins. But not tonight Mr Tinkles, not tonight. You can't escape when the flap's been set to "In Only" (More Vincent Price-type cackling). By now, Plan A was swinging into action, like a scene from Die Hard or the SAS at the Iranian Embassy Seige, `swinging` being appropriate as Hogday, now on his feet, was also naked. (More sexual intrigue and titillation) Actually, it wasn't quite Die Hard either, as it was freezing cold - oh and he wasn't wearing his old flameproof fatigues, respirator or body armour - and the hostages were only a couple of cats - but apart from that it was exactly like the Iranian Embassy Seige or Die Hard 1,2,3 or 4. As the moment of retribution approached, Mrs Hogday, a devout cat lover herself, sought confirmation from her, by now, fired up husband that he was only going to use `reasonable` force before handing him a jug full of fresh water. Assuring her of his intention to use less than lethal force, our hero skilfully unlocked the double door with one hand whilst taking careful aim with the shimmering half gallon of H2 O. The hapless moggy thought he was home free as the door eased open, but not before a well aimed jugful caught him, pa-dooch, square on the back as the door simultaneously swung open allowing him to finally scoot off into the night and back to his evil lair, well and truly butt-soaked as the victorious Hogdays dance a jig around the kitchen table. Oh how they laughed. A non gender specific spokesperson for Bumstead Police said, "We cannot condone people taking this sort of action, as this could have been a cat with a very expensive shampoo, set and manicure. This could render a person liable to arrest for criminal damage, as the cats value was temporarily reduced, requiring another shampoo and set from Fifi's Fancy Feline Emporium. In future, we advise that you simply sit back and allow your home to be peed in. In a statement to BBC News, Hogday ( 40+ ) said, "I just acted instinctively in self defence, using reasonable force. If the Government can't stop this sort of thing then it's up to us citizens to take the law, and our jugs, into our own hands".

Friday, 2 January 2009

INTERLUDE

Just a little `chewing gum for your eyes` while I prepare the next yarn. I hope anyone who happens to view this and is about to embark on a short winter break, isn't put off by this little sequence. Enjoy.... and buckle up. PS: For those who felt this was a little too close to an intended destination, I've flown into a couple of New Zealand airports and didn't feel a thing, plus, here I am, so QED . video