Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Monday, 27 July 2009
Saturday, 25 July 2009
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
Monday, 20 July 2009
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
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.