Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Police Reform, Police Cuts, ("its life Jim, but not as we know it")

I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1969 as a cadet. Three years earlier, three police officers had been murdered on the streets of Shepherds Bush. They were in what was known as a "Q" car and had stopped and checked a suspicious vehicle containing three equally suspicious men, something police officers do most days, assuming they see something suspicious or at least something fitting the  modern definition of the meaning of `suspicious`, after it has been twiddled with by lawyers and politicians). On that occasion in 1966, the officers were spot on with their suspicions and, within minutes of their decision to stop and check the car, they were all dead, each having been murdered by gunshot. "Q" cars were crewed by an experienced detective sergeant, a sharp detective constable or Temporary DC (an officer who had shown particular acumen and who wanted to be a detective) and a constable as pilot, who was usually a grade 1 advanced driver. "Q" Cars were very effective anti crime units. The crew of Foxtrot 11 and the story of their murder affected, greatly, my generation of police officers.

In those days there was a crime fighting unit at Scotland yard known as The Flying Squad but universally referred to as "The Sweeney", as per Cockney rhyming slang Sweeney Todd = Flying Squad. There were lots of little jokes and anecdotes about this legendary unit. Eg: Have you seen the latest `Action Man` Flying Squad doll? It's suit is covered in cigarette ash, it smells of beer and scotch and when you pull the cord at the back, it says "Squad" out the corner of its mouth.

The Sweeney would turn up in all sorts of vehicles. Once I was at the front counter of Deptford police station when a bloke sidled in wearing a tatty jacket bearing the badge of a London taxi driver. He pulled out a warrant card and said, "Squad" out of the corner of his mouth, just like the aforementioned joke said he would. He was driving an authentic black London taxi cab, except I swear this one had twin exhausts and didn't sound like a diesel.

I was in the local area car one day when a call went out to support a Sweeney unit who had put out an odd call, requesting handcuffs. They had gone to arrest a man called John McVicar. A unit delivered said item as requested, but the strange thing was that the arresting officers were well tooled up with .38 revolvers so they were clearly expecting something interesting to happen. Funny how they forgot the 'cuffs? I always wanted to ask Mr McVicar about that. The Sweeney was a very effective and much feared anti serious crime unit.

Then there was the SPG. We always knew when `the group` were working our ground. Nobody actually told us, we just knew, because most of the regular street crime would come to an almost complete stop. The SPG was a very effective anti crime unit. We were almost as wary of them as we were the villains.

Anyone in the job out there know what the modern equivalents of the above are? If indeed they exist at all? Genuine question, I'd really like to know.

PS: Just in, this info on what the modern police officer has to contend with. Clearly I was right to leave as soon as my 30 was up:


CI-Roller Dude said...

HD, Great story...tell more like this please!
I don't know how many times I was asked to help some "special investigations" unit...they either didn't have the guns they needed, or usually forgot handcuffs. A few times a detective would have the cuffs, but forgot his or her key. Simple stuff.

Wasn't there some kind of "flying squad" in Hong Kong before WWII?

Hogdayafternoon said...

Dude: Plenty moe where that came from. The lack of `cuffs but plenty of firearms at the arrest of the then `Britain's most wanted` started a conspiracy theory which, I'm sure, you can work out for yourself ;)

Met DC said...

Flying Squad still exist, still with the same name. They're part of SCD7. The SPG became the TSG - Territorial Support Group - and still fulfil exactly the same role as well.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Met DC: Cheers for that mate. One of the toughest jobs I could think of. Thanks for looking in and thanks for being there.

BTW, I added a link in an addendum at the end of my post, to a story I just got wind of.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

145 convictions at age 19? Why was he out on the street?

I was trained that if I find myself with a car full of people that make me very uneasy, call for backup before initiating the stop. I would be doing no good to myself, nor the people I serve by getting myself killed or hurt. Better to have the stop made by two or three guys with ARs and 870s, than to lose an officer.

I do realise that the UK has a tradition of unarmed police, and that you are a seperate culture than the one I live in, but I cannot fathom why you are denied the tools to do your job. How can a culture survive when they feel that having the leaders feel a warm glow of moral superiority in insisting in an unarmed police, even if people get killed because of that policy. I shall bitterly cling to my USP and my M&P 15 OSR. God Bless you and all the British Badgers, Hoggy, you have a miserable row to hoe.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Why wouldn't they have flexicuffs in thier vehicle?

Hogdayafternoon said...

Scott: Your opening sentence is such a simple question and, for the life of me and thousands of my former colleagues, I cannot understand why those that should know the answer fail to work it out.

Your training is pretty much in line with how I was trained and how I trained others when I was a tutor constable, a sergeant and every other rank I carried until I retired - still trying my best to look after my officers right up to the time I logged off for the last time, June 20th 2001.

Yes there is a no-gun culture in the Britcops, but in my case I broke through that and became one of the `ten per cent'rs` as you will know if you've read my other posts. On the Tac team I was the 870 guy (and i'd even try to work it in to my hands when I was a team sergeant! IMO there should be one in every British patrol car. Easy to train up for, easy to maintain, flexible array of ammunition, but I digress.

As for flexicuffs, remember that the incidents I mentioned were in 1966 and 1970 respectively. Cuffs were not even on personal issue then, just one set per vehicle, so you can guess what happened to them. Most of us bought our own. Flexi cuffs didn't appear until the 80's. As for body armour, I had been an armed officer for 6 years before I ever saw a piece of Kevlar. I had to make do with available cover and a 9mm Browning HP, not a bad piece at all.

I need to do a separate post on this stuff.

JuliaM said...

"Anyone in the job out there know what the modern equivalents of the above are? If indeed they exist at all? "

Don't the crime figures (and the depravity discovered at court) give you a clue?

"145 convictions at age 19? Why was he out on the street?"

A question many are asking.

Hogdayafternoon said...

JuliaM: You caught my irony! I suspect that the enforcers would be willing, were the sausage machine turning out bangers at the other end, but it patently ain't

Sierra Charlie said...

The current crime figures are less of a reflection of the lack of units with Gucci names and plenty of modern equipment and more to do with the rather sad proliferation of Walts in the Police Service.

I realise the irony of my comment, but some of the people I have "worked" with have to be seen to be believed. I once got told off for suggesting that we might be more effective doing police work outside than in the classroom.

Hogdayafternoon said...

SC: Greetings and thanks for dropping in again. Yes, I think we can go way too far in theorising the job to death. I had 3 weeks learning beats before I was cut loose on my own. Didn't cry once, but I was no more nervous on my first steps out of the nick than if i'd had 6 months of having my hand held and arse wiped ;)

Anonymous said...

I was given an SPG tie (Pride Integrity and Guts) after a fracas in which an off-duty officer from the group weighed in and we recovered over a drink. Sadly it met with demise in a divorce. The names change. The names change, but what would be interesting to know is the extent of the change in work. I get reports of people in suits not quite coppers on the detective side. My own memories have elements of farce - the TAG team not able to get off its bus, armed raids on villains supposedly under 24/7 surveillance for 6 months by the RCS who actually moved 8 months before! A mate transferred to SOCA a few years back described it as 'paid early retirement'.
Predictive policing should mean more teams doing flooding and target operations. Jack Regan has gone, but his liver may live on in the odd detective! Cops exhibit a lot of business focus when I meet them and I don't remember much of that from my own time. (Aco)

Hogdayafternoon said...

Anon (not quite)Sad and oh so familiar. We don't want bent thugs, but we need something with that spirit and familiarity with what bent thugs respond to.