After meeting my sergeant contact at Paddington Green Station I went through a series of checks and disclaimers – understandably a fair bit of bureaucracy involved due to the potential dangers – then was fitted with a bulletproof vest and invited into the daily group briefing before officers’ shifts begin.
Ride-alongs have generally been more widespread a scheme in the United States, however UK police forces have recently become keener to implement the practice here, perhaps due to lapses of public trust in law enforcement.
It presents an unobstructed view of a police shift – dealing with offenders and victims, statement taking, arrests, even the form-filling back at the station if you’re that interested. As a fan of police procedural TV shows – BBC’s The Met by chance the most recent – the opportunity of being a solo spectator in a live and unedited episode was never going to be refused.
These frenetic siren-wailing dashes certainly got the adrenaline going, and buckled up in the back I could see first-hand how tricky it could be to navigate though that traffic, particularly with some drivers not being so adept at getting out of the way.
1) A gang of teenagers menacing a lone shopkeeper in a boutique Fitzrovia store. Brief statement taken and installation of CCTV advised.
2) A taxi driver had been assaulted by a customer over a fare dispute – turned out the driver had then received the money requested anyway so chose to leave it at that.
3) Grievous suicide attempt on Oxford Street – pavement area blocked off while paramedics urgently treated the male victim who’d lost a lot of blood after cutting his neck open.
4) A teenage playfight on an inner-city estate had gotten out of hand, but had broken up by the time we got there.
5) Suspicious bag left beneath a table in a coffee shop, turned out to be someone’s gym kit.
7) A man had passed out in a drunken stupor face down in the middle of a pavement. He was gently roused, made aware of his current state of affairs then ushered on his way, which he happily assented to after admitting he’d had “one too many”.
8) The next intoxicated man we were called to deal with wasn’t so cordial, being the second suicide attempt of the day.
He’d been wrestled to the ground by shop workers after trying to fatally cut himself with a piece of glass. The response officers helped arriving paramedics restrain and load him into their ambulance on a strapped stretcher, where two of us stayed to accompany him to hospital. A further melee ensued upon arrival there, where the officers struggled to pacify the man before a doctor could administer to him.
This final episode was probably the most eye-opening in revealing the extent to which tact and diplomacy are required when trying to placate someone either very drunk or with serious mental issues, or both as in this case. Once he'd finally calmed down, the suicidal man opened up with his quite graphic problems as we waited for a medic, which made clear the need to have a thick skin as well as empathy, which can’t be easy to instantly switch to when you’ve just been violently grappling with someone.
The protracted incident also compounded a feeling of impotence on my part – as an observer you can’t get involved, despite impulsively wanting to assist when things looked like they could be getting out of hand. I could deliver justice only in spirit, through my eyes and post-shift analysis (you could also be called to court as a witness over anything observed).
The final overarching observation I took from the whole day is the sheer number of mentally ill people out there who police have to deal with daily, which must daunt the officers summoned to the latest incident as you never know what they’re capable of nor what you could be subjected to. The same goes for any emergency call involving a knife or gun.
Not to mention the lower-level abuse periodically doled out to you in the course of duty, from 'wanker' signs to verbal curses as you drive by.
Despite the tough exterior projected though, routinely having to face the worst of society on a daily basis must surely wear you down in some way, the never-ending carousel of cat-and-mouse where the mice are ineradicable. And for that I've a newfound respect for the police, particularly in London and other major urban centres where most crime concentrates
(and where ongoing government cuts are more keenly felt).
So in that regard my day with the Met was a successful one, and something I’d recommend to anyone interested in seeing an unflinching snapshot of what the job actually entails. No doughnuts, no stakeouts, and not much for the faint-hearted.
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