Monday 7 November 2016

My Ride Along Experience…

...a day in the life of a Metropolitan Police First Response Officer

This little adventure all started whilst attending one of the Safer Neighbourhood Panel meetings which I attend on behalf of all you good Ashburnham Triangle residents.  

During the meeting, Inspector Diane Hill, asked if anyone would be interested in a “Ride Along”.  This is an adopted scheme from America which allows members of the public to join officers on the beat and experience exactly what a First Response Police Officer has to deal with.

“Would it involve driving fast with flashing blue lights” I asked.
“Oh, most definitely” said Inspector Hill.
“Done, sign me up” I said.

So, after a few forms were signed, diaries consulted, a date was fixed.  It was a balmy afternoon in September, one of the last really hot days of our summer - hard to believe since the clocks have gone back that summer ever existed! 

Did I say it was hot, very hot, on a Thursday afternoon.  I arrive promptly at Plumstead Police Station at 2pm, one of the few Police Stations within Greenwich Borough which is still open 24 hours a day and was introduced to Alex and Vicki, two female police officers who were letting me shadow them during their afternoon/evening shift.  

Brief introductions were made together with a small dilemma as to whether I should wear a police stab vest, which thankfully I didn’t as it was so hot and would have clashed with my outfit!  Joking aside, it was agreed that I shouldn’t wear the vest so members of the public didn't think that I was a police officer.  They were also keen not to wear their vest because of the weather but rules are rules so they had to remain on.

Within seconds of entering the car and starting the engine our officers accepted their first call to a domestic violence incident which was classified as an “I” call.

When officers receive calls they are graded either “I” (immediate) or “S” (significant) depending on the incident.

An “I” call is for a serious incident and the officer has to get there within 12 minutes of accepting the call.  Here are some examples of an “I” graded call:
  • Danger to life
  • Use, or immediate threat of use of violence
  • Serious injury to a person
  • Serious damage to property 

An “S” graded incident is also a priority call and the majority of calls requiring police response will attract this grade.  “S” graded necessitates a police officer at the scene within 0 - 60 minutes.  Some examples of an “S” graded call:
  • Genuine concern for somebody’s safety
  • An offender has been detained
  • A witness or other evidence is likely to be lost
  • A road collision

I just literally clicked my seat belt on and we were off, blue lights flashing, siren whirring and driving super fast and through red lights to a residential address in Woolwich Riverside.  Wow, I thought, what a thrilling and exciting job.  A passerby had made the call of expected domestic violence, which the police take very seriously.  

Domestic abuse will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime. On average, two women will be murdered each week and 30 men per year.   Every minute police in the UK receive a domestic assistance call - yet only 35% of domestic violence incidents are reported to the police.  On average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before the first call to the police. 

We arrived at the given address, a community of several blocks of flats.  At first I wasn't sure if I should stay in the car but was kindly told to follow behind but not to get too close until they accessed the scene.  As we climbed the stairs to the first floor flat we could see the front door was smashed in half. Someone was determined to get into this property.  I stood well back as the officers called out and entered the flat.  They called her name repeatedly as they checked the whole property but then I just heard “All Clear”.  The owner was no where to be seen.  The officers then received another call saying a woman fitting the description of our missing lady was at some nearby shops in a distressed state and had threatened to kill herself.  She had to be found.  

As the property had no front door and was insecure we could not just leave.  “We have to secure the property” Vicki explained.  Another patrol car was brought in for the search of our missing lady. A call was then put into the control room asking if they could arrange for someone to come and board and secure the front door.  That is what you expect, police officers having back-up from a control room which will sort out contacting the council etc.  WRONG.  The officer was told if it was council property then she would have to contact the council direct.  The officer sighed, raised her eyebrows at me and got her little book of important numbers out and then made a call to the council on her own phone.  It turned out the property wasn’t owned by the council but by a housing association who also wasn’t very eager to help out.

We have now been at this property for a good 45 minutes.  Our lady is still missing.  The flat is a mess with not only a destroyed front door but broken glass strewn all down the hallway and papers thrown everywhere.  Finally, after many phone calls, someone at the housing association agreed to come and board the door.  During this time, the second patrol car found our missing lady and brought her back to the flat.  She was slightly in-coherent but said that was due to all her medication.  She didn’t know what had happened to the door and didn’t want to press any charges on her boyfriend.  They had had an argument, she said.  She had bruises to her face and the police wanted her checked out properly by a doctor so after nearly 2 hours an ambulance was called.  The police still needed her to make a statement.

Vicki showed me all the forms they needed to complete for this incident.  We all hear about the “paperwork” police officers have to deal with but I was still surprised at all the different forms that needed their input for this one incident.

This was the first job of the day and it could possibly last for the rest of the shift.  The other police officers offered to stay with her and go to the hospital and take the statement.  So what had started as “thrilling, exciting” soon turned into “exhausting, relentless, and surely the police could be doing something better with their time than this”, tune of thought.

It is really sad, but most of our police officers time is dealt with domestic violence and mental health issues. Vicki and Alex both said 90% of their time is dealing with these sorts of issues on a daily basis.

Back in the car and after 2 hours we were all due a comfort break.  We drove back to what looked like a giant warehouse in Woolwich and if it wasn’t for the fact that police cars were parked outside would I have realised it had anything to do with the police.  A quick loo break for all and within 10 minutes we were back in the car.  I asked if they ever got a proper break for lunch/dinner.  Laughter by the lady officers.  Vicki explained at first she tried to eat hot food for lunch but it was always a case that you just sit down to eat and then there would be an “I” call so the food just had to be left.  They eat on the job as and when they can but they easily go whole shifts without a proper break.

Back in the car and the time was just after 5pm.  Commuter traffic was starting to build up and we get our next call.   A teacher went home from work ill and the school tried to contact her later that afternoon to see if she was feeling any better.  The school was unable to get any response so the police were called and we had to go and check that she was OK.  This was an “S” call so no blue lights this time.

We arrive in a leafy backstreet and all the curtains on the house were closed.   Officer Alex knocks on the front door and was just assessing climbing over the fence to get into the back garden when the door opens.  The teacher, slightly alarmed at the presence of the two police officers and a third lady with a clipboard who were all standing on her front path.  Alex quickly explained our presence and the teacher, who was suffering with a migraine but otherwise fine, just felt embarrassed about wasting police time - which she wasn’t as there was a real concern for her welfare.  No further action required and we went on our merry way.

Back in the car we get another “I” call.  East Greenwich, serious motorbike accident, CPR may be required at the scene.  We are now travelling at speed along a busy A2.  Even though I was siting in the back of the police car, I found it quite frustrating that vehicles did not always swiftly get out of the way of our flashing blue lights.  Whilst driving along Vicki and Alex were discussing who would treat CPR if they arrived before the ambulance.  They were so calmly discussing this, similar to myself saying to a friend  “so where do fancy going for a drink later then”, but instead, “so do you mind doing the CPR”.  Amazing.  More info came through on the radio, an air ambulance had also been called.  

A team of paramedics were already treating the motorcyclists injuries when we arrived at the scene - which only took 10 minutes. The air ambulance with specialist doctors on board was also hovering above and preparing to land somewhere close by.  Vicki and Alex quickly stop the traffic going past and start to seal off the area.  Traffic in both directions along Woolwich Road has now come to a grinding halt.  Frustrated drivers are beeping their horns as if this will magically make the traffic start moving again and pedestrians keep trying to walk under the police yellow tape, all very annoying. 

I was at the scene for over an hour.  Vicki told me that they were going to follow the ambulance to the hospital so they could get a statement.  They would probably be there for a long time so it was decided my Ride Along experience would end here.  It was 5 hours into their shift, but Vicki and Alex still had a very long night at the hospital to get through.

I was grateful to both the ladies for welcoming me to their shift and not making me feel like an intruder on their daily routine.   It is quite easy to look at what the police do and pick holes but actually once you are alongside them on patrol and realise what they face, how they don't know what's coming next and how quickly they have to make decisions, it helps you understand the pressures they face.  Their daily shifts are long, with not many “thank you’s” at the end of if.   Domestic violence and mental health issues are predominantly what our police officers have to deal with every day.  Could you do this job?  I know I couldn’t.  

I therefore ask you, instead of complaining about what the Police haven’t done, lets respect our officers instead and make sure you say “Thank You” if they have assisted you in any way.

And if you have got to the end of this blog, well “Thank You” for reading.

Tina Pugh
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