I can remember on my very first day at training school I stood, along with about 300 others in front of a local Magistrate and took an oath, a few words that changed my life forever. When someone takes the oath of attestation to become a police officer I think people forget exactly what it entails. Being a police officer is not just a day job, it’s something that I have to think about 24/7; when I’m out with my fiancé, when I’m on nights out with mates and even when I’m just shopping in Tesco, it’s not something that I can just say ‘I’m off duty now so I’m not interested’. As police officers we are duty bound to always step in where necessary and this has led to me having to sacrifice a lot for the job. I’ve missed out on a weddings, stag do’s, family birthdays, the list is endless and I’m sure officers, along with other emergency services and armed services personnel all over the world go through the same thing.
When taking the oath I swore to do my best to prevent all offences against people and property, this is something that I take pretty seriously. By taking this oath it doesn’t just mean for members of the public, it includes everyone, including my fellow officers, so when someone gets injured unnecessarily and we find out that it could have been prevented it angers me. What also angers me is when people stand up in the media and talk down our job when they do not know the facts about what we actually do and what we have to contend with in our days at work. As you may have guessed by now what I’m going to discuss in this blog is the use of Taser by the police.
I’ve not really kept it much of a secret but I’m in the Metropolitan Police, apparently one of the best and most enviable police forces (sorry, we’re not a force we’re now a service) in the world. Contrary to popular belief, in the Met our accessibility to Taser is very limited. According to the media we have approximately 3000 ‘highly trained’ officers who have the ability to deploy Taser, these officers are members of CO19 (Armed response officers) or our Territorial Support Group, they are Pan-London resources so could be patrolling a different area maybe three or four boroughs away. These officers do not routinely attend 999 calls like response teams. There are exceptions to this of course, i.e. for firearms calls or public order incidents when they will be deployed from the start, but generally we have to request them if they are not patrolling our borough. Something to remember with response teams is we are the officers that are always walking in to the unknown, every time we walk inside an address or we speak to someone in the street, it is a complete unknown risk and anything could happen at any second. We very very rarely attend incidents that are pre-planned and therefore we never know what we’re going into.
Even though certain parts of the media claim that Taser is readily available to us on response teams I would like to tell you the process of how we actually go about getting the resource and how the current system could result in a delay that WILL cost someone their life eventually. I will then back this up by calls that I have dealt with.
When the police receive a 999 call it gets routed through ‘Metcall’, which is our force communications room, this can take a number of minutes to obtain the necessary details and despatch the call over the radio, when a unit is assigned it could take anywhere up to 20 minutes to arrive at the scene. I work on a small borough so we can get most places in the borough in less that 10 minutes, however I’ve been told by colleagues on large outer boroughs that it can take them over 20 minutes on a blue light run to get from one side of the borough to the other. Once a unit arrives at the scene something could then happen spontaneously where they may then decide that a Taser is needed. This could take anywhere up to another 15-20 minutes for a Taser capable unit to arrive (although I will share a recent incident I dealt with where it took 45 minutes for them to arrive), so by now we could be anywhere over 30 minutes into the call before one has arrived. Due to the nature of what we deal with and the spontaneity of what we deal with, time is a luxury that we cannot afford. Things can happen in an instant and we need to be resilient enough to deal with them as they happen. I am not blaming these units for taking so long to arrive, this is not their fault, they do a great job, my problem is with the current policy.
I’d like to share a few incidents that I have dealt with lately where it has been pure luck that no one was killed and Taser would have been the best tactical option.
A few months ago when we received a call to a knifepoint at 7am on a weekday morning, I was in our unmarked car in plain clothes and was sent to keep observations on the suspect. CCTV was also following him and had already been seen with a large kitchen knife in his hand. He was walking up and down the road and past ordinary members of the public. Luckily he didn’t approach anyone else but we had to wait for the arrival of taser officers. As they came flying around the corner about 10 minutes later sure enough he started to make off on his bike so they gave chase and he was Tasered and arrested. That was 10 minutes when he could have approached an innocent member of the public and presented the knife, just think that could have been you on your way to work at 7am! If response teams were equipped with Taser he could have been detained straight away preventing that delay of 10 minutes, I would say this is very lucky that it didn’t end a different way someone being seriously injured.
Last week I was working off-borough on a carrier with 7 other officers conducting patrols when a call came out to a man in a shop armed with a broken bottle trying to attack the staff. When we arrived there he was inside with a broken bottle neck in his hand and slashing at his own arms. He was suffering from some mental health problems, but he clearly posed a serious danger to himself and to members of the public. The staff were hiding in a room at the back and the male was at the front of the shop. He would not talk to us and was trying to get out into the street; obviously we couldn’t let this happen, as it was a busy main road with lots of people around. All of a sudden he ran out the back, unbeknown to us the staff had managed to escape through a back door at that point but we thought he was running to attack them. We chased after him; we all had short shields (although the sergeant and I were the only actual level 2 public order officers on the carrier and we weren’t kitted up). He ran into a small toilet where we managed to contain him. By this point we had requested officers from the TSG to attend with a Taser. I won’t get into the finer details of it, but we kept him contained in this room whilst we waited for TSG to arrive, this took 45 minutes!! The man was detained safely and arrested after an hour of us being there, and yes he was Tasered. I think we were extremely lucky that no members of the public, police officers or the male himself were seriously injured. If we had been equipped with Taser it would have been dealt with in less than 5 minutes and there wouldn’t have been 55 minutes where someone could have potentially been killed.
It was only last night that my colleague and I were on patrol around the borough when a call came in from a member of the public stating that they could see a male holding a 10 inch kitchen knife and standing in the street. We were sent to an RVP (rendezvous point), whilst a plain-clothes unit drove past, we waited at the RVP for about 10 minutes when it came out over the radio that the male had put the knife down and walked towards the officers so he was detained by them. I went and saw this knife and it was massive, without doubt it would have caused life changing injuries if not killed someone. This gentleman was also suffering from Mental health issues, mental health is a serious problem where I work and it is a lot more prevalent in society than I think most people realise. Again, it was just pure luck that this male didn’t turn violent and stab someone or hurt himself.
These are only a few incidents I’ve dealt with recently, but I could go on for a few hours with incidents like these that we deal with everyday and I know that officers all over the country could tell you stories of incidents they have dealt with like this.
On Monday 21st November, ITV news had a piece about the Commissioners announcement about Taser being more widely available, you can view it here: http://www.itv.com/london/howe-supports-tasers46686/
A gentleman called Oliver Sprague of Amnesty International had his chance to speak up, he says that Taser should ‘only be in the hands of the most highly trained officers’ this is something I have a major problem with and will discuss shortly.
I think I should talk a little bit about Sophie Khan, who according to her twitter bio is ‘a solicitor-advocate specialising in Actions Against the Police’, She was interviewed on the above piece. Firstly, why is she bringing young children and old people into the discussion, what does that have to do with police officers being issued with Taser? Secondly, how are police officers being at risk a ‘limited scenario’, I can assure her it isn’t limited, it is very commonplace. It also doesn’t matter why the Taser was introduced into the country years ago, it is capable of protecting lives and that’s all that matters. She then said, when referring to the dreadful scenes at the weekend where three officers were stabbed and another injured in Kingsbury, ‘it was a very very freak incident’. This statement is factually incorrect and I’d love to know where she gets her facts from that it was a freak incident. Just because incidents aren’t reported in the press it doesn’t mean that they don’t happen, for example two officers were stabbed in East London a year ago, one of them being stabbed three times. This didn’t even make the news so for her to say that is completely insulting and massively naïve of her. Lets not forget the officers that were stabbed on a bus in Ealing earlier this year, How many officers need to be stabbed and attacked before it becomes too much because I’m aware of 7 officers so far. What if it had been 7 members of the public, would things be different? The incidents happen all over London every single shift but largely go unreported.
If someone is carrying a 10inch knife, why should I have to get within arms reach of him and potentially get myself stabbed when we have this amazing piece of equipment that means we can keep physical distance between us and an armed suspect. She also admitted that it was acceptable for officers to use if our lives are in danger, well again, that is a lot more frequent than she realises. She goes on to state that we have ‘plenty of other powers to use’, well I put it to her, how are powers and legislation going to disarm a knife wielding maniac? She states that we also have numbers so we can call in backup, well as this YouTube video shows http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnhdFVcMLcg … numbers don’t mean anything when someone is running around the streets with a machete!
Finally, she ended by saying ‘And there are traditional policing that should be being pushed forward rather than this new Taser…’ WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
I have seen on Twitter that people have been calling for her to become a special constable so she can see what we actually deal with. Sophie, if you are reading this, I beg you to sign up, or at least spend two weeks in a response car so you can see first hand what we actually deal with before you undermine and crticise the brave and dangerous work that we do.
I fully understand that there are two sides to every story and I’m a massive advocate of having an open debate about it after all, everyone should have their chance to speak, maybe I am only seeing the argument from my side, but the same could be said about the likes of Amnesty International and Sophie Khan, you should also try and see our point of view.
Since this debate has started a few days ago I keep reading that Taser should only be given to ‘highly trained officers’, now what exactly does this mean? If I go and complete the required training to carry one, just the same as a firearms officer, do I not become that highly trained officer? Or are they saying that firearms officers are better than PC’s on response teams and we are not skilled enough to be trained? Even though we can be trusted with batons and CS spray, which can potentially cause a lot more harm than a Taser.
Communication is always my first tactical option in any situation, however quite frequently this communication breaks down and we then have to rely on other tactical options, this includes batons or CS spray. CS spray is never my first choice as it seriously affects me. It is completely indiscriminate and affects anyone in close proximity, including officers. I was involved in detaining someone a few nights ago who we ended up on the floor, 4 of us still couldn’t control him so someone used their CS, 2 of us officers were instantly incapacitated having to crawl away because we couldn’t see and were in excruciating pain. CS is not guaranteed to work on everyone and can sometimes take up to 20 seconds to take effect so what happens to that knife wielding suspect who isn’t affected by CS, but the all the officers are, he then has plenty of targets who can’t defend themselves. The effects of Taser also only seconds, where as I can vouch for the fact the CS is pretty painful for over 20 minutes!
A new big thing in the Met at the minute is single patrolling, and this is something that from the sounds of it is here to stay, meaning officers are even more of a target with even less backup. I do have some issues policing a busy inner London borough on my own, however if it is to stay I think we should be better equipped in order to do so.
Don’t get me wrong, I may have my hang-ups with the job and I’ve made plenty of sacrifices for it but I do chose to do it and I have never regretted taking my oath. I standby the fact that it is still the best job in the world and one of the most rewarding, I look forward in going to work and am very proud of the work that we do and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Just try not to forget that whilst you are going to work, heading out for dinner, or just sitting in for the night, there are police officers all over the country who aren’t being issued the best equipment to do the job, fighting with armed suspects and putting their lives on the line so that you may live in a safe society.
As I stated in my last blog, the police are not there to be liked, and in my honest opinion I think we are spending way too much time worrying about public confidence and what people think about the police and not enough time worrying about the safety of the public. If it upsets 99% of the population by me carrying a Taser, but I can save one persons life I don’t care what the 99% think, I just care about that one person and their family.