- Before doing anything that might involve an armed officer doing some work, an unarmed officer (me) will be told to "debrief" the caller. This means going round to check that the caller says in person the same thing they said on the phone. The unarmed officer will have a list of questions such as, "Are you sure he said he'd kill himself if the police turned up?" and "Are you really an expert on handguns? Could it in fact have been a wooden spoon?" This is to ensure that armed officers are not dispatched pointlessly across the county when they could be far more usefully occupied providing "reassurance" outside important buildings in the north of the force.
- Once the unarmed officer (me) has confirmed that the witness has not invented the whole thing, an armed officer will be sent to do the same thing. This is because unarmed officers are morons and are likely to have asked the wrong questions.
- If the powers-that-be are satisfied that an armed unit is required, unarmed back-up will "contain" the area - which means cordon it off and try to keep onlookers out. The armed officers will then attend a rendezvous point, where the hot tea will be brought as the siege goes on. The unarmed back-up will be kept as far from the hot tea as possible.
- Next will start the Negotiations. If we are lucky, trained Negotiators will be called out from bed. If not, it will just be the bloke from the crime reduction office, who's the only person not on a cordon.
- If conversation can be initiated with the nutter in question, negotiations will go on for as long as needed to avoid shots being fired or civilians being harmed. This could be hours, or days. In some cases, I've been involved in sieges where we've carried on holding a sterile cordon in place for hours after both axe-man and hostage had both fallen asleep. The point is, we do everything we can to avoid this situation, where the madman who caused the whole thing ends up dead.
These officers were criticised for wearing balaclavas, without anyone bothering to find out why they were necessary. Apparently they look too scary. Which the guys with guns don't?
There seems to be an assumption among the public that if the police shoot someone dead it must be either an accident, murder, or gun-toting recklessness. Obviously cases like Jean-Charles de Menezes don't help the police's image. But if people think we turn up guns blazing to a siege or hostage situation with the aim of taking out the perpetrator as soon as possible, they should join me on a cordon one night and watch.
If you feel inclined to try suicide-by-police and think that locking members of your family in a room and telling the police you plan to kill them should do it, think again. There are some things that will, however, guarantee you an early demise:
- Firing a shotgun randomly out of a window.
- Holding a gun to your wife and refusing to put it down.
- Shooting crossbow bolts at police officers whilst shouting one of their names.
Then again, in today's litigious environment, if I ever find myself as the officer making that decision, I might be better off not firing at all. Someone innocent might die, but I would be far less likely to be criticised for failing to shoot. If that is what the public want from the police, they may get it.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.