This is the official blog of ex-Sgt Ellie Bloggs. I was a real live police constable then sergeant for twelve years, on the real live front line of England. I'm now a real live non-police person. All the facts I recount are true, and are not secrets. If they don't want me blogging about it, they shouldn't do it. PS If you don't pay tax, you don't (or didn't) pay my salary.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Siege

Believe it or not, I have actually taken part in dozens of police "sieges". A siege is triggered when someone announces that a person is barricaded in somewhere and won't come out. The situation can be further complicated by the presence of weapons, hostages, and onlookers, but in any event the police response is generally the same:
  • 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 am
ong 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:
The only thing that should surprise the public in all of these cases is how long the police waited BEFORE firing the fatal shot. Respectively five hours, three hours, fifty minutes. I may be simplifying things drastically, but consider: if one of these incidents was taking place in the house next to yours, how long would you want the police to wait?

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.


Anonymous MarkUK said...

I have no problems with the police shooting someone (usually with lethal results) if all precautions have been taken and all other avenues explored. That includes shooting someone who later turns out to have a replica.

I still believe that in the case of J-C de M, Gold Command were reckless. However, like J-C, that's been done to death.

One point I'd like to make about the BBC article. I'm heartily sick of people "firing" bows and arrows. One does not fire an arrow, one shoots it. (Unless you mean set fire to it, as a fire-arrow.) One fires a firearm - the clue's in the name.

And yes, you shoot, not fire, a catapult or an airgun, though actually it's the projectile that's shot from the weapon.

British Order of Pedants (BOOP).

12 May, 2009 21:12

Anonymous james said...

I'm not sure if you're suggesting that the police open fire because it's taking too long? Where I live, a few years back, a police siege went on for over two weeks.

Personally I'd want the police to wait until there was no other choice. I imagine the police won't want to shoot unless they have no other choice either, and not just for the legal consequences.

In the examples you've given, I think the police action, whilst tragically unfortunate, is fully justified.

12 May, 2009 21:15

Anonymous james said...

just to clarify 'no other choice'. It may be from the second they get there, or before even. Or dictated by events, but not related to the amount of time it takes.

12 May, 2009 21:18

Anonymous ginnersinner said...

There's a psychological theory which says that when something bad happens to you, you will look for something to blame, and the bigger the 'bad thing' the harder you will try to find that something. Thus the families of people killed by Police will fight tooth and nail to prevent them having to accept the undeniable truth that, for the most part, the deceased brought their fate upon themselves.

They'll suggest any number of possible 'alternatives' using the phrase 'why didn't they...' followed by an option selected from whatever last hollywood movie they saw that worked. If that doesn't work, they'll attack anyone from the incident commanders to the IPCC, all in a futile attempt to shield themselves from the fact that their nearest and dearest (who wouldn't hurt a fly) was shooting at/threatening to shoot/pointing a gun or other lethal weapon at police or the public.

These are the same people who, ironically, prior to their experience, are likely to support the Police, accepting that they do a difficult job in trying circumstances, and also accept the fact that force is sometimes necessary to protect others from harm.

They suffer, however, from the 'them and us syndrome' which says that the Police should concentrate their efforts on policing 'them' (criminals) and protecting 'us' (law-abiding citizens) from 'them'. They'll believe that armed robbers threatening bank staff should be shot, somehow reasoning in their own mind that armed robbers (big nasty men with balaclavas) 'deserve' it more than their unfortunate family member (lovely brother with nice job and penthouse apartment/grandfather of nine with medals)

Sadly, firearms officers haven't the time or luxury to take any account at all of who the person they're facing is, what their background or history is, or wether they've just been divorced, fired and evicted all in the same week, when they're being threatening with a gun.

12 May, 2009 21:30

Anonymous Dr Melvin T Gray said...

Appearing repeatedly in the public eye, are instances of gratuitously violent and trigger happy officers. A truthful acknowledgement by police, together with decisive action are the only options to consider if public faith in their work is to be given any chance of restoration.

Maintenance of excuses has a reverse effect, Ellie. Rogue police must be removed and recruits, particularly to firearms duties, must be selected with greater care. Over reliance upon dishonest police accounts, public relations exercises, excuses and wishful thinking have all compounded these dreadful problems.

13 May, 2009 07:53

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Melvin T Gray,

It would seem you have only skimmed Ellie's post then put your own comment forth with an obvious agenda attached to it.

I believe Eliie was trying to explain that Police shooting someone is a rather rare occurence yet you use words like trigger happy in your comment.

Why not just come out and say whatever it is you want to say rather than twist everything posted?

P.S. Good update Bloggsy and bang on the money.

13 May, 2009 08:29

Anonymous ginnersinner said...

Dr Melvin T Gray said...
Appearing repeatedly in the public eye, are instances of police enforcing the law and firearms officers doing their job in difficult circumstances. A truthful thank you by the public, together with decisive action are the only options to consider if police faith in their support is to be given any chance of restoration.

Edited for accuracy

13 May, 2009 09:37

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had a siege back in January this year. It was fantastic. It was our previous inspectors final night with us. We had all just sat down to the kebabs he had brought, the whole shift was there...And then the call. "Patrols, we have a report of fighting on XXXXXXX street. Any units to attend". Naturally we decided the easiest resolution to this is ALL of us go.
As per usual, there is no fighting, there is however, 2 girls shouting at someone in a window. Needless to say we go to get in the house and he starts to throw glass at us from this window and claims he is in there with his grandma and his young son. We back off (he manages to damage to police cars with the glass so far). Then it begins....
"I'm not coming out, you lot can F*** off!". It's 3am, it's freezing cold, I've no jacket or jumper. Nor does anyone else. Our boss is realising now that his chance of going home on time has gone out of the window faster than the glass he is still flinging at us.
We begin the negotiations. Our cordon is set up. We have ARV en route, 2 (yes 2!!!!) dog handlers turn up (I didn't even know we had dog handlers anymore? let alone 2 at once!) Even traffic turned up (but they left again after about 10 minutes realising they weren't going to be able to provide any help unless he drives something through his wall to escape). After approximately 1 hour, ARV go...Yes that's right. They left. guess Unarmed regular plain old response officers to deal with this nutter who is holding knives up at the window threatening to slit us open. Pleasant isn't he.
Needless to say our highly trained negotiators turn up..And as this chap is throwing things at them it requires me and another to stand there with shields to protect them. This continues until 9am until a PSU of tactical aid unit turn up fully kitted. They were apparentely going to use the 'silent approach' to get in and take him out...It would have been a perfectly executed plan...if they didn't drop the wham ram on the floor outside the house alerting him to their prescense. On the plus side, the sight of them made him surrender. So much for highly trained negotiators. 7+1 team of hairy, hungry and bating for blood TAU officers was enough.
I got home at 11am. By which point I was blue and fully debriefed (What did you feel like when he started to throw glass at you? well actually I felt like leaving him there, he doesn't want to come out and I don't particularly want to go in, I don't see why we couldn't have just let him have his tantrum, waited for him to get bored, then come out when he realised he'd run out of cheap high strength fizzy lager and would have to go to the 24 hour tesco up the road) on theplus side, I did manage toclaim 4 hours at double time.
needless to say he was interviewed by a team of highly trained detectives. I think he got a caution? But maybe it was a final warning? Who knows anymore.

13 May, 2009 10:10

Anonymous Andrew Wimble said...

I think it is a bad thing for the police to kill people and everything possible should be done to avoid it. However a primary duty of the police is to protect the public and they also have a right to protect themselves. When there is somebody holding a deadly weapon (and a crossbow can be deadly) and threatening to harm people then the Police have to feel confident that they can use deadly force if the situation demands. If someone is holding a harmless object that happens to look like a deadly weapon then the same thing applies as the police have no way to know that the threat is not real.

There is a danger that if we are overly-vigilant at trying to stop unjustified use of force, fear of the consequences could lead to an officer to hesitate at the wrong moment, leading to innocent lives being lost.

13 May, 2009 17:05

Blogger The TEFL Tradesman said...

Well said, Andrew - go to the top of the class (if you can find it without your glasses - did Mad Mick steal 'em again?).

I spent several years living in Russia, where just an odd look at a copper would get you a thorough search, and about half your wallet emptied too (police pay is apparently very poor in the former workers' paradise). True.

Even worse (and still true). A colleague of mine asked his three local coppers (they always hung about in threes, probably for self-protection) to keep an eye on his flat while he was on holiday for a couple of weeks. As you would - but not in Russia!

When he came back, his flat had been emptied of all its expensive goods - of course!. He was, in all his Western naivety, actually on his way to the copshop to report the burglary when I stopped him, advising him that he would only succeed in adding a good deal of insult to his considerable financial injuries.

Now, that sort of thing would NEVER happen in the UK would it!

Wouldn't it?

13 May, 2009 19:33

Blogger Pavlov's Cat said...

an Old Joke (Soviet Era)

Why do Russian Policemen go in threes?

One who can read
One who can write
and another to keep an eye on these two dangerous intellectuals.

13 May, 2009 21:46

Blogger Metcountymounty said...

James when you said "I'm not sure if you're suggesting that the police open fire because it's taking too long?" were you joking or did you just completely miss the point of the post?

There is absolutely no such thing as 'taking too long' when it comes to a firearms job, if anything the longer the better, it invariably means the person gets so bored/hungry/sober that they give up without a shot being fired and the firearms teams losing a couple of operational officers for a bit while they are taken off frontline duties and investigated.

If the Police commanders had their way every firearms job would take a minimum of two weeks from the first call, the only thing that changes that is when THE SUSPECT decides to threaten officers or the public or is stupid enough to start shooting at or trying to slice open the public or the officers - all of whom would much rather be looking cool in their shades eating icecream somewhere instead of facing a murder accusation and a media witch hunt.

The simplest solution for all is for the suspect to 'drop the weapon and give up' but the media and very large sections of the public just don't seem to get that, and when they get shot, it's our fault.

Good post Bloggsy.

13 May, 2009 22:38

Anonymous Mac said...

The fact that in the case of the 64 yr old man, they have recovered a bullet from the body armour of one of the officers would suggest that we don't shoot early enough! Every time my force has been dragged through the press over recent years relating to firearms incidents has been because we were too cautious in dealing with armed suspects and innocent people died. Things are better now but Bloggsy's eloquent description fits every 'seige' I've ever been involved in. 'Trigger happy' is the polar opposite from anything I've ever seen and as an unarmed officer I long ago realised that any ACPO officer on duty at the time would prefer me to be shot first to cover their arse at any subsequent enquiry.
Earlier this week I was shown a newspaper interview with one of the neighbours of the solicitor who was shot after a seige. Her bedroom was peppered with shotgun pellets. As someone above said, if you were that person, how long would you expect police to allow him to keep shooting? But of course, he was middle class, so his shotgun wasn't lethal, just like 64yr olds can't possibly kill anyone.
(BTW I have utmost sympathy for the mental state most of the stated offenders appear to have found themselves in, but feeling sorry for someones circumstances doesn't make them any less dangerous).

13 May, 2009 23:05

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why can't they just shoot the gun out of the bad guy's hand? I've seen Sledge Hammer do it, so it can't be that hard...

14 May, 2009 00:40

Anonymous Kingmagic said...

I did a post on this.

15 May, 2009 12:12

Anonymous Hibbo said...

Good post there Bloggserino,

Although I don't really like the police I have never criticised them when it come to their firearm operations. Maybe the 'intelligence' and planning oiks in the case of the JCdM case, but not the gun-toters themselves.

I was staggered that anyone could complain about how the police handled the madman with the shotgun in Chelsea; he was firing a weapon indiscriminately out of his window, had plenty of chance to give himself up, didn't, continued firing, so the police shot him.

Even as a definite non-police sycophant I can see nothing wrong with that course of events.

Having done armed guard many times in the forces it was clear that the RoE existed purely to cover the bosses' arses and enable you to be hung out to dry.

16 May, 2009 16:39

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course unarmed officers are morons. If they weren't they would all be trusted with firearms. Right? :o)

21 May, 2009 12:49

Blogger Jason said...

Wow! Just wow! I'm a police officer and Texas and if we responded to "seiges" like this we'd be injured or killed. It seems to me that it is easier for an officer to be killed or an innocent civillian be killed than to have to use force on an armed criminal.

26 May, 2009 02:04

Blogger Eric said...

Actually you loose an arrow. You shoot the target with it.

27 May, 2009 16:08

Blogger staghounds said...

So far from the tea, so close to the bullets.

"There is absolutely no such thing as 'taking too long' when it comes to a firearms job", I have to disagree. A couple of years ago in (I think) Baltimore, some character climbed up onto the superstructure of a bridge and threatened to jump.

After an hour or an hour and a half, there was a 911 call from one of the cars trapped in the traffic snarl. Caller was having a heart attack. He was on the telephone for some time, but help couldn't reach him and he eventually died in his car.

My policy-

"If you are threatening to harm yourself and are in a position where you are putting others at risk, we'll try to talk you out of it for ten minutes.

Then we'll do the job for you."

02 June, 2009 18:16


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