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Sometimes, your best isn’t good enough….

One of the things I like most about being a Special – about working for the police full stop – is that you never really know what you’re going to get.

There are times when I’ve went into work on a Monday and within half an hour I’m on the phone with a DI about a stabbing or a high-value theft. Or I’ll be on shift and we’ll get one of those calls that gets your adrenaline going.

And so it was on this particular late shift. Hadn’t expected anything out of the ordinary, possibly some minor scuffles from drunks falling out with each other. We were on mobile patrol, just in the process of pulling over a woman for trying to drive her car with one hand holding her phone and the other holding a coffee, when a call came in….

‘Any units, Grade One call, male collapsed in the street, members of the public giving CPR, ambulance en route.’

DB, the cop I was working with, exchanged a look with me and hit the blues. We were literally just around the corner and it took us less than a minute to pull up outside a group of people gathered around a figure lying on the pavement.

I debussed right next to the group who immediately let me through. Before me, an elderly gent, seemingly unconscious, what I could see of his face was puffed up and one eye was swollen shut, blood oozing from a wound to his scalp and blood and vomit running from his mouth. A woman was performing chest compressions whilst another woman was on her mobile and was relaying instructions.

I knelt beside him and got a clear view of his face. It was blue. His face was blue, all over blue. One eye swollen shut, the other glazed and unblinking, looking straight up at the sky.


I’m not in any way, shape or form a medical professional, but I have a few pals in the business who’ve passed on some pearls of wisdom. The blue face was one of those, it meant the male was cyanotic, and that meant something had gone badly wrong somewhere.

The woman carrying out compressions identified herself as a nurse. I nodded and marveled at my state of zen like calm which tends to overtake me in dicey situations. I pinched the mans earlobe and shouted at him. Nothing. I really didn’t like the glazed look in his open eye, so I took out my torch – a niftly little number which I got from the US for a great price when the pound was strong against the dollar just after I started. I switched it on and shone it in the mans’ eye. Nothing.

I put away the torch. A later check of CCTV showed that I shook my head at this point though I can’t remember doing it. The nurse carrying out compressions was getting pretty knackered by this point so I took over. DB had the bystanders phone and was talking to the ambulance control room.

‘You OK with those compressions mate?’

‘Yeah, I’m good just now bud.’

‘OK, cool, just let me know if you want me to take over. Ambulance is en route.’

‘Cool, cheers, can you tell them he’s cyanotic, not breathing, not responsive?’

DB passed this on whilst giving me the raised eyebrow that foretold of a future piss-taking for use of a technical medical term like ‘cyanotic’. What can I say, it stuck in my head that night I was in the pub….

A few minutes later the ambulance arrived. The crew hurried over with their bags of tricks and I handed over to them. Having a look around, there was a fair crowd gathered. A young woman was sobbing quietly off to the side whilst her other half hugged her. The nurse was speaking to another cop who’d turned up, and DB was on the radio to the control room. I dusted myself off and started speaking to folks, finding a witness who’d seen what happened from the start – the male had just collapsed in the middle of the street. There were a few people all trying to speak to me at the same time. At this point two more cops turned up – one I knew vaguely, an old-school cop who was pushing 30 years in the job. He did something I still find pretty unreal.

He tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention.

‘Hey mate, you needing us to speak to these witnesses?’

A cop of almost 30 years experience asking me what I wanted him to do? Thinking about it later, I reached the conclusion that he knew exactly what to do, certainly much better than me, but he did it to show there were other cops there to help and to give me a bit of a confidence boost.

I nodded and thanked him, and took a statement from a young guy who’d stopped to help. He was quite shaken as well, but was a decent guy, and had done the best he could. I told him this and thanked him for his help. He apologised for being a bit shaken up.

‘Sorry, I’ve just never seen anything like it, not used to dealing with this stuff like you guys are.’

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that this was the first time I’d had to do any first aid related stuff of any note, and it was also the first time I’d been to a call about someone collapsing in the middle of the street (drunks/druggies notwithstanding).

As this was going on the ambulance crew had placed the male in the back of their wagon and were frantically working on him. One of our guys drove the ambulance back up to A & E so they could continue to do so, and once they got him in A & E the staff there took over.

About twenty minutes later they pronounced him dead. Speaking to the doctor later there was a pretty good chance he was completely gone by the time DB and I got there. I suspected as much when I saw him, blue and staring at the sky. Again, what never ceases to amaze me is how calm I seemed, like it was an everyday normal occurance to fight a losing/lost battle to save a mans life. Although throughout it all the little voice in the back of my head was saying


and so on and so forth. You get the picture.

When we got back to the station, the sergeant had a chat with us, thanked us for a job well done, made sure we were OK. ‘You did your best lads, but it’s just one of those things. He would have been the same if he’d dropped right outside A & E.’

The email I got a few days later from one of the bosses said the same thing. ‘Despite your best efforts, the gentleman unfortunately passed away….’

And the folks who heard about it and spoke to me about it said it as well. ‘You did the best you could mate, there wasn’t anything else you could have done that would change anything…’

They’re all right of course. We couldn’t have done anything different. And I’m pretty much OK with that now, storing it into the memory bank of experiences I’ve had in the cops. At the time it wasn’t so simple. The next week or so was…strange. The face of the gent who died kept popping up in my head. I was quietly miserable – this had been my first chance to actively and directly save a life. Perhaps the only chance I would ever get to do this. And I had mucked it up and someone had died.

It’s a pretty appalling feeling. It stayed with me for a couple of weeks before it started to disappear into the background. I was helped enormously by a couple of cops who I spoke to some time later – one had been an ambulance technician in a former life and the other had been through some kind of combat medic course in the military and had then spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of them independently told me the odds for CPR working are poor – they had each carried out CPR numerous times and it had worked on only two or three occasions between them.

When folks with that much training and experience tell you this it does make things easier to deal with. It’s still something that occasionally pops into my head, and the face of the gentleman is something I won’t forget. I tried though, as did the ambulance crew, the staff at A & E, and the members of the public who rushed to help a stranger.

It’s something you just have to learn – You can do your best, but sometimes it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

Next time though, I’m gonna let DB get out of the bloody car first….




In the country…….

Watched the most recent episode of Coppers on Monday night, showing some of my Scottish colleagues out in the big bad countryside. It’s a nice change of pace being out in the country, and things are done quite differently from in the similarly big and bad cities and towns.

I think every force in Scotland has a mix of urban and rural beats, unlike some of the purely metropolitan beats in some English forces. I ended up doing a few shifts out in the country a while back when I was still fairly new in service, after meeting a sergeant at a night out who knew a couple of guys I got on quite well with. After plying me with drink and using his supervisory wiles on me (I felt so dirty) I ended up going to a station that covers several thousand square miles and a number of small towns/villages with an average about eight cops.

And just like the show, about an hour and a half into the shift, we’re driving along some country road when the following exchange takes place:

Me: <fiddling with radio> ‘Damn, I think we’re gonna have to go back to the station.’

JB: ‘Why, what’s up mate?’

Me: ‘My radio is gubbed.’

JB: ‘Why do you think that?’

Me: ‘Not heard anything on it for over an hour now.’

JB: ‘Nah, that’s just normal mate.’

Normal? For a Saturday night? It’s gonna be a long shift….

Appearances, however, can be deceiving.

It wasn’t a long night as it turned out. Fate, the fickle lass that she is, had decreed that in one of the small towns we covered there was a town hall in which a birthday party was being held. Asking  the locals about said party got the information that it was a 40th or possibly a 50th. Something like that.

It wasn’t until just before kicking out time that we discovered the horrible truth – it wasn’t a 40th, or a 50th, it was an 18th. We found this out whilst the shift met up for a quick coffee before things got a bit busier. Looks of impending catastrophe were exchanged all round, and a chorus of muttered swearing was heard before we collectively headed off to the town hall in question.

No sooner had we arrived than an  angry crowd spilled out the front door with much screaming and cursing. We went in to find some pissed off folks and a few teenage girls in tears – apparently there had been a brief punch up over something and everyone had been kicked out and nobody wanted to speak to us about it. So out we went and chivvied folk on, which they did grudgingly and for a short distance. ‘Not so bad’ thinks me, ‘they’ll all hopefully get in taxis and bugger off now, after all it’s freezing and there’s no kebab shops.’

As it happened I was kind of right. It was freezing and there were no kebab shops. Unfortunately there was also only about 2 taxis on in a 50 mile radius and they had to convey people home a much longer distance than back in the big smoke. There were also no nightclubs, so the end result was 40 to 50 pissed off, drunk, and now a bit bored teenagers (with only a scattering of older folks) hanging around in a small town square looking for something to do and with nowhere better to go and no way to get to someplace better even if they had it.

So we regrouped near the wagons and I waited for some words of wisdom from the gaffer and the more experienced regulars. By this time there were about eight of us, including another Special with less service than me. There were no words of wisdom. As the crowd grew slowly more restive, I got that odd feeling you get when you know violence is imminent – a mix of the sick feeling of fear in the stomach and the ‘right, let’s get this over and done with’ feeling which almost welcomes what’s about to happen. Almost. A little voice in the back of my head – my inner geek – started wondering if the gaffer was going to start reciting Theoden’s speech from ‘Return of the King’…….

And sure enough, some drunken muppet decided that a comment from another drunken muppet was overly insulting towards his girlfriend/mum/sister/football team, whatever. Give the guy his due though, it was a proper movie style punch which caught his victim completely flatfooted. Down he went, cracking his head off the pavement with a thump, and collectively causing everyone to stop and look for a fraction of a second.

And then it kicked off big style.

Very obligingly the puncher and the punchee were only about 20 yards away from us  and in plain view, obviously completely taken in by our cunning hi-vis camouflage. So it didn’t take long for us to reach them and get hands on the assailant. At this point the tactical picture went from bad to really bad, as two of the regulars huckled the puncher and the next two had to tend to the punchee, who was now lying unconscious on the deck with a pool of blood spreading from his head and a hysterical girlfriend standing over him screaming her head off. So the odds had went from 8 vs 50 to 4 vs 47.

Oh dear.

Into the ensuing rammy went the four of us. As it happened those who were inclined to fight wanted to fight each other and not the polis, so it really was just a question of breaking about half a dozen scuffles and keeping them broken up. There were a few peacable types as well who thankfully started to drag some of their more belligirent mates away, obviously worried about them getting arrested by us – very little chance of that due to our low numbers. We alternated between shouting at people to back off and disappear (or words roughly to that effect) to forcibly dragging some people apart, pushing others away, and doing some arm twisting and shoving away for the more determined muppets, and doing some nodding and appreciative words to the folks who were trying to make things better.

Although I always get nervous as hell in the run up to these sorts of incidents when it all happens I tend to run on autopilot a lot. One part of me seems to just do all the pushing and moving without any thought whilst the other part looks around and thinks about ten seconds ahead to see who needs telling off next, who’s a threat, who’s not a threat, who is behind me, where are my colleagues etc. It’s a strange and yet pretty amazing feeling – a state of mind that somehow combines not being completely in control of what you’re doing and yet being hyper-aware of everything that’s going on around you and not having any fear or doubt or anger. My weakness in this state is that I don’t hear anything being said over the radio whatsoever, which is a potentially rather serious weakness but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it – it just happens every time.

This time I missed a couple of units who by sheer luck were relatively close by shouting in that they were attending, and promptly turned up with blue lights flashing. The die-hards who were still thinking about having a full blown scrap decided that the odds were now somewhat against them and folks began dispersing, in some cases chivvied on by the newly arrived units (if I remember rightly 2 traffic cars who were obviously in a bad mood about a lack of speeding motorists to hunt down and a van with about five cops in it who were doing some kind of Community Impact operation somewhere, I never did really find out what though).

Fully dispersing the crowd took the better part of an hour. The van load of cops were in a no-nonsense kind of mood and decided to make an example of a few of the more gobby folks who persisted in hanging about, dishing out a load of FPNs. By this time I was coming down from the zen state I had been in when everything had kicked off and I was not a happy chappy. Mr Adrenaline had decided to call it a night but his leaving present had been to give me a really bad case of the shakes, which I was trying vainly to control by walking about a bit and sticking my hands in my stabby. I ended up shouting at a pissed teenage girl to ‘TURN AROUND AND WALK AWAY NOOWWW OR YOU’LL BE JOINING YOUR PAL IN THE BACK OF THE VAN’. I initially hated myself for losing the plot with her as I pride myself on being as reasonable and laid back as humanly possible, and I was almost a foot taller and more than a decade older than her. I didn’t join to be a bully after all, and even making a lot of noise in general is just not my thing. But it did the job where kinder words hadn’t achieved anything and off she trotted up the road in a sulk.

As I watched her head off the gaffer came up behind me. ‘She’s normally quite decent but when she gets a drink on her she’s a right mouthy wee cow.’ I grinned weakly and muttered something about trying to tell her nicely. The gaffer patted me on the shoulder, and gave me the first open compliment from a supervisor  I’d had since I’d joined – ‘Ahh, there’s no telling some people. Good job tonight mate. Back to the office shortly for a brew, ok?’

And we did. And the regulars completely accepted myself and the other Special, and good banter was had in the office. One of the things I noticed about working in the country is that the shifts tend to be a lot more close knit, and this was definitely the case tonight. Rural cops tend to appreciate Specials a lot more as well. The rest of the shift passed without incident, the guy who’d been one-shotted had no serious injuries and was only kept in the hospital for overnight obs and I was treated to a pretty spectacular sunrise over the countryside on the way home. And I slept like a log that night. Although the adrenalin hangover – that peculiar feeling of feeling jumpy and a bit on edge – lasted for a the rest of the weekend.

I went back to do a few more shifts out in the sticks and had a good time on each occasion.

Rural policing isn’t as easy as some folks think though. Back up is usually limited and sometimes many miles away, you have to let some things slide that would otherwise get folk jailed in a heartbeat in the towns and cities, and I don’t even want to think about some of the RTA’s. But if there are any city specials out there who’ve never experienced it, if you get the chance, give it a go.

If nothing else, the scenery is nice.

The police?! Me? I couldn’t do that job….no, seriously….

I didn’t even consider joining the police when I was growing up.

Thanks to a family full of serving or ex-military personnel I always thought I’d join up myself. For various reasons which I won’t bore you with it didn’t, and I floated from job to job for many years, not really settling down on anything that might be considered a worthwhile career.

Then within the space of a few months I joined my local force as a civilian support staff-member and as a Special Constable. And life changed pretty dramatically for me.

I need to clear up a few things right from the start.

First of all, I live in Scotland, and I mention this straight out as it makes a hell of a difference when talking about the police.

Secondly, most people think of the police and they think of the actual full-time officers themselves. Support staff are quite often vilified in the press as being faceless officious bureaucrats, too many in number doing unnecessary jobs. A lot of people have never even heard of Specials, and those who do often seem to ridicule us as either wannabe coppers who can’t make the grade or as power-hungry twats who just like to boss people around. I know members of both groups who fit these descriptions though I’m happy to say they are in the minority.

So, support staff first. We do the jobs that need to be done in the police but that don’t need a cop to do them. So thats everything from the real back-room stuff (typists, various admin roles) to logistical support (like the mechanics to fix the vehicles) to the front-facing staff (custody staff in the cells, control room operators, CCTV operators etc). I’ve heard some right horror stories about the numbers of police staff in some forces in England outnumbering the cops by two to one, however as far as I know it’s the other way round throughout Scotland, which in my humble opinion is how it should be. Another big difference is we don’t have PCSOs in Scotland, all the street work is done by actual cops. Generally us support staff do a pretty good job of taking care of the things that police officers shouldn’t really have to worry about. Do we insist on rigidly following procedure? Personally, I do most of the time for the very good reason that not following it might result in some smart arse defence solicitor getting his client off on a technicality, which is not good. However you never quite know what sort of situation is going to crop up in this line of work, so some flexibility is called for. And I know a lot of cops appreciate that.

Which brings me nicely onto Special Constables. We are (despite what some people think) police officers with all the powers of a police officer, and get issued the same kit. We don’t get anything like the same amount of training though, and selection isn’t nearly as rigorous, which can be a baaaad combination. Most Specials that I’ve met want to join the regulars in the very near future and decide to volunteer to see if they like it and to get some experience. Which aren’t bad reasons at all, unfortunately it does mean that the ‘career’ Specials (like me) are pretty thin on the ground, and most Specials don’t have a lot of experience because of this high turnover. I’ve done reasonably well so far as I realised quite early on that I didn’t really know much at all about the job and should just shut up and watch how the regulars do it first. I’m fairly well thought of by my regular colleagues (as far as I know!) and tend to work with the same shifts quite regularly. I can quite happily chat away to people – which is the most important ability a cop can have in my opinion, I can take a pretty good statement (being somewhat anal retentive has its advantages!) and although I’m not the biggest or fittest person in the shift, I can look after myself and am pretty aware of whats happening around me (anal retentive and mildly paranoid, that’s me).

When I first started going out as a Special, I was constantly in a weird state of mind combining nervousness, fear, anxiety, apprehension and excitement. After a good few years I’ve gotten to the point where my pulse only slightly goes up when we’re blue-lighting it to a call about a guy with a samurai sword. Although I still hate crowds with a vengeance, waiting outside the clubs at kicking out time is my idea of hell. Still, I really enjoy being a Special, it’s something different from what the majority of people experience, I genuinely do feel that I have made society slightly safer on the odd occasion, and I enjoy the banter with the guys and gals that I work with.

It does make me wonder though. I hate seeing that an increasingly sizeable number of people in our society don’t so much live as exist, going from day-to-day with no ambitions over and above the thought of getting pissed, getting high, getting laid or getting their next benefit payment. I hate hearing various people speak about policing like they have a clue about what it’s actually like on the streets when they plainly do not. I hate some of the criticism we get in the police, again mostly by people who have no idea what it involves and what we have to deal with. I hate our legal system, which is so hopelessly out of date and seemingly intent on bending over backwards for the bad guys. I hate seeing that very small minority of cops (regulars and specials) who do act like complete arses to people and give the rest of us a bad name. And I hate the fact that Specials get all sorts of criticism and disdain when we face the same risks and hardships our regular colleagues do.

To finish the first post, I’ll tell a war story instead of ranting on. We turned a house one early morning on a drugs warrant. In goes the front door and we all go charging in shouting our heads off, “POLICE WITH A WARRANT!!!’, very TV-ish. I go running up the stairs as planned to clear one of the bedrooms while my colleague takes the other room. Nobody in my room, a quick search confirms it. I go through to help my colleague as she was fairly new. Open the door to find her holding a wee boy, 2 or 3 years old. He’s not worried in the slightest by all the shouting and actually seems to be quite happy to have a new friend. Mum and dad are down the stairs with another couple of junkie mates in the living room shooting up when we put the door in. We get to searching, and I do the room I initially went in and it finally sinks in that it’s the bedroom of a wee girl, probably about 10 years old. Turns out she’s away staying with the grandparents. I  search through her belongings, even more reluctantly lift what looks like a tick-list, a few SIM cards and some paper money from a box high on a shelf, out of her reach. Some of the cops come up the stairs to help with the searching, much to the delight of the wee boy, who seems to decide that all the strange people dressed in black are here solely for the purpose of being his new playmates, which amuses everyone no end. End result – a few arrests, various drugs seized, another small time dealer temporarily out of business. Decent enough result. Until I think about it later in the pub. About how the cheery wee boy with the drug-taking and drug-dealing parents is probably screwed and has a minimal chance of a decent life. About how screwed up it is that his parents were downstairs with their dodgy pals selling and taking drugs whilst he was upstairs. About how, except for a twist of fate, I almost scared a 10-year-old girl shitless by charging into her room at stupid o clock in the morning shouting my head off. And about how it would ultimately change very little as the people we arrested would probably be back on the streets quite quickly and between now and the court case they’d be dealing again. It was the sort of deep and meaningful thoughts that could potentially turn a guy into a basket case of self-pity and remorse and muchos depressing thoughts.

Then I had an epiphany. Just crack on with it. I didn’t make the world, I just live in it and deal with some of the more crap parts. And the next time I hear someone speak about how the police are shit, and how we do x y and z wrong, and how Specials are just pretend police, I’ll just smile, and nod, and think ‘You don’t know a bloody thing about this job, so your opinion is meaningless.’

So I cracked on, and had another pint.

And it was good.