Two highly emotive words – instantly recognisable to police officers everywhere.
It’s a distress call.
It’s the distress call.
The one radio transmission guaranteed to cut through the relentless background noise – to prompt any Copper within travelling distance (and some much further away) to drop whatever they’re doing and get to a colleague in trouble as fast as they can.
It’s a powerful thing.
I think the first time I had to make the call was as a Sergeant in Peckham.
We’re going back a while…
It’s another Late Turn in South East London.
I’m out on patrol with my Inspector, when we respond to reports of some sort of disturbance on the Queens Road. Up towards the Lewisham end. We’re the only unit available – everyone else is tucked up with prisoners and other calls.
We arrive on scene, get out of the car and find the address up on the left hand side. It’s one of those big old South London townhouses – set back from the road and converted into flats.
There’s a young white man standing on the front steps – about 25 metres away from me. Slim and dressed in scruffs, he’s illuminated by a combination of street lamps and the lights on in the building behind him.
He’s got a knife in his right hand… Looks like some sort of kitchen knife.
And he is sawing it backwards and forwards on his own head – a curtain of blood running down his face and soaking his clothes. It looks like that still image from the Stephen King film ‘Carrie’.
Reality more troubling than fiction.
That’s when I put it up on the radio: ‘Urgent Assistance’.
Give the location. Suspect armed with a knife…
The reassurance of knowing that units are running.
But time slows down between the call and the help getting to you.
I’m a mixture of adrenalin and caution. I draw my baton. Not sure what use it will be if he comes at me – but, somehow, I’ve got a feeling he isn’t going to. Anyway, it’s all I’ve got.
I keep it behind me – don’t want to antagonise him – and venture onto the frontage of the house.
Keeping my distance.
I try to talk to him. I get his name and attempt to calm him down – but he’s highly agitated. Something about breaking up with his girlfriend.
And, from what I can tell, she’s somewhere inside the building – together with their young baby. Condition of both unknown.
I’m giving updates on the radio…
The knife is still going backwards and forwards on his head and neck. Blood and more blood.
Just keep talking.
He makes no movement towards me and, initially at least, seems to be responding to what I’m saying.
But he flat refuses to put the knife down.
And the problem is his evident and worsening condition. That – and not knowing where his partner and baby are. Or how they are doing.
Just keep talking.
They should be here any minute.
The cavalry arrive just as the man ducks back inside the front door – still holding the damn knife. No time to mess around. The firearms officers are straight in after him. No thought for their own safety. Concerned only for mother and baby – and for my mess of a man.
It all ends OK. At least, as OK as these things ever do. The man’s girlfriend and baby are unharmed (in the physical sense at least) and he is safely in custody. No telling quite what their longer term prospects are though – what kind of a world that child is going to be growing up in.
I see the knifeman down in the cells the next day. Cleaned up a bit and in his right mind, he remembers me from the night before.
I’m certainly not going to forget him.
Blood and distress; weapons and violence; heartbreak and trauma; unspeakable wickedness and unimaginable harm; helpless innocents and deeply troubled souls; the frayed edges of society… All daily realities for frontline police officers.
Where can you find a Copper these days?
Mostly likely in the hurting places…
In amongst the broken and the breaking; heading straight towards the very situations that everyone else is trying desperately to get away from – venturing where most wouldn’t dare and not holding back: helping the good people; nicking the bad people; watching one another’s backs; choosing, on occasions, to put themselves in harm’s way.
Because that’s what courage means.
Because that’s what duty demands.
Because that’s the Job.