You might have heard it said that policing is a job like no other.
Let me tell you a handful of stories…
I’m a PC in Westminster, sent to my first Sudden Death. It’s a basement flat in a big old Pimlico townhouse. No suspicious circumstances – just some standard procedures to follow.
The old man died sitting in his living room chair. Now it’s just him and me and silence – waiting for the undertaker to arrive.
It’s ever so slightly unsettling for a 23 year old who hasn’t seen much of the world. I’m half expecting the old boy to cough at any moment – or to scare me witless in some other way.
But the one thought I can’t shake is that he died on his own. There was no one there to hold his hand; to say they cared; to ask if he needed anything to make himself more comfortable.
It’s just too sad for words – and I can only hope it wasn’t long and drawn out; that he didn’t feel too much pain.
No one should have to die alone.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will sit quietly and respectfully with the deceased. Waiting.
I’m a Brixton PC, standing in A&E at Kings College Hospital.
I’ve got my arm round a colleague who has broken down in tears. We have just watched the brave and brilliant – and ultimately hopeless – efforts of the medics to save the life of the victim of a domestic stabbing.
I was there in her bedroom as my colleagues did absolutely everything they could for her. I saw her wounds. I was on the other end of the stretcher as we stumbled down the stairwell in a mad run to the ambulance. And I was there in the hospital as they performed the open heart surgery.
Now the PC next to me is in bits and I am numb. I work my way through half a packet of cigarettes when I get home that night.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will take a deep breath and go again.
Still at Brixton.
Her name was Suzanne. You could tell that she was once a beautiful young woman – genuinely so. And still only in her early 20s.
But she discovered crack. And became a desperate addict – turning tricks in alleyways for desperate men.
I can still see her now: knee length boots that are falling apart; filthy, dishevelled clothes; red, dead eyes; dirt and snot smeared across her face; staggering through the custody suite.
Then there’s the smell. Oh the smell…
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will try to pick up the pieces of another shattered life.
Early morning in Peckham. I’m the Section Sergeant and I’ve volunteered to deliver the death message.
He was only a teenager. Went round to a friend’s house for the night. Had too much to drink, lit a cigarette and fell asleep on the sofa with it still burning in his hand. Set the whole place alight and put his own flame out.
Brutal and final and awful.
As I walk up the front path with two other officers, I can feel the weight of the news I’m carrying. Rehearsing my lines in my head.
When is a Copper on the front step ever good news?
A man opens the door.
‘I’m so sorry…’
I am the teller of the tale and he is the hearer of the agony of it all. The realisation comes later that this is the only conversation I will ever have with this man.
I invite myself in and see at least half a dozen other family members – staring at me and fearful of what must be to come. Last night brought the end of one young life. This morning brings, in some respects at least, the end of theirs. And my colleagues and I are unavoidable intruders on their grief.
We do absolutely all we can – but eventually, just as we arrived, we have to step back out of their lives.
And take the next call.
Somewhere out there today, a police officer will be the bearer of unbearable news.
Nights at Peckham. I’m the Custody Sergeant.
Standing in front of me is a PC whose face is badly beaten and swollen. He looks a mess.
There’s been a murder this evening – and this lone officer has chased the suspect through a series of back gardens, caught up with him and fought with him, hand to hand. Somehow, he managed to hang on until the help got to him.
Now there’s a killer in the cells.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will display astonishing courage.
I’m a Chief Inspector and a trained Hostage Negotiator.
I’m somewhere in the middle of Hampstead Heath, sometime in the middle of the night. Called out from home.
Local officers have been here for some time. I make my way silently up to the shoulder of one of them and listen. About 30 yards ahead of us, I can just about make out the figure of a middle aged man.
He is standing at the edge of one of the big ponds and he’s threatening to jump into the icy water.
We talk to him.
We listen to his story.
And, after goodness knows how long, he accepts our offers of help. The locals get him to somewhere safe. I head home and back to bed. But not to sleep.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will talk someone back from the edge.
Arsenal vs Barcelona in the Champions League.
I’m a Superintendent and, tonight, I’m the Police Match Commander for the game.
I’ve got a highly experienced team around me – and they give me an armchair ride.
When I’m not watching the crowd or the CCTV screens, I am – just like everyone else – mesmerised by Messi.
The game itself passes without incident – at least from a policing point of view – and the ground empties.
Just as we are thinking about closing down for the evening, there’s a flurry of activity on the opposite side of the stadium – on one of the TV gantries.
A call comes through on the club’s radio system. Paramedics required. One of the cameramen was packing away his gear and collapsed. He just dropped to the ground.
Everyone responds immediately and the medics are with him quickly.
I’m working alongside club officials in the Control Room and we can see the whole eerie scene being played out about 400 yards away from us. I can make out people, but not faces. I see the paramedic kneeling over the poor man. I see his green-sleeved arms moving up and down as he administers the chest compressions.
Images without sound.
And I see a man die. Not for the first time; not for the last time.
Somewhere out there today, a police officer will say a silent prayer.
I’m the Chief Superintendent at Camden.
I’m sitting in my office, talking to a PC who has been called to give evidence to the 7/7 Public Inquiry. I’ve read his statement and now he’s telling me his story.
He was the first officer onto the bus in Tavistock Square. He ran towards the very thing that almost every other person was fleeing in blind panic.
And he saw things in that place that are beyond description or comprehension.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will answer the call.
I could tell you endless stories.
And they would all be true.