"Look out it's the TSG", this screamed by a youth clad head to toe in black, while wearing his face mask.
So I quickly check behind me, having been on the wrong end of a TSG baton charge before while deployed in plain clothes as a spotter I have no desire to feel the pain again. But there is nobody there but a couple more of my officers, oh it's us, this young lad thinks we're the TSG!
Working on a specialist unit means people do not normally mistake me for the TSG, normally I doubt they even realise I'm a police officer, which is handy when out on surveillance or meeting a CHIS (a "snout" if you've ever seen the Bill). On my unit there are officers from several police forces, and a couple of government departments that hold law enforcement powers. Earlier in the week I was out talking to a group of senior police, customs and SOCA officers about how to extend this kind of co-operation and now I am having bricks thrown at me.
There are so many things I would like to say, so many experiences that have happened over the last 48 hours, experiences of terror, experiences of massive humour and sadness.
Trying to restrain a shop owner who is attempting to run into a burning building to attempt to salvage his stock, and indeed his livelihood. Taking off my helmet so I can hear him better, he sobs as he explains to me about his life, and how he has built up his trade and now does not know what to do. I simply do not know what to say to him, when I survey the streets around us it reminds me of the looting that took place in Iraq in 2003, it's genuinely heartbreaking. I do something I find myself doing alot over the next few hours, telling him I'm sorry and then giving him a manly hug with a pat on the back. Helmet back on and we're off somewhere else.
I have never experienced looting of this scale, the wholesale sacking of shops is taking place, we know it is taking place and there is nothing we can do about it, a couple of the more hardcore members of my team want to "blat round and stop it", we're outnumbered, we're encumbered by protective equipment and we're drained. If we go blundering into this kind of situation we'll do more harm than good. And that's when it happens, my moment of terror "MAN DOWN", two words I never want to hear, we run to form a cordon round the fallen officer, shields up in all directions, everyone alert and scanning for a threat. I can't see anything but I can feel the impact of stones against my helmet, I can see some glass breaking around us, thankfully the downed officer isn't baldy hurt and is able to regain his footing, we're up and we're mobile, one of my worst fears averted.
The traditional, stereotypical, image of a public order police officer is that of some knuckle dragging man mountain who's main skill in life is being able to knock a door down in one hit. As I survey the people around me, none of them fit that. They're all reasonably intelligent, in the van there have been long discussions on what the cause of this is. We can understand the anger of the community over the shooting of Mark Duggan by armed police, we know that they want answers. But we also know that at times the investigative process is painfully slow, waiting for forensics to come back can take a while, the laborious process of locating witness and then taking statements, tracking down CCTV and seizing copies of it, then reviewing it. All of these things are hard enough for us, let alone the IPCC, and I have very little idea of the size of their investigative teams, but I can't imagine they are that large.
It is something the public do not seem to understand, investigations have to be carried out in a certain way, these ways take time, but they are done like this to maintain the integrity of evidence should a case ever need to be put before the courts. TV and film (which is the only interaction many people will ever have with the police) has put forward an unrealistic view of criminal investigations that they can be wrapped up in a few hours, with a few people and that forensic tests are instant and infallible. Sadly, in very few cases is this true...
We reached a new low at about 0400 when it was discovered a flask of tea had leaked over my kit bag, nobody was upset about my kit, or the fact my book was destroyed, they were however gutted that the tea had gone. Thankfully a few minutes later more was procured. We run on tea and junk food, I had managed to hide from them the fact there was a packed of Haribo Starmix in my bag, I managed to sneak it into my pocked with nobody noticing, they'll be useful for that moment when we hit the wall again.