Monday, 28 April 2008

Why are my hands shaking?

At some point, usually when you least expect it, someone else is going to force a situation that leaves you no option but to deal with it. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be on your own in the middle of nowhere with a radio that doesn’t work and a nutter who is intent on completing his life’s ambition of kicking a coppers head in. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, 20 or 50, married with kids or single, all they see is the uniform and what they want to do to it. This kind of situation doesn’t happen that often to be fair, but you owe it to yourself, your colleagues and your family to be as prepared as possible to deal with any given situation. That could be first on scene to a major incident, a serious sexual assault allegation, a burglary, or backing colleagues up at a fight.

The latter can often be a serious bone of contention, most people don’t like to think that our job is as violent as it really is. The fact that most paramedics nowadays routinely wear body armour (especially at night) is testimony to how dangerous our society has become where people who’s one and only job is to save lives and yet people still attack them. Despite the growing trend in attacks on emergency service personnel, our officer safety training is pitifully inadequate and does not reflect what it’s like to be fighting with some drunk unit on the floor whilst wearing full (polyester) uniform, belt kit and body armour. The role plays at training school are so far removed from reality that personally I think they do more harm than good. They instill false confidence that can and has come back to bite people seriously hard in the arse.

Only recently have the recommendations and allowances for real life started to work their way into the Police management mentality, especially in Professional standards departments. This means that it is becoming accepted that we do not receive enough training to expect everyone to be able to remember or use the home office approved techniques when the situation is going banjo. Sometimes the quickest and easiest way to drop someone or shock them enough to be able to gain control is a good old fashioned punch to the face. This tends to look really bad on camera and bystanders who are obviously experts in everything criticise you, but needs must, and you resort to what you know when your heart rate goes through the roof and fine motor control is diminished because of it.

Handcuffing is a classic example of this, at training school we were taught something like 20 different ways of putting the things on and taking them off. Most operational police officers have one or two techniques that we like and use and in the heat of the moment you turn to what your muscle memory has been programmed to do, they come out, they go on and you sort out how to get them off at the station. As long as you put them in the holder properly, you can be pretty certain you’ll be able to take them off with the minimum of fuss – as long as someone in custody remembered to take their cuff key out with them.

CS spray is another piece of kit that is hardly ever used, I’ve only threatened it a few times and used it twice. Personally I hate the stuff as it turns me into a heaving snot monster, and if you think about the type of people that it affects the least, you start to realise why most police officers don’t use or like it. We are taught that CS doesn’t work on people with mental problems, who’s adrenalin is high, who have become used to it through exposure (such as armed forces), people who are seriously drunk and have ridiculously high alcohol assisted pain thresholds, disciplined or focused people (such as proper martial artists) or about 25% of the rest of the population. What you can be absolutely certain of, is if someone gets the stuff out and uses it, the main people affected will be the Police officers.

Some people may have had experience of being in a fight before they joined, others practice some form of martial art or boxing but most people have never been in so much as a shouting match prior to picking up their warrant card. Sparring or fighting someone and trying to get away is completely different from the type of fights you have as a Police officer, most of the time you’re trying to restrain someone safely which is considerably harder than actually dropping someone or knocking them out. Virtually everything we do is influenced by how it looks to the public and knocking ten barrels of shit out of someone looks much worse than 4 or 5 people taking them to the floor and cuffing them. As usual you’ll get the “how many does it take?” comments or some idiot counting you all out loud, but it’s much better than a Police brutality headline and someone’s photo of them black and blue splashed across BBC or Sky News, whether they deserved it or not.

Most of the people I work with (including me) hold to the belief that we can’t really trust someone until we’ve either seen them in a fight, or know that they’ve been in one. It doesn’t matter whether that officer is young or old, male or female, if they haven’t been in a fight then they are an unknown quantity and therefore a liability. Something I absolutely cannot tolerate is being involved in an incident and watching the duty probationer doing the moonwalk over to the van or a witness – especially if they’ve actually wound the person up in the first place. There are a number of reasons for this really and as a trainee Police officer they have an obligation to become experienced in all areas of the job, especially ones that they don’t like or are afraid of. If they are unwilling to get involved in a physical confrontation then you cannot know for sure that if something kicks off and there are only the two of you, that you can trust that person to back you up all the way and not leg it. I have seen specials literally run to a car and lock themselves in and I’ve had people wind someone up and then expect me to deal with it as they buggered off to speak to the doormen.

If you have never been in a fight then the best time to get the experience in a relatively safe environment is when there are other colleagues there to help out, if we’re out in the main public order areas with a probationer who we know is inexperienced then every single one of us will be looking to that person to get involved, if not take the lead. Just because you thought you were good at doing an elbow strike on a pad in the gym counts for nothing if you can’t land a decent strike or get a proper arm lock on someone who is intent on taking home some trophy bruises.

Until you’ve actually experienced the effects of adrenalin and know what you can and can’t do whilst it’s going through you, then you will not know what to expect at other incidents, not just fights. If your pulse doesn’t rise and your hands don’t shake at your first proper RTA, foot chase or jumper then you’re lucky. If it does and you don’t know what to expect then you could not only make mistakes, but you could also leave the incident with self doubt which, if unresolved, can lead to other complications, especially with confidence. Not being able to write or hold something without shaking is perfectly natural and if you expect it then you can deal with it. Once you realise that people only see what you show them, it doesn’t matter that you’re scared and your heart is trying to burst out of your chest and you are taking short sharp breaths. As long as you give off an air of calm and confidence, most people will actually back down before you have to get into a fight. The problem is that most of the time you actually have to experience a fight before you work out how to avoid them without backing down yourself.

If you’re the kind of person who joins the Police thinking that you’ll get through your whole service without ever having a fight then to be honest you shouldn’t have joined. You owe it to yourself to experience the bits of the job that scare you as ultimately you could find yourself alone with someone who wants to take you on. If you’re not confident that you can win the fight, the very last thing you want to do is show the other person that. You can be certain it will give them a confidence boost that they’ll take advantage of and you’ll be in a world of hurt. If you are a Police officer and you have yet to actually have your first proper fight then I would encourage you to get stuck in when you can, especially if there are a few of you and the chances of you actually getting injured are slim. It’s not macho, the experience could actually help you save someone’s life once you know what it feels like to not be fully in control, that life could even be your own.



Anonymous said...

I'm not in the police but I am a probaitonary ambulance technician and I can really relate to a lot in your post.

If you don't put yourselves out there and deal with the adrenlin in the moments that scare you, you won't survive the job.

This week I had 2 cardiac arrests and suspected brain haemorrhage and to top the week off my first birth in the back of the ambulance. I have come out knowing that I will survive the job, for instance it was only when the midwife asked how many I'd delivered that the parents had any idea it was my first.

Cool, calm, professional and learn.
Having said that, I really don't think I could do your job! I like my face the way it looks now!!

Forest Cop said...

Excellent post with a lot of really valid points. Slight shame about the swipe at Specials, though. I've seen regular probationers bottle it just as often, and I've lost count of the times I (as a special) have been the only backup to a beleaguered regular - working in a rural area as I do. But I don't deny it happens, certainly you've obviously seen it - and in my view that lets all of us specials down, as backing up the regulars is the main reason most of us do it. Actually, isn't it something that we should try to address more in recruitment and initial training? The problem is that as you say, it's really difficult to know how someone (even yourself) will deal with a situation like that until the wheel bounces off down the road...

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. In my job, (not a police officer!), I have been involved in many nasty incidents and it's amazing the number of times you turn round for back up and the person you were counting on is running in the other direction! You can't give an inch, if you're bricking it, don't show it!

Angry Rozzer said...


Spot-on mate, spot-on.

You can't get a measure of a colleague until you've seen them put "hands-on".

I've been in plenty of scrapes & hated it everytime, I hate scrapping with people but sometimes it's necessary evil.

My shift jokingly say that if there's a tussle I'm usualy in the thick of it, but, they've always been glad to see I'm the first through the door when they put up an assistance call.

blueknight said...

It happened to me a couple of times, but I lived to tell the tale.
Years back me and a mate were on plainclothes patrol, when we came across a crowd of people gathered outside a housre. They were gatecrashing a party but at the time we did not know that at the time. We realised something was going on, especially when a smoke bomb went off, so we called for a uniform back up, before we stood around outside, blending in, while seeing what was going on. Suddenly a fight broke out in the garden, a man fell to the floor got a 'right kicking'. It was the sort of assault that could have ended in brain injury or death, so we had no choice. In those days the only thing we had was the wooden truncheon and we were in jeans and T-shirts we did not even have that. We went in to save the man, but one turned on me and I got a punch to the face, followed by a kick that missed, - when I caught his leg pulled it and he went flat on his back on the tarmac, which knocked the stuffing out of him. Then the cavalry arrived.
Advice and observations.
If you spot a dodgy incident,always call up to say where you are and what you are going to do. When the sh*t hits the fan, all you will be able to shout down the radio is 'aarrrgghh'
When you are out and about, especially on foot make a mental note of road junctions, shop names landmarks etc. That way, if an incident erupts suddenly, you still have a chance to call up a location.
A punch on the nose often makes the attacker's eyes water so it will be harder for him to keep up the attack.
If you get punched it does not hurt until later.
Everything you learned at U.D.T goes out of the window.
You can do anything you want so long as you can justify it.

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant blog. This one should be used as an introduction to personal protection training (or whatever they call it now) at Training School.
As a probationer, more years ago than I care to remember, I was double crewed with a very experienced PC (who happened to be ex Royal Marine - I was ex Army so we had a sort of love/hate relationship). We were sent to a pub fight and the drunken instigator stood there, taunting us to 'come and get him'. My Oppo (capital 'O'for the reason shown) talked quietly and calmly to him saying that he had two options. He could either calm down and walk to the Police car so he could be interviewed at the Police station or he could be arrested with force which may cause him some pain. It was preferable that he chose the first option but whichever he did choose, he should remember that he was responsible for whatever happened afterwards. As he was saying this my Oppo had his hands outstretched with palms facing the drunk in an obviously non-threatening manner. Continuing to talk quietly and calmly he walked towards the drunk and told him that he would have to cuff him but as soon as they reached the Police station the cuffs would be removed as long as he behaved himself. He then, very politely asked the drunk to turn around so the cuffs could be applied. To my surprise, he did so, was cuffed and was walked quickly to the car. It showed me that you don't necessarily have to meet aggression with aggression but it depends on the circumstances. On another roccasion I saw him being attacked by two drunks and he took them both down, one with a heel of his hand onto the nose and one with a fist to the testicles. Not approved Home Office moves I will admit but they were very quickly removed from being threats. When this was queried by me in the 'wash-up' afterwards, he told me that no one from the Home office was there, there was enough evidence to prove he was acting purely in self defence and the instinctive need for self preservation caused him to use the training given by another Government department (the MOD) and he was willing to argue the matter in court if necessary. I learnt a lot from him and we became firm friends, right up to the point where he died of throat cancer. Of course, in today's fluffy bunny, everything's pink, partnership policing service he wouldn't have fitted in but I considerd him to be a Police Officer of the highest calibre - something possibly lacking in many of todays troops, though hopefully I'm wrong.

Metcountymounty said...

In my stupidly tired state I deleted 5 posts that were submitted, if these were yours then I apologise, please resubmit them if you want, thanks for the ones that were up. I'm still trying to get the hang of this, anyone know how to get back rejected posts??

northooter said...

First time i've read your blog, spot on.

In many respects I find the "wind up merchant" worse than the copper who turns the other cheek.

I've seen punters who are cuffed and restrained and coming down wound back up again. What the "merchants" don't always realise is that someone at some point has to deal with these people.

Dunploddin said...

Pardon the lamp '71 whilst I was at training aschool at Hendon all the PTI's were ex military, as were a lot of the recruits. I can't recall what 'personal safety' lessons were called then but am certain it was something a lot less politically correct. They consisted of the PTI demonstrating Home Office approved 'come-along' holds and restraints which we then duly practiced on each other. At the end of the lesson the PTI would announce 'I've shown you what I have to, now I will show you what really works. Get in quick and get in hard!' What is more you were also told the correct form of words to use in court to justify your use of 'sufficient force to protect my person and effect the arrest of the offender'. Those lessons were invaluable to me over the next 30 years at the sharp end.

bordersblue said...

As an immigration rather than a police officer I thankfully get involved in far fewer 'difficult' situations than you lot. On the occasions it has happened though it has really got to me and left me with the shaking hands etc (I know, poncey civilians...)Respect to you for facing these situations on a regular basis.

Great blog by the way.

Blue Eyes said...

This is becoming required reading - you actually tell us non-Police people what it's like on the streets!

Anonymous said...

Every word true. I know from experience that I fight cold but get a bad dose of shakes afterwards. My hobby is a full contact martial art and I know that I will get badly planted one day but so far I keep rolling sixes.

Adam said...

Excellent post. I agree with every bit of it. I've seen some officers walk off in the middle of a ruck (almost always new officers), leaving me on my 'jack jones' on several occasions or leaving me and a couple of others to restrain / strike / defend ourselves against several persons.
I've also seen it happen on cctv tapes of arrests (from handover packages) that have taken place where you can see they're doing everything they can to get the hell out of there or to get some good distance from the scene at the detriment of their colleagues.

The officer safety training we are provided with is completely inadequate with the exception of a couple of open handed techniques which I've used and found to be successful. The knee strike is a good one technique too. As far as sound defence of ones person goes, we should be taught non-complicated, powerful techniques in uniform and with full kit. The techniques should be aggressive and should mean less strikes are required to achieve the desired effect (i.e. no longer attacking police or public, no longer violently resisting).
Also, bought 'On Combat' as recommended by yourself and find it to be excellent.

Adam said...

Northooter - Agree with that too! Isn't it funny how when the van arrives at the custody suite the wind up merchant has disappeared or is suddenly 'busy'?

TheBinarySurfer said...

Good post, and yeah spot-on - you can't trust someone at your back that you haven't seen come through in a rough/bad situation.

I'd go one further and say that some people are nature's flighters, and some are nature's fighters!

Also bloody good comment from Plodnomore...

AnneDroid said...

You guys and gals are heroes. I'm such a "big jessie" (as we say in Scotland) I couldn't do your job at all. I do work in prisons but, as non-uniform, my job, if anything kicks off, is to press myself against the wall to let the officers run to the scene!

I do share the concern about the wind-up merchants though. I've seen a bit of it at work sometimes and had to mentally salute the prisoners for turning the other cheek.

Whichendbites said...

Worry ye not about the deleted posts. I sent one to say that I posted about your first post back in November last year. An excellent article. I found it at Johnny Law. I also added you to my side bar as a link. Keep up the good work. WEB

PCSO Bloggs said...

Really interesting post, gave me a good insight, thanks. Have linked.

For The People said...

Great post. Well said. I tell the Rookies this. If you go to a major call and you do not get a little nervous or scared, quit now or you may not live long enough to. It is okay to be scared, just do it scared. I was recently involved in a incident that caused me to have no choice but to take a life. Very bad deal! I hope and pray I can retire before, I ever have to face that again. In the US people think cops go out looking for "trouble", I can assure them we wish we never had it. We have to carry handguns because of the high number of criminals with them. Very seldom do we ever have to use them but I was just bad at the luck of the draw. Most officers retire without ever being involved in gun fight, I hope that I never have to do it again.

TotallyUn-Pc said...

MCM - well said. Of course I've come across desperate situations myself. I spent ten minutes with a drunk ex Guarda civil soldier once which I never want to repeat again, we beat each other black and blue and I can tell you I was shitting myself.
and there os always the chap who won't get involved, (I was on the TSG in 1998 when one of our crew stood behind our line as we fought face to face with steamers, and I dragged the yellow prick into the melee with my own bare hands!

I just wish the public would accept the ugly side of policing. It has to be done... it sickens me that we are criticised for doing it!

Anonymous said...

As someone who is about to join the boys in blue i found your post an great eye opener. I expect to be scared a lot and feel i shouldnt be in the job if this doesn't happen. As you say i just need to learn how to deal with it and not show my fear.

They should use this blog at basic training!!

Thanks for the insight! Keep up the good work. May even get to work with you one day!!

Metcountymounty said...

anon 1345 - being scared at a job is as normal as being happy afterwards, i'd worry if I worked with people with no fear at all, as I said it's a case of learning to not show it at the wrong time, we're all human after all.

Anonymous said...

From day one in this job I have feared letting my colleagues down far more than I've feared a kicking. A kicking I will (and have) taken. Bruises heal, trust is a much more difficult thing to restore.
On specials. . . . I can immediately metion two on my section. One is a big lad, and several times I have seen him doing *anything* rather than get involved in the actual fracas. One time he actually stood three feet away holding the door of the cell van open for us that were fighting madly. Cost me two days off work with an injured knee that did. Words were had! And the other is a tiny little twenty year old lad, fresh out of the box. And he's like a little terrier when the chips are down. One I now refuse to work with, one I try to crew up with at every opportunity. Can you guess which is which?
When it comes to fortitude of heart size matters not, nor status as regular/special. It's deeper than that.
And I tend to shake like a leaf after the event. But I know I've done the job.

Metcountymounty said...

anon 1408 - the post was a dig at specials specifically, nor about probationers, I've got alot of respect for some people who work with us and absolutely zero for others. ultimately its as the saying goes, its not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog. Being a pretty big f&cking dog does help sometimes though if you can use it!!

Anonymous said...

Apart from the specials bit - totally agree. OK I'm a bit biased having been a special for over 10 years but I've had specials and regulars alike backing off in a fight as well as standing strong. In our rural force you are more likely to come across speicals policing the towns and dealing with the fights than regulars. I wouldn't want to be paired up with someone who won't get stuck in, our assistance is normally 5-10 mins away; well 30 seconds is a long time!

Sage said...

That post really made me sit up and think, I don't think I could or would want to do your job.

Having been at the receiving end of violence, I do anything and everything to avoid confrontation. I would only be a danger to anyone else who was reliant on me.

It is nice to know that you guys are out there, and I would happily pay more tax to have you able to do the job well; but it's not for me and that's probably safer for you guys as well.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought macho cops were bad cops but as always you have a great way with words and gave me some real insight and justification. Good job!

Metcountymounty said...

anon 1328 - whenever I think about a Macho cop I think about the archetypal Spanish Alpha Male cop with Top Gun esque Aviators whose sole intentions for the evening seem to be either to pull or crack some drunk sod over the head with a baton! I don't think being confident in your ability to handle yourself in confrontational or a stressful situations is macho, it's essential if you have any hope of not going nuts with the crap we deal with. I've been through enough to admit I that my experiences have made me cry as well as laugh, from feeling like the world would just swallow me up to how good it feels to land a decent knuckle bruising punch on someone! The main issue is accepting all the facets of the job and experiencing them, not just the cool stuff like eating a pot noodle at 140 mph on the motorway to back up a pursuit.