When the ‘copper’s nose’ comes in handy

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Operation Bonus is still running in Spalding to tackle burglaries. Many of the people that have been arrested or charged are the result of some really good stop/searches that are going on after dark, when most of us are tucked up in bed.

I can’t often write about current policing operations as the matters are often still going through the legal process. However my officers’ current activity brings to mind one of my stop/searches that didn’t quite go according to plan.

It was a bleak Tuesday night in Spalding. I had briefed the shift and they had gone out on patrol. We were having a problem with burglaries on one of the estates. Night shift was always one on my favourite shifts: an opportunity to escape from the paperwork and do some ‘real’ police work.

As the police station gates slid open and my patrol car emerged on to the streets of Spalding, a song came unbidden in to my head. I had heard the song on the car radio on my way in to work and like a portent, it came back to me now: ‘Bad Moon Rising’ by Credence Clearwater Revival. (Which, incidentally, contains one of my favourite guitar intros ever). With a sense of foreboding, I hoped the lyrics weren’t a premonition: ‘There’s a bad moon on the rise’.

The thing with night shift is you get used to the same cars parked in the same place. You see them night after night, and even though they might not register in your consciousness, you tend to notice if there is something out of place. Some call it a ‘copper’s nose’: that ineffable sense of when something isn’t right.

It was just gone midnight as I travelled down Queens Road and noticed a car that was out of place. It was a silver coloured Volkswagen Polo and it was parked outside the house of a suspected drug-dealer. I drove past and continued further down the road and then parked up, so that I could keep an eye. I didn’t have to wait long.

Within a couple of minutes I saw someone walk to the car and get in. The lights went on and the car started to drive off towards Holbeach Road. I started to follow the car as it turned left in to

Holbeach Road, towards Twin Bridges. The Polo then went straight on towards Commercial Road as I caught up with it.

A quick flash of the blue lights and the car came to a halt. So far, so good. I got out of the police car and walked up to the driver’s door of the Polo. The driver wound down the window and I immediately recognised Colin. Colin and I had had a run-in about a year earlier when I had arrested him for possessing controlled drugs. On that occasion we had a difference of opinion: he thought I couldn’t arrest him. He was wrong.

I crouched down by the driver’s door and explained to Colin that I was going to carry out a search of him and his car. I then explained the legal grounds for my search.

I think that stop and search is where officers really earn their money. A lot of what we deal with is reactive: we turn up at incidents and deal with what is presented to us. Stop and search is different. It’s about disrupting criminal behaviour. But for the actions of my officers carrying out a search and finding stolen or prohibited goods, the person in possession of them would get away with it.

And so it was on this night, long ago. As I explained to Colin why I was going to search him he became increasingly truculent and belligerent. There are times when being nice and reasonable just won’t work and you have to be forceful, so I told Colin to step out of the car.

Unfortunately Colin didn’t see things my way and instead he started the car ignition and began to drive off.

I leaned in and grabbed hold of the steering wheel. Colin wasn’t going fast, but it was faster than walking pace and my feet were been dragged along as I was hanging out of the driver’s window. I didn’t want to let go because if I did then Colin could drive off and dispose of anything illegal that he had on him. However, I was also seriously worried that Colin was going to pick up speed and drag me further along.

Keeping hold of the steering wheel with my right hand, I punched at Colin with my left and shouted at him to stop the car. I’m not proud of having to resort to using force. I’m even less proud that my punch was ineffective. I drew my CS spray and shouted a warning to Colin that I was going to spray him and the threat had the desired effect. He immediately became compliant and stopped the car.

I kept hold of Colin’s right wrist through the open window and then negotiated him into undoing his seat belt and stepping out of the car. He was placed face down on the floor and handcuffed to the rear. I finally had a hand free, so I used my police radio to summon assistance.

A few minutes later I was joined by some of my colleagues. A quick check of the car boot and the officers found a lawn mower and a strimmer. They carried out a check with the control room and they matched items stolen in a burglary the previous night. I promptly arrested Colin and he was taken in to custody.

We had travelled only a few hundred metres, but I had aged about ten years! I’m sure that’s the night my hair turned grey. My trousers were ripped and the shoe leather was scraped off my boots. My heart was racing but I was otherwise unscathed and surprisingly exhilarated. As adrenaline coursed through me, I looked up at the moon shining through a break in the clouds. If there was a ‘bad moon rising’ it was for Colin, not for me. A few weeks later Colin appeared at court and pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods, possession of drugs and obstructing a police officer.

Recently you may have seen newspaper articles when people have been charged with offences of burglary or handling as a result of Operation Bonus. What those few sentences in a news report don’t tell you are the stories behind each and every one of those arrests and the times in recent weeks when the next generation of officers have used their ‘copper’s nose’.