Chapter 4 Fighting crime and Crushing evil
Well not quite. I was posted (with two other ex cadets from our intake, Jill and Bev) to Redditch, a new town. We were placed in single women’s quarters, which was a semi detached three bed roomed house. Jill managed to get the best bedroom, I had the next and poor Bev was left with a box room. Jill and I overlooked the front garden and Bev had a great view of the cemetery. I joined 'B' shift with Inspector Harries, Sergeant Whiting and acting Sergeant Prosser. All new constables are on a two years probationary period to make sure they are right for the job and are known as sprogs, a military term used to describe a new recruit. As the new sprog I was responsible for making the tea for the shift. This continued until the next probationary constable joined the shift, which could be weeks or months. My beat would be Redditch town centre. A foot patrol beat dealing with shoplifters and drunks in the main. On my very first day, within thirty minutes of being there I made my first arrest. I will never forget Dennis, a habitual drunk of the town, found in the band stand by a senior member of the shift and so I was called to cut my teeth on my first real arrest. I arrested him for drunk and incapable and gave him the caution. The others were sniggering given that Dennis was totally incoherent and there I was spouting off the reasons for arrest and caution to a half comatose guy. These days he would have to be taken by ambulance to hospital, which is a much safer place than the police station
I presented my prisoner to the custody Sergeant, Sergeant Whiting. It was just how I had practised it all at training school. I had passed my first initiation. I was told, 'OK, you need to forget everything they taught you at training school, and learn how the job is done properly. To be fair there was little difference, the odd sensible short cut, like not telling a comatose person that they do not have to say anything... but primarily the same. I was given a female officer as my tutor. We spent the first 6 weeks in a car responding to calls that I needed to complete before I would be allowed on independent patrol. I went to domestic disputes, road traffic accidents, sudden death, drink drivers, public disorder and reporting people for summons. I was expected to take an ever increasing lead in each incident. I had a week with the traffic officers. I was excused the post mortem given that I had done that as a cadet. I did a week in the front office, mainly taking details of lost/found property, checking driving documents, taking key holder details for people away on holiday and non reportable traffic accidents. I spent a week in the communications room where two civilian staff and an old constable who worked the 999 system, telephones, intruder alarm system and teleprinter machine. The old constable had been an Inspector but demoted over an issue with the tea fund. I never took responsibility for a tea fund as it was hard work getting money out of bobbies for their tea fund and clearly fraught with danger. The old boy used to fall fast asleep on nights. It was not unknown for us to put his tie in the shredder machine and put the frilly tie back on him and he also had his face tippexed a couple of times to my knowledge.
I was pleased to pass my tutor phase and be allowed out on my own. I had an old school Inspector who still had parades followed by the briefing. Stood to attention we had to produce all our appointments for inspection, warrant card, gloves, truncheon (the female truncheon was a ridiculously small size so it fitted into our handbags!), torch with batteries that worked in it and up to date pocket note book. Having been a cadet I adapted to this way of working very easily and I already knew about the additional items that needed to be carried, like extra strong mints for those jobs where the smell could be over powering. I quickly established a good 'tea stop' at the security office at a large factory on my beat. On nights we would all meet back at the station at 12am and 4am for Tango Echo Alpha (tea). We were expected to be out on our beats, only ever returning with a prisoner, for our allocated 45 minute meal break and at the end of your tour of duty. One night it was bitterly cold and no matter where I sheltered I was freezing. I went back to the station at 5.30am, half an hour early, to allow time for my hands to defrost enough to make up my pocket note book. I was caught by the Inspector and sent back out until 6.30am. Paperwork was expected to be completed whilst out and about on your patch. A much easier task when sat in a panda car. You could ask the sergeant permission for clerical time, which would be granted or otherwise on grounds only known to the sergeant you had asked. However on nights, all shop, factory and vulnerable premises had to be checked thoroughly and definitely before the end of your shift. It was not unknown to be disturbed in the middle of sleep with a call from the early turn sergeant asking when you last checked a premises as it had been broken into.
We were not allowed off our beats unless we had permission from a supervisor and it had to be for a good reason. Going to the bacon butty caravan on the factory estate on west's panda beat on early turn was not a good reason and a good 2 miles off my town beat. It was like a game of cat and mouse between the sergeants and the troops (constables) and of course the sergeants knew exactly what was going on as they were the constables before us. I would be picked up on the outskirts of my beat and taken to the caravan to consume a bacon butty in record time to then get back to my beat before the sergeant asked for a 'meet'. That was a meeting at a location on your beat for your pocket note book to be signed and to report all was well. The only advantage given was you could state the location for the meet and then the race was on to see who get there first, you or the sergeant. The other occasion a panda driver colleague would pick up a walker was on very cold and inclement weather days when you had the luxury of a Mini Metro heater for half and hour or so. It was drummed into me that a good copper never gets wet and I managed to stay dry by standing in doorways or providing a police presence in local shops. Not least because eight hours in a wet Gannex coat was crippling. Our coats sucked up water like a sponge and just got heavier and heavier with no give in the body or arms. A wet Gannax coat could stand up on its own when wet. The hostess hat was no better with water collecting in the rim so that when you tipped your head forward to write in your book it soaked the pages rending most ball point pens useless.
Two new sprogs, fresh from training school arrived twelve months later, Andy and Adam. At twelve months service I was trusted to show Andy around the town beat on the first shift and Adam on the next shift. It was the start of a run of seven night shifts. Andy was wearing his highly polished boots complete with Blakey’s studs in the heel. He could be heard from a mile away. His first lesson on the art of stealth was given by me and made to remove them. Andy and I were both 19 years old
Beats were given out in order of seniority. Traffic officers had the run of the town and rural areas in the sub division, there was a general car that could go anywhere in the town and tended to be a tutor constable with a brand new probationer or someone on the graduate entry scheme so they could pick and choose the jobs they took on. East panda beat was for an experienced bobby as it was the busiest, panda beat 4 was for anyone out of their probation and then of course there was the town centre foot patrol beat for the probationers on independent patrol. The idea being, that by not being in a car you built up your resistance to confrontational situation (especially at pub and club closing time), you got to know the area very well including alleyways and short cuts, got a good overview of the type of crime and disorder for the area so in theory you could be in the right place at the right times and learnt to communicate with members of the community. It was a good foundation. There were three 'progress and monitoring' courses throughout the probationary period, a fortnight covering general police duties, then a fortnight on crime and finally a fortnight on traffic. These were compulsory residential courses at the training school, which was fine for us single people but must have been tough on family officers especially with young children. There was one final course called a continuation course. Our class went to National Training School at Hutton Hall in Lancashire. We had a very relaxed course and were treated very differently to the new probationers there. We had come of age. I had matured into a self disciplined, hard working and mature young lady. I was twenty years old.
The most memorable event in my probation was in February 1986 I was on a 2x10 shift on the town beat. The Inspector had specifically requested that I check all seven of the car parks in the town due to the amount of car crime being committed. I had checked car park 7 and was on my way to my next car park when my attention was drawn to three lads in a car just off Unicorn Hill. Whilst there, experienced officers were sent to car park 2. There had been an atrocious murder of a mother, Carol Martin. Stuart Hopkins, 19 years old, claimed he had comforted the 38-year-old victim as she lay dying from 57 stab wounds. He was shown to be a hero in front of the TV cameras but soon became a suspect for the frenzied attack. Forensic evidence and a thorough police investigation in a major incident room led the police to charge Stuart Hopkins with the murder of Carol Martin. He was convicted at court and sent to prison. I can't help but think 'what if' had I started at car park 2 could I have prevented this tragedy? Highly unlikely but does make you think and kept me as a diligent officer throughout my career.