Thursday, 14 March 2013

TV Cops

A little while ago an American friend asked me what I thought of the quality of police based tv shows. He also mentione dthe drama based on the Special Air Service Regiment, "Ultimate Force" which starred the actor Ross Kemp who made his name in a long running tv drama "Eastenders". My friend said that  `Ultimate Force` was similar to the US programme `The Unit`. He was pretty unimpressed by the firearms handling as portrayed on British TV dramas and sought a view.  I don't watch these things much for a couple of reasons; one is that when I was a serving police officer I had little interest in these stories because I found the real thing rather trying and wanted to get away from it, to the point I'd even change into/out of my uniform at work, hoping to shut the job out a little as I closed the locker door. As a Londoner and an `Eastender` at that, I didn't take to Eastenders either, despite the assortment of acting talent, but thats another genre.

As good as the acting may seem to the casual viewer, for me they never get it right when portraying police officers of any rank, especially the tactical firearms units, of which I was a member for many years (and at several ranks). The weapon handling is always a giveaway. The actors learn their lines fine, look dramatic, take on their version of what `rough and tough` looks like and try to bring to their chartacters all the other emotions the drama school and their own life experiences have given them. But for those who have been there for real, you can see right through it and it can really irk. They just can't devote the same amount of time to weapon drills as they can to their lines or moves (and often the moves are dire - room entries, getting framed in a doorway, gun barrels appearing around door frames... grrrrr... Though I am glad they don't give all our secrets away. (I'd hate to come up against someone like me who had gone bad).
Drills need drilling but once mastered it's there to the point you could do it semi conscious (precisely when you might need to, worse case). Eg. After more than 35 years had passed since I was trained, I took up a job involving small arms. The organisation was making short video clips to market what we did and it was suggested we showed someone stripping a pistol. I volunteered and we did a first take. I field stripped a 9mm Browning Hi Power in about 3 seconds. The camera guy said he didn't see it so I re-assembled it in about 5. Did the same thing, only a touch quicker, with a Walther PP. Camera man was a bit gobsmacked so I did it much slower for him but my point, was that any one of my team of 40 guys could have done the same. My American friend asked if I thought the bad handling by actors was because we don't have the same culture/number of gun owners in the UK. I don't think so. We certainly have a population with far less gun familiarity and perhaps TV producers rely on that fact to let poor handling slip. If I were an adviser on those tv shows I couldn't let a sloppy drill pass, but then I don't think the tv people worry. What I will say is that just because the US has millions of gun owners it probably doesn't automatically equate to better handling! You need to take it seriously and practice and study and train; I'm sure responsible owners do and from what I've read many responsible American gun owners do precisely that, but on the other hand if anyone can buy firearms in any High I have seen some diabolical shooters out `rough shooting` in our countryside who think they are good.

As for the characters portrayed in these dramas, there is enough people out there with weapons experience for producers to ask, if they have the time or budget or make the effort and many do, with results commensurate to their attention to detail. A good eg. for me was in `Skyfall`. I have seen it just the once, so far, and there was a mere few seconds in a scene where 007 goes for some refesher pistol training. I noticed that one of his first shots was awful. My immediate thoughts were, `Duh, prick snatched it, that'll be low left by a mile` and was about to annoy Mrs HD by telling her (I'm getting much better and don't annoy her nearly as much these days) when, Lo! 007 is mildly rebuked for a lousy first shot. Yes, it was intentional! 99% of viewers wouldn't have seen that bum trigger action, but I did and I'm sure other keen pistol shots would have too, if they took their eyes off Mr Craig's other features long enough. Kudos to the producers and to Craig for replicating a snatched trigger. But that famous James Bond sequence looking down the barrel - he doesn't check before firing, its turn-bang in one movement. One always checks - but now I'm totally anal.

"Ultimate Force"? I have watched about 10 minutes in total and that was enough. I never tuned in again. Too many `tough guy stares` and actors posturing in a manner they think SF soldiers posture - bollocks! I should point out, though, that I really rate Ross Kemp who has gone on to produce documentaries in some horrendously dangerous places and worked alongside our forces in Afghanistan, to the point where bullets and RPG's were zapping over his head and guys were getting shot around him. [But then Ross's dad was a British policeman ;) ] Many of my TFU colleagues were former Special Forces or from elite British regiments like the Paras and Royal Greenjackets. My own tactical firearms instructors were former SF. They were not like anyone I saw in that programme or on the tv shows. I was grateful for the closeness with which our job worked with the British Army and I spent many weeks on courses with them, CQB, FIBUA, COIN, CT Search.

The toughest, bravest, most capable men I served with on that unit were small wiry guys, big gentle giants or just plain average looking men. They spoke softly, loudly and some hardly at all. With the exception of the gentle giants, most of them would simply disappear in a crowd. I have had several officers I worked with over the years shot in the line of duty, mercifully none killed although my best friend was murdered on duty in Oxford Street. I have one friend who has shot a criminal (kidnapper) but didn't kill him, just shattered his upper arm [ .38spl +P jacketed semi wadcutter delivered by a S&W Mod 19 for the techhies out there) I have one professional acquaintence who has killed 3 criminals (armed robberies) and one who killed a deranged man pointing a gun at a tac team that was moving into position (seige). The guy with 3 fatal shootings is quite exceptional even, I suspect, by US Law enforcementf statistics but in the UK less than 3% of police are trained to tactical/hostage rescue level and armed response vehicles in any force are measured in single figures, so as a consequence we were always the ones going out against armed crims so our odds were much greater. All my aforementioned friends reacted very differently. One guy never talked about it to us, other than as a technical de-brief or for training purposes. His wife was very `off` with him and I think religion played a part there. The other one was happy to chat. What got him over the shock was being amongst his mates and knowing that he had no choice but to do what he did. The third guy was berated so much by his wife about him doing what he had to do that she actually packed her bags and divorced him. He remained an instructor.

Regarding the units I worked on, I can say that I loved those men. Some of them were not the nicest of characters in their private lives and others I would not choose as personal friends outside the job, but in all the tasks we trained for, I loved those guys. I never made that connection with screen characters unless they were the real deal but then in that recent film with the real SEAL's you could see they were the real deal because they weren't as good at acting, so it sort of cancelled it out for me. I have never served in the military so my comments herein are based purely on the professional contacts made during my police career and their training and tasking is very different and mainly for high intensity warfare. I guess that's why I don't watch this sort of stuff on tv.

Gadget - It's a Mythtery

It seems that Inspector Gadget has packed up shop and bloggered off. Good luck to him/her. I hope he doubles the time on pension that he spent drawing a salary (something I wish to all my police friends). I was only a casual reader of his blog, probably less than a once a month. I would rarely go so far as to leave a comment as I recognise a pointless exercise when I see one, but I would not wish to diminish the theraputic value of venting that a serving officer/victim of the system would get from being able to do so. Despite that, Gadget actually sent me a personal Christmas greeting once, which was nice.

There are comments on other blogs that I casually surf into (and quickly out of, wiping off any fingerprints as I leave the room) that suggest any number of things regarding this event, for it is an event, and one of those theories is that he was always retired which is why he could never be tracked down and why he could be so prolific, bearing in mind the research and typing time that went into some of those posts. What is also a possibility is that he had a ghostwriter at his elbow/in his house/in his life. Whatever the real answer may be, the posts were always authentic.

Most of the police officers that I have communed with in public post comments or private messages since I started my own ramblings on this `hobby blog` were quick to point out that when it comes to talking about being a police officer, authenticity is something that is very difficult to fake - for long. Gadget was nothing if not authentic. I recognised him pretty quickly, as did thousands of other serving and retired officers hence the huge following. The posts were formulated from real events, real systems and real policies. The frustration, the crass stupidity and the human mire that diverts a massively disproportionate amount of police time away from dealing with people who genuinely need it was all too real. The self-centred and lacklustre management was all too readily identifiable (albeit they're not restricted to the police).
Those outside the police, including politicians, might be forgiven for writing him off as just another bitter and twisted frustrated `commie agitator type` and be thinking, `it can't be that bad`. To that I'd say that I have toned down many of my own `war-stories` for the very reason that I know people outside the job just would not believe them. I have been out of that life for eleven years and so I have no up to the second anecdotal evidence, but I still have a lot of friends who do.

The `Gadget denial brigade` may have argued against his views and hated his attitude on any number of policing issues and the twisted poisoned psychotics hated him just because they hate everyone, but I don't ever recall him being proved a liar.

Monday, 11 March 2013

`The Ducking Stool is a humane punishment` - official

Essex Police helo`. (Immune from floodwaters whilst in air)

A very flooded road, leading to an very angry river.
A Range Rover that neither floats, climbs Kilimanjaro or shoots rapids. Trade Descriptions Act breached?
Snow and rain in East Anglia bringeth forth the strange ones in Range Rovers who believe the Company's TV advertisements about driving up Everest and crossing the wild Zambesi on low profile road tyres whilst wearing Jimmy Choos.

The intrepid duo approached the river down a road that was a 300 metres stretch of overflowed river.(warning clue number one)
At bridges it is usually narrow and fast flowing and a full eight feet lower than this (warning clue number two).
There is even a weir (warning clue number three).
The nearer they got the faster the mighty Waveney flowed, but on they pressed (big hint number one). The vehicle starts to move sideways (message that you are no longer in control)
Then its lifted by the current and dumped against trees. It was freezing and they were lucky not to have been swept into the river totally.

Essex helo (@£2k an hour), a fire engine, a fire service dinghy, paramedics and 4 police units later and its all sorted. So, Land Rover, expect to hear from someones solicitors in due course.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Verdict as anticipated


Now call me `an old fart` and complain about the smell if you wish, but when I saw this case coming and the result of the other half, I thought the better option was a guilty plea with heavy mitigation based on what she attempted to cite as a defence. But then I'm no solicitor

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Could you make this up?

The French have been having a rare old time with their road traffic law making of late.

First of all, some wag who apparently owns a company that manufactures breath testing kits got well and truly behind the push to introduce a law requiring all drivers/riders of motor vehicles in France, to carry a breath test kit in their vehicle. This is for self-testing purposes. Presumably this allows people who have had a skinful to realise that they have had a skinful and make the rational decision to refrain from driving until they can blow a negative - except that the test is only a guide and not a calibrated and approved device for accurate analysis of alcohol in the body, not to mention the seemingly overlooked fact that people become less rational the more they drink.

 Apparently this person who owns the breath test kit company was even part of the road safety group that did the `research` which many have argued is flawed and lacking in any evidence that this would contribute to the reduction of drink-driving offences, crashes, injuries and fatalities. The law got passed and lots of business rolled in with the production of aforementioned breath testing kits (I've even seen them on Amazon), except that after much lobbying from many groups who are really concerned with road safety and have no business interests connected with the legislation, the whole shebang was put on hold and the minister of the interior stated that he was, amongst other things, `sceptical` as to the value of such legislation.

Now it has been announced that the French have reached a brilliant compromise. The law requiring the breath testing kits to be carried will stay, but there will be no penalty for anyone who fails to do so.

So that's alright then. I knew they'd see reason and, in so doing, seem to have achieved a win-win in the process. Those who drive in France can choose whether or not to obey the law and buy one of the kits to carry with them, spurred on by the knowledge that they won't be fined even if they don't - and the breath test kit manufacturer has the continued opportunity to financially benefit from the process by hoping that people buy his product because its the decent thing to do (and it's the law) even though they run no risk whatsoever of being fined a single Euro if they choose not to. Maybe its really some sort of employment initiative, having seen our attempt at this and simply put some French spin on it? It all makes perfect sense. Now that reminds me, I must check the oil and vinegar levels and change the ciabatta filter in my wife's Fiat 500.

Read more here

Friday, 1 March 2013

Progress personified?

No helmets? No knee pads? No brakes?  No parental supervision? And what about those dreadful old buildings either side.....thank goodness for the modern architecture in the background.