Fairly frequently I receive the following tweet from a curious member of the public – ‘There are six police cars blocking off such and such street and I’ve just seen the helicopter drop a police dog down somebody’s chimney, do you know what’s happening?’.
Often I’m off duty when I get these messages so am in no better position than anyone else to say, sometimes if I am in and have heard what’s occurring on the radio I may be able to give a general idea, although the best place to look for information is usually our official departmental social media feeds.
As it is, the sight of police car after police car zooming by usually gives the impression that something big is going down nearby, ‘big’ as in headlines of the news at six and front page material.
Curiously though it isn’t necessarily true that the more the officers, the more serious the incident they’re on their way to. How we allocate resources to jobs depends a range of factors extending beyond simply that Godzilla is kicking down bits of Streetly.
Some jobs require as many officers to attend as possible in the first instance as without ‘flooding the area’ as we call it, we determine it’s likely that we won’t get the outcome we’re looking for.
Young missing children would be a good example of this – the usual response when we get a report of a toddler having wondered off in the Saddlers Centre is to ask anyone available to make the location straight away and help with the search.
The longer we leave it, the further an inquisitive young explorer can crawl and so with each passing minute, our search area grows.
The same logic applies to other incidents too – a robbery for example will (literally) attract every man and his dog as we want to maximise our chance of catching suspects.
Sometimes you may see large number of vehicles at an incident because we have some information that we might need a large number of officers for safety or perhaps to stop someone slipping out the back door.
Prior to arrest attempts, for example, we’ll check what we know about the person we’re after and if there are suggestions that he or she has been violent in the past or has a tendency not to stick around, we’ll then ensure we have enough pairs of boots to prevent issues.
Deciding who goes to what is largely the job of the control room who will allocate cars to incidents as soon as they’re sent across from the 999 operators.
Jobs involving violence or some other disturbance will usually attract pairs of officers, as some of those responding may well be patrolling single crewed then you may see the cars stacking up outside a neighbouring house giving the impression that something huge is happening whereas in reality, it’s simply down to the fact that officers have brought a car each.
When it comes to deploying the helicopter, probably our most visible bit of kit, its presence doesn’t necessarily mean there’s been a Holby City-style disaster, rather that officers on the ground have determined that asking for a flyover would likely help them spot something not visible at street level.
Metal thieves laying low on rooftops, criminals running off down footpaths or vulnerable people wondering through large open areas are all the sort of situations that may well involve us calling up the chopper.
As for who comes out to jobs, sometimes who might find that the type of unit arriving isn’t quite what you might expect.
I’ve heard recently firearms officers arriving at car accidents and police vans checking out trouble causing drunks in the town centre – this isn’t because they were specifically asked for, rather because the officers will have overheard jobs on the radio and volunteered to attend in the first instance because they may have been close by and are willing to help out until a more appropriate unit arrives.
So in short, the number of officers arriving at an incident doesn’t necessarily indicate that something major has happened and nor does the type of vehicle or officer that we send.
It’s all down to what’s happening on the day – it could be Godzilla on a rampage, equally so though it could be that another officer or two is needed to help with some traffic control.
The jobs where there has been a major incident with us calling in officers from far and wide – the bomb scares, large fires and serious road accidents as examples – usually attract a tweet or two from @WMPolice or one of the local feeds so if you’re ever curious to know what’s happening, check them out as they’re your best source of information.