Posts Tagged 'Olympics'

You are gold! Always believe in yourself!

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Met Police Commander Bob Broadhurst had said in his futuristic video briefing that the security operation surrounding the Olympic Games was to be the ‘largest peacetime deployment of police the country has ever seen’.

As one of the thousands of officers from around the country deployed to the games, did it live up to the hype?

Like I’d written before, I’d jumped at the chance to get involved with the Olympics and had been looking forward to going ever since our planning department had confirmed I’d been picked.

I’m happy to report that the experience itself itself exceeded all expectations.

My deployment lasted over a ten day period, starting off on Thursday the 26th of July with around sixty of us meeting in Birmingham to load onto a series of coaches.

At the pick up point a theme started that would continue over the course of the trip – being presented with food at every turn. Eating is something I’m pretty enthusiastic about so I had no issues with this and plunged into the sandwich bag with a true Olympic spirit.

Our officers were spread across university halls around the capital with my ‘serial’ – six officers and a sergeant – heading off to the Brunel University campus in Uxbridge, West of London not far from Heathrow.

Everything ran smoothly, we unloaded our huge baggage train and went off for a briefing with the Metropolitan Police who helped orientate us and brought us up to speed on the local lingo; ‘apples and pears’ apparently meaning ‘stairs’ and ‘Gregory Peck’ standing in for ‘cheque’.

Day one of the deployment proper had us up early and on a coach to one of the Met’s huge mustering points which they’d constructed at the the base of Battersea Power Station.

Like an incredibly well policed miniature city, the mustering point had all the facilities required for us to park up our vehicles, eat, collect radios and then receive our daily briefing.

It was only once we arrived at the mustering point that we got an idea of the scale of the operation – sat in the canteen were officers from every single force and parked outside were vehicles baring a huge variety of crests. Everyone was wearing slightly different uniforms, including one force who had stab vests apparently disguised to look like a jumper an elderly teacher might wear, but I think everyone was excited about being there.

As I’d said, eating was indeed a big part of the trip and I felt the Met did an excellent job in ensuring we could fill out our stab vests. The catering staff remained cheerful despite the never ending parade of hungry bobbies and the food wasn’t bad either.

Assigned to help out with the torch relay with the flame being brought down the Thames by barge, we then made our way to Westminster Bridge for a spot of foot patrol.

Perhaps having your photo taken by tourists gets a little tiring after a while but it was a novelty for us and so we spent a very enjoyable few hours chatting to the tourists and giving some rather ‘approximate’ directions before seeing the flotilla arrive and pass under us on its trip towards Tower Bridge.

Saturday was a day off with me taking the chance to see the end of the men’s road cycling by Buckingham Palace, Sunday then saw us start doing what we’d be tasked with for the bulk of our time in London – helping guard Team USA at their London training facility.

As always we started off with a generous breakfast at Brunel and then, probably not more than two hours later, arrived at the muster point in Wanstead for lunch before heading off to the Docklands where Team USA had taken over the University of East London campus.

It was our job to man the checkpoints around the perimeter and whilst it wasn’t particularly busy, I think it was quite a good posting.

Situated across the dock from London City Airport we could watch the planes land and gaze at the cruise ships docked down the quayside that the IOC had hired as accommodation for their staff.

Over the course of the week we found ourselves chatting to several of the Team USA staff who without exception were incredibly friendly and polite. I saw a few of the wrestlers, boxers, spoke to the shot put coach for a while and saw their entire basketball team trying to squeeze into a coach.

The highlight though was, without doubt, the catering. I know it sounds like the main thing I took away from the deployment was a little extra weight (partially true) but Team USA had taken over the canteen and granted us officers free access to it – I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so well and if anyone from Team USA is reading this, a big thank you to you all – every officer I spoke to was grateful for the grub!

Another highlight was getting to work with the Met officers, most of whom who were from Romford, who had been sent to help us out. I found it really interesting to exchange different views about the job and I had a great time exchanging police slang with them, learning slowly that ‘skipper’ was their word for sergeant and ‘guv’nor’ their equivalent of ‘gaffa’ or ‘boss’. They did a great job penetrating our thick Walsall accents too.

The final day of the deployment, Friday the 3rd, had us doing something slightly different as rather than heading to UEL, we instead went out to Wimbledon where the semi-finals of the men’s tennis were being held that afternoon.

Having spent a year living just down the road in Putney, I’d never actually been to Wimbledon but found it to be a lovely area and we had a great time standing outside Southfields Underground Station pointing people in the direction of the stadium.

When I signed up for the Olympics I wasn’t too sure how close I’d get to any of the venues but for our evening meal we got to go to the Wimbledon staff canteen, directly under Centre Court, and then wonder around the grounds which was a true privilege.

We saw Henman Hill/Murray Mound, watched a bit of the Murray match on the screens and posed for a few photos with the crowd before returning to the tube station to help direct the crowds back home.

Saturday was dedicated to traveling back to the West Midlands and it felt odd to be leaving, especially as having been so busy I think we all had the impression that we’d been in London for a lot longer than ten days. The shifts had been long – a good twelve hours a day – but enjoyable too so I didn’t hear anyone complaining.

Being down in London for the Olympics had been a superb experience and one of the most rewarding our my career so far.

The Met, both in their organisation and the officers themselves, showed themselves to be very hospitable and we mutual aid officers were well looked after by them.

There was a perceptible buzz around the Olympics whilst we were there, there were the funnily dressed Games Makers everywhere, the public were evidently caught up in the Olympic spirit and this made the games a true pleasure to police.

Keeping up to date with Team GB’s progress was a little difficult with our shifts but as the deployment progressed the growing medal haul suggested this Olympics would be a truly memorable one for British sport.

So it was for British policing.

For more photos from the deployment, please check out the gallery over on Facebook!

One time and one time only…

A year on from the August Riots the canteen at the station is a much more peaceful place – what perspective has the year put on the disorders though?

A year ago this week officers from Walsall, from Birmingham, London and across the country found themselves in the midst of some of the worst rioting seen in England for years.

The destruction seemed wholesale, the rioters shockingly ambitious and at the same time random in their choice of victims. Images of police lines stretched across a blazing skyline shot across the world, leaving in their wake tough questions about how the riots had come to be.

Writing now, a year on, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since those three days in August.

Repairs to the stricken areas continue, buildings have been torn down and the empty gaps they’ve left stand as a stark reminder of what can happen when the perception spreads that law and order has broken down.

I can’t claim to have played a particularly important role in the riots myself. I wasn’t one of the officers charging past broken shops near the Bullring, nor was I stood watching the Carpetright shop engulfed by a firestorm in Haringey.

Instead I was one of the many officers working extended shifts to restore the impression that the law still stood, that those who had come to riot would face the consequences and that the public ought not be panicked by what they saw each night on the news.

Looking back, what stood out to me at the time and what still stands today is the impression that whilst the rioters seemed to enjoy a fleeting taste of the upper hand, the police and other emergency services reacted and adapted with a professionalism that was nothing short of inspiring.

Rest days were cancelled, officers found themselves in unfamiliar situations and faced people on the streets who appeared set upon harming them by any means possible.

Faced with such apparent hatred the officers I worked alongside didn’t buckle, didn’t hesitate – instead they volunteered to work on, shift after shift in unimaginable situations and without a word of complaint.

To me the riots were particularly disturbing owing to the suddenness with which they took hold.

Riots, I’d always thought, would be prefaced by a period of visible tension, by rising discontent leading to a tipping point at which tensions boiled over and barricades sprung up.

A great deal of work has been done investigating the cause of the riots, notably through the Guardian and LSE’s collaborative project Reading The Riots, with various reasons raised by the rioters themselves in attempts to explain why they had taken to the streets.

Frustration at the use of Stop & Search powers in some areas has been floated as one reason and as a contributor; an argument could be made that these frustrations represent the preface I’d have expected with shooting of Mark Duggan representing the tipping point.

Sensible use of stop powers allied with better communication with the affected communities seem to be the way forward to address perceptions of frustration, and indeed forces across the country have already done a great deal of work to bridge divides.

Other explanations have looked towards gangs, social media and simple opportunism, the latter of which I think seems the most convincing explanation for why people, sometimes even those with no criminal background, found their way to the trouble spots and began to loot.

A year’s hindsight has suggested to me that whatever the cause of the original riots in Tottenham, the disorders that followed were able to take place because the idea had taken hold that ‘everyone was at it’, that the opportunity had unexpectedly presented itself to loot with impunity and that this, for some, was an opportunity that could not be missed.

As for why the riots came to a close, officers being made available in large numbers through Mutual Aid, some 16,000 in London alone, now appears to have been the principle deterrent to those thinking of returning to the streets for another night of disorder.

Proposed cuts to police numbers in this respect need to keep this in view – financial circumstances make cuts necessary but not at the expense of our ability to raise large numbers should the need arise.

The tragic deaths of the three men on Dudley Road, Birmingham, similarly arrested the further development of the riots, accompanied as they were by the impassioned appeal for calm of Tariq Jahan, father of one of those lost.

The riots, already sinister in tone, had taken on a direction that even those originally enthusiastic about the looting seemed reluctant to follow.

A year seems like a long time but as I’ve said, looking back it’s hard to believe that twelve months now stand between today and those chaotic, hellish scenes.

The need to maintain a visible, believable presence, alongside an ability to rapidly respond to incidents before they are able to escalate, will likely be the key elements in preventing a repeat of history and I think are some of the most important considerations to take from the riots.

Whilst the riots thankfully reached their conclusion after a few long days, a conclusion is yet to be reached on their legacy, with this anniversary reminding us that time does not heal all wounds.

The IPCC, for example, is yet to report on Mark Duggan’s death and investigations are ongoing to identify outstanding rioters with Operation View still yielding results in the West Midlands.

We have the flexibility in our structure and the quality in our people to deal with situations such as those seen during last August.

The real measure of our response to the riots will come not on this anniversary but in ten, twenty or thirty years time – should those decades pass without a repeat of the 2011 riots then we’ll know the steps we took away from Tottenham were steps taken in the right direction.

Olympics update – apologies for the lack of blogs over the past few weeks, I’d been down in London helping Lord Coe out at the games. I’m looking at putting a blog together about the experience of living and working in the capital just as soon as the games themselves draw to a close – highlights include the torch relay, Team USA and Wimbledon so stay tuned!.

London calling to the faraway towns…

The Olympics have come to us, now it’s our turn to go to them. What’s involved in getting us police officers to London?

It’s now one week until I, along with several other of West Midlands Police’s finest officers, get sent down to London to help out at the Olympics.

The games themselves are eight days away and as I think I made clear in my last blog, I’m looking forward to getting involved.

What does it take to get us there though? Is it simply the case of throwing our funny shaped hats into a kit bag and hoping on a train?

To say that a lot of planning has gone into the Games is somewhat of an understatement.

Whilst I’m sure Lord Coe has pitched in with a paintbrush here and there, he’s been supported by a small army of support staff all working together to ensure that the swimming pools are filled with water, the 100m track is exactly 100m long and that there are enough leotards to go round.

Of the different aspects to consider in the preparations, security is probably one of the most important.

Speaking frankly, I’m not sure what to make of this. My view is that if there’s a group of people who don’t need a great deal of police protection, it’s world class athletes.

Why do I say this?

Well, try mugging Usain Bolt. As soon as you’ve said ‘Give me your…’ he’ll be in Luton. Likewise see what happens when you get a bit shirty with the Taekwondo teams, or the weightlifters.

Put simply, there’s hardly anything separating the athletes currently flooding into the capital from the cast of Avengers Assemble and with their ability to pole vault, somersault and chop their way out of trouble I’m not going to be too worried about them.

This said perhaps the same can’t be said about the public at large and so they’re the reason that we’ll be on the streets of the capital in large numbers, having our photos taken next to tourists and saying ‘ello ‘ello ‘ello to anyone who fancies causing trouble.

Getting us there though has been far from straightforward and something that’s been in planning ever since we won the right to host the world’s sports day back in 2006.

Consider the first issue for example – ensuring that we have the resilience to support both the local forces in London whilst at the same time also policing the good people of Birmingham. We can’t all suddenly take flight to the capital so we’ve had to work out how to strike a sensible balance.

This is made harder by having to abstract multiple officers from a range of different departments, all likely working different shift patterns and from different locations.

It’s not a job I’d envy and I think the staff in our Resource Management Unit have done a cracking job so far in working out how to juggle us officers around so to provide the Games with officers whilst at the same time leaving plenty for our own commitments.

Freeing up officers though isn’t the half of it.

Once you’ve allocated a chunk of police officers (I think the plural for police officers is a chunk) you’ve then got to work out what to do with them.

This will mean working closely with the local forces and LOGOC to understand their requirements, to get our heads around which athletes will be where, who will be throwing what and where will we need to stand to ensure we don’t get a javelin lodged in our stab vests.

This is made harder by the fact that the security requirements are ever changing. New intelligence will be flowing in all the time and could change the situation overnight meaning our Olympic Planning Department need to be ready to alter their arrangements at a minute’s notice.

So you’ve got the officers and you know roughly what they need to do, now you need to work out how to transport large numbers of officers from across the West Midlands to venues across London and beyond.

Some will be traveling in police vehicles, others in coaches and some may even hop onto trains, all of which need to be tightly scheduled so that everyone knows where and when they need to be and so we can avoid any hilarious Home Alone situations from occurring.

If you’ve never been on a coach full of police officers, it’s not a million miles away from being on a school trip. I don’t really envy the supervisors sat at the front putting up with constant calls of ‘sarge are we nearly there yet?’ or ‘sarge I need the toilet’ or even ‘sarge PC Smith keeps pinching me’…

Having got us to London, we then need to be clothed, sheltered and fed. We eat a lot so heavy duty catering facilities are a must. A quality coffee outlet and easily accessible doughnut vender will also be welcome. Essentials out the way, we also need places to securely store CS spray and to recharge radios.

We’re now in London, our bellies are full and we’re ready to hit the streets, where do we need to go and what exactly are we going to be doing?

Whilst policing duties are largely the same across the country, equipment and procedures are not so we’ll need to do a little ‘acclimation’ to get used to local forces’ radio networks, their computer systems and anything else that they may do differently.

A series of ‘eLearning’ packages completed ahead of our deployment will have helped although there’s still likely to be a few teething issues whilst we work out which button does what on the Met Police radios and learn to overcome the temptation of pressing the big red one marked ‘do NOT press’.

Clothed, fed and up to speed on working in London, the task of policing the games can finally begin in earnest as can that of enjoying our time down in the capital.

It’s something a little different for us, a fantastic opportunity for us to get involved and is sure to provide some great memories.

Much of the planning behind the Games will have taken place out of the public eye by people who you’re unlikely to ever of heard of, the work they’ve put in though in pulling it all together will be reflected every day in what I think is going to be a great event. Here’s to them!

Going for gold…

Lots of sports are happening in London starting next week and I’ll be heading down to help out – am I excited? You bet!

Now I don’t know if you’ve heard but in around ten days, depending on when you’re reading this, there will be starting down in foggy London Town a big fancy sports day.

I’m a little hesitant to mention it by name as even the name of our fair capital has been classified as a ‘protected word’ (see here for more) but then I probably don’t need to – you’ll have seen the five ‘sports day discs’ printed on every item in the supermarket, will be well acquainted with Wenlock & Mandeville and you may have even seen the sports day sparkler being carried through your town as it winds its way towards the metropolis.

Yes, the big sports day is indeed a big deal and one that I’m greatly looking forward to, not only because I like watching the sports people doing their sports but also because I, like many other police officers from around the country, am going to be directly involved.

Us police officers hold a privileged position – we get to do things that many people will never do, we see things that most folk wouldn’t want to see and we meet truly ‘animated’ characters on a daily basis.

When it comes to national events we often find ourselves with a front row seat being paid for the privilege of saying ‘I was there’.

Such events are career milestones – the roles we play in them may not necessarily be interesting but they are things we can look back on in ten or twenty years time with the satisfaction that we’ve had the opportunity to take part.

Some of the older officers I work with still remember what they were doing during the Miners’ Strikes – not necessarily fond memories but such events are milestones nonetheless that come to punctuate careers.

My first ‘milestone’ was helping out for the Pope’s visit in 2010. I wasn’t doing anything interesting – I was guarding a fence outside St. Mary’s College in the middle of the night and was in bed long before the Pope came anywhere near but even so, I’d contributed, I’d been involved.

I’ve always thought that you get out what you put in and so when the emails went out earlier this year asking for volunteers to go down to London for the big sports day, I jumped at the opportunity.

I didn’t do so under the impression that I’d be inside the stadium for the opening ceremony, or chasing after Usain Bolt in the 100m final – I actually thought I’d probably be nowhere near any of the events and stuck at a tube station somewhere directing lost tourists whilst being equally lost myself.

This didn’t matter though, what mattered was that I’d get a chance to be there.

With the festivities starting next week, the plans for my own deployment, along with those of officers around the country, are finally starting to take shape.

As I’ve mentioned on my Twitter feed I’ll be boarding a coach bound for the big smoke next Thursday and whilst I can’t say too much about what I’ll be doing whilst I’m there, I’ve got a week and a half spell helping out at the games which I’m very much looking forward to.

As I’ve said, you get out what you put in. I’m thinking the Olympics (I said it!) will be a great chance to put this approach into practice.

P.S. I’m a little unsure how frequently I’ll be able to update the Twitter feed over the course of the deployment. I’ll be following the advice given to us by Lord Coe and whilst the IOC seems encouraging on the use of social media during the games, I get a feeling I’ll be so busy that I might not get the chance.

I’m carryin’ a torch for you, baby…

Flaming heck, it’s the Olympic Flame’s route for Saturday June 30th!

If you’ve driven by Walsall Police Station recently you may have noticed a lovely yellow sign sitting on the pavement advising that there are some upcoming road closures. Being an attentive driver you’ve kept your eyes on the road but you did glance something about June 30th. What’s happening on June 30th though?

Well, after taking the strangest route possible from Olympia, the Olympic Flame will finally be completing its historic journey and arriving on the good streets of our fair town.

It should be a great day and even if the thought of someone running through the streets brandishing a flaming torch doesn’t ignite your interest, there are plenty of other events taking place for you to enjoy.

The arrival of the flame is a historic event and will likely attract a large amount of media interest, especially considering the important role played by Walsall in the original Olympic games several thousand years ago.

Greek folklore has it that after Prometheus stole fire from Zeus, he took it to Walsall and hid it in a cave at the bottom of Park Street, the location of which is now marked by the town’s famous concrete hippo.

The symbolism of the hippo has been lost over time although some say that even on the coldest of nights, the hippo feels warm to the touch as though the ancient fire still burns beneath its belly.

Okay, some of the above may not be true (does anybody know why there is a concrete hippo in Walsall?) however torch day is sure to be one that’ll be burnt into people’s memory for many years to come.

This said, where can you see it and after you’ve seen it, what else can you do to celebrate Prometheus’ shameless offence against S. 1 of the Theft Act 1968?

As you can see from the above map, the flame’s route takes it down Bloxwich High Street onto Green Lane and then around the town centre. After refreshments (it’ll have burnt a few calories by this point) it’ll get hot on the tail of its escort and shoot down Wolverhampton Road, across Junction 10 and into Willenhall before leaving the Walsall area for Wolverhampton.

We estimate (and these plans could go up in smoke) that the torch will arrive in Bloxwich at around 11:50 and then enter the town centre at 12:25. It’ll be leaving Walsall again at 13:45, should reach Willenhall at 14:20 and will be leaving again ten minutes later.

Between Leamore Lane and Green Lane and also whilst crossing Junction 10 the torch will not be on display as it’ll be hitching a lift with the support team.

The route planned for the torch will be closed off in advance so you’re advised to make alternate transport arrangements on the day itself, lest you get caught up in the festivities and little hot under the collar.

Bloxwich, Walsall and Willenhall are all holding their own celebrations to mark the flame’s arrival which include face painting, food, music and more. You can find out more about the events on the Walsall for 2012 website and they’re encouraging you to contact them and get involved so please feel free to do so.

If you’re outside Walsall and would like to know where the flame is going, check out the official route for more info.

The flame’s arrival is sure to be warmly received* and as a once in a lifetime event, it’s one that you’re not going to want to miss. Morrissey once wrote ‘there is a light that never goes out’ – go out it hopefully won’t, but come to Walsall again it may well never do so make sure you make the most of it!

* Apologies for my flame puns, I tried to stop but I was simply on fire with them…

No distance left to run…

Yesterday's Virgin London Marathon seemed to set the tone nicely for the Olympics which officers from the West Midlands will be involved in policing.

Yesterday I spent much of the morning popping up from various underground stations to watch the Virgin London Marathon in all its 26.2 mile glory. I was keen to see both the race itself and also to get a glimpse at the policing operation supporting the event as I’ll soon be coming back to London myself to help out with an even bigger sporting event – the Olympic Games.

As ever the preparations that would have gone into the race paid off handsomely with the return being a smoothly run event that was as enjoyable for the fans as it was for the participants themselves. London lends itself well to hosting a race on the scale of the marathon and the international flavour of the audience which I spent most of the day weaving through I think showing the worldwide appeal of the capital city.

The course record was just missed with Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang winning the male race in 2:04:44 and Mary Keitany, also of Kenya, being the first woman across the finish line with a time of 2:18:37.

As an occasional amateur runner myself I know these times are ridiculously quick – I was happy with completing the Black Country Half Marathon in just over an hour and a half last year so can’t really put into words how impressed I am when the pros go to work.

On the policing side, officers from both The Met, the British Transport Police and the City of London forces looked like they were having as much fun as some of the spectators. There were officers perched on horses, lots of bobbies wondering around on foot and support vehicles parked on nearly every street corner.

Hosting the marathon every year they’re obviously used to the size of the event and I reckon this bodes well for hosting the Olympics which I guess they’ll just see as a big fancy sports day.

Okay, maybe Lord Coe would challenge me on that description – the Olympics are going to involve tens of thousands of people flooding into the capital to watch athletes competing in a range of disciplines at venues spread across the city and beyond. The spectators – and not to mention the athletes themselves – are going to require feeding, housing, transport and security on a massive scale. In less than one hundred days London is going to be capital of the world.

Whilst London is the host, the games are obvious larger than the city itself and so require help from all over to ensure they run to plan. Thousands of volunteers have come forward and when it comes to supporting the capital’s emergency services, there’ll be staff from all over the country drafted in to reinforce the local resources.

As the second largest force, West Midlands Police will be sending a number of officers – myself included – down to London to provide what we call ‘mutual aid’. Planning for this operation will have been going on behind the scenes ever since we first won the bid for the games and will no doubt be on a scale as grand as the games themselves.

Whilst at the moment I don’t know exactly where I’ll be working or what I’ll be doing, I’m likely to be working the the British Transport Police to ensure the underground and overground train networks can manage the increased load. Having spent three years living in London myself and never really getting my head around the tube map, this could be interesting but I’m sure we’ll do our best!

Other officers will be providing support in different roles including specialist search teams, public order and crowd control.

Whilst the focus of the Olympics will obviously be on London, this isn’t to say that we’re not affected by the games up here in what Londoners term ‘the north’ with there being events to get involved with even if you didn’t manage to get tickets for the mens’ 100 meter final or the inexplicably popular womens’ volleyball.

You can keep an eye out on the local events over on the London 2012 website with the main thing to look out for being the Olympic Torch visiting Walsall on Saturday June 30th.

It’ll be making its way down the A34 onto Green Lane, past the police station and then doing a lap of the town centre before dashing down the Wolverhampton Road and across Junction 10 of the M6 towards Willenhall and then on into Wolverhampton.

The route is planned so that the torch will pass within ten miles of 95% of the population, check out the map to find out when and where it’ll be coming to your area.

The other main consideration for the West Midlands is that of security – there’s always the chance someone might use the games as an opportunity to cause trouble and as such we need your help in ensuring this doesn’t happen. We ask that you remain vigilant in the run up to the games and that you report any suspicious activity connected with the Olympics to us immediately. Either call us on 101 or approach Crimestoppers anonymously.

As you may be able to tell, the Olympics are something that I’m really looking forward to and so am happy that I’ve had the chance to go down and get involved in an event which I’ll remember for the rest of my police career.

It’s going to require a lot of work from a lot of people to make the games a success – judging from what I saw in London yesterday I think we’re on the right track.

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