Friday, 6 November 2015

The Gun

"Officer 12523, Davy. Request immediate patch through to NPCC gun authority control."

Simon held the radio tightly, the bracket on his body armour meaning he had to turn his head at a slightly awkward angle to speak into it. From his position in his patrol car he could see what was happening in the off licence down the road. No more than 200 yards away, three men had run into the store wearing balaclavas and wielding what looked like firearms, possibly sawed off shotguns.

The patrol was meant to be public reassurance but due to Simon's current run of bad luck (I mean, come on. Losing a lottery scratch card worth £200 was quite frankly fate pissing on him!) he had happened to drive past at just the wrong moment to see what, to all outward appearances, resembled an armed robbery.

There was a pause and the operator came back and said robotically. "Please hold, patching you through now."

Simon knew what was going on now. The control room Inspector would have been informed and all heads would be turning because a Constable on patrol had requested to speak to an officer of Assistant Chief Constable rank or higher. That request was now being buffered from the operator, through the Inspector to whichever Sir or Ma'am was duty gun authority for the day. As it was 11pm on a Thursday night that Sir or Ma'am was undoubtedly tucked up in bed and being roused while Simon waited, the seconds burning away, to follow his training.

The Police Force (Simon didn't like to think of it as a Service, despite the lingo that was mean to make everything more palatable to the public) had balked at the idea of routine arming for decades. Slowly things had gained a little more common sense with body armour and pepper spray, not to mention some half decent Officer Safety Training. However a gun on the hips of any cop except the Tactical Firearms unit was considered a nightmare of Orwellian proportions to both the politicians in Whitehall, not to mention the ones from Force itself. After all, as Simon's tutor had said on his first day on the beat five years ago. "You're a cop. Anyone over the rank of Inspector is just a politician."

Two months ago the Force had introduced a middle ground between routine unarming and full armed officers. All response vehicles were now fitted with a pistol in a small safe in the front. The ammunition was kept in a separate safe in the car's boot. If an officer responded to a potentially lethal incident he or she could now bring a gun to the crime....provided an officer of VERY high rank gave permission for the gun to be accessed.

Simon could hear shouts and a couple ran past him away from the off licence. They were holding hands and looking terrified. As they ran past the car they man did a double take and stuttered to a halt. He ran across to the patrol car and Simon managed to get the window down as the man breathlessly pleaded, "Officer, there's three guys in there with guns, they're robbing the shop!!"

"Thank you Sir, please carry on to the end of the street. I'm just waiting for control to tell them of the situation."

The man looked indignant. "Aren't' you going to do anything?!"

"Like I said, I'm waiting for control. Please carry on and get out of danger."

"What fucking use are you?!" the man exclaimed, his face creasing in disgust and then ran off again to join his frightened girlfriend.

Simon's radio burst with static and a female voice said "Deputy Chief Constable Harrington speaking. Officer please identify yourself and give today's password."

When the system was introduced it had included a password that changed on a daily basis. The supposedly clever catch was that there were two. One was the actual password, the other a duress code that would in theory prevent the gun being accessed if the officer was being forced to attempt to gain access to it by third parties. This of course would only work provided any "baddies" didn't know that the system had two possibilities.

"PC 12523 Davy Ma'am. Password for today is Neutered."

A slight pause then the voice said again, "Please proceed. Describe what you are witnessing."

This was the big moment. Control room itself, with the exception of those operators dealing with other calls would be listening as the conversation was on speaker at the Inspector's raised platform at the front of the room. Even though the system had been operational for two months, there had been only one other incident of a patrol officer requesting gun authority. Self arming was not an option.

"Three suspects, possibly male. Potential armed robbery in Bargain Booze on Regent Street. One witness to confirm firearms are being used. Request gun authority in order to attend incident, over."

There was a long pause and the DCC's voice came back. "Any shots fired officer?"

Simon looked at the radio in surprise and then said "No Ma'am. Firearms possibly seen by myself and witnessed by a bystander. Shots not fired so far."

"Where is the witness now?"

"What?!" Simon blurted, momentarily forgetting his training. He recovered and then said quickly "I told him and his female companion to get to safety, they've run off."

"Officer Davy, are you aware that the firearms unit are on their way. ETA is thirteen minutes. Could you confirm that the situation can be contained until then?"

Simon glared at his radio. He'd guessed this might happen and had prayed it wouldn't. "No Ma'am the situation is three minutes in already. The suspects may use lethal force unless I attend now. I am less than thirty seconds by car from the premises. If I can access my gun I can attend. Without that authority I am unable to intervene, over."

There was a long pause and the DCC then said "Negative no risk as of now to life. Permission is denied. Please wait and appraise us of...."

There was a muffled crack of gunfire, then another. A woman screamed and Simon heard glass breaking. The gunfire became a repeated "rat-a-tat" of automatic weapons.

Simon hunched down in his seat instinctively and killed the lights in the vehicle. "Ma'am! Situation is now live. Shots fired. Repeat, shots fired. Possible injury. Request immediate gun authority."

Another pause and then the DCC spoke again, this time her voice was not as controlled "Officer Davy describe the gunfire please."

"What the fucking hell?!!" Simon blurted out screaming into his radio.

"Officer Davy, remain calm. Describe the gunfire please. Was it shotgun fire?"

"NO! It was the 'rat-a-tat-tat of someone firing a bloody machine gun. Are you going to give me gun fucking authority or not?!!!"

Another pause. "No. Permission denied. Disengage and form perimeter cordon at the nearest safe place beyond incident and wait for TFU. I repeat, authority is not granted."

Simon cursed silently. There was another chatter of gunfire and more screaming. He put the car in reverse and backed up the street to the junction with the next road. He positioned the car in sideways across the white lines and jumped out, grabbing cordon tape from the trunk and waving frantically for the bus that was approaching to slow down.

Twenty five minutes later the Tactical Firearms unit made it to the scene. Five other police vehicles had also attended within a fraction of that time and the houses flickered with the flashing blue lights of the squad cars. By the time the armed officers got to Bargain Booze they found the villains long since gone. The cashier and the owner were dead. Torn apart by machine gun fire. A knife was found amidst the blood and brains and it was a safe bet that one of them had tried to use it on the robbers. An act which had cost two lives.

Simon's Inspector had a private chat back at the station. He commended him for his initial calm during the incident but in an embarrassed voice, without making eye contact, had reminded Simon that etiquette demanded a courteous and controlled tone when addressing a senior officer during a request for gun authority.

A week later there was a funeral for the two victims. Father and daughter, a family business. The Superintendent made a speech for the local news about how sorry he was that two innocent lives had been taken so callously for the sake of greed. He added that only a coward would kill innocent people. Simon couldn't have agreed more.

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