So the first time I saw the movie “Super Troopers” I thought FINALLY, someone gets it. It was like my old beat had been transported to a more sunny climate, with the same old characters, but now including better cars and guns.
The events depicted here took place well before the movie, in a southern England county town, names have been changed to protect the guilty, and those still in the job.
It was a nice early summer weekend, and I turned up for a night-shift at Maidstone Police Station in Kent, with parade starting at 2145. For those not familiar with ‘the job’, parade is when you get your vehicle assignments, find out who you are crewed up with, and what patrol area you are going to have. We were amazingly fully staffed that night, and on top of that we had a full complement of Special Constables.
Nowadays they call them PCSO or something like that, but back in the day, Specials were the origin of the uniformed Police in England, known as Peelers, after Sir Robert Peel who initiated the idea of a volunteer force which had training and uniforms to patrol their communities. Well at the time I am writing about, Specials were not well utilized, they weren’t quite regular officers, they weren’t quite civilians. Some used it as a way to get an idea of what being a Police Officer was about, before they applied, some saw it as a form of entertainment, like an old school friend of mine (RIP Wendy), who used to do it for the fights, chases, and I think she also did it for the guys. Well whatever the reason the specials were with us that particular weekend, one of them got quite a ride. I got a mixed bag that night, Tony, a good thief-taker, and a Special who had been doing it a while and knew how things worked, which was unusual for Specials at that time, who we shall call ‘Steve’ for the purpose of this story.
Well I must have been in someones bad books, because we got stuck in the ‘Paddy Wagon”, a 2ltr diesel van with a steel prisoner cage in the back. So any decent calls requiring a swift response were pretty much out for us, and we were relegated to taking lengthy reports, and picking up other people’s problem prisoners.
As you can imagine, as we listened to other crews take interesting calls, boredom soon set in. So it was suggested that we should play the ‘word game”. In the movie “Super Troopers” it just adds a layer of fun to everyday events, and of course is not quite played the same way as in the movie, that was a bit of poetic licence.
We all had to agree on a word or phrase, which had to be incorporated into a conversation with a member of the public, and the first to do so, won a doughnut purchased by the other two members. So the other two agreed that might be a bit of fun, then we had to pick an appropriate word or phrase, and after a bit of back-and-forth, we came up with ‘eggshells’, which seemed to be something we could imagine working into a conversation without the member of the public suspecting it was a keyword for us.
So after a boring evening, we were dispatched to a call on a council estate (state built subsidised housing) for a family that had taken either a ball-bearing round or a slingshot rock through an upstairs bedroom window. And being the one of only a few non-caucasian families on the estate, the implication was they were a racial target. So picture if you can. myself talking to the father of the family, with Tony and Steve in the living room as well, taking the ‘Racial Incident Form’ details, which as you can imagine was extensive. I had taken the lead and was talking to the father, mostly we took turns at doing this, I guess it was either my turn, or, more likely, I had a good idea I could win a doughnut and had taken over.
So as we were closing out the ‘investigation’ and finishing getting all the details, I was talking about where the investigation would be going, and said something like ‘Well we have to treat this like we are walking on eggshells…” I have no idea what that meant for the investigation, but my whole conversation so far that night had been leading up to working that one phrase in, and I was rewarded by tightly controlled reactions from Steve and Tony, who probably saw it coming a mile off, they both gave me looks, and we were able to leave shortly after where they both cursed me for making them almost crack up in the middle of taking a serious report.
After we had left, and I had basked in some mild ribbing from my colleagues, we retired in the van to a quiet spot where we could get our paperwork up-to-date, the ever-present pocket notebook, a contemporaneous account of all our events of the shift, fully admissible in court and an ever-present pain. I chose the front parking lot of a small block of flats (condominium) with a nice surrounding wall so we could not be seen except through the entrance. We were on an old couincil estate, one of many in Maidstone, a mixed housing estate (development) of some nicer housing and some council owned housing.
As I said earlier it was a quiet night for our whole are, but other areas were having much more excitement, which we were soon to share in. As we were sitting there, a rather fancy red BMW raced by, which on a housing estate with a 35 mph speed limit, on a Saturday night, was one way of making yourself obvious. I have heard from many different sources in the insurance industry, that a red car is more likely to have a higher insurance rate than any other color, purely because red cars are more likely to be driven at excess speed, and more likely to be stolen. Add to that the fact it was a sporty model of a high-end make, and it was virtually crying out for some of our attention, but as I cranked the diesel engine, another car went whipping across in front of us, a dodgy old white sedan with a black front panel, that despite its dubious looking outside, was moving at the same speed as the Beamer, and at somewhat less than the recommended safe braking distance behind it. By this time our van was moving forward out of the lot, as a third vehicle passed in front of us, moving with the other two, but this one was one of those tiny little work vans, just barely wide enough for two seats in the front, and would quite nicely fit into the back of a pick-up truck over here with plenty of room to get in and out of it while it was still in the pickup bed.
It took a couple of turns to catch up to the third vehicle, the little white van, in our larger van, with all that weight in the back you pretty much had to slow right down for corners or risk tipping over. Just as we were catching up, the voice of Dave The Dispatcher (an ex-police officer who once told a senior officer where to go, which is how he came to be a dispatcher) came on the radio with a general broadcast, where he started to describe the theft of two vehicles, one a red Beamer, the other a small white van, travelling with an older model white vehicle with a black quarter-panel, which had also been seen stealing tools from a garage. Just as soon as I could get a word in edgeways, I told him we were behind them, then flicked the ‘blues and two’ (two’s refers to the two-tone siren of police car’s in the UK) and the chase was on. Of course the first thing to happen was a dose of reality, the Beamer and the white sedan took off at high-speed, but returned shortly after for some fun, more on that in a minute. The small white van, much smaller than ours, was vastly under-powered, and our paddy wagon, despite the massive weight in the back, was easily a match for it, and we were able to be right behind it as we encountered what seemed like every speed retarder for miles around in one short stretch.
Now for those who have the luck not to live in an area where the town planners appeared to have enjoyed the recreational pharamsuticles of the 1960’s and 1970’s a little too much, and speed retarders were a common way of trying to slow down traffic in residential areas by building short ramps, slightly raised road surfaces, narrow places or simply large bumps in the road (also known as ‘Sleeping policemen’) with the intention that it will slow traffic down with no other effects. In actuality, you could hit them are a good clip, and your suspension would take all of the impact and you would hardly feel anything, about 45 mph is the optimal speed for this. Anything less than that and you feel quite an impact until you get really slow.That is, if you were in a good quality sedan with good suspension. On the other hand, if you were in a large panel van with a heavy weight in the back, travelling at speed, you were going to really suffer an any speed.
It seemed like this went on for an age, us following the smaller van over endless speed bumps, at crazy speeds approaching, oh, maybe fifty whole miles per hour, but in reality this part probably lasted less than a minute. Then to spoil our fun the red Beamer shows up again, trying to run us off the road, not seriously, just to make us back off a little, when the small van came screeching to a halt, and the driver hopped out and jumped into the back of the red Beamer, which then sped off at speeds our van could only dream of. Now I say hopped out, which gives the impression of moving swiftly, but this person did not give the impression of someone who usually moves swiftly, only when motivated, he was about 300lb of teenager with a shock of brown hair.
Which left us standing around the stolen little white van, complete with a couple of stolen metal tool boxes in the back, when Tony mentions, “Hey that was Fat Boy Phillips”. neither of us really wondered how he had come about his moniker, and swiftly relayed the information to Dave the Dispatcher, who had someone check Fat Boy Phillips home address while we waited for a wrecker to come take the stolen van away.
As we waited, I think it all began to sink in, it had all started, and been over, from first to last sighting of the red Beamer, in less than three minutes. No other patrol had been close enough to come to our assistance, it had all happened so quickly, the transition from quiet evening, to extreme excitement, I could still feel the adrenaline pounding.
Of course that was only the beginning of the endless paperwork and hand over to CID, who were very happy when they realized it had all begun as a theft in another area’s jurisdiction, and they were able to hand it all over to their CID. Since Fat-Boy-Phillips was not at home, there was no body in custody, only the little van and it’s cargo of tool cabinets to worry about, so it turned out to be quite an anti-climax for me.
One of the major issues of the case was our identification of Fat-Boy Philips, and to this end, one day I, Tony and Steve were invited down to another town center in the same county for a very particular sort of identity parade. Now CID had apparently tried to arrange a simple identity parade, but the supply of 300lb white male teenagers with a shock of brown hair was surprisingly low, and a good cross-section for an identity parade could not be obtained. So instead a slight variation had been authorized. We stood, one at a time, in a pedestrian area of the high street, where there were many shoppers moving about, and were told that a person we ‘may or may not’ have seen on the night in question, ‘may or may not’ walk by at some point. If we should think we recognized someone from that night, we were to walk up to them and tap them on the shoulder, but not to strike them and not to talk to them!
Of course after standing there for a couple of minutes, with normal people going about their business, along comes Fat-Boy Phillips, walking on the other side of the road, trying not to make eye contact, but broke out into a huge grin as I approached him and tapped him on the shoulder, amused as I was with the surreal quality of the event. Perhaps it was heightened for him since it was the first time he had been out of jail for a while, and possibly the first time he had walked down a high street without shoplifting.
Fast forward to a year later, when it all went to Crown Court, which was right there in the center of town. which means best bib and tucker, aka parade uniform including the ‘tall pointed ridiculous’ as my drill instructor used to call it at Police Academy.
I was first up to give evidence, my first time in front of a jury, judge in full regalia, and apparently as the driver of the following vehicle, I was to give the account of the ‘pursuit’. As I launched into it, i could see the jury getting into it, and quite enjoyed giving the account. Then the defense barrister got up, and started to question me about the ‘high-speed pursuit’, so I had to correct him right away, that I was following a small van, in a slightly larger van, with an engine limiter, at speeds that did not exceed 50 mph, so it was not really a high-speed pursuit. I was very surprised when I was not chastised for correcting the defense barrister, which may have emboldened me for his next question. He launched into a very complex and lengthy question about identifying Fat-Boy Phillips from a momentary glance at night, and previous times his picture may have been included in the pre-shift briefing. I think I followed the question, but it was so convoluted, and went on for so long, I had forgotten the premiss at the beginning, and I could tell most of the jury had lost it early on. So remembering one of the tips I had been taught, i turned to the judge and told him i did not understand the question, and he motioned for the barrister to continue without me having to answer the question.
Well after all that, of course he was convicted, spent some more time in prison, although by now I am sure he is out, and has since been convicted of other things.