One evening in I was driving around my area after 1am when I was called to some job or other – I was the acting inspector for the division that night, the senior officer. Whilst driving to it, I saw a man who would have attracted my attention if I hadn’t been on the way to something, hovering near a bin outside Boots. Couldn’t quite quantify it, but something struck me and I wished I had the time to stop and speak to him.
About 25 minutes later, my job having been squared away, there was a call: “Boss, a member of the public has reported seeing a man waving a gun around and he’s then tucked it in his waistband.” As soon as the controller gave the location I knew EXACTLY who it was. I was able to confirm having seen a man who met the description and we commenced the standard procedure: set an RVP for the police officers, call for a firearms officers, a good dog handler was on that night so we wanted him too … I also knew we had officers in a plain car that night so I ordered them to quickly run the length of the road, pass the man to confirm he was still there and then take up a position south of him, keeping him under observations from a safe distance. I ordered all the uniform officers to RVP at the front of the police station, which was on a small road off the main road on which the man stood, keep them all out of view but very nearby. They got lined up. All of this happened within 6-8 minutes of the call.
As we awaited the arrival of the firearms car, things developed. The plain clothes officers reported that the man was waving his gun around pointing it at passing vehicles and occasionally at himself. I took a deep gulp as I heard the force control room inspector give the armed officers urgent authority to arm: I realised for the first time in my career, I was the senior officer on the ground of a live, dynamic firearms incident and I started to realise what I’m paid for. There were constables standing looking at me as if to say, “Come on then, what are you going to do?!”
Firearms told me which direction they’d be arriving from; I ordered the unmarked officers to make certain locations to block the street as the armed officers approached the man, the dog handler started rolling his van towards. This was it.
Firearms slowed their car as they passed the street on which I was sat; we made eye contact and I gave the order for everyone to move up and support them. They rolled their car down the gentle hill and towards the man who was still waving the gun. I pulled my marked car onto the street about 100 yards behind them with a clear view. They accelerated the final stretch and pulled their unmarked firearms car across the road towards the man who was holding a black pistol in his hand, accelerating those last yards. I was now moving down the street on foot towards them with a clear view. I could see marked cars at either end of the road blocking traffic.
“ARMED POLICE – PUT THE GUN DOWN, PUT THE GUN DOWN!!” The man backed off towards the shop fronts and started frantically looking around. The two armed officers moved into the fighting arch (one at 2 o’clock; one at 10 o’clock, to the man) – the PC passenger had his MP5 carbine rifle pointed at the man and the driver, a firearms sergeant, had his pistol drawn. The man then darted to his left before the sergeant could move to a new position and off up the street … towards me and the officers blocking my end of the road. We saw the footchase start and the three of us, all unarmed, naturally moved into a position to block his path. As he and the officers got closer the PC with the MP5 screamed at us to “GET OUT OF THE WAY!”
The dog handler was running up the street after them all. The suspect ran past us and off. I screamed to an officer at the other end of the road to protect the firearms car which had been abandoned with it’s doors opened – in fairness, their first priority wasn’t vehicle security. But they cornered him whilst he was still holding and waving his gun and then something struck me:
What on EARTH do I do if they shoot him? It occurred to me that I must think they are about to shoot him if I’m working out what I’ll do next. Running up the street to where they were, I was checklisting: preserve the scene, duty superintendent, professionals standards, preserve the weapons, senior firearms officers for their welfare support if they discharge their weapons and kill him, scenes of crime officers, mobilise officers from other divisions to take over duties from my officers who become witnesses to the event, mass debriefs? Anything else?! BLOODY HELL, they’re going to SHOOT HIM. I really thought they were. I got an ambulance on the way, just in case.
Then I witnessed the most amazing feat of bravery I’ve ever seen; I doubt I will see better in my career. As they cornered the man, they kept insisting “PUT THE GUN DOWN, PUT THE GUN DOWN!” but it made no difference. The firearms sergeant then lowered his pistol whilst his colleague ‘covered’ the suspect and drew his police baton, exactly like the one I was carrying. He went straight into the tactics that all police officers are taught, trusting his colleague to take the shot if needed and he waited. And waited. And waited.
When the gun was waved at the right angle, he batoned the man’s arm once as hard as he could, jumped into his body space and pushed him hard to the chest. The man fell. Within seconds, the police dog handler was in there, as was I, as was one of my constables. The man was handcuffed and arrested and searched, after everyone had grabbed their breath. The suspect had four knives – large, sharp, military style knives – and it turned out the gun was a re-activated handgun which was LOADED. This had been REAL and he had more ammunition on him.
Once it was safe to focus upon the man, it was clear he was floridly mentally ill; psychotic and he was removed to custody. He was subsequently sectioned under the Mental Health Act and taken to a medium secure unit. He subsequently claimed he could not remember the evenings events; AT ALL. Ironically, I will never, ever FORGET that evening. I even know the date more than seven years later and everytime I drive down that street or go to one of the pubs on it, I remember what we did that night. I was delighted to learn later, that co-ordination of the incident was used by the Firearms Unit as an example in the real world of good practice on how sergeants and inspectors should do it.
I’d never felt prouder to be a British police officer in all my service as that man was taken into custody, uninjured but for a modest forearm strike. We all know other jurisdictions in which he would have been shot dead before he’d had a chance to run off. To watch that firearms sergeant – now firearms inspector – put his own life in danger, totally trusting his colleague; to bring that man into safe custody with such a low-level use of force was truly inspirational. They received Chief Constable’s commendations for bravery based upon my report. Quite rightly.
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Since this blog began, the law of England and Wales, including the Codes of Practice to the Mental Health Act 1983 have been updated, several times. Always check the date of publication, displayed below; and cross-reference to current legislation and guidance when using this material as a reference guide.