One story this week that really got my attention, notwithstanding the widely differing views about police uniform policy and a patch, was this.
Sgt Kerry Lawrence from Hampshire Police was subject to a horrible attack by 25 year old Craig Radbourne. The video footage should be viewed only after reading the warning at the beginning. It is distressing to watch.
Radbourne was sentenced to 3 years in prison this week for a s47 assault (Actual bodily harm). He had previously pleaded guilty to this offence.
Sgt Lawrence has since returned to duty and I hope she has fully recovered from all the scars that such an attack will leave both physically and mentally. I wish her all the very best for the future.
I don’t want to get into a “shudda” debate (should have done this, should have done that) or stroll into this bloody awful assault with 20/20 hindsight. That would be foolish and totally unsympathetic to Sgt Lawrence. I do however want to draw your attention to a couple of things.
As cops we make decisions. Every day we make choices that affect the outcome of our day. Whether you rigorously apply the “national decision making model” to everything you do or simply make your decisions on the fly based on instinct, experience and a sixth sense, that decision can shape your day, your tomorrow, your future and your life.
Most of the time we make a decision and it goes pretty much to plan. It’s when it doesn’t that we get a wake up call. I wrote a blog in 2011 about Risks. Risks that we as cops take. Sometimes justified, sometimes not, sometimes thought through, sometimes not. We are in many ways our own worst enemy. Police officers have a can do attitude. They want to get the job done in the most efficient way.
“I can wait here for a van to take this prisoner in or I can drive them myself alone”
“I can wait hours for an ambulance or I can take this person to hospital myself”
I’ll cut this corner because it’s quicker as otherwise there’s only one of us covering the whole town”
Sound familiar? You’ve made these decisions as a cop haven’t you? I know I have. We want to get the job done. We want our colleagues to know they have backup and are not alone. We want to know that we are not left as the only patrol and our team members are efficiently getting on with their job to ensure we have backup.
There are fewer of us now than there were in 2011. Single crewing is common place. Whenever single crewing is raised as an issue there are those who agree and those who say there is no direct link between increased officer assaults and single crewing. Watch the video again. Would Taser have made any difference? What about a firearm, a baton or Captor/PAVA spray? The answer in reality is no. Not one jot of difference. There will be some who will say, there are danger signs in the NVC’s (non verbal communication or body language) of Radbourne but put yourself in Sgt Lawrence’s shoes. On your own, dealing with a job, arresting a suspect, communicating on the radio and trying to maintain situational awareness. We miss things or we are simply not tuned into them. You can’t watch a prisoner and your six at the same time.
What would have made a difference here is another officer. If memory serves me correctly, when this officer was shot, it was her partner who dragged her out of the way. It could oh so easily have been a murder case. Two officers working together are more expensive but it doesn’t guarantee safety. We know this from cases such as our GMP colleagues killed over 2 years ago. It didn’t guarantee the safety of the two NYPD officers murdered in Brooklyn. But in day to day terms it’s safer.
We hear in the news that Taser may be rolled out further. The PFEW are asking for all officers to have it. We know that BWV is in place already in some forces and is likely to increase. Sadly both are being lauded as increasing officer safety. They enhance officer safety to a degree but do not and cannot replace another pair of eyes and ears working alongside you. For a single crewed officer, in a situation such as Sgt Lawrence faced, Taser was of no value and BWV did not prevent her assault. It did provide evidence of it though. What she needed was a partner.
No matter your view on single crewing it’s not about to change to routine double crewing any time soon. It’s therefore all the more important for us as officers to be vigilant for our own safety. Do not take unnecessary risks for the sake of expedience. When working on your own, treat every prisoner the same. Do not give them an inch. Cuffing to the rear may seem harsh some times. You have a good rapport with the prisoner so cuff to the front just for basic safety. Basic safety that led to Sgt Lawrence’s awful assault and the death of PC Carroll a few years ago.
I lost count of how many prisoners stood before me in custody, cuffed to the rear, claiming that they were a good person and weren’t going to assault anyone. They were being treated like a criminal. My reply was always the same. “You’re being treated the same as everyone else. You’re cuffed for officer safety”. I’m not going to assault anyone would be the response to which I’d smile “that’s what the last one said who assaulted a cop”.
Bottom line. Treat everyone the same. It’s not personal, it’s professional. Think of your safety first. Don’t cut corners to try and be efficient and keep the wheel on. Do it the right way. To stay safe you cannot afford to be complacent. Stay focused.
I reiterate that I offer no direct criticism of Sgt Lawrence. The extent of my knowledge of her incident is what is in the press. There will likely be much more to it than just this. All I ask is you learn from it.