Some things can’t be categorised, the odds and sods of everyday police life still make for an interesting read.
Things that make you go yuk. The watch house is part of the police station, it is where people who are arrested are taken and processed before either being bailed or facing court. The vast majority of those entering the establishment are not happy people. You do get the odd drunk who couldn’t give a hoot and is ready for a good nights sleep. I spent some time as relieving watch house keeper at the provincial station and kept a tight ship. Cleanliness was a priority, all you needed was somebody obviously infested with lice and they spread like crazy. At times a prisoner on serious charges could be kept in for several days, especially if the prisons were full. The watch house had been built-in the late 1800’s and was a cold unfriendly place. You entered via a cage door into a vestibule, then another door straight up to the charge counter. Most people fought all the way. I had served as a prison officer for five years prior to joining the police, so nothing that happened there surprised me.
A fine Thursday morning and I’d finished my court run, I stood cleaning the counter down when the day shift brought in an old regular. I’ll call him Darby, he was an elderly man who lived wherever he wanted and liked the occasional bottle of wine or two. I didn’t know his story only that he travelled often on the train to the capital and back. This morning was pension day and Darby had collected his money, bought a flagon of port and started drinking. With old alcoholics it didn’t take long before they hit drunk, their livers were on borrowed time and they ate very little. The constables who had brought him in were reasonably new and hadn’t searched him prior to his arrest, “Why didn’t you search him?” I received a blank look and a nod at Darby, who was now leaning over the counter. “Okay, so he smells, you still have to search him.” I noticed all the $20 bills hanging out of every pocket. “What about his money?” “Come on Smithy, he stinks.”
Shaking my head I pulled a pair of arm length plastic gloves out and slipped them on. They were the type used by Vets when artificially inseminating cows. I went to the front of the counter and started, they were right, he did smell. I removed all the visible money and stacked it on the counter, turned my head, took a deep breath and went for the pockets. Darby wore a suit he’d found in a charity-bin, years earlier, I removed the rest of his money and cigarettes then felt something lumpy in his coat pocket. I pulled it out gingerly and placed it on the counter. Round, green and hard we stared at it before realising what it was, a meat rissole. There was one in his other pocket, in a worse condition. Satisfied that he had nothing else on him, I booked his money in and put him in a cell.
At that time drunks could be bailed out for $2.00 when you thought they were sober enough. I kept Darby in for lunch and booked him out mid afternoon, taking the bail money so he needn’t appear in court. He asked for his rissoles and was quite sad when I told him they had been chucked out. Though he felt better after I gave him a snort out of the bottle of port kept under the counter. There was always a small supply for the alcoholics, the wine was usually confiscated off drunks who were arrested carrying liquor in public. Nothing settles the D.T’s like a swallow of wine. When I brought Darby out to release him he shook like a wet puppy. The sad part is Darby ended up being run over by a train while sleeping on the tracks. You couldn’t take everything to heart, nor were you a social worker or therapist. People make choices in life and also end up as alcoholics or addicts.
It’s when you lose your humanity and compassion as a person that you have a problem. Being a policeman sets you apart from the community and a lot is expected of you. You have choices and can become a cold bastard, sloughing off people’s traumas as nothing more than another day. Or you can become a bleeding heart and fail at your job. The middle ground is a hard path to tread.
Things that make you go ouch. Still in the watch house and it’s a Saturday night, never a dull moment. I had a prisoner in who I had known when I worked in prison. He had a few unpaid fines and was going back to jail to work them off. The crew brought in a teenager, I’ll call him Noddy, who appeared to be flying high on something. A weedy, scruffy young man he spoke to invisible beings and carried on like the proverbial two bob watch. I didn’t want to book him in as I believed he should be admitted to hospital, I asked, “What’s he on?” The reply, wine, marijuana and angel’s trumpet flowers. Datura, the substance recovered from boiling up the flowers is very toxic and can cause severe reactions: delirium, hyperthermia, tachycardia, bizarre, and possibly violent behaviour and severe mydriasis (huge pupils) with resultant painful photophobia. I rang the hospital, they wouldn’t take him because of his violent behaviour.
Bloody hell, another crap shift. He was charged with several offences from the party he had attended and I had to photograph and fingerprint him. The fingerprinting was easy, the photography, well it was painful. We had a new device for taking photos due to the abysmal condition of offender’s photographs. Picture a tubular steel bar about a metre long, one end has a fitting for the camera, the other has a fitting to put the wooden block with his name and d.o.b on it. The offender is supposed to hold his end against his chest, this gives the optimum distance for a lovely pic. That works well when said offender cooperates, not Noddy. He stood quietly until I put the camera to my eye, wham, he rammed the camera back into my face, now that hurt.
Still holding the steel bar he raised it to hit me again, no way mate. I was young and fit and vaulted over the counter, crashing him to the ground. I wrestled the camera from him and dragged him to his feet. One tries to be professional at times like this but pain speaks loudly to the excited brain and I thumped him. His delusions didn’t help him but man my face hurt. The crew came back and we put him in the drunks cell. No beds only a toilet and a few mattresses on the floor. The door was made of steel plate with an inspection hatch about three-quarters of the way up. It was about the size of a clipboard and had its own little door.
Thankfully the drunks cell was empty and we deposited him unceremoniously on a mattress. I left him to it and locked the door, the crew went back on the road and I returned to my book work. After ten minutes a frantic, “Boss, Boss hurry up he’s killing himself.” I went back out and there was Noddy with his head through the inspection hatch, trying to choke himself on the steel. Grabbing the keys I went out to the cells and unlocked the door, I couldn’t get his head out until I opened the door. He attacked me again, big mistake. I’m a patient man and tried to settle him down, nothing. The exercise yard seemed the next best option, I could view it from my counter and once I had him in there he started again.
Now we had a brand new straight jacket under the counter with two long ropes and hooks at each end. A quick call to the duty sergeant and I had permission to restrain Noddy. It took some wrestling and after a few scenes that would make it onto a Three Stooges episode I had him trussed up like a Xmas turkey. Good, I thought now he’ll behave. Bong, bong, bong he’d struggled to his feet and began running head first into the bars. Bugger, taking the ropes I sat on him, clipped the hooks onto the jacket’s rings, tied one to the bars on one side of the cage and looped the other through the opposite bars. He took a run and I pulled on my rope, up he went, suspended in mid-air. A few quick turns of my rope and there he hung, a metre off the ground swaying slowly back and forth.
And there he stayed until the end of my shift: safe, secure and trouble-free. It may sound cruel but I had few choices, lack of staff and the hospitals refusal to take him nearly cost him his life. What saved him was the other prisoner, if he hadn’t called out Noddy would’ve died. I wasn’t due to check on him for another five minutes. The sad post script to this episode was the woman who had supplied the drugs and wine to Noddy and his mates. She had the gall to make a complaint about me roughing up Noddy.
Things that make you go ewww. A short list of things most people don’t have to contend with at their workplace:
Hosing out the drunk’s cell after a full night, especially when the single toilet has been blocked up.
Finding some kind soul has taken a dump in the blankets.
Removing vomit off your trousers, theirs not yours.
Finding that the girl you’ve been fingerprinting has scabies, then you see where they live on her skin.
Having someone bleed all over you and you didn’t cause it.
Having a female prisoner offering to give you oral sex, you refuse and she tells you the other officer didn’t knock her back.
The watch house is standing room only when a brawl breaks out and a copper has started it.
The list goes on and the anecdotes are endless, needless to say there are a million stories out there, not all of them mine. I have a few more to tell in coming weeks but the supply is dwindling, by then I will have conjured up a new topic. Perhaps a few stories from prison or maybe my army days, whichever it is I can assure you they will be true.