Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Policeman's (or woman's) Lot is Not a Happy One

I used to get sick of my aunt singing those lines from Gilbert and Sullivan - 'A Policeman's lot is not a happy one'. Ever since she found out I was to follow my dad to this most unladylike job, she took a stance that said: 'it'll not make you happy'. Then there are people who constantly ask how you do it: fighting, dealing with people whose lives are unravelling. And death.

Crofty was at our house last week and, following the usual kitchen table conversation with my dad and me, insisted I start writing again. But this time he thinks people will be interested in what life is like on a day-to-day basis in the cops - rather than just the witty banter and stuff that occurs in and around the Police Station. So from time to time I'll try and send him something to publish. But I can't promise it will be pretty.

At Christmas it is bad enough dealing with the idiocy that accompanies alcoholic excess; but it's not that that makes the season so horrible to be at work sometimes. It's the other people. The ones who have no one, or think they do. The so-called Festive Season is one of the most common periods for suicide and it is the Police who go along, usually after someone has noticed that someone has not been seen for a while.

The first unpleasant policey thought as you head to such an address is a fervent hope that it is not a smell that has drawn the attention of the person raising the alarm.

Sorry if that put you off your mince pies; but to be honest the practical aspects of death are the easy bits to deal with. Take the weekend just gone. We had to kick in the door of a shared student house in inner city Manchester. All of the students had gone home for the break - or so it was thought. But one hadn't turned up home. So after the usual student worry possibilities have been exhausted: parties, friends, boyfriends etc. Someone phoned the Police.

As we entered the hallway of the large Victorian terraced house we saw her suspended from the banister by a carefully knotted, bright yellow, climbing rope round her neck. She was dressed in a pair of Winnie the Pooh pyjamas, one slipper on, the other on the floor beneath her. Like I said, this is the easy bit.

Dying is a very practical business - concerned with many physical, highly practical features. In our case these are things like preserving a potential crime scene, making sure we don't lose evidence. Things like preserving the knot, checking for forced entry, that sort of thing. Once we've done all that the hard part starts.

You see, dealing with someone's remains is like taking the bins out at home, unpleasant but necessary and unavoidable.

The hard part is starting to unpick what has happened to this poor young woman to make her feel so badly about herself. And it is less usual for women to be violent towards themselves, so she must have had some sort of self loathing or anger.

So we search drawers and personal effects to establish which poor sod is going to have a visit from a cop to deliver the bad news. And here's an interesting aside. It is traditional for British bobbies to wear their hats when doing a formal duty like delivering bad news. It also makes delivering that blow a little easier when someone sees a behatted copper coming up the garden path, so I make a point of trying to announce my presence whenever possible before I get to the door.

This was a tough one, because on her book shelves were things like Simon Armitage poems; The Time Traveller's Wife, The Kite Runner; there were CDs like Seasick Steve, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell's Mingus; and these things said far more than had they been Take That or Sophie Kinsella.

Try as I might, I couldn't shake the feeling that I could have been her friend. That's the tough bit: seeing the person rather than the remains.

Sorry if that is a bit bleak. But that is how it is - at least for me at any rate.

So how do we, as people who have to do this often, deal with it. Well there are the traditional cures like wine (or beer favoured by many of my colleagues, and we do have many beery dos). It also helps having a dad who was in the job and a mum who is nurse - they have been there too.And then sometimes I'll just go for a long hard run to clear my head.

And, I suppose, in a way, this writing it down sort of helps too.

So there you have it - a small insight into the way the cops do some of the tougher things.

Finally. I asked Crofty to put a link at the bottom of this post, just in case you are feeling shit about yourself. I'd hate to make you feel worse.

It doesn't have to be like that - click here for someone to talk to.