A Policeman's Lot Can Be A Happy One
Topping Forty were fortunate to get a glimpse of a day in the life of a volunteer police officer, Special Sergeant Andy McDonald, who patrols the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead with Thames Valley Police.
It’s 6pm on a Friday evening as we sip a tea over briefing with Andy, who has already completed 8 hours in paid capacity of a Teaching Assistant at his daughter’s school and Graphic Designer. With over 25 years under his utility belt and modestly displaying three medal ribbons on his stab vest, Andy casually says “I love the job as you never know what’s around the next corner from one shift to the next.” Andy patrols with the Neighbourhoods Beat Team mainly tackling anti-social behaviour, but tonight’s shift could see a totally different scenario unfolding.
We are out in an unmarked patrol car with both Andy and a PCSO. The force controller issues observations for a black stolen Audi that has activated ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras on its way towards Maidenhead. The Audi has been taken from West Sussex and has been responsible for various crimes as it has travelled through different counties to our area.
At 8.20pm we are called to a ‘burglary in progress’ to the West of Maidenhead. Other units echo across the police radio as more officers are strategically brought in to put on a containment, so the burglars can’t get out of the area. Unfortunately for Andy, tonight’s weather prohibits the use for X-ray Alfa, the air support helicopter and a dog unit is working too far away at this point in time. We drive into a very secluded cul-de-sac and Andy has already spotted a male youth walking into an alley.
As both officer’s sprint from our vehicle, the young lad is stopped and asked where he has been. Andy is calm, professional and even friendly as he quizzes the young man about why he is there. After 10 minutes, Special Sergeant McDonald has found the lad to be living nearby and his father has verified him having being at home. The young man expresses his appreciation for the police being in the area and is allowed to leave the road.
It has now been 45 minutes since our arrival as they conduct a search of the immediate area for four young suspects in dark clothing, described by a neighbour of the burgled house, who had alerted the police. We next drive to Punt Hill, a cricket ground and park not far away. It is pitch black and the officers use the vehicle lights to search the park. Four figures running across the park are silhouetted against the car headlights. Both officers are out like greyhounds, running and commanding the suspects to stop! With no dog unit nearby and without X-ray Alfa, Andy knows this is going to be a difficult pursuit. Alas, even with a slight scent trail of cannabis along the path, the suspects are nowhere to be seen and very difficult to find with a torch amidst the bushes and various footpaths running from the park.
After a 20 minute area search, the disheartened officers emerge from the dark into the headlights. Spatters of mud cover the lower legs of the Special Sergeant after the foot pursuit. We could definitely tell of the disappointment on his face as soon as he was in view of the car headlights, empty handed.
Since the excitement it has been a relatively quiet shift and we are now heading towards the rural beat of Cookham at 11pm. We’ve stopped at a zebra crossing and I couldn’t help noticing the officers freeze like icicles as they look out of their right hand window. They are staring directly at the driver of a black Audi who has stopped at traffic lights going the other direction. The driver is female with dark hair. She spots the two officers in our unmarked vehicle and I could instantly see her discomfort. She has three males with her. Both officers shout simultaneously, “that’s the SMV!” (stolen motor vehicle). Andy is out of our car, his baton drawn, shouting at the occupants to exit the stolen car. The stolen Audi is slammed into gear as the lights change to green. Andy attempts to smash a window on the Audi to cause a distraction, but just misses as it speeds off!
The Special Sergeant has now returned to our vehicle and we’ve turned round to follow. We can see the Audi’s tail lights turn into an industrial estate. Andy tells us “we are taught in training that there are only two possible risk assessments: high and unknown risks”. These are treated the same, with extreme caution!
We have found the black Audi containing all occupants behind some stacked wooden pallets. We have blocked it in with our car. My heart is racing as I anticipate the officer’s next move. I can’t help thinking how on earth can two officers detain four suspects? Both Andy and the PCSO are out again. Andy has his baton drawn parallel to his right shoulder and shouting from the pit of his gut for all occupants to exit the vehicle. There is a couple of seconds delay as I see actions of desperate dialogue from inside the Audi. Andy has again commanded “Police Officer! Get out of the vehicle and lie face down on the ground with your arms out!” One by one, the doors open. I expect any one of the suspects to flee at any moment, but all comply with Andy’s instruction. His colleague has already called for assistance and it is literally moments before I hear more sirens getting closer to us.
It’s now 11.10pm and we are now surrounded by another five police vehicles around us. The industrial estate is lit up in blue strobe lighting as Andy dissuades us from exiting the car until all officer’s have handcuffed and searched all suspects for any weapons.
All suspects were taken to the police station and charged with TWOC (taking without owner’s consent). This was one job Andy had not anticipated coming across tonight. He says with a smile “this is exactly the reason I love doing this job. This group have caused some real aggravation across a few counties in the last day or so. It is really satisfying to get them off the streets”.
Different police counties are now conducting enquiries relating to other crimes committed by these suspects.
Andy received an Area Commander's commendation for his arrests on Monday 10th December amongst other officer's for their awards ranging from good police work in their communities, through to life saving incidents.