A Policeman’s Lot 17….The Times, They are a Changin’

In 1983 I left West End Central and traditional everyday policing behind and transferred to the Diplomatic Protection Group or DPG as it was usually abbreviated to. The role of the DPG was very simply, to offer security and protection to foreign embassies, High Commissions and their staff in accordance with the Vienna Convention of 1961.

Today, officers attached to the modern Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department (R&DPD) are equipped with and highly trained in the use of all manner of firearms but in my time, officers were armed with a Model 10 Smith and Wesson revolver…..This did cause raised eyebrows with some of the ambassadors….I remember that the newly appointed Israeli Ambassador was somewhat miffed (to put it mildly) that the uniformed officers appointed to offer him protection were so lightly armed….But his requests for a higher level of security at the time were politely rebuffed by the then Government….In other words “You are in the UK now and we do things differently here!”

The DPG base at Tottenham Court Road, where I was posted was very different to West End Central….There was a public front office so that the public could come in and report things and seek police advice, if required. The Robbery Squad also maintained an office on the top floor and their officers, who were authorised to use firearms, were able to book out weapons from our armoury….More about that later!

But the bulk of the building and it’s back yard was used by the DPG.

The DPG operated in two ways….first of all they provided visible, static protection at buildings with diplomatic status in the form of uniformed officers posted outside and patrolling around the premises….They also provided mobile protection by armed officers patrolling in vans, cars and on motorbikes.

As I wasn’t a motorcyclist or a police driver, the things I could do were fairly limited and most of my working day was spent either on a static fixed point or as an RT Operator on either one of the patrolling cars or vans….Indeed, my nickname on my relief was “The Surgeon” because I spent so much time ‘operating’.

At an ordinary police station an officer would normally be entitled to a 45 minute refreshment break in an 8 hour tour of duty….Once upon a time that 45 rest period would have been rigorously enforced but in the modern era it has become accepted that officers could take a 60 minute break for their meals…..However, on the DPG, the working eight hour day was split into four two hour segments….Therefore a typical working day for me would have meant a total of four hours (split into 2 X 2 hour stints) standing on a fixed post, another two hours on a mobile patrol and the other two hour slot could be used for a meal break and anything else that we wanted to do (within reason). Some officers would make use of a multi gym in the basement to maintain fitness….At that time I was quite keen on keeping fit but my preference in those days was running and so (with the permission of the duty sergeant) I and a couple of others would usually be allowed to use that time to go for a run….And a favourite location for that was the Outer Circle of Regents Park.

Four hours standing on a static fixed post may sound boring but it was not something that I wasn’t used to….In the days before the DPG came into existence fixed posts were dealt with as part of regular duties at local police stations and in my days at West End Central I spent many hours patrolling the area around the American Embassy which was then located in Grosvenor Square….Also, the mobile patrols would take it in turns to visit the more exposed fixed posts to give the fixed post officer some time to sit down in the warmth of a vehicle for part of his two hours stint….This was all pretty much accepted and even approved of by the senior ranks as it all helped things to “Get the job done and keep the troops happy”.

Certainly I found life on the DPG a lot more relaxed than it was at West End Central….When I left there in 1983 I was one of the “older and more experienced officers”…..But on the DPG I found I was once again one of the younger members of the team…..But I also felt that I was being treated in a more adult manner….As long as the work was done well efficiently, everyone was happy…..I also enjoyed being part of an older team and hearing some of the stories that would be told by the other officers who had policed all over London

I did think that I would find it strange carrying a firearm for a whole tour of duty….But it soon became routine….Come on duty, book out a radio, go into the armoury and be issued with a revolver….Load it, put it into its holster….And there it would stay until the end of the shift.

Taking everything into account, I enjoyed my time on the DPG and I also made a few lasting friendships….But I knew from the very first day that I would not be spending the rest of my service on the DPG…..Some officers did spend many years there and it suited them….But I had a plan in place….I wanted to make as much money as possible out of the overtime that was available….In those days we were allowed and even encouraged to work on at least some of our rostered rest days….And most officers worked 5 of their 8 rostered rest days….For this we were paid at the rate of time and a half…. It really did make a huge difference to my take home pay….and was particularly valuable now my wife had stopped working in the pub to bring up our two young children….It was the overtime which gave us the deposit to buy our house…..But I was always concerned about becoming financially dependent on the overtime….And I was also aware that there was a certain amount of ‘Overtime Envy’ from some officers who would carefully scrutinise the relevant books to ensure that other officers weren’t getting more overtime than they were…..I always promised myself that “If I ever started to check other people’s….Then that would be the time for me to leave!”…..But that day would not come until five years into the future.

Now, to end this post….Let’s go back to the officers in the Robbery Squad mentioned in the third paragraph whose firearms and equipment were also stored in our armoury.

Not all the days were spent on fixed posts and mobile patrolling….We all took it in turns to be ‘Base man’ and Armourer…..The base man dealt with massages and communications and the armourer was responsible for issuing the firearms and booking them in and out…..Also held in the armoury was a cupboard that held bullet proof vests known as ‘body armour’…..Not many officers in those days bothered with the standard vests because they were so restrictive and uncomfortable…..As time passed new and improved lightweight vests were made available but those were only booked out when a threat level became ‘increased’…..The lightweight vests consisted of a light, washable cotton outer covering and an inner core made of Kevlar……On one particular day a detective sergeant from the robbery squad came into our base room and asked to book out a firearm as he was going out on a job that “Could turn a bit tasty” I checked his pink authorisation card and began preparing his weapon and ammunition….Then he asked about also booking out ‘body armour’ “Just in case”…..I pointed to the cupboard and asked him to sign the appropriate book that was kept in the cupboard…..And off he went…..Several hours later he returned to book the firearm back in…..”No problems then, Sarge?”

No, mate….It all went very smoothly….But I’ll tell you what….That new lightweight body armour is bloody brilliant, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, It’s OK I suppose, Sarge…..It’s certainly an improvement….But I wouldn’t say it was “”Brilliant”””.

“Oh….You must be joking!…. Once I’d put it on, I wouldn’t have known I was wearing it!”

This comment rather surprised me….”Sarge, show me what you booked out.”

He then removed his jacket and took off the cotton cover….”This is it….Such an improvement on the old stuff.”

When I told him that he’d only been wearing the washable, white cotton cover….which would have offered him zero protection….He blushed visibly….”Right….Do me a favour….Not a word about this to anyone….OK?”

“Obviously Sarge …..Not a word….I promise”….And I kept that promise for at least ten minutes!

What that little story does illustrate is the attitude that existed in the police to firearms at that time….They just simply were not (and thankfully, still are not) part of our daily culture….In these modern times we are becoming used to seeing heavily armed officers at our airports and in other public locations….And I can’t say that it is something that I like to see….I actually look back at the naïveté of that DS and it still makes me smile…..I doubt it would happen today, though…..Probably a sign of the changing times.

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