Feature: Being on the front line with Herts police in St Albans
PUBLISHED: 10:38 25 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:37 27 September 2017
Danny Loo Photography 2017
"Just look how fast we're going. I could eat ALL my 20 chicken pieces before we get home. All of them. I could CYCLE home quicker than this, I bet I could," the exasperated boyfriend moans, initiating our standard Franki-is-such-a-slow-driver conversation for a third time this week.
Fast-forward a few hours, and I’m racing through St Albans at 80mph, swinging onto the wrong side of the road, gripping my seat, and silently praying to live through the evening.
Rewind again, and I am nervously turning up for a Friday night ride-along with Herts police, wondering what the evening will bring.
After a quick briefing in which officers on the late-turn shift are bombarded with an impressive amount of information to remember, the Herts Ad team are assigned to a car with the capable hands of six-month newbie PC Katie Rance and experienced veteran PC Lee Hammond.
PC Hammond has been in uniform helping to keep St Albans district safe for 15 years, an unusual asset to his CV.
He explains: “I like the variety and I like the shifts - they work well for me, my wife, and child care, and I like the thrill of the chase. I want to be in uniform and I want to be in the thick of it.”
As we are cruising around the district, checking out local crime hotspots, trying to find particular wanted cars and people, and waiting to be called, Lee and Katie explain the shift pattern - nine hours for three or four days, then a break.
Parsons Green tube station was bombed that day, and all day-turn officers were told without warning they had to stay on-duty indefinitely. It sounds tiring and demanding, and I am left thankful that we have such a dedicated police officers willing to go the extra mile.
All the kit attached to their high vis vests and body armour weighs a whooping two stone, and includes a pair of handcuffs, a taser, a baton, and pepper spray.
There are two types of pepper spray - Herts police use safer Pava rather than CS gas, because the crystals used in CS can have longer lasting effects for anyone who is affected.
Our first call comes in - some shoplifters are escaping in a car towards St Albans, can we intercept them?
Before I know it, blue lights are flashing, sirens are screaming. It should be unsurprising, but I’m still taken aback by how quickly you get through the normally snail crawl of St Albans city centre when you are skipping all red lights, weaving through queues, and cars are literally mounting pavements to get out of your way.
This is all very exciting, but unfortunately the criminals are nowhere to be seen. However before long another call has come in about a vulnerable missing person in Harpenden, and we’re flying towards their last location to search.
Suddenly, it all starts happening all once - there is a car crash, an arson, and an elderly Alzheimer’s sufferer missing from a care home.
Lee is calm, safe, and competent while zooming 95mph down the motorway, helping to create a bizarrely serene atmosphere in the car - in hindsight it probably was not the best time to ask him about public sector pay, but I did.
Thousands of police officers will get more than a one per cent pay rise next year because PM Thersea May recently announced the scrapping of a seven-year-old cap.
Lee is not as over the moon as I imagine I would be. “Something is better than nothing,” he casually answered. Maybe it’s the 95mph thing.
Photographer Danny and I decide we will finish the night at a respectable 9.30pm. Katie and Lee are not so lucky - they will not have a chance to get into bed until the shift ends at 3am, or possibly later, if St Albans needs them.