The day begins just before 0630. We enter through the back door of a police station in the suburbs of a Northern town, the designated headquarters for a large police search operation to be carried out today across a number of homes and businesses. The station is a low-rise office block with added extras (such as cells) and if you’re familiar with the recently defunct TV show The Bill, its interior won’t come as a surprise: it’s a series of neon-lit, low-ceilinged corridors with offices and briefing rooms leading off them. On the walls of the corridors there are noticeboards, with charity sponsorship forms and admonitory messages (‘You can’t talk your way out of a situation you’ve behaved yourself into’) pinned to them. Highly visible around the station is a series of posters bearing the slogan, ‘Enforced marriage: it’s not cultural, it’s wrong.’ The classrooms all contain whiteboards and flip charts. Walking past one room, I glimpse a flip chart with a seesaw drawn on it. ‘Risk’ and ‘Benefit’ sit at either end, in perfect equilibrium. Through another doorway I see a whiteboard carrying a highly detailed street plan of the local area.
As this is a big search, there’s a lot of activity in the station. We walk past rooms containing groups of police, some already in their protective gear, all bulked up and paramilitary in their protective vests, combat boots and equipment belts. Others, in plain clothes, are minimalist in their get-up – just handcuffs and a collapsible baton, known as an ASP (it’s made by a company called Armament Systems and Procedures), which fits discreetly under a jacket. There’s a sense of boyish excitement about the place. It’s like the beginning of a new school term or the start of a holiday.
By the time we reach the right room, the briefing has already begun and it’s standing room only. The room is full of detectives, mostly from the local serious and organised crime squad. They wear jeans or cargo pants, fleeces and anoraks. The majority are in their thirties and a lot of them sport the Grant Mitchell look. There are women officers too, who wear their hair short and are in the same jeans, puffa-jackets and fleeces as their male counterparts. These men and women, like all the other police officers I’ve encountered, exhibit certain core characteristics. Used to spending lots of time waiting around for things to happen, they’re addicted to banter and very good at sustaining it; they’re both respectful and resentful of authority; they have a strong sense of moral purpose and duty and a millenarian view of the world – for many, the barbarians are always at the gates.
These detectives, who face danger on a regular basis, have also developed a persona that looks to dominate the situation, this being seen as the best way of controlling the difficult customers they meet without having to resort to violence. They have a loathing for political correctness, which they blame for many of society’s ills. In some of them, this has developed into a near paranoia concerning questions of race, rights and the bias of the liberal media. They are also personally courageous. In short, they’re an all-white, lower middle-class bunch of the kind you’d expect to see at the football or watching The X Factor, with the crucial difference that they are authorised to take away your liberty and can use physical force if you don’t agree to accompany them to the station.
A detective superintendent is speaking. He’s giving a strategic overview of the operation. Two Asian families are battling for control of various criminal enterprises in the area. Their rivalry is an extension of a tribal feud that has been transposed to the UK from their country of origin. The raids today are an attempt to disrupt the activities of the more powerful of the two families. They are important, I’m told later, because there’s a sense that the stronger family is beginning to ‘boss’ the area a little too much. It has gained some slight political influence and attempted, at least, to gain influence among the police too.
Next, the DI in direct charge of the operation takes the floor. Smartly suited and suicidally positive, like a general who’s about to send his men over the top, he dispenses instructions about which teams are to search where; then he takes a couple of questions. A shaven-headed, broken-nosed plainclothes man raises his hand and asks with one knowing eye on his peers: ‘Will they get remanded on this one?’ Meaning, will the individuals who are going to be arrested at the beginning of the searches be kept in prison before they face trial or – as has clearly happened before – will they be released on bail? Just as Al Capone was finally convicted of tax offences, the police here are finding they can’t get a prosecution for the many acts of violence perpetrated by the family (including murder and arson), thanks to the bribing and intimidation of potential witnesses.