Exit Through Gift Shop

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

As we journey deep into the land of kippers we wonder what this year will bring. We might also wonder what is going on in other people’s professions. I was particularly interested in the mad things that were going on in the police service towards the end of 2018. For a fair while, under-reaction had been the order of the day, with “lesser” crimes not being adequately investigated. Then there was a controversial counter reaction against moped mugging gangs. There was also a comical move into branded merchandising by the Met.

As most people in the London taxi trade are aware, there had been a spate of robberies of drivers in and around the Lisson Grove area. I’ve spoken to drivers who fell victim years ago, but activity intensified in the autumn of 2018. Drivers reported attacks to the police but the crimes weren’t followed up. On bonfire night, gangs barricaded Rossmore Road and attacked passing taxis by throwing traffic cones. The polizia showed up but withdrew when they came under fire from bricks and stones.  That was pretty much the end of the police’s involvement, though attacks on taxis continued and spread to new areas. In most cases, the police refused to investigate, despite having at their disposal eyewitness accounts, photographs and CCTV footage.

On Saturday November 17th I came home from work early because I couldn’t get around. Protestors calling themselves “Extinction Rebellion” (whose aims were vague) blockaded five Central London bridges. The police shut more streets off and let them get on with it. The demonstrations continued into the following week and London’s roads were in chaos. There were 84 arrests on the Saturday, but none on the following Wednesday when the demo had been stepped up to ruin many people’s midweek routine. The police often talk about a lack of resources. This is undoubtedly hampering the police to some extent, but they still had the resources to put cones out and direct traffic around the affected areas. Call me reactionary, but I would like to have seen Boris’s obsolete water cannon tested on Extinction Rebellion – or phantom drones – before he sold it (at a huge loss).

The police are only as good as their funding, and they have undoubtedly suffered from a lack of money. They should be responding to reports of robbery though, particularly when evidence is handed to them on a plate. I’d urge anyone who’s been victim of a crime to report it. And to the police; reporting things on Twitter doesn’t count!

A little later in November, a shift in attitude was reported concerning the epidemic of robberies by teenagers riding mopeds. It was reported that the police were reversing their earlier strategy of giving up the chase, and would now ram the machines with their cars.

The Metropolitan Police suggested that the days of passive resistance were over. The police talked about a walk on by culture after an attack on a police officer was filmed and shown on social media. This was in contrast to the Lisson Grove crime epidemic, where they wouldn’t respond adequately when presented with evidence, and just walked off when the perpetrators turned on them.

They used to tell us not to get involved. You might get hurt, or become subject to prosecution should you take the law into your own hands; even if you’re defending your own property or protecting yourself and others. Taxi drivers who came under attack after the bonfire night incident were reluctant to report attacks as they’d lost confidence in the police. Were the police still fobbing victims of crime off with excuses, or were they now working against the walk on by culture? Which version of the police service would we be dealing with as we went into 2019?

The Met had other distractions anyway. They’d recently launched a range of branded clothing, toys and souvenirs. Actually I’d quite fancy one of those checked baseball caps that the cops with guns wear. I could buy a toy gun and spend many happy hours running around the house shouting “Stop! Armed Police!” at the wife and cat.

Maybe all those police stations that have closed in the past few years will re-open in order to handle the retail side? Existing stations could extend their hours – perhaps have a late shopping day on Thursdays?  We could hand it lost property again, like we used to. The term “Cop Shop” will carry more meaning. We can report crimes in the traditional way, then browse the merchandise as we exit through the gift shop.

As for the ramming of moped gangs, I’m not sure I believe the hype. It could just be an opportunity to stop motorcyclists in a desperate attempt to sell them an “I’ve Met the Met” baseball cap.

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