Life and death on the streets

8 Sep

Senior officers gathered, stony-faced, in room H21 to consider their response. The wave of killings had blighted their patch for two years now and last night’s massacre on the troubled Sirius estate was an unbearable embarrassment to the force. No-one however expected any forthcoming police action to be anything like adequate: in recent years, it never was.

Barry O’Brien wearily entered the room knowing he faced an uphill struggle to get agreement on his strategy for ridding the estates of the murderous gangs. He wanted a sustained campaign of heavily armed intervention, coupled with political backing from his public paymasters, fronted by ‘Nimitz’ Cruise, the force’s most effective SWAT team leader, known for his uncanny ability to get straight to the target.

Superintendent Danny Mears-Tooting was openly known to be a ‘controller’ of Ali ‘Basher’ Hassan, acknowledged ‘capo di capo’ leader of the most ruthless and heavily armed of the gangs. It was Hassan who was believed to have directed the massacre, evidenced by residues at the scene recovered by ballistics from weapons only he possessed. In Mears’ view, the expedient approach was to maintain the Hassan outfit’s dominance on the street in order to keep other, potentially more murderous gangs such the ‘Sunny Killers’, in check and to protect Mears’ lucrative interests on the street. He was implacably opposed to O’Brien’s methods, arguing that only the unanimous agreement of those present in the room (which he would personally prevent from ever forming) could authorise Cruise and his methods. He was helped in this stance by the fact that O’Brien’s intelligence was notoriously unreliable and Cruise could easily be sent to hammer the wrong target.

Superintendent Chai ‘Midas’ Na maintained his usual composure, although it was rumoured that he could no longer see any of the incident room exhibits clearly without his spectacles which he had, as usual, forgotten to bring. His favourite pair, stylish Gucci ‘Morals’, were in a drawer somewhere at home and he insisted he didn’t need them. Na had never even been to the estates and had no intention of doing so any time soon. Several other deputy supers, members of the veteran ‘Demos’ group were, under the direction of newly elected police commissioners, reluctant to disturb the fragile, corrupt status quo. They had, of late, argued for an uneasy truce, turning a blind eye to the violence as long as they could maintain a tolerable, if fragile, co-existence with lawlessness they assumed would never touch their comfortable families. After all, the sink estates suffering most had been dominated by criminal gangs for decades and no-one in the quieter suburbs cared, as long as the steady supply of cheap labour could be relied on to keep fuelling their bloated, debt-ridden lives.

Some voices among the embattled officers were raised in support of the idea that talks should be held between gang leaders, residents and police, in the curious and, to any sane observer, futile belief that the criminals would see it as in their best interests to shut down operations voluntarily.

An hour later, O’Brien emerged with a haunted look. As he viewed the crowd of protesters outside the precinct, most of whom, he noticed with disgust, were not there to decry lawlessness on the streets but loudly to chant slogans condemning police brutality, he knew that his options were limited. He spoke to his driver as they sped away. “What would you do, Jim? What in God’s name would you do?”

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