“Will you feel safer in a stab vest?” I was asked as I sat in a busy patrol station in Harold Hill with a constant chatter on police radio about incidents that were all too real - from missing kids to suspicious deaths.  

Soon enough I was geared with a police radio of my own attached to the vest, ready to hit the road with officers in a police van like it was something out of a movie.

Being a reporter, I had written about crimes from the comfort of my work desk.

But a response policing week held by the Met Police gave me a chance to ride along with officers who are on the frontline attending emergency calls in east London.

Det Supt Michael Dougall, who has been an officer for more than 27 years, explained how hectic a shift can get.

“It is always a very varied day," he said. "The response officers don’t know what they are going to deal with. The objective is to make the communities feel safe and respond to any crime and disorder.

“Across the Met we get about 10,000 calls a day and we have to prioritise these calls.

“We have noticed a spike in calls in recent weeks especially since it is summer and people are more out and about.”

Romford Recorder: Detective Superintendent Michael Dougall Detective Superintendent Michael Dougall (Image: Riddhi Kachhela)

I next saw a lengthy list of reported incidents, as new cases kept popping up on their system.

Duty officer Kevin Reece, 55, would constantly skim through it, to “risk assess” the level of emergency so the right resources can be allocated for each job.

Read More: Met Police makes arrests after Hornchurch cocaine seizure

He revealed certain trends they regularly observe: “On Fridays and Saturdays, there’s a lot of missing children complaints as kids go out with their friends and don’t want to come back home within curfew time.

“There could even be an elderly person escaped from hospital," he added. "So the longer they stay missing, our risk factor increases."

Domestic-related calls, he said, is the biggest category of reports they receive.

Protestors like Just Stop Oil activists and events like football matches take up a chunk of their resources further, he said, adding to their pressures of policing everyday crimes.

PC ‘Taff’ Edwards, a schools officer I was soon to head on patrol with, came up with a quick metaphor for their resource.

“It’s a bit like having a single bed duvet for a king-sized bed. And everyone is jostling for a part of that duvet.”

A lot of the officers in front line police, he claimed, can be very young and are faced with “life and death decisions”.

He added: “If we make a mistake or get it wrong, other clever people like barristers and solicitors get weeks and months to pour over a decision that was made in a split second. But that’s what we get paid for.”

With that insight, we set out on patrol - first making our way to an incident involving a “violent woman” in a Tesco.

Romford Recorder: PC Edwards and PC GoodrichPC Edwards and PC Goodrich (Image: Riddhi Kachhela)

PC Ian Goodrich, 38, from Ilford police station, accompanied us on the day guiding the journey.

The urgency was nerve-wracking, and the constant buzz on radio announcing the details of other reported crimes added to the tension.

On arrival, the officers quickly traced the woman who we found out had stolen some beauty products.

She hurled abuse at them, and had to be handcuffed briefly. Keeping their cool, they eventually escorted her off the premises.

PC Edwards, relieved with the resolution, said the woman could have been arrested for abusing police officers but it’s the kind of call they have to take.

He added: “The arrest would have meant a unit that could be used for other incidents is taken off the road for hours."

But there was no time to dwell as another call came in - a stolen car had been spotted and it was coming our way.

Focus now back on the road, chatter on the radio ongoing. But the car did not come into our sight.

Another call to a report of a student with special needs who had run out of school meant there was no chance to grab a bite of the protein bar in my pocket I had been itching to eat. 

When we got there, we found that the child had already been found and reunited with their family.

It had already been a few hours since we had left.

“Aren’t you hungry?" I asked the officers curiously.

“Nah we are good”, PC Goodrich said, and PC Edwards added that cops aren’t actually entitled to refreshment breaks.

They could obviously grab a bite when they can, he said, but on a busy day that would be a luxury.

Time was of the essence for them and those few moments they spend eating or drinking could have big implications, he added.

We drove off to the next incident involving a cash and carry store where an alarm reportedly went off summoning the police.

We were back on full speed with a nervous anticipation of what it could be about - a robbery, a fire, or something violent?

It wasn’t any of those, but instead turned out to just be a false alarm. 

I took this brief period of calm to quiz the officers.

“What was that one case or story that has stuck with you so far in your job?" I asked.

PC Edwards had many to share. He recalled his very first experience out of police training when he was punched by a shoplifter and was left with a broken collarbone.

He had to go back to Wales for three months to recuperate.

He also remembered another incident when a group of six friends were involved in a crash on the day of Eid years ago while driving through the Limehouse link tunnel.

He shared: “Sadly five of the lads died and I had to deal with their bodies. I had to tell their families. It was too heartbreaking. Even now after all these years I cannot drive through that tunnel without thinking about them.”

PC Goodrich recalled attending reports of an old man who had been dead for five days in a house.

He recalled: “When we got there, the state of the body was shocking. It had started decomposing and the stench was something that I can never shake off."

Seeing deaths on a daily basis changes their perspective on life itself, PC Edwards said.

“Especially ever since I have become a father, I feel so lucky to be able to go back to my family at the end of the day.

"But it is just very unfortunate that many people don’t get to do that. And it reminds us how fragile life can be."

Irrespective of their many challenges, PC Edwards said he loved the job.

He came back from his retirement after Covid to work as a part time schools officer.

He acknowledged that trust in the Met Police has been very low in recent months, given several instances of misconduct.

But he claimed he has always had the support of his community and liked to maintain his integrity.

“I do what is called a ‘nan’ test. If I deal with something, I would always want to know that the way in which I dealt with it, that my nan would say you did a good job. If that’s the case, I am happy.”

We parted ways with PC Goodrich in Ilford and returned to the base.

Something Supt Dougall said stayed with me from the day: “There are so many heroic acts by police officers on a daily basis that people don’t know about because they do not get reported.

“We are changing and learning and adapting and we just want the people to know that we care and we are here."