Even in the quietest moments… (police switchboard fail)

That’s the trouble with trouble. It tends to happen when you’re least expecting it.

Like, I am now more or less hardened to the realisation that after dark, on trains, in locations where men and alcohol mix, I might face trouble. So I tread lightly in those places now, avoiding when I can, staying with company otherwise.

And I’ve just had a relatively trouble-free couple of months. So, heading out to my local library to print off some invites to my pre-op party, the last thing on my mind was taking precautions of any kind.

I downloaded my stuff. Kicked the library system hard, because it appears to do weird things to word documents – and proceeded to start reformatting what I had. Opposite, two youths were starting to get rowdy.

The librarian shushed them: they got rowdier. The librarian gave them a warning. No effect, except now they started to get mobile, running round the library and knocking the odd item off the top of desks.

The level of verbal aggro escalated. Now I came into their sights. The usual stuff: “hey – that’s not a real lady, is it?”.

At least that was faintly preferable to the “fucking homosexual!” delivered at the end of the incident: that and the “hey man: you come to London and I’ll shoot you”.

It was offensive.

Dangerous? No, I don’t think so: but hard to say at that point in proceedings.

At about the same time, first I and then one of the librarians rang the police. We both lucked out. There are three pcso’s in the district: only one was on duty tonight and… we asked for the wrong two.

Fair enough, I suggested to the jobsworth on the switchboard. Could she put me through to an officer or other pcso. No. Not unless I explained what the problem was. That was difficult.

I had two seriously unpredictable youths within earshot of me and my phone: how, I wondered, would they react to me giving out to a third party obvious details of what they were doing .

I can’t. This is difficult. I just need to talk. No chance! Unless I could say what was up, she wasn’t going to put me thru to anyone and even though I repeatedly said it was difficult to explain, that didn’t cut any ice.

Now that’s more than irritating. I repeat: in the end, this was no major incident. Just two overgrown boys who maybe couldn’t get how intimidating their behaviour was for three women in a library.

The switchboard reaction, however, was a lot less encouraging. What if it hadn’t been quite such an easy incident? What if we were talking a real danger of violence? Do I not get any assist unless I say, out loud: “help…i think the madman with a knife stood next to me is about to…aaargh!”

Later on, I calmed. I spoke first to michelle, one of the local helpful pcso’s, who gave me her mobile number. I also chatted again to the police control room. Apparently they can tag my mobile number with a message, so those picking up will be aware that I might be phoning because I’m at risk.

That’s cheering.

I don’t really know how the switchboard person should have reacted. Still, it felt unhelpful, bureaucratic and… the sort of rsponse that does leave people floundering in the midst of serious trouble.



6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Paula said,

    hehehe.. yes indeed.. In Manchester before anything else they want your full name and address.. surgical status.. date of birth.,. sexual preference.. and then… maybe after they stop giggling and obviously having a very good laugh at the remote switchboard (I have been put through to Aberdeen before now) they eventually try to call the “locals” and very often that rings and rings until the system just cuts you off…
    I just drop back into rock club bouncer mode and grow about 5 inches taller and 1,000,000 times bigger. The police have not the first idea about public safety for at risk minorities… and the whining attitude we witnessed from a “not so real.. believe” member of the so called “community” shows exactly why we have got nowhere. “Whatever you do don’t make any fuss or noise” seems to be the order of the day.

    Thing to remember is this.. You really need to work on passing if thugs can read you so easily.. I get a lot of that kind of shit in my home town because all the wankers here know me and will walk behind me outing me to all their microbrain bully friends. like pack animals.. too thick and stupid to even be brave on their own.. In other places I pass flawlessly.. 1 arsehole in a pub in Torquay for example.. who wasn’t brave enough to even direct his transphobic crap at me but instead threw it at my friend. Lucky I didn’t hear it or his smelly dole skiver sit in the pub on his fat arse all day boneidleness would have really got some.. and his smelly scabby dog in a food hygene area!!

    It’s scary but sometimes you have to be big.. you should have given full descriptions of the thugs and offered to take pictures of them.. they would have run away because they really aren’t brave, just bullies. the library staff should have a direct police station connected panic button.. something tells me they were secretly agreeing or relieved that the thugs decided to target you instead of making a mess of their library. Director of Libraries at the Town Hall should be able to answer a direct question on this matter.

  2. 2

    Sabine said,


    Happens to all of us. Boyfriend and myself got attacked by three hoodlums. We fled into a pub with the three waiting outside for us and called the police.

    Switchboard: So what are we supposed to do about it?

    In the end we phoned enough of our acquaintances together to outnumber them to get safely to the car.

    However – hurt one of the little darling culture-enrichers in self-defense and suddenly the police have got time for you. So do the courts giving a nice prison sentence and of course compensation to the poor thing.

  3. 3

    Anne said,

    wow! And here I thought the UK was uber progressive. Could this be a bit of grass-roots blow back?

  4. 4

    oatc said,

    Was there a reason you didn’t feel it worth dialling 999 and just giving your location? Has there been some memo that police community support officers (PCSO) deal with personal security issue, whilst the emergency number is for property crimes?

    • 5

      janefae said,

      er, yes. ALL sorts of reasons. One of which is/was that i am not fully au fait with all the subtleties of the way policing is meant to go down. The other that i live in a small community, have discussed personal safety more than once with the pcso’s and have their numbers to hand. And third, this situation felt threatening – but wasn’t at a level of threat where i anticipated instant violence.

      When you’re in the middle of a situation like this, you don’t always think stuff thru. Or maybe you do.

      I don’t.

      I did what i thought i was meant to – and then was thoroughly freaked out by the switchboard response.

      In the end, the matter WAS dealt with by one of the local pcso’s – so probably it was the right call.


    • 6

      eclectic chicken said,

      also bear in mind a 999 call goes to central switchboard somewhere up county and some random pcs in a car would get sent out from perhaps 10 miles away…. as opposed to the local pcso number which (if they are on duty) gets through to the local nick…. 50 yards from the library. The local pcsos know the local yoofs…. all in all a far less escalatory move.

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