We meet the victim and take him for the routine drive-around to see if he can point out the suspects. He tells us that he was on his way home from school, when he was surrounded by 4 Rodneys in their late teens. They demanded his mobile telephone which he gave without resisting, knowing that they will have their booty in any event. Despite his compliance he receives the customary robber's coup de grace, one punch to the stomach and another to his face. His mother had only bought him the phone the previous week, and he is very concerned about what her reaction will be. We tell him that he did the right thing, and that these cowards would think nothing of stabbing him if he had fought back. We say that we will take him home and speak to his mother and father. He replies that he has no father that he knows of and that his mother will be at work until 8pm, working the checkouts at CheapFoodIsUs. "Your mother is at work? Who looks after you until she gets home?" His sister does. We tell him we'll speak to his sister, then come back at 8:30pm to speak to his mother. "She goes to work in the hospital at 9:00pm. She cleans there until 6:00am."
We arrive at his home, a flat in Urination Gardens. He takes us through to the living room whereupon we see a mattress in the middle of the floor. It's covered in bedsheets that were once white but now yellow, encrusted with age-old food and layered with a thin black dust, the particles of which hang in the air. We see two toddlers lying amongst the filth, deep in sleep. In one corner of the room is a table, bare save for the piles of unpaid bills and reminders strewn across it, in another an old wooden-effect stereo. There are two old sofas, one covered in clothing and bent in the middle where the wooden frame has snapped. On the other sits his sister, 17 years of age. There is nothing else. No curtains on the windows, no carpet on the floors. Not even a shade surrounding the bulb that hangs forlornly from the ceiling. We gesture his sister to leave the room, being as quiet as possible so as not to wake the toddlers.
The kitchen did not provide any relief from the squalor of the living room. The same black dust permeated the atmosphere. The only difference here was that the walls, cupboards and work surfaces were covered in an irremovable yellow grease, providing a valuable food source for the cockroaches that scurried across them. I updated the sister on all that had happened whilst my colleagues took a statement from the brother. Her mother would be furious that his mobile phone had been stolen. She had saved for it over many months and bought it for him as a reward for not adopting a life of crime like so many other second-generation Diaspora. Of course, it was not insured and most certainly would never be replaced.
Nevertheless, the victim turned out to be an excellent witness, and from the description he gave we knew it to be Wodney Wobber (he had a slight speech impediment). We went to his address and arrested him, his friends followed over the next few days. The mobile phone was long gone, traded for a bag of weed. Back at the station, we talked about how hard his mother had worked for that phone, and how much it would have meant to that boy. It was more than just a phone; it was the manifestation of his mother's hard work. We wondered what of life's essentials had been sacrificed for it, essentials they couldn't even afford in any event. The real value of it was more than the sentence Wodney and his friends would ever receive. We clubbed together, and the next day presented the boy with his new replacement phone. A job well done and one with a happy ending...
5 months later and we are out on patrol. We were shocked to see Wodney walking down the road and our first thoughts were that he must have absconded from prison. We stopped and spoke to him, as you may well expect us to do. He had been one of the many Wodneys, sorry, Rodneys, who had been given early release to ease prison overcrowding, albeit on an electronic tag for the remaining 7 months. "You better keep your nose clean Wodney, sorry, Rodney, because if just one robbery happens where the suspect matches your description, we'll be at your door." "So what if it does and so what if you do. I'll have done 10 wobberies before you get me for one, and I'll be out in less than 7 months innit."