Crime fighters have always had gadgets. James Bond had his talcum powder tin filled with tear gas, his mini-rocket cigarette and his Union Jack emblazoned pen gun.
Back in 1979 West Midlands Police issued officers with their very own crime-fighting, life saving device – in the form of a clipboard!
‘Bullet-proof’ clipboards were issued for use in all police vehicles. Our internal magazine, The Beacon, boasted that ‘They have been extensively tested and are effective against virtually any weapon the criminal is likely to use’.
The Chief Constable of the time, Lord Philip Knights, had one simple thing to say about them. ‘Use them. They may save your life’.
Alarmingly 70s officers seemed somewhat unaware of the life-saving abilities of their clipboards and the Beacon bemoans that ‘Some officers have not been using the boards, or have been carrying them in the boot of the car’.
The article was so keen to point out that ‘they must be carried inside the car to be of any use’, that it featured a ‘storyboard’ of three photographs showing how an officer could first use the clipboard in defence against a gunman before disarming him with it.
It turns out the clipboards were not a West Midlands Police invention, but were an idea imported from America, where they had been used by police there back in the 60s.
In scenes reminiscent of ‘Q’s workshop, officers are pictured testing the boards by firing at both a conventional wooden clipboard and the bullet-proof one. Proving that the clipboards resisted a 9mm browning Semi-automatic pistol, a .357 Magnum revolver and a 12 bore shotgun.
The bullet-proof boards were marked but intact, while bullets unsurprisingly sailed through the wooden board – and the two telephone directories propped behind it to represent an officer!
A spokesman for the force’s Firearms team encouraged officers to be confident using their boards, stating: “These boards do work and officers can have confidence in them. If they stop the villain’s first shot, it is unlikely he will have another go. All he will be interested in is getting away.”
Bullet-proof boards, now dubbed ‘ballistic clipboards’ are not issued to every patrol car anymore but are still used today by Firearms trained officers when knocking on the door of a suspect where there is an outside possibility they may have a gun.
One of today’s Firearms officers said: “When they were in the back of every car people didn’t use them because they didn’t know how to. They were almost laughable; we knew they were there but not what to do with them.
“Now we have them in every armed response vehicle as a useful tool when we are in a low-key situation. It’s reassuring to have them in front of you when you knock on a door not knowing whether someone inside has a gun or not.”
No one remembers the clip boards actually saving anyone’s life but they will perhaps be best remembered by our 70s and 80s officers as ‘that heavy thing in the boot’.