I’m delighted to be able to host this blog. It speaks for itself and describes a path many UK officers have folliwed to Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the USA.
David Copperfield left the UK in 2007 after writing about his experiences as a uniformed police constable in the book ‘Wasting Police Time’. He confidently predicted that things couldn’t get any worse. His new book, ‘Wasting More Police Time’ is out soon.
For the past four years he’s been doing the same thing, but in a large city in western Canada alongside other expat PCs who correctly predicted that things would indeed get worse. He still carries two pens, frequently loses his pocketbook and has forgotten about leaving a breathalyser on the roof of a marked car every single year of his service.
In the piece below he describes the policing differences between the two jurisdictions and what keeps people coming back to patrol work.
Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first: CAN$100,000 per year. That’s what your average, big-city, uniformed patrol officer in western Canada wants to make. I made quite a bit more than that last year and a little bit less the year before that, but it’s still a nice round number and a convenient target that’s well within reach with some hard work and still leaves you with time to spend with the family.
You might think that given this is much more than most UK expats earned as PCs back home, it might be the biggest single factor getting them to work every day, but it’s not. Naturally, everyone’s got their own reasons for being here: only the other week someone was telling me how he no-longer has to worry about his daughter cycling around the neighborhood, unlike when he lived just outside Manchester. Someone else said he missed being able to walk to a pub, but preferred living on the farm he’d just bought outside the city. Me? I like the space and not having to pay for parking.
At work, the same kinds of people call the police for the same reasons as they do in the UK. Security guards catch shoplifters, husbands beat their wives, people get drunk, crash their cars and run off. So from the outside it’s much the same and yet… different. To give you an example, there’s a button on the touch screen of our MDTs that says ‘update event’. You press it whenever you want to change the type of incident that you’re at, so, say you’re at a robbery that turns out not to be a robbery but a drunk who’s lost his wallet. You show up, speak to the drunk, press the ‘update event’ button and change ‘robbery’ to ‘trouble with drunk’, you then type in what’s actually happened, give the drunk an FPN for being drunk and take him home. Simple. But who has the ‘update event’ button in your force? I never did when I was on patrol, and the equivalent was a no-crime form, a signed PNB entry, an incident print and a no-crime report.
Why do we get do alter our crime figures in a patrol car at the touch of a button? Because after a certain amount of training and experience we get to decide how we deal with incidents. That’s the patrol officer who attends the incident, not the civilian reviewer with responsibility for NCRS compliance or the supervisors meeting the following morning, or the DI with responsibility for boosting detections. Me. In a car. At 4.00 in the morning. They give us all guns, so surely access to the ‘update event’ button must be a given?
The ‘update event’ button is a tiny, yet important, demonstration of what we’re paid to do. Take another one; arresting someone. Here, we only get to arrest someone in order to charge them, we can’t arrest them to ask them questions or search their house or take their footprints. We ask questions at the scene and, using our skill and experience, try to determine what’s happened and then arrest the person who we think committed the crime. We don’t arrest en-masse, transport to the station, spend the next few hours preparing a handover and wait for people to sober up simply on the suspicion that someone has assaulted someone. The key point here is that I decide, not the gatekeeper, not the prosecutor, me. So we’re in custody with our prisoner and the next step is to charge, based on the evidence gathered at the scene. There’s no interview, no solicitor, no custody sergeant and no CPS advice, he’s there long enough for the charge sheet to get typed up (or for us to decide to remand him) and then he’s out. We’re out the door too, typing up the arrest/charge report on the laptop in the car, then electronically forwarding a copy to whoever needs it. The report’s available to anyone who wants it: the domestic violence people can read it, the licensing people, CID, child services, whoever wants to read it can simply have a look on the system and read what happened, what I did and why I did it.
Do I miss the Monday morning snottograms from other departments asking for information? What do you think? Do our powers limit us? Do we miss things? Do people go unpunished (or at least unarrested) for things? Probably. We don’t have much of a back office, we don’t have the CID strength that you do in the UK and we don’t have neighborhood policing as you would understand it. But there’s an understanding here that there are limits to what we can achieve, given that we’re an emergency service. I’d like to question every suspect and resolve every complaint and follow every lead in every investigation but our primary job is patrol, not pandering to the needs of whichever department or agency is flavor of the month and not meeting arbitrarily imposed targets.
I hope, in a roundabout way, I’ve got to the main reason why people like working in uniform over here: they get to use discretion, they’re treated like adults and they’re adequately compensated.