Same Job/Different Attitude

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.

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7 thoughts on “Same Job/Different Attitude”

  1. Wow, I am green with envy! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it, bet you don’t regret it for a minute (especially with what’s going on here with pay and conditions).

  2. Good blog – very interesting comparison. Bit confused about lack of interviews though. And surely there are many situations which simply can’t be sorted out at the time, at the scene – not least because the evidence isn’t at the scene any more??

    1. We interview for more serious offences or where admission would seriously help us or post-charge for intelligence purposes. Generally though, we’re not naive enough to think that a) they’re going to suddenly admit their guilt if we ask the right questions or b) simply proving they’re a liar somehow constitutes evidence they did the crime.

      9/10 times an interview isn’t required, we’ll just charge on the evidence we’ve got. I’m sure we lose evidence occasionally, but on the plus side we can get out on the street in double quick time.

  3. Today’s conversion rate says £100K CAD = £63,800 GBP! Given the absence of silly hoops to jump through, targets, an impression that the public support you and the fact that you have discretion it makes sense for bobbies to emigrate. Especially as it sounds like you have a very good bit of kit with the in car IT. Wonder how many years and cost over-runs that would take to bring in here …

    Admittedly I’m ‘back office’ police staff (and have sometimes been told to do things in a way that means I don’t support police officers so much as ask them to do more work – which makes me feel like a heel and I daresay garners vews of me that are even worse) so I’m stuck here.

    Still it sounds like a great place to bring up the kids if I could find a job for me and the wife.

  4. I rarely, if ever, comment on people’s blogs.

    I’ll make an exception here.

    To be honest, I wish I hadn’t read it. Not because it’s badly written, boring or irrelevant (far from it on all counts). It’s because, for a UK Police Officer, it’s infinitely depressing. Almost £64k pa (over twice the annual pay of most patrol/response officers), real discretion, the impression that you are valued, supported and respected with less bureaucracy to boot.

    Sometimes I wonder how long I’ll last doing this job over here, I really do.

    Well done for making the change and good luck to you.

  5. I’ll add to this, I was Ex Met, and then joined a similar force in Canada also, I was almost shot on two different occasions while unarmed on duty, and with the 7/7 bombings in London being at those scenes made me work like a demon not to bring my family up in that. I’m very glad I left when I did, not that I’m not immensely proud of my service in London, or even proud still of my friends who still serve over there, but it was just so relentlessly depressing to see a city going further and further downhill. Here policing is policing, people are people, some idiots, some rude, some great But the difference here is the respect.
    Bizarrely as I did a curfew check on a person for drug offenses (probation conditions) they were actually amazed we were out in -20 weather with a major snow storm and offered us hot chocolate (didn’t accept, not that new). Do we miss evidence here, yep sometimes, but has my MPS training gone wasted, no, I like to emphasize to the probbies taking time, following leads, and hey do that and here you shine.
    Are all bosses great here, nope, some idiots, but show me an organization which doesn’t have them. But we’re treated like adults, discretion can be used with minor offenses, not everything needs a report,handover,notes,statements,medical forms CPS consultation,waiting for a solicitor etc.
    I’d love to read the authors new book, I don’t think its available here, but I’ll do my damnedest to get a hold of it. When the UK burned last summer, dont think we wouldn’t have wanted to be there, like to have seen Chav slags fight against multiple less lethal armed public order officer in hard armor…..But no it appears the UK wants to privatize your jobs….Good god.

    By the way one thing here I still cant get over, kit….issued twice a year, whatever the hell i need, and also I have had to stop taking boots, as of now 4 pairs of $350 Danner boots in my garage. Why do I mention this? The pain in my arse in the Met at having to chuck at 80 quid or so each time (early 2000’s) for Magnums,each time my boots were seized at murder scenes took forever to get compensated….Ho hum, not that i’m bitter….

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