Plymouth officer learns policing in the United Kingdom
Officer Scott Whiteford, 32, of the Plymouth Police Department is back stateside after a trip across the Atlantic to learn about policing in the United Kingdom. He also shared insight on how to enhance police services in both America and England.
Whiteford grew up in Brooklyn Park and attended Armstrong High School in Plymouth. While in high school, Whiteford was active in Plymouth Police Explorers program and went on to be a reserve officer for the department.
He was hired full-time in 2005 and has since served Plymouth as a school resource officer, field training officer and SWAT hostage negotiator.
The trip to the U.K. grew out of a program with Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, where Whiteford is pursuing a master’s degree in public safety administration.
Whiteford embarked on the seven-day trip with 11 of his classmates to meet with people in all facets of the Northamptonshire Police Department.
Northamptonshire is a county with a population of 692,000 located northwest of London.
The group from Saint Mary’s learned and shared policing techniques utilized on both sides of the Atlantic. White said the experience was enlightening in a number of ways, and shared some insights from the trip.
Q: What were some of the activities that were part of this program?
A: We got to do a ride along with an officer. That was a few hours long and a very interesting experience. They actually had more questions for us, about how we do things over here in the states, compared to us having questions for them.
They have to get to an emergency call in about 15-20 minutes. Here, we usually get to them in five minutes.
Most of the cops there are unarmed, and they rely on Tasers (electro shock weapons). So most everything is verbal, in regards to disarming things. They have four to six officers in a county on duty at one time carrying firearms.
We also met with Sir Hugh Orde (President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, representing the 44 police forces of England) and met command staff members. We were there for seven days and saw everything, such as their professional standards, how they run their internal affairs and their victim services unit.
Q: How does policing differ in England, and how does it parallel methods in America?
A: Their computer systems are very complex as far as gathering data intelligence. I was a little surprised overall in that they’re far more advanced in using computers there than we are here.
There are no laptops in their squad cars, but everything is done off their Blackberry or iPads.
It parallels in their community service aspects. they try to get to a call as quick as they can, and their verbal skills, in how they handle situations, are similar to how we do things here.
They have computer-aided dispatching. They rely heavily on media such as Facebook and Twitter; they use it multiple times a day to put a good touch on police work as well as letting them know about incidents that are currently happening, which was very neat.
The biggest difference, I think, is that they really try to come up with more unique techniques and thinking outside of the box to deliver their police services.
Q: Are they more actively involved in their communities than officers are in America?
A: I believe they are more active in their communities. With the way the budgets are here in the states, we are really focused on doing what we can with the money we have. The core focus here is responding to calls and being more responsive to what is happening.
Over there, it seems to be that they think of more options to provide their service. Not only do they do the response, but also they spend a lot more time focusing on how to prevent crimes and communicate with the public.
Q: Could you comment about their police force not carrying guns? Could you see that working in America?
A: Overall, in England, they really haven’t known anything else. They don’t really have many firearms there; except for the ones they hunt with. But I don’t see it working here. Just because of the fact that the way our Constitution and Bill of Rights are set. Citizens are given the right to have guns. I can’t ever see us not having firearms.
They still have firearm crime over there, but it’s a lot different. In Northamptonshire, they haven’t had a drive-by shooting in 15 years. What police officers are most worried about is crime involving knives. Police officers over there can still be killed, but it’s more from blunt force injury and knives.
It was definitely interesting to get your head wrapped around. Their officers kind of think of this as the Wild West over here.
Q: How did this experience benefit your education at St. Mary’s?
A: I brought a number of things back that I’ve never seen done before in my life that, someday as an administrator in an organization, I’m going to put out there as solutions to issues.
It was really a first-hand view on world issues.
Q: How did the experience change your perspective within your chosen career path?
A: It was huge. It makes me focus on becoming an administrator to help roll out some of these ideas, which have worked over there.
Law enforcement really needs to reach out into communities so they have a better understanding of what we do. I think any negative views that people have on law enforcement come from the fact that we don’t display a lot of what we do. I would hope that over time we’re able to communicate more. Whether that’s using Facebook or having better relationships with media.
A lot of things are private due to laws, but by more people understanding what we do I think more people will talk to cops that are driving down the road about issues they may have that they may see as small, but could be big in the long run.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Another thing I thought was interesting was that they have a national decision- making model, which is a six-point policy. The point that is most important to them is their mission and their values. Whatever they state to the public, that’s their main decision-making goal. They decided to do that throughout the entire country. Everybody has to follow that one model.
I thought that was very interesting, and it seems to work for them.