Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cops and Coppers - Guest Blogger Colin Campbell

Our guest author today is the real article--an officer of the law.  His Resurrection Man series features Jim Grant, a Yorkshire cop who has transferred to Boston. Colin's ten books include Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights, and Adobe Flats.  His  next, Snake Pass, will launch this coming April.   Looking every bit the action hero himself, Colin is also a storyteller at heart.  Today, he tells us the differences between cops on the opposite sides of the pond.  And he shows off his wry sense of humor while he does it.  You can find out more about his work by visiting him at - Annamaria

Okay, here’s the deal. I’m a retired police officer in the UK writing about a Yorkshire cop working in the US. That puts me in the foreign but writing domestic category, if you’re reading this in America. If not I’m just foreign, to everywhere except my house. I thought I’d share some perspectives on the differences that tie us together.

Firstly, English cops do still wear those funny pointed helmets. During 30 years in the West Yorkshire Police I never understood why they thought that was a good idea. You can’t run in them, you have to duck to get through doors, and they give you a headache.

That’s mine in the middle.

Plus, English cops don’t carry guns. I used to patrol a foot beat with a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. And the helmet. (You could only wear the peaked cap if you were driving.) They got rid of the whistles just before I joined and we didn’t get stab vests and CS spray until later. The only time I handled firearms was in the army. Oh, and we don’t stop off for coffee and donuts. That’s an American thing. For us it’s a cup of tea with fish and chips.

Learning to drive. No helmet.

Next thing is the CSI effect. We have imported many things from America, including Starbucks and MacDonald’s, but the most annoying thing is our love of acronyms. Every department nowadays seems to have a snappy title. Maybe I should call it the SPECTRE effect. Or SHIELD. The naming of police departments solely to create a fancy title. Back in my day there was DART, the Divisional Asset Recovery Team, prompting many to suggest we form a Force Asset Recovery Team. The main one that affected me was SOCO, which stood for Scenes Of Crime Officer. I spent 15 years of my service examining crime scenes as varied as burglary, rape, and murder. Taking photographs, fingerprints, and gathering forensic evidence. The cameras were bigger back then. The aluminium powder turned your clothes silver. And POLO mints were essential for postmortems. A whiff of minty freshness amid the bodily fluids. Bringing us full circle, you Americans turned that into CSI, which in turn we imported turning SOCOs into CSIs at the stroke of a pen. You haven’t managed to come up with a replacement for the Postmortem POLOs though. The mint with the hole.

Is that a camera or are you happy to see me?

Finally there’s the warrant card, that fancy piece of plastic that gave me police powers throughout England and Wales. It said so on the back. Okay, so when I was in uniform I didn’t need to “flash the badge” because it was pretty obvious who I was, but when I worked in plain clothes it was embarrassing having to prove my identity with a glorified bus pass. At least in the US your detectives have the prestigious gold shield. I know because I watched NYPD Blue for years. Even in CSI: NY Gary Sinise had the shield. There was something glamorous about flicking open a badge wallet to reveal the shiny metal shield. Even clipped to the belt it looked cool. In complete contrast to the little plastic holder on a piece of string that I had to wear. It wouldn’t deflect a bullet if they fired from 3 miles away. Okay that last part might be stretching it a bit.
Paper or plastic? No, metal.

So, to wrap this up let’s look at what’s the same about you and us. From a police perspective. All cops have a healthy dislike for people doing bad things. They want to make arrests and send the bad guys to prison. It’s a dangerous job. Nobody likes us. We never bring good news. Nobody ever asked a cop to tell your family they won the lottery. We just have to walk the thin blue line. And maybe have a donut.


  1. I have to admit, Colin, that your life in the sun looks to be a lot more rewarding to you than your time in the snow.

    On a serious note, my son is a chaplain with the Harris County (Houston Texas) Sheriff's Department, a position that has him delivering death notifications to citizens (in the company of a deputy), and counseling first responders (including deputies) who've witnessed or experienced the uglier aspects of our society. I've noticed something different about him now: He never fails to say to say "Thank you for your service," to all he meets who do.

    So, thank you for your service, Colin. And, of course, your writing!

  2. Or a doughnut!
    In Scotland we had the Fast Action Response Team for about five minutes. Until they realised the acronym.

  3. Welcome, Colin! I must say, you're made of sterner stuff than me: my neck would never hold up one of those pointy helmets! :-)

  4. Thanks Jeff. Caro, I'm sure FART sounds better with a Scottish accent. And Everett, if you look closely I actually have a pointy head.