Dispatches From the South – Stop! Or I’ll Shout “Stop” Again!

Okay, let’s get this out of the way from the get go: the biggest difference between cops in the UK and cops in the US is guns. It really mystified me when I came over here and saw cops without any side arms. It still does.

The result of this disparity is apparent if you watch those “Cops With Cameras” shows currently populating our viewing schedule (I call the UK version “Cops Without Guns”). When the UK cops engage in a wild vehicle chase through the village streets and the offender finally fetches up against a stone wall, he always makes a run for it. Wouldn’t you? He’s young and fit and the cop is nearing retirement and weighed down with a Kevlar vest and a utility belt jangling with handcuffs, pepper-spray and other law enforcement do-dads. Frankly, I’m surprised they ever catch anybody. In the US version, after bringing a vehicle to heel, the occupants generally can’t assume the “face-down spread-eagle” position fast enough in order to avoid being shot. Good thing, too; the US cops spend a lot of time in the donut shop; they need the advantage a reliable revolver provides.

But guns aside, the most surprising difference is, in the UK you can be a cop—a real, official, pepper-spray carrying cop—just for the hell of it. They call them “Hobby Bobbys” and they are unpaid volunteers who get genuine police training and some complimentary nylon hand restraints (or maybe not; I just made that part up) in exchange for working a minimum of four hours a week. For free.

The trade off is, the police force gets bulked up with a platoon of competent (and, one has to assume, eager) volunteers and the “Special Police”—that’s their official title, but it doesn’t mean they are driven to the police station in the short bus—get to wear a spiffy uniform and enjoy nearly all the powers of an actual, paid police officer. Which, in my view, must stick in the craw of the PCSOs.

PCSOs, Constables, Specials - can you spot the difference? (Americans please note: none of them have guns.)

PCSOs, Constables, Specials - can you spot the difference? (Americans please note: none of them have guns.)

The PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) are sort of police, but not really. They help out, give support (hence the name), take on some of the more menial duties but have no real police powers. (Think “Police-Lite.”) They do, however, get a spiffy uniform and a paycheck. We have PCSOs in our town, and their main contribution seems to be fooling the public into believing there are more police officers than there really are. The uniforms are identical, save for the insignia, and if you are close enough to read it, you are already nicked.

But in either country, it’s better to stay on their good side; recent TV footage has confirmed that the cops here are pretty keen on thumping people up, even if they aren’t allowed to shoot them.


  1. avatarLisa says

    Hartlepoodlians are possibly a rougher breed that the people in your town, but it seems here people know exactly how to spot a community officer or a real police officer, and they are only slightly less apathetic to the real thing. On a football game day the town is overrun with yellow vested cops, and whenever we are driving down the street my husband or other passengers will comment “Oh, its just community police. They can’t do a thing.” They are the law enforcement equivalent of hall monitors, only slightly less powerful.

Leave a Reply