Edmonton police shooting: Why U.K. officers come to Canada
Aggressive recruiting, cuts to police services have resulted in officer migration
Hundreds of officers from the United Kingdom have relocated to Canada in the past decade opting for what they perceive to be a higher standard of living, lower crime rates and better opportunities for their children.
One of them was Edmonton Const. Daniel Woodall, who was gunned down while serving a warrant. Woodall arrived in Canada in 2006 and was with Edmonton's hate crimes unit. He had previously worked for the Greater Manchester Police.
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Recently, officers like Woodall have been emigrating due to "austerity measures" amid the U.K.'s economic downturn, according to Michael Gendron of the Canadian Police Association, an umbrella organization representing the country's 60,000 frontline officers.
"Due to the economic situation over there, many services got cut," Gendron told CBC News."Police had significant cuts to their pay rate and big changes to their pensions."
Coupled with the booming oil economy of Alberta, officers overseas have been quick to sign up for jobs in places such as Edmonton and Calgary, where police services have been actively recruiting in the U.K. for more than a decade.
Const. Stewart O'Neill, a former London detective, went from a 900 square-foot, three-bedroom house, in nearby Woking, to a 2,500-square-foot, four-bed place overlooking the Rockies.
"My children can be kids — they play out on the street, which they never did back home. I guess [there is] less population, more wide open spaces, less crime [and] more affordable housing from a U.K. perspective," he told CBC News shortly after moving to Calgary in 2009.
Steve Watt, who began his career in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the 1970s and then became an officer with the West Vancouver Police Department for 17 years, said U.K. recruits are a "good fit" for Canadian policing.
"U.K. officers are well-trained and U.K. policing is highly regarded globally," Watt, who now runs a police training consultancy, told CBC News. Watt says U.K. recruits are well-versed in foot patrols and other community policing skills.
"Our policies focus on community work. It's a mentality," explained Gendron. For instance, he says some U.S. officers might have a difficult time adjusting to how Canadian police work. Gendron notes that off-duty officers in the U.S. often carry their sidearms.
"In Canada, our officers just don't carry their guns if they're not working."
While many U.K. patrol officers do not carry firearms, all policemen are trained in their use, and deploy them when a situation warrants.
When police services are on a big recruitment drive, such as those in Edmonton and Calgary, they typically set up a temporary office in major urban areas of the U.K. and put a call out.
Gendron says that usually means they also bring trainers who can quickly assess applications of the officers who apply and speed up the hiring and migration process.
Officers have to fit certain criteria in order to be considered for service in Canada. Applicants must have:
- Certification in standard first aid.
- A high school diploma (though most police services request one or two years of post-secondary education, if not more).
- An unrestricted driver's license with a good driving record.
- No criminal convictions.
- A good police service record.
The recruitment process usually involves a written exam, physical testing, psychological and medical assessments, and a background investigation.
The background check includes interviews with friends, neighbours, landlords and past and present employers including colleagues.
The process of overseas recruitment can take anywhere from four months to one year from the start of applying to being hired.
For the most part, Gendron says police services in Canada prefer to recruit officers who already have some experience. Many officers coming from the U.K. are already in their late 20s or into their 30s with families.
Const. Woodall grew up in Manchester. He served in Wythenshawe, home to one of the largest social-housing projects in Europe.
His former colleague, Det. Insp. Jim Faulkner, released a statement saying Woodall was highly respected and "would do anything for any of his colleagues" and had decided to migrate "purely for the benefit of his young family."
The officer leaves behind his wife and two children.
Police officers are human and, like everyone else, are seeking to secure a good life and a good place to start or raise their families.- Steve Watt, former U.K. police officer
"No matter where police officers serve, the dangers of policing are a day-to-day reality," Karl Thurogood of the Greater Manchester Police Federation told CBC News.
"Police officers the world over expect to come home after each shift, but they have a benign acknowledgement that due to their vocation, this may not always be the case as they strive to serve and protect others."
Watt said it's still a big step to emigrate, even with the lure of money and a better living environment.
"It needs to be remembered that police officers are human and, like everyone else, are seeking to secure a good life and a good place to start or raise their families."