Whatever we might think about the police, one thing that’s certain is that we are fascinated by them. As early as the fifties, the police crime drama started filling our TV screens, and long before that, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe planted the seeds for the genre of detective fiction. The good cop, the bad cop, or even the rebel with a cause cop kind of shows in the 70s have evolved into more realistic series such as The Wire, which give us a more nuanced version of police work and those that do it. In real life, dash cam footage from police vehicles has also become a staple in the online content we consume. Today we are going to concentrate on real life cops, and perhaps the two most famous, sometimes infamous, police forces in the world, in this episode of the Infographics Show, American Cops vs British Cops.
Prior to what we consider an actual police force, the ancients had many ways to police the polis, or city. Slaves in ancient Greece would handle the rowdy crowds when tempers flared, while the Romans might set the Praetorian Guard on out-of-control rioters. Through the ages, there have been myriad ways to maintain public order, and also some pretty gruesome punishments for those that breached the accepted rules. In the UK, it wasn’t until 1749 when a judge named Henry Fielding created what was called The Bow Street Runners, the first time Britain had anything what we can associate with today’s police force. As British cities grew at a rapid pace under the industrial revolution, so did crime. And so in September 29, 1829, the Metropolitan Police Service was formed in London, and is said to be the first modern police force ever created. The man behind it, Sir Robert Peel, explained why England needed cops: “I want to teach people that liberty does not consist in having your house robbed by organized gangs of thieves, and in leaving the principal streets of London in the nightly possession of drunken women and vagabonds.” Why were they nicknamed “Bobbies”? Well, after their founder, “Robert”.

As you know, the USA was noted for its Wild West outlaws. One of those was Billy the Kid, who was shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881. Like Britain, America had ways to control crime but for a long time there was no formal police force and so the job of keeping folks in line often went to private contractors such as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Systems including night watchmen and even what some people called “goons for hire” weren’t workable as the USA grew in population. It’s thought that the first American formal police force was created in Boston in 1838. New York City followed in 1845, and by the 1880s just about all American cities had an organized police force.

Now that we know something about the history of these two countries’ police forces, let’s look at the present day. The number of police officers in just England and Wales has decreased significantly in the last decade, which has become a major political issue in the UK. The number in 2016 of officers in the force was 124,066, down from 143,769 seven years before that. The number of full-time officers working in Scotland in 2016 was 17,242, and the number in Northern Ireland was 6,773. That’s a total of 148,081 police officers working all over the United Kingdom. The population of the UK is 65.64 million, so roughly there is one police officer for every 448 people. Much of the British media and the public are saying that is not enough, especially as the crime rate rise in the UK is rising faster than it has in a decade. This includes a rise in violent crimes and homicides.

Over the pond in the USA, crime rates are much higher, and as some police departments are looking more like military units, the role of police in society has met with some controversy. Finding the actual number of sworn police officers working in the USA in 2016 isn’t that easy. This is because figures given by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics haven’t been updated in a few years. The total number of police agencies in the U.S. is around 18,000, but that includes all branches of police. If we take just local police departments, that number is more like 15,500, according to Politifact. The old data that is often cited says that in 2008 there were 765,000 officers that had the power to make an arrest. The U.S. Department of Justice gives the number of 750,340 for 2012. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, that number has shot up and is presently about 900,000. The U.S. population is 323.1 million, so that means that roughly there is one cop for every 359 people.

One of the major differences is that in the USA police carry guns, as do 36 percent of American households according to The Washington Post. It’s reported that in 2016, 135 police officers died in the line of duty, with around half of those that died being fatally shot.

The Guardian reports that the number of officers killed in the line of duty in the UK is a total of 11 since 2010, although many officers are assaulted in the UK. In 2015, it was reported that 23,000 assaults occurred against officers in just England and Wales. In 2017, the Police Federation of England and Wales reported this figure to be not even close to the real number. It said there were 2.4 million assaults in 2016, meaning an officer was attacked every 13 seconds that year. 300,000 of them involved attacks with deadly weapons. The report said the average police officer is assaulted 19 times a year.

On the other hand, in the USA in 2016 police officers killed a total of 1,093 people. According to Inquest.org, in the UK in 2016, a total of 5 people were shot and killed by police. The total number of people shot and killed in the UK since 1990 is 67. We should add here that regular cops in the UK don’t carry guns, but armed police can be called when it’s thought guns are needed. Police in Northern Ireland are different, routinely carrying firearms.

According to the newspaper The Mirror, in 2016 there were 1,863,524 legally owned guns in the Wales and England, most of which were shotguns. It’s thought there are another 277,000 guns in Scotland, and a further 150,000 legally owned guns in Northern Ireland. The same newspaper said there were another 2 million illegally owned guns on the UK streets, which has raised the question if the UK police should be given firearms. The murder rate per capita in the US is still 30 times higher than in the UK, which might not be surprising considering there are more guns than people in the country, according to The Washington Post. As for assaults on officers, there were 51,548 assaults against U.S. police officers in 2015, with a total of 14,453 injuries sustained.

With this mind, how does life on the job compare between the two forces and how do you even get a job as a police officer? In the UK, you can join when you are 18. There are no restrictions on height, but the force does ask you to be in good enough physical and mental shape to undertake police duties. No formal qualifications are required, but you will need to pass some tests to get in. Pass them, and you are in, just as long as you haven’t committed any serious offenses in the past.

It’s similar in the US, although the police force does usually ask for a high school diploma and that you are either 18 or 21 depending on the department. You’ll have to train at a police academy, and have either a clean criminal record or have only committed minor offenses. There is no minimum or maximum height or weight limit, but in the academy you’ll have to pass certain physical agility tests. Nowhere does it state you have to enjoy eating donuts.

Wages vary, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can expect to start your career as a police constable on anything from 25,427 US dollars – 30,123 dollars  (£19,383 to £22,962). If you work hard, UK career websites say that within about 7 years that wage can be 48,872 US dollars (£37,254). You should work a 40-hour week, although police work can often mean over-time and also emergency call-outs. You’ll get 23 days’ annual leave and also full sick pay. The pension varies depending on time worked, but the average police pension in the UK is thought to be around 20,465 dollars (£15,600) a year, and the normal retirement age is 60.

In the US, salaries differ from state to state, but a rookie cop working in the NYPD can expect to earn $46,288 per year. After 5 and a half years this could rise to $90,829 if you have done well. Other states have average wages closer to 30,000 and others 70,000 according to career website Chron. You’ll get 10 days paid vacation to start with, but after 5 years it will increase to 27 days. You’ll also receive unlimited fully paid sick days, medical benefits, dental benefits and optional retirement after 22 years on the force. Like the UK, you will work around 40 hours a week in shifts, but that might change with overtime. How much pension you receive can be affected by multiple factors, but various websites put the average police pension anywhere from 58-62,000 dollars.

With money in mind, we’ll end the show there. Where would you rather be a cop, the UK or the US? Let us know in the comments! 




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