After the success of the previous visit in September 2012, USA Region 56 in Wisconsin invited seven officers from UK Region 9 to go Stateside and experience all things American. BTP Branch Secretary Gary Warren was one of those lucky seven.
An email hit my inbox in January about the possibility of going across to Green Bay, Wisconsin for a week. I had read in previous editions of the Police World Magazine about the Hertfordshire members going on 2012 and the return visit by John Flannery last year and immediately I knew I had to go.
I found out I was one of the lucky seven from Region 9 Secretary Mark Bullen in early February – joining me would be three officers from Hertfordshire, Gerry McDonald, Andy Piper and Ross Flanders, from Bedfordshire, Chris Leah, from the Metropolitan Police Service, Ross Landers and from BTP Mark Bishop. Emails immediately started being sent back and forth about the trip and when John Flannery sent us the planned itinerary I just could not wait to get out there – this would indeed be the trip of a lifetime.
The time finally arrived and on May 4th 2014 we made away across the pond to Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA. We unfortunately had to travel on separate flights (I was the odd one out) but by 18:00 we were all together with our US hosts in the shadow of Lambeau Field enjoying US hospitality, a cold beer and the now infamous ‘Cheese Curds.’ Joe Johnson, Region 56 President and Officer with De Pere Police Department and Police Science Instructor and Officer John Flannery certainly knew how to make a good first impression.
Our first day started nice and early with a tour of Ashwaubenon Public Safety Department. They are unique in that they provide the functions of Policing, Medical response and fire fighting from one location and all the Public Safety Officers are trained in all three disciplines. The concept was hard to imagine but made so much sense and all the officers we spoke to were so proud to be part of the Department. We took the opportunity to take some photos in the police vehicles and on a fire truck before presenting the Chief with a token of our appreciation for opening his department up to us.
Lunch with the Chief of De Pere Police Department then beckoned (more Cheese Curds anyone?) and after we toured the De Pere facility. We spoke with a few officers and thanked Chief Biederwieden for his hospitality before leaving to go to the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC).
The NWTC college is where students enrolled on the Law Enforcement programme study. Anyone wishing to become a Police Officer needs to pass this course with sufficient Credits before they can apply to a Police Department. We were all excited as we were shown the MILO Range training system – which is like a massive version of arcade favourite ‘Time Crisis’ – and given the opportunity to take part in some scenarios. They even had one on a train for Mark Bishop and me, so we felt at home. Then the real fun began as we were taken onto the range to shoot some pistols and rifles. Having never shot before I was apprehensive, but found myself to be quite a good shot. We were all taken through some basic firearm drills, shot from kneeling and standing positions and were taught how to ‘double-tap’ accurately.
After such a busy day we were all glad to get back to the hotel and get an early night, but not before heading to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner and watching Ross attempt to eat the hottest wings they had – good attempt but total failure.
After such a packed first day, Gerry McDonald and I went to NWTC early in the morning to take part in a Q&A session with some of Joe’s students. The questions were well thought out and the students seemed genuine in their enthusiasm to get an understanding of how things are done in the UK. We then headed out to Oneida Police Department, where we met the other UK officers, toured their facility and had a look around the local casino. The Oneida Tribe is one of the oldest Native American tribes in Wisconsin and only Native American’s can serve in the Department. It was fascinating to learn about the way the Tribe operates and the issues that they face.
After a spot of lunch we headed to Lambeau Field or ‘Packers Stadium’ for a look around. Being a fan of American Football I was very much looking forward to seeing the stadium and going behind the scenes. Being out of season, there was a lot of building work going on and the pitch was covered, but it was amazing to stand pitch side and imagine it being packed to the rafters on a game day. We then paid a visit to the ‘Uniform Shoppe’ to look at some US policing uniforms and wears. Police officers in the US are given an allowance to purchase uniforms and equipment and the Uniform Shoppe is the place to go. The owner was very pleased to have us in his store and shared a few war stories with me whilst I looked at his Vietnam Medal collection, including a Purple Heart and distinguish service medals. It was an amazing place with lots of cool gadgets – a few may have been purchased!
That evening we were invited to dinner at Donna Gilson’s house. She made the most amazing food and there was plenty of it; I thought Mark Bishop was going to explode when the Chocolate Éclair cake come out. Donna has an amazing collection of Police memorabilia and is a great supporter of the Police.
We attended NWTC college on the Wednesday morning and had a go on their driving simulators. They were extremely interactive and gave us the opportunity to practice driving on the right side of the road. Then it was off to the local airport to run through some vehicle drills including high risk contacts, slalom drills and vehicle pursuits. Andy and Chris certainly enjoyed putting the Dodge Charger through its paces, and Ross showed some rather silky driving skills.
After a spot of lunch at a Mexican we were taken to the various departments we had visited to take part in a ride along. I was paired with Jamie Zynda from Ashwaubenon Public Safety and we were busy from the start with a trip to Brown County Jail to drop off a juvenile offender. We then had to dash along the highway to back up colleagues that were dealing with a female that had allegedly taken a high number of antihistamine tablets with alcohol. She was taken to hospital and then later onto a Crisis centre where she was to be assessed. After a few vehicle stops for minor violations and responding to an intruder alarm the experience was over. It was a great insight into what our colleagues across the pond have to deal with and it surprised me how similar our jobs are. I thank Jamie, Neil Brown and everyone from Ashwaubenon for the hospitality they showed both Phil Rossier and myself that evening – and the Lieutenant did make the Worlds Best Potato Salad.
John had arranged for Andy Piper and Chris Leah to give a presentation to interested parties in ANPR technology and its use in the UK on Thursday morning. John had been impressed by the technology when he visited the UK and was interested to see what others thought. A number of people attended, including a local Judge, to discuss the various lawful implications, State Troopers and military personnel. The presentation was well received and brought about a lot of discussion. Whilst Andy and Chris were talking ‘traffic’ the rest of the group headed to Brown County Communications Centre where we were given a tour and spoke to the call handlers and dispatchers who had provided us with an amazing lunch.
The Communications Centre is positioned above the County Jail and also has the ability to manage crisis should they happen. It was amazing to see the differences in working practices and compare similarities also. We were then heading back to the NWTC to meet up with some students that were going to help us part some of our driving and firearm training into practice in Simunitions training – a cross between paintball and airsoft with various scenarios acted out. The highlight was definitely seeing Gerry McDonald giving chase to students that had bailed out of a car and systematically nabbing them one by one.
After shooting (and being shot) by the students we were then visited by the Green Bay K-9 section that put on a mini display. Phil, who has aspirations to join the Dog Section, keenly volunteered to be live bait. We all watched as the well trained dogs were put through their paces before watching them try to take a chunk out of ‘BadGuy’ Phil’s arm; we were all happy when the bite sleeve held firm and he came to no harm – honest!
That evening we headed to Ashwaubenon Lanes for a meet and greet. There was a nice turn out by NWTC students, staff and also officers from the various departments we had met. It was a great opportunity to thank all those that had already given us so much and I presented Joe Johnson with an engraved plaque. Some ‘Moonshine’ made an appearance courtesy of a State Trooper and we all toasted what had been an amazing trip so far. Joe was also pleased with the evening as he managed to sign up seven new Region 56 members – $25 buys you the world, is the line he uses and the new members certainly agreed.
With a few sore heads we made the early Friday morning trip to Madison County to take part in the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial Service. It was amazing to see the local people giving strange looks as seven ‘British Bobbies’ walked along the street to the memorial service. The service was moving and reminded us all of the sacrifice officers have given whilst doing ‘the Job.’ No matter if you are based in the US or the UK, we were reminded that those that choose to be Police Officers do so in order to protect the public, uphold the law and serve the communities in which they work and that some don’t always make it home to their loved ones. After the service, many of the local officers took the opportunity to speak to us, exchange contact details and take some photographs.
Friday evening we headed out to Miller Stadium for the Brewers vs Yankees game. Having only ever watched Baseball on the TV it was amazing to see the spectacle live – and a spectacle it was! I didn’t really get too much about what was going on, but a few locals tried there best to explain who was who and what was happening. Milwaukee Brewers unfortunately lost, but it was a great night with a lot of Nachos, a few beers and some new friendships.
After such a packed week the Saturday morning lay in was very welcomed by all. We then had a walking tour of Milwaukee, had a picture taken with ‘The Fonz’ and took a visit to Lake Front Brewery. It was a nice wind down day before our final trip on Sunday to Sturgeon Bay.
The final day started early with a drive up to Sturgeon Bay and a visit to the US Coast Guard base, Sturgeon Bay Fire and Police Departments and their control centre. The area was beautiful, right on Lake Michigan and the people were very welcoming. The ‘swap’ of the trip definitely happened here when the Fire Chief from Sturgeon Bay swapped his headwear for Phil’s beat helmet. They were both like small children at Christmas proudly showing off their new acquisition. The US Coast Guards were also happy to show us around their boats and base, we even took the opportunity to claim the lighthouse for Queen and Country by flying the Union Flag from the top – although the .50 Cal was near by so we promptly gave it back!
Our final evening was spent with Judge Kevin Rathburn and his family at his magnificent home. We were welcomed like family and the BBQ’d steak, brats and fish was plentiful. We were treated to some Irish dancing by John’s daughter and then we let our hair down, playing Foosball, Wii Bowling and Mario cart. We presented our hosts with some thank you gifts and also presented flowers to the wives of Kevin, Joe and John as a thank you to them and also as it was Mothers Day.
The day to fly home had arrived and we were all disappointed to be leaving. We had been treated like Kings since we had arrived and had all had the most amazing experience. The people we met were amazingly hospitable; I’d especially like to thanks Donna Gilson, Michael Albertson and Judge Kevin Rathburn as well as NWTC Staff and Students and all the other Police Chiefs, Fire Chiefs and Officers. You all opened yourselves up to seven people from England, who’s only link to you was being part of the policing family; and that’s exactly what this trip has reinforced. Family is the most important thing in life. I thank my wife Elli and my two boys for making sacrifices so I could take part in this amazing trip and I thank Angie Flannery and April Johnson for giving up their husbands and their children for giving up their dads so they could be the great hosts they were.
Lastly, this trip could never have taken place if it wasn’t for the IPA and all that it stands for. If you would like to take part on similar exchange programmes in the future, please join your local IPA region and promote the IPA to all your colleagues.
Gary Warren – BTP Branch Secretary