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Aurora Cops Find Being From Abroad An Advantage

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — In his six years with Aurora police, Officer John Bulman has been on the receiving end of plenty of quizzical looks.

Sometimes it comes at the start of a traffic stop, other times during the ceaseless banter between him and fellow members of the department’s Direct Action Response Team.

“Whoever you’re talking to, whether it’s a teammate you are working with or somebody on the street, the first thing they will do is cock their head at you like you’ve given a dog a funny command,” he said.

That’s because even in his sternest police officer voice, Bulman doesn’t sound like the other 650 or so Aurora police officers. As Bulman once explained to an angry man on the street, he speaks the “Queen’s English.”

A native of northern England, Bulman is one of a handful of Aurora police officers who hail from a different country — and speaks with an accent that police say is a helpful ice-breaker. Aurora police spokeswoman Sgt. Cassidee Carlson said the department has another officer from England as well as officers from South Africa and Trinidad.

Bulman came to APD after a career in high-tech sales in the 1990s and a stint in the British Navy in the 1980s.

Growing up not far from the Scottish border in Lake District National Park, where his father worked as a park ranger, Bulman said he always had an interest in becoming a police officer. His friend’s dad was a cop in a nearby town — the “Bobby” as Bulman calls it — so he had plenty of exposure to the life of a rural police officer.

After college, Bulman said he decided to become a police officer or join the British navy. A spot in the navy opened before a police job did, and he jumped at the chance to see the world.

It was during his tour in the navy that Bulman came to the United States and decided he wanted to stay.

Not long after he completed his military service, Bulman moved to the United States in 1989, later settling in Los Angeles and Dallas and landing work in high-tech sales.

Around 2000, as the tech bubble burst, Bulman moved to Colorado and later rekindled that old interest in being a police officer.

Six years ago, he joined APD, working first as a patrol officer and in 2010 moving to the DART unit.

DART officers get to work with several different units around the department, sometimes helping the Gang Unit round up gang members one night and assisting the SWAT Team with a raid the next.

It’s all a far cry for Bulman from the work that “Bobby” did back in England, patrolling a rural town of just 4,000 people.

And beyond the big-city, small-town differences, the constant presence of guns in American policing is dramatically different from police work in Europe and other parts of the world.

“Obviously, the presence of weapons over here is a lot more prevalent,” he said.

When he visits England and tells people back home about his job, the gun topic always comes up, Bulman said. But he said he never saw it as much of an issue, just another tool officers have, similar to the patrol cars and police radios.

“It’s just a normal day-to-day activity,” he said.

Bulman’s day-to-day also includes a substantial amount of translation for his fellow officers.

For example, the windshield on a car, that’s a windscreen. And cars don’t have a hood on one end and trunk on the other, it’s a bonnet and a boot.

Officer Al Graham, Bulman’s partner, said those conversations are always entertaining.

“It’s a learning curve for me,” he said.

But, Graham said, when the two officers are on the street, Bulman’s accent has some tangible benefits.

“You’d be amazed how many people, even if it’s in a negative contact where they had done something wrong and we are having to confront them, will be like, ‘Where are you from?'” he said.

That split second can help break the ice between the officers and a suspect, and often diffuses the situation, he said.

“Their attention isn’t focused on the negative of, ‘oh, the cops just got me,'” Graham said.

For Bulman, his “Queen’s English” is often the target of good-natured ribbing among the DART officers.

“You have to be thick-skinned. There’s a lot of teasing,” he said with a laugh.

But that back-and-forth is important, Bulman said, because it builds the camaraderie the officers often lean on in a job that regularly sees them in risky situations.

“It’s nice to have that,” he said.

- By Brandon Johansson, Aurora Sentinel

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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