Bad Constable, Bad Constable / Whatcha gonna do?
July 19, 2009 7:47 PM   Subscribe

CanuckFilter: Members of the Ontario Provincial Police, as well as a variety of other Canadian police forces, employ the rank of 'Constable' rather than 'Officer'. Is it inappropriate to refer to a Canadian policeman or -woman as "Officer?" If, say, you're pulled over for speeding, does it matter if you address the police representative as "officer"? (I ask this as a Canuck who has never referred to the police as anything other than "officers" or "cops". It never occurred to me until today to use any other designation. And no, I'm not in trouble with the law. I'm just curious.)
posted by spoobnooble to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I was in elementary school and high school, cops who came to talk on various topics were always introduced as Officer Lastname. Officer Hangerman was the officer who brought Elmer the Safety Elephant to my kindergarten, if I recall. I assume if they preferred another form of address, they would have communicated this to the people doing the introducing.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:58 PM on July 19, 2009

the constable who came to my driving school introduced himself as Officer Suchandsuch, not Constable, so that's how we referred to him.
posted by gursky at 8:04 PM on July 19, 2009

Best answer: 'Officer' is not a rank, but is a perfectly cromulent way to address a law enforcement agent if you are unable to identify their specific classification.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:07 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recently spent many hours on the phone with various members of the RCMP (my boyfriend managed to get himself thoroughly lost in a provincial park...) and they consistently identified themselves by their rank, i.e. "hello, this is Constable X" or "Corporal Y." Just checked this on the voicemail they left me when they finally found him.

They also outdid themselves with niceness and support during a very scary time. Go RCMP!
posted by charmcityblues at 8:16 PM on July 19, 2009

Yup. Officer Rodenight (say it out loud. What a kickass name for a traffic cop) was a constable, but was introduced as "officer."
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 8:21 PM on July 19, 2009

Officially there's no officer title for Canadian police (OPP, RCMP, etc.) but they remain officers of the law, and as such it is a perfectly apt title.
posted by furtive at 8:26 PM on July 19, 2009

(and by title I mean rank).
posted by furtive at 8:26 PM on July 19, 2009

I have the same conundrum with "Trooper" and "Master Sergeant" and so on. I usually go with Sir or Ma'am. My feeling is that I am not a member of their rank hierarchy, so I am not obligated to know their rank and use it. At the same time, they are, and it's appropriate for them to refer to themselves as Constable Cornwilly and so forth.

"Hello, my name is Trooper Fear. May I see your papers?"

"Hello officer, what's the trouble?"

Seems perfectly fine.
posted by gjc at 8:27 PM on July 19, 2009

I work in the criminal law field, often with police, and "officer" is always correct. It denotes that you're speaking to an officer of the law, whatever his or her rank.

I have some vague sense that detectives/inspectors prefer to be called by their rank rather than "officer," but I can't back it up.

On a side note, many police assume that if you refer to them by rank you work in the field. Whenever I meet a police constable and refer to him/her as "PC Smith" the next question is always whether I'm a cop myself.
posted by hayvac at 8:58 PM on July 19, 2009

I also work with law enforcement (many agencies, worldwide) and generically "officer" is non-offensive. Yes, it may not take into account rank, but it is appropriate. If, however you are working with someone over a longer duration, it would behoove you to use their formal title for formal occasions.

But "officer" = law enforcement officer, "officer of the law" and "police officer".
posted by jkaczor at 9:13 PM on July 19, 2009

I think "officer" is fine. The main thing about it is that it connotes respect. I've noticed that most law enforcement officers default to "sir" or "ma'am" when talking to civilians. Those terms also connote respect. Some of my friends hate cops, and I've noticed (during demonstrations and such) that cops tend to pay you particular attention (like, arresting you, or finding a reason to arrest you) when you call them by something that doesn't connote respect, like "pig" or "fuckface".
posted by Sully at 9:14 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, officer seems to work for most, and definitely the detectives I've met (while they were investigating something horrid that happened to DD#1) made sure you called them Detective Whoever. Very nice about and all, but they do very much seem to prefer their rank be acknowledged.
posted by x46 at 9:38 PM on July 19, 2009

It's just bland politeness, unless you actually know them?
I don't think peering at someone's badge is going to be deemed as a friendly act somehow...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:04 PM on July 19, 2009

Officially there's no officer title for Canadian police (OPP, RCMP, etc.) but they remain officers of the law, and as such it is a perfectly apt title.

Actually, the term "peace officer" is defined in the Criminal Code of Canada, s.2.

Accordingly, any police officer of any rank is a "peace officer" and thus the nomenclature "officer" would be appropriate, though I agree with jkaczor that if you interact with a specific officer more than once, you should try and find out their appropriate rank.
posted by birdsquared at 10:29 PM on July 19, 2009

To broaden this slightly, I was raised that "Sir" or "Ma'am" are always appropriate forms of address when unsure of the proper title.
posted by QIbHom at 8:29 AM on July 21, 2009

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