Ridgefield ride alongs: UK officer reflects on 30 years of policing abroad
On his first visit to the United States, Steve Hutton found himself in a place no tourist ever wants to be — inside a police cruiser.
Fortunately, Hutton was riding in the front seat — not in the back — when he first explored Ridgefield in 1991. He had no idea that first patrol trip with Ridgefield police officer Adrian Stroud was the beginning of a tradition that would carry on for three decades.
“I thought it was going to be a one-off, really,” recalled Hutton, who completed his final ride along with Ridgefield Officer Jorge Romero on Sept. 7 and is set to retire from the Wiltshire Police in June 2020 after 30 years as a police constable in the United Kingdom.
“Officer Stroud and I got to talking about his great-grandfather and how he was an English police officer, and we quickly became good friends. It sort of just happened like any friendship, very naturally,” Hutton said. “... Going out on patrol in Ridgefield is something I’ve always liked doing. I like all sorts of shifts — day, night, foot patrol on Main Street. Over the years, there’s no shift I haven’t seen.”
The ride-along with Officer Stroud had been set up and arranged by his cousin, Julia Bronson-Howard, who had received approval from then Police Chief Thomas Rotunda.
“I’m proud I managed to keep doing it all these years,” he said. “I met numerous chiefs and made a lot of friends. It’s been one of the many highlights of coming over here, and I’ve enjoyed documenting it through time. ... It was a little sad knowing this was my last time going out on patrol in this country.”
Hutton came to America in 1991 to visit his cousin, who had recently moved from England to marry professional tennis coach Robert Bronson-Howard — a Ridgefield resident of 52 years.
He noticed one big difference between being an officer in America and an officer in England.
“I always appreciated seeing the differences in the job, over here compared to back home,” PC Hutton said. “One of the first things I noticed was everyone was carrying guns — every officer being armed, that was the main difference when I first came over in 1991.”
Over the years, armed police have become more common in the U.K.
“More body armor, more Tasers, more firearms — but it’s still different,” PC Hutton said. “In the county of Wiltshire, where I work, we have about eight armed officers on patrol at one time. They’re covering an entire county though, not a town like Ridgefield. It’s a big area to patrol, and for a while we were patrolling it not armed.”
During his visits to Ridgefield over the past 28 years, PC Hutton has gone shooting with town officers at Wooster Mountain Shooting Range.
“I’ve gone on some shoots with them, yeah, but that was years ago,” he said. “... I’ve been an armed officer before but it’s not something that was always part of my job back home so it was fun to experience that aspect of the job over here.”
Other first impressions
PC Hutton first visited the department in August 1991 wearing his full U.K. police uniform and well-recognized Bobby’s helmet, known as a “custodian helmet.”
“My first reaction was, ‘It’s a beautiful, New England town. Everything is so remarkably clean’” he said. “... It took a little while to get used to the heat. It was the end of the summer when I first came and I was definitely sweating.”
Making the annual pilgrimage to Ridgefield allowed PC Hutton to “see the real side of America.”
“I had grown up only seeing it on TV and in film as a kid,” he said. “It was my first time over here and it was interesting to see what it was like compared to what was portrayed on TV. As a tourist, I thought it was going to be all about shopping malls and going out to fancy dinners but it was a lot different.”
Over the years, the summer visits have allowed him to take trips to Manhattan, Disney World in Florida, and several beaches in Rhode Island. He’s also visited states, like Virginia and Pennsylvania, that played a prominent role in America’s history.
“I haven’t been to the Midwest or West Coast yet,” he said. “I’ve stayed entirely on the East Coast.”
A typical trip to the United States for Hutton lasts two weeks. Since his first visit in 1991, he estimates he’s came over between 30 to 35 times making it over at least once a year — sometimes twice.
“At least once every summer,” he said.
Shoplifters and car chases
And every summer he’s gone out with Ridgefield police officers.
“The first 10 to 12 years it was mostly day shifts,” he said. “As the years went on I would get to be part of multiple shifts and see different types of policing.”
Some of his highlights “on the job” in Ridgefield include arresting shoplifters at gunpoint in 1999 and a car chase a few years later that drew help from state police.
“Wilton police got involved, too, if I recall,” PC Hutton said. “The guy got out of his car and entered a wooded area. We needed a search dog, the whole nine yards. It ended up being a multi-hour chase.”
PC Hutton was able to see Officer Stroud on this recent visit to America.
Stroud, who retired down to Florida several years ago, has a son, John, who’s in law enforcement. PC Hutton was there when John graduated.
“We’ve remained friends and try to see each other whenever we can,” he said. “It’s fun laughing and retelling the old stories. We always have a good time.”
PC Hutton has made plenty of other friends in Ridgefield over his visits.
When asked what he’ll miss most about working with the Ridgefield Police Department, he said the same thing he’ll miss about being on patrol back home — the brotherhood.
“That’s one aspect of the job that’s exactly the same,” he said. “The joking around, the camaraderie between officers. We all like to have fun with each other.”
PC Hutton is due to retire in June next year, having served 30 years.
“I knew I wanted to do this when I was a kid,” he said. “I grew up watching TV programs, like T.J. Hooker.”
He has patrolled in cars and on foot, mainly in the south of Wiltshire in the U.K., which is home to the famous Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral and recently the Novichok nerve agent attack.
During his career he has been trained as a police counterterrorist search officer and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear officer.
At the start of his career, he was on an armed security protection detail within the grounds of the Salisbury Cathedral, guarding the now deceased ex-Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath.
For the last 10 years, Hutton has been a traffic officer (similar to the state police). As part of this role he patrols the highways in Wiltshire and attends and deals with fatal and serious injury collisions, as well as emergency calls for non-traffic related jobs.
“I’ve been policing for 30 years,” he said. “That’s what most people try and get to. I’m 48 years old so I’m still pretty young, and I just think it’s time for a change ... I haven’t thought much about the future yet. I need to start soon, that I know.”
He is an advanced trained driver, tactical pursuit containment driver and also a member of the special escort group.
The special escort group members are trained in offensive and defensive driving techniques, skid control and escape and evasion.
As part of this detail, Hutton has personally driven members of the Royal family when visiting Wiltshire, and these include Prince Charles, Princess Anne, HRH the Countess of Wessex and HRH the Duke of Kent.
PC Hutton went viral on the internet a few years ago as the barking policeman who caught and arrested a fleeing suspect on foot following a vehicle pursuit, by barking and pretending to be a police dog.
“I’ve seen, done and experienced everything you can imagine,” he told The Press before his departure back to the U.K. on Sept. 19. “There’s nothing I haven’t experienced. I think 30 years is enough time on the job.”
In retirement, he’d like to settle into a job where he can have weekends off.
“I’d like to be able to do more trips,” he said. “I know I don’t want to do anything shift related.”
A staple of his many visits to America, PC Hutton gifted his helmet to Ridgefield Police Chief Jeff Kreitz following his final ride along with Officer Romero on Sept. 7.
“It was a very quiet shift,” he said. “We had dinner and then went out on foot patrol on Main Street. It was a Saturday so it was quite busy, and people kept coming up to us. I was in my [U.K.] uniform so they were asking my questions and taking selfies. I found myself in the middle of a crowd.”
It wasn’t the first time he became the center of attention in Ridgefield’s village.
“It usually happens when we do foot patrol,” he said. “It’s always caused a bit of interest in town. People coming over and taking pictures. Some pop out of the shops and ask what’s going on? It’s a great bit of fun to see everyone sort of perk up.”
While on patrol in Ridgefield, he doesn’t carry any equipment.
“No pepper spray, no baton, no body armor,” he said. “Just the trousers and boots, the shirt, and the helmet.”
The Bobby’s helmet that sits now at Ridgefield police headquarters will have at least three visitors next summer.
“I’ll be bringing my two boys with me next time, and we’ll have a good holiday,” he said. “New York, Disney, and, of course, Ridgefield to visit Julia who still lives here. My oldest, Harry, came here many years ago when he was younger but he can’t remember it. ... I think he’ll enjoy seeing [the helmet] over here. ... It was my way of saying thank you to the department for looking out for me all of those years on patrol. It’s not an experience everyone gets to have, and I’m very grateful.”