We talk to PC Paul McDonald to find out why an experienced former Chief Inspector from Police Scotland chose to be a constable walking the beat in Gibraltar.
So why did Police Constable Paul McDonald decide to move to the Rock? “It was the sunshine,” he says.
The 50-year-old, who is originally from Edinburgh, explained: “My wife and I decided to move out to Gib after visiting one of my best friends. We loved the sunshine, which was very different to the weather in Scotland. So, I started to look for some opportunities out here.”
Paul joined the Lothian and Borders Police 22 years ago, before the Scottish Forces merged to become Police Scotland in 2013.
Over the next two decades he built up a wealth of policing experience, working in Counter Corruption, Covert Policing, Intelligence and leading multiple investigations whilst a detective in all ranks. He left the service as a Chief Inspector, having operational command of the four major airports in Scotland and as Head of Police Scotland’s Border Policing Command Protective Security.
He then took a sabbatical from policing in 2018 to set up an aviation security training company, before deciding to move to Gibraltar.
Paul said that after moving to the Rock he noticed that the RGP were recruiting.
“I always felt that at some point I may go back to my policing roots in some capacity and took the decision that it would be a fantastic opportunity to go back to doing a job that I loved as a cop on the street, but with the added bonus of policing in the sun and not freezing cold rain that hits you sideways!”
The dad of two explained that starting all over again as a new police recruit was a “unique experience,” especially given that some of the officers in his class were the same age as his son.
He continued: “But as someone who is always enthusiastic, I relished the opportunity to come back into policing. So not only was that factor there, but the chance to learn the law and policing in a different country was something that I found interesting. I am a great believer in the saying that you are never too old to learn. I like to think as well that, despite my age, I was able to hold my own with my younger colleagues in our officer safety training!”
So how did the training school differ in the RGP compared to Police Scotland, according to Paul?
“I liked the training, although 24 weeks was quite a long time in one go, and different from the training I did previously, which was 12 weeks initial training, followed by six weeks after a year out on the shift. However, what I really liked was the practical side of the training. I am very much a visual learner and learn quicker through trying things in a practical sense, so putting the theory into practice.
“There was less emphasis on physical training here in Gibraltar, but we should be disciplined enough to look after our own physical fitness, which is an important part of our job in both keeping yourself, colleagues and members of the public safe.
“In true policing tradition I was given the nickname “Chief” at training school which I found funny, but I think my colleagues found my experiences from the different roles and incidents I’ve been involved in throughout my service helpful. I’ve always been the type of person who is very approachable and always happy to help out regardless of rank anyway, so I think I ended up dare I say it as a sort of recruit school “father figure!”
As for policing in general, Paul explained that in the UK the volume of calls is significantly higher compared to Gibraltar, which he attributes to social issues, geographical areas and the night time economy.
He added: “I worked in different areas of Edinburgh, from socially deprived areas to the city centre with a high number of tourist attractions and events, pubs and clubs. Both were different areas of policing – from neighbourhood issues, drugs, burglaries and dishonesty offences, to more nighttime economy crime in the city centre covering violent crime to public order offences. In Gib, you have a mix of everything in a confined space, with the added influx of transient workers from Spain and tourists visiting on a daily basis. It’s a diverse community, it has a military presence, and an International Airport and Port, it makes it a unique place to work.”
Now that Paul has been on Response Team 5 for just over two months, he said he’s used to working on shifts again and getting to know Gibraltar and the local community.
“The first few months have been really good. It’s been great getting back to that “boots on the ground” feeling and the satisfaction of going out and making a difference, and making a positive contribution to the community. My plan is to continue to proactively draw on my previous experience and continue to learn more about policing in Gib.”
Paul was asked what is the best and worst thing about being a copper in Gibraltar?
“No matter where you are as a cop, there is that sense of camaraderie with your colleagues and that is no different in Gib. I work with a great bunch of officers and to have that support behind you is fantastic. Throw in the weather over here and it makes for a very special place to be a police officer.
“But sometimes it can be very frustrating being drawn into situations that could be dealt with by other agencies other than the police. I think this is simply down to the age-old tradition of the police always having that “can do” attitude. It does require a cultural change in the way people think and is something that doesn’t happen overnight.
“In practical terms, it is difficult wearing the custodian helmet in the 30c heat! I am a very traditional police officer, but I believe in moving with the times and although it is great for the tourists and image of policing, in terms of practical policing I think it would be good to look at an alternative that is still identifiable but practical at the same time.”
As for his time outside of the Royal Gibraltar Police, he’s keeping himself busy.
“I’ve started to love the Med Steps! It’s become a bit of a weekly trip for my wife and I, and every week when I start going down instead of up, I always have to remind myself that the view at the top is something special and that keeps me going! I like going out with friends for dinner and I’m interested in languages with my wife being Polish. But just when I thought that I had just started to master speaking Polish, I’m now starting to focus on my Spanish!”
So next time you see an RGP officer walking down Main Street, it might just be Paul – one of the force’s most experienced coppers!