I was just traveling throughout Europe and I found myself paying attention to how the police interact with people there.
Part of this is certainly just my tendency to rubber-neck but with all the media attention that American police have received this year I also found myself comparing these interactions. I noticed that they do something that I don’t think I have ever seen happen in America and I was overwhelmed by the power of this simple thing: courtesy.
Police abroad would introduce themselves and extend a hand out in friendship. “Hello, I’m officer Polansky (the officer extends his hand). May I ask your name?” The natural interaction of two people should begin with courtesy and mutual respect.
Whether the person is an innocent citizen or a criminal, we all would like to be met cordially.
Imagine if the police did this in America. Starting the interaction off in a way that is neither adversarial nor confrontational could make an incredible difference to policing organizations that are strained under the weight of mistrust (rightly or wrongly). The stereotype of the policeman with mirrored sunglasses asking for your license and proof of insurance exists for a reason. We have all witnessed it to one degree or another.
The closest we might get to greeting is: “The reason that I pulled you over…”
It doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve watched as the police introduced themselves and shake hands with people. Even when people met them with some trepidation. Even when people ended up being arrested.
This isn’t a big change to make but the impact of making the change would be enormous.
What if we had a generation of children grow up in a country where the police greeted people with courtesy?
The best part of all this is that it doesn’t require special training, equipment or funding. I’m sure that, at first, many people would hesitate to meet their handshake and that’s absolutely okay. Depending on the situation people may not want (or need) to identify themselves either. But why not offer the hand and ask for the name? Even if your interaction ends in a ticket being issued or even with your arrest, the entire process can happen civilly.
I doubt that any statistics exist for this but I firmly believe that after you have shaken hands with someone there’s less tendency to escalate to violence.
Of course this won’t work in every situation and I’m not advocating that it should. But let’s face it, car chases and shootouts are a tiny percentage of policing. The majority of police interactions could benefit from simple acts of courtesy. Actually, we all could.