I would like to share a story with you about an encounter I had with the police in The Netherlands. It must have been around the time that I was 20 years old. I was studying for my MBA in Groningen, a city in the north of The Netherlands. And very much engaged in student life, I loved going out going out to bars, drinking beers with my fellow students.
One night, around 4 o’clock in the morning, we found ourselves in the main square in front of one of the city’s theaters. For some reason one of my friends tried the door of the theater and we found it unlocked! Adventurous as we were and without concern of repercussions we entered the building and started to snoop around.
There we found the main stage! What an opportunity to put up a performance and be world star actors for a night! After about 5 minutes we were bored with our mediocre improvisation play and we made our way to the exit. Once outside, we decided that all of sudden we were upstanding citizens and would inform the police of the situation. After all we would not want anybody to gain unlawful access to the premises, right?
We called the police and they arrived within 5 minutes. We explained the situation and even told them that we were inside, but did not mean any harm. The two police officers searched the building to make sure everything was ok. When all was done, they asked us where we were headed and we said jokingly that we were on our way to the beach. They joked back that they would take us there.
But then it dawned upon us that it would not be such a bad idea to sleep of the booze for a couple of hours on a beach and take a refreshing swim when we woke up. And surprisingly the police officers agreed. So what followed was a 30 minute ride in the police car to a lake not far outside the city. We had a great conversation about our lives and plans for the future and the officers wished us good luck when they dropped us of at the lake.
I’ve had other involvements with the police in The Netherlands, but every time I felt respected as a human being, even when I was completely in the wrong. Now, I don’t think that I am a particular difficult person and the police will find me a cooperative subject, but even then. They are compassionate and great at preventing situations from escalating.
Not my impression of the police here. I had only one situation here that involved the police and that was when my life was threatened. I don’t want to go into detail, but when I reported it at the precinct, there was no compassion whatsoever and they made me feel I was in the wrong. They interrogated me as if I was the criminal! They just follow a fixed procedure with a lack of sense of how to interact with a human being.
The police in New York do not interpret situations the way the police in The Netherlands is trained to do — they just uphold the law. In The Netherlands and some other countries in Europe, the focus is on preventing crime in daily operations by interacting pleasantly with citizens while patrolling their blocks. Here, I see two or three police officers hanging disengaged at a corner waiting for something to happen so they can arrest or fine someone.
I would like to end on a positive note, because I also understand that it is quite a task for the NYPD to keep a city like New York safe for us to walk the streets at night and on occasion you do find a police officer that is friendly and that you can joke with.
Let them make the first joke though, because you end up in jail before you know it.