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Police headwear

For some reason, British policemen on foot duty will wear either a flat cap (in Scotland) or a helmet (elsewhere), whereas policewomen wear bowler hats. I have always wondered why this is so, and in particular I feel it is quite a bit unfair that men aren't allowed to wear bowlers, which are clearly much cooler than the alternatives.

Today, walking home from a fireworks concert (as you do), Camilla, Mary and I walked past a group of police officers, with a woman wearing a bowler, and some men wearing flat caps, and in an impressive act of bravery, Mary walked up to them and asked why only the women wear bowlers.

After initial friendly laughter, the first policeman said it is because the men's heads are all flat. The second policeman said that it might be a bit sexist, but it's a tradition. However, he seemed to think that we thought the flat caps were cooler, so when we explained that we really prefer the bowlers, he seemed a bit disappointed. The policewoman was very pleased though, which promted the third policeman to say that we shouldn't have told her that, as her head was already too big as it was. An then the second policeman, which seemed to be the leader of the group, repeated that it's because it's tradition.

Obviously, "because it's tradition" isn't a proper answer, or at least it leads to a new question, "how did it become a tradition?", but I would still like to commend the Edinburgh police for their friendly attitude.

-Tor Nordam

Comments

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Anders K.,  06.09.10 09:58

I agree that beacuse it's tradition doesn't fully qualify as a proper answer. However, it's the answer you will get 99% of the time when asking anyone in Britain why things are the way they are. So I guess you got the correct answer after all. (Also, I'm impressed by the Edinburgh police. If you asked a Norwegian police officer a question like this, he'd first give you a stern warning, then most probably choke you to death seconds later.)
Tor,  07.09.10 09:32

I've never been met with anything but politeness from the Norwegian police. Can you think of a similar question one could ask in Norway, so I can test your theory?

I've always wanted to know why police cars have those red stickers on the side mirrors. But -- I've had about eight conversations with police personnel (Four times I approached them: to report a missing phone, to ask if the road they were blocking up was closed to pedestrians, to report a huge drugged guy beating up a woman and to report a lifeless man lying in the middle of the street. Four times they approached me: to stop me from drawing faces on public property, to stop me from urinating outdoors, to accuse me of a burglary, and to ask whether I had seen anybody running down the street bleeding). I always acted very politely (as I feel one should when approaching anyone on the job. Being impolite towards a police person is also illegal), and I have in every case been met with impoliteness. The whole range of it, from a discontent grunt instead of a yes or no (This really devalues your initial "Excuse me"), accusations of wasting their time (with the lifeless man in the street), to direct insults: I was once detained for questioning without being told why, continuously harassed and told to confess. In the end it appeared the burglary we were accused of never happened. (Ask Kjell, he was there too.) The only case of violence I've seen in our dangerous capital was eight police officers with batons beating a black guy lying in the street (right outside the FrP offices). He may very well have been guilty of something. But I know, without being a medical expert, that he could not possibly pose a threat to the officers in the state that I saw him. I don't know how long it lasted, they quite obviously didn't want people to hang around. (There was, naturally, nothing about it in the news. This was the summer of 2006, just before the Obiora case broke.)

The only time I've seen police personnel act nice were the times I was actually guilty of something. Then they let their shoulders down a little, it seems. (Or when they speak to old ladies.) Politeness is an important part of making the public feel safe (the police's main job, next to making the public actually be safe), but in my experience, too many Norwegian police personnel percieve their job as suspecting everyone to be a criminal, and then acting as their enemy until the status is clarified. (Hence the relaxedness around people who've confessed.) Of course I'd rather be in the stern hands of the Norwegian police than, say, the police force of any developing nation. No question about that. But to me, the difference is not as vast as we would like it to be. When I pass a policeman in he street, the thought of suddenly being detained and harassed does not feel all that unlikely to me. It's happened before. That's why I never asked them about the red stickers.

I haven't had any unfriendly encounters with the police. Even when they showed up at the offices of Natur og Ungdom to tell us not to play Blitz-leken on the roof, they were polite. Perhaps it is my short girl-ness which makes me seem like anything but a threat.

I am also shocked that you have seen so much criminal scariness. It confirms my prejudice about Oslo (I assume it was in Oslo?) as a scary place.
Tor,  18.09.10 23:32

Even that time when someone was dancing naked on the roof, and they sent several police cars, an ambulance and a fire engine, because they thought someone was about to jump, they were relatively polite.

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Anders K.,  19.09.10 19:14

Only the police beating the black guy and asking if I'd seen someone bleeding was in Oslo. The rest was in Bergen, Sunnmøre and Molde. The only scary thing in Oslo is all the police.

I don't know what does it, but I've never met a police officer who even tries to pretend that he or she respects other people. It could of course be chance, but until I see it with my own eyes, I'll have to conclude that they simply do not exist. Then again, after all this I do my best not to have anything to do with the police. If I ever see a crime being comitted, I'll feel safer just walking by than contacting someone I know will dish themselves out on me.

Since the last post, I've had two more encounters with the police, and I have to admit things are slowly, slowly shaping up.

The first one happened at work: My collegue and I were filling up a dumpster on Karl Johans gate, Oslo's main street, with old ventilation pipes from a building being renovated, when suddenly a civilian car with two uniformed policemen pull over. They pop their heads out and want to know what company we're working for and the name and phone number of our boss. A bit baffled, we finally get them to explain what it's all about: The president of Switzerland (my colleague claims that he said 'king and queen', but I cannot verify it) is coming on an official state visit, and dumpsters full of scrap metal on main street is not exactly what we want to show him. So it needs to be removed before next weekend. The whole conversation was quite peaceful. (By the way, this was the state visit where the Royal Guards' marching band played the wrong anthem.)

The next was just yesterday, when all of a sudden someone starts kicking and banging on my door. It appears to be my crazy neighbour (the younger one who always thinks everybody is stealing all his stuff, not the old deaf one who starts yelling and chasing you if you don't scream 'hello' at him). He claims, frantically, that I've stolen his computer and he tries to get into my apartment. I wrestle him off and push him out of the doorway, but from behind my locked door, trying to peacefully watch a film, I can hear that he steals the phone off the next neighbours, an elderly Chinese couple, and calls the police claiming that I've stolen his computer. He screams at me that when they show up, I've got hell coming my way. Naturally, although he's obviously deranged he could be right about that, so I also call the police and report the kicking and attempted forced entering. Hopefully, they'll make a note of my -- at least compared to his -- composed voice. After a while they arrive, and it appears they know this guy from before. They just go straight to his apartment. When I go out in the hallway and explain that I called in the complaint, they just look bored and say "We've told him to calm down now."

In both these cases, which were probably very routine policing, the constables were mainly behaving sleepy and disinterested. Which is certainly preferrable to them being hostile and aggressive. During these two conversations I was not yelled at or insulted once. It's a big step towards normal attitudes, so if they keep this up, perhaps in another ten-year perspective I might actually see some politeness from the police.

Anders K.,  30.11.10 08:05

Ingelin Killengreen lanserer flere nye tiltak i politiet. Deriblant:

# Høflig og vennlig tilnærming.
# Håndhilse.
# Bevisst hvem man snakker med, og hvordan.
# Bevisst språkbruk.
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Last edited by
Tor, 06.09.10 00:19