Sunday, August 19, 2012

How I came to be a [volunteer] Police Officer

I have been concerned about the driving culture in Israel. Even wrote about it in my blog “Looking for a Gentler Mr. Wheeler”. I get upset with drivers who disregard basic traffic rules and endanger themselves and others. And I swear - a lot. “If you are so concerned about the driving here, then why don’t you do something about it?” said my wife. Since I always (ok - at least sometimes) follow my wife’s advice - I did.

Receiving my training graduation certificate
My first step was to volunteer with the ‘OrYarok’ association, and deliver ‘driving safety’ presentations to high school kids. I wrote about it too: “Giving green light to young drivers”. While that may shape the next generation of drivers, what do I do about today’s offenders? How could they be taught a lesson? The answer I came up with: volunteer to the Traffic Police.

Yes, the Israeli police force accepts volunteers, lots of them. I am told the police volunteer organization is the largest in the country. The volunteers participate in just about every form of police activity: go on regular police patrols – by foot, car, or bicycles; function as detectives and help track criminals; assist with at-risk youth, etc.

One may think these volunteers are looking for a personal “power trip”. Maybe they’re seeking some adrenaline rush, along with ways to release bottled-up anger. Nothing like good old “police brutality” to alleviate one’s frustration you may say… But to my surprised, most of them have legitimate reasons to volunteer.

I have met a few dozens of volunteers through my training, and everybody seems to have their reason to help.  Some want to tackle the drunken driving epidemic, so that their kids are safe on the road. Some want to increase their neighborhood sense of security. Some feel they need to contribute to society through helping at-risk children. Sure, maybe there is a “psycho” hiding amongst them, but I haven’t discovered him yet
The police officers who conducted the training seem to be on a personal mission. “Surely you will encounter the bad and ugly policemen in due time” you may say. After all “we know” that many policemen can hardly wait to pull a gun or paralyze an innocent suspect with a Taser (i.e. electric shocker)…

Sorry to disappoint you.  I have participated in a couple of shifts by now, working with “real policemen” on the street. I was generally impressed with their dedication and attitude - particularly the “younger generation” of police officers. I am not saying there aren’t any “bad apples”. I am just saying that after watching these police officers in action, my preconceptions have changed.

I found out it is hard work being a police officer. They don’t get much credit for it, or respect from the general public. In the United States a police officer is someone you treat with utmost respect. If you try to mess with a US police officer - the situation will become very unpleasant for you, and fast. In Israel however, civilians don’t hesitate confronting police officers, even when they are caught doing a major traffic violation. Some seem to adopt a strategy of “offense is the best defense” when confronted by the police.

Of course these are early days. I just graduated from the basic police volunteer training, and I have yet a lot to learn. I am also sure I’ll encounter situations that may not be “pretty” from a police behavior stand point. But so far, I am pleased with my little “do good” for the community. And what I have seen from within the police looks much better than from the outside. 

Just remember: if you see a police car with its lights flashing chasing you down the highway – it may actually be me… So be nice.

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