Last Friday, many Bay Area police departments announced that they would start patrolling in pairs.
Apparently, this is a change of procedure that happens when police officers have become targets anywhere in the country, and procedures in most places are to revert to driving alone once the tempers appear to have cooled down.
It makes so much sense to me to have officers driving in pairs. In my home country this is my "normal" - not that that in itself makes it a very good reason.
Danish culture is not cut for aggression. Denmark ranges very low on the cultural dimension the Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede calls Masculinity. Culturally, it is the dimension where my two countries differ the most. These days, even Danish police officers are armed. But the people they stop for speeding are not.
This is what Hofstede writes about Masculinity:
- "The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented. In the business context Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as "tough versus tender" cultures."
So what are better reasons than my personal preference for patrolling in pairs?
A more important reason is for accountability. It takes something for an lone officer to behave stupidly, aggressively, or with excessive force. Wouldn't it take a lot more to do it in front of a fellow officer or with a body camera running?
One would hope so. Unless somebody feels a strong need for showing assertiveness in front of a colleague.
Another reason is that with two officers, the power balance is established whenever they are facing a single civilian. Some situations can escalate if the power balance is not established from the get go. Anybody who have faced a teenager with an extra foot in height knows how easily it happens. Police officers regularly face smart alecks. Some may be a little less inclined to be smart if they face not one but two officers.
The FBI rides in pairs. We haven't heard a lot about FBI officers being involved in the kind of shootings that enrage the nation. What do they do that other cops don't?
Might it give a little more comfort with diversity if officers learn to trust their colleagues of other colors and genders by riding with them on a daily basis? Officers that spend a lot of time alone or in confrontational mode but only little time with a friendly face may be primed for seeing confrontation where none is intended.
To me, however, the most important reason must be adrenaline.
Add to "a preference in society for achievement, heroism, (and) assertiveness" that In USA any traffic stop can result in "officer down" because guns float around freely. The result is that too many officers are hyper vigilant too much of the time.
I can't blame them. It is an automatic "fight or flight" response from the sympathetic nervous system - often making them more nervous than sympathetic towards the person in front of them.
Officers driving in pairs will always have a backup. One might hope that this can reduce the stress level to where the officer can function optimally in more situations. Because a "fight or flight" response means that the officer's nervous system directs the blood flow to the old reptilian part of the brain, not leaving much oxygen in the frontal lobe where good decisions are made.
For the safety of not only the officers but also the population they are meant to protect, let us keep the officers in pairs - also when the tempers don't flare. There is enough stupidity in the world as it is - we don't need to create more situations where any sane person would be completely stressed out; least of all people with guns.
"Real men don't need a backup" is so 1980'es. The engineers now get that backup doesn't conflict with masculinity - and so can police officers.