A Day With an Amsterdam Cop

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Generally speaking, simply based on some odd experiences, I don’t trust police in Amsterdam. That’s a big generalization, I know. But it’s truth. Maybe it’s because my paperwork isn’t exactly in order, or maybe it’s because I run lots of red lights on my bike, but I generally keep a look out at all times for police, so that I can ride away and not towards them.

Then today I somehow spent the afternoon with a real Amsterdam police officer.

I was helping escort some new fishtank students, who were having a guided tour of their very special neighborhood – Bickerseiland. And this area happens to be his beat. Naturally I was initially suspicious, with his shaved head, tall stature, and beard – I thought he would be a bland, everything-by-the-book kind of guy. But I walked on, and very soon, we got to talking.
He seemed pleased to interact with me in Dutch, and to find that I’ve been living here for several years. Then he pointed proudly towards an old warehouse that had clearly been converted into some sort of theater. “This is where we rehearse, my theater group.” I was so caught off guard I asked him to repeat himself — your what? – “My theater group,” he said, like it was perfectly logical. “We’re there several nights of week, and our play just opened, it’s about the relationship between Dutch police and Moroccan Youth. “

I kept looking back and forth, from this mild mannered police officer and his intimidating leather police jacket, to the modest theater and the world of art that it might contain. My assumptions about Dutch police were smashed in those few minutes.

He seemed excited to tell about it… “That’s why I have this beard! I play an Imam. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. He noticed and smiled back, “On opening night there was a school group with some Moroccan teens, afterwards one came up to me and told me my character was exactly like his father.. even my clothes!”

From there we wandered throught the island and he told amazing stories. Stopping often to pet a local dog or knock on random doors to introduce local artists, politicians, shipbuilders, and the guy who runs the petting zoo. The quintessential neighborhood police officer, everybody knows his name and waves hello. Occasionally he asked about me, and how I had come to live in Amsterdam. I seemed to listen with one ear and scan the sounds of the street with the other, I kept thinking – this guy is good at what he does.

The afternoon ended with us going to a local pub, where he drank a few coffees while showing me photos on his mobile phone, “this is me dressed as a woman in the last play I did…. oh you should have seen the look on the shopkeeper’s face when I walked into her shop in full uniform asking for women’s shoes.”

After lots more stories about the neighborhood and the police department in general, he gave me his card, and urged me to come see the play. I told him about the podcast, and he agreed to be interviewed on a future show about his play and the issues it addresses.

I left the cafĂ© with a whole different view of Dutch cops. Suddenly they’re human to me. Still, on the way home, I took only sidestreets… no sense in getting pulled over to ruin the moment.