My occasional encounters with police have generally been rather strange. I suppose it must be very strange to have a job that puts you in constant contact with some of the worst things happening in the city at any given moment. Do cops just lump the whole world into criminals and victims, and trust nobody in the process?
I’m musing about cops because I had a strange experience while cycling through the city Sunday afternoon. I was waiting with a couple other cyclists and couple cars for a light to change at a wide intersection. The pedestrian signals in the direction I was headed turned to “walk” and the coast was very obviously clear. I rolled through the intersection, thinking I’d already behaved “better” than a cyclist would typically do in such a situation here. Everybody knows that cyclists in Amsterdam generally proceed with caution but ignore traffic signals. One waits only when it’s either unsafe or the police are watching. Like it or not, that’s the practice.
I suppose it would have been wise to have first looked around before proceeding to see who was watching. Thirty seconds after crossing the intersection without incident or inconvenience a police car pulls up to my left, window rolled down. The two agents in the car look at me as if I have “Cops are Dicks” written in bold letters across my back and motion for me to stop and talk. They don’t get out of their car nor do they want to see my ID or anything official. The driver, obviously angry, leans over and asks some pointed, rhetorical question to the tune of “what the heck was that, asshole?!”. The female agent in the passenger’s seat is giving me that “Yeah, duhhhh!” look… though I was thinking approximately the same in reverse.
I’m no genius but I can put two and two together; It’s pretty obvious he’s referring to my riding through a red light a few meters back. A quick assessment of the situation suggests that admitting guilt and feigning embarrassment is my best approach. But the cop continues before I’ve had a chance to test my acting skills: “How do you think it makes us feel when you ride through red and everybody giggles and looks to see what we’ll do? You show no respect!” They don’t seem to have a problem with a cyclist breaking the law. The problem is that I did it in front of a police car. Oh, now how do I react? I can’t exactly say “Sorry officer, had I seen that you were there I wouldn’t have continued.” Likewise, admitting guilt to jumping a red light is a pointless since he’s already noted that it’s accepted.
A couple moments later they still hadn’t stepped out of their car so I figured they’d no intention of giving me a ticket or fine unless I did something stupid. I played it safe, sticking to “Yes, that was dumb of me.” and “I see your point… Understood.” Then they drove away, apparently satisfied that they’d made their point.
Lesson learned: Only run red lights in Amsterdam when the police can conveniently ignore it.