By Ellen Snortland
When I visited Norway, my “mother country,” as far as ancestry goes, I had many memorable experiences — and a wake-up call. The city streets in Oslo and Bergen are extraordinary because of what they don’t have: homeless people, litter and, obviously, armed cops.
This is the land of the Vikings, who were considered by many to be quintessentially “masculine,” yet modern Norwegian men don’t seem to be concerned one whit about being “manly” men. My male relatives certainly don’t. They also don’t insult each other about not being manly enough.
Hyper-masculinity is toxic regardless of race. And who is at the top of the American hyper-masculine “pyramid”? Football players, the military and cops — all occupations that are inextricably linked with violence.
Because of the guilty verdicts on all counts in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, more and more law enforcement entities are even more urgently called on to solve community problems nonlethally. What a concept! Is nonlethal policing even possible? A growing chorus of cops themselves are now asking these questions and demanding answers.
And what is the most prominent tool of hyper-masculinity? Guns! Guess what? Norway is one of the 18 countries that de-emphasizes armed law enforcement. How can that possibly be? In a binary mindset, law enforcement is either armed or disarmed. Binary thinkers can’t be transformed by looking through the lens of either/or thinking, which is also a hallmark of patriarchal thinking: either/or, us/them, my way or no way.
Because I’m talking about Norway, and the former guy in the White House often spoke of Norway as a paragon of virtue, how about we create a movement to send members of U.S. law enforcement to Norway in a cop exchange program? “What?” you may say. “But Norway is too small to understand the massive problems that a country like the U.S. has!”
Let’s take the case that the population of Minnesota is comparable to the population of Norway. And since Minnesota is home to a large chunk of the Norwegian diaspora, the new Police Officer Orientation Program, or POOP, could very well launch with them. I use POOP as an acronym because the idea will undoubtedly have many detractors who consider the idea of effectively reforming the police a load of crap. The naysayers think that all cops are hard-boiled and are — excuse the expression — pigheaded. I would guess that, just as in the larger population, 5% of the police most likely are sociopaths. Look into Chauvin’s eyes, and you can see it plain as day.
Meanwhile, the rest of the folks on the force are like many of us who can’t think past their mindsets (and their training) and believe that the way policing is done now is just “the way it is” unless and until they experience possibility. That’s the tricky part about mindsets; they are basically inflexible and can’t think outside their own (mind) box. Sending them to jurisdictions that are not addicted to guns and meeting every situation as a threat could drive serious wedges into gun mindsets.
Using a tired cliché, some of my dearest friends are in law enforcement. Seriously. So, trust me when I tell you that I don’t have an anti-cop bias, even though some people have stereotyped me as a liberal “softy.” Cops are people to me. That sounds so lame, yet it’s true.
I believe in the realm of the currently impossible being entirely possible if we have leadership that could take on the idea of robustly embracing foreign exchange programs. Send our cops to Norway, to the United Kingdom, to Iceland, to New Zealand, to Scotland. Let them experience firsthand the approaches these countries use in neighborhood policing and conflict resolution that is foreign to our rank and file.
And this is not a new idea, just an underexplored one. Ger O’Dea, my friend in England, sent me a link to a 45-minute documentary called “Hard-Wire: Law of the Gun.” High-ranking U.S. officers went to Scotland to get ideas on nonlethal policing. Solutions are available if we commit the resources to retrain. Send the police union folks, too, while we are at it.
Here’s another idea: Because everyone loves contests, law enforcement contests could involve which precincts have the fewest arrests or see which entities can hire the oldest rookies. If we had some retired women going on patrols, I’d wager we would see a dramatic drop in violence.
If the idea of retraining in Norway elicits a “no way,” there are Pacific Islands that have gunless cops — nations that may entice the nonviolence out of them. I can see the recruitment ads now: “Find your finest self as an officer in Fiji! You’ll never want to shoot another person again!”
Ellen Snortland’s columns have been… hitting the target since the early ’90s. She also coaches writers. Contact her at ellen@