I am not a US citizen but I lived in the US for 18 years. I now live in Spain. As CEO of Fon, the largest WiFi network in the world, I frequently travel around Europe, Asia, and America. In my travels I have had a chance to compare countries along a lot of different categories. Indeed during long international flights I started a comparison chart between Europe and USA along around 50 different categories that were meant to define which part of the world had better quality of life. These included issues such as access to education, quality of health care, criminality, unemployment, level of red tape, income per capita, job opportunities, innovation rates, tolerance and other random categories. Interestingly the result was pretty even between Europe and USA: there were around 25 categories that USA scored better and a similar number for the EU. My conclusion was not that the EU was better than USA or viceversa but depending on what is important to you you would choose one over the other. And I chose Europe. Now having said this there was one issue in which Europe had the upper hand and that was the quality of the Police Forces and the justice system in general. For reasons that are not clear to me USA has much higher incarceration rates than Europe. Indeed USA has more people behind bars than Madrid has inhabitants, about 4.4 million vs 5.7 million. But not only USA has abnormally crowded prisons (if incarcerated people were included in unemployment statistics USA would lose its advantage in employment vis a vis Europe), but USA has a Police Force that is particularly rude in the treatment of its citizens. During a visit to Southampton, Long Island I was shouted at by a policeman for a minor traffic violation (driving at 42 miles an hour in a 30 mile zone). When I got off the car to apologize I was almost handcuffed. The “hands on the wheel” diatribe was so bad that it made me wonder how US citizens put up with Police Forces that so frequently abuse individuals. I don´t mind getting a fine but I do mind being treated like a dangerous suspect when any security officer with common sense would not consider me in a bathing suit a real threat. Moreover not only are US Police Forces rude but they are corrupt as well. When I was telling a friend how I was shouted at in Southampton she metioned that there is a well know way to be treated well by US Police Forces and that is to pay them off. But as opposed to giving them cash on the spot the system, and it seems to be a very well accepted system nationwide, consists in making significant payments to the Police Charities and obtaining badges that say that one is a contributor to the Police Forces. Indeed so interested are US citizens in trying to get a better treatment from their police forces that many fall into various scams. My take as a frequent visitor to the States is that this system is shameful and that Police should both stop being rude to average citizens and certainly stop taking what in other countries would clearly be called a bribe in the form of charitable donations.

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JulianMB on September 12, 2007  · 

Here, In England the regular police has no guns, they used to be very pleasant to help you, and they often say to you “Hello, Good morning”. They are treated as citizens who helps the community and also It’s no usual to know about police corruption on the BBC.

In Spain is a bit different, the government it’s now trying to improve the Spanish police image, there are still people with bad remembers about the police in the Franco’s era, but in democracy, during the 20 years I’ve been living in Spain they are as pleasant and polite as British Police (but in this case, they always wear guns).

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Max Navarro on September 12, 2007  · 

Martin, what happens if the officer not only rejects the money but decides to make an example? Anyway, I would be unable to do it, too much embarrassment.

The fact you say this is a nationwide phenomenon left me astonished. How is that possible? Here in Europe the only access to American normal guy life situations are the movies. Why do you think this is not referred in any movie (at least, as far as I am aware?


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Rebeca on September 12, 2007  · 

Hi Martin,

I think American citizens are frightened (and policemen are citizens too), as it was explained at Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine

By the way, what about the rest of the terms in the comparison chart you filled in?

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Pelle on September 12, 2007  · 

After 7 years away I’m now back in the US. The police and the fear businesses and citizens have of them were one of the reasons I left before. I’m still extremely uncomfortable with the way they act.

I have lived both in the US, Europe and Latin America. While the US on the books has better theoretical protection in the bill of rights than anywhere I have lived, there has emerged this defacto police state on the roads and in the bars/nightclubs.

God help you if you’re a teenager in the US – I grew up in Denmark and spent a year of highschool in the US. I have never felt so repressed in my life. I know modern day teenagers in Spain with their botellones (is that the name) are pretty much what we were like in Denmark as teenagers. If someone had a botellon in the US, riot police would be called in and law suits would fly. In Denmark teenagers have equal rights to adults, in the US the Bill of Rights pretty much doesn’t count if you’re under 21.

The worst is that there is no incentive to do anything about it and for the exact same reason that fascists came to power in other parts of the world. Fear and demagogues. I used to call it the rule of the soccer moms. I’m not sure if that is fair, but there is this unspoken rule, that if it the intention is to protect the children all civil rights are out the window.

I’m a strong libertarian and the US offers certain liberties that Europe doesn’t have, but unfortunately it does not have any protection for jack booted police officers. I would never slip money to a cop here either.

In Panama where I’ve lived the police stop you all the time and you pay them off with $10-20. While annoying at least you don’t get the shouting and moral lecturing. You also have a pretty defined way out of the bind.

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Martin Varsavsky on September 12, 2007  · 

Yes Max,

In many places in America people contribute money and significant amounts of money to police charities in the hope, many times realized that when they show the badge they get for donating this money they get good treatment and don´t get a fine.

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Jim on September 12, 2007  · 

I’m an American living in Spain, and I disagree strongly. In America, I’ve lived in a big city (Chicago) and small towns (within Illinois and Indiana), and I can tell you that police vary like every other job. Not only does it depend on the individual, but the department, as well. Your generalization of “Police Forces” in America based on a traffic stop in South Hampton is quite a bit irresponsible, in my opinion. Also, you fail to identify whether this was a NY State Trooper (if it was a highway, then it probably was) or a local cop, or even a policeman from the county sheriff’s office.

As for your commentary based on a South Hampton traffic stop, I won’t waste your blog space (which I honestly do enjoy!) explaining why your chosen sample really can’t be an accurate view into the world of American police departments. Also keep in mind, that in America, it is taught for your Driver’s License Exam that you must stay in your vehicle during traffic stops unless specifically requested to exit. I am unsure of the Spanish rules to this, as I don’t drive in Spain.

And police corruption is similar: police departments are more independent that their Spanish counterpart, and generalizing is a tricky thing. Paying off officers is written in your blog like it’s a common thing. It’s NOT. I’ve never done it, and I’ve never known anyone to try. In fact, I’ve heard of people getting in trouble for TRYING to bribe them. Does police corruption exist in America? OF COURSE. But it doesn’t speak for the majority of damn good cops.

I won’t comment on the incarceration rate as I don’t think it has anything to do with “policeman in America are rude”. It is to say, the incarceration rate of my country IS a definite area needed for attention and concern.

Sorry about your ticket. It happens. I would recommend not speeding in the U.S. We don’t have the patience for it like Spain does. Hey, I delivered pizzas, I know what I’m talking about! 😉 But seriously, U.S. citizen or not, please don’t speed in my country, I’ve driven past to many bad accidents. Now if I could only solve the way they drive in Barcelona….wow, that would be a lifetime commitment!

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Jim on September 12, 2007  · 

“In many places in America people contribute money and significant amounts of money to police charities in the hope, many times realized that when they show the badge they get for donating this money they get good treatment and don´t get a fine.”

I know what your talking about, and I’m kicking myself for not remembering the name of the foundation. But even though your blog post got me a bit upset, I too am annoyed with these charity stickers. To be clear, it’s actually a sticker that you receive in the mail and put on the back of your car like a bumper sticker. It is said that it is less likely that you will be pulled over. However, the policeman friends I have back in the states couldn’t care less if you have a sticker or not. However, they admit that some departments are a bit more tolerant of police charity donors. But I still wouldn’t classify this under “police corruption”, especially when considering this term on an international level.

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Lucas on September 12, 2007  · 

Have you seen this video yet?

I think the criminal justice system and police merely reflect the state of the society in each country (see the comments).

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mikefon on September 13, 2007  · 

Perhaps one explanation of the incarceration desparity is that the USA is much less homogenous a society as any European country, and that perhaps it’s unbridled entreprenurial spriit also has a dark, criminally opportunistic side?

I’m sorry to hear about your traffic stop fiasco, but in the USA we do have a protocol (which is taught in school and on the street) that when confronted by police, you become very submissive. Then, they are calm, and indeed the Constitution and Bill of Rights do protect us. My couple of traffic stops (well-deserved) were courteous, respectful, and, um, costly. I learned my lesson financially.

I’ve never had a run-in with the friendly police forces I’ve met in Europe and Russia, but I gave them no cause. But I find the American cops in all cities and states I’ve visited to be just as friendly 🙂

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Jim on September 14, 2007  · 

Lucas, the cop in the video you linked to is now suspended without pay. It doesn’t make up for his inexcusable behavior, but it does show that there are consequences for police in my country, as well.

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Lucas on September 14, 2007  · 

Jim, it is much easier to get justice when you have a camera on your car and 30000000 impartial witnesses.

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Elliott on September 14, 2007  · 

Unfortunately, due to the large number of weapons [a separate issue that needs to be resolved] in the hands of bad guys in the US, it is understandable why the police are overly cautious. Just the day you listed the story of your speeding ticket, a driver was stopped in Miami and shot 4 police officers, killing one [http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sfl-914policeshot,0,5289774.story?coll=sofla_tab01_layout].

While a number of people put stickers on their cars showing that they have contributed to some police charity fund, I believe it is a fiction that they have any effect. Additionally, there are number of police charity scams, especially here in south Florida. Every other month we get a phone call soliciting a donation to a fake policeman / fireman charity. We tell the callers that we only respond to written requests and we have never received a follow-up letter.

On the other side, I have had interactions with police when having car trouble on the highway and in reporting theft and they were extremely helpful and friendly. Of course, there are police and politicians that misuse their power. Two of seven Palm Beach county commissioners were convicted of taking $ during the last 2 years and are now in jail.

BTW, I recommend use of a radar/laser detector. I bought one the day after my last speeding ticket in 1985! Their use is legal in all states except Virginia & Hawaii.

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Paul on December 16, 2007  · 

As a police officer in the US myself I have some comments on this subject. First, you are clearly wrong putting all officers into the same category. One or two encounters does not give an accurate details of thousands of poice officers in the US. Second, become a police officer and have someone thats HIV positive spit in your face or get shot by someone getting out of their car when you make a traffic stop. You’ll see first hand why officers have you do some things that you may not like. As in remain in your car with your hands on the wheel. He doesn’t have the luxury of truthfully knowing what kind of perosn you are. You are treated with caution just like everyone else. From the way you talk and mention you are a CEO, it appears you are used to being talked UP to and not just talked to as an equal person. Third, the fundraisers are to raise money for when the government doesnt provide. People who contribute are thanked and thats it, but are not treated any different. Their names arent kept in a database just in case we come in contact with them we can give them special treatment. I could care less if you donate. If you break the law, I intend to enforce it, thats my job. The stickers you are refereing to can be bought anywhere and all officers are aware of the myth civilians believe, that you wont get pulled over or written a ticket if you have a sticker on your car. It doesnt effect anything. Your attitude effects the outcome of the situation more than anything. Treat me with respect and I’ll treat you the same. Officer aware of civilians believing this myth also know that it is widely believed by drug trafficers. More drugs are found in vehicles that are peppered with law enforcement support stickers than any other vehicle.

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Paul on December 16, 2007  · 

ADding to my previous comment, juveniles have twice as many rights as an adult. The Bill of Rights dont include half the rights enjoyed by Americans.

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