Police Psychology | Eating Bugs
by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
Water Beetles! Yummm…. I watched as people walked up to a street vendor and gathered a fried bug on a stick when I was in Hong Kong. I had been working with the Singapore Police Department and decided to make a little stop in Hong Kong on the way home. I figured, this is the culture, I should try a bug. So, I summoned up the courage and bought one. Took the shell off as I was instructed and bit into it. It was crunchy on the outside, but boy the inside was where the treat was. It tasted like the inside of a large bug, sort of like a shrimp paste gone really bad. It was much worse than the tequila worm from college, but then I had drank a significant amount of the bottle and couldn’t feel anything. Here it was just me and the bug. No Tequila, no revelry, no people encouraging you with their “yechs” and “oh my god he’s eating the worm.”
Later that evening we went to a sort of “Denny’s” and had Hong Kong food which was rather good in an eastern kind of way. I was comfortable with the food. At the table next to me was a group of cute college girls out on the town and they ordered a plate of barbecue pigeon heads, about 50 of these little heads looking up at you while you ate their beaks and eyes. I stared at them so long, they asked if I wanted to try them. I did, and they weren’t that bad, but man the culture was really different. When I went to China on a later trip to work again, there was a whole market with different kinds of bugs, silkworms, centipedes, deep fried scorpions, sautéed tarantulas. Some say they only eat bugs for either medicinal purpose or to freak out foreigners. Freaked Out! Worked for me. There are other places where we see culture first hand, although not through bugs. Like in our police officers.
Lunching with a Cop
So, I went out to lunch with a client yesterday for our session and I was in the lead and forced him to sit facing the wall. He had been traumatized awhile ago and he asked if he could switch places with me. I said no. “I was older, and wanted to see what was going on so I was going to have the seat,” I told him. It irked him, so he responded “are you packing.” I told him no, but I knew where his gun was and I could use him as a shield while I shot an assailant, as long as, I was sitting in my spot. He wasn’t too happy, but he knew I had a therapeutic reason. It started a whole discussion about the culture of policing and how selection of the seat was part of that culture.
Now who would think that seat selection would be culturally ingrained in an officer? When a car accident happened in South Bend Indiana while we were buying tailgate beer, four guys ran to it faster than you could ever ask – three cops and one fireman. Some of the rest of us meandered over including a couple of physicians, but 3 cops and the fireman were there right away almost before the cars stopped moving. One Lieutenant was with me and he said I don’t know what happened. I didn’t even look up, I just heard it and I went there like a second instinct. Culture happened to you, pure culture.
Good News and Bad News. Yes, you will approach an accident but if a guy and a girl are arguing, and a child is watching, you might tend to walk away as it looks like a domestic, and cops hate domestics. My instinct is to walk over and escort the child away. That’s my culture! If I get in trouble, you’d back me up because your culture is to help people in trouble that maybe isn’t their own intentional doing. Mine is to see the problem brewing and neutralize the impact on innocents. Two very different, but complimentary cultures.
“I really can’t talk about anything at home because my wife freaks out about it a little”—Culture.
“I sort of shut down at home and I know that my kids are freaked out about that sometimes” – Culture?
“I never saw her as anything romantic, I mean she was my partner, but I looked over and she looked really sexy for the first time” – Culture?!
I’ve traveled throughout Asia, and through Europe, Africa, and Australia, even Antarctica. I worked for federal agencies, local agencies and even very secret forces and you know what, cops do a lot of similar things. Let’s just say, I don’t have to change my slide show depending on the country when I speak overseas. As a Squadra Volante officer once told me in Italy, “the bad guys are all the same, why should we change.” It sounded a little more Italian than that, but you got the idea.
What Is Culture
So, what is a culture? When a group has common languages, humor, art, music, method of communication, social habits, even a way of gossip, or any/all of the above, it can become a culture. Sometimes it is hard to lay a hand on what is a culture, sometimes it is easy to see, but hard to define. It is easy to see the fresh foods and wonderful cooking are part of the Italian culture, less easy to pick up the humor and language of being a cop. When a person is called a “perp,” culture is at play. When a cop sees a suicide from a shotgun and says “she really lost her head,” that’s a culture only another cop will understand. “You know cops, they are like washerwomen in the way they talk about each other.” I’ve heard that in 14 different languages and all across this country. Culture of policing? Yeah, it is.
When Donald Trump was accused of talking rudely about women and responded “it was just locker rooms talk,” sports guys knew what he meant, in fact a lot of women knew from their locker rooms. We may have disagreed with the content of the talk, but we knew what he meant. We all have to be aware of culture because things happen in life in the context of culture. It is our next step to understanding and being less judgmental of people and that’s a cultural change that benefits us all.
Somehow, however, we need to instill in people a stronger cultural bias to cooperate with police officers when they are doing their job. We need to focus on that and let that message be heard 50 times a day by everyone. Cooperate with your local cop. It’s like “If you Drink, Don’t Drive” was brought to the forefront by Nancy Reagan and that’s all you heard for years. I don’t see encouraging cooperation being talked about too much.
I am not eating too many beetles, or centipedes, or tarantulas, or anything that looks better under the heel of my shoe, than in my mouth. I guess those days are over, but a lesson was learned from them. I forgot what the lesson was cause the bugs tasted so damn awful, but it was learned at that time. I think it went something like this “if you are drinking the worm from the tequila, don’t expect it to taste good.” In other words, sometimes getting into a different culture can be hard to swallow, but keep an open mind, and speak in their language when explaining your culture, especially the culture of policing.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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