Krakow Traffic Police: “We are here to serve the public, not to control them”

You see them on the streets, you see them in your rear view mirror. Few drivers are happy to see the traffic cops, but for Tomasz Seweryn, Deputy Commander of Krakow’s Traffic Police (Policja Drogowa), they are there first and foremost for your safety.

The Krakow Post spoke to Seweryn about his work, and about his determination to make Poland’s roads safer.

Seweryn joined the police in 1996, after graduating from Police School. Following seven months of basic training, he was assigned to the traffic division, fulfilling a childhood dream. “I always considered the traffic police the elite, with the best motorcycles and cars,” he says smiling. “After basic training, I could have joined any department, but I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be with the traffic police.”

At the beginning of his career, Seweryn worked directing traffic on the streets of Krakow. It took a little longer to get his hands on a patrol car. “To become a traffic officer, you first have to undergo specialist training, and only then can you drive police cars, so it took another year and a half. Fortunately, my assessments were good enough that I was one of the first officers in the country to be assigned to unmarked patrol cars.”

Now that most of his work is done from behind a desk, Seweryn says he misses being at the wheel of a patrol car. “I miss it very much, so I’m always looking for opportunities to take part in activities on the roads. I’m known as having a knack for spotting drunk drivers. I’m proud of my record of stopping more than 150 drunk drivers every year.”

Throughout the interview, Seweryn emphasises that it is the goal of the Traffic Police to help drivers and other road users. He is aware that it is hard to build a favourable image for an organisation that sometimes gives out fines and other penalties, but regards it as very important that road users are made to understand that the police are in their service.

Krakow Post: Police officers in Poland always salute drivers. Is it an old tradition?

Tomasz Seweryn: It is a very old tradition. If you watch films from the 1970s, you will see it even then. This is how all police officers have been trained in Poland for years. By the way, you can always recognise Traffic Police by the white hat, the white gloves and the ‘R’ on their sleeve badges and the badges on their cars [‘R’ for ‘ruch’ meaning ‘traffic’]

KP: What unusual features of Polish traffic law should foreign drivers be aware of?

TS: Drivers must carry their driving licences at all times. I know this is different in other countries. They should also know that not every traffic accident must be reported to the police. Polish traffic regulations say that you don’t have to report an accident to the police if nobody has been injured. Of course, insurance companies may want a police report, but it is not a legal requirement.

KP: There is a popular theory among foreigners living in Krakow that you are better not reporting an accident to the police, because you will automatically be fined. Is that true?

TS: Absolutely not true. The only question the police will consider is who is to blame for the accident. If someone has been driving dangerously, of course the police may take action, but not otherwise.

KP: Foreigners living here may not be aware that it is illegal to ride a bicycle under the influence of alcohol in Poland. What are the limits?

TS: The law is the same for riding a bicycle and driving a vehicle. A blood-alcohol level above 0 percent but below 0.025 percent is considered a misdemeanor. Anything over 0.025 percent is definitely a crime. If you are caught riding a bicycle while drunk, your driving license can be suspended. If you do it again, you can be sent to prison.

KP: How do you find dealing with foreign drivers?

TS: One very interesting thing is that, when we stop British drivers for being drunk, they first start to cry and then, after a few seconds, start to shout. This is something experienced by many Traffic Officers, and it happens most often in Kazimierz.

KP: Have you seen the recent film Drogówka (Traffic Police)? Do you think it made the police look bad?

TS: Of course I’ve seen it! For me it was like an action film. It was amusing, but it can’t really be compared with real police work. I am afraid of how it might affect the image of the police. People shouldn’t believe everything they see on the screen, or read in newspapers.

KP: There is sometimes a perception that Polish police are there to control, rather than to help. Why do you think this is?

TS: I want to emphasis again that we are here to serve the public, not to control them. Speaking for the Traffic Police, we try to be very visible. We have a very vigorous campaign against drink driving and we stop and check over 50,000 vehicles every month in Krakow alone.

KP: What message would you like to send to our readers?

TS: First of all, I would like to warmly invite all readers of the Krakow Post to come and visit Poland. Our Traffic Police are trained to be friendly to foreign drivers and to treat them well. If you need to ask for help but don’t speak Polish, we will do our best to serve. I would like to emphasise that we are doing our best to change the mentality of Polish drivers, so that they behave well abroad. The final thing I would like to say is, if you’ve been drinking, please take a taxi!

Front page photo: Tomasz Seweryn outside Police headquarters in Krakow (Photo: David McGirr)

14 thoughts on “Krakow Traffic Police: “We are here to serve the public, not to control them”

  • March 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm
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    “To become a traffic officer, you first have to undergo specialist training, and only then can you drive police cars, so it took another year and a half…are you kidding me, a year and a half specialist training to write tickets, and then drive patrol cars?? That is one of the first jobs you do out of the academy in the USA, the Polish police must be real mental midgets if it takes them that long to become a traffic cop. This is the saddest statement about Polish police/society I have ever heard!!

    Reply
    • March 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm
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      Well Mr. dumpling and kraut, the profession of police officer is complex and dangerous. For you to simplify that writing tickets takes too long to train for here in this country is a silly statement and reflects on your way of thinking only. Serving the public is a huge endeavor under the best circumstances, but add alcohol to those of the public who have stinking thinking is worth the initial and on-going training of peace keepers. Be happy when and if an officer engages you in conversation. Sue City Sue

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      • March 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm
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        Then how long do you think a child should train to ride a bicycle? I ask because I witnessed in Poland a bicycle license test, with cones and everything last summer, I have proof, photos. I guess if it takes a Polak 1 1/2 years to learn to drive a patrol car and write tickets, I can live with having kids have to qualify to ride a bike, baby steps for the Poles, baby steps, and next … a year long course on how to boil water!!

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        • March 24, 2013 at 6:32 am
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          You definitely dropped out of school way too soon as your arguments are lame and at a level not worth commenting upon. Sue City Sue

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          • March 28, 2013 at 8:21 pm
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            Do you have your bicycle driver’s license Sue City Sue? Just keep practicing and maybe, just maybe, you’ll pass the test, you can do it!! Gotta love Poland … Did you ever notice that ice is so hard to get in Poland – know why? The Polaks forgot the recipe …lol

          • March 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm
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            Do you have your bicycle driver’s license Sue City Sue? Just keep practicing and maybe, just maybe, you’ll pass the test, you can do it!! Gotta love Poland … Did you ever notice that ice is so hard to get in Poland – know why? The Polaks forgot the recipe …lol

  • March 20, 2013 at 3:55 am
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    Oh great, another American bigot who thinks everything in the US is best and knows the correct way to do everything. Poland is not the same as the United States, get over it.

    Reply
    • April 7, 2013 at 4:47 am
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      Wow..They “check” over 50,000 cars a year in Krakow. No wonder he has a knack for finding drunk drivers. I prefer the police having a reason to stop and search a vehicle. Do they just walk in and search homes, apartments, hotel rooms, and businesses too for no reason?

      Reply
    • June 9, 2013 at 10:52 am
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      So have you checked the personal documents of an on-line writer? To call someone an American is without proof. Some of the eastern neighbors to Poland find it clever and self-empowering to ridicule all things Poland. I have met some of these guys in person, not by choice. They are young, in the 20s to early 30s and not in tune with the real world. Know facts before you call the shots. Sue City Sue

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      • June 9, 2013 at 11:11 am
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        It is a reasonable assumption, and one not refuted by him. Your response to my comment would have more merit two and months ago when I wrote it, as you were part of the overall discussion at that time. Let’s move on to other things shall we.

        Reply
  • March 20, 2013 at 5:18 am
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    Sounds like Americans are not only born with a “right to bear arms” but also a “right to be morons”.

    Reply
  • March 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm
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    Just an observation, that happens to be true, the truth will set you free…bigos all day long

    Reply
  • March 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm
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    Let’s not feed the trolls folks

    Reply

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