THE POLICE SALUTE IN TIMES OF PANDEMIC
LEOPOLDO BONÍAS – Local Police Commissioner
The traditional regulatory salute of the armed forces – military or civilian – is quite similar in different parts of the world. The vast majority consists of holding the hand outstretched with the fingers together at temple level with the palm facing downwards. However, there are also those where the palm is visible in a frontal position, as occurs in the United Kingdom and France. In Spain, as in Argentina and Uruguay, the salute is only made in the manner described with the headgear, which is called “Hacer la venia” in South America, so that the point of reference to which the hand should be directed is the right side of the beginning of the chinstrap of the cap.
These hierarchical corps have the characteristic that the regulation salute is made at a certain physical distance (2 or 3 metres) as if a subsequent handshake were ruled out. However, this distance has been reduced over the last forty years or so, and the classic handshake has become customary after the statutory greeting, which must be initiated by the person of the highest professional category, as opposed to the statutory greeting, which the person of the lowest rank must initiate. In local police forces, as there is less police culture than would be desirable, it is often the policeman who, in his eagerness to please, offers a handshake to his superior or even to the councillor or mayor on duty, who logically respond to the offer with a handshake.
In the past, the handshake was reserved for congratulations or official acts and visits and not for any meeting during the service. Hugging was restricted to more extreme displays of affection, let alone kissing. The former mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, used to lavish it in public acts where he recognised a police officer for a meritorious act by embracing him /her after the awarding of the decoration and kissing him/her on both cheeks, and this, in a society like the United States where kissing is an unusual gesture, has an important meaning. Nor was it the custom in Spain until not more than forty years ago to kiss women on the cheeks as a greeting. Women were kissed on the hand, and not all of them, as the custom was to do so only to married women. In the afternoons that I sometimes spend accompanying my mother, she has sometimes remembered that the poet Juan Gil-Albert was the first man to kiss her hand as she left the church after getting married. Nowadays, it is even the man who kisses the woman directly on the cheeks without waiting for her to take the initiative and offer the customary two kisses.
It seemed that in the advent of the terrible pandemic we are suffering from, the police greeting would return to what it was half a century ago, but we can see that far from improving in this respect, we are in danger of going backwards. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see police officers bowing to each other like Orientals, clashing fists like boxers, or contacting each other with their elbows, twisting to reach each other from afar in situations not comical because after observing them, they already seem normal to us. Maybe it happens to me like the former head of the Local Police of Valencia, Manuel Jordán Montañés, who on a certain occasion rebuked me, “Don’t say you are working. Say that you are on duty”, who in the interview he was given on the occasion of his retirement lamented in the press that he had not understood the police. When I tell my mother about certain things that happen to me on duty, she always tells me the same thing, “don’t worry, son, it’s just that we look like idiots”.