“Society is totally different at night,” says Birgir Örn Guðjónsson, who has been a police officer for over ten years. These days, he spends around one-third of his time working nights, but he recently took a six-month sabbatical to work as an airline steward. Dealing with sleeping people on a plane proved to be a welcome break for a while, but now Birgir is back on the streets of Reykjavík, where he finds fulfilment from his job.
“I was never going to be a police officer. It was a quick decision one day when I was reading the paper.” It didn’t take long for Birgir to view his position from a moral perspective, though, and now he dedicates himself to the greater good. “For me, I want to do something positive for the society in any case possible,” he explains. “As a police officer, you see so many sides to the society and I think that provides you with a special opportunity.”
“People always call us at the worst possible time in their lives,” he continues. “You can either look at things and think ‘everything is so bad,’ or you can just be happy with what you’ve got and that’s my perspective. I just think I’m so lucky with the life I have.” As a family man, Birgir dedicates his sparse free time to his children, insisting that life’s trivialities become less important because of his work.
Nevertheless, dealing with everything from parking disputes to teen suicides can take its toll and his six-month break from the job was necessary. He says he feels that the worst time of year to be a police officer is in winter, when Iceland is enveloped by darkness and mental health deteriorates, provoking more domestic disturbances and drug and alcohol abuse. He says, “In the summertime, everyone is happy, but in the wintertime, everything gets darker and life becomes like a depressing Icelandic movie.”
Birgir doesn’t believe things in Iceland are all that bad, though, and he maintains a positive outlook on life and his work. “I’ve talked to many people who have contemplated suicide and maybe I’ve helped one or two. That’s enough for me,” he says. “Basically, society is good and you just try to help those who have lost their way.”