lea groot

‘I love travelling and exploring other countries, and of course I pay attention to the police officers there,’ Lea says. But there is something we do not know about police officers who meet each other outside their own countries. ‘When we go abroad, we take our emblems with us and swap them with local police officers. It is a sort of tradition, every policeman does it…’

The room we meet in reminds me of a classroom: lots of wooden chairs facing a blackboard. However, the one thing I didn’t see in my own classroom was a ‘wanted-poster’ on the wall with Estonian villains on it.

Are they Russian? Their names appear to be.

‘These men,’ she says, pointing at the pictures I’m looking at, ‘are stateless. They do not have a Russian or Estonian passport.’ Lea looks cheerful, happy to talk about her job, but says: ‘You are here to talk to me as a police officer, and as a police officer I do not want to talk about politics.’

That’s clear enough.

Your rank is quite high, I say, hoping the shameless flattery will help.

Lea (27) nods. ‘I’m a team leader. And no, it is not just a man’s job; people are used to it now. In the police, it is more important to be fast than strong.’

And are you fast?

‘My colleagues tell me I speak very fast, so yeah, I’m very fast,’ she says with a smile. ‘You have to think and act fast.’

What is your next rank?

‘I am seven steps away from being the top commissioner. I do not know if I want to be there. Next year I will have a master’s degree in law, and I don’t know what will happen then, but I am not going to quit the job,’ she tells me confidently. To become a police officer was not a lifelong dream, but after high school she did not know what to do. Having a lot of friends who were police officers made the decision easier.

‘Nowadays we tell people they should not be afraid of us, but older people still are. If you have not done anything wrong you do not have be afraid, but that was different in the past,’ Lea says. Estonians think very differently about the police, because of the Soviet police who dominated us for so long. Estonia is a safe country, statistics show. ‘Criminals are everywhere, but we do not have so much violent crime. Most of them take place in small communities, and involve families and people who are living together.’

I heard someone say that it is not very safe to be a black guy in Estonia.

Before she gives me an answer, Lea thinks about it and then she gives me a very general answer. ‘Estonians are very… I do not want to say we are intolerant. I think every country has groups which are intolerant.’ When I tell her that in Amsterdam you will not be beaten up because you are black, she gives me an equally evasive answer. ‘We do not have a lot of black people, but we have one black police officer. It does not matter who you are. If you go to a bad neighbourhood something bad can happen to you. It is just a question of place and bad timing.’

Do you feel European?

‘First of all, I feel Estonian. But secondly we are Europeans, we are a happy family,’ she answers. ‘For Estonians it is very important, because we are so small. It makes it all easier, much easier for us.’ The cultural background makes them feel connected, Lea tells me. Especially the connection between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is very special. ‘Most of people think of us as three sisters.’ So Estonians like Europa and a lot of them voted for the elections in May. ‘It gives us some kind of protective feeling. That is important, because we cannot stand alone,’ Lea explains.

Will the other big brother from Moscow step in again?

‘We will see what is going to happen. Estonians have not forgotten their history and that is why we are afraid of what is going on over there. Ukraine is not so far away from us. But this is politics, so…’