Did you know that Denmark has a specialised unit of cops whose job is to play online games like Counterstrike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, and Minecraft? Me neither, until I was alerted to the existence (via Reddit) of the Danish Politiets Online Patrulje (Police Online Patrol), a squad of Danish police officers whose job is apparently to "patrol" online social spaces and keep an eye out for things like fraud and hate speech.
The unit maintains a presence on Steam, Discord, and even streams on Twitch, where it was active earlier today. Naturally, it's also active in popular multiplayer games like the ones I mentioned earlier (the squad's player avatars in Minecraft have been customised to resemble a Danish police uniform). They're pretty prolific on TikTok, too.
@onlinepatrulje ♬ original sound - myah
The POP unit actually got started back in April 2022 with a remit to (the following is machine-translated from Danish) "patrol social media," and "engage in dialogue with children and young people in particular, prevent inappropriate behaviour and crime, and intervene if offences are committed".
Denmark isn't alone in this practice. Community police in the Netherlands had a "Gaming with the police" initiative back in 2020, with 21 teams across the country trying to "keep in touch with youth who are active in the digital domain" by "entering their ‘comfort zone’ through gaming". The Dutch police didn't really say how successful that scheme was—which might tell you everything you need to know—but did say "gaming with the youth is well received [...] because it is a means that matches their interests," and "is a contemporary way of connecting". Which definitely sounds like something a cop would write.
Online gaming is an avenue used by extremist groups for recruitment, and the recent case of the ISIS-roleplaying teens in Roblox shows us the kind of bizarre and disturbing stuff that happens hidden away on the internet. But I'm not sure sprinkling a few officers across a handful of servers will really do much to counteract that. Having responsible adults available for kids to turn to when they feel uncomfortable in online games is a good idea, but you probably need more than a few people to make an impact.
In fact, it might be the case that the police shouldn't be the ones doing it at all. I don't know much about Danish policing, so this could just be my experience as an English person talking, but it's always difficult to shake the feeling that the subtextual motivation of efforts like this isn't really to counteract hate speech or grooming, but to recruit young people to the force while they're impressionable. After all, we live in a world where the US military actively makes efforts to reach kids through videogames like Call of Duty and on platforms like Twitch, so it's hard not to see things through that lens.
Still, whatever its motivations and whether it's effective or not, it's a pointed reminder that, yep, we sure do live in the 21st century. The cops are in Minecraft and running a Discord server as part of what I imagine is one of the cushier jobs down at the station. This is the world we live in now. I couldn't do it, though. Playing videogames for a living? Please.