I just saw the Running Man Challenge video recorded by police in New Zealand Aotearoa this week.
The video is part of a drive by Kiwi cops to recruit more officers, especially from Maori, Asian, Middle Eastern, Pacific Island, and Indian backgrounds.
I did a double take, because the cop who closes out the routine is Sergeant Sonny Iosefo of South Auckland.
Sonny also starred in our 2013 zombie siege at Tupu Youth Library, as an officer who came in to protect a group of teens from an invasion of the living dead.
The teens had decided on a set of tests for people who might have been bitten by the zombies: they would make suspects sing, dance, and do maths problems to show their brains hadn’t been affected by the zombie virus.
On one of his ventures out into zombie-controlled areas of the library, I asked Sonny to let me put some fake blood on his arm, and to start showing the symptoms of a zombie bite.
When he failed the singing and maths tests, the teens panicked and tied him to a chair with some twine which we had in the room.
While they debated what to do with him – a little practical ethics in an immersive play scenario! – Sonny caught my eye and whispered: “Is it okay to break out and go full zombie?”
Sonny knew the kids we were working with and had a great relationship with them – displaying bags of the charm which also shines through in his dance video.
I told him okay, and he broke his bonds, roaring and rolling his eyes. The teens piled on him and wrestled him to the ground until his partner could break through and cuff the zombified policeman.
Thankfully the storyline ended with scientists synthesising a cure for the zombie virus, and Sonny returned to full duties and even regained his dancing skills.
The Guardian feature on the NZ Police dance video explains Sonny’s attitude to community policing:
The star of the clip, 43-year-old Sergeant Sonny Joseph Iosefo, became a police officer 20 years ago after following family members into the force.
Iosefo said he had a “lifelong passion for dance” and would often dance at family picnics and at home with his wife and six-year-old son.
“If we can make someone laugh on the street, that makes our job so much easier,” he said.
“We are trying to get away from the stereotypes the public hold about police officers, that they can’t talk to us, that we are really serious people. We want people to know that we are humans too, we have families, we have children, and some of us love to dance.”
Iosefa said the dance moves he and his fellow uniformed officers used in the video clip were “a little bit Samoan inspired” as per his cultural history.
“Dance is embedded in our blood and our culture, and I like to bring that out. Trying to connect with young people, and trying to diffuse tension, it really helps if you can make someone smile.
“We want a diverse force that is part of the community, not just policing it.”
Sonny’s zombie moment was in the same spirit – something echoed by Australian Senior Constable Daniel Greef in the Parkes zombie invasion.
During the day-long battle, he told the ABC, “I hope today that they get to see police as normal people – that we can be bitten by zombies, we’re not just the bad guys, we’re out there helping people, having a good time as well.”
If daft playful things like this help police recognise the need to engage communities in ways that aren’t always about “laying down the law”, if they help to recruit officers from a wider range of backgrounds so they better reflect the community they serve, if they help people everywhere to recognise that play and creativity should be celebrated as part of everyday life, then dancing zombie cops can only be a good thing.