Police reform sets off more unrest

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There’s rumbling within the ranks of Norway’s state police. Officers on patrol are setting off alarms over not just inadequate staffing but an actual “ravaging” of their ranks, while criticism is flying over how police chiefs around the country are staying mum.

Norway’s state police system was supposed  to be “streamlined and consolidated”, to improve response time and provide better coordinated coverage. The reforms have not been working as they should, according to frustrated police officers. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet

“No comment” has been the main response from the police chiefs, a silence that Jenny Klinge, a Member of Parliament for the Center Party, finds downright embarrassing. “I think it’s simply shameful that no police chiefs dare to be honest about this,” Klinge told newspaper Dagsavisen late last week.

Her remarks came after the Oslo Police District entered into an agreement, for the first time, with private security guard companies. It calls for cooperation between the police and six security firms in an effort to increase safety on the streets of the Norwegian capital. Police will still have ultimate authority, but security guards will back them up and the two branches will work more closely together.

“The police have had a monopoly on security, but in recent years, we’ve seen that there’s room for more,” Robert Thorsen, a division leader for the Oslo Police District, told news bureau NTB. The agreement formalizes cooperation that’s occurred on an ad hoc basis for years. Now the police and security firms will take part together in meetings, courses and exchange of expertise. Thorsen noted that many security firms have “very good surveillance systems, for example, and we can better inform each other.”

‘More eyes and ears’ on the street
While the security firms view the deal as recognition of their expertise, critics worry it’s at least in part a response to police often not having enough resources themselves despite increased state funding under the current conservative coalition government. Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized that the police shouldn’t need to secure “more eyes and ears on the streets.”

Reforms of the state police system have also been blamed for taking away resources from the police efforts to prevent crime instead of simply responding to it. That’s especially been linked to the rise in gang violence and crime in Oslo in recent months. In rural areas, meanwhile, staff shortages have become acute. Police can’t always respond to calls for help.

‘Hopelessness’
It’s all led to more complaints from the union for police officers (Politiets Fellesforbund), from politicians like Klinge (whose party’s constituency is rooted in Norway’s outlying districts) and from at least one police leader, Arne Guddal in Drammen. He’s the one who told newspaper Dagsavisen Fremtiden that police reform was “ravaging” the system and the ranks. He claimd there was “massive frustration” among cops on the beat and police at all levels. “Now there’s also a lot of feelings of hopelessness, that this is the way it’s going to be in the years ahead,” Guddal told Fremtiden.

The police chief for the district, Christine Fossen, was among the few of her colleagues willing to comment: “Now we have, because of reforms, many who are exhausted and frustrated. We’re also struggling with a very tight budget, and would gladly have a better framework.”

While editorial writers are urging more like Fossen to speak up and address police officers’ concerns, Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara is ultimately in charge. Wara represents the Progress Party, which has long urged more support for the police. He and others in the government point to all the increased funding they’ve allocated and claim police leaders are in charge of putting it to the best use.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund