Police ‘still poorly prepared’ for crisis

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Fully 21 of Norway’s 27 police districts have told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that they’re no better-equipped to respond to emergency situations now than they were before July 22 last year. That’s when terrorist attacks illustraed how poorly prepared Norwegian police were to deal with a national crisis.

Norwegian police complain that they’re still poorly prepared to respond to emergencies, a year after incurring criticism over their poor response to the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

NRK led off Monday’s nightly news with a disturbing report about how the vast majority of police districts still have outdated and often varying standards of equipment that make it difficult if not impossible for them to communicate with one another when they’re out in the field, not least from one district to another. Staffing also remains woefully inadequate and in some districts, only two police officers are on duty in the evening, yet responsible for covering vast geographic areas.

In Sør Trøndelag, for example, it can take up to two hours for a patrol car to respond to a call for help from Oppdal, because it takes that long to drive there. Police there and in four other police districts – Helgeland, Nordmøre og Romsdal, Øst-Finnmark and Asker og Bærum – claimed that their ability to respond to emergencies is actually worse now than it was a year ago.

That’s despite all the calls over the last year for improvements, from more staffing to better equipment and new procedures. The government-appointed commission charged with examining what went wrong when police were so slow to respond to the attacks on the island of Utøya confirmed the problems within the police. NRK’s survey shows they haven’t been solved.

‘Worse than people think’
Kjetil Rekdal, leader of the police union (Politiets Fellesforbund) in Hordaland on Norway’s west coast, said he doesn’t think the public realizes just how poorly prepared the police are. Even though another recent survey showed a lack of confidence that police will come when called, Rekdal thinks the situation is “even worse than people think.”

He calls for standardized rules for carrying weapons, for example, and thinks police should be allowed to have weapons ready for use in their patrol cars. In many police districts, he noted, they instead have to return to the police station to arm themselves before responding to dangerous situations. In Bergen, he said, police have weapons stored in their cars. In outlying areas, they don’t.

Even in the police district of Asker og Bærum, a heavily populated suburban area just west of Oslo, officers must deal with outdated equipment just as they did last year when those in patrol cars couldn’t communicate with colleagues in neighbouring Buskerud while the massacre was underway on Utøya. Police sergeant Nicolai Backe-Henden told NRK they don’t have a properly function data system.

Neither top state police bureaucrats nor politicians in charge would respond to NRK’s survey results. Many have claimed earlier, though, that they’re taking the conclusions and harsh criticism of the July 22 Commission seriously and working hard to improve police operations.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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