Norway needs to undertake a massive reform of its state-run police system, claims a high-level commission that has branded it as expensive, inefficient and far too decentralized. The commission, appointed by the state government to thoroughly analyze the country’s “Politi,” unleashed a barrage of criticism and calls for urgent reforms when it delivered its report to Justice Minister Grete Faremo this week.
Faremo, from the Labour Party, was told that it’s not a matter of inadequate state funding for the country’s police, but how the funding is used. Far too much, the commission claimed, is spent on top-heavy administration and not enough on actual police operations to respond to crime and emergencies. The commission cited in general an extremely poor use of resources that has made Norway’s police the most expensive among the Nordic countries and thus probably the world.
Far too many police officers are sitting behind desks when there’s a critical need for cops on the beat, the commission’s report noted. Police districts and stations need to be consolidated in a move to get more police officers out on patrol, when and where they’re needed, stressed the commission. It confirmed, for example, that the vast majority of police staffing is during daytime hours, even though most crimes and emergencies occur during the night and that’s when more police are really needed.
The commission’s work has been called the “most comprehensive analysis” ever conducted of police work in Norway. Specific recommendations include cutting the number of police districts in Norway from today’s 27 to just six, reducing the number of police stations from 354 to 210 and eliminating as many as 220 police chiefs around the country. The streamlining is necessary, the commission declared, to strengthen police competence and clarify responsibility.
The biggest problem, the commission reported, is the proliferation of chiefs and lack of cops on the beat. Faremo, whose justice ministry is ultimately in charge of the Norwegian police, herself confirmed it’s “hard to manage” the police system as it’s evolved in Norway.
Each one of Norway’s 27 police districts, for example, has an average of 11 persons in its management group. The commission claimed that’s led to far too many police chiefs in relation to employees. Some police chiefs simply aren’t qualified for their jobs either, or haven’t been consistently updated or trained to handle new technology or procedures, the commission noted. That can explain why there’s wide variation among districts regarding the number of cases solved and persons helped.
Norwegian police have also been made responsible over the years for a variety of other tasks not strictly related to police work, for example issuing passports and handling immigration procedures, functioning as notary publics, conducting evictions and control of dangerous animals. It was recommended that many such duties could be transferred to other state agencies.
The commission was appointed by the state government in the wake of earlier harsh criticism of the emergency response to the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011. It became painfully clear on that fateful day that the police district serving the area around the island of Utøya, scene of the July 22 massacre, was woefully unprepared to deal with the crisis. It couldn’t handle all the calls for help coming in, didn’t have enough officers on duty and they couldn’t tackle the shootings. Help was slow in arriving on the island where 69 persons were killed.
Norway’s political tradition of decentralizing public services appears to have backfired in the case of the police, the commission’s report suggests, even though it was intended to give residents in remote areas a feeling of security to have a police station nearby. Instead, the station can be so small and understaffed that it’s unresponsive, claimed the commission, which was made up of a wide range of experts from the courts, academia, the defense and justice ministries and the police itself.
Faremo wouldn’t say whether she agreed with the recommendation to consolidate so many districts and stations to reduce administration and strengthen operations, but noted that Norway traditionally has stressed the importance of having police “close to the people.” The commission’s recommendations “may go against the understanding many of us have about what creates safety and security,” Faremo told reporters. Officials at Norway’s powerful police union immediately voiced reservations over the commission’s conclusions, but they’re expected to be addressed by politicians and, if they dare, acted upon.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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