Police argue over bearing arms

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Norwegian police moved a bit closer to being armed this week, when a new directive requiring weapons to be placed in all police patrol cars took effect on Tuesday. While most on-duty police officers want to be able to bear arms, though, most police chiefs are opposed. Students at the state police academy, meanwhile, are in doubt, with fully 30 percent of them saying they don’t want to carry a gun.

Police will be more visible on the streets of Oslo this summer. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Police themselves are divided over whether they should be armed, but many cops on the beat want to carry weapons at all times. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Norway’s state police force remains the only country within the Nordic region that is mostly unarmed unless in emergency or special security situations. The Swedish and Danish police, for example, have been armed since 1965, the Finnish since 1918.

In Norway, however, police have only been allowed to arm themselves in crisis situations, and then they normally have to head back to the police station to check out weapons. That takes time, which is why the outgoing left-center government decided police should have weapons in their patrol cars at all times, especially after the terrorist attacks of 2011.

Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported that there are some glitches with the new system that went into place from October 1. Patrol cars need to be equipped with locking systems for both pistols and weapons held with two hands, and not all of it was ready as of last week. Several district leaders said their patrol cars still lacked the locked storage compartments needed in the patrol cars.

Collision course
That aside, views are mixed among those expected to quickly be able to arm themselves and their bosses back in the office. Newspaper Dagsavisen has run a series of articles detailing the differing opinions within the police, even though a majority of cops on the beat demand the right to even carry guns in holsters as is done in many other countries, to help them deal with a steadily tougher crime scene in Norway, especially in the cities.

A survey conducted for Dagsavisen among police working in five of the most central police districts in Norway indicated that police officers and police chiefs are on a collision course. The police officers don’t think it’s enough to only have weapons available in their patrol cars. They want to actually carry weapons at all times. Their bosses disagree.

“I’m opposed to a general arming of the police,” the police chief of the Sør-Trondelag district, Marit Fostervold Johansen, told Dagsavisen. “It will demand more training, more resources, more staffing and more training facilities. There’s no room for that just now.”

The police chiefs in the Agder, Troms and Hordaland districts also said they were opposed to overall arming, without saying why.

Appealing to the new government
Discussion is thus expected to be lively when the issue comes up at meetings of both the police chiefs and the union representing police officers, Politiets Fellesforbund (PF). Last year’s national meeting of PF, which has around 14,000 members, approved general arming of the police. Since their bosses are opposed, PF is ready to appeal to the new non-socialist government due to take office in mid-October. Both the Conservative and Progress parties seem inclined to go along, while the Christian Democrats and Liberals oppose arming the police.

At the police academy (Politihøgskolen), many students are uncertain whether they want to be armed at all times. A survey showed 33 percent opposed, 32 percent in favour and fully 35 percent unsure.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund