A majority of Norway’s police chiefs support the government’s plans to reform the state police system, largely through consolidation. The rank and file also are positive, while some opposition politicians are skeptical.
Concrete proposals for the long-anticipated police reform spring out of the harsh criticism directed at the Norwegian police after a right-wing terrorist’s attacks on July 22, 2011 left 77 people dead. The police at the time were later blasted by an independent commission over, among other things, their slow response to reports of shooting at a Labour Party summer camp and over their outdated communication systems and lack of ready access to boats, helicopters and weapons.
Merging police districts and stations
Reform plans unveiled Tuesday evening call for reducing the number of police districts in Norway from 27 to 12, with larger central operations offering better and more coordinated police response and coverage.
There soon may also be fewer but larger police stations located around the country, but at least 90 percent of the population is to have a police station or sheriff’s office located within a 45 minute-drive of where they live. There currently are a total of 354 police stations or sheriff’s offices in Norway, and they’re likely to decline in number, but not to as few as the 210 recommended in an analysis conducted by the police themselves.
Police stations will also be called upon to remain open later than normal office hours on at least one day a week. New demands will be set for response time and 95 percent of all calls for police help are to be answered within 20 seconds.
‘Not a centralization effort’
Reform measures also call for tighter and closer cooperation between the police, which are under the jurisdiction of the state Justice Ministry, and local governments. Communication is also to be streamlined with local search and rescue operations that often fall under state and local health health authorities.
“Some people are trying to portray this as a major centralization effort, but it’s really just the opposite,” Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said when he took part in presenting preliminary reform plans along with Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Iselin Nybø of the Liberal Party (Venstre), one of the government’s two support parties. With the Liberals’ support, the government can secure a majority for getting its police reform efforts approved by Parliament.
That appears likely to be welcome by the police themselves, with 17 of 27 police chiefs around the country fully or at least partially supporting the proposed reform. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday that its own survey of the country’s existing police districts showed that fully two-thirds of district leaders are positive. Only one was negative.
“I think this is the best solution,” Hans Vik, chief of the Rogaland Police District, told NRK. His colleague Ole Bredrup Sæverud, police chief in Troms, had wanted to merge several police districts in Northern Norway into just one but he said he’ll be happy with the proposal to simply merge Troms with Western Finnmark, while Eastern Finnmark will remain a separate district.
In southeastern Norway, where a vast majority of Norwegians live, Oslo will remain as it is but existing police districts in Telemark, Vestfold and Buskerud counties plus Asker og Bærum just west of Oslo will merge to form one large district called Sør-Øst (Southeast). The Follo, Romerike and Østfold police districts will also merge to form one district known as Øst (East).
The labour union representing most police officers (Politiets Fellesforbund) was also satisfied with reform plans, with union leaders claiming that the government had “many good intentions” and that they recognized many of their own proposals in the reform proposal.
Opposition politicians had some mixed reaction. The Center Party, which fights any centralization moves, predictably argued that mergers of local police stations could distance police from some local communities. The Labour Party claimed it was “positive” but awaited more details before forming any opinions. Hadia Tajik, Labour’s spokesperson on legal issues, questioned how fewer districts could result in better local police response. Labour, however, was the biggest victim of the attacks in 2011 and the police’s failure to respond quickly enough. Labour officials already have accepted that urgent reform is needed.