The government parties, their support parties and Labour agreed on Sunday to a major reorganization of Norway’s state police force. The number of police districts will be cut by more than half, and the mergers have widespread support among the police themselves.
It’s the latest reform to be pushed through by the conservative government coalition, albeit with some modifications after negotiations with the other parties. All agree, however, that the reform will strengthen police services at the local level, improve coordination and increase security and, not least, preparedness for emergency situations. An alleged lack of the latter prompted strong criticism from the state auditor general as late as last week.
“People will also see that increased resources yield more police and increased security and better preparedness,” said Ulf Leirstein, justice policy spokesman for one of the two government coalition members, the Progress Party. Justice Minister Ander Anundsen, also from the Progress Party, has earlier stated that his goal is to have two police officers for every 1,000 residents.
Several police districts will be merged around the county, most notably Oslo’s with suburban Asker og Bærum’s. That’s believed to provide better coordination and faster response time. Another merger will also affect the area around Oslo, when the Follo, Romerike and Østfold police districts merge to form a single new district call Øst (East).
The total number of police districts will be cut from 27 today to just 12. The 12 new districts will soon include new larger ones for Finnmark, Troms, Nordland, Trøndelag, Møre og Romsdal, Rogaland and Agder, in counties (fylker) that have often been split into various districts.
The largest mergers will involve the counties of Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane into a new district simply called Vest (West). The Buskerud, Telemark and Vestfold police districts will combine to form a new district called Sør-Øst (Southeast), while the Hedmark and Oppland districts will be merged to form a new district called Innlandet (Inland).
Local police presence to be enhanced
Even though the police jurisdictions themselves will become much larger, both in terms of geographic area and the populations they serve, the politicians claim that local police presence will be enhanced. Fully 90 percent of all residents of Norway will have a police station within a 45-minute drive, and the politicians are demanding that 95 percent of all calls to the emergency number 112 be answered within 20 seconds.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that some tasks currently handled by the police, including transport of arrested persons ordered held in custody and transport of the mentally ill, will also be transferred to other state agencies, to free up resources.
“The reform of local police services will give us a better system in the future,” said Iselin Nybø of the Liberal Party at a Sunday afternoon press conference. “I’m very glad that so many parties support this important reform.” NRK reported that two out of three local police chiefs also supported the reforms when proposed.