The state police directorate announced Friday that Norwegian cops on the beat will no longer be allowed to carry weapons. The decision is based on an evaluation that the terror threat against Norway is lower today than it was when police were first armed last year.
Norway has a long tradition of police being unarmed except in emergency situations or those involving high levels of security. When the state police intelligence agency PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) raised the terror threat against Norway, and especially against police and military personnel in uniform, last year, the conservative coalition government quickly allowed police to be armed at all times, but on a temporary basis.
Even though public opinion polls showed that most Norwegians were comfortable with having armed police on the streets, and even felt safer because of it, opposition politicians in Parliament only reluctantly along with the initial arming order. As the months rolled by, and the periods of arming were extended seven times, the “temporary” weapons allowance was questioned and politicians from the Socialist Left (SV) and Labour parties have agitated almost constantly that it be revoked. They wanted Norway to return to being a country without police armed on a regular basis, and their criticism rose after police were accused of recklessly using their weapons in at least three incidents where shots were fired and, in one, a woman threatening a child was wounded.
Now the arming opponents have prevailed and around 6,000 police officers will be ordered to stash their weapons away by early next week, November 17 at the latest. The police themselves have been split on the issue, with police chiefs and the state police administration generally opposed to regular arming and police unions representing officers in favour.
The disarming order comes just a day after Italian police led a coordinated crackdown all over Europe and in Norway on an alleged terrorist network led by the former refugee and Islamic cleric Mullah Krekar, who’s been living in Norway since receiving asylum in 1991. Italian investigators claim Krekar’s alleged network planned to assassinate Norwegian politicians and diplomats along with other targets in and around Europe.
State Police Director Odd Reidar Humlegård nonetheless announced at a press conference Friday morning that PST evaluates the overall terror threat level as having declined. “The probability of a terrorist attack has been reduced,” Humlegård said, “also the danger for attacks on personnel from the military and police.”
Humlegård noted that statistics show there was no greater use of weapons during the arming period than before it began. “Norwegian police are trained to handle risky situations every day,” he said. “They are well-trained in downscaling situations and resolving them with the least possible use of force.” He said that in his opinion, Norwegian police “handled the situation with temporary arming well.”
Justice Minister Anund Anundsen of the Progress Party has favoured arming police on a regular basis, but must follow a Parliamentary measure against it. He has now asked the police directorate to evaluate alternatives to arming, including use of electric-shock weapons, or stun guns.