A family living at Melbu in Vesterålen, just north of Lofoten, was terrified during the night last weekend when an unknown man suddenly began to bang on their front door and refused to leave. He repeatedly tried to enter their home forcefully, pounding on and rattling other doors as well, but when the family called police for help, it was literally miles away.
The incident pointed up the challenge of having police patrols available and nearby in Norway’s many far flung districts. State broadcaster NRK reported Monday that when Bjørn Eilertsen called the police emergency number, he found out there were only two police patrols on duty in all of Vesterålen, a large and scenic group of islands and mountains on the northern coast. One patrol car was located at Myre, 80 kilometers (48 miles north of Melbu), while the other was in Andenes, fully 150 kilometers away and on another group of islands.
“We always wish we had more people out on the job, also on the weekends, but we have to put a priority on investigations during the week as well,” said Per Erik Hagen, leader of the police in Vesterålen, which is home to around 30,000 people.
Eilertsen and his frightened family were frustrated and he armed himself with a crowbar in case the stranger, who he thinks was on drugs, broke into their home. “I think it’s terrible not to get help,” Eilertsen told NRK. “Who can you call if the police can’t help?”
The incident played right into the hands of the Center Party, which held its national meeting over the weekend and complained mightily about the lack of police and other services in the districts. “It’s unacceptable that police can’t help when needed,” Jenny Klinge of the party told NRK.
Justice Minister Per Willy Amundsen of the Progress Party, who is in charge of Norway’s state police, said he couldn’t comment on the specific incident but he claimed proposed police reform, which the Center Party opposes, should free up resources to have more police patrols available. “There are still too few patrols in the districts, and that’s why this government has increased the number of police by 1,800 since 2013,” Amundsen said. “Just this year we’re hiring 650 new police officers. This is a high priority for the government.”