The London police’s ability to quickly halt terrorist attacks in recent months has prompted Norwegian Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen to call once again for a general rearming of police in Norway. He’s not giving up his efforts to make sure Oslo police, for example, would be able to respond just as quickly.
“The scenario in London shows the importance of quick response time from the police,” Amundsen wrote in an email to newspaper Klassekampen. “This also revives the issue of a general arming of (Norwegian) police.”
Amundsen represents the conservative Progress Party in Norway, which long has argued in favour of arming Norwegian police at all times. The police have been regularly carrying arms for extended periods over the past few years, following heightened terror threats and while Progress has held control of the justice ministry, which oversees Norway’s state police force.
Proposals to allow police to bear arms at all times have, however, been voted down by a majority in Parliament and even discouraged by police chiefs themselves. The rank and file who are actually out on patrol have favoured arming, but Norwegian police remain mostly unarmed. In emergency situations, they must run to their patrol cars, unlock special compartments where loaded guns are kept and then arm themselves.
Amundsen argues that in the event of a terrorist attack there’s little time for that. London police were traditionally unarmed for years but have been widely praised, and won both respect and affection from the public at large, for recently being able to quickly shoot down rampaging terrorists. In the case of last weekend’s attack on the London Bridge and in nearby pubs and bars afterwards, London police managed to kill all three attackers just eight minutes after receiving the first calls for help. Legal experts in Great Britain attributed the quick response to a high level of preparedness and intense weapons training in recent years.
In Norway, however, opponents of arming police at all times cite the long tradition of unarmed police and fear that arms will distance police from the people. While public surveys have suggested otherwise, a special commission appointed to study the issue ended up recommending earlier this year to maintain the current system of unarmed police in Norway.
During a political debate on Norwegian Broadcasting’s morning talk show Politisk kvarter Wednesday morning, the Socialist Left party (SV) continued to argue against arming police. The Progress Party’s government colleague, the Conservative Party, has also been skeptical towards general arming but now hints that it may be swayed in favour of it.
“The Conservatives are rather split on the issue,” justice policy spokesman Hårek Elvenes told news bureau NTB this week, “but we are open to re-evaluate that standpoint if experience and knowledge, or a change in the terror threat, suggests we should.”