Norway’s ongoing saga over whether its police should be armed or unarmed took another twist on Thursday. The country’s top law enforcement officer now states that he wants Norwegian police to mostly be unarmed, except in “particularly exposed areas.”
Police Director Odd Reidar Humlegård submitted official testimony during a public hearing process now underway on the issue. In it, he supports a decision issued last winter by a state commission that recommended continuing the current system that prevents police from bearing arms in holsters at all times. Instead, police on patrol are only allowed to have loaded weapons stored in locked boxes in their cars. The weapons are to be retrieved only when needed.
Many have argued that’s impractical and can leave police and victims of crime or violence in a a dangerous position. There’s not always time for the police officers to run back to their cars, unlock the boxes and arm themselves.
Police have been temporarily rearmed, for example after last spring’s terrorist attack in Stockholm and a bomb scare in Oslo. Norway’s justice minister, who’s in charge of the state police, also wants police to be armed at all times as does state police intelligence unit PST.
Members of Parliament and many other Norwegian politicians remain dubious, keen to preserve Norway’s long tradition of an unarmed police force. The general public, however, has seemed more worried that times have changed, and many have said they feel more secure when police are armed. Police officers themselves have requested arming as well.
Humlegård has long sought a compromise and said Thursday that neither he nor the police directorate think there’s a need “for all personnel to be armed all the time.” He noted, though, that there is a need to strengthen fundamental preparedness in certain situations.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Humlegård went on to claim that the directorate “has listened” to police chiefs in Norway’s largest cities, who want permanent arming. One solution Humlegård sees is to “lower the barriers” so that police can arm themselves when on patrol in “particularly exposed areas,” for example around Oslo’s central train station or other downtown areas known for having higher crime rates. Police should also continue to be armed at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, where they are now.
Humlegård admitted the arming debate is “difficult.” Testimony and remarks delivered during the hearing period will be reviewed and used for new proposals from the justice ministry. Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen of the Progress Party has said he expects Norwegian will be consistently armed “within a few years.”