Norwegians seem to reluctantly be accepting that their police carry arms. Norway long prided itself on having generally unarmed police, but threats of terrorism and a rise in violent incidents have prompted one national politician to say “the age of innocence is over.”
On Monday a government-appointed commission handed Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl its recommendation after studying, at her request, how police could and should wield power. Earlier commissions delving into the issue have recommended against permanent arming and Mehl’s commission was divided. A majority, however, favoured “general arming of police in Norway.”
Until now, they’ve been armed only under special circumstances, and then in accordance with justice ministry guidelines. Commission leader Pål Arild Lagestad, a professor at Nord University, said five out of eight commission members concluded that “today’s model for arming is not adequate” to meet the current threat situation.
Four of those voting in favour of arming work within the police themselves, including the police chief in Nordland, a divisional leader in the Oslo police district and officers in both Troms in Northern Norway and in the Southwest Police District. The leader of the national association representing defense attorneys, a clinic director at the main hospital in Bergen and a retired researcher specializing in traumatic stress opposed arming.
Most agree the threat situation in Norway has changed in recent years, and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported how police have been carrying arms much more often than even before. They’ve also been carrying electric shock pistols, which have been used to restrain violent individuals.
It wasn’t until 2014 that police were first ordered to carry arms nationwide for a limited period, after police intelligence agency PST raised the terror threat. Police are currently carrying arms after a mass shooting last summer, and there’s also been a rash of other shootings in Oslo this fall, along with a rise in gang violence. Police are also usually armed when on patrol at special events involving top politicians or visiting state leaders.
A new survey conducted by research firm Norstat for NRK showed that 44 percent of those questioned said they think armed police make society safety. Another 20 percent were unsure, while 26 percent said they did not think armed police provided more safety. When asked whether police should always carry arms, only 17 percent said “no.” Another 36 percent said yes, while 43 percent said yes “but only during periods of higher threats.” Five percent were unsure.
The leader of the justice committee for Parliament, MP Per-Willy Amundsen of the conservative Progress Party, welcomed the commission’s recommendation and noted how “changes over the past few years” have resulted in fewer opponents to permanent arming of police.
“I think this reflects the threat situation,” Amundsen told NRK, “and we’ve in practice had long periods when police have been armed.” He said the principle of police not carrying deadly weapons is “definitely over,” and he intends to propose an extension in the current arming period that’s set to end December 1.
Justice Minister Mehl said she will now study the evaluations made in the commission’s 241-page report “and get back to the question of arming” after the report has been out to hearing.