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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Demands rise for more police in Oslo

Shootings, stabbings, gang violence and drug seizures have become commonplace in Norway over the past few years, especially in the capital. The country’s left-center government hasn’t been willing to boost funding for more police in Oslo, but public outcry may force the rural-oriented Center Party to alter its priorities.

Norway’s capital needs a lot more police officers to help tackle a new and violent crime wave, but the state government has been reluctant to grant the funding needed. PHOTO: Politiets fellesforbund

Oslo experienced another major scare late Wednesday afternoon, not long after the annual May 1 parade had ended on the annual Labour Day holiday. A man in his 30s who’s originally from Syria suddenly attacked a group of young men at the busy National Theater subway station in the heart of downtown.

Witnesses told state broadcaster NRK that he brandished a knife, then a second one in his other hand, and lunged at the men before injuring one of them, threatening others and then running in the direction of the Royal Palace. Police said they received at least 20 calls for help within minutes, and the man was ultimately subdued by police on the palace grounds.

Police don’t think it was a terrorist attack, but frightening enough. The assailant has a police record and on Thursday was described as cooperative but unable to respond to questions. He was turned over to mental health authorities and remains charged with aggravated assault and for making serious threats.

His attack follows weeks of others, most recently last weekend when a young man was shot and seriously wounded while he sat inside a kebab restaurant in Oslo’s Grønland district. That followed a shooting in a hair salon in the Teisen district, the shooting of an 18-year-old at Holmlia and shots fired in a bar on Hausmanns Gate.

Newspaper Aftenposten has documented at least nine shootings in Oslo in recent months, in addition to stabbings, many of them related to gang rivalry. Police have also been called out to schools in the capital, after reports of threats made with guns, and they’ve documented cases connected to Swedish gangs trying to infiltrate or control the local drug scene. “Never before have Norwegian customs officials also seized more weapons and narcotics,” editorialized Aftenposten on Tuesday.

The newly elected leader of Oslo’s city government, Eirik Lae Solberg of the Conservatives, issued an urgent call last week for more funding of Norway’s state police in Oslo. He pointed the finger at the state government, which is responsible for the police in Norway, and demanded more funding for more police in Oslo, describing the current situation as both intolerable and dangerous.

Plans are underway to set up a new police station in the troubled Grønland area, with 38 cops on the beat, but they won’t be additional positions. Oslo Police Chief Ida Melbo Øystese needs to transfer them from other police stations around town, leaving them potentially short-staffed.

Norway’s small Center Party won political control of both the finance and justice ministries after the last national election, giving them lots of power over not only the state budget but also the national court system and police. Center has few voters in Oslo, with its constituency mostly made up of farmers and voters in outlying areas.

Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum hasn’t been willing to commit more funding for more police in Oslo, preferring to reopen police stations in outlying areas. PHOTO: Finansdepartementet/Kenneth Hætta

Center’s Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum has defended himself by claiming that an extra NOK 635 million (USD 58 million) will be allocated to the police in his revised state budget proposal later this month. “The problem,” wrote Aftenposten, “is that the money won’t go towards more police.” The government is instead earmarking the additional funds for “extraordinary pension costs, digital operations and maintaining existing staffing.” The government earlier has also made a priority of reopening small police stations in rural areas that can also issue new passports to local residents.

Aftenposten isn’t the only newspaper calling that “very poor prioritizing.” Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) notes how the leaders of the state police investigation unit Kripos, state prosecutors and the state Police Directorate have all warned Center’s Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl that not enough is being done to battle criminal networks and the security threat in the nation’s capital.

“Vedum needs to take off his headphones and face reality,” editorialized DN on Tuesday, even before the latest stabbing incident in Oslo. “Police in Oslo must get the resources they need to stop the shootings and contain dangerous criminal networks, and the resources must come now.” Newspaper Dagsavisen, which traditionally supports both Labour and Center, also editorialized this week that police need help “to regain control” in Oslo.” Noting how Norway and its capital has long enjoyed very low crime rates, Dagsavisen wrote that urgent support for the police is needed: “We can’t accept a situation in Norway in which people live in fear of violent crime.”

Labour’s spokesperson for justice police, Hadia Tajik, and Labour Minister Tonje Brenna had just claimed that Labour “wants to break the backs of the gangs plaguing residents of Oslo.” They’re calling for tougher punishment for weapon use, more police in the hardest-hit areas and seizure of the money, expensive watches, cars and jewelry that gang members often flash.

Now they just have to get their government partners in the Center Party to agree, wrote Dagsavisen: “The political left must show that it also has the willingness and the ability to be tough on the tough. It’s time to give back citizens’ feeling of safety.” Berglund



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