The 1920sOfficials of a young state

The rubber truncheon was used from the 1920s until the 1980s. It was first produced by the Nokia Rubber Factory and later by Para. Image: Police Museum / Reetta Tervakangas.

Most policemen were recruited from the winning side of the Finnish Civil War. Since the government wanted the police force to be loyal, applicants considered to be particularly reliable were selected, in most cases based on whether they had been members of the Security Corps. The Left and the less affluent part of the population considered the police to be biased toward the Right and often did not trust them.

Regardless of the political circumstances, police officers had to carry out their work: crime-fighting, traffic surveillance, upholding public order, issuing licenses and keeping an eye on vagrants and prostitutes. In these situations, police officers appeared strict and laconic, and this influenced how ordinary citizens saw them. According to police regulations, constables were to avoid talking excessively with citizens as this could give rise to misunderstandings.

During the 1920s, there were many activists on both ends of the political spectrum. The Left included moderate social democrats and radical communists. The Communist Party of Finland, which operated out of Soviet Russia, had close contacts with communists in Finland. The government banned all communist activity in 1923, and all leaders of communist organisations along with all communist members of parliament were arrested.

Activists on the Right thought that the government was not doing enough to curb the spread of socialism. In 1922, Minister of the Interior Heikki Ritavuori introduced a plan to reorganise the police, including the state police. Right-wing activists considered this an attempt to disband the Investigating Central Police, which was run by them. Activist Ernst Tandefelt assassinated Ritavuori on 14.2.1922. The Investigating Central Police did not participate in the investigation even though the murder of a minister would naturally be a task of the state police. Ritavuori’s programme was abandoned after his death.

Prohibition was adopted in 1919, and enforcing this law was an onerous duty for the police. Intended to strengthen moral values and root up crime and vice, the ban on alcohol had the opposite effect; Bootlegging flourished, and the amount of crime multiplied. Many did not consider violations of Prohibition to be serious crimes, and this discrepancy between law and public opinion undermined citizens’ respect for the law. The police did not have the resources required to enforce Prohibition, and like ordinary citizens, many policemen did not consider Prohibition just and consequently turned a blind eye to violations against it.

Police cadets, early 1920s.

Being sturdy and physically fit was a clear advantage for policemen.

Students of the State Police School in the Fortress of Suomenlinna were trained in hand-to-hand combat. The use of force was considered an inevitable part of police work. The Finnish Constitution of 1919 gave the President power to authorise the use of force by the police. The Police Decree of 1925 authorised the police to use the amount of force necessary, but the restrictions were not clearly defined.

Courtyard of the Turku Police Department, 1920s. Cars were becoming increasingly common, and policemen became more mobile with this development.

Interrogation, typing and working room of the investigation bureau of the Helsinki Police Department, about 1920. Investigations were sometimes difficult due to slow communication and lack of training. The Police Bulletin published information on wanted suspects, larceny and new regulations. Provincial detectives were appointed to assist local police units with demanding cases.

The Crime Investigation Centre was established in Helsinki in 1926. The centre housed criminal records from the entire country, a fingerprint bureau, a forensic laboratory and a supply of crime investigation equipment to be distributed to local detectives nationwide. The centre also communicated with colleagues abroad. Image: A. Rosenberg.

The State Police School offered courses on suspect recognition systems, photography and drawing crime scenes. The first 15-week detective courses were organised in 1923. Officials from the Crime Investigation Centre travelled around the country teaching local police units proper crime investigation procedures.

Photography studio of the Helsinki Police Department, 1920s.

Photography became increasingly common as part of investigations. During the 1920s, however, the photography materials needed were expensive, and the camera was thus brought along only in case of aggravated crimes or serious accidents.

Seized contraband during Prohibition. A temperance detective of Häme Province and the police of Hollola seized these goods from a gang of bootleggers. Due to alcohol being illegal, those smuggling it into the country and selling it could become wealthy and buy expensive cars. The cars that had been used in this illegal activity became the property of the police and could be used as police cars, resources that policemen had for a long time hoped to obtain.

Early police cars. In the early 20th century, the police departments of larger cities obtained cars and motorcycles with sidecars. The Helsinki Police Department obtained its first police car in 1904. The amount of police cars grew slowly until the Second World War.

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