The 1930sLawlessness and violence

In 1935, M. E. Koskimies, Director of the Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior, decided that there should be a common emblem for the entire police force. Such an emblem was to be suitable for the uniforms of urban officers and rural officers alike. It was to be carried by both detective and patrol police.

The Ministry of the Interior organised a competition that yielded almost thirty different suggestions for what the police emblem should look like. None of the suggestions was approved by the jury, and instead, the task was given to the artist Antti Salmenlinna (1897–1968).

The police emblem was made official by the President on 2.10.1936. The straight sword represents authority, highlighting the traditional view that the ruler carried the sword to punish the wrongdoer and protect virtuous citizens. The head of a lion on the sword is derived from the Coat of Arms of Finland, highlighting that the state is the one bearing the sword of authority. This symbol was to remind the policeman of the loyalty the state expected from him.

The official version of the sword lion emblem was first depicted on the cover of the November 1936 issue of the police journal Suomen poliisilehti. Police badges were given a uniform design and began to be used by junior and senior constables of the patrol police. The sword lion emblem appeared on the shoulder straps of the uniform coat in 1941 and on police cars and other police vehicles starting from the early 1950s.

The modern term for the police emblem, the “sword lion”, has been used only in recent decades. Originally, it was known as the “sword of authority”.

Image: Police Museum / Museokuva Matti Huuhka.

The Great Depression led to poverty, social problems, vagrancy and unemployment, contributing to increasing crime and causing more work for the police. In 1931, the Finnish Parliament decided to hold a plebiscite on Prohibition. More than 70 percent of those who voted did so in favour of repealing Prohibition, and consequently, the state set up liquor stores in the cities. These government-controlled stores began serving customers at 10 am on April 5th, 1932.

Right-wing activists intensified their activities in the early 1930s. Members of the so-called Lapua Movement began kidnapping those they considered to be their political opponents and taking them to the Soviet border as a statement on where the activists considered their opponents to belong. A local policeman could be put in a difficult position and be unable to continue working in his community if he tried to prevent or investigate some of the crimes committed since those committing them were supported by locally influential people. Some policemen even agreed with the activists and therefore had no interest in protecting the victims.

In response to the “Lapua menace”, the government decided to form a national police “fist” with special training and military-style equipment. The new unit, called the Mobile Police Detachment, secretly began training officers in the autumn of 1930. The basic course, which was organised in Helsinki, took three months to complete. The Mobile Police Detachment originally consisted of 50 men, and its first mission was to bring former President K. J. and his wife back to Helsinki after they had, on 14.10.1930, been abducted and taken to Joensuu by right-wing activists. The Mobile Police Detachment was kept busy by many kinds of tasks, and after the Mäntsälä Rebellion of the Lapua Movement in the spring of 1932, the unit had more than 300 officers.

The Investigating Central Police kept registers not only of communists, but of influential members of the Finnish culture scene. Artists kept under surveillance in the mid-1930s included author F. E. Sillanpää, who would go on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1939. Erkki Vala, a member of the literary group known as the Flame Bearers, was charged with blasphemy, and in court, the Investigating Central Police presented evidence that led to a prison sentence for Vala. The Investigating Central Police also had a list of Agrarian League politicians it considered politically dangerous. As this list leaked to the public, Parliament demanded an inquiry into the activities of the Investigating Central Police. The inquiry revealed that members of the unit had beaten arrestees and participated in crimes committed by the Lapua Movement. The Investigating Central Police was disbanded in December, 1937, and replaced with a new unit called the State Police, VALPO.

The Winter War broke out on 30.11.1939. Policemen were exempt from military service, and those who wished to join the fight against the Soviet invasion had to resign from their posts. Those who stayed were busy due to air raids and evacuations, and their tasks also included making sure that civilians kept their lights turned off when such measures were needed in order to hide buildings from Soviet planes. The police also investigated property damage caused by bombs and determined the cause of death of those who had died in the raids.

Constable was stabbed to death in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, in 1931. Many policemen were killed in the line of duty during the early decades if independence. During Prohibition (1919–1932), 42 policemen were killed, typically while attempting to arrest smugglers and bootleggers, who often were armed with guns and knives. Bringing guns and knives to soirees was prohibited only in the 1940s.

As cars became increasingly common, traffic officers began appearing in the streets to direct the traffic.

Police parade in June, 1932. In the spring of 1933, the strength of the Mobile Police Detachment was expanded to 303 men. A large course of 250 students was organised to reach this number, and the parade in the picture was held at the end of the course.

Constable training was organised in several locations: the State Police School in the Fortress of Suomenlinna, regionally by provincial authorities, and by the Mobile Police Detachment. Subjects included law, general police theory, infantry drills, police tactics (e.g. how to control peaceful and riotous crowds, respectively) and the use of gas weapons. The education also included strength-building exercises in gymnastics, swimming and self-defence as well as carrying technique and first aid.

Police parade in Vyborg, 1936. Policemen were expected to act in a military manner. Minister of the Interior Yrjö Puhakka and Viipuri Province Governor Arvo Manner inspecting the policemen.

Class of female police students in 1939. The course was organised by the Female Police Commission of the Women’s Union of Finland in collaboration with the Helsinki Police Department. Female police officers were first hired in the early 20th century. They mainly worked in vice squads, focusing on prostitutes, alcoholics, homeless people and homosexuals.

Arrested vagrant. At times, “loitering in the street” was considered a harbinger of criminal behaviour. People who were repeatedly caught spending time in this questionable manner could be taken to the police station and prosecuted for vagrancy. Policemen who patrolled on foot had to walk those arrested all the way to the police station.

The Mounted Police of Helsinki gathered on the courtyard of the Sofiankatu Police Station. Horses were of great help in crowd control and when pursuing criminals.

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