The 1950sGentlemen police and the general strike of 1956

Police uniform coat m1951. This new design was introduced just before the Helsinki Olympics of 1952 in order to make the police look more modern. In contrast to the earlier military-style uniform coats, the new one had an open collar. Image: Police Museum / Emilia Anundi.

The political situation in the country had calmed down, but the amount of crime was still rising. A policy of harsh sentences increased the amount of imprisoned offenders. The National Bureau of Investigation was established in 1955 to facilitate the investigation of crimes. The police also tried to prevent property crime by educating the public about them.

The Helsinki Olympics of 1952 were a major event for Finland, and the Helsinki Police Department in particular had to be well prepared in order to uphold public order. To aid the police of Helsinki, 900 officers from other parts of the country were sent to the capital for the Olympics. Education on proper conduct, behaviour, serving and guiding visitors, police tactics and directing traffic was organised for the local police and the officers from other parts of the country alike. Those not familiar with the capital were given an additional introduction to the city. The police also learned more Swedish and English in order to communicate with the visitors.

Traffic was increasing and required the police to increase traffic surveillance. The National Traffic Police began its pre-emptive work on the roads in 1956. So-called goodwill activities included guiding, directing and advising road users and helping those who were in trouble. Roof signs indicating that a car was a police car were among the first of their kind in Europe. Some drivers were frightened by the signs, and it is said that some even drove into ditches when suddenly seeing one.

The general strike of 1956 put the ability of the police to uphold public order to the test. When pitted against the protesting workers, many constables faced a dilemma as they were members of the Police Union, which was a member of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, the same organisation the rioters were part of. According to instructions from the Ministry of the Interior, the police were to uphold public order, make sure that traffic that was not part of the strike could go on as usual, and prevent strikers from disturbing those who went to work. Apart from these tasks, the police were to simply monitor the situation. In the cities, strikers took to the streets in large numbers and committed offences such as violently stopping bus and taxi drivers from driving their vehicles. In what was called a “petrol war”, strikers blocked access to service stations so as to prevent the sale of fuel. Employers considered even minor disturbances among employees to constitute rioting. The police force was caught between the parties of the conflict and was not given clear instructions for intervention. Due to this ambiguity, the police response to the riots varied across the country.

The Helsinki Summer Olympics of 1952. The police managed to uphold order without major incidents. The Olympics provided the Helsinki Police Department with valuable experience of security arrangements during major international events.

Portable police radio. The first portable police radios were introduced during the Helsinki Olympics. The police prepared for this event by acquiring equipment for short-distance and long-distance radio communication. For the purposes of monitoring stands at the various venues and handling road traffic, thirty Handie-talkie BC 611-C radios were distributed to police units around the city. These radios had been bought from the US Army Surplus Store by the Finnish Mail and Telecommunications Authority, which, in turn, had sold them to the police.

General strike of 1956. When the police intervened against rioters, the situation turned into a conflict between policemen and strikers. After the strike, the Police Union left the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions.

The general strike of 1956. During the fiercest days of rioting, mounted policemen arrived at the scene. The horses were frightened as rioters began to throw firewood and ice at them. It is told that during a demonstration in Tampere, the rioters calmed down when they realised that a police horse had been killed amidst the turmoil.

Young people in Kaisaniemenpuisto in Helsinki, 1954. The police were concerned about disturbances caused by young people. During the 1950s, young people had more money and free time than in earlier decades, and traditional ways of spending time and money did not attract them. Instead, they were excited about the latest fads of youth culture: motorcycles and rock ’n’ roll.

A gentleman at your service! The role of the police as a public servant was changing. The police constable was to be a friendly and approachable gentleman, willing to provide citizens with advice.

The Helsinki Police Band was formed in 1947. Music was considered a good way to reduce tension between citizens and the police. The band soon became famous among Finns as Georg Malmstén, who was a highly regarded professional of entertainment music at the time, was hired as its conductor. It is told that Malmstén, during a sauna evening, agreed with the members of the band that they would address each other in an informal manner. However, this not only made their relationship more relaxed, but enabled him to scold them during practice.

Speed monitoring in the 1950s. Before the era of speed radars, a stopwatch was used to calculate how fast a vehicle was moving. A distance was measured on the road, the stopwatch was used to measure the time, and a calculation table was referred to in order to determine whether the car had been speeding.

Motorcycles of the National Traffic Police. The first BMW solo motorcycles were introduced in 1958. Citizens jokingly referred to the motorcycle policemen as “ice cream vendors” as the white bags hanging on the side of the motorcycles reminded them of carbon dioxide ice bags used by ice cream vendors.

Good will car with equipment. As it was noticed that clearly visible police signs reduced speeding and other traffic offences, their use on police cars became more common.

Traffic policemen were commonly seen in cities during rush hours. These policemen would stand on elevated platforms and direct the traffic using arm signals. A traffic policeman had to have a good sense of rhythm and be able to quickly grasp each traffic situation.

Traffic policemen were popular among citizens. Sometimes people would stop for a while to watch the policeman skilfully spinning around and moving his arms rhythmically. Citizens also brought Christmas gifts to the platforms to thank the policemen they had come to know and love.

As traffic lights became common in the 1970s, traffic-directing policemen disappeared from the streets.

From the 1950s onward, hunting and fishing was monitored by wilderness officers of the National Traffic Police. These policemen inspected hunting and fishing permits, ensured that hunters and fishers adhered to regulations concerning weapons and ammunition, and intervened if hunting dogs were not used properly. Wilderness officers worked individually, skiing in winter and travelling on foot or by boat in summer.

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