The 1960sTraffic education and the rise of drug-related crime

Puppets were utilised by youth police in their traffic education for children. Casper, the Traffic Troll, Winnie the Pooh and the traffic constable Vinkka-Ville were handmade by Irene Batujew in 1955.Image: Police Museum / Emilia Anundi.

The Finnish car market was deregulated in 1962, resulting in more traffic and more road accidents. At the beginning of the 1960s, about 600 people died in such accidents each year, but by the end of the decade, the annual death toll had risen to about a thousand.

Finns were growing increasingly concerned about traffic safety. There was a lack of speed limits, and the public wanted the police to prevent reckless driving. At the beginning of the 60s, however, only half of the 256 police districts had police cars of their own. Donations from the public enabled the National Traffic Police to purchase cars and traffic monitoring equipment. In 1967, radio and TV personality Niilo Tarvajärvi led a money-raising campaign by which the public donated 58 so-called Tarva cars to the National Traffic Police.

Increased safety was a key goal of the preventive work of the police. Schoolchildren were taught about traffic rules using so-called traffic towns, educational posters and puppet theatre. Public service announcements on radio, television and fairs were used to reach out to the public with information that could increase safety on the roads.

Illicit drugs had until the 1960s mainly been used by wounded veterans and a small group of well-to-do members of the elite, but now the habit was being picked up by young people, resulting in a market for drugs. Finland did not yet have modern laws against drugs, but as the United Nations adopted the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, the Finnish authorities had to turn stricter. As the first major cases of drug trafficking were discovered in the mid-1960s, the Finnish police still had very little experience of investigating drug-related crime. The use of illicit drugs was outlawed, and the new drug legislation of 1966 made Finnish drug policy one of the strictest in Europe. The law was not only concerned with illicit drugs, but the abuse of prescription drugs as well. A narcotics squad was formed at the National Bureau of Investigation in 1968 and another one at the Helsinki Police Department the following year. The drug squad in Helsinki included the country’s first narcotics dog. Education on the investigation of drug-related crimes was offered to the local police across the country.

The sale of medium-strength beer in grocery stores was legalised in 1969, and public intoxication was decriminalised. The illegal production and sale of alcohol decreased over time.

The amount of youth-led protests was increasing, and the police had to learn how to handle this new kind of radicalism. In the summer of 1962, the Soviet-sponsored World Federation of Democratic Youth held its World Festival of Youths and Students in Helsinki. In response, the USA and the UK sponsored a festival of their own, and clashes ensued. The police put down the riots with batons, horses and teargas. During the protests against the Vietnam War in 1966 and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, rioters engaged in both active and passive resistance against the police. The kind of street anarchism and violence prevalent in other countries did not, however, occur in Finland.

Rioting during the 1962 World Festival of Youths and Students. More than 80 rioters were arrested, 22 of whom were sentenced to prison.

Police escort. A number of high-level international meetings were held in Finland, and the police had to be able to guarantee the safety of the visitors.

The public demanded that the police take action against the growing problem of drug abuse. The police began training dogs to aid drug squads in their work. These dogs were also given the same training as normal patrol dogs. The dogs find the drugs based on their smell and can even sense if an object has previously been in contact with drugs. The dogs are also used to search for drugs outdoors, in buildings and in vehicles.

In the summer of 1961, the National Traffic Police received two Porsche 1600 Supers as a gift from the Wihuri Concern.

A Police Day event. The National Police Day was first organised in 1962 as part of the preventive work of the police. Local events are held annually all over the country to this day. Police officers present their work and equipment to the public and meet many citizens of their cities and districts.

The hamster sticker campaign of the 1960s. In 1965, journalist Niilo Tarvajärvi was involved in a serious accident caused by an intoxicated driver. This experience inspired Tarvajärvi to lead a fundraising campaign by which the public could donate cars to the police for the purpose of traffic surveillance. For each Finnish mark donated, citizens would receive a hamster sticker.

Donated cars are handed to the police on Senaatintori in Helsinki on 14.5.1967. The cars were funded through a fundraising campaign led by Niilo Tarvajärvi. Carrying out police duties using these cars could, however, lead to awkward situations as some of those who were fined for traffic violations declared that they regretted donating money to the campaign.

The red emergency light on top of police cars were replaced with blue ones in 1967. As it was noticed that clearly visible police signs reduced speeding and other traffic violations, their use on police cars became more common.

Traffic education van. The police toured many parts of the country teaching children about traffic safety. The van contained bicycles, road signs and other items required to set up an interactive traffic education session. The classes were organised in collaboration with Talja (now named the Finnish Road Safety Council).

Traffic town in Helsinki. This setting allowed children to safely practise moving around an urban landscape on bicycles. The police would sometimes step in to direct the bicycle traffic.

Puppet theatre in a school. Otto Kosonen, Deputy Police Chief of Helsinki, and Chief Inspector Niilo Mikkola wrote puppet theatre plays based on plays from other countries. These plays were written to suit a Finnish context and were performed in schools and for preschool-aged children.

The policemen killed at Pihtipudas. On 7.3.1969, a 33-year-old worker threatened his family, and as his wife and son were running away, he fired shots after them. Concerned neighbours called the sheriff of Pihtipudas at 11:30 am. Constables Veikko Riihimäki, Onni Saastamoinen, Pentti Turpeinen and Mauno Poikkimäki were sent to the scene. When they were 50 metres from the house, the man, standing in the window, started shooting at them with his Sako 7x33 hunting rifle. Two of the policemen fell down on the path and a third beside it, and the fourth one ran for cover behind a spruce. The man continued shooting, but soon went out of the building. He shot one of the policemen on the ground and the one who was trying to get away. After having killed all four policemen, the man left his rifle beside the one he had killed first. The number of cartridges found indicates that about ten shots were fired during the massacre.

Based on these events, Mikko Niskanen wrote and directed the film "Kahdeksan surmanluotia" (“Eight Deadly Shots”). The film was broadcast as a four-part TV series in the spring of 1972. The film was a critical success, and Niskanen received two Jussi Film Awards (best director and best male actor) of 1972. The film was a work of social criticism, presenting the killer as an exhausted and panicked victim of circumstances beyond his control. The policemen who had been killed had, according to this narrative, suffered instead of those who wielded power in society.

The investigation of the actual case did not, however, support the view that the killer had been panicked or distressed, and it can be noted that Niskanen’s film omitted the cruellest details of the incident. The killer was eventually pardoned by President Mauno Koivisto in 1982. Later, in 1996, the man killed his former wife, and the decision to pardon him became the subject of a heated debate. Many believed that Niskanen’s work of fiction had created a false impression of the killer as a victim and that the decision to pardon him had been influenced by this view.

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