The 1970sProfessional specialisation and the police strike of 1976

he Finnish police earlier used cars of various brands, but by the late 1970s the Saab 99 had become the standard patrol car. Image: Police Museum / Emilia Anundi.

As the sale of medium-strength beer was deregulated, street disturbances and shoplifting increased. A zero-tolerance operation in Helsinki, called "Order-74", also became known as the “riffraff race” since removing intoxicated persons from the streets turned out to be a major task. The late 1970s saw a decrease in violent crime, but during this period, the use of potent illicit drugs such as heroin and amphetamine increased.

So called “community policing” was introduced in the late 1970s with some 150 police officers working with these tasks in 40 districts. Community policing built on the tradition of local precinct offices. The results were promising regarding the prevention of disturbances and other forms of crime, and community policing was consequently implemented nationwide.

Activism among citizens was also changing. In the spring of 1979, some landowners in Koijärvi wanted to drain a certain shallow lake. However, since this lake was inhabited by many birds, environmentalists wanted to have it protected. As the verdict of the Water Court was delayed, the landowners decided to act without it, beginning to make the surrounding trenches deeper to divert water from the lake. The environmentalists decided to take action as well, building a dam without having gained permission. As the landowners tried to use bulldozers to destroy the dam, the environmentalists, for the first time in Finnish history, engaged in passive resistance against the police by chaining themselves to the tractors and refusing to move. The police had to first find ways to separate them from the machines and then carry them away. Under such relatively peaceful circumstances, the police strove to perform all required tasks using only a minimum of coercion.

Terrorist bombings and plane hijackings were growing increasingly common in Cold War Europe. Finland wished to host the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which would be attended by leaders from the Eastern and Western Blocs. In order for Finland to qualify for hosting the conference, security at the Helsinki venues had to be sufficient. In the spring of 1972, the Ministry of the Interior established a special security unit under the Helsinki Traffic Police. The new unit was led by Superintendent Johan Rinne and divided into three chief inspector-led teams consisting of fifteen officers each. The work was held secret, and unit members were not allowed to talk about it even with their colleagues.

At the beginning of the 1970s, more than 1100 people died in road accidents each year. In his New Year’s Speech of 1973, President Urho Kekkonen demanded a reversal of this disturbing trend. Road traffic laws were tightened with mandatory use of headlights during the winter, a general speed limit of 80 km/h, seat belts on the front seats, a per mille limit for drunk driving, and mandatory use of winter tyres. As traffic surveillance was tightened, many serious accidents could be prevented. Collaboration between the police and other authorities and organisations was developed. During major holidays, the police collaborated with vehicle inspection officers, road service officials, rescue service professionals and non-governmental organisations such as Talja (currently the Finnish Road Safety Council). Information campaigns made the public aware of traffic surveillance.

During the 1970s, computer-based central registers were introduced at the National Bureau of Investigation. These databases included a motor vehicle register, a wanted persons register, a fingerprint register and a property register. Police districts had local registers of their own. It was thought that older policemen, who had begun their careers much earlier and with little formal education, could not keep up with the growing amount of traffic, increasing drunk driving and the emerging problem of drug-related crime. Local police associations therefore organised in-service training for their members. Over time, the older policemen retired and were replaced by new recruits who had more formal police education. In 1973, the Police Course Centre was established as a subsidiary of the Police Academy. The Course Centre accepted female applicants without requiring dispensation. The Course Centre was moved to Tampere in 1974, and soon all courses for constables were held there. The cadet course took five months to complete, the constable course eight months.

The patrol police went on strike in February, 1976. This was the first police strike in Finnish history, and it was motivated by demands for higher salary as police salaries were considered to be far too low. Detectives and commanding officers did not participate in the strike. After two weeks of striking, the patrol officers returned to work without having gained what they had asked for.

The Police Counter-Terrorist Unit, Karhu. Corresponding elite units of other countries are often named after strong animals such as tigers and cobras. When Rinne and his men were on a bus heading out for a break during the first stage of the CSCE in 1973, Rinne was thinking about a suitable name for his unit. On the way, one of the officers quoted the novel The Unknown Soldier, where a soldier called Hietanen recites the poem Viapori from The Tales of Ensign Stål: ”Boys, prepare to die for your home, faith and fatherland. The Finnish bear [karhu] moved, lifted its paw and struck.” Thus the unit was named Karhu.

Protests against a visit by the Shah of Iran in the summer of 1970 led to many arrests. Fighting between protesters and the police erupted when the police wanted to remove the protesters from a spot that had previously been promised to them. Incensed at the great force used by the police, the protesters contacted the legal ombudsman. The Police Commander of Helsinki retired shortly after the incident.

Policeman on the roof of the student union building Dipoli at the University of Technology in Espoo, where talks were held in 1972–1973 in preparation for the CSCE (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe). The latter, held in Helsinki in the summer of 1975, was a unique international event with many world leaders present, including 35 heads of state. The security arrangements were, understandably, the most elaborate in Finnish history.

The first car skid training session for police officers in 1977. Increasing traffic forced police officers to hone their driving skills so as to stay in control over their vehicles under all kinds of circumstances.

The amount of traffic and the number of traffic-related deaths were rising fast during the 1960s. During 1972, the darkest year, as many as 1156 people died on the roads.

Traffic lights appeared in intersections, gradually replacing traffic-directing constables.

Inspection of truck traffic. The police began paying particular attention to timber loading and the transportation of hazardous materials. The police also inspected smaller transports to ensure that the loads were properly fastened.

1970s police fashion. The constables in the picture are wearing the popular leather uniform coats introduced in 1968.

Disturbances caused by intoxicated persons have traditionally been among the most common reasons for the police to be called to a scene. The deregulation of the sale of medium-strength beer increased the frequency of public intoxication.

Constable guarding the jail.

In-service police training in 1977. In the picture, officers are learning how to open locks, doors and windows.

Dispatchers at their desks. During the 1970s, the police adopted new technology and national registers.

Shooting practice at Santahamina Garrison in 1977. The police faced new threats of violence in their work. Particularly criminals involved with narcotics were often armed. To deal with these dangers, the police were given additional training in using their handguns and were also introduced to submachine guns and shotguns.

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