The 1980sOccupational safety and revised principles of field work

Handheld Sonab HR 4016P radio, in use 1982–2004. Many people outside of the force have been interested in the content of police radio traffic. The first encrypted radio networks were introduced in the 1980s. The networks were developed in collaboration with technology businesses, and this strengthened Finland’s position as a pioneer of telecommunications equipment. Image: Police Museum / Reetta Tervakangas.

Public disturbances were often discussed during the 1980s as people were concerned about the increase in intoxication among young people, a trend that added to the social burden of adult drinking. During the decade, community policing was successfully used to prevent disturbances and crime, and the concept was adopted in all parts of the country. The police collaborated with social workers, schools and local residents to build safer communities. The Vagrancy Act was repealed in 1986, putting an end to many of the tasks of the traditional vice squads. The amount of environmental crime, narcotics crime and white-collar crime was growing. During the economic boom of the 1980s, many businessmen committed series of frauds.

Policemen had traditionally considered violence against them to be part of the job, but over time, this violence was more frequently thought of as a crime not only against individual officers, but against society and the rule of law. Public interest in the professional ethics of the police was growing, and the harsh tactics of the older generation of policemen were disappearing from everyday police work.

Compared to the police of many other countries, the Finnish police had traditionally been allowed to use coercive measures rather freely when investigating crimes. This freedom was reduced through the Criminal Investigation Act and the Coercive Measures Act enacted in 1989. Arrestees could only be held for three days, and decisions on longer confinement were transferred to the courts. The suspect had to be treated as if not guilty during the investigation, and a minimum of inconvenience was to be caused. The new laws lowered the threshold for investigating reported crimes.

A bank robbery in the suburb of Jakomäki in Helsinki led to a hostage drama that ended with a notorious explosion in the middle of Mikkeli on 9.8.1986. The robber’s female hostages managed to escape from the car, and the Karhu unit on the scene was ordered to kill the robber to rescue the remaining male hostage. As the police opened fire, the robber detonated a bomb he was carrying, blowing up the car and killing himself along with his final hostage. Six policemen were wounded, two of them critically. The dramatic events sparked a public debate on who in the chain of command was responsible for what and on how the field work of the police should be reorganised to cope with this kind of situations. Problems with communication during the events were discussed, and there was a debate on the responsibilities pertaining to the use of force by the police. Systematic development of the use of force and the principles of field work was initiated, and legislation on the use of force was updated.

Constables of the Helsinki Police Department during briefing at the Pieni Roobertinkatu police station. The expression "Let's be careful out there" often used by policemen was borrowed from the popular TV series Hill Street Blues.

Sergeant at the dispatcher’s desk. A new 160 MHz-frequency short-istance radio network was adopted in 1982–1984. This network, called Povi, covered the entire country except for Lapland and Helsinki. A similar network, Lavi, was adopted in Lapland in 1985.

The communication equipment used was constantly replaced, and not all of it worked perfectly. Some walkie-talkies had batteries that were so loosely attached that they sometimes fell off in the middle of an assignment. The following story illustrates this problem: ”The police scattered in the woods while looking for a gang of thieves. One of the policemen found the gang, but when he was going to call his colleagues, he noticed that the battery had fallen off his radio. As the arrestees noticed that his radio was not working, the situation was turning dangerous for the lone policeman. His colleagues, however, realised that something was wrong when he did not respond to their calls. Reinforcements were called to the scene, the area was surrounded on several sides, and the gang of thieves was arrested. Thus silence had been a signal in itself.”

Information technology facilitated communication during the 80s. Sharing information with the public was also becoming increasingly important. Local radio stations began broadcasting and requested real-time information from the police, and the press similarly asked for quick and up-to-date information. The media was no longer content with answers like “I cannot give you a comment at this point”. The police departments hired their first press officers during the 1980s.

Detective at his desk. The landline phone and the manual typewriter were in daily use.

Forensic investigator collecting fingerprints from a crime scene.

Police teaching children about the law. Visiting schools was an important part of community policing.

The previously distant and scary police was becoming a genuine part of the community. Constables met the public at various events, making themselves and their work known to citizens. The popularity of the police was increased by the TV series Reinikainen. The series followed the adventures of patrol policeman Artturi Sakari Reinikainen, a man who could solve difficult problems with common sense, situational intelligence and humour. The series had 2.4 million viewers around the country, and it is safe to conclude that Reinikainen has been the all-time best public relations officer of the Finnish police.

Reinikainen also served as an inspiration for Reini Kaninen, a rabbit plush toy used on many occasions as part of the preventive work of the police.

Community policeman in the Tampere suburb of Hervanta in 1987. Community policing was about preventing crime in collaboration with local authorities, residents and other partners.

Speed monitoring with radar guns. General speed limits for urban areas (50 km/h) and rural areas (80 km/h) were introduced in 1987.

The amount of uniformed policewomen in the field was increasing. In 1987, 2.2 percent of the Finnish police force was female.

Boat police. Boat traffic surveillance is included in the work of the police. The tasks of the boat police include providing advice and assistance, speed monitoring, arresting intoxicated boaters, searching for missing people, pulling up drowned persons form the water, investigating burglaries (cottages in particular) and responding to house calls.

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