The 1990sInternational and multifaceted police work

Glock 19, the standard police handgun during the period 1991–2010. Police firearms were standardised, and the traditional FN m1910 was replaced with the Glock. Development of training on field work and the use of force was put on a systematic footing in the 1990s. Image: Police Museum / Emilia Anundi.

The amount of foreigners in Finland was rising rapidly in the 1990s. Many refugees, mostly from Somalia and former Yugoslavia, sought asylum in the country. The processing of applications for residence permits and asylum was transferred to the local police in 1990. The police would also be responsible for ensuring that rejected applicants left the country.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of its borders increased the amount of crime in Finland. Russian and Estonian gangs were organising prostitution in the country, and the public wanted the police to intervene especially against street prostitution, which was offensive to many people. The Helsinki Code of Ordinances forbade public prostitution in the capital in 1999. This did not eradicate prostitution, however, as it simply moved underground. International prostitution began spreading to other parts of the country as well.

The economic recession of the early 1990s forced the police to save money. Therefore, resources had to be diverted from the investigation of so-called everyday crime such as petty theft and minor acts of violence. In 1996, the amount of police districts was reduced from 229 to 90. The new Police Act of 1995 included increased emphasis on pre-emptive policing. The National Crime Prevention Programme of 1999, in a similar vein, highlighted the importance of local security collaboration between various authorities.

Burglary, motor vehicle theft and drunk driving increased along with the growing social problems during the recession years. Police work became more “tolerant” in the sense that constables were no longer required to interrupt intoxicated members of the public unless they were committing crimes. Weekend disturbances caused by young people and street brawls between gangs were, however, treated less tolerantly. During a weekend before the beginning of the autumn term of 1990, young people started rioting and breaking shop windows in the city centre of Oulu, an incident known as the Crystal Night, and the police temporarily lost control of the situation.

Large-scale rioting during major events abroad led to the Finnish police secretly developing a Riot Police (MELPO). This somewhat provocative name was soon changed to the Crowd Control Police (JOUHA) since the latter name more accurately described what these units were actually doing in a Finnish context. JOUHA units prepared for crowd control situations that could arise during international conferences, sports competitions and protests against nuclear power and fur auctions. Serious disturbances occurred in front of the Iraqi embassy in 1991 and as unemployed workers protested outside of the Finnish Parliament in 1993. From 1996 onward, protests were organised outside of the Presidential Palace on Independence Day.

The media reported more than previously on crimes and the work of the police. The press employed specialised crime reporters, the favourite subject of whom was white-collar crime. The TV programme Poliisi-tv presented unsolved cases and asked eyewitnesses to step forward to help the police solve them.

The MS Estonia, a car and passenger ferry, sank on 28.9.1994 on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm. The Finnish rescue services and police were actively involved in the rescue attempts and the investigation afterwards, and these tasks were a great challenge for many of the professionals involved. Traditionally, policemen had been expected to (and had expected themselves to) cope individually with the stress involved. The only kind of “peer support” available had been the opportunity to share one’s experiences with a trusted workmate, and this had been a valuable resource for many policemen. More recently, however, traumatic experiences are dealt with in an organised manner. The Estonia disaster prompted the Turku Police Department, which had been involved, to develop a multi-step stress management process. Immediately after a demanding and difficult task, everyone involved will participate in a discussion session led by an officer trained for this task. Participation is strictly mandatory, and one is not allowed to go home before completing this session. The follow-up meetings are voluntary.

Finland joined the European Union in 1995. The membership brought new regulations to the country, and in order to adapt to the Schengen Agreement, the Finnish police began collaborating more with police authorities abroad.

The desks of constables were soon filled with computers and other new equipment.

Automatic traffic surveillance was becoming increasingly common.

Protest organised by the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners outside of the Finnish Parliament during an EU meeting in December, 1999.

Cadaver dog at work. The training of cadaver dogs was initiated in 1993, and by 1995, they had been trained for almost 80 different tasks. The most important task of the cadaver dogs was to find people who had drowned. The use of dogs in detective work was increasing during the 1990s. A dead person has a certain smell that dogs can detect even if the corpse is located underwater as the odorants tend to rise to the surface. Cadaver dogs are also given the same training as ordinary patrol dogs. Finnish police dogs have been used in international operations as well.

Crowd control officers walking on fire during training. To ensure public safety, JOUHA officers have to be prepared for many kinds of violent crowd behaviour. JOUHA officers receive special training for national crises, natural disasters and major accidents. Systematic development and training began in 1991. There are JOUHA units all over Finland, and during major events, teams from other parts of the country may assist the local police. JOUHA officers are trained on a basic and an advanced course, and they also practise with their own units locally. When not required for crowd control, JOUHA officers carry out regular police duties.

Patrol officers began wearing coveralls during the 1990s, but opinions on this new uniform design varied within the police force. Sme did not consider coveralls appropriate for civil servants. Others began wearing coveralls discreetly during night shifts. At their own expense, some constables bought belts for carrying weapons and other equipment, and those who carried the tools of their trade in this way were sometimes jokingly referred to as “Christmas trees”. The public was, however, generally in favour of the new coveralls, often praising the visibility of the equipment.

Light body armour has been a mandatory piece of protective gear since 1994, and a heavier version was added to the list in 1995. The coveralls became an official alternative to the traditional two-piece field uniform in 2002.

As Finland became a member of the EU, new regulations were adopted and collaboration between authorities developed.

Police chief checking on an honoured guest of the “hotel” at a police station. Image: Police Museum/Publicity images of the Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior/Liisa Suominen.

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