Maria Ohisalo defends police reputation, and challenges political critics

Police say they want to review their operations to make sure they are "socially acceptable" after outcry following a weekend protest that saw Extinction Rebellion activists sprayed in the face at close range by pepper spray.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) talks to reporters outside House of the Estates in Helsinki, 5th October 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) has defended the international reputation of Finnish police officers, after a viral video from the weekend showed three of them dousing climate change protesters in the face with pepper spray.

In comments to journalists outside House of the Estates in Helsinki on Tuesday afternoon, Ohisalo also hit out at political critics who say police lack the resources do deal with climate change protests on top of their other work.

“Finland is one of the most safe countries, probably the safest country in the world. Finnish police are known for being the most trustworthy police in the world and also used as an example for other police work” she tells News Now Finland.

Ohisalo highlighted the education system and training for Finnish police recruits, which is more rigorous than in some other European countries, but wouldn’t be drawn directly on what she thought of the actions of the officers this weekend.

“It’s really important to get the report now, to see what happened, what are the reasonings behind the chosen methods here. And in the rule of law in a welfare state like this it’s really important that everybody can show their opinion and demonstrate, and we’re going to go through the police’s method and see what the report tells” she says.

File picture of police officer dosing protester with pepper spray in Helsinki, 3rd October 2020 / Credit: Extinction Rebellion

Political pressure over policing 

In the last two days Ohisalo and the government more generally have faced political criticism that with police tied up dealing with Extinction Rebellion activists, they were not able to respond to other tasks in the capital.

Ohisalo says that politicians complaining about police resources should be looking at their own political legacies on the subject.

“I have a straight clear message for each politician which takes now stances on this issue. Everybody who has ever stayed in the government has to know look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they were there to increase the resources for policemen and women.”

Ohisalo says the government has already increased resources for police this year, and it’s planned for next year as well, and she wants that investment to continue in the future as well.

File picture showing detail on police uniform / Credit: News Now Finland

New police comments about the protest 

On Monday afternoon Helsinki Police issued a new statement about the weekend incident, saying they had to deploy 24 patrol vehicles to the protest, and by early Saturday evening there was a queue of other alarm calls stacking up in the capital.

“The police repeatedly tried to remove people from Kaisaniemenkatu with advice, orders and exhortations. Eventually, in accordance with the normal management system, a decision was made to use the spray with the aim of dispersing the crowd and breaking the resistance so that they could be carried or diverted out of the driveway” says Deputy Police Chief Heikki Kopperoinen.

Helsinki Police will report within two days their own investigation into what happened at the protest, and submit it to the National Police Board.

“There is always room for improvement in our system and operations, and we also want to develop our operations so that they are socially acceptable and sustainable” says Kopperoinen.