Thin blue line: government already failing on police staffing levels

Senior officers and police union officials say they need 650 new officers to meet law & order requirements.

File picture of Junior Constable Juho Mielonen, Helsinki 6th June 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

On the hottest day of the year so far, Junior Constable Juho Mielonen has just started his night shift in south Helsinki.

“You never know what’s going to happen. The usual calls are for drunk people, thefts, and some people like to go into grocery stores and steal something from there. And some fights. That’s what happens. But you never know” says Mielonen.

“It’s not a weekend night, it’s Thursday luckily, and of course the summer takes people out on terraces and they like to go out more, but the weekends are the busiest nights” he explains.

The 32-year old former pro-hockey player – he played in Finland’s SM-Liiga, and in France, after being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2005 – has two more months still to go on his practical policing internship, then back for some final classes at the Police University College in Tampere before becoming a fully-fledged officer at the end of his three-year studies.

Senior police officers and the Finnish Police Federation SPJL say the country needs 650 more new officers like Juho Mielonen, to bring the total up to 7850 nationwide and meet optimal policing requirements.

The government is proposing money for just 300.

File picture of Jonne Rinne, President of the Finnish Police Federation SPJL / Credit: SPJL

Police already planning for the future 

“This is not a difficult problem to fix. It doesn’t take billions, only millions” says Jonne Rinne, President of the SPJL.

“We wanted at least 650 new officers and now we have a bit more than half of that” he adds.

The devil here is in the details.

To try and future-proof the requirements of police forces around the country – and in anticipation of getting the bulk of the 650 new officers they needed – the Police University College has already increased its admittance rate, bringing on 400 new recruits every year.

Taking into account natural attrition rates, retirements and resignations, it means that in a few years, there will be more police officers graduated and ready to work than the government has allocated money to pay for.

“The difficulty is this, if we have 7800 officers by the end of 2023, but we have money only for 7500 officers, then we have 300 unemployed police officers who are already trained” the Police Federation’s Jonne Rinne tells News Now Finland.

“I totally agreed that we should not train officers if we can’t hire them. What’s the use for our citizens to have unemployed police officers? That’s not the right way to do it” he adds.

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

What would extra police provide? 

Having hundreds of extra police on the streets, say senior officers, would allow police departments to tackle the sort of jobs that aren’t getting thoroughly done at the moment.

They could be more proactive, rather than just being reactive.

“Nowadays we have in big cities some kind of reasonable resources to go to alarm tasks, or when 112 gets called. But we need more resources in big cities to prevent crimes and meet people, and to get more trust and so on” explains Superintendent Jussi Huhtela from East Uusimaa Police, who has spoken out on social media on the urgent need for more officers.

One of the important areas where police work is slipping, he says, is community policing.

“We also need time to be with people in suburban areas, to get to know people and to get to know communities, but nowadays we need more time to do that. We have in our police districts groups that are making preventive police work, but if we want to be effective we need also every single police patrol to do that preventive work also” Huhtela tells News Now Finland.

In addition to this extra community policing, Finland’s new five-party coalition government says the police must do more to tackle internet crime, money laundering, terrorism and human trafficking while also having faster response times in rural areas.

The money and manpower – even with the extra officers promised – simply don’t match the amount of work being asked of police forces around the country in the government’s programme.

File picture of Junior Constable Juho Mielonen, Helsinki, 6th June 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Attracting the right candidates 

Another piece of the puzzle facing Finland’s police forces is how to attract enough of the right candidates to the Police University College.

Officials say it’s not just a matter of quantity but quality of candidates to ultimately reach the staffing levels they need.

“We don’t have good enough candidates, and this is something our union is really worried about” says SPJL President Jonne Rinne.

The money is definitely a factor. A newly-graduated officer can expect to make not much more than €2200 each month after tax. Add in shift allowances for weekend and night work, and this goes up to around €2600 for detectives, and €2800 for officers in the field.

“They have three years training and it takes the same time as an engineer or business and economics bachelor degree, and it means in future we need to enhance our capability by increasing the salaries” for young officers, says Rinne.

Back in Helsinki, Junior Constable Juho Mielonen and his partner have just received the first alarm call of their shift.

“You don’t join the police to be rich, that’s for sure. But it pays the bills and provides for your kids” he says before jumping in his patrol van.

“I’m not a guy who sits in the office from 8-5, but I wasn’t the little kid who says I want to be a policeman when I grow up, I wanted to be a hockey player. But after, this just felt like a good idea and I haven’t regretted it one day”.