The police profession can’t be easy, but as I percieve it it all the same is an important profession to make the society at least a little better. Nevertheless there are certain attitude problems within the police force: notions of racism, sexism, categoric statements that no doubt do exist, and ways of dealing certain cases that might have been handled differently. Recently the Scanian police has been in focus because of the registration of Romanies, both criminals and non-criminals, even small children. It has been highlighted in media and there’s a pending investigation about that which SIN, Säkerhets- och Integritetsnämnden/The Security and Integrity Board will perform. I have written different texts on this weblog earlier about the police, both positive and critical, also recently about the Romany registration. My idea is to pinpoint things that are problematic or might be problematic in order to ponder on more positive ways forward in the meetings between groups in society, in this case police officers and the civil society. To do that we must be openminded and see both strengths, limitations, problems from different angles to hopefully make some improvements for the common good, on both sides in different conflicts. In this particular text I intend to put most focus on aspects seen from police angle. This last Monday I contacted the Malmoe Police station and during the week booked a meeting with Lars Förstell, Chief of Information at the Scanian Police. Earlier today I went to the brand new premises Rättscentrum a few yards from the “new” police station Gasklockan from the early 1990’s. The other old police station still in use is situated at Davids Hall.
At a quarter to ten today I walked in through the doors of Rättscentrum/Judicial Centre for an interview with Lars Förstell. Shortly after ten he came down to the lobby to fetch me. We walked through a couple of doors and walked into a room where we could talk undisturbed. Lars Förstell told me that he has been working for the Police the last 22 years. Rättscentrum/The Judicial Centre though is new from this year. The first thing we discussed was naturally the registration of the Romanies. In today’s issue of the freesheet City an article says that the number has increased to 5029 people, but according to Förstell the number is 4029. I could see in his face that he was very apprehensive and agitated at first. He said that the registration wasn’t based on ethnicity, and that some had backed down on the illegality formulation the last 24 hours. Mats Åhlund, Chief Prosecutor and Head of the National Unity for Police Cases will though perform a legal investigation and survey of all police registrations like these nationwide. The Malmoe Police and Lars Förstell as Chief of Information for the entire Scanian section has had meetings with Romany delegations, with journalists, phone calls from worried citizens, demonstrations etc. I wanted to hear his version without interrupting.
There will be an internal investigation of the case, the situation freeze and handed over to a Prosecutor who take decisions about interrogations. That is nothing strange at all, because that is how the system normally works. The different sections of the police will be put under secrecy acts and not allowed to interfer with the Prosecutor’s work. According to Förstell the individual policeman will not touch the case, since they have different tasks and must not be suspected to interfer or tamper with cases. The Romany registration is an issue which will be remembered and dealt with both from outside the police and within the force in different ways. Since my own aim is to create bridges in the society, I prefer a non-confrontative approach to solve problems and listen in different voices and groups to find a golden middle road when I work.
After a while we left the Romany registration. I wanted this time to hear about what in the police profession that we ought to put more focus on so that both the police force might improve and the society in general. I asked Lars Förstell what many police officers say that they are most proud of? According to him many police officers are glad and proud when they feel that they have done something good, a case is solved. Maybe if an old lady has been lost, a child or someone else and then is found by the police. That feeling of contentment and pleasure is deep in most police officers. Or if there has been a football match where the expectancy of trouble and violence is high and the outcome is not violent or disturbing at all or only slightly – that is also a situation policemen love. Most police officers join the force with the calling to protect, aid and make things right. On my question about complexity in the work Lars vividly explained that dealing with organized crime is very complex since the criminals follow other rules than the laws which the police must follow. Other complex situations in the police profession might e.g. be dealing with domestic violence. The relations between the grown-up people involved are disturbed, tears, anger, and the children exposed and vulnerable. Cases of domestic violence often end up in long investigations which are torment for the family or couple, and emotionally hard for the police officers. The many murders here in Malmoe a couple of years ago when people were shooting each other and sometimes were killed took lots of financial resources, but not all economic means can be put just on murders, but must be scattered finely on various cases. That is also part of the complexity.
How might the police force improve? Lars Förstell smiles a little and says that right now they have 21 police regions in Sweden, but on January 1st 2015 there will be just one. During 2014 patterns for how to master it will be made. Each province now has its own county police commissioner, but that will be changed into seven regional police commissioners. When I asked him how they might improve their crime preventive work he talked about the local police, especially those walking or patrolling on vehicle in certain suburbs or in the city, or where ever in Sweden they are working. They also need better co-operation with the social authorities. It’s the social authorities’ responsibility to handle a bunch of 12 year olds who run riot in the nights, not the police, Förstell says. Improvements could also concern such things as lights on house walls, cutting copses to make a clearer view on a certain spot, littering etc. Förstell tells me how many people believe that if the neighbour is playing music a bit too loud they should call the police, while they instead ought to call the property manager or the like. Really disturbing cases might involve police, but in most cases not. There are situations that do not require police involvement, while others do. Förstell makes a pause, while I take the minutes.
Frustrating situations for police officers might be that during a blown up and twisted media hunt facts are twisted or wrong, blown into absurd proportions to make good headlines, while the actual reality is very different from the newspaper stories or the gossip, he explains with a frown. No one is interested in public documents which might nuance the picture, or documents which explain the police directions and mandates. In situations when the police pay heed to the secrecy policies they are bound to the journalists and others interpret that as reluctance and mystery mongering. Another common frustration among police officers is the feeling of not being effective enough or not have enough power or capacity to solve more situations. From a police point of view it’s also disturbing and frustrating to hear complaints from people that they don’t solve more crimes, while many times in severe cases where the police are sure people knows who the culprit(s) are they keep silent. Either of group loyalty, fear of punishment from others close to them, by gangsters or similar, but the blame for unsolved crimes are always put on the police, who would welcome more help. Trust and guts are needed to solve crimes. Internet scams are common nowadays, electronic probation is developed further and the legislation for arms must be improved. The penalties for using guns now are ridiculous, Förstell explains.
The entire interview took ca 40 minutes, and I had got his answers, which were approximately what I had expected. I left the police building with different thoughts in my head. My feeling is that we as citizens must be better at aiding the police in different ways: how we handle everyday conflicts, how we treat each other, what we encourage in ourselves and others, maybe sometimes show civil courage to prevent crimes. However I also believe that the police could do more to evolve their approaches sometimes in how they speak about certain people, avoid unnecessary violence etc. I know from my own life experience though that in conflict situations we tend to forget the fine ideas and occassionally get angry, use foul language or something, police or not. I nevertheless have some ideas of how, maybe, the police might improve in valuations and efficiency in the preventive work, but that will take some efforts.
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Anders Moberg, October 4th 2013