50-point recommendation placed to reform police patrol

10 Dec 2019, 03:23

  DF Report

DF File Photo.

Changes in the operating environment combined with cuts in the number of police officers have forced the police to prioritise certain kinds of patrol and response operations and to give more attention to occupational safety and performance.

This threatens the police’s ability to provide a uniform standard of service across the country, according to the report of a review of the police’s patrol and response system.

The final report was published on Monday in Helsinki, said an official press release.

The report contains 50 recommendations for the police to overcome its present dilemma. The recommendations relate to, for example, public trust in the police, the grading of emergency calls by level of urgency, responding to incidents in sparsely populated areas and maintaining and improving the police’s operative performance.

“The aim of the review was to establish how the current patrol and response system is performing and how it could be improved in order to make our operations more efficient and maximise our productivity, performance and impact in the short term, taking into account, among other things, the changes that are expected to take place in our operating environment”, said Oulu Police Department Deputy Chief Arto Karnaranta, who coordinated the review.

Karnaranta’s team studied the current status of the police’s patrol and response system in light of statistical analyses and by interviewing experts. A total of approximately 300 individuals from police departments across the country, a few emergency response centres (ERICA), the Police Department of the Finnish Ministry of the Interior, the National Police Board, the Police University College, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service and the Finnish Police Federation were interviewed.

Police units respond to approximately one million emergency calls and incidents reported by patrols every year. The figure has remained largely unchanged for several years. Approximately 700,000 of these operations are based on emergency calls made by citizens.

Calls that require an urgent response (Category A incidents) number approximately 70,000 per year. This figure has also held relatively steady in recent years, albeit that there has been a spike in the number of incidents graded as Category A since the adoption of the new ERC information system ERIKA. The way in which incidents are graded has changed significantly in the last 10 years.

According to Karnaranta, the objective of the review was to evaluate – transparently and on the basis of tangible examples taken from statistics and a wide range of reports – the impact that cuts to police resources on the one hand and changes in the operating environment on the other have had on police procedures and priorities.

“Commanding officers in the field constantly face difficult choices as to which calls to respond to and which ones to prioritise and decisions such as whether an incident requires a unit to respond at the scene or whether it can be dealt with over the telephone or followed up in person later”, Karnaranta explains.

Police performance in large towns and cities is at least moderately good at the moment. Approximately 97 per cent of all incidents that require a police response take place in areas where 95 per cent of the population live.

“Patrolling and responding to disturbances in remote locations has always been challenging. However, the situation has only worsened over time. Approximately three per cent of emergency calls come from rural areas, which are home to approximately five per cent of the population. It can take a long time for the police to arrive, and some calls are not responded to at all,” said Karnaranta.

According to Karnaranta, one of the biggest challenges in a sparsely populated country like Finland is ensuring that all citizens have equal access to the police regardless of where they live.

“More and more police stations are likely to close in the coming years simply because of the difficulties of recruiting human resources in areas where the population is dwindling. The government needs to decide what kind of a police service it wants to provide to citizens and how much it is prepared to pay for, and also what people in towns and cities on the one hand and people in the countryside on the other can expect of the police in terms of the standard and speed of service,” said Karnaranta.

Karnaranta sees these choices as value judgements that require not only decisions and policies on a government level but also financial investment.

“The gold standard is for all citizens to have equal access to police assistance in an emergency. Every single person across the country must be able to trust that they can get tangible help from the police should they need it. The current resources are simply not enough to provide such service on equal terms,” Karnaranta said.

For Karnaranta, the way in which police performance is to be measured in the future, the standard of police service that the government is prepared to provide and the cost that society is willing to pay for it are crucial decisions.

“The higher the standard that the police are expected to meet the more society must be prepared to pay for it,” he said.

The most important recommendations are maintaining a high level of public trust in the police by, for example, responding quickly to calls that require an urgent response, ensuring the availability of police services by increasing the number of officers to a level similar to the Nordic average, introducing new ways to measure operative performance in terms of the speed of service by setting national and regional target response times based on the available resources, promoting gender equality across the patrol and response system by, for example, assigning an equal number of male and female officers to a variety of field duties, increasing cooperation between the police and private security firms regionally and across the country by laying down common rules in a nationwide partnership agreement, experimenting with new ways to recruit human resources in sparsely populated areas or restructuring the network of police stations.