Special Intervention Unit Karhu is a police special intervention unit for both regular and emergency conditions

Publication date 1.8.2022 13.28
News item
Karhu-ryhmän poliiseja ajoneuvon vieressä valmiudessa.
Karhu’s basic task is to support all police units.

The national Special Intervention Unit Karhu is a special intervention unit with the basic task of supporting all police units everywhere in Finland.

Established in 1972, the national Special Intervention Unit Karhu became 50 years old in May. Current threats to internal and external security have always affected its operation. Over the past few years, the threat of terrorism and the increasingly harsh and international organised crime have been emphasised. 

At the moment, the change in Finland’s operating environment following Russia’s attack on Ukraine is reflected in preparations and training.  

“The Special Intervention Unit can be used for operations lead by the police, the Defence Forces or the Border Guard under regular and emergency conditions. We continuously practice cooperation with the Defence Forces and the Border Guard”, says chief inspector Juha Hietala, who leads the unit. 

The Finnish Defence Forces and the Finnish Border Guard are the most important partners of the Karhu unit. If necessary, the unit is transported with helicopters of the Defence Forces or the Border Guard. 

There is also close international cooperation in training and practicing with the tactical units of various European police forces. European cooperation focuses largely on the threat of terrorism, but cooperation related to other crisis situations is not excluded. The Karhu unit is also prepared to respond to an international request for executive assistance.

Karhu’s basic task is to support all police units

The strength of the Finnish police lies in the well-trained police patrols, which handle the majority of the more than a million annual emergency assignments of the police. In addition, all police departments except the Helsinki Police Department have their own VATI teams for demanding situations. These teams are different from the Karhu unit in terms of their size and their more restricted capabilities. 

The national Special Intervention Unit Karhu is located at the Helsinki Police Department. Its basic task is to offer support to police units everywhere in Finland. There is often need for Karhu’s competence and experience. 

“We always operate under the leadership of the police unit in charge of the situation and carry out the task assigned to us. Our most typical task is the apprehension of a potentially dangerous person suspected of a serious crime”, Hietala continues.

In the most widely known case in the past few years, as part of a criminal investigation led by the National Bureau of Investigation, the Karhu unit apprehended in Tampere in 2019 the persons responsible for shooting at the police in Porvoo. 

The personnel’s exceptional motivation is Karhu’s most important capability

The Special Intervention Unit Karhu is an interesting workplace to which only the best candidates are selected from a large number of applicants. A typical person selected to the unit is an about 30-year-old man engaging in sport who has worked a few years as a police officer. 

“Our personnel is extremely motivated and committed. Despite the fact that the work is very physical, the mental characteristics of the people working in the unit are the key to successful performance of the tasks. Recruitment is one of our strengths, and it conforms to the application process of other European special units”, Hietala says. 

New employees are sought for the Karhu unit from within the police every few years. Based on the applications, suitable persons are selected for interviews and physical and psychological tests that include several stages. 

The current application process particularly measures the ability to withstand pressure and to work in a group. The recruitments are implemented in close cooperation with the psychologists of the Police University College, who participate in observing the applicants throughout the process. 

More information: Preparing for terrorism has improved the capabilities of the Helsinki Police 

Helsinki Helsinki Police Department Law enforcement and response News Police operations and development