Is two million police officers a lot or not enough?

Mia Poutanen Published Date 17.12.2021 16.32 Blog

Greetings from Peijing, the home city of 22 million Chinese people. Two months of full and dedicated work as the Nordic Police and customs Liaison Officer are now behind me. The working days have flown away, with the most varied tasks to be completed. Gradually, the I have got an idea of this operating environment. 

CCTV cameras are everywhere. Above the lanes on roads, there is a camera at about 100 meters distance from each other, and they flash as you approach a crossing so that your eyes are dazzled. Pedestrians, shopping centres, apartment house entrances, street corners, practically every single thing is under camera surveillance. I don’t think there is one single corner of Peijing that would not be under the keen eye of the CCTV cameras. Everybody knows about the surveillance and use of technology. Perhaps this is the reason why street criminality – robberies, assaults and traditional crimes against property, such as cycle thefts – are rare.  Indeed, security on the streets (this is the term we use in Finland) is at an elevated level. It is safe to move outdoors, even on the smallest alleys, whatever the time of the day or night.

What is particularly striking – for a Police officer – is the presence of the Police, their vehicles and, in fact, various professional groups in outside areas. Surveillance is very visible here. There are Police cars parked in street corners, or separate movable booths with Police signs. It seems that almost every quarter or at least every neighbourhood has its own small Police station. However, I think I have not heard, not even once, Police cars on emergency tasks. You do not see Police officers in riot gear, either, as you would in the streetscapes of many other metropolises.   

However, the most frequent general safety person you would see is one with “Baoan” written on their uniforms. They are not Police officers but they are many. Perhaps several millions. They are also more visible on the streets than the Police. The corresponding figure in Finland would be a security guard or a reserve police (if we had them in Finland), with no particular powers or authority. They work as gatekeepers, direct the traffic, guard public events, safeguard school and shopping centre areas and help the Police, for example.

According to various sources, there are about 2 million Police officers in China. Two million Police officers!  And on top of that, the enormous number of Baoan actors. 

I am not yet able to estimate whether 2 million Police officers is enough for a country this size or is it too little. In Finland, we are about 7 000. Coming from the tiny Finland, perceiving the dimensions of this country is quite challenging. China has the world’s largest population. The number of inhabitants in China is 1.4 billion. So, 250 times that of Finland. One in six people on this globe live in China and speak Chinese. The surface area of China is almost that of Europe, and the country is third in size. In practice, this means that at the same time as Peijing is freezing in a snow blizzard or suffering in a dry biting frost, people in the South of China may be sunbathing on beaches that compare to Hawaii. 

Electric cars and three-wheel cabin motorbikes and scooters 

The bike is an enjoyable way of commuting, and that is what the thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Peijing inhabitants do. Cars, scooters and diverse types of 3-wheel cabin bikes are increasingly popular, compared to a couple of decades ago when private cars and car ownership was something for the very few. Today, there are over 240 million cars in China. Almost half of the world’s electric cars run on the streets of Chinese metropolises. The electric car can be bought free of tax, and you need not queue for years to get the number plate, unlike the plates for combustion engine cars.
Electric cars in China? Yes, they do have them. Peijing is supposed to be the city where you can see nothing ahead for the smog and pollution. Well, in fact, you can see here, too. Throughout the summer and autumn, air quality in Peijing has been excellent, and the skies have been clear and blue day in day out. Now that the autumn is here and the heating season starts, I fear that there will be days in which you only see grey air from your window.

It is striking what a technologically advanced country China is. One’s imagination is not enough to grasp the number of different apps and AI things available. I am eager to see whether I will come across a flying car while I am posted here. The prototypes are also there (see image).

Prototype of a flying car.

However, when you are out in the traffic with your car or cycle, you must be careful – despite the CCTV camera and Police surveillance. It would be very helpful to have an extra set of eyes in the back since the food couriers on electric scooters move silently on the cycling lanes. They are always in a hurry and they are many. 

Although technology is widely used, and the Chinese cars are of top quality, not everybody drives a Tesla. The income gaps are wide. At one point, you are startled by a pink Ferrari, diamond-glad Bentley or a bright yellow Lamborghini passing by, and then your eye catches various trailers loaded and bound in most varied manners (see photo). 

Goods are transported, loaded and tied in a very different way in China than in Finland.

What am I doing in China? 

The purpose of the Police liaison operations is to support the Finnish Police’s international operations and crime prevention on the national level. Liaison officers are posted in places or areas which are most important from the Finnish internal security point of view. Today, there are about a dozen of us, posted in various parts of the world. 

The locations of the postings are decided by the National Police Board in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior. In the selection process, the National Bureau of Investigation KRP plays a significant role because the Liaison Officers operate under the direction of KRP.

The primary task of the Police Liaison Officer is to produce information that is important and relevant for the situation awareness and prevention of Finland’s national criminality. In my case, the information produced relates to my posting state, China, and to the country’s general crime situation, individual crimes, crime categories, crime entities, perpetrators and best practises. Moreover, the Police Liaison Officers promote and contribute to the capacity of their posting country’s authorities to fight and prevent criminality targeted to and from Finland, with the purpose of getting the perpetrators prosecuted in the country of origin. 

One way of learning about best practices and getting information on criminal phenomena is to participate in seminars. This is a cyber safety seminar in mid-September.

Photo: One way of learning about best practices and getting information on criminal phenomena is to participate in seminars. This is a cyber safety seminar in mid-September.

Although China is, as a premise, a safe country to live in, it does absolutely not mean that there would be no crime here. Based on the experience gained during the past few months, it seems that the majority of the cross-border crime between Finland and China is related to frauds committed through information networks. I am presently working on and supporting pretrial investigations on investment frauds and email postings. The issues we Liaison Officers look into in our respective countries are thus related to both Finland and the country where the Liaison Officer is posted or which are included in their area of competence. 

In the local crime news, online frauds have also been highlighted. China has invested a lot in their prevention during the past few years. Narcotics smuggling and human trafficking crimes are also in the focus of active prevention measures, and corruption and gang crime issues are no strangers here, either. 

By the way, did you know that use of cash, especially in Chinese metropolises, is virtually non-existent? The era of cash cards is long ago history, and payments are made by the phone app WeChat or AliPay. From the Police perspective, this means that all fraudulent (or honest, for that matter) transactions are traceable, in practice.

Mia Poutanen

For the coming two years, the author works as the Nordic Police and Customs Liaison Officer in the Embassy of Finland in Peijing, China. In Finland, her latest positions were Assistant Police Commissioner at the National Police Board, responsible for heading the control and alarm operations, as well as Chief Superintendent covering expert tasks related to immigration issues. 

Earlier, she has been a Police officer at the National Bureau of Investigation and Police University College. Moreover, she has worked at the Police department of the Ministry of the Interior, the National Board of Customers, in international tasks in the UN peacekeeping forces and the Schengen evaluation tasks of the European Commission. 

Mia Poutanen National Police Board Offences and criminal investigation The National Bureau of Investigation en