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The police are constantly improving their skills to interact with vulnerable victims

Minna Ketola Published Date 19.8.2021 12.10 Blog

The current year has seen public debate on cases where the focus has been on the attitude, approach and skills of the police in investigating human trafficking and related crimes. The matter is also ongoing in a report on police operations by the Deputy Chancellor of Justice. The case in the news at the weekend dates back to 2015.

Firstly, it must be said that police training and operations have taken significant strides forward over the past six years. Having said that, however, the world is far from a perfect place also in this respect and there is still room for improvement in our operations. 

The police have improved their skills in dealing with human trafficking offences. The police have established a nationwide network and at the beginning of the year, a nationwide unit investigating human trafficking offences started operations at Helsinki Police Department.

In addition, there is the year-long MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference project, funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, is taking place at the National Police Board. The project aims to develop police skills in identifying, intervening in and preventing violence against women and intimate partner violence, also taking into account reoffending. In addition, the police are participating in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health’s Barnahus project to develop a criminal procedure for crimes against children taking into account the family’s and child’s clinical pathways.

Last year, the National Police Board issued new instructions on police operations in cases of violence against women and intimate partner violence and on intervention in human trafficking and similar offences as well as on assisting victims of human trafficking.

Mandatory training deepens awareness of the phenomenon and intervention

Training related to human trafficking offences has been arranged together with the Assistance scheme for victims of human trafficking, and online training has been developed for all police officers.

The need for training on dealing with violence against women and intimate partner violence has been recognised and raised also by overseers of legality and this will be addressed later this year, and training will continue next year. The training package is mandatory for all police employees whose duties are in any way related to violence against women and intimate partner violence. The training package deals with the responsibilities of the police, recognition of different forms of violence, the means available to the police to intervene in violence as well as interprofessional collaboration and risk assessment to ensure effective intervention. The specific goal is to influence attitudes.

As well as the above training package, the Police University College is also preparing other related training courses on, for example, honour-based violence and human trafficking. Themes related to intimate partner violence, honour-based violence and human trafficking have been included in police degree studies for a number of years now.

The police have a duty to be interact appropriately and objectively

The police have a duty to interact with the criminal parties appropriately and to tell them about their rights. In addition, the police have a duty to take an objective approach when establishing the facts, both for and against, relating to the suspect.

This is why, for example, the police have to ask victims of an offence things that may seem unpleasant. It is in situations like these that the professionalism of the police is highlighted in how questions are asked and how the issues encountered are investigated.

Whereas the criminal procedure is known to its actors, the situation for offence victims is both new and strange. This is why everyone dealing with criminal matters should remember the unique nature of the situation from the viewpoint of the victim of an offence. This has been particularly addressed in police education.

The role of the police is very wide, the need for training is constant and the identification and solving of offences against particularly vulnerable people calls for special expertise.

Each police officer must have the basic knowledge and skills to identify various offences of violence and to intervene in them. As raised in the article in Helsingin Sanomat on 15 August, identifying psychological violence and control is problematic and we in the police need to better understand these issues. 

The National Police Board has recently studied a criminal investigation model used in some countries where, irrespective of the type of crime, the criminal matters of the most vulnerable victims are investigated in a police unit around which all the relevant expertise has been centred.

This approach makes it possible to be effective not just in interacting with, identifying and establishing the criminal parties but also in interprofessional collaboration and in guiding victims and perpetrators to support services when people’s specific needs are identified and when cooperation with various actors is continuous.

Work on this is still in progress and one step forward would be ESTAPOV (public official with the right of detention trained to conduct investigations into offences subject to special protection measures) training for police head investigators which is being prepared by the Police University College and intended to improve the expertise of head investigators on the special features of the investigation and interprofessional prevention of crimes including those against children, sexual offences, intimate partner violence, honour-based violence and human trafficking offences.

Offences are decreasing but the challenges of solving them are increasing

The police carry out their work within the resources and funding allocated by society. With current resources of just under 7,450 police officers and supported by other specialist personnel, the police investigate more than 800,000 offences, issue 1.2 million permits and respond to more than 1.1 million emergency tasks with Europe’s smallest resources.

Even though crime numbers have been falling in recent decades, the nature of crimes has become increasingly more sophisticated and international, and dealing with this calls for increasingly more resources, means and expertise. For example, almost all types of crimes involve the use of data networks and international connections are commonplace. 

The police have to prioritise what they do every moment of every day. Despite the urgency and pressure of work, there are three things we can’t compromise on: compliance with the law, human rights and meaningful interaction. Trust in the police in Finland is exceptionally high and we work to earn this every day.

Minna Ketola
Assistant Police Commissioner 
National Police Board

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