Discussion on criminal phenomena – a balancing act with words and expressions

Sanna Heikinheimo Publiceringsdatum 18.9.2023 14.36 Blogg

Last week, the Orpo Cabinet published the Government statement to Parliament on promoting equality, gender equality and non-discrimination in Finnish society. The statement underlines that historically, Finland’s strength has been that we have always been able to talk with one another about difficult subjects and to find common ground. Words change the world, and especially when the words are spoken by the Finnish Police (Finns' trust in the police has remained strong, in Finnish only), they will impact our conception of society, security and safety. It is therefore important to think ahead what we say, pondering on the kind of message our actions send. 

As concerns the operation of the Police, this is a constant balancing act. When the Police speaks about crime or various actor groups, be it the young perpetrators of serious crimes or street gang members of immigrant background, the phenomenon is real and worrisome from the Police point of view and calls for intervention. The information about criminality is available in the background of policing and can be consulted by all interested parties.

The Police does not want its observations about criminality to be used to label groups of people but it is neither honest to be silent about the facts – nor is it sustainable from the administrative transparency perspective. Decision-making needs the support of information but it is equally necessary to speak about facts and issues to the general public to maintain their trust; people need to trust that the Police is paying attention to the societal developments and intervening with crime.

When a crime is committed, the perpetrator’s background is not significant; the pretrial investigation process is exactly the same. This summer, the Police had to intervene with the spreading in the web of videos which were evidence of cases that had already passed to the prosecutor for the consideration of charges. This is not a question of hushing up the background of the perpetrators – it is about the crime victims’ right to privacy and avoiding that humiliating material on them would be distributed in the web. 

Since the Police as the pretrial investigation authority is the final actor, our aim is to give a wakeup call to the society at large to take action already long before the social vulnerability manifests itself as crime. We know that marginalisation is one of the significant factors affecting the increase of crime, and therefore it is the Police’s wish that when we highlight certain issues, we as society understand what can follow in cases where someone loses track and falls.

One element in the discussion on racism was to ask whether an act needs to qualify as crime to be defined a racist act. Investigation of crime is included in the powers of the Police. One of the issues to be clarified in pretrial investigation is to find the motive of the act in question. If it is possible to show that there was a racist motivation for the action, the public prosecutor can request a more severe punishment than normal – since the year 2004, the racist motive can be seen, as a premise, aggravating circumstances for any type of crime. Surely enough, expressing racist ideas can, as such, fulfil the essential elements of an offence,  for example in cases of defamation or ethnic agitation. 

The Police has also participated in discussions, partly as comments to acts and events elsewhere in the world – such as the black lives matter movement – while there have also been needs to assess the Police’s own actions.  At least in the Police, this discussion has encouraged us to remember the core significance of the trust and confidence in the Police operations. 

The Finnish Police still enjoys a world record level of trust, 91 percent among the population. As of the year 1999, the regularly performed Police barometer has allowed us to look at the Finnish people’s views on our policing work. According to the latest edition of the barometer, the trust in the Police has remained generally strong. The main reasons for this trust were, according to the respondents, their experience of a matter-of-fact mode of operation, justice and rightness. Maintaining the trust calls for securing everyone, irrespective of their gender, age, ethic or national origin, citizenship, language, religion or beliefs, opinions, disability, health or sexual orientation.

We as an organisation are all committed to maintain this trust.

Sanna Heikinheimo
Deputy National Police Commissioner
National Police Board
X: @S_Heikinheimo

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