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Helsinki police chief: Civilian street patrols unnecessary

Chief of the Helsinki Police Lasse Aapio is adamant that the responsibility for overseeing community safety lies with law enforcement officials and security firms exclusively, not street patrols. Former President Tarja Halonen is also worried about escalating tension that can result from vigilante groups.

Marko Mäki Odinin sotureiden katupartiosta.
Image: Minna Aula / Yle

Helsinki police chief Lasse Aapio rejected the need for civilian street patrols in Finland in a morning Yle television appearance on Saturday. 

“There is no need for them anywhere, at least not in Helsinki. The current system is sufficient and it works as it should,” he said.

Aapio said that, at worst, ad-hoc neighbourhood watch groups add more police work. This was the case in October 2014 in Helsinki, he says.

“There was a spate of robberies by a group of teens in Helsinki, and several street patrols sprang up as a result. We ended up spending a lot of our time following those patrols around, but the effort ended up being short-lived,” says Aapio.

Kolehmainen's controversial support

Aapio’s comments come after Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen went on record January 5 welcoming the establishment of street patrols in many parts of the country. His remarks set off a lively debate, with some officials like Justice Minister Jari Lindström supporting his statements, and others, like Aapio, Interior Minister Petteri Orpo and Supo communications manager Jyri Rantala, condemning it.

Given the racist and far-right background of some of the groups now operating in towns nationwide, formed in response to what they see as an increased security threat posed by growing numbers of asylum seekers, Kolehmainen added that the street patrols should not be racially motivated.

Aapio says racist patrol groups are easy to identify, as they often dress the same and maintain a group page on social media. He says a group like the ‘Soldiers of Odin’ band currently patrolling the streets of the eastern city of Joensuu would be closely followed by the police if it existed in Helsinki. He refused to comment on the possible racial motivations of the group.

“If an outfit like that started making the rounds in Helsinki, the police would be right walking right behind them.”

Halonen agrees with Aapio

Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen also appeared on TV Saturday morning, and said she agreed with police chief Aapio that security is best left to trained authorities.

“In all seriousness, I would say to these people that if they are concerned about societal safety issues, the best thing they could do is support the operations of their sanctioned officials,” Halonen said.

Halonen says the street patrols could also lead to escalation of vigilante justice in Finland. She encourages people to focus on helping asylum seekers to integrate in lieu of patrolling.

“This way they would not be provoking any resistance or impeding security organisations, which can be expected if more street patrols are established. Groups like this that take matters into their own hands are very difficult to control.”

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