Police in Finland shoot their firearms in the line of duty about ten times each year

Finnish Police use force in about 1,000 responses each year, and about 80 of these incidents involve police use of a gun. It is very rare for officers in Finland to shoot a firearm in the line of duty.

A Finnish police officer directs traffic in Lempäälä on Saturday. Image: Kalle Parkkinen / Lehtikuva

Statistics from the Finnish Police reveal that officers shoot their firearms in the line of duty very rarely. Police killed a man after a high-speed chase and shoot-out in Lempäälä on Saturday, bringing the infrequency of such firearm use by the Finnish authorities into the limelight once again.

Saturday's death brought the number of people killed by a police bullet in Finland since 2000 up to seven.

Henri Rikander, Chief Inspector at Finland's Police University College, has studied firearm use in Finland's police force. He says Finnish law enforcement tends to use guns less than its Nordic neighbours, and firearm use among the Nordic countries' police is much lower than in the rest of Europe, for example.

Good training and strict instructions

Rikander says Finland's police use their firearms so rarely because they have been given very good training and strict instructions as when this kind of extreme use of force is necessary.

Laws on police work in Finland states that a firearm can only be used if an immediate danger to human life or health presents itself, the perpetrator must be stopped, and a less extreme measure is not possible.

"A police decision to unholster a firearm is based on the background information available and an appraisal of the situation as it appears," Rikander says. "If we take the stabbings in Turku as an example, the unit on duty received a radio dispatch that someone was attacking people with a knife. A situation like this directly communicates to the police that they must be prepared to use their firearms".

Rikander says that individual officers in Finland are given a good deal of autonomy in their decisions to use force in the line of duty. If it is possible, the senior officer on duty should decide on whether the use of firearms is necessary.

"Very often the situations develop very rapidly, despite the best preparations. If possible, the chain of events should follow traditional procedure: first, the officers must issue a command, then a warning about the use of a firearm, and finally, the use of the firearm, if necessary. On some occasions, the firearm must be fired directly," he says.

Finnish Police respond to over one million calls each year

Police respond to over a million calls each year in Finland. In 2016, investigations were carried out into 1,047 responses in which the police had used force. Of these, 79 involved police use of a firearm.

In 2017, the number of police firearm-use investigations rose to 84 for the year. During this year, four people were injured by a police bullet, but no one was killed.

Firearm use by police in Finland is defined for statistical purposes as police warnings about using a firearm, police threatening firearm use, and police shooting a firearm. Police officers drawing a firearm or making preparations for an armed encounter are not included in this definition.