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Complaints against police increase, but rarely lead to prosecution

More than 1,000 complaints about police were filed this year but fewer than 50 cases go to court in any given year.

Poliisin virkamerkki.
Image: Jaakko Stenroos / AOP

The number of complaints against Finland’s police has been on the rise. Over the last ten years, between 750-900 police reports were consistently registered per year.

This year, more than 1,000 complaints were filed about police officials, according to Heikki Stenius, district prosecutor and chief of police crime investigation from the Office of the Prosecutor General.

However, he said only a fraction of those criminal offence reports lead to prosecution - and even fewer result in convictions.

According to Stenius, investigations are dropped as early as at the Office of the Prosecutor General in about 80 percent of cases, because there is no reason to suspect a crime based on preliminary inquiries.

If the possibility of a crime cannot be ruled out and the pre-trial threshold is met, cases proceed to the state prosecutor, then possibly to court..

The prosecutor noted that there are no accurate statistics on the number of prosecutions and convictions of police officials.

"We can’t exactly say how many of these cases end up in a court of law, but occasionally, cops are sentenced for assault, for instance. It can be roughly estimated that fewer than 50 cases are prosecuted in a year," Stenius said.

Cops accused of using excessive force

From the beginning of this year, the Office of the Prosecutor General has begun collecting statistics on the kinds of complaints being made against the police. The statistics will be published at the end of the year.

According to Stenius, citizens have filed additional complaints in instances when police have not launched preliminary investigations based on cases they'd reported.

Many of the complaints criticise the general behaviour of the police.

"There have also been a lot of complaints made about situations where police have used force while carrying out their official duties. In many cases, citizens feel the police did not have the right to use force or had used excessive force," Stenius said.

More citizens lodging complaints than before

Professor of criminal justice Matti Tolvanen from the University of Eastern Finland said that he believes the police crime rate has been at the same level for years even though the number of notifications is on the rise.

"The reason may be that people's threshold for reporting is lower now that members of the public have been involved in trials where the police have been accused and even convicted," Tolvanen said.

He said that even though charges are not often filed against police officers, citizens do not need to be concerned about the equality of the system.

"I believe all appropriate cases will be investigated, whether the suspect is a member of the police or not," Tolvanen said.

In his view, the system should be amended so that all complaints about police activities are first investigated administratively and only then would the most serious cases be referred for criminal investigation.

"There are a lot of instances where the citizen is just dissatisfied with the police, but there is no suspicion of actual wrongdoing," Tolvanen added.

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