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Finnish police solving fewer violent crime cases

Yle analysis of cases considered closed by the Finnish police reveals fewer solved crimes and major regional differences.

Overall, the number of criminal offenses in Finland continues to fall. Image: Marja Väänänen / Yle

Clearance rates for violent crimes in Finland are down by an average of nine percent throughout the country, according to analysis from the Finnish public broadcaster Yle.

Defined as the number of crimes that police have cleared in relation to the total number of crimes reported, clearance rates for property crimes in Finland are similarly down by two percent. Significant regional variance in the number of police-cleared criminal complaints was also observed.

Analysis from the public broadcaster Yle compared the number of violent crimes and property crimes reported to the police with how many of the crimes were cleared over the four-year period of 2014-2018. This number was then compared with the same figures from 2009-2013.

Clearance rates don't necessarily give an accurate picture of police work. Finnish police mark crime reports "cleared", or for their part closed, when they decide on an appropriate fine or forward the case on to a prosecutor. The prosecutor may later decide to drop the case, so the fact that a crime report was cleared by police does not necessarily lead to charges.

Cases that have been settled are also not included in clearance rate statistics, even though they have also been resolved. Cases rejected due to the age of the suspect or the fact that the suspect is also awaiting punishment for other crimes also fall into this category.

Eastern Uusimaa has lowest clearance rate

The lowest clearance rates in the country were discovered at the Eastern Uusimaa Police Department, which handles law enforcement duties in the eastern part of the capital city region. Eastern Uusimaa police cleared only about 58 percent of violent crimes reports (things like homicides and assaults) and 25 percent of property crimes (things like burglary and arson) in 2014-2018.

These percentages were both down from corresponding numbers five years prior. Data from 2009-2013 indicate that nearly 78 percent of violent crime cases were cleared not too long ago in the area. This means that thousands more reports of violent crime were not investigated.

Yle calculated that the average police clearance rate for the entire country works out to about 68 percent for violent crimes and 37 percent for property crimes.

Police in Finland say the situation is not as dire as the statistics suggest. They say the general decline can be explained by a shortage of personnel, but a new policy has been launched to allow them to better concentrate their resources on clearing more serious crimes.

New pre-trial investigation units reject more complaints

New pre-trial investigation units also explain some of the phenomenon. According to the current procedure, criminal complaints submitted to the police in Finland are first examined by a preliminary clearing unit that is charged with screening the dozens or hundreds of crime reports filed daily to determine whether a crime has in actuality been committed. A decision to refer the complaint on to the prosecutor or issue a fine is then made by the unit, based on the severity of the offense, its societal significance and the probability that an investigation of the case will lead to charges.

In a case of someone stealing beer from a shop, for example, a security camera image of the offender may not be judged enough anymore for clearing the case. If the name of the suspected offender is known, however, the unit might decide to refer the complaint.

"The grand idea was that a pre-trial investigation unit would help make sure that only crimes that can truly be investigated will make it through to the detectives," says Anneli Kalervo, a staff representative of the Eastern Uusimaa Police Department.

Since the pre-trial investigation unit was adopted at the Eastern Uusimaa Police Department in 2016, many more crime reports are rejected early in the process or sometime during the investigation.

"The police strategy now directs more resources to the investigation of serious offenses, and so [the clearance of] everyday crimes has taken a hit. The number of personnel that are responsible for investigating property crimes has been cut back. This is one reason for the drop we are seeing," says Jyrki Aho, chief superintendent of the National Police Board.

Lack of personnel in urban areas

Aho says that Eastern Uusimaa police have far fewer people working in criminal investigation units than in Ostrobothnia, for example, when considered in proportion to how many crime reports are filed in the two areas. The northwest region of Ostrobothnia provides the best example in the Yle analysis, with over 80 percent of reported violent crimes and 40 percent of property crime reports cleared by local police.

This spring, the Uusimaa Regional Administrative Office of the capital city region drew attention to the fact that the workload of criminal investigators in the Helsinki metropolitan area is exceedingly high.

"The operational area there is very specialized. The airport alone is like a small city and ties up enormous resources all on its own," says Aho, referring to the Eastern Uusimaa unit.

The number of criminal offenses in Finland continues to fall. National Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen reported in a July 2019 press release that "the internationally noted 'crime drop' phenomenon is also appearing in Finland’s crime statistics as a reduction in overall criminality".

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