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Helsinki police to shutter organised crime unit after detective's retirement

The veteran officer warned that if his unit's work is not done, the city's human trafficking and pimping trade will flourish.

Kenneth Eriksson stands outside Helsinki strip club Alcatraz.
Helsinki police detective sergeant Kenneth Eriksson has decades of experience investigating sex-related human trafficking and pimping crimes. Image: Yle/ Vincent Holmberg

Helsinki police detective sergeant Kenneth Eriksson is preparing to retire this summer. When he does, the department plans to shut down the preventative investigation unit he has led for the past 20 years. The unit handles cases related to organised crime, sex-related human trafficking and pimping.

The Helsinki police department has said such investigations will continue after the unit is closed, but going forward, individual probes will be carried out based on the arrival of criminal complaints.

"My unit uncovers crime. No one willingly goes to the police to report human trafficking or gang-related extortion. We talk with people and try to get them to understand why they should not accept what they are being subjected to. This job is done on the street and takes time," Eriksson said.

Eriksson, 58, has led the unit for the past two decades, during which time the investigative team has ranged in size from four to 10 police officers.

"We live in a society where there are rules that everyone needs to follow. Then we have a number of people who play by their own rules. If we don't intervene, that means society accepts that there's a shadow society with its own rules. That kind of criminality needs to be uncovered. It's a question of serious crimes," Eriksson said.

According to recent a report published by a group from the Council of Europe, the number of victims of human trafficking has tripled in Finland over the course of just three years.

Eriksson's grim outlook

"If nothing is done it'll be a disaster within a year. The human trafficking and pimping business will flourish. Pimps called me when they heard I was retiring. They have ended the conversations saying 'next year freedom.' That tells you exactly what this is about. If we don't intervene it will be a mess," Eriksson warned.

Story continues after photo.

Prostituiotu nainen nojaa autoon.
File photo of prostitute talking to prospective customer in car. Image: Yle

Detective chief inspector Jonna Turunen, who heads up the Helsinki police department's criminal investigation unit, confirmed that after the unit is shut down, probes will be chiefly carried out into crimes and cases that have been reported.

"We will continue to be responsible for investigating organised crime, human trafficking and pimping. For the most part we will ensure that crimes that have been reported to us are investigated. After that we will see what resources we have to invest in uncovering [criminal] operations," Turunen said.

"We still have units that are engaged in uncovering criminal activities, but they are responsible for many different types of crimes, including all organised crime. Unfortunately, [this type of] uncovering activity is what the police had to sacrifice when faced with scarce resources," she said.

When asked for her take on Eriksson's opinion that human trafficking will flourish in Helsinki after the unit is shut down, Turunen said: "He has a lot of experience and is a professional in his field. Kenneth Eriksson knows what he's talking about."

However, Turunen said that the closure of the unit was not an indication that the department was giving up.

No surrender

"Our responsibility continues and we will use the resources available to us. But human trafficking is just a part of the criminality that such units investigate. We're not surrendering," Turunen said.

Eriksson said he wanted to emphasise that Turunen herself is not to blame for the situation, and that the problem was a lack of resources.

"The police department needs to serve everyone and since there's a staff shortage, this is the decision that was reached," Eriksson said.

Whether Finland's newly-minted government plans to improve the situation remains to be seen. According to the proposed government programme, a police unit will be established to reveal and investigate human trafficking crimes, but exactly where the unit will operate - as well as its level of funding - remains unclear.

"This job is based on knowing people. Victims, regular people and prostitutes contact me. Since I know what's going on in the field, I know when we should intervene. Gangs come to me and I have no problem visiting their clubs to talk to them," Eriksson said, adding that it is time for him to move on.

Leaving the pack

"At some point you need to make room for the younger generations. The wolf pack is led by an Alpha male but the day he doesn't have the spark, it's time to hand over that job to someone younger," he said, adding that he doesn't really see himself as an Alpha wolf.

"No, but I am a unit leader. That means you should have a certain hunger. Earlier I was a good hunter but now I feel more like a scavenger. You [increasingly] settle for lesser results," he said.

Eriksson will end his police department career later this summer but will officially retire at the end of the year. However, he doesn't have plans to stop working entirely.

"I'm considering starting my own security company to work as a consultant," he explained.

He ran unsuccessfully in last spring's general elections as a Swedish People's Party candidate, garnering less than 250 votes, and said he is unsure of his future in politics.

"I was asked to run [last spring] and also ran as a candidate in a municipal election in the '90s," he explained.

"Even though it didn't go very well it was a pleasant and interesting experience. I got to know new people. It was an experience - and you learn a lot from every experience," he said.

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