Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo (Green) has said that she is worried about a police decision to begin charging fees for providing backup in critical tasks related to child protection or mental health rehabilitation, among others.
Police said that as of Thursday they would begin charging fees for support provided to other authorities or individuals, which could include invoicing child protection authorities or veterinarians. The police payment is not new but has been rarely implemented in the past.
The minister said on Twitter on Thursday that she has issued an urgent order to correct the situation quickly. She added that she is concerned by feedback she has received from municipalities and child protection officials regarding police plans to bill for providing official support in such tasks.
A regulation allowing for police to charge for providing backup services has been in force since 1994, but the revenue stream has been negligible so far, the police board said.
According to the regulation, support duties that are free of charge include tasks related to the Mental Health Act, Civil Service Law, Employment Accident and Occupational Disease Act, implementation of sentences, assistance to defence forces and foreclosure situations.
Police assistance is also needed to protect health care staff in certain situations or to force open doors when child protection authorities search for missing young people, for instance.
Billing could generate millions in revenue
The police receive about 70,000 requests for official assistance each year, and about half of them will be invoiced from now on, they say.
Billing is based on costs — for instance, the hourly rate for two police officers and a car is 165 euros, and for one police officer is 70 euros.
According to chief superintendent of the Police Board Konsta Arvelin, police departments have only sent out occasional isolated invoices so far.
"In the past, there has perhaps been negligence in this matter. Due to a desire to nurture cooperation between authorities, it has been thought that there is no need to charge for such assistance. The task has also been seen as bureaucratic, although the regulation requires the police to bill for these tasks," Arvelin said.
The police superintendent said the fee also covers other expenses that arise when police engaged in such tasks. For example, a patrol car sent out for assistance takes away from actual police work.
Arvelin estimated that billable tasks could generate an estimated two to three million euros per year.
Joroinen mayor: Regulation may lead to more red tape
Individuals can also get assistance from the police on request in certain situations, but there is a high threshold for them to get help and it is always billable.
A typical example of such a situation is someone who needs assistance in an acrimonious relationship where one party prevents the other from retrieving their belongings.
Most paid tasks pertain to social care provided by municipalities, though. According to the mayor of Joroinen in South Savo, Joonas Hänninen, while the cost of this support may not be significant for municipalities, the practice can lead to unnecessary administrative work.
"I was quite surprised to hear about this. The billing speaks of rather small amounts of money, but at the same time it leads to increased bureaucracy. Sending invoices between authorities is unnecessary work," Hänninen said.
Hänninen said he understands the police can do nothing about this decree and that the matter should be referred to Parliament's Administration Committee.