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Officials in Finnish Lapland decry police department closures

Police departments in a number of smaller towns across Finnish Lapland are either non-existent, understaffed or in the process of being shut down. A municipal official from Enontekiö and Lapland's chief of police say the situation is unacceptable.

Máŋga bolespára oassálaste albmá ohcamii ja gittaváldimii Guhttásis.
File photo of police in Enontekiö. Image: Minna Näkkäläjärvi / Yle

Due to budgetary shortfalls, the Lapland Police Department has announced plans to move the police force from the small town of Enontekiö to the larger city of Muonio. The station is set to be shut down early next year, when the officers who work there retire. The plans reflect a recent trend of shuttering some police stations in remote locations across the region.

The town of Utsjoki, for instance – after their department was moved to Ivalo – has not had an on-site police force for roughly the past year. Department Chief Esa Heikkinen says that there are also staff shortage issues in Meri-Lappi, Sodankylä, Kemijärvi and Ivalo.

"We have had to leave 7-8 police officer positions unfilled this year, because there isn't enough money," says Heikkinen. "The way we fill new positions has to be considered in terms of the whole department. The risk is that Enontekiö could lose all of its officers."

Municipal Manager: Unacceptable situation

Locals in Enontekiö say they are concerned about rising crime and their own security. The municipal manager, Jari Rantapelkonen says that the municipal council is outraged by the situation.

"We cannot accept this, when the constitution assures every Finn the right to security. We don't think that is what is happening here. We are not on an equal footing with the rest of the country," Rantapelkonen says.

The atmosphere is similar in Utsjoki, where town manager Vuokko Tieva-Niittyvuopio says that police only know about a risky or potentially illegal situation once an accident has already taken place. She says that locals have voiced the same concerns.

Vuokko Tieva-Niittyvuopio
Vuokko Tieva-Niittyvuopio, Utsjoki. Image: Anneli Lappalainen / Yle

"I've heard from people that they've called the emergency number and police told them that they can get there in a week's time. There was a situation in Nuorgam [the northernmost point of Finland] where local social workers would have needed police assistance, and they were told that the officers just couldn't make it," Tieva-Niittyvuopio says.

Written reports to the police usually receive appropriate responses, she says, which is good but also points to a conscious problem. Heikkinen says he agrees the situation is untenable.

"We have to work with the resources that we have and assess the risks. We have to focus on the places where there tends to be more crime."

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