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Police chief calls for action on easily-available crossbows

A police chief in southern Finland says he is concerned about officers contending with deadly crossbows that can be bought freely online or in bargain stores.

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Crossbows are seen as a consumer product for hobbyists, so they are easily available. Image: AOP

Police say they are worried about crossbows in the possession of persons considered to be dangerous. According to Häme region police chief Ilkka Koskimäki, police often come across the weapons, ready for use, during home searches.

“Persons who are classified as dangerous, especially drug offenders keep a primed crossbow near the door. It is a major risk to police safety. We always have to use at least two patrols for home searches. We have also warned our staff about the risk,” Koskimäki noted.

On Wednesday Yle reported on the ease with which anyone can purchase a crossbow – either online or in bargain stores. Buyers need no special licence and the only restriction is placed on minors, who must have their parents’ permission to purchase them. The weapon has been used to shoot protected birds for example, even though they should only be used for target practice.

Crossbow murders in the past

The crossbow has also featured in some of Finland’s most serious crimes. There was the case of Mika Muranen, who used a crossbow to murder two people in Kotka, southeast Finland in 1994. Later, in summer 2007, a young man shot two women with a crossbow in his flat in Pori, western Finland.

The National Police Board sees the bow as a something that threatens police security, but it is not a risk facing the entire country. Rather, the problem seems concentrated in the Päjät-Häme region.

“Apart from crossbows, police are threatened with licensed and illegal firearms, blunt weapons, axes, billhook, knives and kitchen knives. Unfortunately people can be very inventive in this respect,” remarked Inspector Marko Savolainen of the National Police Board.

For Häme police chief Koskimäki, the biggest problem is how easy it is to acquire a crossbow. He said that salespersons need to be self-regulating.

“In practice the seller should remind the buyer that in Finland you cannot use a crossbow for hunting and it should not be sold to minors without their parents’ consent.”

The Finnish bargain chain Kärkkäinen is one of the locations that sells the item. Previously a Kärkkäinen representative told Yle that the weapon’s manual and packaging clearly state that its use for hunting is prohibited.

Police facing more threats, violence

Data show that police are facing more resistance as they do their work. Compared to 1999 the number of cases in which police encounter threats and violence has doubled.

According to the police board, in one in four cases individuals have wielded firearms, knives or blunt instruments in their run-ins with police. Police face between 1,000 and 1,500 incidents involving use of force every year and in roughly 200 – 300 of them, the other side is carrying some kind of weapon.

Police themselves use their weapons around 40 times in a year. For the data, threatening to use a weapon or threatening someone with a weapon both count as using a weapon. Police in Finland actually discharge their firearms about 10 times a year, mainly to fire warning shots.

Data show that police fire only fire a few shots at individuals in a year – none at all in some years.

Two-week confiscation the maximum

Häme’s Ilkka Koskimäki said that he hopes to see new measures that will allow police to better rein in the use of crossbows.

“In my view in a critical situation, [police] should be able to seize a crossbow from someone who is considered to be dangerous. A person might be in a cannabis-induced psychosis when police are summoned to a home. In such a case it is not enough to confiscate a crossbow for a few days,” he stated.

Current regulations allow police to confiscate a crossbow for a maximum of 14 days if no crime has been committed.

Public order laws prohibit the possession of a crossbow in public places. However owners can keep their weapons at home, something police say creates an additional risk for officers responding to calls to visit a home.

In spite of his concerns, Koskimäki did not directly call for restrictions on crossbow sales.

“Of course it’s always possible to make purchasing a crossbow subject to a permit system. But it’s also true that an additional permit process would create extra work,” he noted.

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