National Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen on Tuesday commented on the spread of street patrols in Finnish towns, stating that the volunteer forces are a welcome development.
"This kind of community voluntary work is to be supported," said Kolehmainen, according to a press release on the national police website. "It’s really good that citizens are interested in security questions in their own districts and want to improve the security and comfort of their environment."
Kolehmainen said that the patrols had no special right to intervene in other people’s activities, but could for example observe if a crime is in progress and then inform the police.
Soldiers of Odin
One of the most prominent groups involved in street patrols is the Soldiers of Odin. It claims to have patrols in 19 towns across Finland, and was set up in Kemi by Mika Ranta, a local resident with links to far right organisations, in response to an influx of asylum seekers in Kemi and Tornio. In light of this Kolehmainen received plenty of criticism on social media for what appeared to be an unclear position on far-right groups patrolling the streets.
Kolehmainen later clarified his comments, saying that he did not support Nazi street patrols but was instead referring to patrols of—for instance—parents in a particular neighbourhood, but not before plenty of others had stated their position on the issue.
A local newspaper in northern Finland then reported Ranta’s 2005 conviction for a racist attack that left one of the two victims with a broken hand.
On Tuesday Joensuu city council put out a statement objecting to recently-started actions by the Soldiers of Odin in the town, which states that it is an "organisation fighting patriotically for white Finland". The town’s council observed that the town remains very secure and that there’s no need for anyone other than the police to patrol the streets.
Cautious about patrols
Interior Minister Petteri Orpo also weighed in on the debate, telling Suomen Kuvalehti that it was necessary to be cautious about street patrols.
"The police have good examples of citizen actions, such as reports and tips," said Orpo. "Now the street patrols contain elements that don’t increase security at all."
Supo Communications director Jyri Rantala had a similar line in Helsingin Sanomat.
"In at least a few known cases there have been signs of links between street patrols and extreme anti-foreigner movements," said Rantala. "That’s why street patrols don’t necessarily improve security."