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Researcher: Why trust in the police force continues unabated

A recent police barometer suggests that 96 percent of Finns trust the police, a result that far exceeds the European average of 71 percent. Among headlines of drug chief corruption trials and increasing police violence, why do the Finns maintain their unwavering faith in their men and women in blue? Researcher Juha Kääriäinen helped Yle to outline some possible reasons.

Lähikuvassa poliisin virkapuvun hihamerkki.
Image: Mikael Kokkola / Yle

The Finnish population’s faith in the police force has become even stronger, if the latest police barometer results are to be believed. In a survey of 1007 respondents carried out this spring, the latest survey found that 51 percent of respondents trust the police very much, while 45 percent trust them quite much. The Interior Ministry commissions a police barometer regularly, the last was carried out in 2014.

Juha Kääriäinen, a researcher with the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy helped the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle to come up with explanations for this continued loyalty.

1. The Finnish police force is one of the highest trained police forces in the world

On the world scale, Finnish police are very well trained and receive a decent salary. For this reason, they are resistant to bribes and misbehaviour. 

“We have an efficient police force that subscribes to a very high ethical standard. The positive barometer results can be interpreted in this way, if you wish,” says Kääriäinen.

For example, police training in the US lasts an average of 19 weeks, while Finns are trained in a three-year-long university of applied sciences programme. The programme also contains a year-long internship period in a police unit before active duty. 

Police departments in the US are also locally administrated and funded, which can lead to uneven and underfunded policing in different areas and among various social strata. In Finland, funding is awarded on a nationwide basis.

2. Finland is a relatively safe country to live in

Another essential reason for resident’s trust in the police is the fact that Finland is a relatively safe place. In Honduras, for example, there are 61.3 homicides for every 100,000 people. In Russia, the corresponding number is 11.6. Here in Finland, the number drops to 2.5. Many Finnish police enter retirement without ever having used their firearm. 

But the use of guns among police officers is not a correlate of how dangerous a country is. In the last year, 818 people were shot by police in the US, amounting to three persons a day on average. In Finland, the police force has killed just three people in the last year, and even this low amount prompted internal and external discussion.

“We live in an equal society which seeks to prevent crime, and there are few conflicts. This will naturally be reflected in measures of confidence. In other words, the police can be grateful not only for the trust they are given, but also the environment in which they operate daily,” Kääriäinen says.

3. Few Finns have had dealings with the police

Not many of Finland’s residents have had much to do with the police, beyond the odd permit application or traffic violation.

“Polls establishing trust levels rarely target people who have had more extensive interaction with the police. People like that are seldom interested in participating in surveys like this,” Kääriäinen says. He believes that if these people were asked, they might have a very different story to tell. He also says that the education and salary levels of the respondents have a large effect on how trusting they are.

“Highly educated people trust the police more than others, and if they have a stable financial position, they trust them even more,” he says.

Kääriäinen says the trust that Finland’s ethnic minorities place in the police has also not been established.

“But we know from the experiences of other countries, that their ethnic minorities often trust the police far less than the rest of the population,” he says.

4. Because the media and the politicians criticize them

The Finnish police have had a few bad eggs over the years. The former head of the Helsinki narcotics unit Jari Aarnio has been sitting in courtrooms for the last few years in response to up to 29 accusations of wrong-doing, ranging from corruption to drug dealing.

Kääriäinen studied general confidence in the police force in 2013 and 2014 when the Aarnio case broke. Another scandal about a poorly managed informant register popped up at the same time, to make things even more complicated.

“Päivi Räsänen was the interior minister, and she and the Police Commissioner (Mikko Paatero) engaged in a quite public debate. It was even proposed at one point that the commissioner be sacked. All this publicity, which was very critical, didn’t bring down confidence levels. On the contrary, it actually brought them up a bit.”

Kääriäinen says this was because it was the media and politicians were doing the criticizing. The same trust barometer found that Finland’s residents had very little trust in both professions.

“The people following the discussion observed two institutions they don’t trust attacking the police. It ended up a victory for law enforcement officials.”

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