Oslo Has a New Police Chief – Can He Bring an End to Rampant Police Criminality?

by Reidar Visser

Today is the first day on the job for Hans Sverre Sjøvold, the new chief of the Oslo police.

The Oslo police are currently struggling to cope with a barrage of criticism relating to their collective failure before, under and after the 22 July terror attacks. Despite this, it has recently emerged that Sjøvold’s predecessor, Anstein Gjengedal, was actually awarded a considerable bonus for the “results” he presided over in 2011. Those “results”  included total neglect of the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik until he perpetrated his lethal attack on 22 July 2011, as well as spending millions of Norwegian kroner on harassing an innocent foreign national abroad in 10 different countries.

Sjøvold now assumes responsibility of a renegade department within the Oslo police known as the organised crime unit, which commits human rights crimes with impunity at home and abroad, and is currently involved in a multi-national operation in the Asia-Pacific region which features extensive use of physical torture. This lawless band constitutes one of the biggest threats against the rule of law and democracy in Norway, but has been given cover to operate with impunity under the tenure of the former director of the Norwegian police, Ingelin Killengreen.

It is not only the organised crime unit that needs to be taken care of in the Oslo police, even if this may be the most pressing concern right now. Among other problems, the highly unprofessional public relations department also seems in need of some urgent attention. Its Twitter antics have already raised eyebrows among many, and not only for the sloppy and idiosyncratic language. 30 August came a new low when the police tweeted the following:

“Stk.”, short for stykk, is a classifier in the Norwegian language, and is used roughly in the same way as “pieces” in English. The resultant sentence, whilst difficult to translate to English, would run something like this: “Police received a call about 10 Nigerian women fighting in King’s Street. When police arrived, they were running around in all directions. 2 pieces [Nigerian women] were taken into custody”.

Whether one reads this kind of language as a failed attempt at being funny or just plain racism, this is simply not the way a responsible law enforcement agency should make light of and/or dehumanise people it takes into custody. With the massive authority the police commands, stigmatising language of this nature should be inexcusable.

Alas, whether Sjøvold will fix the many problems in the Oslo police is far from certain. After years at the Norwegian police academy and at the police section of the ministry of justice, Sjøvold is himself  considered a crony of Killengreen.  Even deeply sympathetic observers like Tore Bjørgo of the Norwegian police academy recently expressed the view that the personal ties of Sjøvold to the previous director of police may turn into a liability.

Maybe the bigger question today is whether the new, acting police director, Odd Reidar Humlegård, will continue beyond 2012 or make room for someone who is more independent of the Killengreen legacy.