Fewer overnight stays in police lockup for public drunkenness in Helsinki region
Trend attributed to surge in deaths among frequent guests
There is more space in police drunk tanks in the Helsinki region than before. The drop in the taxation of alcohol five years ago briefly raised the number of people taken into police custody for public drunkenness, but from 2004 the number has declined evenly.
In the past five years the number of people taken into custody in Helsinki has gone down from 15,500 a year to about 14,000.
In Vantaa, the fall has been from 4,300 to 3,700, and in Espoo the drop has been from 3,900 to 3,000. However, part of the trend in Espoo is attributed to the establishment of a new detoxification centre in the city.
Supervisors of the lockups and employees of the treatment facilities attribute the fall in the number of customers partly to a surge in deaths among the older habitual users of alcohol in recent years. The death of just one frequent customer leads to a sharp decline in the number of regular visits.
“People started leaving for more pleasant pastures when the price of alcohol went down. It is also reflected in the statistics”, says Ari Oja of the Vantaa Police. On the other hand, some habitual drinkers have been replaced by users of a wide variety of intoxicants, especially in Helsinki.
“We used to pick up mainly drunks. Now we have drug users, mixed users, and the mentally ill. The problems with those being taken in are more varied now”, says Arto Aaltonen, head of the police lockup facility at the Töölö Sports Hall in Helsinki.
The recession of the 1990s raised the number of overnight stays in lockups well over 20,000. So far, the current recession has not had such an effect.
However, figures are extremely susceptible to fluctuation for any number of reasons. An unusually rainy summer, or a single heat wave can have an effect on the statistics of an entire year.
Another factor reducing the number of people being taken into lockup are the detoxification centres that have been set up next to them.
Cooperation among the police, the detox centre, social workers, and the A Clinic foundation has worked well, and some of the chronic alcoholics have managed to get a place to live and counselling on getting their lives on track.
Helsinki’s detoxification centre is well established. The one that opened in Espoo in 2007 filled to capacity soon after the doors opened. Vantaa does not have a detoxification centre: plans to set one up foundered on a lack of money in 2007.
Frequent guests at police lockup also keep police busy on the street. Especially tedious is the nightly rounds in which a chronic alcohol abuser breaks the glass on a front door of an apartment house to get into the hallway to sleep.
“The men in blue are called, and the guys looking for a place to spend the night are taken to their own hotel”, says police constable Jorma Kemppainen.
National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero proposed on Wednesday that police be relieved of the routine transport of those who are intoxicated, and the task should be passed on to some other authority.
Kemppainen largely agrees with Paatero on the proposal, but he also sees a challenge.
“The problem is that today a large proportion of those who are intoxicated are aggressive, and they end up with us anyway.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Alcohol involved in one in three accidental deaths (25.3.2009)
Statistics Finland: Alcohol kills increasing numbers of working-age Finns (5.12.2008)
New Year brings an end to bulk beer discounts; alcohol taxes raised across the board (2.1.2008)
Sales of alcohol reach new record (11.10.2007)