Threat of closure looms over Traffic Police
Officers say if unit is merged with local police departments, monitoring of traffic will suffer
A Skoda driver was more than a little fortunate on Highway 10 in Hämeenlinna on Wednesday morning: in a breathalyser test the needle of the gauge came to rest at 0.21 milligrams per litre. The drink-drive limit on the device is 0.22.
Even a control measurement did not shift the reading upwards, and after a short pause the lucky motorist was allowed to continue on his way.
“The man was a bit nervous. But he did commend us for being out and about at this early hour and said that we should be here more often”, says senior constable Kirsikka Löppönen from the Traffic Police.
This is what the traffic police do. Random testing on a weekday morning reveals how common it is for people to get behind the wheel when they still have alcohol in their blood, leftovers from a skinful the night before.
Among around a hundred tested motorists, there are two individuals who cause the needle of the gauge to move.
Nowadays, however, more dark clouds loom over the traffic police than ever before.
To those in the field this does not come as any great surprise. But their answer to the talk of closing down the unit is a categorical “No”.
Sergeant Arto Jokinen has spent over 30 years as a police officer, and during this entire time the traffic police have operated under threat of termination.
“For some reason this always comes up. I suppose it is because of the scantiness of resources”, Jokinen reckons.
“Everybody feels a bit hesitant at the moment. Our wish is that we would be allowed to continue to do our basic work without having to concern ourselves with what will happen tomorrow or next month.”
In Jokinen’s opinion the nationwide Traffic Police are a functioning organisation, which should not be merged with local police departments.
The fear is that the police presence on the country’s roads and highways would suffer.
"The opinion among officers in the field is that the merging should not take place, but these are political decisions.”
In Kirsikka Löppönen’s view, the traffic police serve the public outside the town and city centres. She also points out that speed cameras do not perform breathalyser tests, and preventive work cannot be done except through measures such as breathalyser roundups.
“If something happens further out, we can be there quickly. This adds to safety also in the more remote areas”, Löppönen continues.
The traffic police folks fear that after the merger the local police’s basic gigs, “petty thieves and drunks”, would come before traffic monitoring duties.
On the other hand, few people believe that closing down the traffic police would lead to staff redundancies.
Senior Constable Kaisa Kuusela says that the talks of closing the unit hurt.
“This does not just affect the police officers but also citizens more widely. The number of police officers is constantly being reduced and the focus is seemingly always on safeguarding population centres. The countryside suffers.”
The Traffic Police currently has a staff strength of around 650, some 600 of whom are serving police officers.
It operates from 24 locations around the country, with a separate general staff, a unit at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, and a security unit.
The main emphasis is on traffic surveillance, but officers also assist local police departments in emergency calls, crime prevention, and public order tasks.
Previously in HS International Edition:
National Police Commissioner wants to lighten work load of cash-strapped police (7.11.2011)
Number of local police units could be reduced to half the present figure (6.6.2012)
Interior Minister to fight against plans to cut back on police funding (7.3.2012)
Finnish Police - Organisation