Foreign criminals working in Finland can be ”anonymous” according to a top cop, and that gives them an advantage when it comes to evading the law.
Speaking on HSTV's weekly English-language current affairs show Newsmakers, Helsinki Police Superintendent Kari Niinimäki said that Schengen-area open borders allow criminals from eastern Europe to come to Finland and commit crimes.
”We don't have their fingerprints, we don't have their DNA, we don't have their picture, we don't have anything” says the officer.
”If we are able to take a CCTV recording with a relatively good picture of the perpetrator, we end up with a situation where nobody knows who is in the picture" explains Niinimäki. "And we can compare it, when a local perpetrator is in the same picture, we have more or less solved the crime” he says. ”That is the main reason they want to travel into some countries where they have no criminal background yet” he adds.
But Superintendent Niinimäki is keen to stress that he thinks this problem is a ”small disadvantage” when it comes to all the benefits that Finland gains by being a member of the European Union.
According to Niinimäki, most foreign criminals come to Finland from eastern Europe - although a few also come from Arabic-speaking countries and even as far away as Latin America - and they're engaged in low-level crimes against property, like pick-pocketing, domestic burglaries and shop lifting.
”My opinion is they want to be anonymous” he says. ”That's a huge benefit for them if they local police doesn't even know they exist”. Niinimäki notes that property crime statistics started rising in 2008, when more eastern European and Baltic countries joined the Schengen area, allowing passport-free movement of people from many other parts of Europe to Finland.
Superintendent Niinimäki concedes that police were caught short by the large influx of migrants to Finland in the past 18 months.
”Last year the flow was so huge, that the professional staff we have, that was not enough. We had to use some other staff members [...] so it was a big challenge for us”.
And, despite often lurid headlines in the Finnish media about criminality by asylum seekers, even false allegations by a member of parliament, Niinimäki says he is "surprised" by how few crimes are actually committed by migrants to Finland.
”Of course they are committing crimes, there are all kinds of individuals in such a huge amount of people” the officer explains. ”But as a group, I am surprised by how little crimes the are committing. I had a quick look at the statistics, and they are relatively small”.
While Niinimäki is happy that Finland ranks highly in some surveys that aim to measure public trust in police, he agrees there is some way to go to make the Finnish police service more representative of the citizens it serves.
For example, Niinimäki's is in command of 90 officers, although not a single one has a minority background. He thinks there is more work to be done to recruit minority background officers.
”You should pay much more attention to have minority poilice officers, for sure” says Niinimäki. ”We don't have examples (role models) that they can follow”.
He cites a small project in Helsinki to employ young adults from minority backgrounds, so they can better understand the work of the police force.
”Hopefully this is a positive experience, and sometime later they might consider police work as their own career, and that's one way how to convince also the immigrants to join us”.