Eight out of nine of the country’s police commissioners and the National Police Federation believe National Police Commissioner Haraldur Johannessen is unfit for his position. The statements follow ongoing disputes, which reached a high point with a controversial Morgunblaðið interview where Haraldur alluded to corruption within the police force.
Eight out of nine police commissioners distrust the National Commissioner
“Eight out of nine police commissioners in the country don’t trust National Commissioner Haraldur Johannessen” West Iceland Police Commissioner Úlfar Lúðvíksson told RÚV. He had notified Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir of their position before the interview.
Úlfar stated that the co-operation between the police commissioners and the National Commissioner for the past five years had been rocky and characterised by a lack of communication. “Police commissioners have been interested in making changes, but the national commissioner administration has been slow on the uptake.”
Comments on corruption irresponsible
In an interview with Morgunblaðið newspaper earlier this month, the national commissioner made some comments that rubbed police commissioners the wrong way. He claimed that he was being strategically run out of office by intentional mistruths and slander about his person. He alluded to corruption within the police force and that his stance had made him some enemies before, stating that if he would lose his position, he’d go into more detail on power struggles behind the scenes.
Úlfar told RÚV that it was the opinion of the eight police commissioners that the National Commissioner shouldn’t allow himself to make the kinds of comments he made to Morgunblaðið. “He talks about corruption within the police force. He says that if things don’t go the way he wants, he’ll start talking. Those are irresponsible words, unbecoming of a man in his position.” The situation that has arisen is problematic and harms the police.
“I am the director of the Police Commissioner Association but I speak for eight out of nine police commissioners in the country. Ólafur Helgi Kjartansson is not one of the eight.” Said Úlfar. “We have no trust in the National Commissioner,” he added.
Úlfar says the cooperation between police commissioners and offices around the country have been good. “We don’t recognise any talk of power struggles and tension over funds. The National Commissioner’s talk of corruption, he hasn’t brought that to us the commissioners. So, I don’t know how exactly we can see co-operation with the national commissioner continue. We can talk about inoperability, in this case on behalf of the National Commissioner. It’s recurring and by now, it’s casting a shadow over the operations of the institution he represents. Which has good people working towards good causes. So I don’t see a situation where this can go on much longer,” says Úlfar.
Asked if Haraldur Johannessen needs to step down, Úlfar states that the decision is in the hands of the Minister of Justice. Some of the police commissioners had a frank meeting with the Minister last week.
Úlfar told Vísir that it was his understanding that Haraldur had been offered a severance agreement this summer which he declined. “That’s a big deal, of course. If the situation this summer was that the national commissioner was offered a severance agreement, it means that the ministry and the minister at the time weren’t happy with his work.”
The vote of no confidence a separate decision
Later the same day, the board of the National Police Federation of Iceland declared a vote of no confidence in the National Commissioner. Their statement reads that Iceland’s police officers don’t trust the National Commissioner and that he should step down. The Director of the National Federation Snorri Magnússon told Vísir that their decision was independent of the police commissioners’ statement. “The decision was made before anyone had heard of their reaction. It was a completely independent decision.” Snorri says it wasn’t any unique issue that is the reason for the vote of no confidence. “It’s a mixture of several different issues. To us, it was the interview in Morgunblaðið that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
A controversial figure
Haraldur Johannessen has been National Commissioner for over two decades, since February 1, 1998. Stundin covered his internal disputes extensively this summer, reporting that he had repeatedly gotten himself into trouble without having to face the consequences. According to Stundin, Haraldur is said to have damaged the investigations of the National Commissioner’s Economic Crime Department in the years following the banking collapse, left the office’s annual financial statements unsigned, been accused of financial mismanagement, that complaints were made over Haraldur’s attitude towards members of the Special Forces Unit, and that bullying within the institution was being investigated by the Ministry of Justice.
Following his disputes with police departments around the country, ostensibly over uniforms and police vehicles, exaggerated after years of difficult communication, Haraldur’s position has been getting shakier and the Morgunblaðið interview hasn’t helped matters.
Will not step down
Haraldur was called in to meet with the Minister of Justice following the interview, who chose not to dismiss him. Following the declarations of no confidence in the National Commissioner, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir met with Haraldur again this morning and told the media that work is already in progress within the ministry to deal with the problem that has arisen and will continue over the next few weeks. She would not go into more detail of her discussions with the National Commissioner but told the media that the National Commissioner would not be stepping down.