Reykjavik's Police Force Stretched Thin by Demographic Shifts Skip to content
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Photo: Golli.

Reykjavik’s Police Force Stretched Thin by Demographic Shifts

The number of police officers in the capital area of Iceland has not kept pace with population growth, resulting in a significant shortfall. Currently, the capital is short 250 officers to meet the needs dictated by European standards and local population increases.

Serious violent crimes increasing

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir, Chief of Police of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police, stated that violent crime in Iceland was on the rise: “We have been dealing with one very large human trafficking case, and serious violent crimes have increased.”

Since 2013, reports of serious violent crimes to the Reykjavík metropolitan police have nearly doubled, Vísir reports. In comparison, the number of police officers employed in the capital area has decreased by several dozen over the past 17 years.

Vísir further notes that there were 339 officers employed in the capital area in 2007, accounting for half of all police officers in the country. Since then, their number has gradually decreased, or to 297 last year. During the same period, the number of police officers in the country has increased by 80 officers, making the capital’s share now 39% of the total.

Short 250 officers in the capital area

When viewed in the larger context of demography, the number of police officers has not kept pace with population growth. In 2007, there were 2.3 police officers per 1,000 inhabitants in Iceland and 1.73 per 1,000 in the capital area. This has slowly decreased. Today, there are 1.96 officers per 1,000 inhabitants in Iceland and 1.2 officers per 1,000 in the capital area.

Halla Bergþóra explained that according to European standards, there should be 3.3 police officers per 1,000 inhabitants: “If we say that we should have about three, then we are missing just over 500 police officers. Just to be on par with the surrounding districts, which have about two officers per 1,000 inhabitants. So we are still short 250 officers in the capital area. This means that there is a tremendous strain on the police officers working here,” Halla maintained.

When asked how this impacted the police’s work, Halla responded thusly: “It obviously just has the effect on our work that there is a lot of pressure on those who are serving, and it perhaps also affects our ability to perform proactive policing. It also affects investigations, especially the speed with which we are able to process cases. There is a lack of funding and, although we cannot increase the number by so many at once, we need more police officers.”

Murder rate not on the rise

Eight homicides have been recorded in Iceland over the past 12 months, two of which occurred last weekend. The former case involves the death of a Lithuanian man in a summer house in Kiðjaberg, Southwest Iceland,. Two men will be held in custody until next Tuesday. The second case involved the death of a woman in her fifties in Akureyri, North Iceland, on Monday morning. A man in his seventies is in custody, suspected of causing her death.

In an interview with the radio programme Bítið yesterday, criminologist Helgi Gunnlaugsson stated that the murder rate in Iceland had not risen on per-capita terms: “There is some increase, but it is in itself in line with the population growth in the country.”

Helgi added that when two murders occur within a short period, it is only natural that it raises alarm: “We are so few. When we get two homicides like we just did in a few days, it’s understandable that we are taken aback.”

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