Police Will Soon Carry Electroshock Weapons

police car

Police in Iceland will be armed with electroshock weapons by the end of this summer. 464 officers are now completing their training in the use of the weapons, RÚV reports.

Minister sidestepped procedure

Icelandic police officers do not generally carry firearms, unlike in many other countries, although police vehicles are equipped with a gun. Last year, a change in regulation allowed officers to carry electroshock weapons. The Parliamentary Ombudsman subsequently found that Jón Gunnarsson, Minister of Justice at the time, should have consulted the cabinet before amending the regulation to arm the police. The decision was found to have not been in accordance with good governance.

Police feel unsafe at work

A quarter of police officers feel unsafe at work, according to the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police. 90% of officers are in favour of carrying electroshock weapons. The police responded to more arms-related incidents last year than in the years prior. “This tool is an important addition to our tool belt and is the step between clubs and gas before we get to firearms,” said Guðmundur Ásgeirsson with the police’s education division. “In certain situations, this weapon can make a difference, because we won’t have to resort to using firearms.”

The police have acquired 160 weapons and will double that amount in the next five years. The police claim that the weapons will be strictly monitored and officers have received training, including sessions in a virtual reality simulator.

Growing Violence in Downtown Reykjavík a Cause for Concern

capital area police, police

In an interview with the Kastljós news programme yesterday, an assistant chief superintendent with the capital area police expressed growing concern over increased violence in downtown Reykjavík. The threshold for the use of sharp weapons, he noted, appears to be lower among young men.

Recent incidents of violence

Following recent incidents of violence in downtown Reykjavík, Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, Assistant Chief Superintendent with the Capital Area Police, was interviewed for the news programme Kastljós on RÚV yesterday.

He began by confirming reports that some of the incidents – among them the apprehension and detainment of a man who had discharged a firearm in the Dubliner pub in downtown Reykjavík – were, in some way, related to the knife attack in Bankastræti Club nightclub last year.

When asked if these incidents were the results of a kind of gang war, Ásgeir stated the following: “Some of the cases are in the early stages of the investigation … but there are, as we’ve seen, groups in downtown Reykjavík, and beyond that area, that are fighting.” These groups are rather sizable, according to the police officer.

Ásgeir also stated that most of the individuals involved in the recent violent attacks were young men and that the police were worried about this trend. “Young people, mostly young men, and boys are increasingly fighting in larger groups and the threshold for employing sharp weapons has become quite low.”

“And is this a new trend? Is violence growing more extreme and increasing?” the interviewer inquired.

“Yes, over the past few years, violence has certainly increased,” Ásgeir responded. “It’s grown more extreme. The threshold for employing sharp weapons and even firearms has been lowered. And that’s a cause for concern.”

Altering conceptions of violence

Ásgeir also noted that the concept of “violence” appeared to have shifted among the youth. “We’ve had surveys where respondents are asked if they’ve ever been subject to violence, and the response is ‘No.’ But then there’s a follow-up question where interviewees are asked if they’ve been punched or put in a chokehold, and these same respondents reply ‘Yes.’ So the concept of violence appears to be somewhat distorted among young people.”

In reference to another interview with a law enforcement officer, Ásgeir was asked whether it was true that the atmosphere in downtown Reykjavík had changed. Ásgeir replied that the police have increasingly been forced to dispatch larger units when violent incidents involving sharp weapons are reported. “There has been increased training in order to meet these new circumstances, which began in 2014 or 2015 … but these are tools that we don’t want to use. We want peace in the city. We need to find a solution. And the only way to do that is to work with the youth.”

Ásgeir was also asked about the newly approved regulations authorising police officers to use electroshock weapons, that is, whether such weapons could prove effective in incidence involving sharp weapons. Ásgeir stated that the most extreme weapon in the officer’s belt, aside from the firearm, was the billy club. Which was why electroshock weapons were useful. “Electroshock weapons are classified in the same category as clubs,” Ásgeir noted.

Minister Sidestepped Procedure in Arming Police

Dómsmálaráðherra Ríkisstjórn Alþingi Jón Gunarsson

Iceland’s Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson should have consulted the cabinet on the decision to arm police with stun guns, according to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, RÚV reports. The change is a major political issue and should have been brought before the cabinet. Jón only announced the new regulation publicly after it had been passed.

Contrary to many other countries, ordinary police officers in Iceland do not carry firearms on their person. Police vehicles are, however, equipped with a gun. At the end of last year, the Minister of Justice signed an amendment to regulations, authorising Icelandic police to carry electroshock weapons. He announced the decision in a column submitted to local newspaper Morgunblaðið once it had already been implemented. The regulatory change was never discussed in the cabinet before it was made.

See Also: Icelandic Bar Association Concerned About Increased Police Surveillance Powers

In a letter sent to the Prime Minister two days ago, the Parliamentary Ombudsman stated that he believes Jón Gunnarsson was guilty of a lack of consultation when he changed the regulations. The Prime Minister’s reply to the letter stated that the decision to arm police with stun guns constituted a change in focus and that she had therefore specifically requested that the Minister of Justice explain the decision to the cabinet. The Minister of Justice did not comply with that request.

In a legal opinion published yesterday morning, the Parliamentary Ombudsman stated that Jón’s decision was not in accordance with good governance. Violations of formal rules not only serve to undermine trust, the ombudsman wrote, but also circumvent political consultation required by law and by the constitution.

Unclear whether Jón will continue as Minister of Justice

In an interview with RÚV, Jón Gunnarsson stated he disagreed with the ombudsman’s opinion and that he would not step down as Minister of Justice due to the issue. However, when the current government took power, Jón was only to hold the position of Minister of Justice for the first 18 months of the term, and was set to be replaced by fellow Independence Party MP Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir.

In January, Guðrún told reporters she expected to take over the role this month, but Jón Gunnarson stated today that no one has yet asked him to step down from the position.

Police Association Welcomes Authority to Employ Stun Guns

Metropolitan Police

The Police Association of Iceland welcomes the Justice Minister’s decision to authorise the use of electroshock weapons. An article on Vísir this morning notes that there is no scientific consensus on the lethality of such weapons.

Helps to clarify the authority of the police

In an announcement on the Police Association of Iceland’s website yesterday, the association welcomed Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson’s decision to authorise the use of electroshock weapons. The association stated that it had, for years, emphasised the need to better ensure the safety of police officers. The decision was, therefore, a cause for celebration that the Minister had shown an understanding of the interests of police officers.

“Accidents at work occur most frequently within the police profession, and it is common for a police officer to be alone on the scene and have to deal with challenging and unforeseen situations where further assistance is not always at hand.”

The Minister’s decision helps to clarify the authority of the police, contributing to increased security for police officers and, at the same time, “increased security for ordinary citizens,” the announcement reads.

Difficult to pinpoint the precise cause of death

The minister’s decision to authorise the use of electroshock weapons has proven somewhat controversial, with PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir stating that she had wished that the new regulation had received a more thorough discussion within Parliament.

An article published on Vísir this morning notes that there is no consensus among experts on the lethality of these weapons. The reporter notes that the reason is twofold: first, scientific ethics make research impossible, and second, cause of death has proven difficult to disentangle following the employment of stun guns.

“According to an extensive report conducted by Reuters from 2017,” the article notes, “over a thousand people died as a result of the employment of stun guns in the United States over a period of approximately fifteen years. In nine out of ten cases, the person was unarmed.”

“Reuters reporters reviewed 712 autopsy reports in connection with their investigation. In 153 cases, forensic pathologists concluded that the shot from the stun gun had been the cause or one of the causes of the person’s death. When the stun gun was not considered a factor, the cause of death was usually attributed to heart disease or other illness, drug use, or an accident.”

The article also notes that independent studies have “shown that stun guns can be useful in reducing injuries to police and those on whom the guns are used.” These weapons should be “relatively safe” when they are applied in the right way, that is to say, when directed towards the right area of the body and when the electric shocks last for a short duration.

Electroshock Weapons to Be Employed by Middle of the Year

Dómsmálaráðherra Ríkisstjórn Alþingi Jón Gunarsson

The Minister of Justice hopes that the police will be able to put the first electroshock weapons to use this year, RÚV reports. The minister’s decision to grant this authority to the police should not come as a surprise.

Full implementation may take one or two years

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson affirmed that his decision to authorise the police to carry electroshock weapons will stand – despite the criticism. He hopes that the first weapons will be in use by the middle of the year.

An amendment to existing regulations is expected to take effect next week. Electroshock weapons will only be assigned to police officers who have received the necessary training, and such weapons may only be used if other, milder measures are not deemed sufficient.

“This will, of course, take some time. I expect that the implementation will take approximately one to two years. My hope is that the first officers will begin carrying these electroshock weapons in the middle of the year or so,” Jón observed.

PM Criticises Lack of Discussion in Parliament

Jón has been criticised for not giving Parliament sufficient opportunity to discuss the amendment. During a radio interview yesterday, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir remarked that it would have been more appropriate to discuss the matter more thoroughly in Parliament.

“She said that more of a discussion needed to take place, and I have submitted a memorandum to Parliament; the matter has received a certain amount of discussion at that level,” Jón added.

When asked if the matter had not been discussed thoroughly enough, Jón replied that it was not for him to judge.

“Ultimately, it’s the PM’s decision. This change to the regulation has been carefully prepared, and it has been repeatedly discussed, as I’ve told the media previously; it has not provoked any special reactions or given rise to any special discussion, these reactions that have been expressed,” Jón explained.

Jón plans on attending a meeting with the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee next week so as to answer the committee members’ questions. He says that the decision to introduce electroshock weapons was made with the safety of police officers in mind.

“I am prepared for any discussion about this and thoroughly present my reasoning behind the decision. A decision has been made based on the information I have and it stands,” Jón concluded.

Justice Minister to Authorise the Use of Electroshock Weapons

Jón Gunnarsson Alþingi

The Minister of Justice has decided to authorise the use of electroshock weapons among the police. Clear rules will be set for their application and police officers will receive special training, RÚV reports.

An unfortunate but necessary measure

Over the past few months, the Ministry of Justice has reviewed the possibility of authorising the use of electroshock weapons among police authorities.

“We’ve reviewed the use of these weapons in neighbouring countries and have found that they have proven a great success,” Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson told RÚV this morning. “As a result of this review – which has been ongoing, as I’ve reported to the media – we’ve decided to implement their use in Iceland, especially considering that police departments and police officers have called for it.”

Jón noted that it was unfortunate that such a step “needed to be taken.” Given the state of affairs, however, it was imperative to ensure the safety of police officers, who have observed a growing threat from the use of weapons in Iceland. The frequency of accidents involving police officers has been on the rise.

Jón maintained that the use of electroshock weapons in neighbouring countries had significantly reduced the number of accidents involving police officers and suspects alike. In light of this, the Minister of Justice plans on amending regulations to authorise their use.

When asked about the hazards of such an amendment, Jón replied that every weapon came with its risk: “But we believe that that risk, when it comes to bodily harm, is not as great when compared to the resources that the police currently have at their disposal, such as batons.”

Jón added that strict and clear rules would be set regarding the use of electroshock weapons, noting that the latest models were equipped with cameras that would make their employment easy to monitor. Furthermore, Jón noted, experience had shown that it was often “enough that the weapons were available,” although they did not always need to be used, for there to be an effect. He expects that the police authorities could begin using these weapons as early as the middle of next year, although such a thing would depend on contractual bids and the training of police officers.

When asked if there was a consensus about this amendment within the government, Jón responded thusly: “It’s not been discussed formally. But I have, of course, discussed this repeatedly in the media over recent months and announced that preparations were underway. We’re at a turning point now.”