Sizeable Reduction in the Number of Open Sexual Assault Cases

Metropolitan Police

The number of open sexual offence cases within the sexual offence department of the Capital Area Police and the prosecutor’s office has decreased by 37%. The decrease follows increased funding to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.

Good progress over a brief period

In an announcement today, the Capital Area Police stated that increased funding and more staff had served to expedite the processing of sexual offences. As noted in the announcement, there were 401 open cases on September 1 of last year. That number has now been reduced to 235. At the same time, the office received several new cases; however, during this four-and-a-half month period, the police concluded the investigation of 239 cases.

In an interview with Fréttablaðið today, Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir, Chief of Police with the Capital Area Police, stated that it was pleasing to observe such good results in such a short time. “We have not stopped and will continue to look for ways to shorten the procedure time for sexual offences while at the same time ensuring the quality of investigations.”

Halla added that the increased budget had made a significant difference.

“It’s important that we’re measuring our results, which helps us identify bottlenecks. There are many people involved in the handling of these cases at the office. It is and has been our goal to further improve police services within this important field of policing.

Processes reviewed

The increased budget was spent on increasing the number of staff and altering working methods. The announcement notes that methods have been revised with the aim of expediting the investigation of cases. The cooperation between the sexual offence department, on the one hand, and the digital investigation department, on the other, was increased and improved in order to shorten the investigation time of electronic data related to sexual offences.

Furthermore, part of the budget was allocated to bolstering the police’s service department. Finally, a dashboard was introduced to monitor the progress of cases within the sexual offence department and the prosecutor’s office.

Iceland’s Police Academy to Accept 50% More Students

police station Hlemmur

Iceland’s Police Academy at the University of Akureyri will accept 50% more students this fall, a measure intended to solve a shortage of police officers in the country, RÚV reports. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has stated that the safety of civilians is ensured in Iceland, but it is nevertheless important to take measures to address the staffing shortage. Iceland has the second-lowest number of police officers per capita of any European country.

A recent study found staffing shortages in rural police departments in Iceland mean that police often to turn to members of the public to assist with law enforcement work. Due to a lack of human resources and the long distance that would often be required to travel for backup or additional assistance, rural police officers often, for example, ask those present to help direct traffic in the event of a car accident or turn to local Search and Rescue squads for help.

“Arrangements have already been made at the University of Akureyri, which trains policemen, to increase the number of students by 50% from next autumn,” the Minister of Justice stated. “It takes some time, to work up to having educated police officers, and there is also a shortage of educated police officers in certain departments in the countryside.”

A working group is currently investigating whether there are ways to better distribute policing in order to address the staff shortage. The Minister of Justice stated that more funding would be allocated to the issue in the spring budget bill. He also added that the shortening of the work week that took effect might have to be reconsidered.

“We need to look at the fact that there have been many doubts in this sphere whether the shortening of the workweek has been a wise measure. We need to look at how to that develops but it puts an increased demand on human resources, that is absolutely clear.”

Policing has been in the media spotlight in Iceland this month following two shootings that occurred just days apart in Reykjavík. The Minister of Justice is examining whether to arm local police with tasers. Philosopher Gústav Adolf Bergmann Sigurbjörnsson has argued that solving staffing issues and increasing police training is a better way to ensure the safety of both police officers and civilians than to arm the police with additional weapons.

Iceland’s National Police Commissioners Meet to Discuss Prejudice Within Force

police car

Iceland’s National Police Commissioner has asked Dr. Margrét Valdimarsdóttir, Assistant Professor of Police Science at the University of Akureyri, to meet with the country’s police commissioners next week. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss research on prejudice in policing and explore the possibility of conducting studies on prejudice within Iceland’s police force. Margrét says that very little research has been carried out on prejudice within Icelandic policing.

“I hope everyone realises how positive this is,” Margrét stated in a tweet about the invitation, praising recently-appointed National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir for her openness to discuss the issue. Policing has been a hot topic around the world following the death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of US police and the ensuing wave of protests.

Read More: Over 3,000 Attend Black Lives Matter Meeting in Iceland

Margrét told Vísir reporters that the National Police Commissioner’s invitation was a step in the right direction. “The fact that she has the initiative is a sign of strength and humility.” Sigríður was appointed to the position last March, the first woman to serve as National Police Commissioner in Iceland. Her predecessor, Haraldur Johannessen stepped down last year following 22 years in the position, shortly after eight out of nine of the country’s police commissioners declared they did not trust Haraldur’s leadership.  “Police commissioners have been interested in making changes, but the national commissioner administration has been slow on the uptake,” West Iceland Police Commissioner Úlfar Lúðvíksson told RÚV in September 2019.

Though Icelandic police do not carry guns and Iceland has topped the Global Peace Index for 12 years, there have been cases where police involvement has led to civilian death in Iceland. Last spring, 25-year-old Hekla Lind Jónsdóttir died following a conflict with police, who interfered when she was in a psychotic state. The police officers were not charged even though a forensic specialist confirmed that their actions played a significant role in her death.