New Security Measures for Upcoming Council of Europe Summit

police station reykjavík

National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir discussed what Reykjavík residents could expect in terms of security measures for the upcoming Council of Europe last week on radio programme Bylgjan. 

Among other measures, Reykjavík residents can expect closures around the Harpa concert hall, armed escorts for council representatives, and a high level of alertness in the city.

Read more: Proposal to Amend Surveillance Law Causes Tension

“I would compare it to a large-scale civil defence exercise,” the commissioner stated to Bylgjan. “Policemen and police personnel will be coming from all over the country. It is also very exciting for us to participate in something like this and get to know each other. We are also training our people and strengthening the Icelandic police at the same time. So it’s a complex and extensive but very interesting and fun project.”

Many police officers from throughout the nation will be involved in the operations during the important summit meeting, but the commissioner could give no specifics on their numbers for security reasons. Although Icelandic security forces have considerable experience hosting such important events, even greater precautions will be taken this May.

“It is our country that these heads of state are visiting, and we need to ensure their safety. We are responsible for the safety of everyone who comes to us on official business. They will of course be accompanied by their own security teams, but we will be leading the way for the overall security plan and all operations,” Sigríður stated.

Read more: Council of Europe to be Held in Reykjavík

Sigríður also reported that the carrying of weapons by foreign police officers and bodyguards will be permitted in certain cases. She also stated that traffic disruptions are likely, but that all efforts will be made to keep the public informed.

Measures are also expected to be tightened at the airport. The alert level will be raised because of the presence of international delegates.

“What we are trying to do is simply rise to the situation that’s being brought to our country,” Sigríður stated.

In addition to the above measures, an expansion of surveillance cameras in downtown Reykjavík is also expected for the international summit.

Organised Crime, Sexual Offences Priority in New Action Plan

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Extensive changes will be made to the handling of sexual offences and organised crime in Iceland, according to a new action plan introduced by the Ministry of Justice yesterday. Dozens of new police officers will be hired to meet increased demand. The National Police Commissioner told Vísir that there is “room for improvement in many areas.”

A four-fold plan of action

During a press conference held yesterday, Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson, alongside the National Police Commissioner, the Commissioner of the Capital Area Police, and the District Prosecutor, unveiled a new comprehensive plan for law enforcement. This plan, which has been in development for over a year, consists of four key components: strengthening general law enforcement, improving police officer training, implementing a new action plan for sexual offences, and significantly enhancing measures against organised crime.

According to Vísir, the plan involves the creation of 80 new positions to bolster law enforcement efforts. These positions will be distributed as follows: 10 new police officers to be stationed throughout the country, 10 specialists to carry out various police duties, 10 additional border guards, 10 officers dedicated solely to combating organised crime, and 10 officers tasked with investigating and prosecuting sexual offences.

In discussing the plan, Jón Gunnarsson emphasised the importance of optimising human capital and improving coordination between police departments in order to ensure the most effective and efficient use of resources. “There are challenging times ahead of us,” he noted, “but we remain committed to getting the best possible outcomes for the people we serve.”

Room for improvement in many areas

National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir expressed her satisfaction with the news of an increase in police officers. For years, she noted, the police force has been understaffed, which has severely impeded their ability to carry out their duties. “There is a lot of room for improvement in many areas,” she added.

Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson echoed Sigríður’s sentiments, telling Vísir that while progress in some areas of law enforcement may be seen as early as this year, others will take more time. He emphasised the importance of educating and training police officers, but also highlighted the immediate results already achieved in cases of sexual offences and violence.

“We have taken the first steps towards building a stronger police force,” Jón Gunnarsson said, “which will ultimately make our citizens safer and better protected.”

A new action plan for sexual offences

A comprehensive plan to tackle sexual offences has also been put in place, including an increase in the number of people investigating and prosecuting such crimes, as well as a bolstering of the system itself. According to Jón, the results have been “unquestionable.”

“The fight will probably never end, but it starts with society becoming involved in the fight against violent and sexual crimes: that we show concern as opposed to looking the other way – and help and report if we become aware of something untoward.”

Over the past year, the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the police and other interested parties, launched a campaign to raise awareness about sexual offences. The aim of the campaign was to increase the number of reports. According to the National Police Commissioner, this campaign has proven successful:

“We are hoping that this does not mean an increase in the number of cases, but that the number of people reporting on these cases is increasing. With the increase in the number of reports, however, it means that more officers are needed so that the rate of cases can become acceptable,” Sigríður told Vísir.

The expediting of sexual-offence cases

As noted by Vísir, the processing time of sexual offences in Iceland has long been criticised, although that time has reportedly been shortened over recent months:

“We want, of course, to expedite these cases as much as possible, but we must not forget that technical research also needs to be done: phones need to be studied, biometrics, etc. There are all kinds of things that simply take time. This will never be something you handle in a few days, but we can do much better and plan to do much better,” Sigríður stated.

It is not only the investigative aspect of such crimes that has taken a long time, however, but court proceedings, as well. District prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson stated that such a thing was not limited to sexual offence cases.

“We’ve been criticised, as far as other offences are concerned, for taking too long, but when we examine the processing of such cases abroad, we see that they also take quite a long time. There has, however, been a special effort to expedite the processing of sexual offences,” Ólafur remarked.

Organised crime on the rise

As far as organised crime is concerned, the response of law enforcement is being greatly bolstered. The district attorney will chair a special steering committee for the establishment of interdepartmental investigative teams. They are meant to analyse and prioritise organised-crime cases.

“The number of these cases has been increasing so that more work, more hands, has been required. And this increase that is being announced [in this plan] is primarily aimed at increasing the number of staff so that this can be done faster and that the system has more capacity,” Ólafur observed.

The Minister of Justice stated that big steps were being taken in dealing with recent, worrying trends:

“These are issues that extend beyond the borders, which show no respect for borders, and require a lot of expertise. We cooperate with foreign police authorities, and this requires a lot of cooperation between police departments, and even with the tax authorities, and other parties, within the country,” Jón observed.

Commissioner’s Father Unable to Account for Dozens of Firearms

Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir - Police Commissioner in Iceland

The father of Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir was unable to account for dozens of firearms discovered at his home during an investigation of a domestic-terror plot. No investigation was opened into his actions, despite his admission that he had sold illegally modified weapons in exchange for cash payment, RÚV reports.

Conflict of interest leads to recusal

As reported in late September, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir recused herself from an investigation into a domestic-terror plot after the home of her father, Guðjón Valdimarsson – a well-known weapons collector and vendor – was searched during the investigation.

According to RÚV, a search of Guðjón’s home revealed nearly forty unlicensed firearms, for which Guðjón was unable to adequately account. Guðjón was not arrested, however, and the police have not divulged his legal status in relation to the investigation.

This is not the first time that Sigríður Björk has been forced to recuse herself from an investigation. In 2018, Sigríður’s father was also entangled in an investigation involving the alleged offence of an individual in possession of a DPMS rifle that had been modified to function as semi-automatic.

“In that case, the sole aim of the investigation was whether the buyer – who did not have the knowledge, the tools, nor the access to spare parts – had modified the weapon himself. The individual who sold the rifle, however, was only interrogated as a witness,” Einar Gautur Steingrímsson, attorney for the man who was charged with the weapons offence, told RÚV.

No investigation opened despite modification

As noted by RÚV, the accused was acquitted before the Court of Appeal (Landsréttur) as the prosecution failed to prove that he had modified the weapon. The case was thereby closed, without any investigation being opened into whether Guðjón Valdimarsson, or someone else, had modified the weapon.

“It’s completely mind-boggling that someone who sells a firearm, which has been modified, is not the subject of the investigation alongside the buyer; the person who modified the weapon is not investigated but rather the person who couldn’t,” Einar Gautur added.

Guðjón was, however, interrogated, although the interrogation was conducted at his home in Hafnarfjörður and not at the police station. Police reports do not indicate why the interrogation took place at his home.

RÚV also notes that it possesses documents proving that the defendant in the aforementioned case had paid Guðjón ISK 1.5 million ($10,00 / €10,000) for the weapon, in cash. No receipt or invoice changed hands during the time of the transaction (i.e. no tax was paid). During his interrogation, Guðjón partially confirmed that the transaction had been conducted with cash for ISK 700,000 ($5,000 / €5,00).

“Nothing to suggest” misconduct

In an interview with Vísir published this morning, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson maintained that the police had not protected the Police Commissioner’s father.

“I’ve no information to indicate that such a thing happened,” Jón remarked. “As far as that older case (from 2018) is concerned, during a time when the Police Commissioner was employed as the Chief of the Capital Area Police, she declared her conflict of interest and recused herself. The investigation was subsequently transferred to someone else.”

Jón went on to suggest that he wasn’t adequately familiar with the details of the current investigation to comment but that the Police Commissioner appeared to have comported herself ethically.

When asked whether it wasn’t clear that the legislation on firearms needed to be amended – to prevent individuals from hoarding firearms, among them semi-automatic weapons – Jón stated that he hoped such amendments would be concluded before the end of the year.

“When I arrived at the Ministry, I realised that this legislation would need to be reviewed. We’re in the process of doing so now, as I’ve previously announced.”

Judge Grants Extended Custody Over Domestic-Terror Suspects

Terror plot

Yesterday, the Reykjavík District Court granted the district attorney’s request to extend custody over two individuals suspected of planning a domestic-terror attack, both of whom have been kept in isolation since late September, RÚV reports. The suspects’ lawyers have appealed the decision to the National Court.

“The first investigation of its kind”

Four Icelandic men were arrested on September 21 suspected of “terrorist plots” against state institutions and civilians. Two of the suspects were immediately released; the other two have remained in custody.

According to the police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. The men, all of whom are in their twenties, had reportedly discussed carrying out an attack during the police’s annual celebration (which was held on October 1).

Chief Police Inspector Karl Steinar Valsson told reporters that this was the “first investigation of its kind to be launched in Iceland.”

Custody extended

Yesterday, District Attorney Ólafur Þór Hauksson confirmed to RÚV that the Reykjavík District Court had agreed to extend custody over the two suspects. The court’s rationale was primarily founded on the complicated nature of the investigation.

As previously noted, eight different units are working on the investigation. “We’re investigating the 3D printer, various electronic data, weapons, and tips from the public. We’ve also sent quite a bit of data to police authorities in the Nordic countries and to Europol so that they may assist in our processing of the evidence,” Grímur Grímsson, Chief of the Capital Area Police, told reports on September 29.

According to Ólafur Þór, the police have also yet to formally interrogate the two suspects. As soon as investigative interests no longer apply, however, there would be no need to keep the suspects isolated, Ólafur observed. The suspects’ lawyers have criticised their clients’ prolonged isolation. They appealed the decision to extend custody to the National Court yesterday.

As previously noted in Iceland Review, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir has recused herself from the investigation, as the home of the Police Commissioner’s father, a well-known weapons collector, was searched during the investigation.

Police Commissioner’s Father Entangled in Domestic-Terror Investigation

Chief Superintendent Grímur Grímsson

National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir has recused herself from an investigation into a domestic-terrorism plot; the home of the Police Commissioner’s father, a well-known weapons collector, was searched during the investigation. Two men remain in custody.

A well-known weapons collector and gunsmith

Last week, the police arrested four Icelandic men suspected of planning a domestic-terrorism attack. Two of the suspects were immediately released; the other two have remained in custody.

According to the police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. The men, all of whom are in their twenties, had discussed carrying out an attack during the police’s annual celebration, which will be held tomorrow, October 1.

Read More: Does Iceland have a gun problem?

At a press conference yesterday, Sveinn Ingiberg Magnússon, Chief of Police for the District Attorney’s Office, revealed that National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir had recused herself from the case as an individual connected to her had been named in the investigation.

Following the press conference, various outlets reported that the individual in question was Guðjón Valdimarsson, the Police Commissioner’s father. According to RÚV, the police had searched the home of Guðjón Valdimarsson, a known weapons collector and gunsmith, who sells weapons and spare parts on the website vopnasalinn.net.

Guðjón is said to own a sizable collection of guns and has been granted a “collector’s licence,” authorising his ownership of illegal weapons if, for example, they possess historical value. The police has, however, not offered any details on Guðjón’s possible connection to the investigation.

Mbl.is references comments that Guðjón Valdimarsson made regarding a bill on weapons, explosives, and fireworks. “My weapons collection is one of the largest private collections in Iceland,” Guðjón remarked, adding that he had invested a considerable amount in weapons, estimating the value of his collection to be ca. ISK 40 million. He also emphasised that his collection was kept in a specially-designed building and that all of the weapons were registered legally.

Police officers to experiment with tasers

The investigation into the domestic-terror plot has brought the discussion of proactive policing into the fore. RÚV reports that the Minister of Justice is drafting regulations that would allow police officers to carry tasers as a part of an experimental project.

Iceland: Terrorist Plot Sparks Debate on Police Power

Icelandic police arrested four men in their twenties this week who are suspected of plotting a terrorist attack on state institutions, possibly including the Icelandic parliament and police force. While the police managed to arrest the men before they could carry out their alleged plan, the incident has sparked a debate on whether the Icelandic police force is adequately equipped for responding to such incidents, and whether the legal framework they operate in is adequate. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated he collaborating with the National Police Commissioner to draft suggestions for reform within the police force.

Ordinary police officers unarmed

“We are considering publishing these suggestions this autumn,” Jón told Fréttablaðið. “The state of organised crime is more serious than people realise.” While Jón stated that increasing police weaponry could potentially be included in those suggestions, he added that does not mean arming ordinary law enforcement officers with firearms. Ordinary policemen in Iceland don’t carry guns on their person, although there is a gun stored in every police car. The special forces, which do carry firearms, are called out for incidents involving weapons, and their call-outs have increased in number recently.

Read More: Does Iceland Have a Gun Problem?

Fjölnir Sæmundsson, chairman of the National Association of Police Officers (Landssamband lögreglumanna) stated that while the incident shocked police officers, he is not of the opinion that it indicates a need to arm ordinary police officers in Iceland. The incident does, however, demonstrate the necessity of collaborating with police departments abroad and perhaps reviewing regulations on the permissions Icelandic police have to monitor certain individuals, according to Fjölnir.

Asked whether Iceland, like other Nordic countries, is experiencing a rise in the activities of extremist alt-right groups, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir stated that the risk of crime connected to such groups is still considered low. Sigríður stated that the risk assessment for terrorist incidents would not be changed in light of this one incident.

Common denominator

Recent incidents involving weapons in Iceland contain one commonality: those involved are young, Icelandic males. Professor of Criminology Helgi Gunnlaugsson told Iceland Review he believes this should be studied. “It’s important to look at the ideology. These young Icelandic males think carrying these weapons around is important and they are prepared to use them. We need to study what’s happening with young males that are on the margins of society.”

Helgi suggested that within the Icelandic system, there is more emphasis on responding to crime instead of trying to prevent it. “You have the police, but it would also be helpful to have other types of agencies approaching troubled youth in a constructive way.”

Fugitive Captured After Three Days on the Lam

A twenty-year-old man who escaped from police custody last Tuesday has been apprehended. According to a statement from the police, five other people have also been arrested.

Escape from the District Courthouse

On Tuesday, April 19, twenty-year-old Gabríel Douane Boama escaped from police custody at the District Court in downtown Reykjavík.

Gabríel was accused, alongside four others, of having ganged up on a man in his twenties outside Kjarvalsstaðir on July 18 of last year, coercing the man to transfer ISK 892,000 ($7,000 / €6,400) into his bank account with three separate transfers.

On the night of the escape, Gabríel published two posts on Instagram, one of which indicated that he was hiding out in the Vesturbær neighbourhood of Reykjavík.

Twice mistaken for the fugitive

On Wednesday, April 20, the police received a tip that Gabríel was riding on a city bus.

Special forces stopped the bus and boarded – only to discover that the person responsible for the tip had mistaken a 16-year-old boy for the fugitive. The boy, whose friends called him a cab and accompanied him home, was considerably distressed.

The incident provoked its share of criticism, raising questions about racial profiling.

Musician Logi Pedró Stefánsson questioned the methods employed by the police to call attention to a wanted individual on social media and in the news. “It’s unacceptable that armed special forces barge in and remove a 16-year-old child only because he has the same haircut as a wanted individual,” Logi wrote.

The boy’s mother also contacted the police to express her dismay that young men of colour were in danger of being harassed by the police. National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir stated that she was sorry that an innocent boy had been entangled in police operations.

Déjà vu all over again

A day later, the same 16-year-old boy was again mistaken for the fugitive at a bakery in the Mjódd neighbourhood of Reykjavík. According to reports, “a man in a Tesla” called the police with a tip.

As reported by Fréttablaðið, a video of the event showed the boy and his mother seated at a table in the bakery when police officers approached: “I knew it!” she exclaimed before telling them that they were “not allowed to talk to her child.”

Finally apprehended

Yesterday, Gabríel Douane Boama published another post on Instagram, posing alongside a friend within an undisclosed apartment. Nearly twelve hours later, the Capital Area Police announced that they had apprehended Gabríel after “significant operations.”

Five other people were also arrested, with police investigating if any of the individuals had been complicit in Gabríel’s escape.

“Society More Vigilant Against Domestic Abuse,” Police Commissioner Says

Metropolitan Police

A record number of domestic-violence incidents were reported to the police over the past two years, a new report from the Icelandic Police indicates. Victim surveys suggest that domestic violence has not increased, but victims report incidences more frequently. The National Police Commissioner calls this a “positive development.”

2,102 incidents of domestic disputes and violence in 2021

A new report on domestic violence by the Icelandic Police indicates that reports of domestic violence and domestic disputes are on the rise. Fifteen-hundred incidents were reported in 2014, compared to 2,102 in 2021.

In an interview with the radio programme Morgunútvarpið on Rás 2 this morning, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir referred to this increase in reports as a “positive development.”

“Because during the pandemic – when social restrictions were in effect, and when kids were out of school, etc. – we feared that we would receive fewer reports and fewer calls for help. But this wasn’t the case. Child protective services were notified on multiple occasions when there was a suspicion of possible violence. So you could say that we, as a society, were vigilant, with outside parties notifying the authorities,” Sigríður Björk stated.

Sigríður suggests that over the past few years society has begun to “open its eyes” to this kind of violence. (The report also notes that police protocols were updated in 2014, which led to increased reporting.)

“Only 10 or 15 years ago, domestic violence was regarded as a private matter,” Sigríður Björk continued. “But this is deadly serious. You just have to look at homicide data: half of all homicides occur between related or associated parties.”

Sigríður Björk says that the authorities need to consider preventive measures and educational initiatives to curb domestic abuse.

“When it comes to digital abuse, for example, where you have so many young victims and abusers. Just having a web page: kids are learning (to adopt this technology) and trying on different roles. You can be involved in a situation that is abusive in nature, even though you don’t realise it. Public discourse is important, that is, that it’s not considered a private affair, which people have to deal with for years on end, even at a risk to their lives,” Sigríður Björk observed.

As noted in the report, domestic-violence incidences reported to the police increased by a third between 2015 and 2021. 80% of aggressors were male.

Domestic Abuse Assistance Now Available Via Online Chat

Emergency assistance for people experiencing domestic violence is now available not only by calling Iceland’s emergency number, 112, but also via online chat on their website. This is the first time that people have been able to seek emergency assistance online. The website, 112.is, is only available in Icelandic for now but is currently being translated into both English and Polish.

The initiative is intended to make it easier for those who are experiencing domestic violence to receive the help they need, particularly those who feel unable to make a phone call or who believe that they’ve been in a violent situation too long to report it. The portal is also open to perpetrators of domestic violence seeking assistance and treatment, as well as those who are concerned that someone close to them is experiencing violence in the home.

Domestic violence increased during the first wave of COVID

The 112 chat portal was announced during the COVID-19 press conference on Thursday. As National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir explained, there was an increase in domestic violence during the first wave of the pandemic, as evidenced by a 15% increase in notifications to child protective services and a 14% in reports to police of intimate partner violence as compared to last year’s average.

In response to this, in May, Minister for Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason and Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir appointed a working group tasked with developing and coordinating measures to address domestic violence in times of economic and social distress.

Four proposals to better address domestic violence and assist survivors

The online 112 portal is one of four proposals announced by the working group in a press release on the government’s website on Thursday. A public awareness campaign about recognizing signs of domestic violence will also be launched in the winter of 2020-21 and will be based around the 112.is website. The campaign will be rolled out in phases, each of which will focus on specific groups who are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence.

The group also proposed that an online cognitive therapy programme to treat trauma be developed in collaboration with the National University Hospital’s psychiatric ward, the Directorate of Health’s National Centre for e-Health, and the Development Centre for Primary Health Care in Iceland.

Thirdly, they suggested that the parental resources available to all parents before the birth of a child and through the first 1,000 days of a child’s life be further developed. These materials should aim to strengthen parental skills so as to reduce the likeliness of neglect, abuse, and violence against children. Parents and children in vulnerable or at-risk circumstances will receive particular attention.

Lastly, the group proposed that a new electronic processing system be developed within the healthcare system, so as to improve healthcare professionals’ responses to cases of domestic violence.

Altogether, it’s expected that these measures will cost ISK 66.7 million [$478,307; € 408,816]. The working group is led by Commissioner Sigríður Björk and former Progressive Party MP and Minister for Social Affairs and Housing Eygló Harðadóttir and will continue its work through January 31, 2021.

Sigríður Björk Named National Police Commissioner

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir has named Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir the National Police Commissioner of Iceland, effective March 16, Kjarninn reports. Sigríður has been Chief of Police in the capital area since 2014 and is the first woman to serve in that office.

The Office of the National Commissioner of Police began operations in 1997. Haraldur Johannessen held the office of National Police Commissioner for 22 years, until stepping down last year after rising tensions in the police force led to eight out of nine police commissioners in the country declared a vote of no confidence in Haraldur’s leadership. Kjartan Þorkelsson, Chief of Police of South Iceland, temporarily replaced Haraldur while the Minister of Justice began seeking applications for a permanent replacement in the position.

Prior to assuming the position of police chief in the capital, Sigríður was chief of the Suðurnes Police in South Iceland and acted as assistant police commissioner from 2007 to 2008. She’s also worked in other regions of the country: she was sheriff of Ísafjörður from 2002 to 2006 and chief tax inspector in the Westfjords from 1996 to 2002.