Smart Social Policies in Finland, Dumb Ones in the US
Kuopio-- Finland can be a shock to a visitor from America. The cities are clean, the highways and byways are smoothly paved and pothole-free despite the punishing winter climate faced by a country that straddles the Arctic Circle, schools look shiny and new, and it’s hard to see anyone who looks destitute.
It’s also incredibly hard to spot a police car or a police officer. Indeed, despite my spending two weeks in Finland earlier this month, including driving over 2000 miles from the city of Kuopio to the upper reaches of Lapland and back, I never saw one law enforcement officer, except at the Helsinki airport on my way home, when an elderly tourist from Turkey insisted that an airport cop accompany him to the tax rebate desk so he could file a complaint about the alleged misconduct of a woman behind the counter (the officer gently explained to the man that the law only provided for rebates of the value added tax to tourists for their purchases of goods valued at over 100 Euros, not for services).
It’s not that Finland doesn’t have its share of crimes, including violent crimes, but police are not swarming the streets, they don’t carry semi-automatic rifles on patrol, and they are even polite when they make arrests. When the teenage son of a friend of ours in Finland was caught with friends one evening a year or so ago smoking marijuana in a playground, the police simply called his parents, who came in and were advised to reprimand him and talk with him about the seriousness of taking drugs. There was no arrest or appearance before a judge, no fine, and no handcuffing.
One evening in Rovaniemi, a city in the south of Lapland, I found myself in a kabob joint, watching a Finnish TV reality cop show while I ate. Man, was it boring! Two cops joked in their patrol van. Eventually they happened on what appeared to be a young prostitute being propositioned by a young man. They pulled over and got out, not even putting their flashing lights on. Strolling up to the pair, they were all smiles. They questioned the two, informed them that they were engaging in an activity that was illegal, and told them to move along. Nobody was arrested. Nobody was yelled at. Then, still joking, they went back on patrol. Next they encountered a young man wearing (gasp!) a hoodie. Although he had a dark complexion, indicating he was part of that tiny minority of people in this country where 99.5% of the citizens are white, their approach was again polite. When they questioned him about why he was hanging around a closed shop, he tried to leave. At that point, the two cops each grabbed an arm, but there was no roughing him up, no slamming him face first on the ground with a one cop’s knee in his back, no punching or kicking. They just held him firmly and led him over to the van. In the US, that arrest would have looked totally different, and the suspect would have sustained at a minimum facial injuries and back injuries, plus he would have been cuffed. If a suspect receiving such abuse in the US were to try to resist at all, the consequences could be far worse -- perhaps even death at the hands of the officers via choke hold or bullet.