For the tourist, it could be handy to recognise the authorities one should obey in Finland. Authorities are quite friendly towards tourists and speak English comparatively well. Finns can be proud of that Transparency International rated Finland as the least corrupted country in the world: in a scale from 0.0 to 10.0, Finland was rated 9.9 - to compare, USA was rated 7.2, Russia had about five, and Nigeria was at almost zero.

Generally, emergency flashing lights are always light blue or purplish-blue. There are no red lights at all. A sodium orange flashing light means road maintenance.

The police has jurisdiction over all civilian criminality in peacetime, except guarding the frontiers. It is a national organization of the state, divided into 90 jurisdictional districts led by 6 administrative districts. All of them except the customs call themselves "police", POLIISI. The ranks are not sorted like military ranks, as there is about one rank per one job. The ranks are, with literal translations:

  • Nuorempi konstaapeli, "junior constable"
  • Vanhempi konstaapeli, "senior constable" (promotion after a set number of years in service)
  • Ylikonstaapeli, "superior constable" (Sergeant)
  • Komisario, "commissioner" (Br. Inspector)
  • Ylikomisario, "superior commissioner" (Br. Chief Inspector)
  • Poliisipäällikkö "police chief", poliisitarkastaja "police inspector", nimismies lit. "named man" (a Sheriff, essentially)
  • Poliisiylitarkastaja "police superior inspector"
  • Lääninpoliisijohtaja "district police director", also, the Helsinki police chief and the heads of the national police units (National Bureau of Investigation KRP, security police Supo, mobile road police LP)
  • Poliisijohtaja "police director"
  • Poliisiylijohtaja "police superior director"
The prefix "yli-" refers to being the superior. For example, ylikonstaapeli is a leader for konstaapeli. There are some additional higher ranks specific for a particular job, not elaborated here. Furthermore, officers working in the national police headquarters are considered one rank higher.

Departments of the police include:

The appearance of the uniformed police is uniform in Finland, because police is a state institution. Everything is marine blue, light blue or white. On the back it reads POLIISI. The insignia is light blue. On the arm there is a short sword with a head of a stylisized lion instead of the handle. On the collar, there are two pentagonal insignia with the bayleaves surrounding a sword. The hats have the same insignia in the forehead. They use neon green vests with white reflective bands in traffic control. The cars are white and blue, reading POLIISI on one and POLIS on the other side. Boats of the same color and insignia partol the coast catching drunken sailors. Lights flash blue. Officers carry a handgun (S&W?) and a baton as their weapons. Shotgun carrying was discontinued after a few fatal incidents. Only the few special units, like Karhuryhmä (jokingly called Karhukopla or the Beagle Boys), have other weapons.

The military will not have authority, except if they're having a drill and you're interfering, or you're trying to break into a military area. If you wander far enough into the woods, there might be practice going on. Then someone in the usual camo uniform shoos you away. There is a point in obeying them. I've actually been a few days in guard of a shooting practice zone. If the gate was not guarded, some clueless motorist could drive into the target zone and have a meeting with Mr. Artillery Shell.

Military rank insignia are gold-colored and a Finnish flag is on the arm in a normal uniform (M 91). If there is traffic control, they wear the neon green vest. The guard can also be a military police who has a black armband reading SP (SOTILASPOLIISI). Usually they are conscripts, but the enlisted personnel can be discerned from conscripts by two things: either a little golden sword in their insignia, or the rank of an officer (insignia: roses, except that Generals have lions). The Rebellion Act (kapinalaki) dictates that only in a case of a rebellion the military can assist the police. Sometimes, however, the military can provide armor in cases where someone threatens to set off explosives.

There was one amusing incident I once saw. I was going from Vaasa to Helsinki with a group of foreigners in the same carriage. The train slowed down to a halt near Parkano. A group of young soldiers in military uniforms walked through the carriage. I wonder what those foreigners thought... I wonder if they noticed that the soldiers had no weapons at all. Near Parkano there is a section of railroad tracks where only one train can pass safely at a time. Another train was coming, and this is why the train always stops there. The soldiers had come from Niinisalo, where they were serving their compulsory military service.

The Frontier Guard is a division of the Department of Interior, but is connected to the military. They have military uniforms reading RAJAVARTIOLAITOS. (The strange thing is that some uniforms are just like army uniforms - camo green and golden insignia - but some are mat olive-green with orange rank insignia.) The Frontier Guard includes the Sea Guard. Their uniform reads MERIVARTIOSTO. This institution is quite unique - they are soldiers with the know-how of the police and customs. A single look at the map of this region tells exactly why this must be the case. The border to Russia is 1300 km long, and many drug, tobacco and alcohol smugglers want to try their luck.

In trains, the conductor has the authority of a policeman. VR stands for Valtion Rautatiet, State Railways, not Virtual Reality. A conductor has a marine blue suit with light blue shirt under it. The tie is striped in red and black, except in Pendolino bullet trains, where the tie is only red. The inspectors are a very rare sight, because I have traveled regularly for five years in the busiest times, and seen an inspection only once. They check everyone's tickets to catch stowaways and see that the tickets are duly stamped. If a stowaway is caught, the inspection fee is 42 euro. For the inspector, the suit is the same as for the conductor, but the tie has blue stripes instead of red. The gorillas have marine blue clothes, and it reads on the shirt: RATAHALLINTOKESKUS. (Railroad Administration)

The fire and rescue department (PELASTUSLAITOS) has ambulances that are white or yellow, with neon orange or red colour on them. The fire trucks are red with black and white colours. The wheels have the same black-and-white motif as in the logo of BMW painted on them.

Some officials that are not employed by a police organisation might also have limited policing rights. Inspectors of Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry have the right to inspect the fishing license and enforce the use of snowmobiles routes in national parks. Similarly, municipal parking inspectors - with a completely red uniform - have the right to give parking tickets and are entitled officials enforcing the law.

Private guards and trained attendants or ushers are entitled "order-keeping personnel". They don't have policing or gun-carrying rights and are entitled to authority only on the property they guard. Their authority isn't significantly more extensive than that of a common citizen, but violent resistance against them is an offence. Also, they have the right to restrain a violent person (for a maximum of three hours) until the police arrives. If a legal dispute arises, in a court of law they will have an upper hand.

The Law of Sea applies: the captain of a boat must be obeyed. Personnel onboard can incarcerate violent or unauthorised passangers to a small cell.

thanks to C-Dawg for error correction


Pictures:

  • Police: http://www.poliisi.fi/poliisi/home.nsf/pages/89F742EB024AFA10C2256BB8004469E7?OpenDocument
  • Frontier Guard: http://www.rvl.fi/rvl/periodic.nsf/vwDocuments/C34AC6FEFD284DF9C2256E6600443053

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