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After the one-two punch, on a single day last summer, of a deadly explosion in the center of Oslo and an even more deadly shooting spree on a nearby island, the Norwegian government did what it does best: it formed a commission. This one was charged with figuring out just how one man had been able to get away with inflicting so much damage. The other day the commission finally issued its report. More than a few higher-ups seemed surprised by its honesty. Perhaps they’d expected something more like the internal police report on the same subject, which had exonerated the police and everyone else in authority. Or perhaps they’d expected, at worst, a rap on the wrists. But this report was a punch in the guts. It was, in a word, devastating. And it could hardly have been more richly deserved.
I’ve mentioned before that I marveled for years at the chronic lack of security outside Norway’s main government building, next to which Anders Behring Breivik was able to park a vehicle packed with explosives on July 22 of last year. The report quite rightly pointed out that the attack on this building could have easily been prevented if only a few simple, commonsensical security measures – which had been officially recommended years ago – had been implemented. The report also faulted the police for their slow, feeble response to the news that people were being gunned down on the island of Utøya. The police took a long time to drive to the lake in which the island is located, and then took a long time to figure out a way to cross over to the island. They might’ve jumped on a helicopter in Oslo and flown to the island in a trice – but, no, their only (!) helicopter was unusable because the pilot was on vacation. Equally incredible, the Norwegian police didn’t decide until a couple of hours after the Oslo bombing to close the Swedish border, just in case the bomber tried to leave the country; but their slow thinking hardly mattered, because their decision was somehow never conveyed to anybody anyway. The border did get sealed, but only because Swedish police, after hearing about Breivik’s atrocities, took it upon themselves to set up checkpoints and barriers.
Norway’s only remotely serious major newspaper, the business daily Dagens Næringsliv (DN), ran an illuminating feature on Saturday about how the Norwegian police culture made this absurd Keystone Kops situation possible. DN described a cartoonishly dysfunctional bureaucracy – a “paper mill” – plagued by a lack of communication and coordination, preoccupied with niggling details and petty offenses, and devoted to the production of detailed action reports that were never acted upon. In short, a police department bizarrely removed from the reality of actual policing. It was also a force in which there was a great deal of pressure from the top to keep quiet about any problems or deficiencies and to pretend that “everything was perfect.”
For the last decade or so the Norwegian police have been subordinated, more or less, to an entity called the Police Directorate, which from May 2011 until the other day was headed up by one Øystein Mæland. In the U.S., a guy in such a position would almost certainly be a cop with decades of wide-ranging police experience. Mæland, when he was appointed to this job, had no police experience whatsoever. He was a psychiatrist and – more important – a longtime Labor Party politician who, in his teens, was head of the Oslo branch of Labor Party Youth and, as an adult, headed up the Oslo Labor Union and worked in several government ministries. He is also a pacifist. (Instead of performing his obligatory year of military service in his teens, he chose the option of doing civilian work instead.)
In short, as DN put it, and as Per Sandberg of the Progress Party objected at the time, Mæland was a prime example of “political nepotism.” This in a time of terrorism – and in a country that, thanks to the Labor Party’s twisted budgetary priorities, is awash in graduates of the police academy who can’t get work as police officers. The fact that under the Labor Party the job of running the police in Norway is a political appointment is – like the chronic understaffing of police precincts – just another sign of the utter lack of seriousness with which Laborites have viewed the role of the police. And indicative of the lack of seriousness with which Øystein Mæland viewed his position is this: not only did he go on vacation after just two weeks on the job; last October – less than two months after the atrocities of July 22 – he took five months of paternity leave. So clueless, indeed, was Mæland, and so bereft of any concept of personal responsibility, that after the commission’s devastating report was released, he emerged from an emergency meeting with Norway’s police chiefs grinning ear to ear because they’d assured him of their support; not until later that day, the truth of his own disgrace having finally been made clear to him (it is no surprise to me, by the way, that a Norwegian psychiatrist could be so breathtakingly obtuse), did he finally resign his position as head of the Police Directorate.
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