Sweden’s minister for home affairs, Anders Ygeman, stressed that the new directives will apply only in cases where the police force lacks the resources to handle a situation on their own, for instance in the event of a terrorist attack against one or several nuclear power stations where police cannot offer sufficient protection att all sites.
Back in to 2006, a legal amendment made it possible for the police to seek help from the Swedish Armed Forces, but the year after the then National Police Board chief decided to limit military assistance to air and sea battles. Now, a new interpretation of the law makes it possible for the police to seek military assistance for a range of other protective measures.
Håkan Wall of the National Police Board said the matter is a difficult and sensitive one. He told Swedish Radio News: “With this law, the defence forces receive police powers and that means it is possible for them to use violence and force. In some cases they would be obliged to do so.”
Under the new plans, military personnel are to receive a one to two-week course, which will include lessons in law, the use of force, professional principles and other matters that govern the police's street operations.
According to the law, the government needs to approve the defence forces’ involvement in police anti-terrorist operations. However, in urgent cases, for instance where people’s lives are in danger or where there is major destruction, it would be enough for the National Police Board to notify the government of the operation.
Stig Henriksson, the Left Party’s representative on Sweden’s parliamentary Committee on Defence, is skeptical of the new development, saying he takes issue with it both on principle and because of practical considerations. Henriksson is unsure the military will be able properly to handle police tasks.
“I don’t think the Police Academy believes one is fully trained after a two-week course. I also imagine that this will likely be applied in emergency situations where it is not possible to wait for a decision from the government,” Henriksson told Swedish Radio News.
Ever since Swedish soldiers under police command shot and killed five people demonstrating for workers’ rights in Ådalen, northern Sweden back in 1931, the question of involving the army in police operations has been controversial in Sweden. But Håkan Wall of the National Police Board said that reference is not relevant in today’s context.
Wall said: “It’s understandable that people make that connection,” Wall said, “because what happened back then was incredibly tragic and it is a wound in Sweden’s history. But I still think the comparison is irrelevant.”