Police in Norway: the Norwegian police system explained
Read all about the police system in Norway, from how to become a police officer to how prosecution works.
Norway is more known for its crime novels than for its true crime scene. That being said, there is of course a police force, and this force has some particularities.
From the training Norwegian police officers receive to the weapons they use (or don’t use), read on as we give you everything you need to know about the Norwegian police and their inner workings.
How the Norwegian police are organized
Norway has a unified police, which means there is only one civilian police force in Norway. This contrasts with the situation in places like the United States or the United Kingdom, where regions or even cities may have their own police force.
The Norwegian police operate under the National Police Directorate, which falls under the Ministry of Justice.
Norwegian police districts
Operations are spread across twelve police districts, varying in size from the relatively small region of Oslo to the vast arctic expanses of Finnmark. They are:
- Møre og Romsdal
- South East
In addition to the twelve districts, the Norwegian police also has seven specialized agencies, dedicated to tasks such as border control, the fight against economic crime or the investigation of cybercrime.
If you arrive in Oslo from outside the Schengen area, for example, a police officer will examine your passport.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the PST, the Norwegian counterintelligence service, which reports directly to the Ministry of Justice. Its role in Norway is similar to that of the FBI in the United States: to catch foreign spies and prevent acts of terrorism or sabotage.
The powers of the Norwegian police
Since there is only one police organization in the country, the police have no geographical limits to their powers.
These powers fall under many different areas of responsibility: patrolling highways, responding to emergency calls, and coordinating search and rescue activities.
The other responsibilities of the Norwegian police are those which in other countries are carried out by other services: patrolling coastal waters, checking passports at the border and even acting as a prosecutor in court, for certain crimes. (we’ll talk about that later).
Other duties include administrative tasks, such as issuing passports and identity cards, issuing firearms licenses and background checks.
Become a policeman in Norway
Police officer training in Norway is a three-year university bachelor’s degree. The second year consists of practical training in the field.
Since their duties are so varied, the training required also varies. Court prosecution officers, for example, need a law degree.
Police prosecutors in Norway
The integration of prosecutorial powers with the police is a feature of the Norwegian and Danish police systems. In most Western countries, these powers are separate.
In practice, this means that a police investigation of a crime will often be conducted by a political lawyer. Literally, this translates to “police lawyer”, but roughly corresponds to a British police commissioner. A US equivalency is more difficult to pin down, as US police ranks tend to vary from service to service.
The advantage of having prosecutors as part of the police is that closer cooperation between the officers investigating a crime and the prosecution can result in a more coordinated investigation.
The downside is that it removes a natural point of friction between the prosecution and the police which can prove useful in certain cases, for example if the investigation goes wrong.
Police weapons in Norway
The Norwegian police have a long tradition of being unarmed at all times. Generally, the firearms are in the trunk of the police car, under lock and key.
This may be a little shocking to some, but it makes sense considering Norway’s very low murder rate, at 0.5 murders per year, per 100,000 people. In comparison, this rate in the United States is 5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
Since the end of World War II in 1945, 12 police officers have been killed in the line of duty in Norway. By comparison, 15 Chicago Police Department officers were killed in the line of duty in the 1990s alone (Chicago’s population is about half the population of Norway).
The comparison may be unfair, but it demonstrates that the crime rate in Norway is relatively low and the need for firearms is not as great. The argument for maintaining this state of affairs is that an arms race between the police and the criminals serves no one.
That being said, police have carried guns on more occasions over the past decade. More often than not, these exceptions to the rule were made because PST warned of a greater perceived terrorist threat.
What weapons do the Norwegian police use?
When carrying firearms, Norwegian police use German Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns and Heckler & Koch P30 semi-automatic pistols. Delta (the Norwegian SWAT team) uses Diemaco C8 assault rifles.
A three-year pilot project launched in 2019 gave Norwegian police the option of using tasers as a non-lethal weapon. This pilot project was considered successful by the authorities and the government decided to allow the police to continue using Tasers in their operations.
The daily police
A notable detail about the police in Norway is that they are not as visibly present as in many other countries.
While police officers can be seen driving, walking, cycling or riding horses in major North American cities, at times when “everything is in order”, this sight is not as common in Norway.
In Norway, the police are most visible when heading to a crime scene or other incident, when monitoring a large demonstration or when monitoring the embassy of a foreign country considered a target (for terrorists, for example).
That’s not to say that Norwegian streets don’t seem safe or that the police aren’t doing their job. They are just less visible.
Another difference is the relatively laid back tone with which they are seen speaking to members of the public, suspects or victims. The policing methods seen on television shows such as COPS may not be an accurate representation of reality in the United States, but they are certainly far removed from the Norwegian norm.
Prisons in Norway
The Norwegian prison system emphasizes rehabilitation and its low recidivism rates. The system is so different from many other countries around the world that we have covered it in detail here.
tell us what you think
Have you visited Norway and seen police in action? Are you a member of a police force yourself? Have your say in the comments – we’d love to hear what you think.