I’ve recently come across a video published by ATTN – an educational media outlet – that claims that “Norway’s police training puts America’s to shame.” ATTN attempts to make the case for a Norwegian style police force in the United States. Without any prior knowledge of Norwegian policing, the video seemed fairly persuasive. However, the minute-long video didn’t have nearly enough time to accurately compare the two police systems.
The video starts off by outlining the difference between the two countries’ police forces. In order to become a police officer in Norway, citizens must participate in 3 years of training. Upon completion, officers must continue to train every year in order to maintain their participation in the police force.
In addition to extensive training, the Norwegian police are almost entirely unarmed. An officer must obtain special permission to carry a firearm, and even when such permission is granted, most firearms are locked in boxes which are stored in the patrol cars. ATTN argues that as a result of this policy “not a single person has been killed by the police since 2006.”
The video then compares Norway to the United States where officers only train for an average of 19 weeks. ATTN claims that most of the training is focused on learning how to fire guns instead of de-escalating situations. As a result, 1 out of 13 gun deaths In the United States are caused by the police, and police favorability is at its lowest point in 22 years.
This seems cut and dry. Norwegian police have longer training, they don’t carry guns, and they kill less people. On the other hand, American police have shorter training, they’re armed, and they kill more people. But one minute of a few cherry-picked pieces of information isn’t enough to make a strong case.
For starters, the comparison between Norway and the United States is challenging considering the difference in police structure. The Norwegian Police Service is highly centralized. There is only one police organization, compared to the United States which has a highly decentralized police system. The United States has federal, state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies, all of which function semi-autonomously.
Structure aside, ATTN is being highly misleading when comparing police shootings between the two countries. If police don’t carry guns, it’s inevitable that police shootings will be extremely rare. Far from being a measure of success, the lack of police shootings in Norway may be a natural consequence of the fact that there are very few guns for police to shoot in the first place.
Yet the disparity between the countries’ police shootings can also be attributed to the difference in crime rates. In general, even after adjusting for population size, the United States has far higher rates of crime than Norway across the board.
According to data collected by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, the United States’ murder rate is over 8 times greater than that of Norway’s. Excluding suicides, the United States’ homicide rate is 7 times greater than Norway’s. Rape is also far more common in the United States. There are 90 times more rapes in the United States than there are in Norway. After adjusting for population differences, the Unites States’ rape rate is still 43 percent higher than that of Norway.
Disparities in crime do not necessarily support the idea that one police force is better than the other. It simply demonstrates that the police in either country have to deal with completely different rates of violent crime.
One stark difference between the two countries is the rate at which police officers are killed during the line of duty. Although very few people have been killed by police, very few Norwegian police officers have been killed by civilians. Only 10 police officers have been killed in the line of duty since the Second World War. To put this in perspective for you, just in the last decade, nearly 550 police officers have been killed in the United States. There is a far greater chance that officers in the United States will be killed than officers in Norway.
There are also other factors that can measure the effectiveness of police forces that were not included in ATTN’s video. One method is measuring the time it takes police to respond to crime. According to American Police Beat, police response time averages around 10 minutes in the United States. In Norway, the average police response time is more than double that of the United States at 23 minutes. Because the police are unarmed, officers must take extra time arming themselves before responding to more violent crimes. This is problematic considering that the more severe a situation is, the longer it may take law enforcement to respond. It can take up to 40 minutes for armed police in Norway to respond to help. This is why almost 90 percent of Americans view their police officers as efficient compared to only 70 percent of Norwegians.
The downside to Norwegian policing was perfectly on display in 2011 when a lone gunman entered a Norwegian summer camp and killed 80 people. A security guard was stationed at the camp but was unarmed and one of the first victims. The police were notified just minutes after the attack began. However, because of the lack of basic resources like helicopters, it took police about an hour to respond to the shooting.
ATTN also emphasized that Norway’s police training is superior because of its extensive nature. Each law enforcement officer is required to maintain at least 40 hours of yearly training. Yet as of 2012, 44 percent of police officers lacked the minimum requirement needed for certification. This may be evidence that the amount of training required to continue being a police officer in Norway is actually an undue burden on law enforcement.
Put simply, trying to compare the two countries without first adjusting for variables is a disingenuous way of evaluating the effectiveness of either countries’ police. Though there is much to like about Norway’s police force, there is certainly much to be desired.