Out of the ashes

13 May 14
A former admiral, Arne Røksund is not one for the quiet life. With his report into the Norwegian Police Force’s response to the country’s worst ever terrorist attack continuing to create shock waves, he tells EY’s Anne Grette about his experiences and why, despite resistance, reform is inevitable

13 May 2014

A former admiral, Arne Røksund is not one for the quiet life. With his report into the Norwegian Police Force’s response to the country’s worst ever terrorist attack continuing to create shock waves, he tells EY’s Anne Grette about his experiences and why, despite resistance, reform is inevitable

The Government district of Oslo still bears witness to one of Norway’s darkest days. Ongoing construction work and still dormant buildings are testament to the power of the explosion on 22 July 2011, which shattered the peaceful calm of a country previously unscarred by terror. The car bomb killed eight and left dozens critically injured, but the attack was far from over. The perpetrator continued on to UtØya Island, about 25 miles away, where disguised as a police officer he shot and killed 69 young people who were attending a summer camp.

The ferocity of the attack, which still haunts the country and its citizens, prompted global sympathy and support. And yet questions, particularly surrounding the effectiveness of the police response, soon ricocheted across the country. Why, for example, did the police not have access to a helicopter suitable for transporting groups to the island? Why did it take them so long to locate a boat that would take them there? Could they have done more to prevent the bombing?

Tasked to investigate how to develop the police force for the future was Arne Røksund, a former admiral in his country’s navy. Alongside several other leaders, including Norway’s Chief of Police, he spearheaded a wide-ranging review, examining not only the police response but also the organization as a whole. Their conclusion? Norway’s police force urgently requires radical and sweeping reforms.

Under the microscope

For Røksund, details matter. Without command of the hard data and the facts, any proposals for change will fall apart under scrutiny. “We appointed a small group of people of excellent caliber,” he recalls. “The information was there but it was not being used. It was a lot of work — we went through millions of incident reports, to establish a baseline for how the Norwegian Police was performing. We found that the framework in which the police operate is not satisfactory, and there is also an unclear chain of command.” But that’s not all.

“We also found that there needs to be robust local police forces that are able to take more complicated cases,” continues Røksund. “Crime is now more 27 regional police districts, which is far too many. They are not able to learn well from each other, there are no systems to learn from each other and they operate largely in silos without nearly enough integration. This was one of our most surprising discoveries — the lack of integrated systems in what is actually quite a small organization of only about 13,000 personnel. Oslo’s hospital system, by contrast, employs 20,000 staff.

In Norway, there is one police force which operates nationwide. The National Police Directorate, which reports into the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for the management and supervision of the regional police districts. Each of these districts is headed by a chief of police who is responsible for all of the police duties, budgets and results, and it is divided into local and rural police station districts. Such a system, says Røksund, is prone to inefficiency.

“Of our 354 police stations, 40% have five officers or fewer, and only 23% have 20 or more employees,” he points out, “In some, there are just two people working there! Not only that, but they have had a lot of work that is not strictly police business. One of our core proposals was for the police to focus on their prime responsibilities – fighting crime – rather than having to deal with tasks such as issuing passports and dealing with lost and found items. The consequence of these other tasks is that they have to stay at the police station, behind a desk, during office hours. But what happens if crime takes place outside of office hours?

“There need to be approximately 18 police officers to ensure a 24/7 police service, which is clearly impossible when there are just two offi cers in a station,” he continues. “This is why we suggested merging police stations, we suggested reducing the number of police districts in order to improve specialized units by creating critical mass in competencies and capacity. This is particularly challenging as there is prestige attached to having a police commissioner or police station in your town. It’s the power of visibility — just seeing the police sign instils a level of confidence and reassurance, even though there may be insufficient quality behind that sign.”

A catalyst for change

Norway’s system of policing has proved resistant to reform over a number of years — unlike the country’s military, it transpires. “In the armed forces, every four years we took stock of where we were and implanted a new set of reforms to address the changing realities,” recalls Roksund.  "In addition, the Balkan conflict meant we had some real — and hard — lessons to learn. For example, we discovered that our long-standing deployment and mobilization plans didn’t work. There needed to be more radical reforms but we had a much more professional army as a result.” 

The 22 July attacks had a similar effect on the police, underlining the need for sweeping changes.  "Unfortunately, nearly three years on, what I find most surprising is that people are still saying we should keep the status quo,” observes Røksund. “This is because the reforms that we have proposed impact local communities. They want their police stations to stay open and, from the police perspective, it is sometimes tempting and reassuring to stick with what they know, rather than go through a process of change. As a rational person it has been hard for me to understand their objections — they would prefer to have an empty police station in their district rather than be able to phone them and have someone come to their assistance any time, day or night.”

Partly, this is because Norway’s localized system is hardly the most conducive to reform. For example, for a merger of police stations to go through, there needs to be unanimous support from the local authorities. There is normally one police station in each mayoral district but given that each mayor in practice has power of veto over how the national police are organized, it makes it much harder to implement change, even with the brutal lessons of 22 July remaining so vivid in the country’s collective memory. 

Winning over the skeptics

Røksund was determined to construct a case for change that was as thorough as possible. “The opponents of our proposals forget that our police force, as it currently stands, doesn’t work very well,” he says. “Although there are no arguments about the data as the evidence is too convincing, they say that the proposed districts are too large and the distances are too great. I know from past experience that when it comes to closing down offices it is very difficult. The quality of the arguments can sometimes be lost.” 

Røksund, who admits his naval ranking has ed shield him from personal criticism — “the title gives an automatic level of respect that is higher than average” — says that it is crucial to fully involve all the stakeholders in any change process. “The value of traveling and visiting all the police districts and involving everyone is extremely important,” he says. “What we need to get across is the 

fact that merging police stations and units doesn’t mean less coverage. On the contrary, it would enable more police officers to be released from their lives behind a desk and get back out on patrol, to be able to react and prevent crime.”

He also says that it was hugely beneficial to have the National Police Commissioner and the head of the country’s Special Branch on the review team. While it is unusual to have such high-profile leaders involved, he says that it has enabled greater ownership of what in the end were unanimous proposals. “They now know all the arguments and have been fully involved from day one,” says Røksund. “From an early stage we also had regular meetings with the unions, which proved instrumental in creating an understanding of the need to change. And we also had a reference group, consisting of key commissioners at the level below the top commissioner, who are now advocates for the proposals. When leading a commission like this you have to establish good relations and establish a common link and understanding. It is very unusual to have a unanimous report but it takes a lot of work to establish understanding and consensus.”

Moving forward

Although no police stations have yet closed, nor districts merged, Røksund nonetheless remains optimistic that change is unavailable. This confidence stems largely from the scale of the police failures on 22 July, and from his experiences of heading change programs at the Ministry of Defense, where he worked for seven years. 

“You need to start thinking about the implementation at the start of the process,” he says. “Although I have been surprised by the level of local opposition, the golden rule is to establish a common understanding of the problem, and get people to understand we cannot continue as before. You need really smart people to work the problem and then you need to have good communication skills to present the proposals and be a convincing advocate.” 

Røksund is currently serving as Deputy Secretary General in the Ministry for Trade, Industry and Fisheries. And although he admits to an element of frustration that he is not in a position to oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations, he remains convinced that the reforms will happen, perhaps not in as radical a form as was originally proposed.

“There will likely be compromises along the way because politicians need room for compromise in a process like this,” he says. “When I think back to my experiences in the armed forces, I remember that we never regretted implementing a reform, only that we didn’t do it earlier. I suspect this will be the same with these police proposals. I certainly wouldn’t have done anything different — I am proud of our report, and always will be.”

This feature was first published in the April edition of EY's Citizen Today

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