From Iceland — National Police Commissioner Under Fire From Within Police Ranks, Justice Minister Involved

National Police Commissioner Under Fire From Within Police Ranks, Justice Minister Involved

Published September 17, 2019

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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Haraldur Johannessen, the national commissioner of the police in Iceland, is under fire from within his own ranks. Police officers from around the country have characterised his tenure in office as being replete with costly decisions and a heavy-handed leadership style. The Minister of Justice, the top authority over the Icelandic police, is open to changes within the police hierarchy and believes reforms are needed.

Haraldur has been the national commissioner of the police since 1998, when the office was first created by Þorsteinn Pálsson, the Minister of Justice at the time, who hailed from the Independence Party. Since then, his tenure in office has been marked by criticism, especially in recent years—much of it coming from within the police force itself.

As RÚV details, some of the criticism has been due to logistical decision Haraldur has made. For example, the vehicle hub that the commissioner manages has been criticised by other cops as being both wildly expensive and completely unnecessary. The Minister of Justice decided last summer to close the vehicle hub.

However, other aspects of his tenure have caused prominent police officers to raise greater questions. Arinbjörn Snorrason, chair of the Reykjavík Police Officers Union, has characterised Haraldur’s leadership style as “ruling by fear” and fostering a culture of co-dependence within police ranks.

Haraldur, for his part, believes that this latest round of criticism is merely another attempt of many to remove him from office. However, given that he has been in this office for about 20 years now, the sentiment that he has been in power too long is perhaps understandable.

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, who was newly appointed to the position, has described the situation within the police force as “unacceptable”. As such, she says the Ministry is currently examining the matter more fully, telling Fréttablaðið that reform and organisational changes within the police force are long overdue.

Haraldur’s future as national commissioner is, for now, in a state of uncertainty. Matters may become clearer in the days and weeks to come.

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