Small police obscure the Archetypal Old West of Norway

  • AFP, Longyearbyen, Norway

Ghost towns and armed men occupy vast wilderness, which can mistake the Svalbard Islands for the Archetypal Old West.

But the little police on these Arctic islands, halfway between Norway and the Arctic, keep outlaws and polar bears away. The twelve officers run around on snowmobiles, helicopters, or boats to maintain peace among the 3,000 stubborn souls who are tough enough to endure endless winter nights.

“Obviously, it’s pretty trivial in most cases,” said Svalbard Police Chief Stein Olaf Bredri, his office in the main town of Longyearbyen, with stunning views outside the fjord. Said from.

Photo: AFP

However, Svalbard’s criminal law has its own regional characteristics, such as disturbing polar bears and boats breaking sea ice. The law has a dim view of either, and if you bother a bear, you will be fined € 1,500 (US $ 1,558).

Bredri’s bread and butter are minor thefts, snowmobile accidents, drug-engaged locals, and drunk driving prevention campaigns.

The most common crime was once said to be stealing shoes. This is because everyone takes off their shoes when they step indoors, even if they step into a public building.

Photo: AFP

The crime section of the local newspaper Svalbardposten, like almost everything else, is at the northernmost tip of the world, but quite thin.

“Several fights after the bar closes” can be expected by editor Borre Haugli.

Still, the inhabitants of Svalbard are armed with teeth. You are required to carry a rifle with you when you leave the city in case you are close to polar bears. Since 1971, six people have been killed by polar bears.

Haugli can only remember the theft of one car in two years as the head of the paper.

“After the party, it was probably the drunk people who saw the car with the keys,” he said.

Locals usually leave their homes and cars unlocked.

This is useful if you need to get away from polar bears quickly. It is also a sign of the trust needed to survive in such a hostile environment.

In addition, if the road is only 40 km and the only connection to the outside world is a small airport on the outskirts of Longyearbyen, beyond a very long boat trip, where can the thief run? mosquito?

But none of them prevented the Russians from committing the northernmost bank robbery in the world.

In 2018, Maksim Popov was rushed to arrest for SEK 70,000 (US $ 7,041 at the current exchange rate) after holding the only bank on the island with a gun.

He was sentenced to more than a year’s imprisonment on the mainland.

After that, the bank was closed.

He said Bredri always locked the front door, adding that it was a “professional danger.”

But until he gave the reporter a tour of his station, Bredri said he had never seen that single cell.

Obviously, it is rarely used.

“It will require police officers to keep it forever,” Bredri said, adding that his small unit cannot afford such luxury.

Beyond the 130 complaints we investigate each year, Bredri officers spend most of their time waiting 24 hours for search and rescue missions.

With two helicopters at your disposal, you can do everything from helping a boat in trouble at sea to finding lost tourists in the mountains.

“Imagine a cruise ship sunk. It’s not easy to evacuate 1,000 passengers,” Bredli said.

“It’s certainly one thing to land passengers in difficult weather conditions,” police added, “we need to make sure they’re safe from the threat of polar bears.”

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