”Patrol car 312, direction Kontula, departing now.”
Senior constable Susanna Mara calls the police information center trough radio. The patrol car is just driving out from Malmi police department’s parking hall. Patrol consisting of three senior constables, is just taking the streets, as part of their 12 hour shift of Friday night. There is a rough plan for the evening, some targets in Eastern part of Helsinki, where they plan to go for check outs. They don’t intend to take assignments for urgent accidents, but instead want to see who is out tonight, speak with youth they meet and intervene in case of any incidents.
Senior constables Susanna Mara, Niklas Kråknäs and Kristian Paavilainen are part of the crime prevention team of the Helsinki Police department. Kristian and Susanna are also present in the social media. Susanna has been working in the prevention team for two years and is already so well known among the youth that she is regularly stopped on the street, even when not working. “You are not like those other cops”, is a sentence one hears often about her. Her colleagues find it amazing, how well she know the youth in her area, down to their nicknames, boyfriends and girlfriends, including exes.
Mara aims not only to talk and offer advice, but also to listen the youth. With some youngsters, she talks several times a week, face to face or online. After gaining the trust, the youth can provide the police with invaluable information concerning the safety of the area and possible crime. Part of the job is handling crime done by under 15 year olds.
Friday night is turning dark. In the beginning the patrol car drives to meet a young man, who has contacted Susanna directly, telling he wants to exchange a few words. Susanna steps aside to talk with him. Prevention team does not work like a regular police patrol, explains constable Niklas Kråknäs.
“Compared with the regular patrolling, they don’t have the time to ask how everyone is feeling today”, he says. “It’s more like who did what, writing tickets or locking the bad persons up. Then it’s off to take on another case. We have time and the tools to take broader look into the situation.”
Police car is parked outside a youth center Kallahti. There are a lot of young boys and girls playing basketball together. The mood is happy, everyone is eager to greet the police they know, asking them to join the game.
The crime prevention team gathers a lot of information from youth centers in the area, from schools and NGOs. It is important that the co-operation is open and works.
“For the youth, it is important to show you are available. Only then they will contact you in case there is a problem”, says Susanna Mara. She goes around the basketball court greeting everyone.
It is a relatively cold Friday night, but lots of people are hanging out around the Kontula shopping center and metro station. Youth, children, drunken people, aggressive behavior, people partying or those who just wander the streets aimlessly, all are mix in the plaza. Outside the liquor store, a man has lost his temper, after being denied access to the shop. After seeing the police coming closer, he calms down quickly.
Walkers bus run by volunteers is parked outside the entrance of the Kontula metro station. Inside is warm and tea and coffee is being served. It is crowded with lots of young people inside. On an average night, about 50 young people visit the bus. Some are acting quite rough, some are just watching over what others do. There is a card game under way on one of the tables. When constable Mara enters the bus, there is a buzz. Everyone is eager to sit next to her, there is some shoving and pushing.
Mara takes time to talk with everyone and answer questions.
When can you fire the gun? Have you ever shot anyone? Does the police aim to the legs first? Can I try the taser? Mara says the questions are often the same. Many have also seen police series or reality-tv, and want to know if the situations are real.
“Why do you want to be a gangsta, Kontula is no ghetto, right”, laughs Mara. A group of young are eager to try being locked inside back of the patrol car. Mara opens the doors, but after closing them, the knocks out start almost immediately.
“There is no way I want to be in there”, says one of the young locked inside once he is out.
After breaking up a small fight, outside the shopping center few old friends come and greet. Mara talks about one boy starting a family and increased responsibility coming with it. There should be no more fooling around now. Even if many of the youth she meets have committed crime and been in serious situations with police, they usually take it in their stride, says Susanna Mara.
“It often amazes be, when we for example catch runways and return them to institutions in the middle of their partying, still they might send a message the following weekend saying it would be nice to see you again”, says Susanna Mara.
In preventative police work there is an opportunity to make a permanent change in a young person’s life, says senior constable Kristian Paavilainen. “Of course it takes many players to really make a difference, but police can play a crucial part, for example catching the young in the right moment and preventing a more serious series of crimes from happening. Compared with regular police work, I would say we have a better chance of really helping.”
The help takes many forms, the police can sit down with the parents for a chat concerning the situation. With some parents, it has been agreed, that if a particular young person is seen outside after the curfew, police will call parents immediately.
The parking hall inside the shopping center is cold and damp. A group of youngsters like to hang out there anyway. The police go and check what they are doing. The young are just smoking and chatting. One of the young men there has previously been involved in crime, but has since reformed. Susanna asks him about school and encourages him to finish comprehensive. Online, they have been also chatting about the future, and Susanna has even sent links on summer job opportunities.
“If someone who has previously broken the law, is now advising others that it is not clever, I really feel I have succeeded in my work”, Mara says.
These are the good cops, says the smallest young boy in the group gathered with others in the dark corner of the parking hall. One of the young boys wants to feel what it is like to be handcuffed. Mara does if so swiftly that everyone laughs.
Many times Susanna Mara will continue talks with the young online after meeting them during the night. Still she sometimes wonders if she has done enough.
“The people I meet on the street stay on my mind. I wonder if I have missed something. I wonder if they would have liked to tell something more. You have to be really sensitive when listening to the young, you have to put out the right questions. Many times I wonder whether I said the right thing.”
The Friday night in the East Helsinki continues. Patrol unit receives information that the Walkers bus has been forced to close after fighting. On top of that, the security at the Kontula shopping center has been forced to throw out all young people from the shopping center. The police get a tip that some of the young people involved in the fight might have be in Itäkeskus shopping center. After arriving there, the police reach those involved quickly. Mara tells them firmly to straighten their act and sends them home. In these cases the parents are always contacted and the child welfare is informed.
A group of young people in Kontula are drunk and posses alcohol. The liquor is discharged and police informs the child welfare about their alcohol abuse. Their behavior is otherwise good, so they don’t receive a ticket this time.
Rest of the night the patrol tries to find a 17 year old with a warrant. Constables Mara, Kråknäs and Paavilainen walk around the Malmintori shopping center. There is a group of young people hanging out. They are sent home, as it is close to 1 am.
“Even if we aim to help these young people, we are not only nice. For myself, I am especially concerned about the 13 year olds, hanging out with drunkards and drug users even when it is 11 pm”, Mara adds.
The shift ends. The police goes through the events and plan the following shift. The incidents with the very young teenagers stay on constable Mara’s mind.
The patrol car is washed and the group heads home.
Editor: Anna Gustafsson