The legislative powers of the police to stop individuals

Finnish legislation specifies measures, such as identity checks (Police Act), checks of foreign nationals (Aliens Act) and frisk/security check (Coercive Measures Act/Police Act), all of which can be conducted by the police without arresting a person. According to the Police Act (Chapter 2, Section 1), “to carry out an individual duty, police officers have the right to obtain from anyone their name, personal identity code or, if this does not exist, date of birth and nationality, and information concerning a place where they can be reached.” According to the Finnish Aliens Act (Section 130), “at the request of the police or other authorities processing a matter concerning an alien, the alien shall present his or her travel document or prove his or her identity in some other reliable manner.” According to the Finnish Aliens Act (Section 129b) the police and the Finnish Border Guard have the right to make checks of foreign nationals, if it is necessary in order to ascertain the identity, nationality, right of residence or right to work of an alien to “obtain information from the supervised person and examine the necessary documents concerning his identity and nationality and his right to reside and work”. Checks of foreign nationals are not a police investigation, only a supervisory act, and can be done without suspicion of a crime. The target of the inspection has a right to know the reason for the check. According to the Coercive Measures Act (Section 31), “a frisk to find an object, property, document, data or other item may be carried out […] on a person who is suspected of an offence for which the most severe punishment provided is imprisonment for at least six months.” Also suspicions of minor crimes such as petty assault, petty theft or petty damage to property can be considered as grounds for a frisk. A preventive frisk is called a “security check”. The police can search a person in order to find dangerous objects or substances (Police Act, Chapter 2, Section 12). It can be done in connection with police duties if, for a justified reason, it is necessary to secure the officer’s safety and to execute their duty. Police officers also have the right to order a vehicle to be stopped if this is necessary to carry out their duty. Provisions on road traffic surveillance are laid down in the Road Traffic Act. The Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination, defining both direct and indirect discrimination. All Finnish authorities have a duty to promote equality (Chapter 2, Section 5). The Alien’s Act includes a ban on ethnic profiling. Internal immigration controls “should not be motivated solely or mainly by virtue of a person’s real or assumed ethnic origin” (Section 129). The police need to have (a) general knowledge and experience about illegal immigration, and (b) some intelligence, such as observation, in order to carry out the immigration check.

The obligation to register stops

Police officers should register immigration checks and other police measures in an electronic database. Nevertheless, according to current research, not all cases in which the identity documents are checked are registered. Many police stops in which minority persons are found to be legally in the country do not get recorded at all. The police are not required to record the reasons as to why particular persons were stopped. The police do not publish statistics related to internal immigration controls or identity checks. Further, it is not possible to tell from the statistics to which ethnic or racial group those being stopped belong.

Legislation procedures which protect citizens from police offences

Legislation provides two separate and independent proceedings for individual complaints concerning incorrect or illegal acts of the police:

  • police actions may be investigated in criminal proceedings if there are reasons to suspect that the police officer has committed an offence while on duty. In these cases, the criminal investigation of the case is led by the Office of the Prosecutor General.
  • it is possible to make an administrative complaint to: (1) the police (a local police department or the National Police Board); (2) the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman; (3) the Parliamentary Ombudsman; (4) the Chancellor of Justice; or (5) the Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal. The tribunal is the only complaint mechanism that can actually prohibit continued or repeated discrimination and which can also impose a conditional fine to enforce compliance with its injunctions.

Finland does not have an independent body specialising in the investigation of misconduct by law enforcement officials.


Annotated bibliography on Finland

Podcast Vos papiers s’il vous plait! – Police stop & search in Finland and Norway – the ‘Nordic way