Press releases

What kind of language skills should be required of police officers?

Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja launched an own-initiative investigation of the impacts of the police department reform on police officers' linguistic eligibility and on whether the language skill requirements prevent recruitments to temporary asylum investigations.

Administrative reform brought more stringent language skill requirements

Some monolingual and bilingual police departments were merged at the beginning of 2014. Hundreds of police officers became unqualified in terms of their language skills, as the language skill requirements of bilingual police departments are more stringent than those placed on monolingual units. These employees preserved their linguistic eligibility for the posts they held at the time, but when applying for a new post or a temporary position, they must meet the new requirements.

The Deputy-Ombudsman stressed the importance of securing the availability of bilingual police services. However, it is problematic that public servants were, through no fault of their own, placed in a situation where the language skill requirements prevent their progress on their careers, even if they are otherwise competent and qualified.

The National Police Board supported the personnel in achieving the required language proficiency. Some 500 police officers where originally within the scope of the support measures. In summer 2015, there were 126 police officers who did not meet the linguistic eligibility requirements.

The Deputy-Ombudsman requested that the Ministry of Justice assess if the dispensation procedure could be applied more flexibly. If necessary, exemptions from the linguistic eligibility requirements could also be laid down in a Government decree. This possibility has been rarely used in the police administration.

New legislative solutions for exceptional situations?

Over 30,000 asylum seekers reached Finland in 2015, which was some ten times more than the year before. This also affected the workload of the police, initially in the context of asylum investigations and later in repatriations of asylum seekers.

Temporary recruitment of retired police officers to carry out asylum investigation duties was in individual cases prevented by the language skill requirements, even if proficiency in Swedish is not particularly relevant to the investigations. This also applies to repatriations.

In the Deputy-Ombudsman's view, the use of temporary public service employment relationships would be justified in the current asylum seeker situation. It is usually possible to appoint under-qualified persons to temporary positions if qualified persons are not available. The National Police Board enforced its policy strictly, however, and linguistic eligibility was also required in temporary positions.

Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja stresses in his decision that the Ministry of the Interior should assess whether the legislation on police officers' language skill requirements needs to be developed if it is considered to block the necessary temporary recruitments in the conditions of an exceptional workload. Ultimately, the level of practical language skills needed to process asylum seekers appropriately and, in general, encounter unexpected new situations, should be evaluated.

The full text of Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja's decisions no 4158/2/15 and 5511/2/15 was published on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at oikeusasiamies.fi.

Further information is available from Senior Legal Adviser Mikko Sarja, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3364.