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Deputy-Ombudsman: Donation received by the police is open to question

Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja finds issue with the possibility that the donator may receive financial gain from the scanners used by the police that automatically read number plates they donated to the police.

The police are planning to spend funds donated by the Finnish Motor Insurers' Centre to purchase scanners that automatically recognize number plates. These devices will be used to increase the efficiency of traffic surveillance by the police. The scanners automatically read number plates and, for example, recognize vehicles that have not been inspected.

If the police find an uninsured vehicle and report it to the Finnish Motor Insurers' Centre, the Centre may initiate collection of insurance premiums. The Parliamentary Ombudsman received six complaints about this issue.

- The scanners may, at least indirectly, serve the operation and financial interests of the donor, as they give the Finnish Motor Insurers' Centre additional possibilities of collecting motor insurance premiums.

Under the Motor Liability Insurance Act, the owner of an uninsured vehicle used on the road is liable to pay the insurance premium to the Finnish Motor Insurers' Centre with a maximum of four-fold increase. In the event that the vehicle has been party to a road accident, the premium may be increased ten-fold at maximum.

A question of trust

According to Pajuoja, this issue is above all about public trust in official activities.

- The authorities must not act in a manner that would risk the citizens' trust in the neutrality and independence of their actions.  Any association between the authorities' actions and the donor's financial gain, even if mistaken, may undermine this trust.

The Deputy-Ombudsman recommends that the police refrain from all public appearances and other cooperation with donors that are not part of their official duties.

Under the State Budget Act, a central government authority may receive donations if the funds can be used for purposes indicated by the authority's mission, the conditions subject to which the funds are donated are acceptable, and receiving the funds can otherwise be considered appropriate.

Pajuoja also finds it problematic that this technique of traffic surveillance does not directly match any method referred to in the Police Act.

System in the testing phase

A year ago, the Finnish Motor Insurers' Centre donated to the police automatic number plate recognition scanners, which were installed in vehicles used by the police for traffic surveillance. The value of this system was some EUR 140,000.

The devices were tested between last June and the end of October. The plan is to deploy the devices in productive use from the beginning of next year.