Notes on Copenhagen: The Danish Police

Notes on Copenhagen: The Danish Police

Aaron Lake Smith
Published: 12/13/2009

The Danish police are a ubiquitous sight and sound around Copenhagen in these two weeks of the COP15, zipping by every couple of minutes in squarish blue police vans. Yesterday, the police swept through Copenhagen's bus stops, frisking and searching the bags of all individuals who appeared to be heading towards the climate demonstration. Last night, the police were met with harsh criticism in news and public opinion after making 1,000 'preventative' arrests at the mostly-peaceful rally --all but a handful of the 1,000 were held for twelve hours and then released. This is worth discussing because nothing like this has happened in the recent history of Denmark, either in terms of the size of the rally and international presence, or in terms of the police deployment.

Today, the Danish newspaper Politiken reported the various police criticisms coming in from Amnesty International and  other climate protest groups. A spokesperson for the direct action group Climate Justice Action told a Politiken reporter, "It is totally disproportionate for the police punish an entire demonstration to avoid things that might happen in the future."

The media itself also criticized the police in Politiken today, claiming that they have been harassed. The president of the Danish Union of Journalists said, "The media has been exposed to totally unacceptable treatment. It is highly reprehensible." and called a meeting with the police director.

I went and talked to the police spokesperson Henrik Suhr at the Politigarden (the central police station) to better understand their strategy. To give a bit of perspective: there are 10,000 police deployed on the streets of Copenhagen for the COP15, and most of the officers working the event are coming in from small towns all over Denmark. The Danes are too prideful to ask for police help from other nations, but they have borrowed cars, helicopters, and bomb-sniffing dogs from neighboring Sweden. The Danish police have been training and preparing for the COP15 summit for two and half years.

"We are ready." Suhr said repeatedly. Suhr acknowledged that officers might be exhausted and edgy from working 16-hour-shifts for the entire two weeks, but said they would "take little naps and get rest when they can". "You know, this is very fun for us." Suhr said with a smile, "all of us being here together, around Christmas. We have a lot of hygge." [hygge is a Danish word. In English, this translates roughly to 'coziness']

To an American, Henrik Suhr and many of the Danish officers seem rather charming--their funny accented English and demeanor makes them a relatively nonthreatening presence compared with the military-like police we are used to in the US. When the whitish, paternal Henrik Suh and I shook hands goodbye, he grasped my shoulder,and smiled earnestly, saying "I should hope to see you again very soon!"

The unprecedented, massive, and expensive deployment of the police for the COP15 Summit will likely have the backlash of triggering a debate in Denmark about whether such a massive show of police force is the wisest way to secure internationally-prominent events.