Police culpability at Utøya

There are a couple of things that really irritate me about the discussion around Norwegian narcissistic killer Breivik: populist knee-jerk reactions by politicians, and idiotic conspiracy theories and criticism regarding the police.

I must say it is sad to see people blaming conspiracies or police inefficiency, because it took an hour for the police to arrive at Utøya island and they might have, if they just had found the right combination of car routes, boat harbors and routes and helicopter usage, arrived at the island a few minutes earlier.

Now: get a life. The police did manage very, very well. This was an extremely exceptional attack. Beforehand, the police couldn't possibly know what exactly is happening. They just get lots of panicked emergency calls, reported by call centers who forward information to radio dispatchers and command and control centers.

A scenario where a massive car bomb explodes in downtown Oslo is very unlikely in itself. A scenario where this car bomb is just a diversion, and the actual attack is that the same perpetrator travels to a social democratic youth summer camp on an island and shoots dozens of people one by one, was totally and utterly fantastic. The police cannot possibly expect to handle such a case with a fluent routine. There can be no prepared contingency plans for this kind of a situation.  The information that police command and control centers get is contradictory, unreliable, unbelievable fragments of data, panic, opinions and rumors. There is too much information; there are hundreds and thousands of emergency calls. It is not reasonable to expect that in such a situation, the police could instantly make decisions that are in every way optimal, when analysed after the event by hundreds of people working for many months.

The police has to make its decisions in a hurry, under great pressure, in fear for their own lives, based on  inconsistent and incomplete data. The policemen cannot rush into a shooting scene without any consideration as to  how they plan to work on the situation. They have to take reasonable care so that they don't kill any innocent bystanders, that they don't kill each other, and that they don't unnecessarily expose themselves to futile danger. The primary problem is lack of reliable information. The commander of operations just doesn't know what he has at hand. He doesn't know if there is one attacker or many, what kind of firepower they might have, what kind of traps they might have laid out. He probably works with a makeshift team that is assembled in an emergency and everyone does not know everyone else.

With hindsight, it is easy to say that if you had deployed your boat at this spot and then taken this and this route, you'd have been at your destination three minutes faster. But that is information that investigators are able to find after weeks of careful analysis. When a killer is on the loose, you make the decisions based on the knowledge you have, and considering the nature of this attack, I think the Norwegian police did very well. They got to the scene, a remote island, in an hour. They didn't shoot any innocent bystanders, they didn't shoot each other. And they detained their man.

It was an extremely well organized attack by an exceptional, lonely killer, and this must not be forgotten when assessing police performance.

The  attack can be analysed in much detail afterwards, but already now it is clear that it was the act of a single criminal, it was not caused by anyone else, and it appears the killer did not even get any knowingly given material support from anyone else. It is hard to prevent such attacks, and trying to prevent them causes vastly more damage to our society than the attack itself ever could. So let's not blame the police, and let's not make things worse by making other knee-jerk reactions.

Organized terrorism is another thing: the support and command structures for such activities should be investigated, infiltrated and disrupted. But the best we can do to tackle the problem of a narcistic lone-wolf killer is to ignore him and carry on. We should support those who suffered from his actions, and not spoil any more of our lives.

So, as far as I can tell, the Norwegian police did their work well.

Regarding the knee-jerk reactions and political exploitation: Erkki Tuomioja and others immediately tried to utilize the tragedy to advance their political goals for gun control, or actually banning handguns. Stupid. Let's not allow this one crazy terrorist change the way we live. Sports shooting and hunting remain good activities that bring a lot of well-being to people. Knives kill many more people than guns do, and a determined maniac could inflict dozens of deaths with a knife  - there's no way we could absolutely prevent it, and we should not try.

The best way for us to react to this insanity is to not really care about it; just care about those who were hurt. I wish all strength to them.

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