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Oslo, Norway Officer Gets Taste of American Streets

 

June 06--Cathrine Kveseth's words are her weapon.

She and fellow police officers in her native Norway can't carry a gun when they go on calls unless they get special approval from a superior.

"We have to be able to communicate," Kveseth said. "You have to either back away or solve the situation without a weapon."

It was a key difference in police operating procedures that Kveseth observed when she came to Western Pennsylvania for a four-week exchange program that local Rotary International chapters sponsored. She and four other Norwegians on the visit -- a retired F-16 pilot, a dancer, a computer expert and a firefighter -- returned home Friday.

Kveseth visited Greensburg, Latrobe and other police departments. She went to museums, parks and other attractions.

"It's to make a connection," Kveseth said of the exchange program. "It's to learn about other people's country. It's about friendship and understanding."

Kveseth patrolled with Greensburg police.

"She was riding along to see if there's a difference in how we handle a situation and they handle it," said Greensburg police Capt. George Seranko. "She said our jobs are the same."

In her fifth year as a patrol officer, Kveseth works in Oslo, the capital of the country of nearly 5 million people. The Oslo station has 211 employees, including patrol officers, criminal investigators and civilian workers.

The question police here asked her most often was how Norwegian officers go out on calls without a weapon, Kveseth said. Normally, officers in Norway keep their weapons in their locked patrol car when they leave the vehicle on a call.

Norwegian police, who wear bullet-proof vests on duty, tend to face fewer dangerous situations than their U.S. counterparts, Kveseth said.

"We don't have many police officers get killed in Norway," Kveseth said. "It's very, very, very rare."

According to one Norwegian website, 23 police officers have been killed in the line of duty since World War II. In 2009 alone, 48 police officers were "feloniously killed" in the United States, according to FBI statistics.

Seranko said "it would be nice" if American police didn't carry weapons, "but in our situation, we have to."

Norway has less of a "weapons culture" than the United States, and most Norwegians do not own a gun, Kveseth said.

"In Norway, you can't have a weapon for self-defense," she said. "It's not normal to have a weapon for self-defense."

If Norwegians want a gun, such as for hunting, they must go to the police station to get prior approval, which includes a detailed background check. Hunters must keep the weapon and ammunition in separate locked areas of their homes, Kveseth explained.

Because of the influx of organized crime into Norway in recent years, the government may soon allow officers to be armed, Kveseth said.

U.S. and Norwegian police share similarities. The professionalism of American officers impressed her, Kveseth said.

"We have similar values, the ethics," she said.

Kveseth said traffic stops are handled similarly in both countries. The officer approaches the vehicle in a "friendly and nice" manner, and most motorists, who may not be happy about getting a ticket, still treat police with respect, Kveseth said.

She had three years of law-enforcement training before she became an officer, with one year spent in the field.

The first thing she will tell fellow officers in Norway is the Taser's effectiveness for subduing people in a tense situation, Kveseth said.

"I think it's a very good tool," she added.

She also will suggest that computers be installed in patrol cars, though she doubts that will happen because of funding constraints.

Kveseth is looking forward to next year, when as part of the exchange program, she will be able to host visiting officers from the United States.

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