Report criticizes Norway police massacre response
Commission says authorities could have prevented or interrupted the attacks by far-right fanatic Anders Behring Breivik
By Karl Ritter and Bjoern H. Amland
OSLO, Norway — A year after a far-right militant's bomb and gun attacks exposed flaws in Norway's terror preparedness, police are being criticized for failing to improve their ability to stop a gunman bent on inflicting mass casualties.
In contrast to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, which led to sweeping changes in police tactics and training in the U.S., the massacre of 77 people in July last year hasn't had a tangible impact on Norway's police force, critics say.
"There are hardly been any visible changes from July 22 and until today. That is what our members tell me," said Arne Johannessen, who heads Norway's union for police officers. "Now things have to happen. Now both the leadership in the police and the politicians must take this seriously."
A government-appointed commission on Monday presented a long-awaited 500-page report outlining flaws — and some bright spots — in how police and other authorities responded to Norway's worst peacetime attacks.
The confessed gunman, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, set off a car bomb outside the government headquarters in Oslo, then drove to the Labor youth division's annual summer camp, disguised as a police officer, and opened fire. Eight people were killed in the explosion, while 69 people died in the massacre on Utoya island, in a lake some 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the capital.
Breivik's shooting massacre lasted for more than an hour before he surrendered to a police anti-terror unit. He is awaiting sentencing on Aug. 24.
Police had already admitted to a series of blunders, including flaws in communication systems and the breakdown of an overloaded boat carrying the anti-terror squad. Norway's only police helicopter was left unused, its crew on vacation.
But the report also questioned the actions of the first officers to arrive on the shore of the lake, saying they received instructions to get an overview of the situation and await the anti-terror unit instead of trying to cross over to Utoya to confront the gunman.
Police Commissioner Oeystein Maeland said police will "critically review" procedures for dealing with an active shooter but added that so far officers haven't received any additional training on such situations.
"One of the questions we will look into is whether the training of ordinary police is extensive and good enough," he said.
Even Breivik, 33, testified during his trial that he expected police to confront him on his way to Utoya or within 15 minutes after firing his first shots on the island.
As it turned out, Breivik drove unhindered to Utoya after setting off the bomb — even though police had the license plate of his getaway car. On Utoya, he called police twice to announce he was ready to give himself up, then kept killing as no officers had arrived to arrest him.
In the U.S., the Columbine massacre changed the standard police procedure for dealing shooting rampages.
Two officers exchanged fire with one of the teenage gunmen just outside the school door, then stopped — as they had been trained to do — to wait for a specially trained elite police team. During the 45 minutes it took for the elite team to assemble and go in, the gunmen shot 10 of the 13 people they killed that day.
After the tragedy, police across the country developed "active-shooter" training, calling for the first responding officers to rush toward gunfire to stop the gunman instead of waiting for a SWAT team.
It is not fair to judge the Norwegian police based on their response to the Utoya massacre because they hadn't dealt with that kind of situation before, said Richard Fairburn, an experienced police trainer and contributor to PoliceOne.com, an online resource for law enforcement.
"Now I believe in the U.S. individual patrol officers would try to go in there and stop that killing," he said. "Today's officers are as well trained and equipped as the first generation of SWAT teams."
"And I think other countries are probably thinking the same way now," he said. "I think they're going to have to adopt the kind of training that we've done and adopt better equipment in terms of weapons and protective gear."
The commission said the Norwegian Police Security Service — similar to Britain's MI5 — "could have become aware" of Breivik's plans, but stopped short of saying it could have stopped him.
However, it said the car bomb "could have been prevented through effective implementation of already adopted security measures" at the government complex.
Breivik was able to park a van with a fertilizer bomb just outside the high-rise that houses the prime minister's office. Plans to close off the street in front of the government building were approved in 2010, but work on constructing physical barriers had not been completed and no temporary obstacles had been set up. A parking ban in the area was not strictly enforced.
The commission also called for a "robust police helicopter service" to be set up in the Oslo police district.
Norway has now leased an extra helicopter from Britain, but delays in hiring additional crew members mean it's still not always available.
"We're not at a point yet where we can say that we have a police helicopter available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but we're almost there," said Justice Minister Grete Faremo.
Though Breivik has admitted the attacks, he rejected criminal guilt, saying his victims had betrayed their country by embracing a multicultural society.
Prosecutors have said there were doubts about his sanity and suggested Breivik be committed to compulsory psychiatric care instead of prison.
Ritter reported from Stockholm.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press