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In this July 16, 2019, photo, Fernando Lopez, of the Othello Police Department in Othello, Wash., holds a training gun as he takes part in a firearms defense class as part of Washington state's Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Burien, Wash. (AP) In this July 16, 2019, photo, Fernando Lopez, of the Othello Police Department in Othello, Wash., holds a training gun as he takes part in a firearms defense class as part of Washington state's Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Burien, Wash. (AP)

In this July 16, 2019, photo, Fernando Lopez, of the Othello Police Department in Othello, Wash., holds a training gun as he takes part in a firearms defense class as part of Washington state's Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Burien, Wash. (AP)

Emily Venezky
By Emily Venezky June 16, 2020

Post comparing U.S. police training and fatal shootings with Nordic countries lacks context

If Your Time is short

  • This post leaves out key context for how much these countries differ when it comes to gun ownership and homicide rates from gun violence. 

  • Researchers also agree that there needs to be structural change in policing that address the many factors that increase fatal police shootings.

  • Most of the numbers for Nordic countries are accurate. Finland’s police training takes longer than two years, and Norway had two more police-related deaths than the post claimed. 

  • The U.S. claims are mostly inaccurate. Most departments and police academies require training over 21 weeks, and estimates for fatal police shootings over the past 20 years far exceed 8,000. 

As protesters of police brutality call for police reforms that include defunding the police, some social media posts seek to compare U.S. training policies with those in other countries.

One post features an image with pictures of three smiling law enforcement officers above a photo of a fourth officer aiming an assault rifle. It suggests the three happy uniformed officers are from Norway, Finland, and Iceland, while the one who is aiming a weapon is from the U.S. The image explains differences in the amount of police training each nation requires compared with the numbers of people killed by law enforcement in each place:

"Cops in Norway: require 3 years of training, 4 people killed since 2002.

Cops in Finland: require 2 years of training, 7 people killed since 2000.

Cops in Iceland: require 2 years of training, 1 person killed since ever.

Cops in the U.S.: require 21 weeks of training, 8,000+ people killed since 2001."

This post was flagged by Facebook as part of efforts to combat false news and information on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) It’s been around for at least a couple of years; Snopes checked this same claim and image in 2018.

We looked at training and gun-related deaths and found that while the numbers for the Nordic countries are largely accurate, the numbers fall apart when we get to the U.S. statistics. And while the overall claim that the U.S. has less police training and more civilian deaths at the hands of police is accurate, this idea falls short in that it presumes a direct link between police training and fatal civilian encounters and does not take into consideration additional factors like each country’s gun culture.

The numbers in context

The U.S. has more gun violence than any other large, wealthy country and ranks the 28th-highest rate of gun violence in the world, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The U.S. also has the highest concentration of guns owned by civilians, with 120.5 guns for every 100 residents. The second highest rate of gun ownership is in Yemen with 52.8 guns for every 100 residents. Iceland and Finland are in the top ten gun-owning countries, with a little over 30 guns for every 100 residents. 

Finland has the 11th highest rate of intentional homicides in Europe, which is considered average compared to other European countries but high for a Nordic country. However, in 2017, the U.S. homicide rate was four times the homicide rate in Finland. And, as of 2015, the U.S. gun-related homicide rate was more than four times Finland's. Iceland hasn’t had a gun-related civilian murder since 2007. And while Norway is known for having a high gun-owning rate, it has a low rate of gun violence compared to the rest of Europe.

In a Washington Post article on police shootings, leading criminologist Geoffrey Alpert described how researchers struggle to pinpoint why the U.S. has had so many fatal police shootings.  "We’ve looked at this data in so many ways, including whether race, geography, violent crime, gun ownership or police training can explain it," he said. "But none of those factors alone can explain how consistent this number appears to be."

George Washington Law Professor Cynthia Lee in the 2018 University of Illinois Law Review wrote that "only a multiplicity of reforms" will reduce fatal police shootings and lead to "lasting structural changes in policing." 

Norway claims are correct

The claim that Norway requires three years of training and has had four people killed since 2002  is accurate.

According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which calls itself the world’s largest regional security organization, basic police training in Norway includes a three-year college education at the Norwegian Police University College. Trainees study at the college in their first and third years and spend their second year in on-the-ground training.

The Norwegian Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs releases annual reports on police encounters they have investigated and articles on policing trends. In 2014, the report included an article on police shootings. In all 15 police shootings the bureau had investigated "16 persons have been injured… and, in two of these cases, the injuries resulted in death."

A European news network called The Local reported in 2016 that there had been a fatal police shooting in 2015 and another in 2016 that marked "the fourth time that police in Norway have been involved in a fatal shooting since 2002." 

The Norwegian Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs’ most recent report was from 2018 and it doesn’t list any fatal shootings. Searching recent news, we couldn’t find another story on fatal police shootings in Norway from 2019 or 2020.

Finland claims are a little off

The claim that Finland requires two years of training and has seven people killed since 2000 is a bit off. The country’s police training program takes more than two years, and there is a little more information to be considered when calculating the number of deaths.

Like Norway, Finland’s Police University College has a policing bachelors program. It requires students to complete 180 credit points, which usually takes three years to complete, not two like the post claims.

Snopes reviewed and shared a list of 2000-18 police-related fatalities from the Finland National Police Board. Contacted by PolitIFact, Liisa Haapanen, the board’s senior communication adviser, verified the accuracy of the list and said that the numbers have not changed.

The list details nine police-related fatalities, including a 2012 case in which a person died after an officer deployed a Taser; the report says it is unclear how electric shocks contributed to his death. The report also includes a 2010 incident in which a security guard was fatally shot after a police officer "accidentally discharged" their weapon.

Iceland claims are accurate

The post’s claim that Iceland requires two years of training and that one person has been killed is right. Iceland has very little violent crime.

Iceland’s police university, the University of Akureyri, offers a bachelor's degree for police and law enforcement that has a two-year schedule.

In 2013, Iceland’s first-ever fatal police shooting generated a lot of media coverage. The police department apologized to the victim’s family. The Reykjavík Police chief said the event would be thoroughly investigated and the police officers involved received grief counseling. 

Ásgeir Sverrisson, The National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, verified with PolitiFact that the 2013 shooting was the only fatal police shooting in Iceland’s history but that there have been instances in which citizens died in police custody or following police confrontations. 

U.S. claims are mostly inaccurate

This Facebook’s most misleading claims come when it summarizes police training and officer-involved fatalities in the U.S. It says the U.S. requires 21 weeks of training and has experienced "8,000+ people killed since 2001." The best data suggest a number far higher than 8,000.

Where the post has a point is that initial U.S. police training requirements are shorter than in these Nordic countries.

U.S. police academies vary. A 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics review found that from 2011 to 2013, most academy training lasts "an average of about 840 hours, or 21 weeks." 

Nearly all police officers completed a mandatory field training after their basic training according to that 2013 report. About 37% of field training programs are organized by academies that require an average of 500 additional hours, or over 12 weeks, to complete field training. Based on these numbers, police officers have an average of 33 weeks of training.

Based on that 2016 report, U.S. police officers are trained for almost eight months, and about three months of that training is in the field.

The bigger problem in analyzing the post is that there are only estimates for the number of people killed by police. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recorded arrest-related deaths from 2003-09. During that seven-year period, there were 4,813 reported deaths from "law enforcement personnel attempting to arrest or restrain" citizens. About 60% of those deaths, 2,931 of them, were ruled a homicide. There is no data in the report that indicates how many of these were gun-related.

Though the FBI in 2019 launched the National Use-of-Force Data Collection effort, law enforcement agencies are not required to participate and the FBI has not yet released any findings.

The Washington Post in 2015 started recording fatal shooting victims and found that police have shot and killed about 5,400 people in the five years since — roughly 1,000 people a year. 

Fatal Encounters, a database created by a journalist, tracks deaths of people killed by law enforcement with crowd-sourced information and paid researchers, using public records and news reports. The database lists over 28,000 people who have been killed while interacting with law enforcement since 2000. About 20,300 were the result of firearms.

Our ruling

A Facebook post compared the number of fatal gun-related police encounters and the length of police training in three Nordic countries and the U.S.

"Cops in Norway: require 3 years of training, 4 people killed since 2002. Cops in Finland: require 2 years of training, 7 people killed since 2000. Cops in Iceland: require 2 years of training, 1 person killed since ever. Cops in the U.S.: require 21 weeks of training, 8,000+ people killed since 2001."

The numbers in this claim were partly accurate. Finland’s police training takes longer than two years, and it had two more police-related deaths. The claims about U.S. policing were the most inaccurate. Police academies and departments usually require more than 21 weeks of training and estimates for fatal police shootings point to about 20,000 deaths in the past 20 years.

What’s missing most from the post, however, is context. The rate of gun violence and gun ownership is higher in the U.S. than in these other countries. Research has also shown that fatal police shootings are the result of a combination of factors and are not limited to time spent in police training alone. Experts say there needs to be structural U.S. policing reform, not just more time spent intraining.

We rate this claim Half True.

Correction, June 22, 2020: Finland has a high homicide rate compared to most Nordic countries, but it does not have the highest homicide rate in Europe. Homicides in the U.S. are four times as high as in Finland's, according to 2017 data. An earlier version of this story was incorrect on these two points.

 

Our Sources

PolitiFact, 'Defund the police' movement: What do activists mean by that?, June 9, 2020

Facebook post, June 8, 2020

Snopes, Police Training and Police Killings: USA vs. the Nordic Countries, Sept 11, 2018

OSCE, Who we are, accessed on June 15, 2020

OSCE, Norway, accessed on June 15, 2020

Norwegian Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs, English > Annual Reports, accessed on June 15, 2020

Norwegian Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs, 2014 Annual Report, accessed on June 15, 2020

The Local, Norwegian police involved in just fourth fatal shooting in 14 years, Nov 28, 2020

Norwegian Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs, 2018 Annual Report, accessed on June 15, 2020

Police University College, Poliisi - Bachelor studies, June 15, 2020

Snopes, Fatalities resulting from the use of force by the police in the 2000s, Sept 11, 2018

BBC, Why violent crime is so rare in Iceland, Dec 3, 2013

University of Akureyri, UGLA - Kennsluskrá :: NÁMS- og KENNSLUSKRÁ 2017-2018, accessed on June 15, 2020

The Guardian, Iceland's armed police make first ever fatal shooting, Dec 2, 2013

Iceland Review, First Fatal Police Shooting in Iceland, Dec 2, 2013

Euronews, Iceland: fatal police shooting is first in country's history, Dec 3, 2013

The World, Peaceful Iceland shaken after police shoot a man with a history of mental illness,  July 8, 2016

Bureau of Justice Statistics, State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2013, July 2016

Bureau of Justice Statistics, Arrest-Related Deaths, 2003-2009 -- Statistical Tables, Nov 17, 2011

FBI, Use-of-Force — FBI, accessed on June 15, 2020

Washington Post, Police in the US have shot and killed more than 5,000 people since 2015, June 8, 2020

Fatal Encounters, Methodology, accessed on June 15, 2020

Fatal Encounters, Database & Name Check, accessed on June 15, 2020

NPR, Deaths From Gun Violence: How The U.S. Compares With The Rest Of The World, Nov 9, 2018

BBC, America's gun culture in charts, August 5, 2019

Nation Master, Countries Compared by Crime > Murders > Per capita, 2006

Nation Master, Finland vs United States: Crime > Violent crime Facts and Stats, 2007

NBC, How Iceland became the gun-loving country with no shooting murders, May 28, 2018

Iceland Review, Hold Your Fire, accessed on June 15, 2020  

Los Angeles Times, In Norway gun ownership is common; violence and homicide are not, July 23, 2011

The Washington Post, Four years in a row, police nationwide fatally shoot nearly 1,000 people, Feb 12, 2019

University of Illinois Law Review, Reforming the Law on Police Use of Deadly Force: De-Escalation, Pre Seizure Conduct, and Imperfect Self-Defense, 2018

Email interview with Liisa Haapanen, June 12, 2020

Email interview with Ásgeir Sverrisson, June 16, 2020

GunPolicy.org, United States — Gun Facts, Figures and the Law, accessed on June 22, 2020

GunPolicy.org, Finland — Gun Facts, Figures and the Law, accessed on June 22, 2020

Eurostat, Crime Statistics, June 15, 2020

University of Helsinki, Nordic Homicide Report, 2019

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