Christiania task force netting arrests but locals call it harassment

One in three citizens stopped by police outside of the freetown are charged with possession or sale of cannabis

Copenhagen Police said that the number of people being charged with possession of cannabis is up 23 percent since the creation of Task Force Pusher Street last September.

"When we create a task force to carry out a specific task, it will obviously result in more charges,” deputy police inspector Poul Kjeldsen, the head of the task force, told Politiken newspaper. “People should know that there is an increased risk of being charged with a crime if they walk the streets around Christiania with cannabis in their pockets.”

Parliament last year instructed city police to put an end to the open and booming drug trade on Pusher Street. Police responded with the establishment of the task force and the introduction of a 'narkometer' meant to test motorists for the presence of drugs. The police strategy, however, flies in the face of recommendations by Copenhagen's mayor, Frank Jensen (Socialdemokraterne), who has openly advocated for legalising cannabis.

"Our strategy is to go after the buyer, seller and supplier,” said Kjeldsen. “When we go for the buyers, it also supports the overall goal.”

Totals at the end of last year showed that since it started operation on September 1, the task forced charged 504 individuals with possession of cannabis and 26 people with dealing the drug. Nearly 2,000 people were stopped during that period.

The typical person arrested by police is a Danish man between 18 and 30 years old. Most were not city residents and only 14 of those busted were women. Most were found holding less than ten grammes of cannabis, which carries with it a 2,000 kroner fine for a first offence. Possession of any amount of cannabis is illegal in Denmark.

Kjeldsen said that in addition to increased patrols and more arrests, the task force’s strategy includes dialogue with local leaders from Christianshavn and representatives from Christiania. The head of the Christiania Fund, however, said that constantly busting people on the streets surrounding the freetown didn’t seem much like dialogue to him.

"People see it as an excessive use of force by the police which frightens and harasses our guests,” Joram Suszkewic told Politiken. “It seems that they are profiling rather than acting out of reasonable suspicion of cannabis possession.”

The task force’s rules say that cops should have ‘fair and substantial’ suspicions of illegal activity before detaining someone.

While Politiken was recently on the scene at Christiania, local tradesman Steffen Friis was stopped by police on his way into Christiania. Although he explained to the officers that he was there to repair a broken lock at a local business, his clothing and car were searched and his mouth was swabbed with an oral drug tester. While searching his car, the police accidentally smashed the man’s mp3 player.

When no cannabis was found either in his car or on his person, and the oral test proved negative, the officer conducting the search turned Friis loose.

“Well, I now drop the charges against you,” the police officer said. “You of course have the right to complain that you were unfairly arrested and get compensation for your mp3 player.” 

Suszkewic said that he has been frisked five times without the cops finding any drugs on him.

"If you do not give them permission to look in your pockets, you are charged and frisked,” he said. “If you aren’t carrying, the charges are dropped, but you never get to see the report.”

Kjeldsen said police have the right to search persons suspected of drug possession.

Police figures show that the amount of cannabis being seized is on the rise. In January, cannabis and related products with an estimated street value of 17 million kroner were seized. In the preceding four months as a whole, 22 million kroner worth of contraband was collected.

"We see fewer customers and smaller quantities at the hash stands on Pusher Street,” said Kjeldsen. “We also can feel a growing opposition to our efforts from the old guard in the neighbourhood.”

Police records show that five guns, two of them loaded, and other ammunition were also discovered during January’s raids.

Christianites are said to have policed their own house by shutting down the premises where the weapons were discovered.

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