Photo by: Krista Luoma

Mika Vainioranta from the Kauhajoki police station of the Ostrobothnia Police Department has been selected as the 2020 Police Officer of the Year. Vainioranta is in charge of the Ostrobothnia special operations group for demanding situations (VATI).

The members of the group have completed special training and deal with the most demanding and dangerous police assignments, such as capturing armed perpetrators and running siege operations. All police departments in Finland have VATI groups, except for the Helsinki Police Department, which has its own national rapid response unit.

A fair and responsible team leader

Mika Vainioranta is one of the founders of the VATI group at the Ostrobothnia Police Department, and he has been involved in developing group operations for demanding situations from the outset. He has developed his personal expertise, as well as the capabilities of his group, by participating actively in training and keeping in close touch with operators in other units.

In the selection of the Police Officer of the Year, Vainioranta’s merits included his consistent long-term work to improve his group’s expertise, which now represent the highest national level. He also serves as an instructor at the Police University College, providing officers with training on group operations in demanding new situations.

“Vainioranta enjoys an extraordinary level of trust and appreciation in the workplace. As a supervisor or situation manager during assignments, his collected approach creates a calm atmosphere even in the most difficult situations. People want to work under his supervision in the group,” reads the statement of the jury.

Vainioranta was also recognised for his ability to assess group operations analytically and objectively.

A VATI officer never stops learning

Vainioranta has worked in the police force for nearly 20 years. Throughout his career, he has dealt with matters related to the use of force. Vainioranta graduated as a Bachelor of Police Services in 2000. Soon after that, he completed a training programme for field instructors in the use of force. His goal was to improve the capabilities of police department personnel in various areas related to the use of force.

According to Vainioranta, demanding situations are often professionally challenging, and it is important to learn from them for the future.

“In this job, you will never master everything. You always have something to learn. I feel that professional development and good relationships between supervisors and team members are important in terms of maintaining motivation at work. It is also rewarding to notice that the group know how to apply in practice what they learned during training. This ensures safety and high performance,” Vainioranta says.

The police officers involved in VATI operations have received special training. According to Vainioranta, the assignments require certain physical, mental and social characteristics, such as flexibility, the ability to work in a group and a high tolerance to pressure.

“Everyone is sometimes nervous, but it is important to keep your emotions in check to successfully complete the assignment. Even in demanding situations, officers should be able to make accurate observations, as well as decisions based on the observations. These skills are practised in the VATI groups.”

National and local development of VATI operations

According to Vainioranta, the continuous development of VATI operations at the national and local levels also makes the work more meaningful.

“The Police University College is responsible for the organisation of VATI training in close cooperation with the rapid response unit of the Helsinki Police Department. This cooperation contributes to the systematic and professional development of VATI operations,” Vainioranta points out.

Vainioranta commends the efforts of the National Police Board in the development work.

“In recent years, the National Police Board has worked systematically to improve protective and other equipment, for example. The HEVI armoured vehicles provoked discussion at first. However, over a short period of time, they have proved to be necessary and have become part of Finnish police operations,” says Vainioranta.

According to Vainioranta, development work has significantly improved safety at work and the ability of the police to operate in demanding situations. He also thanks the management of the Ostrobothnia Police Department, who have enabled the development of VATI operations to their current level.

The police strive for fairness in all operations

Vainioranta has at times followed the public debate on police operations. According to him, many aspects related to police operations pose challenges for communication.

“The police cannot always communicate in a positive light or correct all false rumours, because doing so could compromise the interests or privacy of the perpetrator or other affected parties. In addition, certain tactical and technical methods and plans related to police operations are not public information.”

Vainioranta emphasises that the police strive for impartiality in all operations.

“In the public debate, opinions are often less neutral. This easily leads to a situation in which the matter has already been dealt with and the sentences have been proclaimed by the tabloids before the investigator has even had time to print out the case. More patience would definitely be needed.”

Vainioranta says that police staff in Finland are committed to their work and have a real desire to do their job well.

“Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Of course, the police must also be prepared to have their operations examined and assessed from the outside.”

Recognition for all VATI operations

According to the statement of the jury for the 2020 Police Officer of the Year, Vainioranta always stresses the importance of seamless teamwork in his job. He sees his selection as recognition not only for the Ostrobothnia group, but also for all VATI operations in Finland.

“I have had the opportunity to work as part of a chain of professionals, and it is now my honour and duty to accept an award for our work,” Vainioranta said at the Police Officer of the Year event in Helsinki on 23 October 2020.

The Police Officer of the Year was now selected for the 45th time. The winner is selected by the Helsinki chapter of Junior Chamber International, the Finnish Police Federation and the National Police Board.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the winner was announced at a small-scale ceremony.