Valdo Põder: Police officers mocked all day

Toomas Kask
, Saatejuht
Police decided to replace officers’ names with identification numbers, because there were direct and clear attacks against police operatives.
Police decided to replace officers’ names with identification numbers, because there were direct and clear attacks against police operatives. Photo: Mihkel Maripuu

Valdo Põder, head of the North Police Prefecture’s maintenance of law and order bureau, said on the “Otse Postimehest” webcast that forceful police tactics deployed on Toompea Hill on Sunday were his decision and that he sees no reason to resign.

Who ordered barricades and rapid response units to be brought to Toompea?

Police tactics for the next day are discussed in a small group. I am part of that circle, and as I am responsible for the day’s raid, I will say it was my decision.

The Riigikogu opposition leader has suggested you should resign.

Every person has a right to their opinion and to voice it.

You do not feel it would be appropriate?

My resignation? Not at this time.

Based on what information were tactics changed and rapid responders involved?

We base our activities on the threat assessments of Estonian agencies. Especially that of the Health Board according to which such gatherings are a major risk of infection in the current situation. We saw the protests on Toompea swell. There were around 30 people at first and dispersion was ensured, while that figure quickly grew to 200 and people no longer fit. Catering appeared. People were drinking from the same bottle that was passed around. The Health Board classifies that as serious danger and we had to do something. I would remind people that the police have not banned a single public meeting and are simply trying to make sure healthcare crisis rules are complied with.

The Health Board assessed health risks, while the decision to deploy a special unit was yours?

No special units have been involved today. The people who are there include patrols, youth officers, regional constables and rapid responders. I believe people might have been frightened to see so many policemen in the same place.

Did you expect violence and vandalism?

Yes, protesters at one point included persons who had actively participated in the Bronze Night events – both the road leading up to the incident and the riots themselves. We started seeing provocateurs who urged people to throw bottles and resist the police.

Did you cooperate with the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) in this matter?

Yes, we pursue cooperation with the security service.

The ISS provided its threat assessment?

Yes, we also had that information.

And what was it?

That is classified, I’m afraid.

Were there fears that something akin to what happened in the U.S. earlier this year – the attack on the Capitol – could happen here?

There was talk of breaching Toompea. That said, looking at the people who took part in protests, we did not perceive serious danger. We have not ramped up security on Toompea Hill and we do not believe the people who are there want to attack the parliament building. But we need to be prepared for any future developments, including people who could attack Toompea showing up. But we see no such threat at this time.

The public view is that measures were disproportionate.

Perhaps we failed to sufficiently explain why we erected the barriers. The police have not banned a single public meeting. We had a clear dialogue with the participants according to which we would allow them to enter the Castle Square if they complied with the rules.

The barriers were a matter of capacity. Whether to deploy 15 meters of barriers of 15 police officers to protect or cordon off an area. Which is the cheaper and more sensible option for the state? We opted for the barriers.

Why was it decided to replace officers’ names with identification numbers?

There were direct and clear attacks against police operatives in the Castle Square. A person’s name is the most personal thing they have. When the person’s name is used to verbally attack them or urge them to put down their gear and join the protesters… It is an insult to the person and the institution. When people say that you, Valdo Põder, are not serving the people and are acting illegally – we decided to replace names with identification numbers to protect our officers. All of the identification numbers are on record and we can quickly find the person behind the number.

How often were police officers treated to personal insults and mockery?

Basically, all day Saturday and Sunday. Policemen who were making the rounds, trying to urge people to maintain social distance and explain the dangers of the healthcare crisis had to suffer insults and trolling throughout the day. They are also being trolled outside the protests as dozens of officers have been sent insults to their personal social media accounts. There are lists of police officers who were on duty and these lists are being circulated on social media.