Is it true that Iceland's police force(s) have only shot and killed one person ever?

Bloomberg reports (December 3, 2013):

Icelandic police shot dead a man who refused to stop firing at them with a shotgun in the capital of Reykjavik earlier today -- and then they apologized. It was the first time that anyone in the country was killed by police gunfire.

Is this true?

  • 2
    This was pretty widely reported, what sort of evidence are you looking for above and beyond the official police commentary? Plus, what sort of historical time frame are we looking at?
    – rjzii
    Dec 4, 2013 at 16:28
  • 1
    @rob A nice hierarchy of evidence is listed here (meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/2528/5582). I'd place the statements from police in the range of "statements by experts". Evidence that is higher quality would include papers by historians, textbooks, court decisions, among other things. The claim is unequivocal about the time frame. It is an absolute claim: "it was the first time". Iceland has been a sovereign state since December 1, 1918.
    – user5582
    Dec 4, 2013 at 17:30
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    @rob Actually, there might be one point of ambiguity. Iceland has been a sovereign state since December 1, 1918, but it became the current "Republic of Iceland" on June 17, 1944. A good answer will state which or both of these cases it addresses. Having 2 discrete interpretations is better than most cases of ambiguity that we find in claims.
    – user5582
    Dec 4, 2013 at 17:40
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    Looking at the statistics from Norway, where the police has a similar policy on using armed force, the claim is realistic. In the period 1985 to 2002, the Norwegian police fired on average 2.8 shots/year of which 0.3 caused lethal injuries. The Norwegian population is about 15 times higher than in Iceland, so assuming that the firearm usage is similar on Iceland, the police would kill someone about every 50 years. Dec 4, 2013 at 18:21
  • @Transmissionfrom Ah, good point. Maybe there still have been zero police kills.
    – user5582
    Dec 4, 2013 at 19:16

2 Answers 2


I'll make this community wiki because I suspect we'll need to put together many sources of evidence to confirm this claim (or a single piece of evidence to refute it).

Is this a reliable source?

A good heuristic to judging the reliability of a news story is whether or not they name their sources and whether those sources are acting in official capacity. In this case the source is named: "national police chief Haraldur Johannessen".

NPR and The Guardian more directly attributes this claim to Johannessen, quoting him as saying this is "without precedent".

The Guardian issued a correction after Iceland police informed them that part of their translation was inaccurate:

The police did not 'express regret' but rather stated that they are 'deeply saddened by this tragic event'.

However, Iceland police did not ask for a correction to the "without precedent" quote, which lends support to the accuracy of that quote.

A more dubious chain of evidence

Another NPR story is more equivocal, saying "for the first time in memory", and "according to local news outlets". They link to one local news outlet. That news outlet defers the fact to another report: "this morning was the first person to die from a police shot in Iceland, visir.is reports". virir.is stated the fact without attribution.

Is this confirmed by multiple, independent sources, with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy?

Is this information that he could know?

Is this just an off-the-cuff estimate? Or could the police actually have this knowledge ready to quote during an interview?

Given that the annual gun homicide count (which would include shootings by police) varies between 0 and 1, it seems reasonable that one could recall if one of those was due to a police shooting. However, memory is fallible.

From http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/iceland:

2007: 1
2006: 1
2005: 1
2004: 0
2003: 0
2000: 1
1996: 1

Armed forces and police in Iceland

From The Icelandic Police and Justice System: A Short Introduction (emphasis mine):

Iceland has no armed forces and the police is organized along non-military lines. Accordingly the members of the police force have civil status. The police in Iceland are very restricted in their use of force and the police are unarmed while on duty except for a short baton and an OC-canister, but all policemen are trained in the use of firearms. A Special Weapons and Tactics Team is operated within the National Commissioner of police (the so-called “Viking Squad”). The Unit acts as an intervention unit in all cases where opponents use firearms and the regular police are not capable of dealing with the situation. The unit acts for all of Iceland and its territorial waters, as well as other special duties such as VIP protection.


Iceland is a fairly unique country in that it does not maintain a standing army and the arming of police is limited to the Víkingasveitin (lit. The Viking Squad, also know as the Special Task Force) which was founded in 1982 and the regular police do not carry any guns. Also, it should be noted that they emphasize only using firearms as a last resort,

The Special Task Force also operates in all parts of the country, and is trained to deal with particularly dangerous criminals. It should be stressed, however, that weapons are only used as a last resort if and when all other means to disarm those concerned, or to dissuade them from a dangerous course of action, have failed. To enable the Special Task Force to achieve results through gentler means, several of its members have received special training in negotiating techniques, and are called in when desperate and armed individuals have to be dealt with and human life may be in danger. The Special Task Force is also specially trained in riot control.

The The Reykjavík Grapevine, an English newspaper, reported the incident as follows:

A 59-year-old man, who opened fire within his home and at police, died in a confrontation with law enforcement - a first in Icelandic history.

The Icelandic media says the same thing, but provides some more detail:

Sérsveit ríkislögreglustjóra, stofnuð árið 1982, hefur aldrei áður þurft að grípa til þess neyðarráðs að beita skotvopnum sínum á vettvangi, þó svo hún hafi margoft verið kölluð til í þeim tilgangi að yfirbuga menn, ýmist vopnaða skot- eða eggvopnum. Hins vegar kom fram í máli Jóns Bjartmarz, yfirmanns sérsveitarinnar, að sérsveitin hafi skotið gasi í aðgerðum sínum.

Which loosely translates that the National Commissioner's Task Force (i.e. Víkingasveitin) has never had to "impose their firearms at the scene" although they have been called in cases where suspects were armed with firearms or bladed weapons.

Given this, is it entirely reasonable that the Víkingasveitin have never kill anyone in the line of duty since their founding in 1982 and that they would be able to report that accurately. From a broader standpoint, other than the reporting by newspapers, I couldn't find any official documentation if there have been any other fatalities due to police gunfire but such information might be limited due to the Icelandic language barrier.

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