Almost every week there are situations in which Estonian police officers are required to draw their weapons in the course of duty. However, according to Armin Saarits, head of the Special Preparedness Unit of the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) Northern Prefecture, police officers only actually use their weapons a few times a year.
"There are actually withdrawals of service weapons every week, because we have a major concern about the fact that people in Estonia have bought a lot of gas guns, starter guns, which are identical [in appearance] to real guns," Saarits said on radio show "Vikerhommik" on Monday.
At the same time, simply withdrawing a service weapon from its holster is not considered to be the use of a weapon, Saarits stressed.
"However, while 10-15 years ago there were up to ten cases of weapons being used per year, perhaps even more, today there are only one or two a year. This means situations in which a police officer has fired at an object with the intention of harming it, to stop an attack," the PPA representative explained.
Saarits urged people to refrain from threatening police officers with objects that resemble real firearms.
"In this stressful situation, police officers are not able to determine within a split second whether the weapon-like object being aimed at them is a real firearm capable of killing or is a toy gun, gas gun or gas pistol," he said.
According to Saarits, the strongest weapons police officers have are a sharp mind and very good communication skills.
"But when it comes to a very intense, dynamic, or dangerous situation, every police officer working in the field today is a first responder and so must be prepared to use a lethal weapon.
To do this, we work on a daily basis, we develop new training programs. The police officers do their shooting tests and have to be prepared every day for those difficult situations when it is necessary to use a weapon," explained Saarits.
Saarits said, that in the police force, the weapons officers have - service rifles, taser guns, gas rifles, telescopic batons and handcuffs - are jokingly referred to as "the arguments" they carry on their belts.
Each item is used only in situations, where it is legally and tactically appropriate to do so.
Saarits also added, that police officers are given continuous training on how to deal with conflict situations, as well as psychological support if necessary.
In order to prevent public conflicts, the police are constantly monitoring the situation in public spaces as well as online, and working to prevent them from spilling over into the streets.
"Estonian society is very stable and people are calm. We are constantly gauging the social temperature," he said, adding that there is currently no danger of conflicts occurring of the type seen during the Bronze Night or anti-vaccine protests.
Editor: Michael Cole