Several highly publicized police shootings of civilians, including a Chicago incident depicted on a newly released police video, have generated community unrest, spawned social movements such as Black Lives Matter and prompted calls for radical changes in law enforcement protocol. Some media outlets attempting to dissect the events suggested that the United States might take a lesson from five countries where officers are unarmed while on patrol and violent crime is rare: Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Iceland. One source the media interviewed was Guðmundur “Gummi” Oddsson. The Iceland native and assistant professor of sociology at NMU studies crimes across cultures and the impact of social inequality on violence. His perspective is featured in the new “America Now” issue of Northern Magazine, the NMU alumni publication.
“In America, there is less trust in the police, especially among the poor and racial and ethnic minorities,” Oddsson said. “A lot of that distrust boils down to the fact that heavy-handed policing and police shootings take place disproportionately in poor African-American communities in hyper-segregated cities like Detroit, Chicago and New York.”
Since his home country established its police force in 1778, Oddsson says there has been only one case of an Icelandic police officer shooting a person—in 2013. This comes despite Iceland’s rank of 15th worldwide in the number of guns per capita. One-third of its citizens own rifles and shotguns for hunting purposes. Oddsson calls it “the poster country for low crime.” He attributes that to cultural and economic factors, along with corrections-related policies.
“Iceland is small, tightly knit, homogenous and relatively egalitarian,” Oddsson said. “The poverty rate is low and the welfare system is fairly strong. Poverty can funnel people into criminal activity, which can result in violent interactions with police. Also, the correctional system is used differently in Iceland. It is focused more on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Ironically, the emphasis on incapacitation and punishment in America fuels a vicious cycle of recidivism and keeps incarceration rates up.”
Oddsson grew up in Akureyri, Iceland. He holds five degrees ranging from business management to sociology from institutions in Iceland and the United States. It was while completing his dissertation at the University of Missouri in Columbia that Oddsson began applying for faculty positions. He visited NMU and other campuses before determining that Northern was the ideal fit. Oddsson moved here with his wife and fellow Iceland native, “Habby.” The couple have three sons: Jakob, Oddur and Árni.
“We really enjoy Marquette,” he said. “It’s similar to my hometown, which has a population of about 18,000. It is a little colder than I expected, but I love the area and I love my experience teaching here. The students are smart. It’s been inspiring that they are enthusiastic, contribute in class and do good work.”
Oddsson teaches introductory sociology, criminology and social class, power and mobility. He also revived the sociology of sport course. Related to sport, Oddsson was a shooting guard and team captain in Iceland’s top basketball division. He jokes that he “put the semi in semi-pro.”
You can see his Northern Magazine article and other stories at http://www.flipsnack.com/Northernmagazine/.