Interview with Icelandic policewoman Heiðrún Huld
Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Its 700 police officers serve a population of less than 370,000. But Heiðrún Huld, a K-9 officer in training, is never bored. Her police dog, Buster, keeps her busy around the clock.
Heiðrún, for how long have you been a police officer?
I have been with the police force since 2013. To get the job, I first had to spend one year at the police academy. In 2018, I completed the one-year detective training program. I am currently in the K-9 police dog program, where I am learning to handle drug sniffer dogs.
Was being a police officer your childhood dream?
When I was little, I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian or a pastry chef. Not quite the same. Thankfully, my profession picked me. I’ve always been very active and social. In 2012, a friend of mine called me to tell me that there would be a qualification round for the police academy in the autumn. He asked me to give it a try with him. That was the point of no return. We both passed the qualification round and started our program at the academy in January 2013, along with 18 classmates. Our graduation date was December 13, 2013 – incidentally, 1313 is also my police ID.
Speaking of the number 13: According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland has been the world’s most peaceful country for more than 13 years. Is that true?
The crime rate in Iceland is very low; we have one of the lowest murder rates of all European countries. Public sources attribute this to high levels of education and employment. I think it’s also due to the size of our country. We only have around 370,000 people, so everyone knows each other – and I’m only half joking! Because we’re such a tiny country, we have an excellent support system and zero tolerance for violence within the community.
Are you armed when you are on duty?
We carry pepper spray, handcuffs and a baton on our belt and a police vest on top. We need to pass quite a few examinations and exercises before we are allowed to use or carry weapons on duty. Nonetheless, we never carry firearms. Some police cars have locked boxes with guns inside, and they are only used when it’s strictly necessary. For example, when someone is armed with a gun or a knife. But we also have a good SWAT team that takes over in dangerous situations.
What does your day-to-day work involve?
After breakfast, I head to the station with my police dog, a three-year-old Labrador named Buster. Once we’ve taken care of the paperwork, we carry out some sniffing exercises in which Buster has to follow specific scent trails. Training is incredibly important for keeping Buster in shape. He’s extremely energetic, and the exercises allow him to let off steam. Back home, we normally go for another walk or a short hike together.
What are Buster’s duties?
He searches cars, people, houses – anything that might be concealing drugs. We are also responsible for international airports, so our operations are quite varied.
What makes labradors such good sniffer dogs?
They respond very well to training, they are efficient, and they quickly learn to follow the dog handler’s commands. Their nose is very sensitive and perfect for sniffing out drugs, explosives, weapons or people. In Iceland, we specifically use them as drug sniffer dogs. Some are also trained as money sniffers.
Alongside Buster, you have two other dogs. One of them looks quite young. Do they get on well with each other?
I have a German shepherd called Váli, who’s five years old, and a German wirehaired pointer called Bjössi, who’s six months old. The youngest gets on well with Váli and Buster. Buster and Váli are not particularly fond of each other, but they manage to live under the same roof.
Have you had any unforgettable experiences?
When I was working in Selfoss, someone called to report two people in the sea. We went straight there; the waves were huge and it was already dark. Together with the Icelandic search and rescue service, we searched the area while the coast guard flew over the water in their helicopter. It took us around 90 minutes to rescue the men from the sea and get them into the helicopter. I realized once again how small and powerless humans are in the face of nature.
What was your funniest operation?
My partner and I were once sent to rescue a baby seal. It was stuck on the beach, far away from the sea, and couldn’t find its way back. We had to improvise – it turns out that seals aren’t as kind as they look. But we laughed a lot before we figured out what do to. And we managed to get the little guy back into the sea, too.
Are there more male or female police officers in Iceland?
There are more male police officers, but more and more women are applying these days. In my class, we were five women and 15 men. Today, the course is taught at the University of Akureyri and has a nearly equal ratio of men and women.
How do you keep fit for work?
I do CrossFit, weightlifting, hiking and running. My deadlift personal best is 125 kilograms, and I can squat 92.5 kilograms.
What motivates you when you do sports?
I am passionate about my sports and have lots of energy. I’ve always been a stubborn little blond eager to do anything that comes to mind. And I have some pretty strong friends – keeping up with them and having fun together is great motivation.
What do you do in your free time?
I love spending time with my friends and family. And, of course, my dogs. At the moment, I’m preparing for a big hike in May. A group of colleagues and I are planning to hike up a big peak called Sveinstindur. It’s located on the Öræfajökull glacier, Iceland’s second highest mountain. Our highest mountain is Hvannadalshnúkur, and we climbed it two years ago. Last year, we did another big one, so it’s become a bit of an annual tradition and a great way to kick off the summer.
What are your personal and professional plans for the future?
To keep active and enjoy every moment. Time really flies. It’s important to take breaks, spend time with yourself and your loved ones, travel and see the world. Professionally, I hope to keep working with police dogs and develop my career in this field. Having a police dog is a 24/7 job, but it’s worth it – dogs are simply astonishing creatures.