Crime falls after streetlights cut out

Thefts and burglaries fell by half in a northern Swedish town after an electricity company cut off power to its streetlights.

Roadside lighting in the municipality of Övertorneå was cut off by Ekfors Kraft in the autumn, following a dispute over price rises. Contrary to expectations, the dark streets have been accompanied by a fall in crime.

During the third quarter of 2005, when Övertorneå was fully illuminated, around a hundred thefts and burglaries were reported. In the same period of 2006, after the town was plunged into darkness, police only 50 received reports of similar offences.

“We thought that the opposite would happen,” said local police inspector Sören Mukkavaara.

He has no explanation for the fall in crime.

“It could just be coincidence. Or maybe nobody dares to commit crimes if they have to have a torch with them.”

Övertorneå, which is crossed by the Arctic Circle, has only five hours of daylight in mid-winter.

The municipality of Övertorneå covers an area of 2,374 square kilometres and has just over 5,000 inhabitants. Streetlights in Övertorneå and large parts of neighbouring Haparanda have been cut off since the autumn after the council refused to pay Ekfors Kraft’s increased electricity charges.

As well as crime not going up, road accidents have not become more common in the darkness, police say.

In order to prevent accidents, schoolchildren in Övertorneå have been given reflective clothing, while those in Haparanda have got flashlights.

“There have been no accidents that can be attributed to the dark,” Mukkavaara said.

“This might be down to the fact that people stay indoors, and that they were reflective clothing more than they used to.”

Meanwhile, the dispute between Övertorneå and Ekfors Kraft appears to be no nearer a resolution.

“We seem to be in a deadlock,” said councillor Arne Honkamaa.