Shoppers driven out of town in ‘hooligan’ mix up

Four guys out shoe shopping on a Sunday afternoon suddenly found themselves detained and whisked to the edge of town by police, mistaking them for a gang of criminal football hooligans.

”It was without a doubt the most embarrasing moment of my life. Its not like people were shying away from using their mobile cameras,” Adam Starck told The Local.

The last football game of the season in Sweden’s league Allsvenskan was to be played in on Sunday October 24th, Örebro, in eastern Sweden, between local team ÖSK and Malmö FF from Skåne.

Just before the game kicked off, three brothers; Adam, Louis and Anton Starck and their friend Tim Malmberg were out on town to do some shopping and meet up for a coffee and a chat.

The guys didn’t have any idea that a football match was being played as they are not very interested in football.

”We did notice that there were a lot of police about and we wondered if something was happening, if they were going to do a raid somewhere close by,” Starck said.

The four guys were leisurely browsing the shelves in the shoe shop when they became aware of the activity mounting on the other side of the street.

Suddenly they saw a police vehicle draw up in front of the shoe shop, a police officer nodding in their direction and the next thing they knew they were surrounded by police and dragged outside on the street.

The guys hardly had time to understand what was going on as their part of the street was cordoned off and they were put up against the shop window and frisked by the police. There seemed to be police everywhere, according to Starck, and between them they counted at least 24 officers.

”There were quite a lot of people standing around looking at us being frisked as well. We were trying to ask the officers what they thought we had done, but they just told us to be quiet,” said Starck.

The guys were later told they had been identified by an undercover police officer as football hooligans from Skåne, responsible for an assault some ten metres away from the shoe shop just under an hour previous.

”It seemed strange to me, because we don’t have a Skåne dialect, we’re all registered in Örebro, which they must have known after checking our ID cards, and if we had been repsonsible for an assault, it is hardly likely we would have stayed in the immediate area and gone shoe shopping,” said Starck.

In the police car they were split up in twos. According to Starck, a police officer told them that they ”had been booked and would be arrested”. As he was sitting in the car with his friend, his brothers in the other car, Starck heard the policeman tell the driver to take them to a location outside of town.

”On the way, we were informed that we weren’t allowed into town within 24 hours. If we did venture in anyway, they would arrest us,” said Starck.

Luckily for the four young men, Starck’s apartment is on the outskirts of town, some 20 minutes walk from the two different locations where they were dropped.

The guys spent all day in his flat, waiting to be allowed to go back home the next day. Little over a week later, none of the guys have heard anything back from the police.

”I still feel very frustrated about the whole incident. We’re going to report the incident to the Parliamentary Ombudsman (Justititeombudsmannen, JO). We don’t expect it will get us very far, but we’re prepared to take it as far as we can,” Starck told The Local.

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US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success

The US criminologist behind the anti-gang strategy designed to reduce the number of shootings and explosions in Malmö has credited the city and its police for the "utterly pragmatic, very professional, very focused" way they have put his ideas into practice.

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success
Johan Nilsson/TT

In an online seminar with Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said implementing his Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy had gone extremely smoothly in the city.

“What really stands out about the Malmö experience is contrary to most of the places we work,” he said. “They made their own assessment of their situation on the ground, they looked at the intervention logic, they decided it made sense, and then, in a very rapid, focused and business-like fashion, they figured out how to do the work.”

He said that this contrasted with police and other authorities in most cities who attempt to implement the strategy, who tend to end up “dragging their feet”, “having huge amounts of political infighting”, and coming up with reasons why their city is too different from other cities where the strategy has been a success.

Malmö’s Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) pilot scheme was extended to a three-year programme this January, after its launch in 2018 coincided with a reduction in the number of shootings and explosions in the city.

“We think it’s a good medicine for Malmö for breaking the negative trend that we had,” Malmö police chief Stefan Sintéus said, pointing to the fall from 65 shootings in 2017 to 20 in 2020, and in explosions from 62 in 2017 to 17 in 2020.

A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of shootings from 2017 to 2020. Graph: Malmö Police
A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of explosions in the city between 2017 and 2020. Graph: Malmö Police


In their second evaluation of the programme, published last month, Anna-Karin Ivert, Caroline Mellgren, and Karin Svanberg, three criminologists from Malmö University, reported that violent crime had declined significantly since the program came into force, and said that it was possible that the Sluta Skjut program was partly responsible, although it was difficult to judge exactly to what extent. 

The number of shootings had already started to decline before the scheme was launched, and in November 2019, Sweden’s national police launched Operation Rimfrost, a six-month crackdown on gang crime, which saw Malmö police reinforced by officers from across Sweden.

But Kennedy said he had “very little sympathy” for criminologists critical of the police’s decision to launch such a massive operation at the same time as Sluta Skjut, making it near impossible to evaluate the programme.

“Evaluation is there to improve public policy, public policy is not there to provide the basis for for sophisticated evaluation methodology,” he argued.

“When people with jobs to do, feel that they need to do things in the name of public safety, they should follow their professional, legal and moral judgement. Not doing something to save lives, because it’s going to create evaluation issues, I think, is simply privileging social science in a way that it doesn’t deserve.”

US criminologist David Kennedy partaking in the meeting. Photo: Richard Orange

Sluta Skjut has been based around so-called ‘call-ins’, in which known gang members on probation are asked to attend meetings, where law enforcement officials warn them that if shootings and explosions continue, they and the groups around them will be subject to intense focus from police.

At the same time, social workers and other actors in civil society offer help in leaving gang life.

Of the 250-300 young men who have been involved in the project, about 40 have been sent to prison, while 49 have joined Malmö’s ‘defector’ programme, which helps individuals leave gangs.

Kennedy warned not to focus too much on the number of those involved in the scheme who start to work with social services on leaving gang life.

“What we find in in practice is that most of the impact of this approach doesn’t come either because people go to prison or because they take services and leave gang life,” he said.

“Most of the impact comes from people simply putting their guns down and no longer being violent.”

“We think of the options as continuing to be extremely dangerous, or completely turning one’s life around. That’s not realistic in practice. Most of us don’t change that dramatically ever in our lives.”

He stressed the importance of informal social control in his method, reaching those who gang members love and respect, and encouraging them to put pressure on gang members to abstain from gun violence.

“We all care more about our mothers than we care about the police, and it turns out that if you can find the guy that this very high risk, very dangerous person respects – literally, you know, little old ladies will go up to him and get his attention and tell him to behave himself. And he will.”