The 2017 Safe Cities Index ranks 60 cities across 49 indicators covering aspects of security in four domains: digital, health, infrastructure and personal security.
Stockholm – the only Swedish city assessed – placed eighth in the ranking topped by Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka. It was joined in the top-ten by two other European countries (Amsterdam in sixth and Zurich in tenth) and Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong.
The Swedish capital performed the best in the infrastructure sub-category (fourth place), followed by personal security (ninth), health (tenth) and digital security (13th place).
“Stockholm's infrastructure is very sound, but it is not in the top-ten on cyber security and people might be very concerned that it ranks lower than expected on health,” Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and one of the experts interviewed for the report, told The Local.
Home to many successful tech and IT startups, such as Spotify, iZettle and Klarna, Stockholm has made a name for itself as a rising star on the digital scene, with plans to become a so-called “smart city” and more and more of its financial transactions carried out digitally in the move towards a “cashless society“.
But the Safe Cities Index stresses the need for cities to improve their digital security at the same pace as they develop smart solutions for citizens. This message perhaps hits close to home for Sweden, where several transport agencies were targeted in a cyber attack this week, causing website crashes and train delays.
“It's precisely those cities that are trying to be smart that are vulnerable to attacks,” said Smith.
“But it makes sense that the less cash you have in circulation the less cash is going to be stolen from our pockets, and the more transactions we do online the more is going to be stolen online – that's criminal logic. So you can't just be smart, as the study argues you have to be double smart.”
In terms of personal security, Stockholm is number nine in the global list (which is topped by Singapore, Wellington and Osaka) and the top country in Europe ahead of Amsterdam. At the bottom is Karachi, with Athens being the least safe city in the European Union in the sub-category (41th place).
Recent terror attacks in Europe affect the personal security rankings (Stockholm and Amsterdam are in fact the only European cities in the top-ten), but the study points out that terror deaths are far fewer than other violence – globally there were 30,000 deaths in terror attacks in 2015 compared to 440,000 homicide deaths. The Stockholm region had 26 cases of deadly violence in 2016, according to Sweden's crime statistics.
Despite its relative safety, and the fact that deadly violence is decreasing, Sweden has hit international headlines in the past year as alt-right media have tried to link high immigration to crime in the Nordic country.
“These myths being peddled to make political points are simply not true. It's painted by some through rose-tinted glasses and by others as a kind of dystopia and neither has got it right: it's not a Social Democratic paradise, nor socialist hell. If you live in Stockholm and experience the things that work well and the things that don't, it almost seems a bit silly,” said Stockholm-based Smith, who has lived most of his adult life in the UK.
IN STATS: Deadly violence in Sweden in the 2000s
That said, a failed suicide bombing in Stockholm in 2010 and the terror attack on April 7th 2017, in which a man drove a truck down a shopping street, killing five, in an attack that shook the nation, may force Sweden to think differently about safety and security in its capital city, as well as in the rest of the country.
“There is still a discussion to be had about how to achieve reasonable security in places where a lot of people gather. Stockholm has had a very easy ride, and the event this year brought home that Stockholm like any other city is vulnerable to this,” said Smith.
For example, while CCTV is common in some European countries, Sweden has generally been restrictive, but has increased its use of cameras in recent years to curb drug crime and gang shootings in suburbs.
“A question to ask is if there are things that can be done to ensure people are safe without taking away our personal freedoms or our way of life?” explained Smith.
“In many respects it is about finding the balance in different things: what we want to do as citizens and what degree of cost we should be paying, not just financial costs but personal freedom. In general terms Stockholm has got that balance pretty good, I think most expats would say that compared to back home it for example feels safer going out in the evening.”