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‘Now everyone in Malmö lives under the shadow of gun crime’

The Local's Malmö correspondent Richard Orange, whose son attends the daycare right next to the site of Wednesday's shooting, explains how it feels to live in a city where gangland shootings are no longer confined to the suburbs.

'Now everyone in Malmö lives under the shadow of gun crime'
A policeman carrying out a forensic examination of the crime scene. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
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“Have you seen the news,” my wife Mia said over the phone, as I rang her up to try and order our day. “There's been a shooting, right outside Kråkan. There are police everywhere.” 
Kråkan is our children's daycare, and Mia had arrived with our son, Finn, just as the victim was being loaded into an ambulance. She had to talk her way past a police cordon to drop our son off. 
Inside, staff and parents were shaken. One of the teachers and several children, all under four years of age, had been in the room looking out onto the street when the shots rang out. They saw a man run past the window. Heard a car accelerate away.
When I arrived, Mia was standing outside the police cordon with another parent, who was still in tears. She had been speaking to the newspapers and to Swedish Television, talking about the anxiety she felt that Malmö's ongoing gang war had struck so close to home. She was so upset that she took the day off work. 
“They shot after him as he was walking away towards Kråkan,” she told me. “They could have easily shot through the window and hit one of the children.”
She started talking about accelerating plans to move the daycare, a parent-led cooperative, to new premises, further away from Möllevången Square. 
“Maybe we should sell the flat and move out into the suburbs,” she said. 
I felt unemotional. That the shooting took place metres from where my son spends his days was incidental. It could have been anywhere. But when we see attacks so close to home, in the city centre and the streets where I live and work, I do worry for my adopted hometown. 
This is not the first shooting on Möllevången Square, nor the only recent attack in my area. There was an explosion recently at a local newsagents. A string of shootings in Värnhem, five minutes' walk away. 

Police at the scene of Wednesday's shooting. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
How many middle-class families will act on the sort of feelings Mia expressed and leave the city for less stimulating but safer suburbs? Massive Entertainment, the Malmö-based video game company, is in the process of moving to huge new premises in the Möllevången area. How many more shootings will it take for them to move back out?
For now, Malmö still feels like a place where things are happening. In the seven years since I arrived, a lot of interesting restaurants have opened, some quite high-end. New employers have moved in, whole new areas of smart modern apartments have been built. How many more shootings will it take to reverse that? 
In the Cammoccia Café a few doors down, the mostly immigrant clientele barely seemed concerned. Middle-aged men played backgammon outside, much as they always do. For people who live in Rosengård, Fosie, Nydala or other troubled Malmö suburbs, perhaps a shooting like this is no longer so exceptional. As long as it is gang members shooting other gang members, it is no particular cause for concern. 
It is only people like me, people from the other Malmö of game designers, filmmakers, journalists and the like who feel the streets on which they live their lives are no longer quite as safe.
But now everyone in Malmö lives under the same shadow of gun crime. 
If that increases mutual understanding and pushes the municipality and the police to put in more resources, perhaps something positive can come out of the fact that my Malmö is now experiencing what the other Malmö has suffered for years.

Member comments

  1. You don’t really all live under fear. I live in Chicago and while we have a reputation as being a violent city with more Americans killed here than in the Iraq war, the reality is there are violent areas, and then there are areas where people are shocked if violence happens. There are always good areas and bad areas (of course, crime is more mobile these days)

  2. I do not agree with the author. Despite living in one of what the author refers to as “troubled Malmö suburbs,” I find the city– including the suburban neighborhoods– to be a safe, welcoming place. These incidents often target specific groups, and rarely threaten the lives of middle or upper class residents.

    Malmö has some well-documented struggles, yet crime rates here are still below most areas of the developed world. A resident like the author has little to fear.

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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.”