Sweden's third-largest city has long been dubbed the nation's Chicago with parallels drawn between the two cities' reputations for gun-related violence and murders. While 2018 witnessed the lowest number of crimes in the city for 17 years, the perception of Malmö as a shooter's paradise has been hard to shake.
Something had to be done.
And so over a year ago the city of Malmö, in tandem with the police, social services, the local community, and prison and probation services began reaching out to the groups involved in the shootings. Note the word groups, not gangs.
The campaign is called Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) and leans heavily on the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) model, which has been used to great success in the United States. Since the initiative was introduced in Malmö, around 20 group members have been in contact with authorities.
“We don't use the word gang. These are groups with friends in different groups who hang out together. There is loyalty among these friends but it can easily change,” Anna Kosztovics, Deputy Project Leader of Platform Malmö, tells The Local.
GVI has been rolled out across American cities like Chicago and Baltimore during the last two decades. The ethos is about fostering cooperation and trust between the authorities and the groups. In essence, to switch the group mentality to become one that works towards crime prevention and law enforcement instead.
At the heart of Sluta Skjut is the ‘call-in', which involves face-to-face meetings with group members and authorities working on the project. Individuals who are invited to the call-in are already known to the police as part of their probation or conditional release. In the six months following the first call-in, which took place on October 11th, 2018, there have been fewer shootings than the previous period - five in total, one of which was fatal - and the seizing of 80 illegal weapons.
“What is important for the police is that we relate to proven research when introducing new methods. ‘Sluta skjut' is a method from the US with evidence that we have adopted to Malmö,” says chief of police Stefan Sintéus, responsible for the Swedish implementation in Malmö.
He adds, “We have already had considerable benefit from the method, which in principle is used by the entire Malmö police. When we have evaluated the method based on Swedish conditions, we will decide how and if the method is to be introduced within the Swedish police.”
Organisers of Sluta Skjut were pleasantly surprised at the turnout of group members at the first Malmö call-in, says Mona Frank of the Prison & Probation Service.
Photo: Mona Frank of the Prison & Probation Service
“We had invited 10 group members and said we would be happy if three or four showed up. Nine came along, perhaps out of curiosity, but most were positive that something needs to be done,” says Frank.
The stories which were heard were sobering for all in attendance. A mother, who lost her son, talked about the pain of her loss and how she didn't want anyone else to suffer the same fate. Indeed, the city of Malmö intends to involve mothers, whose children have been shot, to get involved with the project and give it a human face.
Elsewhere at the call-in, medics explained what happens to you when you get shot and how it affects people in the waiting room who might not get their treatment in time because a gunshot wound has higher priority. And an imam explained how gun violence destroys communities.
“The message is that we are here to help them and the people they associate with but that the groups have to stop violent acts. If not, we will go after the whole group if one of them commits a violent crime so the idea is that they will talk to each other and find more peaceful solutions to their conflicts. No group wants to have the attention of the police,” says Anna Kosztovics.
Across the Atlantic, where it has been used for more than 20 years, GVI has led to a 63 percent reduction in youth homicides in Boston while in Chicago a 23 percent reduction in shooting behaviours at groups involved at the call-in has been found. The organisers of Sluta Skjut are working closely with their American counterparts to coordinate the Swedish version.
“One of the main differences with GVI in Sweden, compared to America, is the definition of civil society. You have all sorts of associations in the US; things are more coordinated here. Social services are much more involved,” adds Kosztovics.
Collaboration is key with the project enhancing the already strong relationship between the police, prison & probation authorities and the city of Malmö. Getting the message across that change must come from within is a fundamental part of Sluta Skjut along with getting the groups to recognise that there is help out there.
“There are those who have been threatened by criminal organisations and want to leave the group. Some are forced to keep drugs in their apartment. They are all at different stages and may need help, for example to find a safe place to live,” says Kosztovics.
While the offer of help is sincere, there are no rewards for wanting to pursue an honest lifestyle say the organisers. Crimes will still be prosecuted either way but emphasising that the group members are a part of society that cares is pivotal to Sluta Skjut.
While the multi-year project is in its infancy and it is still too early to tell what the results will be, the organisers say that it is already starting to bear fruit.
“The best part so far is the cooperation with the other organisations with Malmö stad and the police. Malmö does not have a fair image; it's only a small amount of people that are doing the shootings. This project is trying to do something and has already attracted a lot of interest from other cities,” concludes Mona Frank of the Prison & Probation service.
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Malmö stad.