What do we know about violent crime in Sweden?

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
What do we know about violent crime in Sweden?
Violent criminals have changed their methods. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Has there been a rise in the number of explosions and shootings? Here's a look at what we do and don't know about violent crime in Sweden.


How much violent crime happens in Sweden?

In 2018, statistics from the National Council on Crime Prevention (Brå) showed there were 108 cases of deadly violence, a slight decrease from 2017 when there were 113 cases. The 2018 figure worked out as 1.06 incidents of deadly violence per 100,000 inhabitants of Sweden, and since 2002 this figure has varied between 0.71 and 1.21.

Although it can be difficult to make international comparisons due to differences in how crime is reported, this is a relatively low level on a global scale. In the USA, there were 5.0 murders per 100,000 people in 2018, while the rate for the year April 2017-March 2018 was 1.2 murders per 100,000 people in the UK.

How common are explosions and shootings?

In 2018, firearms were used in 43 cases of deadly violence, three more than the previous year despite an overall drop in fatal violence.

And of a total 190 cases of what is referred to according to the official police definition as "destruction causing public endangerment" reported in 2018 according to Brå, 162 were due to explosions.

How have these figures changed over time?

During the 1990s, the homicide rate in Sweden was greater than it is today, remaining between 1.3 and 1.4 murders per 100,000 people during that decade. During the ten years 2002-2011, the average homicide rate was 1.0, and there were an average of 99.5 murders per year, while 2012 saw the lowest rate of murders over the past 30 years with only 68 victims. 

Since 2015, the number of murders in Sweden has been over 100 and the homicide rate per 100,000 people higher than 1.0 each year.

So the figures are creeping up, but remain at a comparatively low level both historically and internationally.

What has changed is the methods used by violent criminals, with an increasing tendency towards guns and explosions. 


Since 2011, when the rate of firearm usage was first measured by Brå, the number of gun murders has more than doubled, from 17 cases in 2011 (21 percent of total murders) to 43 in 2018 (40 percent of total murders).

And between January and September this year, 172 cases of of destruction causing public endangerment using explosions were reported, compared to only 113 during the same period in 2018.

Do we know who is behind violent crime?

Police regularly map known members of criminal networks, and a report from Stockholm police published in October 2019 suggested that there were over 50 active criminal networks and a total of around 1,500 people involved. Women were increasingly taking on active roles in the gangs, and the average age of members had fallen, with most gangs including members aged under 16.

Sweden does not keep statistics on ethnicity of criminal suspects. When Dagens Nyheter in 2017 looked into 100 people linked to murders and attempted murders carried out with guns, they found that 90 had a so-called foreign background, defined as either being born abroad or having at least one parent born abroad.


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