What do we know about violent crime in Sweden?

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.

What do we know about violent crime in Sweden?
Violent criminals have changed their methods. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

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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Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

A man was shot to death in Kristianstad, Skåne, late on Thursday night. He is the 48th person to be shot dead in Sweden this year, meaning that the previous record for most fatal shootings in one year set in 2020 has now been broken.

Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

“Unfortunately we can’t say more than that he’s in his twenties and we have no current suspects,” duty officer Mikael Lind told TT newswire.

According to police statistics, this most recent deadly shooting means that 48 people have been shot to death in 2022, meaning that Sweden has broken a new record for deadly shootings per year.

Earlier this week, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg said that this number is likely to rise even higher before the end of the year.

“It looks like we’re going to break the record this year,” he told TT on Tuesday. “That means – if it continues at the same pace – around 60 deadly shootings.”

“If it ends up being such a large increase that would be very unusual,” said Manne Gerell, criminiologist at Malmö University.

“We saw a large increase between 2017 and 2018, and we could see the same now, as we’re on such low figures in Sweden. But it’s still worrying that it’s increasing by so much over such a short time period,” he said.

There also seems to be an upwards trend in the number of shootings overall during 2022. 273 shootings had occured by September 1st this year, compared with 344 for the whole of 2021 and 379 for the whole of 2020.

If shootings continue at this rate for the rest of 2022, it is likely that the total number for the year would be higher than 2021 and 2020. There are, however, fewer injuries.

“The majority of shootings cause no injuries, but this year, mortality has increased substantially,” Gerell explained. “There aren’t more people being shot, but when someone is shot, they’re more likely to die.”

Thursday’s shooting took place in Kristianstad, but it’s only partially true that deadly gun violence is becoming more common in smaller cities.

“It’s moved out somewhat to smaller cities, but we’re overexaggerating that effect,” Gerell said. “We’re forgetting that there have been shootings in other small cities in previous years.”

A report from the Crime Prevention Council (Brå) presented last spring showed that Sweden, when compared with 22 different countries in Europe, was the only one with an upwards trend for deadly shootings.

Temporary increases can be seen during some years in a few countries, but there were no countries which showed such a clear increase as Sweden has seen for multiple years in a row, according to Brå.

The Swedish upwards trend for deadly gun violence began in the beginning of the 2000s, but the trend took off in 2013 and has continued to increase since.

Eight of ten deadly shootings take place in criminal environments, the study showed. The Swedish increase has taken place in principle only among the 20-29 year old age group.

When police chief Anders Thornberg was asked how the trend can be broken, he said that new recruitments are one of the most important factors.

“The most important thing is to break recruitment, make sure we can listen encrypted and that we can get to the profits of crime in a better way,” he said.