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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Swedish Green leader: ‘Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity’

The riots that rocked Swedish cities over the Easter holidays were nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, but instead come down to class, the joint leader of Sweden's Green Party has told The Local in an interview.

Swedish Green leader: 'Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity'

Ahead of a visit to the school in Rosengård that was damaged in the rioting, Märta Stenevi said that neither the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan, who provoked the riots by burning copies of the Koran, nor those who rioted, injuring 104 policemen, were ultimately motivated by religion. 

“His demonstration had nothing to do with religion or with Islam. It has everything to do with being a right extremist and trying to to raise a lot of conflict between groups in Sweden,” she said of Paludan’s protests. 

“On the other side, the police have now stated that there were a lot of connections to organised crime and gangs, who see this as an opportunity to raise hell within their communities.”

Riots broke out in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Stockholm, Norrköping, Linköping and Landskrona over the Easter holidays as a result of Paludan’s tour of the cities, which saw him burn multiple copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. 


More than 100 police officers were injured in the riots, sparking debates about hate-crime legislation and about law and order. 

According to Stenevi, the real cause of the disorder is the way inequality has increased in Sweden in recent decades. 

“If you have big chasms between the rich people and poor people in a country, you will also have a social upheaval and social disturbance. This is well-documented all across the world,” she says. 
“What we have done for the past three decades in Sweden is to create a wider and wider gap between those who have a lot and those who have nothing.” 

The worst way of reacting to the riots, she argues, is that of Sweden’s right-wing parties. 
“You cannot do it by punishment, by adding to the sense of outsider status, you have to start working on actually including people, and that happens through old-fashioned things such as education, and a proper minimum income, to lift people out of their poverty, not to keep them there.”

This, she says, is “ridiculous”, when the long-term solution lies in doing what Sweden did to end extreme inequality at the start of the 20th century, when it created the socialist folkhem, or “people’s home”. 

“It’s easy to forget that 100 to 150 years ago, Sweden was a developing country, with a huge class of poor people with no education whatsoever. And we did this huge lift of a whole nation. And we can do this again,” she says. “But it needs resources, it needs political will.”