Violent crime: Swedish police outline plan to deal with ‘exceptional situation’

Police have announced a 'special national incident' to look into violent crime in Sweden, with the head of the task force saying he expects a tangible impact within the next six months.

Violent crime: Swedish police outline plan to deal with 'exceptional situation'
Police technicians working at the scene of the shooting on Sunday. Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT

Operation Hoarfrost, as the operation has been named, has been launched in order to reduce the number of explosions and shootings in Sweden and to increase the feeling of public safety.

The head of national police operations department Noa, Mats Löfving, took the decision on Sunday evening and said that the shooting of two teenagers the day before was “the final straw”.

“It is very rare that we use these special methods. There has to be an exceptional situation,” said Löfving.

No arrests have yet been made in connection with the shooting, which left one 15-year-old dead and another in hospital in a serious condition.

The special national incident relates to violent crime in general and is not limited to any geographical area or specific incident. But Löfving said the shooting on Sunday was “the straw that broke the camel's back”.

“We saw a weekend in Malmö that is unacceptable, with an execution-like murder of a 15-year-old boy,” he told the press conference.

The special national incident means that a dedicated task force will look into violent crime, with the task force's commander-in-chief granted special powers to make decisions and allocate resources.

Four specific goals were outlined at the press conference: to reduce the number of explosions and shootings significantly, to reduce the number of people in criminal gangs through carrying out arrests and convictions, to seize weapons and explosives, and to increase the feeling of safety among members of the public.

Stefan Hector, who will take on the role of commander-in-chief, said he expected that the special incident would have an impact “within six months”.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said he welcomed the measure, telling the TT news agency: “It is an important signal. Malmö residents should not feel that they are alone in this, but rather that this is a matter for the whole of Sweden.”

While Sweden's overall crime rate and homicide rate remains low from an international and historical perspective, there has been an increase in recent years in the proportion of murders linked to criminal gangs. And the number of explosions has increased, accounting for 162 of a total of 190 incidents of 'destruction causing public endangerment' last year.

The briefing explaining the special national incident followed an earlier press conference from Malmö police in which they outlined the measures underway in the city.

Malmö's police chief said at that conference that both the victims of Sunday's shooting were previously known to police, and that an important step in crime prevention would be cracking down on the local drugs trade.

The role of the drugs trade in violent crime was a concern echoed by the prime minister, who told TT: “It is important that we as a society think about how we act, since organized crime survives to a large extent due to drug trafficking”.

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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.