In October 2018, fed up with years of shootings and explosions connected with the city's gangs, Malmö's police force launched a new strategy based on the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) technique pioneered in US cities such as Boston, Baltimore and Minneapolis.
The Ceasefire or Sluta Skjut project involved holding a succession of 'call-ins' where known or suspected gang members attend meetings with police, social workers, civil society, the family of gun-crime victims, and others.
They are then offered help leaving gang life and warned that if they continue to engage in gun crime, they risk being the subject of intense focus of the police and other authorities.
So far this year, Malmö has seen just nine shootings, down from 34 last year, 47 in 2018 and 65 in 2017.
“It's fair to say that the results we see so far are positive, but it's too early to say that it's just because of Sluta Skjut,” Rolf Landgren, who took over as head of the project earlier this year, told The Local.
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Both Malmö's police and local authorities are still awaiting the results of the official appraisal of the pilot scheme, which is being led by academics at Malmö University.
Nonetheless, Landgren said that local police had notched up successes, with about ten “really hardcore types” within Malmö's crime gangs agreeing to be “relocated to other parts of Sweden, where they are trying then to start a new life”.
Over the last six months, meanwhile, he estimated that members of the three main gangs had together been sentenced to a combined 30 years in prison.
Police at a shooting in the Hyllie part of Malmö in March 2020. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
A year after Sluta Skjut was launched, Sweden's national police in November 2019 launched Operation Rimfrost (Operation Hoarfrost), which saw police redeployed to the Southern Region around Malmö to help carry out a series of major operations.
“I wouldn't say that these two elements are in any opposition to one another,” Landgren said. “On the contrary. Sluta Skjut is a strategy, and you can have ever so fancy strategies, but if you don't back them with resources, manpower, and so forth, it won't fly.”
“Rimfrost has been very, very important when it comes to fulfilling and implementing this strategy, because it has added policing resources to Malmö.”
Since October, Malmö police have called 25 suspected gang criminals into so-called 'call-ins', and held 49 one-on-one 'custom notifications' with 44 individual gang members.
“We have have a call-in, where we also invite civil society and basically, let these violent groups know, 'we're fed up with what you're doing here in the city, and we're fed up with being frightened',” Landgren explained.
“We tell these individuals, as messengers for different violent groups, 'look, we don't want you to be killed, and we don't want you to kill anybody', and we are going to do anything within our powers to make that happen.”
Controversially, the technique involves stretching police powers to the limits of legality to put key individuals under pressure.
The 30-year-old suspected leader of one gang had his car stopped and searched so many times that he filed a complaint of police harassment to Sweden's Justice Ombudsman.
“We basically searched him and his car for 'preventive measures', which the legislation – we claim and argue, gives us permission to do when we have a reason to believe that there will be any type of severe illegal violence,” Landgren explained.
“Normally the legislation is meant to deal with football hooligans and high-risk demonstrations and so on, so that maybe was the most more controversial part.”
While the man's car – a bullet-proof Peugeot – was being searched, police gradually uncovered enough evidence against him for him to be sentenced to five and a half years in prison, a sentence he has since appealed.
A shooting in the Rosengård part of Malmö in August 2020. Photo: Andreas Hillergren/TT
Landgren said that as well as focusing police efforts on the “few hundred” people involved in gang crime in Malmö, Sluta Skjut had also involved a shift in focus from controlling the narcotics trade to reducing gang violence.
“I've been a cop for more than 30 years and in Sweden, narcotics has always been top priority,” he explained.
“The fundamental shift here is that now the guiding star for us is that we run after groups that are dealing with illegal violence to solve their conflicts or to dominate different parts of the city,” he said.
“Of course, narcotics is still important and we do not accept so to say that there are serious criminal offences related to drugs. Absolutely not. But that's not the guiding star.”
Landgren acknowledged that it might seem excessive for a city in relatively peaceful Sweden to look to gang-ridden US cities for policing techniques.
“Landgren said it had taken years of deadly violence before Malmö's police had begun to consider that GVI – developed by the US criminologist David Kennedy for Boston during the peak of its gun violence in the 1990s – might be appropriate in Sweden.
“It was a pretty big step, but sometimes you've got to understand that you're at the bottom of the league table and play from there, and clearly, we had a tremendous problem here in 2016 and 2017,” he said. “We had figures way, way higher than we had ever seen before, and then you got to face it. We needed to break that spiral.”
Now he said, police in other districts in Sweden with similar problems, such as the suburbs of Sweden, or Norrköping and Uppsala, were interested in learning from Malmö's experience, with police chiefs from several Stockholm districts visiting Malmö on a fact-finding mission in March.
“They reacted very positively and said they would look into the evaluation with great interest when it is ready towards the end of the year,” he said.
For now, Malmö's police authorities are waiting to see if the last year's reduction in shootings and explosions can be repeated in coming years, and also whether the GVI project will be continued.
“I shouldn't preempt what the outcome will be with the evaluations, but if the evaluation is anywhere near as good as how it's perceived here, there will, of course, be a more permanent structure here when we come into 2021.”