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What is a ‘special incident’ in Sweden and what happens when police launch one?

What is a 'special incident' in Sweden and what happens when police launch one?
Erik Widstrand of the Stockholm police announcing a 'special incident' in response to an explosion on January 13th. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
Swedish police sometimes tell newspapers they have launched a 'special incident' in response to criminal acts. But what exactly does that mean, and how does it work?
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In November 2019, police announced a “special national incident” to look into a recent spate of violent crime incidents including explosions and fatal shootings. And on January 13th, Stockholm police launched a special incident in response to a specific explosion in the upmarket Östermalm district.

But what does it mean?

A “special incident”, or särskild händelse in Swedish, can be launched to deal with a range of unexpected or sudden issues which the relevant police unit needs extra help and resources to deal with.

It means that a temporary task force is set up to focus solely on the specified problem, in this case violent crime. The commander-in-chief of the task force is given extra powers to make decisions and allocate resources.

According to Swedish police, the advantages of the approach include access to “more police officers or specialized skills” as well as making it easier to “reduce the load on ordinary police operations”.

The length of time that the task force operates depends on the incident. Police have said they expect this one to last for six months but this may be adjusted.

A särskild händelse might be run at the regional level, which is more common, or at the national level, in which case the police's national operations department Noa is responsible for its organization. For special regional incidents, regional police are responsible for the organization and may request support or extra resources from Noa, which has the final say in which help is approved.

The special incident introduced to deal with recent violent crime is a national one.

Previous examples of special national incidents in Sweden include those which dealt with the April 2017 Stockholm terror attack, the summer 2018 wildfires, the wave of migration in 2015, and then-US President Barack Obama's visit in 2013.


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