Lethal violence in Sweden at highest level in nearly 20 years: report

Sweden last year suffered the highest level of murder and manslaughter for at least 18 years, with 124 people losing their lives through violent attacks, according to the latest annual report from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå).

Lethal violence in Sweden at highest level in nearly 20 years: report
Police cordon off the crime scene after a shooting in Solna, Stockholm, in February. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

According to the report, last year saw the highest number of lethal violence cases since it began recording them in 2002.

“We had a declining trend of lethal violence which came to an end in 2012, and it’s lethal violence in criminal environments which is behind the increasing number of deaths,” Brå researcher Jonas Öberg told the Aftonbladet newspaper. “Lethal violence within couples is not growing.”

A full 48 of the 124 cases of lethal violence involved guns, with the number of fatal shootings in the Stockholm region more than doubling over the past two years, with 11 people shot dead in 2018, 18 in 2019 and 23 in 2020, according to the agency’s report on lethal violence

Öberg said that it was hard to say why there had been a higher level of lethal violence last year, and warned against seeking to pin the rise on a simple explanation like the ongoing pandemic.

“This is men killing men, and it’s young men, between 20-29 years old,” he said. “And it mostly involves guns, and it most of these murders happen outside.”

Here’s a chart from the report showing how the rise since 2012 has been entirely among men and boys (män/pojkar), which lethal violence involving women or girls slightly down. 

Here’s a chart from the report showing how the number of cases of lethal violence using a gun (med användning av skjutvapen), has risen almost every year since 2016. 

The total number of reported crimes overall increased by only one percent on 2019, with a total of 1.57m crimes reported, according to the agency’s main report for 2020.

Vandalism and drugs offences saw the sharpest rises, with 14 percent and 10 percent rise in reported cases respectively.

Brå researcher Stina Söderman said that the rise in drugs offences might simply reflect the fact that police have had more resources to focus on narcotics crimes as a result of the pandemic.

“They have cancelled all of their education programmes for instance, which has freed up a lot of time,” she told Aftonbladet.

Several crimes saw large reductions which Brå argued could be directly linked to the pandemic: reports of pickpocketing fell by 44 percent; reports of robberies in hotels, cafés, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and youth centres by 40 percent; and of robberies in schools, libraries, sports centres, churches and museums by 22 percent.

“Our judgement is that the reduction of these types of robberies is a consequence of the pandemic,” the report concluded.

Other crimes which saw a sharp drop in reports were ‘assault by an unknown person’, reports of which fell 12 percent for men and 10 percent for women on 2019, which the report said was also “probably affected by the pandemic”.

The number of reported rapes also grew by nine percent in 2020, with 9,360 rapes reported, but Brå researcher Stina Holmberg said that the agency’s analysis suggested that this was not linked to the pandemic.

“We have looked at it month-by-month and have not identified any pandemic effect,” she told Aftonbladet. “I think it started already before the pandemic arrives, and we haven’t seen any signs of anything happening in society, which would have had an effect which led to more rapes.”


At the same time, the number of reported assaults from someone known to the victim rose slightly, by 5 percent for women and 3 percent for men. 

There was also a strong regional variation in fatal shootings, with both the southern region, which includes Malmö, and the western region, which includes Gothenburg, seeing the number more than halve over the past two years.

The southern region had 13 fatal shootings in 2018, 11 in 2019 and just 6 in 2020, while the western region had 9 fatal shootings in 2018, 3 in 2019 and 4 in 2020.

Local police in Malmö have linked the fall in gun violence to both Operation Hoarfrost (Rimfrost), a concentration of police force in the city between November 2019 and April 2020, and to Sluta Skjut or ‘Stop Shooting’, a campaign based on the Group Violence Intervention anti-gang strategy pioneered in the US.

After Brå’s report, the opposition Moderate Party called for Sweden to increase the number of police in Stockholm to reduce the amount of violent crime in the city. 

“It’s noteworthy that the number of police in Stockholm is lower than it was five years ago,” Johan Forsell, the party’s justice spokesperson, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

“It’s strange that the government time after time chooses to send reinforcements to Malmö, for instance, but we haven’t seen similar shows of force in Stockholm.”

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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.”