Fatal shootings on track for record high in Sweden

There have been a record number of fatal shootings so far this year in Sweden. Police are concerned this trend is set to continue over the summer months.

A police road block in Stockholm.
A police road block in Stockholm. Photo: Janerik Henriksson / TT

From January to May this year, more than 30 people have been shot dead in Sweden. In the same period in previous years, there has been an average of 17 fatal shootings.

There are concerns that the violence will escalate during the summer – which usually sees a rise in shootings in Sweden, as more people head outside.

“In the lighter time of the year, we see an increase in these types of incidents. It is easier to find their victims”, intelligence chief Jens Ahlstrand told newswire TT.

In 2020 and 2021, a record number of fatal shootings were registered in Sweden, when 47 people died from gun shots in each year.

Sweden’s intelligence chiefs say there are several “red” zones across the country, where the risk of new acts of violence is considered high. In the western region, there are currently around seven to eight of these zones.

“Should we have an act of violence in some of these environments, we know that the spiral of revenge and violence will escalate”, said Ahlstrand.

In the east region, shootings have increased sharply. Last year, nine shootings took place up to and including May – this year it’s 32.

Stockholm is estimated to be safer now than it was at the start of the year.  

“We have somewhere between six to eight ongoing hot zones that we highlight in the Stockholm region where there is a great risk of serious violence in the near future”, said Max Åkerwall, acting head of intelligence in Stockholm.

He describes, like several of his colleagues, that the situation is fragile and that it doesn’t take much for violence to escalate and for an area to go from green to red in just a couple of hours.

Police under pressure 

Sweden’s gun crime is increasing at a time when the police are already under pressure.

In Svenska Dagbladet, several police officers have testified that murder investigations are collapsing due to lack of organisation and qualified investigators.

Several intelligence chiefs have also expressed concern about increasingly younger perpetrators and a new type of ruthlessness.

“We have had a high proportion of shootings in these environments for a long time, but my feeling is that the intention to kill has become more common, even if it is not always successful”, says Per Lundbäck, head of the intelligence service in the Bergslagen region. 

Jale Poljarevius, head of the intelligence service in the central region, describes the fight against the gangs as an “infinite game” – a match without end.

“It’s a myth that you dismantle a network and then it’s over… If a network disappears completely, there is a risk that the void will be filled by others. With that comes new violence – new knife wounds and shootings,” Poljarevius says. 

“The breeding ground [for violence] is very good and we have failed to address that in Sweden – the prevention,” Mats Karlsson, head of the intelligence service in the south region, told newswire TT. 

Head of intelligence Jale Poljarevius said he hopes for a calmer summer but that he has his doubts.

READ MORE: Malmö releases first results from city-wide ‘Stop Shooting’ campaign

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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.