Violent crimes are both increasing – and decreasing

New criminology research reveals a marked risk that a shooting in one area will be followed within a short time by a second shooting in the same area. In some of these areas, violent crimes have also increased. Joakim Sturup, researcher at the Centre for Psychiatry Research, Karolinska Institutet and investigator at the Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine, answers some questions about his research.

Joakim Sturup, credit: Annika af Klercker.
Joakim Sturup. Photo: Annika af Klercker

Text: Johan Sievers, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap, No 2/2017.

Shootings in large cities have received a lot of attention. What have you studied?
“We have looked at all shootings from 2011 to 2015 in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö. If one shooting has taken place in a metropolitan area, there is a high risk that another shooting will take place within 100 metres and 14 days. These are called near-repeat shootings, and should be of interest for both the police and healthcare services.“

How do you explain this relationship?
“It is not clear, but at the moment we are looking at some explanatory models proposed in the USA. If a shooting against a person or group fails, or perhaps the person is only injured, the perpetrators sometimes come back and make another attempt. In other cases, a shooting can result in takeover of an area by the perpetrators, and when the victim's group attempts to re-take the area, there are further shootings. We want to investigate whether these explanatory models apply to conditions in Sweden.“

You have also studied the use of hand grenades?
“Yes, that has increased dramatically. Around 2010, there were 1-2 hand grenade detonations per year in Sweden, last year there were almost 40. They are often used to frighten businessmen to extort money from them, but they can also be used in direct attacks on people. Hand grenades do considerable damage if they are thrown into a flat, and the risk to innocent bystanders is high.“

It is often claimed that violent crime is not increasing, but talking to you a completely different picture emerges. Why is that?
“There are two different graphs. There is a decrease in violence towards women and children. Alcohol-related violence is also dropping, as is violence caused by people with psychotic conditions. Simultaneously, gun crimes are increasing dramatically. If you add the figures together, it is correct to say that violent crimes are not increasing, but if you look at the distribution in the country, a different picture emerges. The decreasing violence is distributed evenly throughout the country, but gun crimes take place almost exclusively in socially vulnerable areas. People in Fittja, Bergsjön or Rosengård are very worried about the increase in shootings, hand grenade attacks and organised crime in their areas.“

You are critical that a public health perspective is often applied to violent crime. Why?
“Social, psychiatric and psychological explanatory models are important to understand the phenomenon; the perpetrators obviously do have problems. But our research shows that gun crimes are almost always linked with criminal networks; they are carried out mostly by men who, every day, choose to put on a bullet-proof vest and to carry guns. I believe that we should not diminish their personal responsibility.”

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