Sweden vows to hit criminal gangs hard with 'hotspot curfews'

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson says new policies are coming to tackle underworld violence

A wave of explosions and shootings killed dozens of people in Sweden last year and in 2022 despite promises to tackle the problem. Alamy
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Sweden says new security measures will “hit the criminal gangs hard” in the new year as it fights an epidemic of violence in its cities.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said several new policies are coming after an unusually high number of people were killed in the past two years in a spate of shootings and explosions.

Measures will include stop-and-search zones where police have special powers to look for guns even if there is no concrete suspicion of a crime.

Curfews are due to come in from February, which could be enforced with electronic tags, to stop suspected criminal gang members entering certain areas.

It is hoped that moving into hotspots, a policy modelled on police powers in Denmark, will break spirals of violence and prevent revenge killings.

The minimum sentence for serious weapons offences is being doubled this month as Sweden banks on prison as a deterrent.

School inspectors have meanwhile been assigned the task of stopping criminals getting access to public money, amid concerns gangs are using welfare fraud to raise funds.

The size of the underworld economy has been estimated at 100 to 150 billion Swedish crowns ($10 to 15 billion) and the central bank has warned it could dilute Sweden’s economic strength.

“The opposition now thinks we are going too far and doing too much. I do not share that view at all, on the contrary, there is now danger in delay,” Mr Kristersson said.

The Prime Minister, who has blamed the gang crisis on “failed integration” and high levels of immigration, also hailed a fall in new arrivals after rules for refugees were tightened.

“If immigration does not decrease, we will never manage integration,” he said.

Mr Kristersson came to power in 2022 promising the “largest offensive against organised crime in Swedish history” after making a deal with the hard-right Sweden Democrats.

Policies brought in last year included new surveillance powers, tougher prison terms and an edict to judges to show less sympathy for an offender’s personal circumstances.

Ministers also offered new subsidies for families and youth groups, such as football teams and dance troupes, to provide “alternatives to the camaraderie of a gang”.

However, a steady stream of violence has continued to blight Sweden’s cities, with a 25-year-old woman killed in a blast, a blind pensioner shot dead and a young man murdered in a stairwell in a matter of weeks last autumn.

Police figures show there were at least 348 shootings in Sweden last year, down from a record high in 2022 but still broadly similar to the level of recent years. At least 52 people were killed, almost half of them in Stockholm.

The number of explosions jumped from 90 to 149 in a year, with police recording dozens more cases of people preparing or attempting to detonate a device.

The country also struggled last year to calm community tensions after a spate of Quran-burning incidents soured its relations with the Muslim world.

"Sweden has gone through difficult crises in the past and we have weathered them," Mr Kristersson said. "I am confident that we can do it again."

Updated: January 02, 2024, 12:05 PM