Police Commissioner underlines the significance of cooperation in preventing gang crime
To build an overview and combat the phenomenon, cooperation is now closer within the police department, between police units in the Helsinki region, internationally and with the City of Helsinki.
The first findings of the street gang phenomenon were made in May 2021 when a cycle of violence started between two different groups. These serious crimes were investigated effectively, and in October 2021 the Helsinki Police Department stopped violence between street gangs at Kaivohuone. In May this year, the Helsinki district court issued its first sentences in street gang cases.
“Our criminal investigations were an excellent success, and the situation calmed down. As building an overview of the rapidly generated and changing phenomenon is not easy, we improved the exchange of information with the Western and Eastern Uusimaa Police Departments, as well as the National Bureau of Investigation. We are also engaged in cooperation with the police departments of the Nordic capitals and London. Finland is still taking its first steps compared with other countries,” says Police Commissioner Lasse Aapio.
A new coordination group started operating in the Helsinki Police Department in October. Its goal is to develop observations, information flows, overviews and investigations related to crimes by street gangs within the department. The group is chaired by Detective Chief Superintendent Markku Heinikari. The coordination group is represented by the threat investigation group, analysis and intelligence group, and the surveillance and preventative work units.
“We need to take control of the situation now when this phenomenon is still young. However, no-one can solve this situation on their own – we need seamless and extensive cooperation within the police department and with other partners!”
“Our duty is to keep Helsinki safe and its citizens’ sense of security high. We investigate serious crimes effectively and prevent the cycle of violence from continuing, and we have a visible presence in the city and on social media. We also carry out preventative work with the City of Helsinki, its citizens and other partners to stop this and any future phenomena.”
Violent crime by minors, street gangs and organised crime are mainly different phenomena
While minors typically commit crime in groups, this does not necessarily mean the formation of street gangs from the police’s perspective. This is no new phenomenon either.
According to the study conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation, the increase in violent crime committed by minors in 2015–2021 is not connected to any specific population group, region, phenomenon or location. When comparing different cities and towns, it was discovered that crime has increased significantly more in cities and towns outside the Helsinki region and in smaller urban municipalities.
“In Helsinki, robberies committed by young people have increased significantly this year. However, robberies by minors are largely a different phenomenon compared with street gangs, in which key individuals are in their twenties and offences are more serious.”
“A street gang is formed by several individuals, and it has a separate name and identity. Gang members commit various offences together or on their own. The names of identified gangs often refer to streets or districts.”
There are significant differences in the level of activity and structure of crime between the identified gangs. Defining street gangs and their members is not simple.
“A street gang usually consists of one or more leaders and key members. Currently, key gang members are Finnish men in their twenties who have an immigrant background. There are also minors in street gangs and their sphere of influence. Many key members also have a long history of crime, despite their young age.”
“In Finland, street gangs do not control any streets or residential areas. However, their members are highly influential on social media, where they spread the admiration of a criminal lifestyle and confrontation. Gangsta rap is also used as an instrument of provocation and confrontation. Confrontation escalates into violent clashes, several of which have already been seen. The motives behind these acts of violence are often insignificant. We have many international examples of where this trend may lead. We need to take this seriously.”
According to the Criminal Code of Finland, organised crime means a group of at least three individuals who commit serious crime together. Street gangs have significantly looser structures. Typically, members of organised crime groups are also older, and their violence is more clearly associated with criminal business. However, connections between street gangs and organised crime have been found.
Society must tackle the root causes of the street gang phenomenon in cooperation
According to the Report on Internal Security, the amount of crime has decreased over the last 30 years in Finland. The decreasing trend can be seen in the amount of crime reported to the authorities and total crime investigated through the national victim survey. Underlying factors in crime for perpetrators and victims alike include exclusion, substance abuse, and personality traits and disorders. For example, individuals with an immigrant background are more often both suspected of crime and victims of crime than native Finns. Similarly, young people placed outside their home are more frequently both suspected of and victims of crime.
“Decision-makers, the authorities and other parties concerned must together tackle the root causes of the street gang phenomenon. Expediting the criminal and legal process for young people is a significant factor, as it would help break the cycle of violence and also assist the victims of crime.”
The Helsinki Police Department has invested significantly in the multi-vocational evaluation of individuals who cause concern and young people who commit crime, and help them receive the correct support. The department established the preventative work unit in 2012 and a group that investigates crime committed by minors in 2018.
“We are working closely with the City of Helsinki. The effectiveness of schools and child protection, and reducing isolation and exclusion in residential areas are key, also regarding this phenomenon.”
Cooperation is carried out especially through the Safe Helsinki network, which aims to improve safety and the sense of security in Helsinki. The network’s members are various authorities and organisations.