The police concerned about increasing violent crime by young people

Publication date 8.2.2024 10.17
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Violent crime by minors is mainly targeted at other minors. Seamless cooperation between the authorities and new measures are required to break the cycle of serious violent crime by minors.

Violent crime by young people aged under 21 years has increased significantly. The number of offences suspected to have been committed by minors has tripled in Finland since 2015. This trend has risen the most steeply among young people aged under 15 years.

“Violent crime by minors is mainly targeted at other minors. Society must be able to protect its citizens from violence by minors, and new effective measures must be found to prevent crime,” says Sanna Heikinheimo, Deputy National Police Commissioner.

The number of violent offences by minors has increased in both densely populated towns and in rural municipalities. The increase has been the most significant on relative terms in Lahti (70%), Oulu (56%) and Tampere (46%).

The police wants to draw attention to youth crime and its impact and engage in a dialogue on the theme in society. As part of this goal, the police sent a campaign poster to all 2,119 comprehensive schools to remind pupils that often an act considered bullying is in fact an offence.

The cycle of crime by minors must be broken more effectively

The police breaks cycles of crime committed by the most challenging adults using coercive measures such as apprehension. While coercive measures can be targeted at young people aged 15–17 years as a last resort, the police has no ways to break the cycle of crime committed by children under 15 years of age. Breaking the cycle of crime by minors is primarily the responsibility of child welfare services, not the police.

Many minors involved in the most serious cycles of crime have been placed in child welfare institutions, from which it is easy to escape. A child who escapes time and time again may be able to commit new, and even serious, violent offences practically without any interruptions, even if they have been caught due to previous offences. Young people who are in the most difficult situation and constantly escape from institutions are seen by the police as perpetrators of violent crime and robberies or as victims of sexual crime.

“Being on city streets on their own is not the place for children in a difficult cycle of substance abuse or crime; instead, they should be in a controlled institution within the scope of support services. It is in no-one’s best interests that children in such a situation can leave child welfare institutions whenever they feel like it,” says Markku Heinikari, Detective Chief Superintendent from the Helsinki Police Department.

Concentrating the most difficult criminal cases of young people improves the overview of young people’s situations

Young people involved in a cycle of crime often move around actively in the Helsinki region and commit crime in the districts of several police departments. Police departments in the Helsinki region will harmonise investigation activities related to youth crime and assign criminal cases of minors involved in the most difficult cycles of crime to separately designated criminal investigators. At the same time, they will further intensify their cooperation with child welfare services.

The aim is to produce a better overview of young people’s situations to enable the more effective use of coercive measures to break the most difficult cycles of crime among young people aged 15–17 years.

“We have obtained some positive experiences of young people under an intensified travel restriction calming down at a child welfare institution. Young people know that they will be apprehended if they break the rules. The significance of setting strict boundaries is emphasised in the most challenging cases,” says Petri Eronen, Detective Chief Inspector from the Eastern Uusimaa Police Department.

Effective tools are required to investigate serious crime committed by children under 15 years of age

The age limit for criminal liability is 15 years. The police cannot use as effective coercive measures related to individual liberty when investigated serious crime committed by children under 15 years of age than in the case of young people who have already turned 15 years. When coercive measures cannot be taken, the police cannot protect the pre-trial investigation process as effectively as in situations where the perpetrator is at least 15 years of age.

“Growing street gangs present even greater risks of older gang members exploiting children aged under 15 years in criminal activities. The police also requires sufficient tools to investigate crime committed by children under 15 years,” says Kai Käkelä, Detective Chief Inspector from the Western Uusimaa Police Department.

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