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Young people’s cry for help calls for joint effort by entire society

Seppo Kolehmainen Published Date 24.1.2023 14.56 Blog

Society changes and evolves, and the direction is mostly positive. The young are the makers of our future, and it is their job to see, experience and experiment, dream, aspire, fail and learn. To grow and develop towards adulthood – in a safe environment. Trying the limits is also part of being young but committing crime or fear of falling victim of crime should not be part of anyone’s youth. Here, the Police currently sees a worrying development. 

The Police statistics show that the number of offences committed by young suspects has increased dramatically. In violent crime, i.e., assaults, homicides and robberies, the number of young suspects known to the Police has more than doubled during the past seven years. This can be interpreted as a cry for help – everything is not right. Society must do its utmost to clip the wings of crime and turn the tide that has gone very wrong. 

The Police statistics of the recent development send a very bleak message; in 2022, the Police recorded 6743 suspected acts of violent crime committed by an underage suspect. The increase on the year before was 27 percent (+1440 cases), and the numbers grew both in the groups of under-15-years-olds and those from 15 to 17. In terms of individual classes of crime, the increase was most marked in robberies. In 2022, considering all levels of seriousness, attempts included, there were 944 robberies that were suspected of being committed by young persons. This is 93% or 495 cases more than in the previous year. It is noteworthy that the number of suspects of robbery crimes has not increased essentially in other age groups: it is almost entirely a change that has taken place in the group of the underaged.

The cases of violent crime committed by the young are mostly targeted at other underage persons, and they mainly take place in public places. Violence is particularly visible in large cities – the Helsinki metropolitan area has an emphasised role in the statistics. 

Even if the discussion about street gangs involving young adults tends to focus on people with immigrant background, in particular, the fact is that the number of violent crime committed by the young has grown uniformly both among the native Finnish and immigrant young. Despite the uniform development, the level of crime by the young with a foreign background is, however, clearly more elevated compared to the young with a Finnish background. 

The Police is also concerned about the increase in the use of edged weapons, most frequently linked with robberies. The young have told that they carry a knife or similar for their own safety. The fact of knives being carried also increases the possibilities for their use. 

This raises the question: what has led to this situation?

In their practical work, the Police see what research also shows: the premises and starting points of the young people’s life may play a significant role in the future direction of their path in life. Intoxicant and mental problems, multigenerational marginalisation, low educational and income levels as well as lack of prospects may make the young more predisposed to a criminal way of life. The deprivation prevailing in the neighbourhood, the criminal activity of those living in the area as well as the peer networks of the young are related to their criminal behaviour.

The threshold of crime may also be lowered by a worrying cultural trend: the glorification and idolisation of a criminal way of life. Crime has become an acceptable form of entertainment and the criminals are awarded a lot of visibility in various media. Violent and other acts of crime are videoed and shared among the friends, and the suffering of another human being becomes entertainment. The social media provides the young with the opportunity to follow their idols, some of whom suggest that they have reached their high standard of living through a criminal way of life. A further factor contributing to this trend is the liberalisation of the attitudes towards drugs as well as the fact that some individuals seem to have lost the general understanding of obligations and rights walking hand in hand. 

Moreover, the Covid 19 crisis hit the young very hard, with their need to study, gather and engage in hobbies strongly being restricted. The fact that families spent more time just at home, with their ill-being invisible to the outside world, increased the number of the Police domestic alerts and tasks.  Are we now paying the price for the pandemic which may be reflected not only in the mental health and intoxicant abuse situations but also in the crime statistics of the underaged and the young for a long time into the future?  When this situation is further aggravated by the change in the security environment, the war in Europe, the high inflation figure and, for example, the concern for the climate warming, the whole may become too much for many. It may be that the future outlook blurred by crises does not encourage people to soldier on. Are future hopes replaced by anxiety for the days to come?  If this is the case, we adults, authorities and other actors must generate safety and security, faith and trust in society and its structures. We cannot afford losing that trust.

What are the options of cure in this situation? 

The Police can play its part in intervening with the criminality of the young, and that is what we are doing. A part of the intended impact of criminal justice is the very notion that one becomes liable for one’s actions. Therefore, the very basic work performed by the Police – especially our presence in the streets and capacity to efficiently intervene also with the minor crimes committed by the young – is a part of the preventive whole. The Police also avails of the Ankkuri operations (Anchor work) which consists of early intervention measures by a multiprofessional team that seeks to cut the criminal cycle at a very early stage. 

The Police can improve its activities to reach the young in their popular channels but we also need help by other actors in legal education, access to intoxicant and mental health services as well as creation for work and study perspectives. Homes, the school and recreational activities, organisations and the social welfare and health sector play a particularly important role in this respect. We must dismantle all legislative obstacles of cooperation, such as the exchange of information. In addition, the crime prevention work must become a part of the services and tasks of the wellbeing services counties; the National Council for Crime Prevention plays a central role in this whole. 

But: when the Police enters the scene, a crime has generally been committed and ill-being has persisted for a longer time. Working together with the judicial system, the Police is the last security check but preventing a phenomenon by intervening with its root causes – such as marginalisation and lack of future prospects – must be a joint effort shared widely by society at large. 

The young do not necessarily have the perspective provided by experience of life to understand what sort of future they might eventually face if they commit crime. Very few young people target a life of professional crime; that path does not lead to success or happiness. The young must have the opportunity to study, work, engage in hobbies, sensible things to do, human relationships, love, warmth and, above all, a sense of individual meaning. All this shapes the faith in the future. 

Society cannot afford to lose one single person. We have to identify, recognise and act – before it is too late for any single young person. That is what the young deserve and that is what we can do. Together.

For further information and support, please go www.nuoretjarikollisuus.fi (in Finnish only)

Seppo Kolehmainen
National Police Commissioner
National Police Board
Twitter: SJKolehmainen

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