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Helsinki police's new coordination group sets sights on street gang crime

"Our task is to keep Helsinki safe and to give city residents a high sense of security," the head of the group says.

Young defendants from Helsinki and Espoo head into the courtroom ahead of a a street crime-related trial at Helsinki District Court earlier this month. File photo. Image: Kristiina Lehto / Yle
Yle News

The Helsinki police department has set up a coordination group to combat the growing problem of street crime, according to a statement issued by the law enforcement agency on Monday.

The purpose of the group, which was first started in October, is to develop strategies of observation, information gathering and investigations of street crimes that the department's officers deal with.

The coordination group includes a threat investigation group, an analysis and intelligence group, as well as a group charged with monitoring and preventative measures.

The department noted how it dealt with city's phenomenon of street crime in May 2021, when a cycle of violence between two gangs flared up. 

Following investigation efforts, police were able to prevent a violent clash between the gangs in October of that year and those involved in past violent incidents were convicted by Helsinki District Court, according to the department.

A major part of the coordination group is inter-departmental cooperation and communication between police departments across Uusimaa. The statement noted that the law enforcement agency also exchanges information with police in the Nordic countries as well as in London.

The head of the coordination group, deputy assistant police commissioner Markku Heinikar said preventing street crime needs broad cooperation.

"Our task is to keep Helsinki safe and to give city residents a high sense of security. We effectively investigate serious crimes and keep cycles of violence from continuing, we are visible on city streets and on social media," Heinikar said.

Call for cooperation

According to a report by the National Bureau of Investigation, the increase in violence among minors during the years 2015-2021 is not related to any particular group, region, phenomenon or location. 

"In Helsinki, the number of robbery-related crimes by young people increased significantly this year. However, such crimes involving minors are a different phenomenon than street gangs, where the key people are in their 20s and the crimes are more serious," Heinikar said. 

-"A street gang is a group formed by several people with their own name and identity. Gang members commit various crimes both together and alone. The names of identified gangs often refer to streets or neighborhoods," he explained.

Monday's statement also noted that crime in general has been decreasing in Finland for the past three decades.

The decline can be seen both in terms of crime brought to the attention of authorities, as well as in total crime determined by victim investigations, Helsinki police said.

Criminal acts are generally caused by multiple factors, including exclusion, substance use, personality traits of perpetrators, as well as disorders, the statement said.

Police noted that people with foreign backgrounds are both more often suspected of crimes as well as more often the victims of crimes than the population at large. Similarly, police said, young people placed outside the home are also more often the perpetrators as well as victims of crimes.

"Decision-makers, authorities and other actors should work together to address the root causes of the street gang phenomenon. One important thing is to speed up the criminal and legal process for young people, which would make it easier to break the cycle of crime and also help the victims of crimes," Heinikar said in the statement.

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