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Homicides in Finland up by a quarter in 2020

Last year's figures include 57 manslaughter and 33 murder cases.

Kuvassa on ihmisten varjoja Helsingin keskustassa lokakuussa 2020.
The number of homicides increased sharply last spring, when Finland was under a state of emergency to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

In 2020, police were notified of a total of 489 homicides and attempted homicides in Finland. This is about a quarter more than in the previous year, when 397 attempted homicides or homicides were recorded.

Last year’s figures include 57 manslaughter and 33 murder cases. The police were also notified of 363 attempted manslaughter and 36 attempted murder cases.

The number of homicides has generally been declining since the 1990s. In 2018, the number of homicides increased by roughly 30 percent from the previous year, but in 2019 the figures started to decline again.

The increase in the number of homicides in 2018 followed a liberalisation allowing supermarkets to sell stronger alcoholic drinks.

According to the National Council for Crime Prevention, during 2010-2015, 70 percent of homicides in Finland took place when both victim and perpetrator were under the influence of alcohol. Some 80 percent took place when one or the other was drunk.

Murders on the rise

Finnish law categorises homicides as different offences depending on the seriousness of the crime.

Manslaughter is defined only as the killing of another person. It is usually not planned in advance and is seen as a lesser homicide than a murder.

A murder is defined as a killing that is pre-meditated and/or particularly violent or cruel, or a killing that endangers public safety, or the killing of an official, who is on duty and responsible for maintaining public order or security.

A negligent homicide (tappo in Finnish) is defined as a death caused by the negligence of another person. Another term (surma) is used for a manslaughter under mitigating circumstances.

Story continues after photo.

Homicides, notified crimes
The increase in murders, the most serious offence, can be attributed to the fact that the characteristics of the crime may have been interpreted differently than in the past. This means a case that might have been previously investigated as manslaughter was investigated as a murder instead.

A similar difference in interpretation may also be behind the increase seen in the number of attempted manslaughter cases, as the differentiation between aggravated assault and attempted manslaughter is often blurred.

Nevertheless, it is evident that the level of violence increased significantly last year compared to previous years.

State of emergency led to increased homicides

The number of homicides increased sharply during the first half of last year, particularly in the spring and early summer, when a state of emergency was in force in Finland for three months to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The reasons for the increase in the number of homicides can be attributed to the disruptions in society caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Miikka Vuorela, a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland.

"In spring last year, there were mass layoffs and unemployment, and widespread societal restrictions. These caused long-term financial anxiety and stress. Therefore, the state of emergency can be seen as having played a part in the increase of these crimes," Vuorela said.

Last year, police also noted an increase in drug use and substance abuse problems, the consequences of which were also reflected in homicide statistics, according to Pekka Heikkinen, Chief Superintendent at the National Police Board of Finland.

"It is likely that the increase in homicides is at least partly due to the fact that the hospitality industry has been closed or restricted during the pandemic. Alcohol use has increasingly shifted from bars and restaurants to inside people’s homes. This means when there is trouble, no one is around to intervene. Perhaps this also explains the rise in these serious crimes," Heikkinen said.

Homicides decreased towards the end of last year

During late autumn and winter last year, there was a more positive shift, when fewer homicides were recorded than in any quarter in the last four years. The easing of restrictions on restaurants and bars could be interpreted as one reason behind the decline.

Whether the spike in homicides last year was just a one-off remains to be seen.

"If the restrictions, crisis and substance abuse issues are so clearly reflected in homicide rates, it is possible that they will start to grow again in the long-term," Vuorela said.

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