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Police seek to soothe concerns over youth violence

One youth outreach worker said some youths are facing a bleak future.

Kuvassa on ihmisten varjoja Helsingin keskustassa lokakuussa 2020.
Police said that data suggest a decline in violent crime committed by minors during the first nine months of the year compared to 2019. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Finnish law enforcement has denied that criminality among young people had increased in the Helsinki region, despite media reports alleging increased violence among teens and children.

"The majority of young people behave well and then there are others who don’t know how to behave," said Superintendent Katja Nissinen of the Helsinki police department.

Nissinen said that information received by Helsinki police suggests an overall decrease in violent crime committed by minors between January and September this year compared to last year. Moreover simple cases seem to have decreased.

Police said that violence has been increasingly linked to robberies during drug deals. Some young people are also taking to carrying knives, with many saying that they are kept for safety.

According to Nissinen, the coronavirus crisis has also influenced the behaviour of young people. "Young people can no longer gather indoors the same way they were able to in previous years and as a result they are roaming the city in groups at night," the superintendent added.

Nissinen added that another change has been the influence of social media.

"Young people can easily use social media to congregate in large groups in some part of the city. These groups could have very different people in different parts of the capital region."

The police officer said that she had also seen positive changes in young peoples’ behaviour in the metropolitan area. She noted that young adults are very conscious of where they have a right to be and what they have a right to do.

"This is an awareness of their own standing in society and that’s a good thing," she pointed out.

Political leaders speak out

Disruptive behaviour by young people made headlines on Tuesday in daily Helsingin Sanomat, which reported that up to 150 youths had been behaving dangerously in downtown Helsinki and other parts of the capital region.

The paper reported that the young people had a tendency to settle conflicts with violence and to get into scuffles with kids their own age. They also used the Snapchat app to network. Later on Tuesday Helsinki police said that a small proportion of city youths got themselves into trouble committing criminal offences. These groups included both ethnic Finnish and foreign background youngsters.

Meanwhile both Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) and Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) took to Twitter to comment on the matter.

Ohisalo said that the phenomenon is not new that she had discussed it with police, youth outreach workers, social workers and NGOs.

She said that the goal is to improve the wellbeing of youngsters who display criminal tendencies and to support them so as to avoid harmful developments and to intervene early on with life management skills.

NGO calls for more grassroots action

Heikki Turkka, project manager of youth outreach NGO Children of the Station said that some young people have committed serious offences such as aggravated robbery to get brand name clothing. However others are good kids who are still in school, he added.

Turkka said that the phenomenon is evident across the country, adding that in some areas youngsters are drug users, while in others they commit acts of violence. He said that the disruptive behaviour noted in the capital region is a sign of growing polarisation.

"There is a growing group of youths in the capital region who aren’t doing well in school and who don’t necessarily see a future in the job market. This is not a good outlook," he noted.

He called for more grassroots action by the authorities.

"If no professional group takes charge of preventing disruptive behaviour, we will never come to grips with it. These are young people who are the responsibility of quite a few ministries. We have the Interior Ministry, the Education Ministry and also the Social Affairs and Health Ministry," he pointed out.

The youth worker called for networking with young people and their families, not just sitting down with coffee and buns. "Police are doing a lot of preventive work but the authorities are largely absent," he declared.

Turkka noted that many young people have friends who have a great deal of influence on them. Moreover it is not easy to get insights into a young person’s life situation. It is for this reason that coordinated action is needed, he said.

"We have endless resources in this country for child welfare and school welfare services. The question is how we can join forces and better support young people as they grow up," Turkka pointed out.

He said that one option would be to establish a resource centre comprising different official bodies that would provide support and could take the lead on managing difficult cases.

"Estonia is already doing a lot of this and the results have been good," he declared.

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