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Sharp 2018 rise in homicides levelling off

Homicides in Finland typically occur during drunken arguments in private homes.

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Finnish police tape at a crime scene. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

There were 95 violent deaths in Finland last year classed as various types of criminal homicide. Over 70 homicides were recorded as of the beginning of October of this year.

While a large increase over 2018 is not expected, expert projections are for 90–100 such crimes this year.

The 2018 figure was close to a 30 percent rise over 2017. At first glance, that looks like a shocking escalation of violence, but can be explained by 2017 being exceptional - fewer homicides were committed in Finland that year than in any year since 1895.

For this reason, says Martti Lehti, a researcher at Helsinki University's Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy, current levels do not represent any kind of "catastrophic situation".

Booze, brawl, blade

There is a direct link between drink and violent crime in Finland. Most people who commit homicide, as well as most of their victims, are inebriated at the time.

An explanation for the resurgence of homicides has been sought in a recent easing of restrictions on alcohol sales. That doesn't hold up very well since no direct correlation between the level of the increase in consumption and the increase in violent crime has been found.

On the other hand, total national consumption may not be a valid indicator of drinking habits among members of the groups most likely to be involved in homicides.

Story continues after photo.

Mies istuu pöydän ääressä edessään olutta ja viinaa.
Alcohol plays a major role in homicides in Finland, most clearly in Central Ostrobothnia where every criminal homicide since 2003 has been committed by someone who was drinking. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

The archetypal criminal homicide in this country has long been the same. Most victims are killed during a weekend brawl in a private residence. The killer and the victim are usually acquainted, middle-aged, and for one reason or another not employed. Both are most likely to have a drinking problem and are intoxicated at the time of the homicide. The most typical weapon used is a kitchen knife.

Concerns about drugs

Police are increasingly worried about further problems being created by an increase in illicit drugs and abuse of some prescription medications.

Detective Chief Inspector Anders Åfors, an officer with the police in Kokkola in the Central Ostrobothnia region, points to the growing availability of drugs bought online.

"It appears that a mixture of drugs and alcohol has become a very common part of crimes committed by young adults, while the choice of older perpetrators is [only] alcohol," says Åfors.

Last year was an especially dark one as concerned violent crime in Central Ostrobothnia and this year looks to be very much the same.

Even so, since the demographic groups most likely to be involved in violent crime as either perpetrators or victims are relatively small, Åfors notes that general public safety in the region remains good.

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