On the same autumn day that the national police chief walks into the police station in Skellefteå, the situation for the police in Västerbotten and Skellefteå in the autumn of 2023 can be described as follows:
Regularly large numbers of arrests in Skellefteå and Umeå, two murder investigations in Umeå, and a network involving attempted murder, drugs and weapons with clear links to Skellefteå, several major investigations in Skellefteå involving serious violent crime and arson in Ursviken, Skellefteå and Byske, large gangs of thieves and a burglar who travels up and down the coast.
There has been a lot of mutual support between the officers in Skellefteå and their colleagues in Umeå, when they have had to prioritize cases already in the pipeline.
One police officer replied, "We do magic!" when asked how the police could handle all the important investigative tasks. Just the other day, five people were in police custody in Skellefteå.
Several investigators from Skellefteå have been loaned to Stockholm for lengthy periods to strengthen the police's investigative capacity due to the unprecedented wave of violence in the region.
- Skellefteå has had many extensive sexual assault investigations involving sexual abuse of children and young people by men, often linked to social media. "The investigators have taken a lot of heat, it has been very demanding," several police officers told Norran.
Repeat offenders are arrested for everything from stealing bicycles to drug offenses to violent crimes. Some are barely out of jail or on remand before committing new crimes.
At the same time as Anders Thornberg's arrival in Skellefteå, the police union is sounding the alarm about how today's workload is affecting the police force:
– It's strained. It's not a marathon, it's an ultra-marathon," says police union leader Katharina von Sydow in an interview.
What have you learned about the work within the local police area of Skellefteå, which also includes Norsjö and Malå?
– That there is a well-functioning operation here in Skellefteå, but as in many other places, resources are somewhat scarce. Skellefteå is not heavily affected by crime, but it could be in the future, and preventive work is being done, but some local officers are helping the police in other parts of the country, which increases the workload locally, answers Thornberg.
Has serious organized gang crime come to Skellefteå?
– No, we haven't seen that kind of gang crime establish itself in Skellefteå. In Sundsvall we had considerable problems. But just when I arrived here, I heard at the police station that a car was stopped on the E4 near Skellefteå with people who are gang criminals in Stockholm. Of course, they were checked, and you might wonder what they were doing here.
– But we know that where there's a drug market, where there's fraud, where there's extortion, that's where the criminals are. We see them moving out of the big cities when the police put pressure on them. Their long arms reach all the way to Norrland, so it's important that we work actively on prevention, which is what the police in Skellefteå are doing, Thornberg continues.
Recently, a young man in Norsjö was arrested, armed with a weapon in a public place in the community, with connections to a serious act of violence in Botkyrka earlier this summer.
Isn't that a serious sign of a northward spread?
– It is a clear sign that there are individuals who have a capacity for violence and a criminal background and occasionally appear here in the north. We also have young boys in SIS and HVB homes in northern Sweden who run away and are used to commit acts of violence.
Violent acts with firearms are extremely rare in the Skellefteå area. However, it almost always happens with a knife, as shown by a long list of murders and serious violent crimes.
Doesn't this suggest that there are few guns in circulation in Skellefteå?
– It's difficult to interpret. But the penalty for serious weapons offenses has recently been doubled to two years in prison and will be increased again after the new year. Every day we arrest someone for possession of a weapon. This may contribute to some preferring to use a knife in various acts of violence.
But isn't it possible that the police's sometimes harsh language about the threat of gang crime is causing undue concern: that a local drug dealer who has contact with a child could suddenly be interpreted as a gang criminal?
– We have an extremely serious situation in Sweden, and these criminal gangs and their leaders are absolutely ruthless. They have established themselves in Sundsvall, we see what has happened in Umeå, and also with individuals in Skellefteå and Luleå. It is a sign that some of them are here. The police must be firm and set limits, and these groups must understand that it does not pay to settle here because we will strike against them, Thornberg replies.
Thornberg also discussed in detail the major industrial and construction boom in Skellefteå area in recent years, and the attendant downside:
– Several years ago, preventive work was initiated between the police, industry, and the municipality. We have also discussed these issues with the head of Europol. Where there is a lot of money, there will be crime. There are social crimes where systems are exploited; tax crimes, violence, drugs, and sexual crimes.
Norran revealed in April that a third of the drunk drivers arrested by the police in Skellefteå in 2022 were foreign guest workers.
What do you think about that?
– There are different cultures in other countries - and different blood alcohol limits. It is extremely important that we talk about what applies here; we have almost zero tolerance for low blood alcohol limits. And the police do work together with employers here in Skellefteå. For example, they do between 700 and 800 breathalyzer tests every day when people leave the workplace at Northvolt, Thornberg points out.
Many police officers in Skellefteå say that there is a lot of stress and pressure and too few resources. What is your message to them?
– It is a strained situation for the entire police force; we are 23,000, but according to the EU average, it should be 30,000. We have a very difficult situation in Stockholm, where one percent of the national police force is currently reinforcing the Stockholm force. But I understand that if some investigators are missing in Skellefteå, less work will be done here. But at the same time, our work in Stockholm is also important for Skellefteå. If we can get rid of these criminal gangs and their leaders, business will not move up here, says Thornberg.