Gang war stressing police and politicians
Police and politicians are under pressure to reduce the gang violence that has flared in Copenhagen in recent weeks with no signs of abating.
Following the surge in shootings and stabbings, the police last week held a series of raids against gang strongholds and arrested over 80 people on charges ranging from attempted murder to the possession of drugs and weapons.
And last Friday the national police, Rigspolitiet, gave an additional ten million kroner to the three most stressed police units – Copenhagen Police, Copenhagen Vestegn Police and the anti-gang group, Task Force East – to ensure that they can continue their work.
“We will not accept the reign of the gangs and their criminal activity," Rigspolitiet's police chief, Jens Henrik Højbjerg, wrote in a press release. "The extra money will ensure that the police departments are able to combat the gangs again and again in order to place maximum pressure on them."
But City Hall is concerned over Rigspolitiet's plans to relocate 200 policemen from the Greater Copenhagen region to provincial police departments.
The reallocation of resources was decided by Rigspolitiet in 2011 following a 2007 police reform and can only be prevented through intervention from the Justice Ministry.
According to Politiken newspaper, there is unanimous concern among politicians in City Hall about the effect of pulling out the police officers at the height of the gang violence.
“It makes no sense to remove 200 police officers given that the gang conflict is at its highest peak ever,” the deputy mayor for health and care, Nina Thomsen (Socialistisk Folkeparti), told Politiken. “It’s disrespectful to both the city’s residents and the police.”
The deputy mayor for employment and immigration, Anna Mee Allerslev (Venstre), also voiced her disappointment.
“We cannot decide what the police do, but we can request that they make their temporary efforts in Nørrebro permanent until they are no longer needed,” Allerslev told Politiken. “I understand the decision was made over a year ago, but as the situation stands now it is very concerning.”
Despite the political unanimity to maintain police numbers in Copenhagen, there is disagreement over the best way to tackle the gang war.
Today, opposition party Venstre announced a raft of proposals that included shifting the police’s priorities from traffic safety to organised crime.
“Instead of chasing motorists speeding on the motorway, the police’s resources should instead be used to hunt gang members who are shooting left and right,” Lauritzen told public broadcaster DR, adding that Venstre wants the police to step up their harassment of gang members by preventing them from wearing bulletproof vests and investigating them for tax and social security fraud.
Of the 1,650 people on the Rigspolitiet's gang member list, 235 are foreign nationals, so Venstre has also proposed making gang-related convictions a deportable offence.
Ole Hækkerup, the legal spokesperson for the Socialdemokraterne, responded coolly to Venstre’s proposals, and argued that the gang conflict was already high on the police’s priority list.
“The police have given the gang conflict the highest priority and that’s evident from all the raids they have been doing,” Hækkerup told DR. “So right now the police are using all their resources fighting the gangs.”
And in an email to Politiken, Justice Minister Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne) downplayed the effect of the redistribution of resources from Copenhagen to the provinces.
“As the head of Rigspolitiet has already pointed out several times, it’s important to stress that the redistribution of resources between the police departments will not weaken the efforts against gangs – not even in Copenhagen.”
Copenhagen's police union, Københavns Politiforening, also criticised Venstre's proposal and argued that moving officers from traffic to gang crime did not solve the underlying staffing problems.
"Politicians need to recognise that we don't have the necessary police numbers," Københavns Politiforening's chairman, Claus Oxfenfeld, told Ritzau, adding that police numbers have been dropping in recent years. "This has been happening at the same time as criminals have been getting smarter, which means we need to use more resources to infiltrate their environments."