Gang exit strategy failing, politicians say

But the justice minister defends the program despite only one percent of 1,700 hardened gang members successfully using it to start new lives since 2011

Less than one percent of gang members have successfully left the gang community using an exit programme established by the former government in 2011.

According to new figures from the national police, Rigspolitiet, only about 15 of the 1,700 most hardened gang members managed to leave their group. Rigspolitiet did not release figures on how many had requested help.

Despite the low figure, Justice Minister Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne) said it was a success that 15 hardened gang members had been successfully helped to find new lives through the exit programme.

“We ought to remember that the program is targeting the toughest gang members who are most difficult to remove from these extremely closed environments that live and breathe crime,” Bødksov told Politiken newspaper. “Removing them can be very, very difficult and require an enormous amount of effort.”

Michael Ask from Rigspolitiet’s national research center, NEC, which keeps track of the most hardened gang members and operates the exit program, agreed that the low number was not disappointing.

“There are critics who might argue that it’s too few and it’s up for debate whether this number should be higher,” Ask told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “But I think the number is fine. Most police departments are doing an excellent job, and it’s not the case that every council has a programme up and running or housing solutions available for these gang members.”

But neither Dansk Folkeparti (DF) nor Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) are pleased with the results.

“It ought to be something we prioritise higher with such a large number of people connected to gangs,” Peter Skaarup (DF) told Jyllands-Posten. “There are 1,700 [registered gang members]. 15 is sadly a drop in the ocean. It’s a real shame that there are so few.”

The programme failed to help one anonymous gang member who spoke to Jyllands-Posten. He was offered the programme by the police after repeated convictions but they were unable to find a suitable relocation destination for him.

After months of waiting for help without success, the gang member ultimately decided to stay in his gang.

MP Karina Lorentzen (SF) said the programme needed to respond quicker to gang members who sign up for help.

“I am aware that there are obstacles and I have done some work to find out what these are,” Lorentzen told Jyllands-Posten. “We need to act extremely quickly when gang members sign up because they face death threats, which means they cannot wait months for their cases to be processed.”

According to Marie Louise Jørgensen, a project leader from the prison service, Kriminialforsorgen, one of the problems with the exit programme is that there are not enough incentives to participate.

“Some change their minds after signing up to the prison service’s gang exit programme once they find out they don’t get a lighter sentence or any other benefit,” Jørgensen told Politiken. “Others have ulterior motives for joining such the possibility of being transferred to another [prison wing].”

Bødskov will meet with the head of Rigspolitiet, Jens Henrik Højbjerg, on Monday to continue discussions on how to improve the exit programme. Bødskov told Politiken yesterday that the government has set aside money for increasing intelligence efforts inside prisons to discover which gang members are prepared to join the programme.

The gang conflict shows no signs of abating and earlier this week, three police districts chose to once again extend the three stop-and-search zones in Kokkedal, central Copenhagen, and Gladsaxe, Herlev and Ballerup for an additional 14 days.

Copenhagen Police have decided to reduce the size of the stop-and-search zone in central Copenhagen, however, after finding evidence that fewer weapons were being taken into the district.