Youth crime wave sparks response

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Norway’s capital has been the scene of several alarming incidents of violent crimes this spring, carried out by teenagers as young as 14. The crime wave, which can involve gangs, is cresting even before the summer holidays set in, putting police and politicians on the defense.

Police remain Norway’s most important crime fighters, but more officials are getting involved in the problem of youth crime, at various levels.. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

City government officials declared last week that they’ve earmarked another NOK 49 million in their revised city budget to prevent crime by Oslo’s restless youth. “We’re taking some emergency measures, now before summer, in neighbourhoods experiencing the most  crime,” stated city government leader Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party in a press release. Johansen, who lives in one of the crime-prone areas himself on Oslo’s northeast side, also said the city was planning longer-term measures as well.

They will include stronger coordination between police and city officials. More young people will be offered summer jobs with the city, repeat offenders will be followed up more closely, junior high schools will boost programs aimed at helping troubled students and more resources will be devoted to the city’s so-called “Free-time clubs” that are supposed to provide alternatives to wandering the streets and getting into trouble.

Arson, assault, drug-dealing…
“Youth crime has risen, and statistics show that the numbers of young repeat offenders are rising,” Johansen said. Only a minority cause the trouble: Newspaper Aftenposten reported that of Oslo’s roughly 50,000 youth aged 10 to 17, only 151 were registered as repeat offenders last year. They were behind fully 37 percent of registered crimes committed within their age group.

Johansen noted that the police are mostly responsible for fighting crime, “but these kids have contact with the city at various levels. I’m glad police are stepping up their visibility in the hardest-hit areas. Now we also need to strengthen measures to prevent crime,” with a goal of keeping the teenagers out of trouble.

Recent incidents have included arson, drug-dealing, robberies and assaults. Violent youth have thrown rocks at passersby, people sitting at outdoor cafés and even at the so-called Natteravnene, the civilian patrols wearing green vests who also wander Oslo’s streets at night to deter violence and help victims.

‘Kids are bored’
“I think these kids are bored and want to prove that they’re tough,” Ayoub Zannachi told Aftenposten. He’s the 16-year-old leader of a youth council in the northeast district of Stovner where some of the violence has taken place, and said he knows some of those involved.

“They come from a milieu where you wouldn’t think this could happen,” Zannachi said. “They say their prayers, they play basketball. But they have a lot of free time. Late at night they want to show off to their friends.”

He thinks it’s important to strengthen youth programs, free-time clubs and after-school activities. “Some don’t have a good situation at home,” he said. “Someone needs to step and find out why they behave as they do.” One theory points to the challenges faced by youth growing up in immigrant families with parents who can’t communicate well in Norwegian and haven’t adapted to Norwegian culture. Their children can get caught in the middle, living in two worlds inside and outside the home.

Others blame “gangster rap” with violent texts. “There’s good documentation that youth can be negatively influenced by gangster rap,” Ragnhild Bjørnebekk, one of Norway’s top researchers on violence, told newspaper Dagsavisen.

City politicians were, at any rate, calling for a hearing on the issue before the summer recess. Zannachi was glad: “It’s important to have a hearing but the most important thing is imposing measures now.” Too many young people lack activities in their free time, he added, “so they hang out and create their own fun.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund