Police have already claimed that juvenile crime, often violent and involving stabbings, was their biggest problem in Oslo last year. It still is, and it’s spreading nationwide, with boys as young as 10 included among the offenders.
A fatal stabbing in Bergen over the weekend climaxed a brawl that mostly involved young men. Teenagers also gathered for a violent brawl in Oslo’s Tøyen district Sunday evening. Alarmed witnesses called police and they arrived quickly, but not before the youngsters had dispersed.
Fully a dozen young men were under arrest Sunday night after the brawl in Bergen, all of them with police records for what state broadcaster NRK called “very violent” crimes including assault and gang rape. Now they’re tied to group violence outside a car wash in Bergen Friday night that ended with the fatal stabbing of 28-year-old Said Bassam Chataya. He became nationally known as one of several youth featured on an NRK program in which young Norwegians learned to sail, with extreme sailor Jarle Andhøy as their instructor.
“This is sad and meaningess,” Andhøy told NRK on Sunday. “I don’t know what happened, but it’s a tragedy when young people lose their lives in this kind of incident.”
Said Bassam Chataya is far from alone in being a stabbing victim Norway. Stabbings have been on the rise for years, with knives the favoured weapon among young criminals. “We’re seeing that the use of knives is widespread,” Oslo Police Chief Hans Sverre Sjøvold said at a recent press briefing on last year’s crime incidents. “Knives are used to carry out violence and to threaten victims. It’s absolutely not good.”
Not gang-related anymore
What’s different now is that not all the assailants are involved in gangs, but rather team up with just a few others in their age group. Together they roam the streets and apparently find random victims, both young like themselves but also adults, men and women.
In the last week alone, a 16-year-old boy was robbed at knifepoint in surburban Sandvika, resulting in the arrests of three 17-year-olds. They had demanded his expensive winter coat. On Thursday, a woman was threatened by a 15-year-old boy wielding a knife at Ellingsrud in Oslo just before 6pm.
The weekend before, a 12-year-old boy was held up in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon by four teenagers outside a shopping center at Storo in Oslo. Two of the alleged assailants who were arrested shortly after, identifed through surveillance video, were just 14.
Last month, two teenaged brothers with a long criminal record were arrested in yet another stabbing incident in Oslo’s Grønland district. They’d been arrested and charged with the same offense just two years earlier, but couldn’t be jailed because of their young age. Now they’re 17 and 19, registered as living at Furuset i Oslo and part of what Oslo police describe as “criminal groups” but not organized gangs.
“They’re part of various youth groups that commit crimes, but they’re not gangs,” prosecutor Børge Enoksen told newspaper Aftenposten. Their latest victim survived and both brothers were held in custody, with one of them also charged along with five other young men in another robbery that’s due to come up in court later this month.
‘Working hard to control this problem’
Police reported in their assessment of crime in Oslo in 2018 that increasing numbers of young criminals are involved, and that they’re more violent and pose an ever-rising threat. They’re repeat offenders, “and we’re working hard to control this problem,” Oslo Police Chief Hans Sverre Sjøvold told reporters at the year-end briefing earlier this month. A total of 182 young repeat offenders were arrested in Norway’s capital last year, up more than 20 percent from the year before.
The young criminals pose the greatest challenge for police, Sjøvold said. A total of 71,388 crimes were committed in Oslo last year, up 2.5 percent over 2017, while crimes committed by youngsters aged 10 to 17 have spiked, up 20 percent last year. Boys aged 15-17 accounted for the largest portion of offenders, especially regarding those threatening victims with a knife or actually stabbing someone. A total of 1,533 youth aged 10 to 17 were charged with crimes in Oslo in 2018.
The sharp rise in the incidence of violent crimes carried out by teenagers has led to calls for a city-wide 11pm curfew for those under age 18. While that’s unlikely to be imposed, even liberal politians are concerned. “If you allow your child to be out on the streets late at night, you’re not doing your job,” the leader of Oslo’s city government, Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, told Aftenposten.
Police in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger are also calling on parents for help. “The parents should have control over what sorts of things come into their homes,” Dag Harald Drevsjø, leader of crime prevention for the Oslo Police told Aftenposten. He and his colleagues noted how knives are easily accessible and easy to carry. Oslo police could document 240 incidents involving knives last year, up 34 percent in five years.
“The most important preventative measure should be carried out by parents,” said Beate Brinch Sand of the Oslo Police District.
She and her colleagues still view Oslo, and most Norwegian cities, as relatively safe compared to many other cities in Europe and worldwide. One recent poll showed that 94 percent of those questioned deemed Oslo safe, “but the increased use of knives in public places is worrisome,” Sand said.