16 arrests as Oslo tackles violence

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Police, state and city officials moved fast after an unusual spike in random violence on the streets of Oslo. Most of those behind the violence appear to be disillusioned young men, some of them on drugs, who use social media to coordinate attacks and then brag about them.

Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr (left), Oslo Police Chief Beate Gangås and the leader of Oslo’s city government Raymond Johansen are mounting a united effort to crack down on random street violence. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

“They post reports that they’ve beaten (victims), that they’ve kicked, and they become heroes in their own circles,” said a clearly disgusted city government leader Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party at a press conference that followed a meeting with Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr and Oslo Police Chief Beate Gangås. The long-scheduled  semi-annual meeting took place just after a weekend of several mostly late-night attacks on random victims all over the Norwegian capital, from Smestad on the city’s affluent west side to downtown, to Romsås, Tøyen and Bøler in the east.

Kallmyr was indignant as well, noting that being violent and then broadcasting it on social media has become a means for troubled youth who mark or boost their status. “It’s an international trend,” said Kallmyr, who doesn’t want the wave of violence in Oslo to spread to other cities in Norway. Newspaper Klassekampen reported Tuesday that Kallmyr’s own uncle was the victim in the attack at Romsås.

The two top politicians agreed that police have the expertise and must be granted the resources to deal with the trend. At the same time both the city and the state need to boost social programs aimed at warding it off. It was a rare example of cooperation between the Labour Party at the local level and and the right-wing Progress Party at the state level, with Kallmyr commenting that he thought it was “a good meeting. I think we’re all pulling on the same end of the rope.”

Wave of arrests
Police, meanwhile, were already acting. By Monday evening, they had arrested 16 people tied to seven of the attacks around Oslo, some of which were carried out by the same groups of four or five young men. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that some of those arrested are as young as 16, while the oldest was 30. Several are repeat offenders and all were being held in custody pending court hearings on the charges against them.

The seemingly coordinated attacks began Friday evening and continued through midday Monday, when a 17-year-old boy was beaten and robbed of his mobile phone by a gang consisting of at least five assailants at Bøler in Oslo. Police had three suspects under arrest Monday evening, all of them aged 17 as well.

All of those arrested after a man in his 20s was knocked to the pavement, beaten and kicked in the head on Slemdalsveien near Majorstuen in Oslo are under the age of 18. Another man arrested for violence at a downtown bar late Friday night is 29. He already faced a custody hearing on Monday and was ordered held for at least four weeks, so that he’d have no opportunity to threaten or try to influence witnesses.

Police have used video from surveillance cameras, reports from witnesses and sheer leg-work after determining, for example, that the assailants in one attack had fled by riding the metro to Mortensrud on Oslo’s southeast side. Police arrested the first 17-year-old there, and two more a few hours later. “We have information we’re working with and won’t rule out more arrests,” police operations leader Rune Hekkelstrand told Aftenposten.

‘Good police work’
Police Chief Gangås was proud of “some good police work” so far. “We can’t manage to be all over the city all the time,” she said, “but a formidable job was done to use the resources we have and the police on duty during the weekend.”

She wasn’t sure Oslo was facing a new crime wave, “but we see an increasing tendency for youth to resort to violence, and that goes in waves.” She said there was no question police were up against more than a dozen cases of unprovoked violence at various places aound the city.

Many of those arrested are young men from immigrant families in Oslo. Cecilia Dinardi, a lawyer who often works on juvenile crime cases and with the state child welfare agency Barnevernet, told Aftenposten that the milieu “was getting steadily rougher.”

She linked many of the offenders to “risk factors” that include poor school results, mobbing, troubled family relations, relatively poor homes and growing up with domestic violence. Some are also refugees who have suffered traumatic experiences before arriving in Norway that left deep scars.

“From what I’ve seen, there’s a lack of good programs for these youth who turn to violence,” Dinardi said. Mentor programs have shown good results, she noted, but there’s not enough of them over time.

Ifrah Yusuf Ciyow, a social entrepreneur who tries to help immigrant children, told newspaper Klassekampen on Tuesday that criminals often seek out youth under the age of 15 to “be their errand boys,” because they can’t be jailed under Norwegian law. “They’re out after 12-year-olds now,” she told Klassekampen. “These are children who steal from grocery stores because they don’t have lunch packs from home. They can get NOK 1,000 to do other ‘jobs’.” Ciyow urges much more family counseling for immigrants “from day one” with lots of follow-up, so parents and their children can have a better base from which to launch new lives in Norway.

Appealing to parents
Johansen also called on parents to get much more involved with their teenagers’ lives, and monitor their movements. “I appeal strongly to the families,” he told reporters on Monday. “It’s just not right that parents don’t know what their 14- or 15-year-old boy is doing. The public sector has some of the responsibility, but the family have considerable responsibility to follow them up.”

The head of the civilian patrol organization Nattravnene, which works to ward off violence and conflicts on the streets at night, criticized Johansen, however, for earlier “downplaying” the violence by saying there were “just a few” young offenders and that Oslo was still a safe city.

“I don’t think trying to tone this down will make Oslo safer,” Lars Norbom of Nattravnene told Aftenposten. “To me, it’s quite apparent that we’re talking about an increasing number of people forming more groups.” He said officials need to “acknowledge the challenge” and launch programs that will work.

Johansen denied he was downplaying the problem, “on the contrary I share Norbom’s concerns. The police and the city will work together on this, parents must put demands on their kids, and we need to build up more fellowship within neighbourhoods and the schools.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund