A Swedish police officer at work (Photo: Marcel Burger)

Since 25 April, the Swedish police have a right to body search anyone on the street, based on the look and “feelings” of a police officer. The frisking is only allowed if the police has declared the area a “special zone”. If you wear a Gucci hat, we might search you as copies of Gucci clothes are common among gangs, a leading police official was quoted by Swedish media during the political debate ahead of the acceptance of the new law.

“In order to counter shootings and explosions during conflicts, the police authority must be able to introduce security zones where the police have special powers to search for weapons and other dangerous objects. Within a security zone, the police can body search people and search vehicles,” a long sentence in the official announcement of the Swedish government reads.

All interventions must be documented in protocols. “Decisions on a safety zone shall apply for a maximum of two weeks at a time, where the police authority shall publish the decision on its website and inform about it in other ways. The decision must be appealable to a court,” the government states.

Discrimination of the non-white population

The body search zones have been met by fierce criticism in social and public media in Sweden. The selection of whom to search on the bases of the clothes somebody wears or other physical features, will lead to discrimination of the non-white population, critics argued.

The critics are supported by publications of the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet; Brå). In its report about the police’s work with profiling and
equal treatment of 2023* it concludes that the police is rather sloppy with registering the number of body searches they do, and on what grounds. And that there is a risk for ethnic discrimination or how one looks.

“It can be accessories, how one is dressed, for example. Many of these people have different attributes, right? You have these bucket bags, you only wear Hugo Boss clothes, and you look and act like one
certain way that interests me. Then I will talk to them,” a police chief is quoted in the Brå report.

Shootings more brutal than before

But the new law also have a lot of supporters among the Swedish population. According to polls the majority of the Swedish population is most worried about crime. Although the number of shootings is not much higher than in earlier years, they more often take place in common areas and are more brutal than before. The killing of a dad on its way to the swimming pool with his son in Stockholm’s Skärholmen this April was a new low. (Read the story “Youth gang in Sweden shoots and kills dad in front of his son, on way to swimming pool” on Nordicreporter.com)

Denmark supports with heavier punishment

Denmark was ahead of Sweden with so-called “visitation zones”. Like in Sweden, the Danes want to stop escalating gang violence temporarily with extra searches of people and vehicles. Denmark supports it further with heavier judicial punishment of crimes committed in these zones while the zone is active. Like in Sweden, the Danish police can only implement these special zones during a limited period of time.
| © 2024 Marcel Burger, nordicreporter.com (text and featured photo)

* Read the Brå report (in Swedish): “Polisens arbete med profilering och likabehandling – Med fokus på diskriminerande etnisk profilering” at Bra.se