The police ask gangs for solutions
The EU has co-funded a three-year research project into gangs, with a focus on helping members quit the networks and rebuild their lives. The results were presented this week at an international conference in Stockholm.
A lack of Swedish research into criminal gangs compelled the police here to join forces with international criminologists in this three-year programme. The result is nicknamed "Panther", and although it may sound like the names of gangs such as Black Scorpions or the Werewolf Legion, it is actually a proposal for how to help members quit the criminal networks.
One research method has been to speak with gang members themselves, explains police officer Emir Rostami
"It has surprised us that they have been collaborating with us, giving us information, not intelligence, but information about their lives and how we can help them and other gang members," Rostami says.
"It's a great challenge to change the attitude in the police towards the gangs and how to meet people who want to quit and do something else with their lives."
Of the 24 interview subjects, half were leaders of gangs or had high up positions within them. The talks helped the police identify what they call "archetypes".
Among leaders there are, in broad strokes, three types: "The Entrepreneur" is a bling bling-obsessed chief, who is best counteracted by targeting assets such as fancy cars and expensive watches.
The second type is his materially-driven but more cautious colleague, who has been given the moniker "the Realist."
The third archetype, the more ideologically driven leader, is called "the Prophet". He watches over his disciples, takes care of their families, and rewards loyalty, but does so by being calculating and domineering.
The subgroup that the Panther project has identified as easiest to convert to a civilian life style is dubbed "Society's Victim" - young men who blame all of their problems on other people, and society at large.
It is important to take these members' sense of alienation from society seriously, says David Brotherton, a criminologist at John Jay University in New York City.
"It doesn't matter what you think, it's what they think, and what they feel that matters," continues Brotherton, one of several academics working and sharing research with the Stockholm-based programme.
"And you have to target this alienation," he says.
During the conference, the Swedish police officer Amir Rostami and his colleague Fredrik Leinfelt showed graph after graph of gang research in Sweden.
It is possible to disturb a gang's organisational structure by focusing on central nodes, but as Fredrik Leinfelt reiterates, the research's main focus is prevention and rehabilitation
"We want to lift people out of gangs, and help give them a new lifestyle," he says.
Leinfelt and Rostami come from District 7 of the Stockholm police corps. It is located in the southern suburbs of the capital and as the two men plough through statistics, they point out that the district includes the municipality Botkyrka, which has the highest number of foreign-born residents in the country.
This is the type of crime and demographic statistics that the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats played heavily on during the 2010 election campaign. Critics pointed out they downplayed socioeconomic factors.
By presenting figures this way, does police officer Amir Rostami think the police feel forced to make a political point?
"Criminality is not connected to ethnicity. We know that from decades of sociology and criminology," Rostami answers.
"So of course we have to make it a political issue, and that's great, because if we don't make it a political issue we'll never change the situation."
The criminologist David Brotherton spoke to the audience about the "language of othering" in the USA - where he sees law enforcers being taught to regard the gangs as the other, something to be combated, even deported if the members aren't US citizens.
Brotherton sees some similar developments in Europe towards this.
"I see it more and more vis-à-vis immigrants, we are importing failed policing methods from the USA," he says.
"Countries in Europe are not really thinking about their own models of dealing with delinquency, which have really been quite successful until now."