A few years ago, as part of the reorganisation of the Swedish police force, the national operations department NOA collated a report in which local police identified over 50 "vulnerable areas," which needed more attention from the police. And just over a year ago, 15 of these areas were identified as "particularly vulnerable." Another handful were deemed to be in the "risk zone."
Three of those areas can be found in Botkyrka, south of Stockholm, where Erik Åkerlund is the local police chief. To him, prioritising in this way was a sensible, "mature" thing to do.
In all cities in western Europe, you can find the questions like we found in these 53 areas. So you have to prioritise. I think it is a mature thing to do," he told Radio Sweden.
Erik Åkerlund was therefore very surprised in 2014 when he read a column by Per Gudmundson in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet with the headline "55 no-go zones in Sweden."
The police do not use the term 'no-go zones,' but Gudmundson argued it was a good way to describe a place where, quoting the report, "the public in several instances feel that it is the criminals who run the areas" and where "police cannot carry out their job."
The term 'no-go zones' quickly caught on, and it continues to do the rounds in social media today. But Erik Åkerlund thinks this is not a serious way of describing the work they do in the prioritised areas.
For me it is more like 'go-go zones', it is where we work," he said.
He has seen examples from elsewhere in Europe, where police actually do seem to look upon certain areas as no-go zones, meaning that they only enter these areas with a certain sort of vehicles, with special police officers and enforced tactics. This is very far from the Swedish model, which includes outreach work, preventative measures and daily patrols on foot, Åkerlund said.
This is not to say that there are no problems in these areas, there is a reason that they have been defined as 'particularly vulnerable'. But the advantage of the definition is that it has meant a significant rise in resources, said Åkerlund. Today, there are twice as many police officers on the beat in Botkyrka compared to only a year and a half ago.
Listen to the full interview in English with police chief Åkerlund by clicking on the play button above.
This is the first part in a series about the so called 'no-go zones' and the image of Sweden abroad. You can listen to the other parts by clicking on the links below. We visit one of the areas to speak to local residents, and ask the Swedish Institute how reports about the "no-go zones" are affecting the image of Sweden abroad.