Crime rates falling in Denmark’s underprivileged areas

Statistics show falling crime rates in underprivileged parts of Denmark, despite political discussion of a proposal to implement ‘double punishments’ for misdemeanours in these areas.

Crime rates falling in Denmark’s underprivileged areas
File photo: NIELS AHLMANN OLESEN/Scanpix 2017

Earlier this year, the government presented its plan to tackle social problems in what it defines as 'ghettos'.

That plan included harsher punishments for crimes such as vandalism, theft and threatening behaviour in areas defined as 'special punishment zones'.

But National Police (Rigspolitiet) statistics are showing a fall in crime in the areas in question, according to a report by Berlingske.

Reports of crimes fell by 30 percent between 2013 and 2017 in areas defined by the police as “socially marginalised residential areas”.

That compares with a national average of 12 percent for the measure.

Opposition MP Pernille Skipper of the Red-Green Alliance party has called the government proposal “ineffective, symbolic policymaking that undermines the principle of equality before the law”.

“It is fundamental to the rule of law the we punish equally regardless of class, and that is what is being interfered with here,” Skipper told Berlingske.

Double punishments for certain types of offence committed in underprivileged areas defined as 'ghettos' form part of a programme of measures aimed at the marginalised zones, Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen told the newspaper earlier this year.

At the beginning of March, the government presented its so-called ‘ghetto plan’ to tackle social problems in underprivileged areas as eight ministers visited Mjølnerparken in Copenhagen, one of the inner city neighbourhoods targeted in the proposal.

Poulsen, who declined to be interviewed by Berlingske over the reported crime figures, cited feelings of security amongst residents in a written comment.

“We have, over the years, sadly seen examples of situations in which groups of badly-behaved young people dominate underprivileged areas and create feelings of insecurity for residents through massive use of threats, violence and extortion, vandalism and openly selling drugs. This must be stopped,” the minister wrote.

READ ALSO: 'Ghettos must go': Government presents plan in Copenhagen underprivileged area


Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed ‘ghetto’

The government’s list of areas it officially terms as ‘ghettos’ has been almost halved, from 28 to 15 areas, in an annual update of the list.

Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed 'ghetto'
Tåstrupgård in Høje-Taastrup is considered a 'ghetto' by the Danish government. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The housing ministry published the latest version of the list, which is updated annually, on Tuesday.

Of the 13 areas removed from the up-to-date list, 3 are in Copenhagen. Others are located in Taastrup, Holbæk, Vejle, Kolding, Aarhus, Køge, Guldborgsund, Odense, Fredericia and Silkeborg. No new areas were added.

The 15 remaining ‘ghetto’ areas include 2 which have been on the list for 5 consecutive years, earning them the term ‘hard ghetto’. When an area is given this tag, authorities are obliged to create a redevelopment plan which must be signed off by the ministry.

Areas which previously qualified as ‘hard ghettos’ but later cease to fulfil the relevant criteria remain subject to the redevelopment plans, which in past cases have involved the rehousing of residents. A total of 17 areas in Denmark are currently encompassed by redevelopment requirements of this kind.

In a press statement, the Ministry for Housing and Transport said that the primary reasons for the reduction in ‘ghetto’ areas are decreases in unemployment and criminal convictions. Improvement in education levels amongst residents, and a drop-off in the proportion of minority ethnic residents also occurred in some areas, the ministry said.

“It’s positive that there are fewer areas on what the legislation calls the hard ghetto list. But the individual redevelopment plans continue to ensure we create mixed cities and don’t park the weakest citizens in one neighbourhood,” the housing minister, Kaare Dybvad Bek, said in the statement.

In order to be classed as a ‘ghetto’, a housing area must meet a set number of criteria. The criteria relate to factors including ethnic background, employment status and income.

Housing areas must have over 1,000 inhabitants, of which over 50 percent of residents have non-Western nationality or heritage, and fulfil two out of four criteria:

  • Over 40 percent of adults aged 18-64 not engaged in employment or education (average over two-year period)
  • Proportion of residents aged 18 or over convicted for criminal, weapons or narcotics crimes must not exceed three times national average (average over two-year period)
  • More than 60 percent of residents (aged 30-59) have basic school education or lower
  • Average pre-tax income for adults aged 18-64, not including unemployed, less than 55 percent of pre-tax income for administrative region.

People considered not of Danish heritage are categorised into two groups: ‘immigrants' and ‘descendants' of immigrants (‘efterkommere' in Danish).

A person is considered to have Danish heritage if she or he has at least one parent who is a Danish citizen and was born in Denmark. People defined as ‘immigrants' and ‘descendants' do not fulfil those criteria. The difference between the two is that an ‘immigrant' was born outside of Denmark, while a ‘descendant' was born in Denmark. 

The list is relevant because, under the 2018 ‘ghetto plan', areas on the list can be subjected to special treatment under the law, including stricter punishments for specified crimes, a requirement for small children to attend daycare and housing reforms which can force people to move.

It has been criticized in the past for stigmatising areas, thereby making it more difficult for them to improve socioeconomic conditions.

The government's use of the word ‘ghetto' for lawmaking purposes may feel jarring to those used to hearing the term in English. It is arguably less pejorative in Danish, although Dybvad Bek has previously said he'd prefer it not to be used.

The ‘ghetto list' was first introduced in 2010 under then-Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen's centre-right government, while a later coalition headed by Rasmussen introduced the ‘ghetto plan' legislation in 2018.

Both the 'ghetto' and 'hard ghetto' lists for 2020 can be viewed in the housing ministry's website.

READ ALSO: Denmark's 'ghetto plan' unlikely to solve problems faced by underprivileged areas: residents