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Danish government aims to crack down on gang recruitment

Ahead of upcoming national elections, the governing Social Democratic Party has presented 30 proposals for stricter sentencing on organized crime activities. The legislative package focuses on prevention rather than acts of violence.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — Danish Minister of Justice Mattias Tesfaye did not pull any punches last week when the government presented its new and fourth legislative package aimed at preventing organized gang crime.

“We need to break the food chain into organized crime. We must make it illegal for the gangs to recruit youngsters into crime,” he said, explaining “patience is used” in the recruitment process and underlining how it is not society´s fault that some people choose violence.

National elections are expected soon, though a date has not been set, and the timing of the Social Democratic government´s proposal for 30 new measures is hardly coincidental.

Under the headline “Safe local communities without criminal gangs”,  the Social Democrats' 32-page proposal released Aug. 23 promises to tackle organized and illegal black markets such as drug trafficking, tax fraud and money laundering, as well as prevent violent shootings and killings.

Last year, 1.301 Danish gang members were charged with breaking the law, according to the proposal's introduction. Notably, a lot of them were relatively young. Forty-four percent were under 25 years old, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Justice shows.

That is why the first part introduces a new criminal code section that outlaws the act of recruiting. If implemented, it would be illegal for a gang associate to encourage, advise or provide tools that enable a person under the age of 18 to break the law.

Steffen Bo Jensen, a professor at Aalborg University´s Institute for Politics and Society in Denmark, noted how this new legal package on organized crime differs in some ways from the preceding three packages.

“The others have been presented in the context of a noticeable increase in gang crime activities. For example, in 2017, where the proposed laws came during a period with many shootings in Copenhagen,” he said in an interview with Courthouse News.

In his view, the timing is without a doubt related to the upcoming elections, which must be held by June 2023 but are expected this fall.

“But its measures are also different from previous ones. Whereas former politicians introduced harder penalties for violent acts and weapon use, this package seems to target a specific segment of organized crime – the recruiters. So, the focus is more on preventing organized crime and less on punishing violent actions,” Jensen added.

The proposed measures also include a municipal employment scheme offering “pocket money” jobs for 13- to 17-year-olds who are motivated to reject a life of crime at an early age. In addition, the government wants to introduce faster information-sharing procedures to strengthen the existing collaboration between schools, social authorities and local police in dealing with young criminals.

Jensen said that he was pleased to see a legal package focusing less on tough penalties and more on working with exposed youngsters on an administrative level, including schools and families.

”Overall, there has been a legal policy change in the Western world. Authorities have moved away from pursuing individual cases of violence to regulating intention and association within the criminal networks,” he said.

But that inevitably leads to trickier judicial procedures to get a clear verdict in court, as it is harder to prove intent in acts of recruitment or communication on criminal matters.

“It will be interesting to see how the police solve the task. Relations and associations are very tricky to track. And it can be quite difficult for the accused to prove their innocence when the state no longer accused them of a single, visible offense,” Jensen said.

Denmark´s neighboring country Sweden has seen a surge in gang-related shootings over the last few years, but Jensen noted gang crime has not risen equally in Denmark.

“It comes in waves. But generally, Denmark has not seen a statistical surge in shootings or gang-related crimes. And we do not see the same hardcore drug-related killings and antagonism towards the state catalyzed by poverty as in other European cities. However, people in certain Danish areas may feel subjected to higher threat levels,” he said conclusively.

The Danish government must pass the legal package through Parliament before it can enter into force.

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