Discussing issues of street violence with members of the Union of Baltic Cities

 

Street violence is also an issue for cities of the Baltic Sea area. This is why the local safety commission of the Union of Baltic Cities (UBC) invited the European Forum to present its project “EU Reco Street Violence” and to discuss with its members during its fifth meeting, which took place on 23, 24 and 25 May 2012 in Tallinn, Estonia.

The Union of Baltic Cities is a network of over 100 cities of countries bordering the Baltic Sea.

It has 13 thematic commissions, the most recent of which deals with local and urban safety. Started in 2010 as a work group, it has now become a permanent commission in which 15 cities participate from Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.

 

Contacts were established between the UBC and the European Forum, which has been organising inter city exchange on urban safety at the European level for 25 years. Given their similar missions, their levels of experience and complementary membership, it seemed logic to seek cooperation between the two organisations and their members. 

 

The issue of street violence provides an excellent theme of cooperation. Indeed, the European Forum is looking, for its Daphne III project “EU Reco Street Violence”,  for experiences, practices and recommendations on violence committed by urban youth groups in countries outside the project consortium. Efus is therefore very interested in developments in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.  On the other hands, members of the UBC’s urban safety commission are interested in learning more about the experiences and practices of members of Efus’ network. 

The Baltic cities who attended the UBC meeting do not have particularly serious crime or gang problems.  In fact, as in many other parts of Europe, they associate the term “gang” with the situation in the United States rather than at home. Nevertheless, they feel concerned by the issue of street violence in a wider sense: Most face problems with groups of young people in the public space. Some report problems with groups of drunk people who fight outside of bars after closing hour, others report violence from sports fans, and even  groups who use internet to arrange meetings that are specifically aimed at fighting.

Others report problems with groups of organised pickpockets or groups of young people hanging out in public areas of housing estates and central areas of cities. But some cities are confronted with proper street gangs, or gang-like networks which are mainly ethnic gangs, such as Stockholm (Sweden), where the Black Cobras have set foot. 

Baltic cities have already put in place specific measures to address this issue, that range from risk reduction measures to strategies aimed at preventing young people to join gangs, the latter being developed in Sweden by the National Prevention Council. Swedish cities that adhere to this strategy have put in place educational programmes to dispel “mythology” of gangs among young people. Youngsters are shown that joining a gang is not a guarantee for protection, quite the contrary. Other actions include preventing gangs from occupying a given “territory”. Such preventive measures are accompanied by repressive ones.    

In many Baltic cities, the issue is rather new, and they are very interested in learning more through the EU Reco Street Violence project, in particular to avoid further street violence problems.   

It is in this context that participants agreed to support the EU Reco Street Violence project by participating in its European survey and by sharing practices with the project.

In addition to other opportunities for cooperation, for example around the upcoming international Efus conference on the future of prevention, Efus and the EU Reco Street Violence have already been invited to continue exchanges with the UBC commission and several members cities and to participate in next year’s seminar on street violence.