- Suspected arson may be payback at police, or distraction from gang drug delivery, experts say
- See 3D VR close-up images of burned house and cars
- Sweden Democrats say “Umeå is no longer the safe city the left tries to claim”
- Umeå Left Party: “Racist parties dwell on terrible incidents like this”
- Slight increase in infection count and number of hospitalized patients
ERSBODA – Umeå police said this afternoon that they believe yesterday’s suspected arson attacks in Ersboda and Tunnelbacken were “backlash against our active work” against “certain criminal individuals.”
“This kind of expression of discontent is completely unacceptable, and will never cause us to hold off future actions,” wrote Umeå Police Chief Michael Rystedt in a press release. “It also creates fear among neighbors in these parts of the city. We will therefore actively and collectively work against individuals who bring about crime and and disorder, as well as prevent criminality and create security by being present and accessible in these neighborhoods.”
Police said that the three fires — two within a space of 20 minutes at parking lots in Ersboda and Tunnelbacken, destroying 12 cars total, and the third at an apartment complex’s communal building in Ersboda — were being treated as suspected arson. “We have not found any concrete evidence to proceed with,” said investigator David Helgesson. “In this type of fire, the technical evidence simply burns up.”
This afternoon, pedestrians could walk right up to the house in Ersboda, which was charred along one wall and the roof, and whose portico was mostly burned out. Also this afternoon, the destroyed cars in Tunnelbacken remained in their place of ruin, smelling of smoldered, burning metal. Umeå Today took 3D scrollable VR pictures of both the house and the cars.
Police also said that they believed yesterday’s fires were connected to two more: one on February 7 in Ersboda, destroying four cars, and another on February 14 in Mariehem, destroying about 40.
Umeå Today spoke with Tage Alalehto, a criminologist and lecturer in sociology and police education at Umeå University, about what the motivations could have been behind the suspected arson. He first clarified that it is not yet confirmed that the fires were set intentionally.
“Police classify a case like this as skäligen misstänkt”, he said, referring to a category of reasonable suspicion in Swedish law. “This gives them more resources to investigate.”
“We do not know the cause,” Alalehto said. “They are trying to see: could there have been a failure in a car’s electrical system leading to a short circuit? Did a car warmer fail?”
Alalehto then went on to speculate that if the fires were arson, they could have been set by a single individual, or by a group of organized criminals.
“If it is a single individual, it is usually a male between 30 and 55 who is fixated by fire, because he has the ‘power to control’, like a sadist who ties up a victim,” Alalehto explained.
“But we do know that there are young gangs in Umeå,” he continued, “because you have crime connected to guns and other weapons. Shootings have occurred in Ersboda and Mariehem. There have been attempted murders in Ålidhem and Ålidhöjd, and a homicide in Ålidhem a couple of years ago. All of this is connected to drug-dealing. We know that.”
If yesterday’s suspected arson was set by a gang, Alalehto said, it could have been to distract the police while a drug delivery was being made. “One guy goes to Tunnelbacken, and two others to Ersboda. They say, we’ll ignite it at the same time as the delivery. The fourth, fifth, and sixth guys take the delivery, transported by truck.”
In recent years, Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö have all seen a spate of car burnings, which destroyed hundreds of vehicles. Asked whether the same phenomenon has now reached Umeå, Alalehto replied: “Nobody says that we have this situation. But we have some kind of criminal gang, specialized in drug-dealing. Most have immigrant status — I will not tell you what kind of immigrants they are, because that would lead to a hatred of foreigners (främlingshat) — but they typically have a low education level for the labor market, no steady employment, and income which varies from month-to-month. And, probably, they also have prior offenses.”
“If police suspect John Doe,” Alalehto said, “they will ask people Where was he at the time of the arson? Can you confirm that he was not there?“
Asked what percentage of arson cases in other parts of Sweden were solved, Alalehto replied, “The conviction rate is not good. Police were successful with one car fire in Gothenburg two or three years ago. Four or five youngsters in their late teens threw Molotov cocktails into cars. Most were convicted in court.”
Alalehto concluded by suggesting what Umeå residents can do to prevent arson in the future. “Be a ‘capable guardian’,” he said, referring to a term from a policing theory known as “routine activity”. Capable guardians are people who observe the environment, demotivating criminals from committing crimes on the threat of being caught. Dog-walkers, joggers, and people on balconies are all examples of capable guardians.
However, during the pandemic, fewer pedestrians populate the streets overall, potentially giving criminals more chance to commit crimes unobserved. Umeå Today has reported that although violent crime rates have dropped dramatically during the coronavirus crisis, vandalism appears to be on the increase. A few weeks ago “ALL COPS ARE TARGETS” was spray-painted on the university’s Police Education Buildling.
Umeå’s nationalist-social conservative political party Sweden Democrats called yesterday’s suspected arson “reprehensible during the coronavirus pandemic.” In an opinion piece for Västerbottens-Kuriren, regional Group Leader Petter Nilsson wrote that “in a situation when people are taking their cars to work — to avoid overburdening public transit and infecting others or themselves — these attacks are completely loathesome.”
“Umeå is no longer the safe city that the left tries to claim it is,” Nilsson wrote. “It is well known that some areas of Umeå are less comfortable to live and conduct business in. Therefore, people with financial resources seek refuge from neighborhoods known to be burdened, while others with limited resources are forced to stay.”
In response to the editorial, Umeå’s Left Party leaders provided Umeå Today with the following statement:
All political parties, including us, condemn crimes — especially crimes that put people’s lives at risk. We have, however, noticed that racist and right wing parties often overemphasize these violent crimes but rarely offer political solutions based on expertise, science and professionals in the area.
Violent and dangerous crimes are completely unacceptable, but the solution is not crime and punishment alone. We need to direct resources to, and develop, our long-term preventive efforts to reduce poverty, drug abuse, social issues and crime from a young age. That is a sustainable and humane solution to problems like these. However, it is obvious that right wing and racist parties dwell on terrible incidents like this so that they can raise more of their racist, fear-based agenda.– Statement from Umeå Left Party
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Västerbotten increased today slightly relative to other recent days, by three to 241, with 22 in the hospital and 10 in intensive care, according to regional officials.
Health care workers at Umeå hospital are now returning to work after having tested positive for coronavirus and having recovered, according to a source there. One worker isolated himself and recovered, and ended up then testing negative, so the hospital gave him the green light to come back to work, the source said. He also received an antibody test which suggested he is immune to reinfection, the source added.
Finally, the hospital has received a large shipment of testing sticks, Sveriges Radio reported this morning. Last week, the hospital said it had a shortage of sticks, and as a result was testing employees less frequently. Officials have not said who will now get priority for being assessed for coronavirus, given the shipment.