Growing Violence in Downtown Reykjavík a Cause for Concern

capital area police, police

In an interview with the Kastljós news programme yesterday, an assistant chief superintendent with the capital area police expressed growing concern over increased violence in downtown Reykjavík. The threshold for the use of sharp weapons, he noted, appears to be lower among young men.

Recent incidents of violence

Following recent incidents of violence in downtown Reykjavík, Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, Assistant Chief Superintendent with the Capital Area Police, was interviewed for the news programme Kastljós on RÚV yesterday.

He began by confirming reports that some of the incidents – among them the apprehension and detainment of a man who had discharged a firearm in the Dubliner pub in downtown Reykjavík – were, in some way, related to the knife attack in Bankastræti Club nightclub last year.

When asked if these incidents were the results of a kind of gang war, Ásgeir stated the following: “Some of the cases are in the early stages of the investigation … but there are, as we’ve seen, groups in downtown Reykjavík, and beyond that area, that are fighting.” These groups are rather sizable, according to the police officer.

Ásgeir also stated that most of the individuals involved in the recent violent attacks were young men and that the police were worried about this trend. “Young people, mostly young men, and boys are increasingly fighting in larger groups and the threshold for employing sharp weapons has become quite low.”

“And is this a new trend? Is violence growing more extreme and increasing?” the interviewer inquired.

“Yes, over the past few years, violence has certainly increased,” Ásgeir responded. “It’s grown more extreme. The threshold for employing sharp weapons and even firearms has been lowered. And that’s a cause for concern.”

Altering conceptions of violence

Ásgeir also noted that the concept of “violence” appeared to have shifted among the youth. “We’ve had surveys where respondents are asked if they’ve ever been subject to violence, and the response is ‘No.’ But then there’s a follow-up question where interviewees are asked if they’ve been punched or put in a chokehold, and these same respondents reply ‘Yes.’ So the concept of violence appears to be somewhat distorted among young people.”

In reference to another interview with a law enforcement officer, Ásgeir was asked whether it was true that the atmosphere in downtown Reykjavík had changed. Ásgeir replied that the police have increasingly been forced to dispatch larger units when violent incidents involving sharp weapons are reported. “There has been increased training in order to meet these new circumstances, which began in 2014 or 2015 … but these are tools that we don’t want to use. We want peace in the city. We need to find a solution. And the only way to do that is to work with the youth.”

Ásgeir was also asked about the newly approved regulations authorising police officers to use electroshock weapons, that is, whether such weapons could prove effective in incidence involving sharp weapons. Ásgeir stated that the most extreme weapon in the officer’s belt, aside from the firearm, was the billy club. Which was why electroshock weapons were useful. “Electroshock weapons are classified in the same category as clubs,” Ásgeir noted.

Sizeable Reduction in the Number of Open Sexual Assault Cases

Metropolitan Police

The number of open sexual offence cases within the sexual offence department of the Capital Area Police and the prosecutor’s office has decreased by 37%. The decrease follows increased funding to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.

Good progress over a brief period

In an announcement today, the Capital Area Police stated that increased funding and more staff had served to expedite the processing of sexual offences. As noted in the announcement, there were 401 open cases on September 1 of last year. That number has now been reduced to 235. At the same time, the office received several new cases; however, during this four-and-a-half month period, the police concluded the investigation of 239 cases.

In an interview with Fréttablaðið today, Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir, Chief of Police with the Capital Area Police, stated that it was pleasing to observe such good results in such a short time. “We have not stopped and will continue to look for ways to shorten the procedure time for sexual offences while at the same time ensuring the quality of investigations.”

Halla added that the increased budget had made a significant difference.

“It’s important that we’re measuring our results, which helps us identify bottlenecks. There are many people involved in the handling of these cases at the office. It is and has been our goal to further improve police services within this important field of policing.

Processes reviewed

The increased budget was spent on increasing the number of staff and altering working methods. The announcement notes that methods have been revised with the aim of expediting the investigation of cases. The cooperation between the sexual offence department, on the one hand, and the digital investigation department, on the other, was increased and improved in order to shorten the investigation time of electronic data related to sexual offences.

Furthermore, part of the budget was allocated to bolstering the police’s service department. Finally, a dashboard was introduced to monitor the progress of cases within the sexual offence department and the prosecutor’s office.

Police Called Out to Investigate Sound of Resident Pounding Pork

In a weekend filled with the typical set-tos, scraps, and scrapes downtown, capital-area police got a call-out for the books on Saturday night when they received a report of loud thumping noises coming from an apartment on the east side of Reykjavík. DV reported.

Officers arrived at the scene and knocked on the door, only to be met by the homeowner, brandishing a meat hammer. Thankfully, the explanation for the prurient pandemonium was gastronomic—and perhaps a little tragicomic.

It seems that the home chef had been hard at work that evening, vigorously pounding pork. Tenderizing a fillet, that is, presumably in preparation some delectable meal—schnitzel, perhaps.

Mystery solved, the officers returned to their regularly scheduled bust-ups of underage ragers and barroom hurly burly.

Pedestrian Killed in Traffic Accident

fatal accident Iceland

A pedestrian was killed in a traffic collision in Höfðabakki on the east side of Reykjavík on Friday evening, Vísir reports. The cause of the accident is currently being investigated.

See Also: Fatality in Bus and Scooter Collision

The collision was reported around 12:30 AM on Saturday morning and occurred not far from the Ábæjarsafn open air museum.

The victim was a man in his forties. He was transported to the hospital after being hit by the car but died later that morning.

Masked Man Carrying Fake Firearm Raises Alarm Downtown

Reykjavík pond downtown

Police were dispatched to the Vesturbær neighborhood on the west side of Reykjavík in the early hours of Sunday morning after receiving reports of a masked man carrying a firearm, RÚV reports. Thankfully, the matter was resolved quickly and the weapon in question turned out to be an imitation.

According to police reports, officers, including members of the police’s armed division, were sent to the area to locate the man and ensure public safety at the time the report was made. Eye witnesses reported the presence of six police cars, including two special forces vehicles, blocking routes into the city centre.

See Also: Heightened Police Presence in Reykjavík This Weekend

Just after 1:00 am, a car was stopped in Vesturbær, and a fake firearm was confiscated from its occupant, who was taken into custody.

At time of writing, police were unable to confirm if the man was intending to present the fake firearm as a real weapon. The case will be reviewed over the weekend and state prosecutors will decide how to proceed.

Twenty-Four People Connected to Downtown Knife Attack Released from Custody

police station Hlemmur

Police have released twenty-four people who were being held in connection with the knife attack in downtown Reykjavík last weekend, RÚV reports. Six individuals remain in custody.

A knife attack at the Bankastræti Club nightclub in Reykjavík last weekend left three young men hospitalised, following which, there was a spate of retaliatory crime against the suspects’ families. Petrol bombs were thrown into family members’ homes, windows were broken, and the suspects’ families were also subjected to harassment. Three people have now been arrested for throwing the petrol and smoke bombs.

See Also: Heightened Police Presence in Reykjavík This Weekend

DS Margeir Sveinsson noted that despite the fact that police have released two dozen people connected with the incident, these individuals are still legally considered defendants in the case. “But there’s no need or reason to keep them in custody any longer,” he said. “We’ve managed to determine what happened there and what everyone’s part was. Next step is to process all the data we have, that is, phone data etc. to get a handle on the lead-up [to the event]. But we don’t need to keep people in jail to do that.”

There was initially some fear that the wave of retaliatory crimes would continue, but there was no additional incident on Thursday night, which Margeir said he hoped was a good sign.

“Let’s hope that people will come to their senses and quit this nonsense and that things will calm down a bit.”

Petrol Bombs and Threats of Retaliation Following Knife Attack in Downtown Club

police lögreglan

Reykjavík and capital-area police are investigating a series of crimes believed to be connected to the knife attack that occurred at Bankastræti Club in downtown Reykjavík on Thursday night. RÚV reports that in the wake of the attack, which left three young men hospitalized, petrol bombs have been thrown into houses, windows broken, and suspects’ families subjected to harassment. There have also been posts on social media, encouraging retaliation for the attacks. Police believe that the incidents possibly herald the beginnings of a gang war, although this but one possible explanation.

Police still searching for over ten suspects; two have fled the country

A group of almost thirty people, all dressed in dark clothing and masks, barged into Bankastræti Club on Thursday night and attacked three men, all of whom were in their twenties, stabbing them repeatedly before fleeing the scene. The stabbing victims have since posted on social media, seemingly unruffled by the incident, and two of them were also interviewed on FM957 on Saturday. In the interview, they said that one of them had been stabbed a total of seven times, but was feeling pretty good, all things considered, or “like a king,” as he put it.

As of Saturday, fourteen of those involved in the attack had been arrested and nine had been sentenced to two weeks in police custody. Police were still searching for over ten of the remaining suspects, although their identities were believed to be known. Two suspects have fled the country.

Over the weekend, police called for anyone involved in the incident to come forward, but only one person did. A search of suspects’ phone data is also underway, but police say this will be an extensive and intensive process.

Stress on prison system

The scope of the incident and the number of people remanded into custody is already straining the local prison system’s capacity, as it is unusual for so many people to be held at once. Halldór Valur Pálsson, director of the Icelandic prison system, says that while prison officials in no way anticipated an incident of this scope and with this many detainees, Icelandic prisons still have enough capacity to deal with the situation at present. But things could become serious, he says, if a gang war is, in fact, underway.

“It absolutely threatens the safety of the staff and other prisoners as well, if this kind of conflict is going on,” he said. “If there are gang conflicts happening out in society, they also find their ways into the prisons in the end.”

The capacity issue is not just a question of being able to hold suspects while the police investigate, however. It also has a knock-on effect for those waiting to serve a prison sentence. New measures have been introduced in recent years that allow convicted individuals to serve their sentences outside of prison walls, for instance by means of electronic surveillance or community service. But there is still a waiting list for those who are actually required to serve their sentences in prison. These individuals must wait to serve their sentences until a facility has room for them. There are currently 317 individuals waiting to serve their prison sentences.

Stabbing may be linked to motorcycle fire

Police say that the investigation is progressing well, considering its scope. The inciting incident has yet to be confirmed, but it’s possible that the stabbings were related to two motorcycles that were set on fire in Álftamýri on the east side of Reykjavík last Wednesday night.

Custody of Domestic Terror Suspects Extended Four Weeks

Terror plot

The two individuals suspected of planning a domestic terror attack will be held in custody for another four weeks. RÚV reports that the District Court of Reykjavík approved the District Attorney’s request for extended custody on Friday. The suspects’ lawyers have appealed the decision to the National Court.

The suspects have been held in isolation for three weeks, a decision that has been criticized by their lawyers. In his petition for extended custody, however, DA Ólafur Þór Hauksson did not request further isolation.

See Also: Judge Grants Extended Custody Over Domestic Terror Suspects

Four Icelandic men were arrested on September 21 suspected of “terrorist plots” against state institutions and civilians. Two of the suspects were immediately released; the other two have remained in custody.

According to the police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. The men, all of whom are in their twenties, had reportedly discussed carrying out an attack during the police’s annual celebration (which was held on October 1).

Chief Police Inspector Karl Steinar Valsson told reporters that this was the “first investigation of its kind to be launched in Iceland.

Knife Crime Callouts on the Rise in the Capital Area

Over the last few weeks, police have intervened in an increasing number of weapons-related incidents, particularly involving knives, RÚV reports. The weapons have all been confiscated, and police have issued a reminder that the carrying of weapons of any kind is prohibited under the Weapons Act.

The Weapons Act applies equally to smaller knives, like pocket knives, as it does to larger blades. The only exception is if the individual carrying the knife needs it for their work or while out hunting.

According to the police blotter, knife-related conflicts have not only been happening late at night, downtown on the weekends, but also throughout the city and even in private homes in some cases.

Comprehensive statistics not available

Comprehensive statistics on police callouts related to knives are not readily available, Rannveig Þórisdóttir, division manager of the National Police, told RÚV. Preliminary analysis indicates that individuals committing robberies are often armed, although the weapons are not always used in the course of the crime. It appears that the number of armed robberies began to increase after 2016, but this may simply be due to better record-keeping and reporting as of that year.

In 2015 and 2016, there were an average of 15 incidents a month in which a knife was confiscated. From 2017 to 2019, this number steadily rose until it reached an average of 23 knife-related incidents a month. There were spikes within this period, namely in July 2018 and 2019, which both saw 42 knife-related incidents. This number dropped somewhat after the COVID-19 pandemic to 21 knife-related incidents a month.

Extraordinary jump in knife-related incidents in July

The number of knife-related incidents seems to be on the rise again; in July, there were 42—back up to the high of 2018 and 2019. The police emphasize, however, that these latest figures do not reflect the number of callouts in which the person in question was armed, simply those incidents in which a knife was confiscated. They say, however, that the numbers do indicate a surge in weapons-carrying in the capital area.

Fugitive Captured After Three Days on the Lam

A twenty-year-old man who escaped from police custody last Tuesday has been apprehended. According to a statement from the police, five other people have also been arrested.

Escape from the District Courthouse

On Tuesday, April 19, twenty-year-old Gabríel Douane Boama escaped from police custody at the District Court in downtown Reykjavík.

Gabríel was accused, alongside four others, of having ganged up on a man in his twenties outside Kjarvalsstaðir on July 18 of last year, coercing the man to transfer ISK 892,000 ($7,000 / €6,400) into his bank account with three separate transfers.

On the night of the escape, Gabríel published two posts on Instagram, one of which indicated that he was hiding out in the Vesturbær neighbourhood of Reykjavík.

Twice mistaken for the fugitive

On Wednesday, April 20, the police received a tip that Gabríel was riding on a city bus.

Special forces stopped the bus and boarded – only to discover that the person responsible for the tip had mistaken a 16-year-old boy for the fugitive. The boy, whose friends called him a cab and accompanied him home, was considerably distressed.

The incident provoked its share of criticism, raising questions about racial profiling.

Musician Logi Pedró Stefánsson questioned the methods employed by the police to call attention to a wanted individual on social media and in the news. “It’s unacceptable that armed special forces barge in and remove a 16-year-old child only because he has the same haircut as a wanted individual,” Logi wrote.

The boy’s mother also contacted the police to express her dismay that young men of colour were in danger of being harassed by the police. National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir stated that she was sorry that an innocent boy had been entangled in police operations.

Déjà vu all over again

A day later, the same 16-year-old boy was again mistaken for the fugitive at a bakery in the Mjódd neighbourhood of Reykjavík. According to reports, “a man in a Tesla” called the police with a tip.

As reported by Fréttablaðið, a video of the event showed the boy and his mother seated at a table in the bakery when police officers approached: “I knew it!” she exclaimed before telling them that they were “not allowed to talk to her child.”

Finally apprehended

Yesterday, Gabríel Douane Boama published another post on Instagram, posing alongside a friend within an undisclosed apartment. Nearly twelve hours later, the Capital Area Police announced that they had apprehended Gabríel after “significant operations.”

Five other people were also arrested, with police investigating if any of the individuals had been complicit in Gabríel’s escape.