(Bloomberg) -- When an 18-year-old woman was shot dead in Stockholm’s Vallingby suburb in late August, something snapped.
The murder, which followed a long spate of bombings and shootings by Swedish underworld gangs -- and most recently the killing of a mother carrying her child in the southern city of Malmo -- caused an unprecedented outcry. It also put law and order at the center of the political debate.
The Social Democrat-led minority government is now facing intensifying pressure to devote more resources to law enforcement in next year’s budget, just as the economy is showing signs of a slowdown. Parties in parliament held a crisis meeting on Thursday on crafting a bipartisan solution to beat back the violence.
The capital Stockholm was on Friday again rocked by gun violence when a man described as a prominent lawyer was shot in a building on Norr Malarstrand, an upscale street on Stockholm’s waterfront. The man was allegedly shot in the chest and the head and has been taken to hospital, according to Expressen newspaper.
U.S. President Donald Trump had Swedes up in arms in 2017, when at a rally in Florida he appeared to link the rise in crime in the Nordic nation to a recent spike in immigration. While that link has been the subject of much debate in Sweden, more and more parties have been joining the nationalist Sweden Democrats in calling for less immigration.
There’s no denying that gang-related violence is on the increase. According to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, the number of cases of deadly violence rose to an annual average of 110 in 2015-2018, up from an average of 81 in the previous four-year period.
That development has been driven by an increase in fatal shootings, which jumped to 43 last year, the highest number ever recorded by the agency since it started collecting such data, in 2011. A total of 23 shootings took place in the first half of this year, while the number of bombings rose 45% in the first seven months, to 120, according to broadcaster SVT.
According to Magnus Lindgren, head of the foundation Safer Sweden, the causes of the spike are multiple, and include poor urban planning decisions, unsuccessful police reforms, and an increase in criminal gang activity. But Lindgren also acknowledges that the arrival of 163,000 asylum seekers during the migration crisis of 2015 is also playing a role.
As newspaper columns fill with questions on how Sweden ended up in such a crime spiral, politicians are scrambling for answers.
Ulf Kristersson, the head of the opposition Moderate Party, has been one of the most outspoken on the subject. He has called on parliament to try to find a solution and has also sent a letter to Prime Minister Stefan Lofven with 10 proposals. They include raising penalties for gang-related crime, making it easier for the police to stop-and-search suspects in at risk zones and improving police’s ability to bug phones.
“You can’t speak about exciting future challenges when young women are being shot dead,” Kristersson said.
The government has pledged a raft of measures. They include increasing the number of police officers by 10,000 by 2024, at an estimated cost of between 6 and 8 billion kronor ($620-830 million) and a greater use of security cameras. It has also stiffened penalties for offenders and has launched a program to fight drug use.
Swedish Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg invited all political parties except the Sweden Democrats for talks about the violence. After holding a first meeting on Thursday, Damberg said negotiations will start next week among the parties on new measures to reduce gang violence.
“Criminal gangs have been allowed to spread and now they are going to be pushed back,” he said in an interview.” “We are chasing them financially, through legislation and with more police.”
For Lofven’s Social Democrats and their partners in government, the Greens, the calls for additional resources couldn’t come at a worse time. It’s already under pressure to provide more funding for local authorities burdened by the immigration spike, increase defense spending in response to Russia’s military build-up and adapt the welfare state to a growing and aging population.
The Social Democrats also have costly election promises to maintain, such as extending parental leave, and must ensure that the Center Party and the Liberals, whose support is needed to push the budget through parliament, are satisfied. That limits the scope for tax increases.
All this at a time when unemployment is rising, budget surpluses are shrinking and the risks of a recession intensify.
Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson is set to present the new budget on Sept. 18.
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--With assistance from Rafaela Lindeberg.
To contact the reporters on this story: Niklas Magnusson in Stockholm at email@example.com;Rafaela Lindeberg in Stockholm at firstname.lastname@example.org
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