Homicide

Updated: 15 Jan 2018
Next update: 8 Jan 2019

The indicator describes the trend in mortality due to homicide for women, men and the whole population in ten-year periods from 1760 to the present day. The number of victims (excluding infanticide) is proportioned to the population: mortality is expressed as the annual number of victims per 100,000 people. Indicator data has been gathered by the National Research Institute of Legal Policy from information published by the Finnish criminologist Veli Verkko and Statistics Finland.

In addition to Finland, Sweden is the only country in the world where comparable data are available on homicide trends for such a long period. For this, thanks are due to the Kingdom of Sweden’s population statistics system, in which information on mortalities due to intentional violence has been recorded since 1754. Information for the 1700s and early 1800s is rather incomplete. According to studies by Ylikangas and Sirén, the number of victims given in this information is 30–50% lower than the likely actual numbers. At present, the number of homicides registered in statistics on the cause of death is around 10% lower than the likely actual figure.

   

Homicides reached a record low level

According to cause of death data, 63 persons were killed in homicides in Finland in 2016. The number was lowest since 1895. The mortality rate relative to the population, 1.14 victims per 100,000 population, was the lowest recorded since 1782 and the fourth lowest during the compilation of statistics on causes of death that started in 1754. Homicides have only been at a lower level in 1758, 1771 and 1782. However, statistics from the 18th century are considerably more unreliable than the present statistics, so in reality, the level of homicides in recent years has been lowest throughout our known criminal history. On account of the declining homicide trend starting from the 1990s, especially homicides committed by men have decreased, against both men and women. Changes in homicides committed by women have been small in recent decades.

The most violent period in Finland’s recent history measured by homicides took place from 1905 when there was a Mass Strike to when the Prohibition Act was repealed in 1932. At the time, the number of people killed per capita was triple the numbers we see today. (The most violent year during the compilation of statistics on causes of death is 1918 when the level of homicides was more than 60 victims per 100,000 population). Another, somewhat shorter peak in violence, occurred just after World War II, from 1945 to 1947. By contrast, the leas violent period throughout our known criminal history was also in the last decade, from the late 1950s to the end of the 1960s. At that time, the level of homicides was one-third lower than in the past decades. Another period of relatively high levels of homicides started in 1969, when the great alcohol reform was introduced. Since the late 1990s, the number of homicides in Finland has decreased again. The trend has been similar also elsewhere in Europe. The drop in the level of homicides has, on average, been slightly faster in Finland than in the rest of the European Economic Area. One of the reasons for the fall in the level of crimes has been the ageing of the population, which has accounted for 10 to 25% of the overall change in the level of homicides.

Despite their decreased numbers, the general profile of homicides has remained unchanged. A typical Finnish homicide involves a killing in a private home as a result of a dispute during a drinking spree. The weapon is a kitchen knife and the crime is committed during a weekend. The perpetrator and the victim are old friends, middle-aged, live alone, and are socially excluded alcoholic men, who have several prior sentences for acts of violence. At the time of the crime, the parties involved typically have a blood alcohol level between one and three parts per thousand.