Sweden is a global model for official transparency and accountability
Official crime statistics from Sweden actually show that the crime rate has remained steady since 2005. What’s more, the Swedish police do not collect information on the ethnicity, religion, or race of perpetrators or victims of crime, which means there’s no evidence for claims that Muslim immigrants are committing crimes in record numbers. Nor is there any evidence to support the claim that Swedish authorities are manipulating the statistics, as the producer of the video alleges.
By contrast, the Trump administration has been actively working to remove much of the U.S. government’s publicly available information, from climate data to budgeting information and data gathered by the USDA, the EPA, and the CDC.
But sometimes Sweden’s crime statistics are so thorough as to be misleading
Sweden’s information landscape, though a model for other countries to emulate, is not without drawbacks when the data is misunderstood or misrepresented. For example, because Sweden reports crime and abuse so thoroughly, people often assume that the state is not in great shape. Because the Swedish government reports high numbers of rape and police brutality, some rightwing observers, such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage, have used this as evidence that Sweden is the “rape capital” of Europe. This is misleading.
These two processes are mutually reinforcing. When a victim of a crime like a rape or police brutality report allegations to the Swedish government, these allegations are collected, tracked, investigated, and ultimately adjudicated in a court of law. Swedish citizens know this. It encourages them to come forward with information. The principle of public access means that nearly every allegation of a crime or of government misconduct is recorded and made publicly available. Citizens in Sweden can use this information to hold their government accountable.
Paradoxically, Sweden’s openness makes it appear more troubled than it is
Though rare in Sweden, group violence does sometimes result in injuries and property damage. One of these rare events happened just a few days after Trump’s comments. However, because of the principle of public access, outside observers can assess information about this case using official records from the Swedish government and compare that information to the accounts generated by local and international media and other observers and witnesses.
Without accurate information and unfettered access to government information, such a comparison is much harder for American citizens.
For U.S. activists who wish to advocate for increased governmental transparency, accessibility, and ultimately accountability, Sweden represents an even higher standard to aim for.
Kristine Eck is an associate professor in the department of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University.
Christopher J. Fariss is an assistant professor in the department of political science and faculty associate in the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan.