KRISTIANSAND, Norway – Thanks to a neighborhood watch program launched by Muslims, organized gang crime among young people has almost stopped, according to the local police in the city of Kristiansand, Vest-Agder County in southernmost Norway, Sputnik News reported on Thursday.
“We tell the youngsters that fighting is not tough,” said Talal Haydar, the chairman of the Muslim Union in Agder, and one of the initiators of the patrol routine, national broadcaster NRK reported.
According to Haydar, they have “broad contacts” with local youths.
“We are there to build a relationship with them. When the youth see our leaders go together with the police and support their work, they understand that it’s not ‘us and them,’ but ‘we,'” Haydar explained.
The 2017-crime statistics report showed that 240 minors were registered for criminal offenses in Kristiansand, Norway‘s fifth-largest town.
Of these, 108 were immigrants or second-generation immigrants. This prompted Kristiansand’s Muslim leaders to respond by taking to the streets and organizing their own anti-crime patrols.
People with immigrant backgrounds constitute over 15 percent of Kristiansand’s population of 90,000, with Poles, Somalis, Iraqis, and Eritreans being the largest communities.
The police and the municipality praised the effort by the Muslim vigilantes.
“This has had a phenomenal effect. [The youth] showed a completely different level of respect and listened to their leaders in a different way compared to the police,” Kristiansand police chief Ole Hortemo said, adding that the city has since “totally changed.”
Haydar pointed out that many of the young people in minority communities have an unflattering image of the police, an impression Muslim leaders are working to change.
“These youngsters have grown up in a part of the world, where the police are seen as corrupt, and many have experienced a lot of nasty things and injustice,” Haydar explained.
According to the crime prevention coordinator at Kristiansand Municipality, Johanne Benites Nilsen, the city has become much quieter.
“A lot of credit is due to the [Muslim leaders]. We have engaged Muslim leaders and parents, which had a big effect, and we are dependent on it,” Nilsen said, pledging to increase the cooperation she found “useful.”