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Iceland Mag

Culture

An American in Reykjavik: Good Cop, Good Cop? Iceland's Non-Existent Crime Scene

By Matt Eliason

  • Pictured above is the crime scene from the only police shooting ever recorded in Iceland's history, taking place in December 2013. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

  • Reykjavik averages 1.5 murders per year, making it one of the safest cities in the world for a population greater than 100,000 people. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

One significant difference, that is instantly recognizable upon my relocation to Reykjavik for the summer, is the lack of crime present in the capital city. 

In Chicago, stories of gun violence and murder charges fill the nightly newscasts to the extent that south-side crime is hardly a breaking-news story. Chicago has been struggling to contain its horrible gang problems that have plagued the city´s low-income projects and have brought negative press to an otherwise amazing city. HBO´s Vice News, recently did an in-depth look at the gang problem in Chicago with a piece entitled, Welcome to Chi-raq. Chicago was America´s most violent city in 2013, with 412 murders.

Now despite this negative press, I feel obligated to defend my hometown city. Chicago offers many safe places to live and as a resident of the North-side, Wrigleyville area, I have never felt in danger or threatened to go out on the town and have a fun and safe time. Furthermore, the average Chicagoan would agree in saying that aside from a few dangerous areas, the city poses no threat to tourists and offers plenty of great restaurants, night clubs and historic landmarks to visit. In fact, I would encourage every Icelander to visit Chicago if you have the chance. However in comparison, no major city on earth possesses the safety of Reykjavik, which has averaged less than 2 murders per year, in a city with upwards of 130,000 people.

So how is Iceland able to remain so safe? The answer can't be attributed to one specific source. First, Iceland doesn´t have a wide gap between economic classes, which is a common occurrence in most major, American cities. As Icelanders describe it, they combine the Nordic welfare system and the American entrepreneurial spirit, to create a society that does not have tension between its social classes. In fact, a study of the Icelandic class system done by a University of Missouri master's student found only 1.1% of participants identified themselves as upper class, while 1.5% saw themselves as lower class. The remaining 97% identified themselves as upper-middle class, lower-middle class, or working class.

Thus, the equality perceived amongst all Icelandic citizens discourages economic tension, resulting in less crime.

A large stimulant assisting in American crime is the usage of illegal substances. Aside from being a crime itself, an individual is more likely to commit a violent crime in an altered state. In the United States, 40.8% of in state prison inmates are behind bars for drug related offenses. In Iceland, that number is under 1% as drugs such as crack, cocaine, and heroin are almost non-existent. Iceland eliminates the opportunity for violent crimes by minimizing the usage of hard drugs.

Guns, a frequent topic of conversation that regularly appears as a talking point in American politics during election season, are the primary method of violent crime in the United States. Although 1 in every 3 Icelanders possesses a firearm, gun violence here is non-existent. This is likely attributed to the strictly regulated process for acquiring a gun, which includes a written test and a medical exam. An at-risk teen, living in the inner city of town like Chicago, would have no problem finding or acquiring a lethal weapon. This distinction between the gun-control in Iceland vs. the gun-control in America, helps illustrate the significant differences in firearm availability and regulation between the 2 countries.

Thus, a combination of class equality, hard-drug control, and gun regulations help make Iceland's culture one of the safest in the world. The trustworthy nature of this small European country is one to admire and emulate. Additionally, the fundamental values that make Iceland such a safe country should be studied and implemented on a large scale in countries such as the United States. Coming from a violent city like Chicago, I believe that learning from Iceland's successes would help crack down on the violent crime that plagues America's inner cities. 

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