As of today, Iceland remains one of the safest countries to live in. With a small homogeneous population of around 350,000, it’s a country that offers a high level of economic equality and a very low crime rate. In fact, it’s also a nation without a standing army.
The Crime Rate in Iceland and Safety for Tourists
In 2008, the country recorded a zero homicide incidence throughout the year and had an average of 1.6 murder cases between the periods of 2000-2015.
Recently, Instagram feeds showed some police officers in the Reykjavík force posing for selfies, eating ice-cream and doing sledding. This is a reflection of how truly crime-free Iceland is. In fact, the police here are not armed except for the Special Forces ‘Viking Squad’ who rarely show up in public places.
According to the 2017 Global Peace Index, Iceland has remained the safest country in the world since 2011.
What Makes Iceland This Safe?
There are several factors that contributed to Iceland being judged the safest country to travel to and also live in. Here are some factors that give this country the lowest crime rate in Europe and the world:
Zero Class System
A class system breeds crime due to inequality. One good thing going for every Icelander is the fact that they are all equal in social status. 97% of Icelanders identify themselves to be in the middle class which makes the other types of class almost non-existent. Also, the children here have equal rights to the same education and same schools.
An Egalitarian Country
Gender equality is also a factor to consider for the low crime rate. Iceland is number 1 in gender equality among many European nations. This also accounts for the election of Vigdís Fimbogadóttir as the 1st female president in Europe and also in the world in 1980.
No Standing Army, Navy Or Air-Force
Because they do not have a standing military, this makes everybody their brother’s keeper. The only war this country ever fought in was the Cold War or ‘Þorskastríðið’ against the UK government. A political dispute that forced the UK government to shift ground and allow larger fishing boundaries for Icelandic fishing vessels ultimately put an end to the ‘Þorskastríðið’.
No Firearms For Police Personnel
For a foreigner visiting Iceland for the first time, you will be surprised that the police here don’t carry firearms. The only special units permitted to bear firearms is the Special Force also called the Viking Squad. You hardly see them in public. The only shot ever fired by this squad was that that killed a man who was shooting from his building. The only shot ever!
Plenty of Guns with Few Violent Crimes
In Iceland, there are an estimated 90,000 guns owned by its civilian populace. It may sound like a lot, but they are meant for hunting rather than for self-defense. We still have the lowest homicide rate compared to the most developed nations in the world. As high as the rate of gun ownership is here, acquiring one is very tedious. It involves a very long process compared to how other countries issue gun permits.
To acquire a gun here, prospective owners need to go through a lot of paperwork including showing they’ve never had a criminal record, show a full medical examination from certified medical personnel, undertake a three-day gun handling course, and do a gun safety test. Responsible gun ownership is the key to Iceland’s low number of incidences of gun crime.
Is 2017 And Beyond a Cause for Concern in Iceland?
Since the inception of the Republic of Iceland, no year has witnessed many murder incidences like 2017 except in 2004. In 2017 alone, four cases of murder were recorded. This brought the country closer to her neighboring Scandinavian countries on homicide incidents.
With four homicides this brings the murder rate to 1.18 per 10,000 people, which is worrisome. But it’s still under the European rate of 3 in 10,000 or the rate in the United States of 4.88 in 10,000. However, compared to most Nordic countries 1.18 is quite high where the murder rate is between 0.9 and 1.6.
Iceland 2019 Crime & Safety Report
According to the Icelandic National Police and local news sources, crime in Iceland continues to stay low compared to other countries of the same size and demographics and also in contrast to most developed nations.
The low incidence of crime and low level of violent crime is part of the country’s lack of socio-economic tension between the people. The high standard of living, small population, common social bind against criminality, and a well-trained and highly educated police force are also contributing factors.
Although there is an absence of violent crime, Reykjavik the country’s capital still witnesses some petty crime including domestic violence, automobile thefts, sexual assaults, pickpocketing and other street crimes which are a very common occurrence in every developed city. However, this is a low number in comparison to such incidents in the US and other European nations.
Iceland is witnessing unprecedented growth in its construction and tourism industries. This is resulting in the increase of migrants/asylum seekers and tourists. The Icelandic government has taken concretes steps including the reorganization of the Icelandic National Police. They are combat-ready for human traffickers and to detect crime before it happens anywhere in the country.
Traditionally Iceland’s homicide rate has always been less than one every year for several years. Only 2004 and 2017 witnessed a slight deviation from this number. In 2018, the homicide rate returned to one once again.
Other Types Of Crimes In Iceland
Since 2015, Iceland has continued to develop cyber solutions against cyber threats. The National Cyber Security Strategy aims at protecting important elements from cybercriminals. They monitor anyone who is likely to pose a threat to citizens, the economy, and the government.
In 2018, the new government pledged to implement laws based on international norms and establish closer ties on cybersecurity with partner countries. This includes leaders of information technology sectors and also increase the country’s capacity to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats.
Due to the country’s security personnel commitment to nip crime in the bud, the Icelandic National Police Organized Crime Division has made inroads to disrupting the activities of criminal-minded individuals. This is especially true for the cultivation of marijuana for domestic usage.
Businesses attempting to smuggling on Icelandic soil as transit from EU to North America, money launder, or take part in extortion including links to criminal groups that manufactur drugs like methamphetamine have decreased. They achieved this through increased domestic enforcement. They also took part in the exclusion and deportation of outside criminals with support from the European Union.
The Icelandic Police (Logreglan), National Commission of Police, and Metropolitan Police in Reykjavik are responsive, educated, and well trained. This workforce of 730 actively engaged and reserve police officers have sophisticated equipment and modern techniques. preventing, disrupt and investigate crimes. At times they are understaffed and underfunded when compared to the numbers of the Icelandic population. This is also true for the area landmass they protect.
However, the police here still maintain an average response time when compared to other cities in Europe. But in case of response to traffic accidents, the police do not respond to such calls unless. If there are roadblocks or injuries involved, then you should expect a varied emergency response.
Crime Victim Assistance
To drastically reduce the crime rate the government has a smartphone application that allows visitors to call the central emergency response center. It also reduces response time in the event of search and rescue operations in Iceland. The Emergency Response Center code is (112). You can dowload the app and install it on your mobile phone from the Google Play Store or Apple Store. The app is “112 Iceland”.
For crime victims, they can also visit a local police station for immediate assistance.
- Metropolitan Police, Hverfisgata 113–115, 101 Reykjavik
- Telephone operator (+354) 444-1000 (after hour service: 112)
Iceland has nine administrative police units with each headed by a chief of police. The National Commissioner of Police Office is the operational and police headquarters of these nine units. The police also have within their fold a special antiterrorism squad known as the Viking squad. Elite, of well-trained officers respond quickly to large scale emergency situations.
Iceland also has the Icelandic Coast Guard. This is the maritime law enforcement agency. They have over 4,000 assistants from the voluntary search and rescue organizations(Landsbjorg) who are volunteers on-call
Is it true Iceland is crime-free?
The recent murder incidence that happens in 2017 changed the safe feelings of every Icelander. Although there has been little to no change in terms of how and when to go out. People still go out and drink on cold, clear nights. Even bars and nightclubs in Reykjavik are still busy as ever. Lots of tourists still watch Champions League Football in English pubs till late in at night. Locals still very much revel in the euphoria of night parties.
However, ask the local Icelanders if the recent homicide incident had any impact on how safe they feel. It’s not surprising that the incident really did change their feeling of being safe.
In fact, there are now more CCTV cameras in Reykjavik. People that argued against the installations of more surveillance cameras as unnecessary have quickly changed their opinion. Young women, in particular, are more security conscious of the need to look after one another. And catching a lift from strangers is becoming a thing of the past.
To this end, of course, Iceland still has some petty crimes to fight. However, when you compare it to any developed countries in Europe and North America, this small populated island is still a crime-free country to a certain level.