Is Switzerland really as unsafe as the Swiss think?

A police operation resulted in the arrest of a murder suspect on a street in the city of Biel on November 12, 2020. Keystone / Adrian Reusser

There is a growing discrepancy between how safe Switzerland is and how the population perceives security on the ground.

This content was published on January 11, 2021 - 11:00

The Global Peace Index produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace ranks the country as one of the ten safest in the world. It comes fifth for safety and security after Iceland, Singapore, Japan and Norway. Official statistics show that crime is on a downward trend.

This is in sharp contrast with the Swiss population’s perception of crime. Almost two-thirds (61%) of the population believe that crime has increased in recent years and 68.8% think that crimes committed by foreigners have become more frequent in Switzerland, according to a surveyExternal link by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

For 55.2% of those surveyed, crime is the second most common cause of concern, after fear of an overload of the social system.

“The further to the right of the political spectrum people are, the more they think that crime is a problem,” said Dirk Baier, researcher and director of the study. The frequent consumption of private local TV channels exacerbates people’s anxiety about crime, while the reading of national newspapers reduces it, the study concludes.

The Eurostat databaseExternal link shows the incidence of homicides per 100 000 inhabitants in 31 European countries: Switzerland shares with Norway and Luxembourg the last positions and the country ranks 21st for robbery.

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Data published by police recordsExternal link shows the crime figures have been falling over the past five years.

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The graph below shows four categories of offenders according to their residency status: Swiss; permanent foreign residents; people involved in an asylum process; and those with a temporary residence permit or without the right to be on Swiss soil.

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“The offenders without the right to be on Swiss soil do not have access to the labour market. There is therefore a risk that they become active in the informal economy. I’m not seeking to justify the situation but to explain it: How can I survive? How can I get money if I don’t have a job?”, explained criminologist Marcelo Aebi, who compiles the annual criminal statistics for the Council of Europe.

“Drug trafficking, for example, is a classic area. Looking at the data, we can see the constant over-representation of people from Africa in small-scale drug trafficking in particular. We have to ask ourselves why this is.”

According to police statistics on drug law violations committed by people without a Swiss residence permit, offenders from West Africa (698) followed by those from former Yugoslavia (538) stand out compared with those of other nationalities. All those concerned are male, except for 19 females (which is not unusual, since male over-representation is a recurrent finding in all crime statistics).

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