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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Denmark 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Denmark. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Denmark country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Denmark at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to terrorism. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Copenhagen as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at and/or affecting official U.S. government interests. Denmark is correctly considered a relatively safe and secure European country with very professional and capable national law enforcement and security services. Between 2017 and 2019, broad categories of reported crime have decreased in some areas. Denmark saw record decreases in burglaries of private homes and businesses alike in 2019, down roughly 17% and 13%, respectively, when compared to 2018 figures. However, reports of sexual assaults and weapon-related crimes have seen significant increases between 2017 and present. The use of “date rape” drugs, including GHB, continues to be an increasing concern in Copenhagen. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers. Danish authorities have changed the means by which they report and compile certain crime related cases. Consequently, this has made it difficult to determine the degree to which the rate of certain crimes has changed. For example, the law with reference to weapon violations now includes individuals arrested for carrying a small pocketknife versus another dangerous type of a weapon.

Pickpockets, skimmers, ATM PIN shoulder surfers, and other petty criminals continue to operate aggressively at tourist attractions, train stations, and airports, and on public buses commensurate with other popular European tourist destinations. Local pickpockets/ATM shoulder surfers operate in teams of two or three, with one or more distracting the victim while another steals the victim’s valuables/information. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Similar to other countries in the regions, Denmark does have instances of criminal activity committed by nomadic criminal groups organized by foreign nationals with permanent residence in Denmark, who use their knowledge of the Danish social justice system to commit sophisticated criminal activities like human smuggling, weapons trafficking, and other economic crimes. According to the National Center of Investigation, the two main biker gangs in Denmark are the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club. In addition, several immigrant gangs in Denmark have memberships based on a common ethnic or regional origin. These gangs are involved in a wide range of crimes including, but not limited to property, drug sales, extortion, economic crimes (fraud and tax evasion), robbery, and weapons trafficking. Gang-related crime is typically very violent. Many gangs use legal business structures and expertise to perform criminal activities regarding money laundering and the sale of stolen goods using auction houses. According to studies, the two aforementioned clubs have a presence in countries as diverse as Japan, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and many other European nations.

Rising gang violence in Copenhagen was a dominant theme for public discussion in the media and among political leaders over the past year. For example, in 2019 there were 13 explosions that occurred in the Copenhagen area, all attributed to criminal gang violence. This was in addition to the rising number of gang related incidents involving firearms and knife attacks over the past several years. There are links between the criminal gangs in Denmark and Sweden. According to the Danish Defense Intelligence Service’s Intelligence Risk Assessment 2019, “To counter the threat from serious, cross-border crime, Denmark began enforcing the protection of the border with Sweden to stem the transportation of explosives and weapons associated with recent gang related violence in Denmark.” At least two innocent bystanders have suffered serious injuries as result of recent violence. This wave of violence has also led the Danish National Police to establish “visitation zones,” areas where police may stop and frisk people without probable cause. These temporary “visitation zones” included the neighborhoods of Nørrebro, Ishøj, and Hundige in 2019. The U.S. Embassy has encouraged those living in or visiting those areas to exercise heightened awareness.

Cybersecurity Issues

Denmark is one of the most digitized countries in the world. Consequently, cyber-crime continues to be one of the biggest threats to the heavily connected public and private sectors. According to the Danish Defense Intelligence Service, “cyber-attacks against Danish public authorities or private companies are to be expected and can potentially have serious political or economic consequences.” Their assessment also warns:

“Cyber-attacks may have damaging consequences in the physical world, for instance serious economic losses for Danish private companies or disruption in the availability of critical services, such as electricity. For Danish authorities a cyber-attack can, for example, render systems inoperable or result in the theft or destruction of sensitive or valuable data.”

“Foreign states may use cyber espionage to obtain new technologies or to ensure that their national companies gain a competitive edge on international markets.”

“Cyber espionage may enable theft of intellectual property and sensitive strategic or security policy information, thereby possibly affecting Danish national security, the Danish economy and Danish competitiveness…We expect that the foreign actors will use cyber espionage along with other tools in connection with crises or conflicts”

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Other Areas of Concern

No areas of Denmark are off limits to U.S. travelers or government personnel. All travelers should be cautious in the neighborhoods of Nørrebro and Christiania. Nørrebro is a gentrifying community, with higher levels of violent street crime and gang/narcotics activity. Local gang conflicts and demonstrations in Nørrebro and adjacent neighborhoods occasionally result in violence. 

Visitors to the Free Town of Christiania, a “self-proclaimed” autonomous neighborhood in the Christianshavn section of Copenhagen, should also exercise caution and avoid displaying cameras. Christiania has long hosted one of the largest illegal hashish markets in Europe. Christiania’s narcotics activity has links to organized crime groups. Police regularly carry out raids to restrict the cannabis trade. Drug enforcement efforts have led to violent confrontations between police and Christiania residents, including a 2016 shooting that left a police officer injured and a suspect dead. During a 2018 raid in Christiana, approximately 20 masked men attacked police officers with stones and bottles. Tourists have also been harassed, assaulted, and robbed for breaking Christiania’s strict no-photography policy. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions are very good, and on par with Western European and U.S. standards. Denmark is extremely bicycle-friendly; there are bicycle lanes located throughout the country, usually paralleling vehicular lanes. Many urban streets also have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation or cycles only. This can cause difficulties for drivers unfamiliar with the area or with Danish rules of the road. Right turns are not permitted at red lights, and drivers must not begin right turns across bicycle lanes until the road behind is clear of bicycles. Authorities strictly enforce traffic laws, using overt and covert means. Violations can result in stiff fines and jail sentences. Driving is on the right side of the road.

You must be 18 to drive. U.S. tourists may use their state driver’s license for up to 90 days. Long-term residents must obtain a valid Danish driver’s license. Road signs use standard international traffic symbols. The use of seat belts is mandatory for drivers and passengers. Driving any vehicle, including bicycles, under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a very serious offense. It is against the law to drive while using a hand-held cell phone device. To avoid vehicle break-ins, park in well-illuminated areas when possible and avoid leaving any valuable items in the vehicle. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

The public transportation system is highly reliable, punctual, and relatively safe. Be alert for pickpockets on any public transportation system. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Copenhagen International Airport (CPH) is located 10 miles (15 kilometers) south of the city center and is easily accessible from Copenhagen city center by car or public transport (Metro and commuter train). The airport adheres to international air safety and flight operation standards. Security measures for international flights are on par with U.S. airport requirements, and the security personnel are well trained and effective in the performance of their duties.

Other Travel Conditions

Like most of Europe, Denmark has a large population of migrants from around the world, the majority of which comes from European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) countries. Denmark maintains strict immigration controls relative to adjacent countries, particularly Germany and Sweden, and has instituted over 67 different immigration restrictions in response to the 2015 international refugee and humanitarian crisis. Border controls instituted in 2016 to address the migrant crisis remain in place, subjecting those traveling overland from Germany to Denmark to checkpoints and enhanced identification controls. Previously, Denmark and Sweden eliminated passport checks in 1958 to allow seamless passage between the two Scandinavian kingdoms. In late 2019, Denmark increased border inspections at the Swedish border, primarily motivated by the increase in violence between immigrant gangs in Denmark, which likely have ties to gangs operating in Sweden.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Copenhagen as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at and/or affecting official U.S. government interests. Because of Denmark’s active foreign/security policies and the country’s association with the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, Denmark remains an inviting target for those who sympathize with militant Islam.  The 2018 assessment from the Center for Terror Analysis (CTA) indicates there are individuals with intent and capability to commit terrorist attacks in Denmark. According to the Danish Security and Intelligence Service assessment, terrorism threat in Denmark remains significant. Terrorist attacks can take place without prior intelligence-based indications. The risk of falling victim to a terrorist attack in Denmark remains limited, but the threat from planned, more sophisticated attacks like those witnessed elsewhere in Europe still exist.

There has not been a significant terrorist attack contributed to Islamic extremists in Denmark since 2015. The 2015 attack at the Krudttønden cultural center and the synagogue in central Copenhagen resulted in the death of two victims and was the responsibility of a Danish man of Palestinian decent, who was radicalized in prison. One significant example of successful proactive measures taken by Danish National Police in 2019 was a series of December police raids throughout the country, detaining around 20 people suspected of planning for a terrorist attack as well as trying to obtain weapons and explosive materials.  

According to CTA, at least 150 people have left Denmark for Syria or Iraq since the summer of 2012. CTA assesses that the terror threat primarily involves individuals or small groups located in Denmark or in a neighboring country. Attacks with simple means after short planning are the most likely forms of attack. However, the threat of complex attacks in Denmark directed by militant Islamist groups abroad, although reduced, remains.     

The collapse of ISIS, coupled with improvements in European counterterrorism measures, led to fewer terror attacks across the continent in 2019 in comparison to recent years. However, European countries in general can still expect a growing security challenge going into 2020 due to repatriation of ISIS fighters, radicalization trends within the criminal prison population, and the scheduled release of convicted terrorists due to limitations in the average prison sentencing in many European countries. Therefore, there remains the potential for Islamic extremist motivated terror attacks to occur anywhere in Europe, including Denmark. Although official messaging to would-be terrorists from ISIS has declined, extremist recruitment efforts and instructions for carrying out mass acts of violence continue to be freely accessible in online forums and social media. 

In 2017, Danish Armed Forces deployed domestically for the first time since World War II to assist police in protecting potential terror targets in Copenhagen and to support border controls in the south of the country. Travelers should be aware of temporary border controls manned by the Danish National Police and Armed Forces.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Denmark is generally free from anti-U.S. sentiment. It is common for many people, Danes and U.S. nationals alike, to wear shirts, hats, and jackets with logos and names of U.S. universities, sports teams, and companies without concern for backlash from the general population.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Copenhagen as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at and/or affecting official U.S. government interests. The Kingdom of Denmark is a highly functional democracy and was ranked #1 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2019. Denmark also enjoys high rankings on equality between genders as well as freedoms of religion, sexual orientation, and speech. One potential issue in Denmark concerns the treatment of irregular (or perceived irregular) migrants from outside Europe. Separately, violent gang activity within immigrant communities is on the rise in Denmark.

Civil Unrest

Public demonstrations are common and sometimes result in violence. Typically, demonstrations number between a few dozen and a few hundred protestors and very rarely more than 1,000. Public demonstrations can be spontaneous, but the police response is extremely well coordinated and appropriate to the size of the demonstration. Outbreaks of hostility during sporting events or involving rowdy fans in transit to such events are also not unusual; however, Danish police are also well prepared to handle such incidents. Police are experienced, with effective riot control elements and well-developed non-violent mediation techniques.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Political extremist circles in Denmark, left- and right-wing alike, are prepared to use violence to promote their political agendas. There has been an increased focus from individuals with right-wing extremist sympathies on the refugee situation and directing their aggression on asylum seekers, refugees, religious minorities and related authorities. The CTA states that extremist sympathizers may increase the threat to asylum centers, refugees and migrants as well as related authorities. 

Confrontations between outlaw motorcycle gangs and street gangs composed of ethnic minorities (or based on lines of ethnicity) do occur. These events tend to involve general criminality issues/turf wars, but the violence can be indiscriminate.

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The Danish emergency response authority – Beredskabsstyrelsen – identified hurricanes, strong winds, flooding, extreme rain, and disease as the five biggest environmental hazards facing the country. Other natural disasters, including mudslides/avalanches, occur with some frequency in Greenland.

Critical Infrastructure

Torrential rains may temporarily flood roads and basements. Significant flooding occurred in 2010 and 2011, which resulted in damage to businesses and homes in/around Copenhagen.  

Personal Identity Concerns

Denmark is a very open society. Violence or other discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, or disability is rare. Discrimination based on race, nationality, or religion is likewise rare, but as in other European countries, anti-immigrant sentiments became more visible following the refugee and migration crisis, and there have been reports of harassment by individuals who do not appear ethnically Danish.

Danish law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care or other state services. Danish law mandates access to buildings, education, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Public transportation can accommodate persons with disabilities, but many buildings and outdoor sites are not easily accessible for the disabled. Accessibility information is available at Visit Denmark. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Denmark has recorded a rise in drug-related arrests over the past year, owed in part to increasingly aggressive counternarcotic measures. Reports of drug sales, smuggling, and other violations of narcotics law increased dramatically in 2018 and 2019. As the only Nordic country with a roadway border with Western Europe, Denmark is an important transshipment point for all types of cargo, including illegal narcotics. Law enforcement continues to observe trafficking in hashish via the large volume of legitimate trucking through Denmark from the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. Authorities routinely make seizures of amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin at the ferry crossings from Germany and during random checks on the bridge from Jutland or at the bridge to Sweden. Much of the heroin destined for Sweden and Norway transits Denmark. The availability of heroin fluctuates based on the heroin production levels in Afghanistan.

Greenland: Special Circumstances

Greenland has strict laws regarding removal of natural resources, including any precious and semi-precious metals, stones, and gemstones. Check with local authorities before attempting to extract or export any of these materials.

 Those considering travel on cruise ships near Greenland should be aware that search and rescue capabilities are restricted due to limited capacity and long distances between populated areas. Check the operational records and the experience of captains and crews operating vessels in Arctic waters.

Greenland’s landscape is vast and remote. Periods of darkness, extreme temperatures, and fast-changing weather are common. Persons unfamiliar with the area can become disoriented easily and risk long-term exposure to the elements. Always use experienced guides.

You must have official permission for travel into Northeast Greenland National Park or for treks across the central ice fields. Check with your tour operator to make sure that the company has received the necessary permission for such trips.

Greenland mountains are of moderate altitude but are technically difficult. You should be familiar with ascent and descent routes. Local authorities will rescue individuals in difficulty, but land search and rescue capabilities are limited and subject to weather restrictions. You may be billed for the cost of rescue services. For more information about travel to Greenland, visit Greenland Tourism.

Police Response

Danish law enforcement, public safety, and security services are professional, highly trained, well equipped, and effective. Denmark is well-known as a country with very little corruption, and the police are very well trained, professional, and competent. Most police officers are proficient in English. Response for non-violent crimes may be limited due to manpower shortages in the police force.

All individuals in Denmark must provide their name, address, and date of birth to the police if asked, and if necessary, proof of their identity. Detained individuals should comply with instructions. While incidents of police harassment would be extremely rare, the Danish National Police are a professional police organization with the ability to conduct internal investigations into instances of misconduct or corruption.   

The National Police (Ringspolitiet) are the primary law enforcement authority in Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, and are under the direction of the Ministry of Justice. The National Police develop strategies, support work in the local police districts, and coordinate police operations on a national level. 

Danish police are very proactive and responsive when dealing with violent criminal activity, but are selective about responding to non-violent crimes. The Danish National Police (Politi/Politiet) are typically the primary law enforcement responder in the case of an emergency. The emergency line in Denmark is 112.  Dial 114 for routine or non-emergency calls. For reporting crimes, you can also use this Danish National Police website.

For emergency cases involving the death, arrest, or serious medical emergency of a U.S. national in Denmark, contact the Embassy by telephone at +45 33 41 71 00. Email all other inquires to CopenhagenACS@state.gov.

Medical Emergencies

General Practitioners (medical doctor) keep normal business hours, Monday through Friday from 0800 until 1600. In the event of a non-life-threatening injury after 1600, those in need of medical attention must telephone 1813 before going to the doctor or hospital. Those who do not have a regular general practitioner that you see on a regular basis must telephone 1813 for assistance at any time. The dispatcher will provide instructions based on the injury type and the location of the caller.

For medical emergencies (i.e., a life-threatening situation), which include the need for ambulance or medical evacuation (medevac), call 112. The dispatcher will provide instructions to the caller, identify the hospital best suited to meet the needs of the patient, and dispatch the required support. Contact information for medical services and air ambulance services is available on the U.S. Embassy website.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Denmark.

OSAC Country Council Information

For information on the Copenhagen Country Council, contact the Regional Security Office or OSAC’s Europe team.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Dag Hammarskjölds Allé 24, DK 2100 Copenhagen Ø

Regular business hours: 0830 – 1700, Monday – Friday

Main: +45 33 41 71 00; Fax: +45 35 43 02 23; Post One: +45 33 41 74 00; RSO: +45 33 41 74 13

Website: https://dk.usembassy.gov

Consular coverage for Denmark includes the mainland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands.

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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