Feelings of unsafety in public spaces

An investigation of behaviour that can undermine the feelings of safety in public spaces and how authorities respond to this behaviour.


The purpose of this PhD project is to examine how we deal with behaviour that can be perceived as undermining the feeling of safety in everyday public settings. In addition, the project will provide policy recommendations on how to best respond to this kind of behaviour. Drunkenness, drug use, shouting and fighting are examples of actions, which can be perceived by some people as undermining the feeling of safety in public spaces.


In the crime-prevention initiatives, developed by municipalities, the police and other local authorities, the use of the Danish word tryghed is both prevalent and central. Tryghed is a word of Scandinavian origin and does not have an exact equivalent in any other language. Tryghed describes a subjective feeling or sense of safety, regardless of any actual or specific danger. This explicit focus on tryghed in crime prevention is a relatively new phenomenon in Denmark. The objective of providing tryghed was not introduced in the Danish Police Act until 2004, and it was not until 2006 that the Danish Crime Prevention Council made it their mission not only to prevent crime but also to create a tryg society. Consequently, this focus on preventing feelings of unsafety or insecurity is increasingly becoming a prominent part of general crime prevention policies in Denmark. However within these policies, it is often unclear what is meant by feelings of safety (tryghed) and the behaviour that allegedly undermines it.

The study

In this investigation, the researcher examines why and how tryghed has come to the forefront of the agenda of crime policy, which interventions or policies are legitimized with reference to tryghed and how we can address feelings of unsafety in the most appropriate way. The project will investigate: 

  • How tryghed is discussed in the public debate and in legislative texts
  • How tryghed is perceived by police officers, private security guards and social workers.  
  • How the issue of tryghed is addressed by the authorities in two different open drug scenes in Copenhagen and in Aarhus. Open drug scenes are public places where drug use and drug dealing is prevalent. Due to the inconvenience that may arise from this, the description of these cases can serve as illustrative examples of how authorities respond to behaviour allegedly undermining the feeling of safety in public spaces today.

The study is based on a combination of interviews, field observations and analysis of documents, such as newspaper articles and legislative texts.     

The project will run from 1 September 2016 to 31 August 2019.


The project is funded by Aarhus BSS Graduate School.